“They subtly or even overtly erase the voices of women, of the marginalized of the violence done to us. I’ve read their accounts and I know what is missing. I know what hides in the cracks. I know whether accidentally or on purpose, the gaps they leave gape at me like wounds that are never sewn up, crying out to be seen, to be wept over, to be soothed and healed. In the absence of this telling, this listening, this learning, the past follows us. Its desperate fingers hold the hem of our garments, it will not let us go.”
From prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have treated my
people’s brokenness superficially,
claiming, ‘Peace, peace,’
when there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:13-14)
Dr. Valerie Hobbs and I have something in common. We both bear wounds from the church. Wounds that are healing, scarring, bearing a testimony. Wounds that we are not going to cover in shame. We will look at them and allow them to speak, help us mourn the violence done to us, help to even reveal our hope. Because hope will not deny our wounds of their pain. Hope will agonize the loss of goodness, groaning for glory. Valerie and I have become friends through our shared groaning and hope. So I will use her first name.
What we don’t have in common is our childhood. And the extent of the harm done. Valerie grew up under Dominionist theology and the fruits of that in the Neo-Calvinism of today. Don’t be mistaken to think we are talking merely about the fringes of the church here. I’ve experienced the manifestation of the theology Valerie grew up in. You will see in her book how it appears even in beloved Christian colleges like her alma mater, Covenant College.
No Love in War is an auto-ethnographic memoir, helping us see the everyday realities of how this theology manifests in interpersonal relationships of family, friendship, dating, education, and launching into adulthood. It reveals what it does to a person. How very manipulative it is. And the hate that fuels it. Ultimately, her book is a fight to love. To see Christ. And therefore, a refusal to treat hers and so many others’ wounds superficially. They must be seen and named.
This is what the LORD of Armies says:
Consider, and summon the women
send for the skillful women.
Let them come quickly to raise
a lament over us
so that our eyes may overflow
our eyelids be soaked with weeping. (Jeremiah 9:18)
Our American culture does not employ professional wailers or lamenters. Maybe we need them. Valerie is a skillful woman we need to summon for communal mourning. God will not skip this step in blessing his church.
She uncovers “that gnawing knowledge we stuff down.” Because what is stuffed down in the body of Christ is also done to Christ. No Love in War is not a book that you read once, give a few accolades to, and then move on. I’ve already read it twice and will continue to return to it as her story helps me tell my own. It helps me to name the harm done. It helps me to mourn. It helps me to hope. And to see beauty. To settle for nothing less.
To read it is to feel like you are spending time with her. It makes you want to go back with Valerie in her story and bless the younger versions of herself for the goodness of her longings. Even for the methods she employed to cope. To bless her body that was so internally scorned and battered. When I read:
“In those early times of torment, I often fiend stomach pain so my mother might allow me to miss ballet class, speaking a lifelong digestive order into the world, such was my commitment to self-preservation.”
I want to mourn this with her and yet bless her fight for self-preservation, despite the devaluing messages that her body and soul received.
Here is the heart of her plea:
“What does a person do when she has witnessed so much cruelty and despair, yet never been asked or allowed to speak about it, to recall it, to try to understand, to learn, even to heal from it? What becomes of a person when almost no one asks what this place or this people did to her and her family and friends, and no one thinks to question what the outcome is of such a place? What fruit grew from this, from you? These are the things about which almost no one inquires. Denied permission to record in the public memory what we have witnessed, we carry the stones of memorial in our bodies documenting all we’ve suffered as a matter of historical record, an archive of the minutes of torment written into our very blood. The modalities of our memory are these: migraines, rashes and other skin disorders, digestive disorders, dental cavities, depression, insomnia, anxiety, allergies, cancer. When our voices are silent, when we cannot find the words, our bodies cry out, communicating in their own language that brutal history from which our tongues have been forbidden from telling.”
“Peace, peace,” they say. We need to look at this and wail. And name it for what it is. God does. Here is the beauty. When we weep together over what is done to his people, we are comforted to find Christ in one another’s faces.
I am broken by the brokenness
of my dear people.
I mourn; horror has taken hold of me…
This is the LORD’s declaration. (Jer. 8:21, 9:3)
“One of the cruelest acts of vandalism in an abusive community is its defacement of love and the glorification of hate and violence that goes on in its place.”
Through her story, Valerie reveals how hard it is to see clearly. How the messages stick to you. How the shame is unrelenting. How hard it is to leave:
“One of the most difficult acts is leaving, in believing that I can go, I can exercise choice, free will. I too can act. It takes an act of enormous courage to discard the lie that I need these people, that person, that Man, the falsehood that without them I will be lost…”
It’s escaping, really. It’s a fight to see what is real. To get out of the cracks and see the nature of beauty. It’s digging down deep for that mustard seed of faith to walk in this path of Love.
“But here’s the real sting, not only that we embrace the hate that harms us, but that we can also be ignorant of Love, deprived and unaware of it, unable to locate even our longing for it…Dominionist theology, what all this empire building ultimately robs us of—the stunning mystery of intimacy and connection, of gentleness and dignity, of complexity, of knowing and being known, of letting go, of reveling in beauty without calculating its kingdom purpose.”