Victim Fame – Fifteen Minutes Is Never Enough

I spent about three hours this morning working on a blog post you’ll never see. I’m not sure why I decided to write that post when I woke up today, but I think the conclusion I’ve come to this evening about it has made the exercise worthwhile.

The piece basically justified for my readers all the reasons why I write what I write about, why I think Christianity needs a kick up it’s backside, and why I love and hate church at the same time. It detailed all the things that have happened and the decisions I’ve made, all the circumstances and mistakes and crap that has been dispensed, by me and others, which were then labelled church or worse, as something associated with Jesus. The post gave times and dates to my teenage pregnancy, my early wedding, my mental illness diagnoses, the cancer, the breakup of my marriage and my husbands alcoholism. It told about my roles and responsibilities and positions I’ve held in churches, my qualifications and my experience – or lack of it. It was the post I thought might fill in the gaps for my readers in terms of them wondering where I get off talking about something as lovely and special as church as in such critical terms. My post basically said how I know what I know, and why I think what I think, and gave evidence and statistics to support my case. For your benefit. So you would know I’m not making it up.

But then, when I got about seven eighths of the way through the post, I thought, what is actually the damn point of this?

It’s just a dumb old victim story.

I know a victim story when I see one, in fact, I think we we all do. Victim stories are dead boring. They’re those well rehearsed tales of woe meant to convince you to take the unfortunate persons side against some past perpetrator; who often is just some poor bugger who once offended us, but has had the intelligence and fortitude to move on and forget the whole incident ever happened. Victim stories prop up the wounded, sad little identity of the person who was once hurt, wronged or offended. Victims never lose track of their stories; they are engraved on their palms like stigmata – a carefully journaled record of everything the victim must never forget. If they ever do, intentionally or inadvertantly, they will be forced to change somehow, to progress, to evolve, get better, or –  God forbid – to forgive and forget. And this can never happen.

And then, later in the day, I caught myself doing it again. A friend told me how she bumped into an old acquaintance of ours a few days ago, and without even thinking, away I went. “Oh, yes, remember the time that blah, blahdy, blah, and that was so bad for me because blah, blah-blah, blah blah….”. Out it all came before I could even help myself. It was only on reflection I realised my whole relationship with this acquaintance was now pretty much defined by one time they’d done something that wasn’t in my immediate best interests. And I thought that remembering it that way was pretty sad, and stupid, of me.

Hard-core victims hold on to their stories like old rock stars hold onto their hairdressers. If they change, they know people won’t recognise them any more. A victim identity doesn’t care that it makes the person who has it appear to be a sad, morose human being, trapped in the past. The victim willingly accepts the fame being a victim brings them in exchange for their dignity – but fifteen minutes of this kind of fame will never, ever be enough.

Now, I’m not talking about people who’ve been genuinely and shockingly hurt, abused or damaged; I’m talking about self-pity. Some of the best people I know have every reason to remind others at every opportunity exactly what horrible thing was done to them, and God knows, many of us need reminding what horrible things have been done. But I personally hate the word “victim” because it denotes an exchange of power away from the person who has been hurt. At some point in the process, justice, grace or dignity must be instated to the injured party, and the fame of victimhood exchanged for the anonymity of health and wholeness. It’s a hard lesson to learn, and unfortunately some of us never learn it.

I never liked that term “cancer victim.” I never fought cancer – I’d have been punching way below my division. Sometimes shit just happens and you need to just name the shit, get mad at the shit and then get a damn bucket and broom and deal with the shit forever. I never felt like anything that’s happened to me has been anyone else’s fault but my own, mostly. People have done crappy things, for sure, but I have to take responsibility for my part in it. I hope I do, most of the time.

When I tell you about stuff that’s happened, it’s not because I want you on my side, or want you to think I harbour any ill-will. I’m still a little cranky about some things, it’s true, but only because I see many times where the dumb thing that happened to me was avoidable, and is about to happen all over again, because nobody learned anything the first time around. That would be dumb. I in no way resent dumb things, stupid, things, hurtful and confusing things happening except where they are rendered useless in effecting positive change by ignorance, denial or lies. To be frank, the reason I write so much about church is because many things which could be great opportunities for positive change for Christianity and for churches are wasted because people can’t deal with being exposed or demoted, or ever risk just being plain old wrong. Ever.

So, anyway, I decided to give up my list of times and dates of all the things that happened to me that qualify me to whine and criticise and challenge the church. It bored me after a while just writing it, so I was pretty sure it was going to be boring for you reading it. I was thinking, they’ll be reading this and going “And I need to know all this because….???”  The fact is, we are here, now. Life is what it is, in this moment. The past doesn’t matter, but the future does. I mention the past not to elicit your sympathy – I don’t need it. I’m great, really. I mention the past to help shape the future. I tell my story to perhaps help you own yours, certainly, to help you tell yours. I open myself up for scrutiny because I feel I have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. If I mention others, it’s not to lay blame. I assume they have long since moved on, or forgotten what I’m even talking about, or at best might share a laugh or a solemn moment remembering with me. I hope so. I like to think I’d do the same.

Can I encourage you – give up your victim story. It’s time to give up that ten minutes of sickly-sweet, self-indulgent, self-centred, deliciously wounded fame for a happy lifetime of being a peaceful, wise, healthy nobody. Surrender your times and dates and lists and accounts – it’s time to move on, it’s time to grow up. The world needs more grown ups. People need hugs. You know, many little kids are more grown up than a lot of adults are? Ever had a hug from a little kid that felt like your grandma? Old souls – the world needs more of ‘em. I want to be an old soul, not a perpetually wounded, cry-baby one. I want to tell war stories, victory stories, not victim ones.

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