For a while, things were fine. Sure there were times her husband would come home drunk and sure there were times when he would be quick to anger, but things were good. She was seeing the morning through new eyes, eyes that could forgive the night before. They had three boys and she loved them without question. And even though she landed on a sub base in Groton, she did not feel let down. She was still seeing and living in different places than she ever would have had she stayed in North Carolina. She was set on making a home, but then things began to change. The late nights became more frequent and her husband began using drugs. He would spend his pay on cocaine and when the money ran short, so too would his anger. Her husband soon became violent. The walls were closing in. He failed a drug test; he failed another. He was due to be kicked out of the Navy and Sadie was stuck.
Sadie married young, she did not marry well.
She tried to stay in her home, but the Naval base on which she was living was about to evict her and the kids because a civilian cannot not live on a base without a direct relation being a member of the military. Facing that eviction, Sadie went to a social worker and the social worker went to her contacts on the base and they said their hands were tied and they could not be seen as setting a precedent by allowing civilians to stay on the base. So the social worker called her Senator’s office and she was directed to the Senator’s representative and the Senator’s representative called base command and the base said their hands were tied since they could not be seen as setting a precedent. So the Senator’s representative called the social worker and the social worker told Sadie she would soon have to move.
And this went on and on. She’d call the social worker and the social worker would call the Senator’s office and the Senator’s office would call the Navy. And the word would come back to her that she would still have to move, but she could not move because Sadie still remembered the good times between her and her husband and the stolen glances and the feel of his hand in hers. She would again press the issue and again be denied the chance to stay, but Sadie could not move because she would not bear the thought of living with her children in a shelter and she’d call the social worker again; so it went. And she was desperate, lost and depressed and she did not understand how things that were once good, went bad; how her husband’s hand left hers and hurt her instead. On and on; phone call after phone call. Sadie waited. The social worker, worked; she called the base, the Navy, the Department of Defense. The Senator’s office continued to lobby on Sadie’s behalf; they too continued to call the base, to plea her case, to call the Navy, to plea her case, to call the Department of Defense, to plea her case. On and on and on one day, weeks or a couple of months later, after so many phone calls made and letters written, the Department of Defense contacted the Department of the Navy who then notified base command to find a solution, if only to make the letters and the phone calls stop.
And so I am reminded of Sadie’s story this morning for two reasons. First, it is October and this month is designated as Domestic Violence Awareness month. It is a month to remember and remind ourselves of the abuse that occurs in homes all over America. It is a month to reflect on the appalling statistics related to abuse and it is a month to stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers who are feeling the effects of that abuse. It is when we remind ourselves that up to 25 % of women have experienced domestic violence in their lifetimes. It is when we remember that 1,247 women were killed and 440 men were killed by their intimate partners in the year 2000. And it is a time where we pledge we will not just use this month as a reminder but as a moment to renew that pledge to protect those who are vulnerable in our communities, to step in where we witness violence and to do our damnedest to stop it.
And the second reason why Sadie came to mind is because of today’s lesson from the Old Testament: Habakkuk. When I first looked over the reading, I just didn’t get it. It is the utter hopelessness that I could not digest. It is the lamentation, the woe is me, the “why God am I forced to witness such violence” that does not seem to fit into the greater Christian ethic. And so I thought of Sadie while reading Habakkuk and I thought of the people around her who responded to her ordeal with love and an insistence that they would try to fix a problem that was inherently human and eminently solvable. They did not wonder why Sadie was hurting, but instead they acted on her behalf. They did not just watch. They did not just sit there and stew and draw pictures in the dirt. They did just not cry out to God, instead they worked to solve her problem.
That was my initial frustration with Habakkuk. Because I look at St. Paul’s and I do not see a community wondering why there is violence. Instead I see a congregation trying to solve the problem of violence as we did yesterday and throughout the year via our support of the Prudence Crandall Center. I do not see a community frustrated that our fellow townsfolk are going hungry, but a congregation that started Bread for Life and one that continues to give generously to Southington Community Services. We see a part of the world that suffers and we provide some means for at least a temporary relief from that suffering.
No, I did not understand Habakkuk when I first read it, but then one day soon after I read his words, I was stopped in traffic at the same light in downtown Hartford I always seem to be stuck at. I then took a left and stopped again at another light and went 500 feet and stopped at still another light. That light turned green and I merged into the parking lot that is 84 and I was parked in traffic again, just like every other day before and every day since and I rode my brakes until Farmington and then eventually got onto Queen Street and then sat in more traffic and I was tired! Continuing on I went to the school to pick up the kids and the kids weren’t where they usually were, so I walked around the school to find them and picked them up and drove home and put the key into the door and of course the key doesn’t always fit and you have to jiggle it and enough! Enough.
It was then I understood. It was then I understood Habakkuk and it was then I realized that I was, in a sense, Habakkuk. Not that I was crying out to God for relief from the mundane, I cannot equate myself to a prophet hearing God promising him freedom from the Babylonians, but I understood. I understood the frustration from silence, the lack of answers to questions that start with the words: “How long”, “Must I” and “Are you kidding me”.
Until relatively recently, a starting point in my life was that all problems are solvable but we just lack the understanding or want to actually solve them. But then that is a simplistic reading of things. It does not take into account the complexity of the world. It does not address the fact that most problems do not have a single root, but instead they are tangled and not easily sorted out. It is a simplistic reading of things and it is wrong.
For example, the Prudence Crandall House was founded 40 years ago. In that time they have helped thousands. And still to this day they serve the abused. And still they provide beds and still they are in need of donations. And still they need cash and still they need the resources to assist those most at risk. And it does not end. It does not stop and it becomes simpler to understand just why Habakkuk had such a lamentation and if you think of the violence long enough and the children who are impacted by it and who lack the stability that will help them grow into healthy adults, it becomes easier to ask the question why. Why God, do you force me to witness such violence?
My first reading of Habakkuk was misguided, and this is especially evident in God’s response to the prophet: “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”
And again, there is that first impression where I asked: “Look at the proud?” And I should just live by faith? The proud are the ones who have abused, the proud are the ones abusing, the proud are the ones who will abuse and we are the ones who are to look at the proud and live on faith? But then, my first impression was wrong. God is not saying do not try, rather God is saying live by our faith. Our faith tells us to act on behalf of the abused and the poor and the downtrodden. And our faith tells us to look for God and to also look for the violence of this world from our watch towers, to sound our alarms and cry out when we witness it. And when the alarm is sounded the people will act. We will act. And we will continue to act, as we always have and we will sometimes become overwhelmed by such things as we always have. And God will provide us comfort and relief, as He always has. And we will not just watch.
And so, I was reminded of Sadie again. After this seeming clarity occurred to me, I remembered the end of her story. Weeks or months after she first reached out for help, on a chilly Spring day where winter did not yet loosen its grip, Sadie left the house that would soon no longer be hers and she walked down to a payphone where she met the social worker and the social worker dialed the Senator’s office and the Senator’s representative picked up the phone.
“I have someone who wants to speak to you”, said the social worker and she handed the phone to Sadie. Sadie took the receiver and she said, “Thank you.” She said, “thank you”. And she said thank you because the work performed on her behalf was finally successful. She said thank you because the base changed its mind and they would allow her to move into some temporary housing that it owned across town. She said thank you because she’d have time to get back on her feet again with a roof over her head. She said thank you because her children would be safe and protected and she said thank you.
And Sadie said thank you because the people around her did not just watch.