Tamar's 13 Reasons Why

But she said to him, "No, my brother! Don't rape me. Such a thing shouldn't be done in Israel. Don't do this horrible thing.” (2 Samuel 13:12, CEB translation)

In the process of preparing for my summer sermon series dealing with things that are trending, I binge watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. I admit I also watched because I have a teenage son, and I knew from the comments floating around that I should watch it in case he decided he was interested. I have heard various things: that it glamorizes suicide, that it is sexually explicit, that it deals with rape and alcohol abuse, etc.

If you have missed the all the talk, 13 Reasons Why is the story of a girl, Hannah, who commits suicide and leaves behind 13 sides of cassette tapes that explain how various people contributed to 13 reasons why she felt she had no choice but to kill herself. Personally, I do not think it glamorizes suicide, especially because they show an unflinching scene of her actually killing herself and it is nauseating, and because they show the repercussions (particularly on her parents) of the devastation left behind. Also, it does have some explicit moments, but these are of 2 rapes, and they are again not glamorized but instead are bleak and painful to watch.

I am haunted by this series. I am haunted because I know how true it is.

The non-profit organization One In Four (see reports that 25% of women on college campuses have survived a rape or rape attempt. The only way they have these statistics, though, is through anonymous surveys. They cannot do it by reported rapes because so many go unreported. I know that some of you will be skeptical that these statistics are too unscientific and are probably blown out of proportion. I too am skeptical. I think they might be too low.

Now why would I say that? Partially it comes from my experience as a pastor, working with people through all kinds of life crises. Partially it comes from being the sister-in-law of a former rape crisis director. And partially it comes from a moment in high school when 7 of us (all girls) in the journalism class were deciding whether we should do a story on date rape for the school paper or not. While we were debating the merits of such an idea, the girls in the group suddenly started disclosing. Of the 7 of us, 5 described experiences of assault. Some had been able to fight their way out, some were forcibly molested, and some were raped. Some instances involved only one guy; some had been attacked by more than one. Some were attacked by a family member. All were attacked by someone they knew. As I sat there listening to this conversation, I waited for one of the 7 of to share her story, because I knew she had been raped. I had been there to pick up the pieces. But she never disclosed.

Of the 7 of us in that conversation, 6 had experienced sexual violence. And at least 7 men had perpetrated such violence. It was an obvious issue. And yet we did not do the story, because we believed it would cause us all more problems than it would be worth.

Did we contribute to the culture of silence? Yes, we did. Did we share in the responsibility for any other such violence that happened in our high school after that conversation? Using the narrative logic of 13 Reasons Why, maybe.

The church also contributes to such a culture, because we avoid this issue too. Yet, we have biblical texts that invite us to confront it. Perhaps the most vivid is the story of Tamar recounted in 2 Samuel 13. Yes, Chapter 13.  I invite you to read that story, and then these 13 reasons I imagine Tamar could have had for her own despair will make more sense.

Tamar’s 13 Reasons Why (imagined in her voice)

1.       Amnon – Why did you not just come to me and tell me you loved me? This whole awful situation could have been avoided. As a man in the Ancient Near East, you had much more say in my future than I did.

2.       Jonadab – You are my family too. You are my father’s nephew. My cousin. Why did you take Amnon’s side without regard for mine? And why did you not just advise him to take me out to dinner, to court me and marry me? What is in your head and your heart that you think plotting to set me up for rape is the best first option?

3.       David – You are the king, and my father, as well as Amnon’s father. How can you be so out of touch with your children that you could not see the deception written all over Amnon’s face? He has never asked me to bake cakes for him before. And really, heart-shaped cakes?! How checked out are you as a parent? Did that not seem weird at all to you?

4.       Everyone in the room – Did you all not think it strange that Amnon dismissed everyone but me? If he was so sick, why did he need me to stay? Wouldn’t it make more sense that a servant, or a priest, or someone with healing capabilities would stay? Why did everyone leave me with him?

5.       Amnon – Why did you force me? I begged you to just go ask dad to let me marry you. You knew I was a virgin, and you knew that I would have no good future if I lost that virginity. Yet, you took it from me anyway. How could you find me attractive while you hit me, held me down, and watched me cry? How could you say you loved me and still go through with it?

6.       Amnon – The rape was awful, inexcusable, excruciating. And then came the hate. There was still hope that you might marry me, as awful as that would have been, but it would have kept me from dishonor. Yet you could not even give me that. I do not think you ever loved me. I think you were obsessed with something you thought you could not have, even though you could have had me easily. But then once you did get me, by force no less, you had no more desire. You hate me. Well, I hate you.

7.       Young servant – You saw me. I saw in your eyes that you really saw me. You have known abuse. You can see abuse. You saw it all over my face. In my hair. Written on my body. You knew the dress, the one that announced my virginity, had become a charade. You knew. But I know, your voice is even quieter than mine in this place. You could not say anything to anyone else. But why did you not say anything to me? As you led me out, pushed me into the hall, to be a woman with no life before her, no dreams to come true, why did you not extend your hand and tell me how to live like that? Because I know you know.

8.       Absalom – You saw the ashes on my head, and you knew instantly what happened. But how? How did you know so easily? How did you know I was in mourning for myself, and not for someone else? And how did you know it was Amnon? I can only conclude that you had seen it in his eyes long before it happened, and yet you did not protect me then. And now, when I need a brother again to come to my side, your counsel is to keep quiet?! I am sorry if my pain is so inconvenient for you. You were the one person who seemed to care what happened to me, but you will only act when it is to your advantage. I get the feeling that I am just a good excuse to get rid of your rival for father’s throne, but you don’t want me to derail your progress in getting there. You let me live in your house, but there I was always to be the broken woman.

9.       David – You were very angry, but you refused to punish Amnon, because YOU LOVED HIM! You obviously do not love me. You know, I am starting to understand where Amnon came from. He came from you. I should not have been surprised. After all, we all know you raped Bathsheba, and then when there was evidence that would prove your guilt, you covered it up by having Uriah murdered. You think we don’t know. We do. And we know your “love” is a passing thing. You love when it is convenient to you. You mourn as long as expected, and then you move on. I know your love is always on your own terms. And God knows it too. God knows it too.

10.   Absalom – Two years. You waited two years, and then avenged my honor. Actually, you had your servants do the avenging. It doesn’t feel like it is me you were avenging. It feels like you were waiting for a moment when you could get safely away, so that one day you can come back and take the kingdom. Well, if that is your plan, and if you really hate that I was raped, then would you do something bigger when you are king? Would you give women a voice, and would you make a society that refuses to accept such violence? How can you do that, though, when you are building your own rule on violence?

11.   David – And again, you mourn your sons, but you have no regard for your daughters. Just like you have no regard for your wives. Women are ornaments to you. We are not humans, and we are certainly not worth your mourning or your love.

12.   God – And where are you? Nowhere in my story. I understand why you would want to remain unstained by this story. But so do I! I want to be made clean. So do I want to experience rebirth and renewal. But you are not here. And I am not your favored one. I am not my father.  I am beginning to think I have no father, not even you.

13.   Israel – I told Amnon that rape should not be done in Israel, and yet it is. It was. It will be. When will we be better? When will we live up to all that we can be? When will we be the vision, the salt of the earth, the city on the hill? We never will be as long as these things are done.

Let Tamar’s voice, and her cries, help us to envision and then to make a better place. A place where there are no reasons for such despair, because such a thing as rape is not done here.

We Must Be Willing

An Inconvenient Faith