Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Kicking Off SAAM With A Book Review

Today is the first day of Sexual Assault Awareness Month and it seems appropriate to begin by reviewing a book which highlights a program making a difference in the lives of women who are too often dismissed as unworthy. This book highlights those women themselves by making their voices the heart of the book.

The book is Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart by the Women of Magdalene with Becca Stevens.

The book arrived while I was getting ready for the WAM! conference and even though I was eager to read it I didn't have time to do so until I was flying from Minnesota to Boston. I read it from cover to cover and meant to review it immediately but again didn't have time to give this book the focus it deserves until today.

Too often books that highlight programs which help people are told only from the perspective of those who do the helping. The helpers are elevated far above those helped, but I didn't feel that stratification in Find Your Way Home.

Find Your Way Home has an introduction written by the founder of Magdalene, a residential community in Nashville, Tennessee for women who have survived lives of prostitution, violence and abuse. This intro provides valuable insight, but what makes this small but powerful book resonate are the words from the women who have stayed at Magdalene facilities. Their struggles are presented in a way that doesn't whitewash their past or their present challenges. It is their grounded hope, with the knowledge that hope isn't always enough, which makes this book something special.

The 24 principles of Magdalene are reflected in the 24 chapters of Find Your Way Home. This book can be read quickly or it can be read slowly since much of the book is made up of essays which can be as short as a single paragraph.

Too often my fellow Christians defend church leaders and other respected people accused of sex crimes by saying, "She's no innocent victim," as if that is a valid defense for a sex crime. This same statement is often used to defend doing nothing to help women like those who are served by Magdalene. Their attitudes made me shamed to share the label, Christian, with them. To me Christianity isn't about who you disdain, it is about who you serve. As I read Find Your Way Home it became clear that those who work to keep Magdalene alive share that belief in service which doesn't focus on elevating the person doing the serving.

This isn't just a book for Christians, it is a book for everyone who wants to help and doesn't know what they can do. Magdalene provides an example of practical and sustainable hope. It is a must-read for all those who have labeled certain girls and women as "no innocent victim."

The symbol of Magdalene is the thistle and was chosen because it is often disdained as a useless weed but is a flower which can bloom in the same tough conditions as the women who come to live at Magdalene. It makes sense that the flower behind this symbol would be used to teach the women job skills as they produce body products which are sold through the non-profit business Thistle Farms. This reflects the cycle expressed throughout Find Your Way Home where being helped leads to becoming the helper.

The pervasive message in Find Your Way Home: Words from the Street, Wisdom from the Heart is that love in action is more powerful than the negative forces which often seem all powerful. That's a message all of us who sometimes feel too small to deal with injustice need to be reminded of.

Please go read the book. If you can't afford to buy it, check it out from your local library. If they don't have it recommend it and ask to have it put on reserve for you.

Update: Check out their blog at:


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posted by Marcella Chester @ 12:53 PM   0 comments links to this post


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