Post Author: Diane Kenaston
This is “Spy Wednesday,” the day Judas betrayed Jesus. Orthodox Christians reserve Holy Wednesday for anointing and healing. I reserve it as a day for clergy self-care. What better way to anticipate bodily resurrection than with a Holy Week massage?
Today’s anointing, however, is actually a betrayal. The masseuse touches me inappropriately. As his hands move down my body, I freeze. Shouldn’t he know the difference between “good touch” and “bad touch?”
I struggle to say, “That’s too close for comfort.” Later, I berate myself for not being more forceful. But I’m in shock, with thirty years of “niceness” socialized into me.
He moves his hands. As soon as he leaves, my phone verifies that his actions are indeed illegal.
I feel more confident with clothes on, so before I leave I tell him that he crossed a line.
I’m not angry yet. I’m confused. I call my husband and best friend. I leave a message for the state board of investigations. I post in The Young Clergy Women Project facebook group: “…I feel an obligation to report, but I can’t help but feel awful about it. I worry that I’m going to cause this person to lose his livelihood.”
The clergywomen express their sorrow, their prayers, their anger, and their solidarity. They absolve me of guilt at reporting:
“It needs to be reported… A person who touches people in an illegal way should not be making his living as a massage therapist.”
“This is patriarchy and rape culture. He crossed the line.”
“He is the one who made this choice, he is the one doing the violating (not you in reporting it)…. I’m willing to guess you aren’t the first/last, as this could easily escalate. I hope you can let go of any guilt in reporting it. Prayers for you in this horrible, violating situation.”
Although I could have said these things to another woman, I can’t say them to myself. I need to hear them from my colleagues. Their clear articulation of appropriate boundaries helps me to sort through my own feelings. I am stunned at how my “niceness” translates into feeling sorry for the masseuse prior to being able to be truly angry with him. I imagine how awful it must be for folks who don’t have supportive communities with extensive sexual ethics and boundary trainings.
I wake up early and can’t get back to sleep. “Stay with me. Pray with me,” Jesus says to the sleeping disciples. I suspect the perpetrator thought I was asleep when he touched me. But even assuming that he thought I was asleep, why would he do such a thing? I begin to find my anger.
I call the state licensing office, which oversees ethical complaints. The woman who answers the phone sounds bored, “Ma’am, you’ll need to fill out this form. Be sure to include his license number.” The whole call—not counting the time spent on hold—took less than two minutes. I wonder: How often does she answer these calls?
I spend the rest of Maundy Thursday writing, notarizing, and mailing in my official complaint. Completing this task is mentally and emotionally taxing. The form itself is much like a traffic accident report—and yet I cry through this incident report. I have to stop several times to get up, walk around, and drink some water.
While pausing in the reporting, I text two denominational officials who work in sexual ethics. They immediately respond:
“Do you need to talk?”
“Are you with someone to support you?”
“It takes courage to hold someone accountable.”
With their encouragement, I claim my boldness in reporting.
I then boldly (and vulnerably) tell the church office administrator what’s going on. She scuttles my worries about proofreading the fourth of four bulletins for Holy Week. She instantly replies, “Don’t worry about anything. We’ll be fine here. You take care of you.”
That evening I preach about how difficult it is to receive grace from others. At the foot washing, my spouse comes over to me. He points to the chair and says, “Sit.” My eyes well up with tears as he tenderly washes and dries my feet.
Later, during communion, I find myself repeating, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you.”
The state board of investigation will give the perpetrator 30 days to respond to my complaint before completing its investigation. This legal process is on my mind as I read and re-read the accounts of Jesus going before the Sanhedrin, Pilate, and Herod.
I can’t stop thinking about the incident. I have been inappropriately touched before—in public places and by complete strangers—but never before in a professional setting with no witnesses.
My husband tells me not to fast this Good Friday. “You’ve been betrayed by someone you trusted,” he says. “You don’t need to fast from food—you’re already right there with Jesus as he stumbles toward the cross.”
Worship focuses on Luke’s account of the Passion. Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” What does forgiveness look like for me? I don’t know right now. It will involve boundaries. After I ensure that he will not do this to anyone else, perhaps I will someday forgive from a safe distance.
Jesus forgives his betrayers for their ignorance. I find it hard to believe that my perpetrator doesn’t know that what he did is illegal. I also find it hard to believe that Jesus’ crucifiers didn’t know what they were doing. Even without knowing that Jesus is the Son of God, they knew he was a human being—and no human body deserves to be violated.
I read Psalm 22: “I’m poured out like water. All my bones have fallen apart. My heart is like wax; it melts inside me… God didn’t despise or detest the suffering of the one who suffered.”
I have difficulty focusing on my sermon, and spend time reading sexual assault websites instead. There are an unfortunate number of people with similar assaults.
I try on the word “assault.” Why is it so much harder to say than “I was touched inappropriately”?
I tell a friend, “I was assaulted.” He listens, and responds, “Would a hug help?” Yes, please. And thank you for asking.
A colleague warns me that I might cry during worship, so I put extra tissues in my robe. I don’t cry, but I do keep forgetting to smile.
I worry my sermon is too much crucifixion and not enough resurrection. But a first-time visitor thanks me for quoting Audre Lorde. And someone who knows the ups and downs of the week assures me that what I had to give was still enough. She promises that Christ is risen.
We gather with friends for a late afternoon Easter dinner. We laugh and eat. But I still fall asleep ruminating on the assault.
My husband is preaching at the seminary where he teaches. He preaches on Jesus’ appearance to Thomas and the embodied wounds that we all carry. There’s a subtext to what he’s saying that only we know.
We tear up during the closing hymn: “Break the bread of new creation where the world is still in pain. Tell its grim, demonic chorus, ‘Christ is risen! Get you gone!'”
After worship, we hug, and kiss. It’s good touch—consensual, embodied love.
Sin, Death, and Betrayal only appear to triumph. Healing will come.
Resurrection is begun.
The Rev. Diane Kenaston is pastor of University United Methodist Church in St. Louis, Missouri. She graduated from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and has previously served churches in West Virginia, where she is an elder in full connection. She is glad to be married to a feminist, Rev. Dr. Adam Ployd, and to serve as a board member for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women of The United Methodist Church.
Image by: Hans Braxmeier
Used with permission