Archive for November, 2012

Imagine you are getting ready for bed and your husband comes home drunk.  He starts beating you until blood covers the floor.  After the physical abuse he then rapes you.  Traumatised by what has happened you dutifully comply when the man you committed to share your life with announces that tonight you will sleep downstairs on the hard floor – no sleeping on the couch allowed – whilst he enjoys the comfort of the mattress.  As you prepare for a night of discomfort he brings the rubbish bin in from outside. He knows that where the food has lain rotting in the base of the bin there are maggots, so they are left to run on the floor.  Sweet dreams are impossible tonight.

The woman who went through that ordeal told me that she was raped nearly every night by her husband in the height of her 10 years of abuse. Although it is upsetting for her to relive the stories this Christian woman is adamant that now she is free from the clutches of her abuser she will share her story as much as possible in order to help other women.  Her experiences are horrifiying, ranging from having a milk bottle smashed over her head, a pine table thrown at her and a knife put in her stomach.  So why did it take so long for her to get out of the situation?  She was scared.  Her abuser had threatened her, so she put up with the violence out of fear – fear that no one would believe her if she told them and fear of the consequences if he found out that she had spoken about it to someone.  At Church she didn’t tell anyone but a few years ago she started to get some help and began to realise that it is ok to talk about it, that there is no shame.  She has been on a journey of recovery and believes that there can be life after abuse.

Many of the Christian women I have spoken to about this issue have explained that those who punch, hit or beat someone often do it in areas which will not be noticeable, for example a kick in the stomach or the head, rather than on the face.  The abusers are clever.  What is perhaps not always acknowledged is that domestic violence is not just physical or sexual in nature, it can take the form of emotional manipulation too.

Andrea told me of the emotional control her ex partner made her endure when they were going out.  “He would make me walk behind him at all times”, she said, “and he would not allow me to speak to any other man as I would be accused of cheating, yet when I first met him he was so charming”.  She says that over time she became “like a recluse”.  With an unpredicable man breathing down her neck over every decision she made, this lady lived in a culture of fear.  For some women it can start off subtly with the man in their life controlling what they are allowed to wear when they go out.  So subtle is the start of the situation that some women don’t even realise that anything is wrong.

Jemima can now see that she was in an abusive relationship for 4 years but didn’t tell anyone at the start because initially she didn’t realise she was being treated badly.  Her abuser started to show signs of violence when he would punch the wall if she disagreed with him.  She twigged quite quickly that the punches in the wall could end up on her and it wasn’t long before that happened.  He didn’t like her attending church and one time things got bad – her partner punched her repeatedly in the ribs.  She recalls that her young daughter witnessed the beating and was screaming, however ”somehow was able to call the police” meaning that the situation got exposed.

Andrea says there is a fear of being judged if you tell someone.  “You lose your self value and worth, so you don’t think others will want to help you”.  She is one of a number of women who have been brave enough to speak out about what they have been through but there are many who have not yet reached that point.  So what about the person you might sit next to at church, or the woman you scowl at in the prayer meeting because her child misbehaves?  She could be going through trauma everyday but is too afraid to tell those around her in Church of the torment she suffers behind closed doors.

Next time someone in your homegroup appears grumpy or disinterested, remember that they could be the victim of violence at home.  Next time someone gets angry with you in the supermarket, remember that their irrational behaviour could be the result of the abuse they suffer in private.

“I will restore to you for the years the locusts have eaten.” Joel 2:25

Healing is possible.  Recovery is possible.  There is life after abuse – it might take time to recover, but you are not alone!

If you are suffering and have told no one, please get help. Sometimes it is necessary to call the police to protect yourself, but if you just want someone to confide in you can contact the following organisations:

PHONENational Domestic Violence Helpline FREE to talk to someone in confidence on 0808 2000 247.

WEBSITE – There is also a Christian organisation called Restored you may wish to contact: http://www.restoredrelationships.org

p.s. This post deals with domestic abuse when women are the victims, however men also suffer at the hands of abusive women, but that would require a dedicated post of its own.

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

*Since writing this post an article has been published by the BBC which details a large scale series of arrests of offenders of domestic abuse. Apparently Scotland Yard says 10 per cent of the two million calls to police in London each year are related to domestic violence!

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Is the Catholic Church in danger of losing some of its most active, committed young members or are these young people paving the way for a new season of ecumenism?*

This week I learned of 14 young Catholics who individually plan to attend a service, conference or prayer meeting outside of their own denomination at the weekend.  This is not a one off occurence for a Churches Together initiative but something they do regularly.  Had I been specifically searching for Catholics who practise this sort of ecumenical worship in Britain the numbers would have been considerably higher.

In some cases it involves double servicing on a Sunday, perhaps attending Mass in the morning and a Protestant Church in the evening, for others it means participation in weekday prayer gatherings or teaching nights at an alternative Christian Church to their own. Ecumenism is encouraged by the Catholic Church, but in Britain are the Protestants the ones discipling the younger generations for them?

Amongst those in their teens, twenties and thirties there is an increasing eloquence when it comes to explaining Catholic Church teaching.  With the recent publication of the YouCat (Youth Catechism), the availability of Vatican documents online, and initiatives such as Catholic Voiceswho specifically train people in not only understanding but also articulating their faith to others, there has arisen a movement of parishonners who are confidently doing their own faith study. Some are proficient in Koine Greek and/or Hebrew, while others turn up at Church having prayed through the coming Sunday’s readings in advance.  Although they are pursuing personal study many are turning to the Protestant Church to get their needs met for deeper formation outside of a short 15 minute sermon in an hour long Mass.  They are getting access to internationally acclaimed preachers, discovering a sense of Community during the weekly Protestant homegroup/cell meetings and are experiencing new models of communal prayer alongside their own Sunday service with their parish priest.

The ecumenical insight of this ‘group’ is noteable: whilst keenly aware of their own roots, they are also knowledgeable about what is available to them in the Protestant world. Many could tell you about the latest Protestant prayer movements in the States (e.g. IHOP Prayer Movement), or who the leading Pentecostal evangelists are in Africa (Reinhard Bonnke) or Australia (Christine Caine) – they are reading their books, watching their preachings, getting spiritual food from it, all whilst being able to identify which elements to deliberate over or discard due to theological conflicts with their own beliefs.

These individuals who look to other Church traditions for formation and spiritual experiences to support them are spread geographically around the country, and don’t necessary know one another because there is no umbrella movement which unites them.  They might meet others in the same situation as them (being Catholic but benefitting from attendance at other Churches) at one of the many Catholic gatherings which take place throughout the year such as the Celebrate conferences, 40 Days for Life, Youth 2000 or in their University Chaplaincy, but beyond that the journey is a personal one. They are often readers, Eucharistic Ministers, youth workers, or those providing music ministry and catechisis for a parish. But is their turning to other Churches a sign that the Catholic Church is failing to meet the needs of the very people who keep it going at a grass roots level, or an indicator that there is a new move afoot of Church unity which will be characterised by greater tolerance, respect and understanding?

There was recently a Leadership Conference at the Royal Albert Hall which saw Christian leaders from all walks of life gather (around 4000 of them).  Although it was run by the Anglican HTB Church, they had a Catholic stream to the event.   Speakers such as Christopher West, of Theology of the Body fame, were flown in, as well as Catholic worship leader Matt Maher, along with ordained hierachy from France. This Protestant Church in London even has a global movement called Catholic Alpha which seeks to serve the needs of Catholic parishes worldwide in discipling their congregations in the basics of the faith.

They are not the only Protestants who are providing prayer and formation for the Catholic Church. In America the ‘One Thing’ conference taking place at the end of this year (which it is estimated will draw an attendance of around 25,000 young people) has a Catholic track supported by the Catholic University in Steubenville.  It’s founder Mike Bickle is sensitive to the needs of Catholics having grown up in the tradition himself.  Although now departed from the Church of Rome, he is said to encourage Christians from all backgrounds to read the lives of Catholic Saints such as St John of the Cross to learn from their prayer lives. So are Protestants doing a better job of providing for the needs of young Catholics than the Church herself?

Soul Survivor is an annual summer camp for young people in Britain, once again being one at which tens of thousands are in attendance. Testimonies pour in of lives changed and faith renewed as a result of the experiences of prayer, preaching and praise.  The man at the helm (Mike Pilavachi) had some of his early years formation in a charismatic Catholic prayer group in London.  Far from being anti-Catholic and trying to draw young people away from their Catholic roots, provision is being made at the camp to enable them to fully participate in the summer events programme.  For a number of years now Mass has been provided for those who require it as an alternative to the Protestant Communion service.

There are many lay movements in the Catholic Church which provide formation and prayer experiences, some of which have been alluded to in this piece, but perhaps the Catholic Church owes some gratitude to the Protestants who are giving some of their key workers the input they require to inspire and encourage them to keep going in their roles as evangelists and disciplers in the Church?

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth

*Please note that this post is not based on statistical research but rather on obvservations I have made on what I see as a growing trend among Catholic young people. .

My husband and I have been married for just over a year but some Christians believe that the sort of ‘solo dating’ we took part in prior to our wedding day is to be discouraged and frowned upon.  But what is it that we were doing wrong?

Before walking down the aisle we enjoyed one another’s company either on our own or with others.  We would sit in coffee shops chatting about our hopes for the future, take walks along the river, pray together or join our friends at Christian conferences.  From the start we agreed to a few guidelines for our pre-marital state, drawing on the wisdom of those we’d heard speak about this season of relationship – overall our aim was to keep God at the centre during this period of time.  I was surprised to learn that in some circles our behaviour would be seen as inappropriate because only group dates or accompanied ones are viewed as acceptable prior to marriage.

Far from being a fringe opinion held by a few strict parents to prevent their youngsters getting pregnant out of wedlock, it seems that the idea of group dating is held to be best practise in a number of Church communities, particularly in America.  If there is need for a couple to meet away from the crowd (perhaps to discuss marriage?) then it is expected that either a parent or responsible Church adult be in tow.

There is alot of negativity surrounding the concept of dating among American Christians with slogans such as ‘dating may cause heartbreak’ being used, but I have realised that their culture of ‘boy meet girl’ is vastly different from the British one.  Our approach to dating is probably more akin to what those in the States might refer to as ‘courtship’, namely that if a couple are dating they choose to be exclusive (not seeing multiple people at once), attempting to discern whether they are to be marriage partners in future or not.

Over the years I have heard stories of those who chose to save their first kiss for their wedding day, and of others who got engaged just a few weeks after meeting one another.  Some Christians say that it is a beautiful sign of commitment, love and purity to save your first kiss while others laugh it off as idiotic.  Some would call it irresponsible to get engaged too quickly while others would say that dating for too long can be unhealthy, yet both sides would profess to be Christian.  These tales serve as a reminder that every Christian couple is different.  Is it therefore possible to have one set of baseline ‘rules’ for everyone or could Churches simply offer guidelines to safeguard their congregations and then allow them to adapt the suggestions according to their circumstances?

I opened up the question of dating guidelines to the female listeners of the radio show I host and have summarised/compacted/edited their thoughts into ten points below.  Are these suggestions wacky or wise?

A Christian Woman’s Guide to Dating:

1. Stick to enjoying one another’s company in places where no overnight stay is required. Going on holiday just the two of you could place you in a compromising situation and also might not serve as the best witness if you are hanging out in one another’s rooms.  Single room supplements are expensive anyway!  If you really want to holiday together then find a group to go with, ideally made up of some single people so that it doesn’t get really coupley.

2. If you are alone together in a home or even if there are others around, then to protect yourselves from being too close physically keep the door open at all time regardless of which room you are in – it doesn’t matter whether you are in the kitchen or the bedroom, the same principle applies. (Some also suggested that you never lie down together anywhere.)

3. If kissing is full on then it can be unhelpful, so show respect to your potential future spouse by limiting physical expressions of love.  You will have all the time in the world to express yourself physically after marriage so ditch the ‘try before you buy’ mentality.

4. Hold off any physical expression of love for the first few months of dating.  Often a relationship gets clouded by and guided by the physical so focus on learning about each other without that distraction so as to build a healthy foundation.  If you break up after a couple of months there will be less heartache if you have not been physically connected.

5. Pray together.  If you can’t pray together when dating and offer your relationship to God then there’s not much hope you’ll do it when married.  Let God be the glue.

6. Be confident that God has the perfect husband (or wife) for you.  That way you won’t get tempted to date someone for the sake of it out of fear that no one else will come along.  This could mean that you avoid marrying someone who is second best and not quite right for you.  Be patient – easier said than done though!

7. Pray for your future spouse even while single and know that if you haven’t been asked out by someone yet it’s not because there is something wrong with you, God is just preserving you for the right person.

8. It is ok to dress to impress, particularly if you are a woman, but please cover up.  Eventually you’ll get wrinkles and sag, so if the relationship is founded largely on physical attraction what will hold you together when you are old? You want a man to date you and marry you for who you are inside not because you reveal too much cleavage, shoulder and leg, inticing him physically.

9. Introduce one another to your friends.  Living in an isolated bubble can go horribly wrong.  You want your future spouse to get on with your friends, but also if the relationship doesn’t work out you need your friends to support you, so if you neglect them and spend all the time with your dating partner you could come unstuck.

10. If you are pretty messed up at the moment it’s probably not the best time to get into a relationship.  Let God sort you out a bit rather than thinking a relationship will fix you.  To be a gift to another person requires getting as whole as you can be so you can be a blessing rather than a burden.  Only God can meet your needs, a man cannot!

So there you have it, all the suggestions rolled into ten top tips.  What do you make of the listeners’ ideas?

© Maria Rodrigues-Toth