Friday, April 19, 2013

Truth and Reconciliation: a Beginning

(reprinted with permission) 

 Dear Sandy, 

As I was eating my brunch just now, I couldn’t get your blog post out of my mind. I really didn’t try too hard, realizing that stuffing uncomfortable thoughts, images, memories is one of the things I tend to do.  I decided to reread it, now that I am straight on whose words these are—not some author whose book I’d read and with whom I felt a certain pain, but my daughter … whose pain over this I was not aware of for I don’t ever remember hearing of these events … unless these were among those thought, images, and memories that I stuffed because they were too uncomfortable for me to live with. 

When I first read the post before brunch, I was struck by your description: "Men, however, especially with a liter or two of lager in them, were delighted to ‘talk about love’. And to fondle me, grope my breasts, and press their leering, beery bodies close to mine.” I had felt revolt that these half-drunk slobs would do such things to Rachel.  But as I reread it, knowing this is you talking, I am more than revolted.  I was ready to punch them in their red, inebriated noses!  “That’s my young daughter your treating like less than a human being.  You are just that—less than a human being—to act that way!” 

Then, the thought entered my mind, “And how many times have I thought of such things, without acting on them?” That is all part of the patriarchal culture I was reared in, and which I am having one hell of a time pulling myself out of for it is so engrained in my as an integral part of psyche! 

The patriarchal home in which you were raised was more subtle than those half-drunks, but no less damaging. My therapist and I have talked about the fact that I was abused growing up by my mother—emotional incest—and that has the same lasting effects that sexual abuse does. Surely the attitudes, actions, words, innuendos, double entendres, and the like, that were evident as you were growing up, were equally as damaging to you. 

And when I think that I was as responsible for this part of your abuse as were those intoxicated guys, I more than cringe! I get equally angry. My only excuse: I didn’t know better. I was simply repeating what I had experienced in my home growing up with a father who had wanted to divorce my mother after having more than one affair … even as he actively took part in leading worship of our fundamentalist congregation. 

Obviously all this is well engrained, not something involving just your, mine, and my parents’ generations. It goes back to the beginning of the church, back to its Jewish roots. Women are property … playthings. Oh, I never heard it put so bluntly within the church. 

No wonder you did not talk to anyone about this? The men in leadership would have been more blind than I, and the women had been beaten into submission to men since they themselves were children. That’s the way it was (and still is in many places). Surely this price was not to much to pay so that one of those slobs on the streets of Dusseldorf could find the “joys” that you had found in being a Christian! Did the mission leadership have any idea what was going on out there on the streets? And if they did, were they at all aware of the horrible effect it was having on the young women and teenage girls they were sending into the brothel, as it were, to surrender their bodies and souls for Christ? 

If you had said anything (it is probably just as well you didn’t!), you’d not have been “given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover. There would have been no sense of the fact that you needed “a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.” If you had mentioned it to me—and if you did, I (like the leadership) unconsciously considered it too insignificant to deal with or even remember—I would have had no idea that you needed to be “given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.” It would have all been off our radar screens; we would have seen you as less than dedicated. (God, did I really just write that about myself?) 

Oh, Sandy! What I’m experiencing as I read and write just now is so eye-opening.  And so horrifying. 

Ah, and when you realized you were being abused, you felt that you were cheating God by not being willing to sacrifice yourself—including sexually—on that so-called Christian altar. How often I’ve felt the same way, though not because I was sexually abused, just because I was not a good witness, I was not willing to die for Jesus.  And oh the shame that has grown within me. 

I have not resolved anything here, but I did not intend to.  I only want you to know that my eyes were opened if just a bit, that I’m willing to see some of your pain, that there is a new awareness of things relative to you, to the church, to patriarchal Christianity, to the homes you and I grew up in. 

All I can say is that I can pray for you as you enter your personal retreat next week, and I can pray with much more awareness than I could have an hour ago.  May the compassionate God meet you during your times of thought, meditation, relaxation, unburdening, and the like; may find healing. 

Sandy, my daughter, forgive me for all I have done, years ago and much more recently, out of utter ignorance and blindness. I love you.  I cry with you. 


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Will You Live for Jesus Today?"

(My response to "Why I Don't Witness to People on Airplanes" by Rachel Held Evans)

I abhor "evangelism", "witnessing", and whatever else people call proselytizing for Christianity. Now, in my late 40s, I am much more confident striking up conversations with strangers than I ever was growing up in Evangelicalism, but I'm also much less inclined than ever to sell someone an ideology they likely don't need and definitely weren't looking for before I crossed their path. I had my fill of the guilt trips for being a preacher's daughter who'd never "brought a soul to Jesus" and who couldn't work The Four Spiritual Laws into my conversational gambits. I'd had my fill of the guilt and subsequent doubting of my own worthiness and my own salvation long before I actually gave up the practice, though. Peer pressure, I guess.
But the real reason I stopped trying to "advance the Gospel" directly was my experiences as a summer missionary working the local beer fests for the annual evangelism push of a church in Dusseldorf.
Given no training or advice beyond a pick-up line ('Can I talk to you about love?") and a stack of church literature, I was sent out to the streets during the day and into the festivals in the evening. Not surprisingly, women didn't want to have anything to do with someone pushing religious literature at them and turned away before I could even get my line out.
Men, however, especially with a liter or two of lager in them, were delighted to "talk about love". And to fondle me, grope my breasts, and press their leering, beery bodies close to mine. The conditions of love they suggested didn't involve attending church the next Sunday.
Given my upbringing in the church, I was sure that there was something I was doing to entice them, that I led those men into thinking I was offering something besides Jesus. I was also trained that no price was too high, no insult too much, not when it was the Gospel. So I continued my duties, night after night at the fairgrounds, feeling ever more like I'd totally failed God.
Finally I broke down at a street theater evangelism at the end of the week. I walked away from my assigned task of working the gathered crowd. I sat down on a bench across the plaza, sure that I was cheating God--despite the fact that I was shaking, my teeth were chattering in my effort to hold myself together, and I could barely stand anymore I was so weak from the strain. I let myself cry for about five minutes, wrote in my journal about how unsuited I was for the Lord's Work, and worried that someone from the church would "catch me playing hooky."
It wasn't until two decades later that I realized how traumatized I'd been by the sexual assaults to which I'd been subjected, and that what I'd experienced had actually been sexual assault. Twenty years until I got pissed off that any young woman (or girl, we had teens on our team) should be sent out alone into partying crowds, that women are taught that we have to accept such insult, that it is our fault when men act disrespectfully. Twenty years before I realized that it had never even occurred to me, nor to my fellow team members (male or female), to inform the evangelism organizers of my experiences; much less to expect that I be given a place of safety and refuge in which to recover.
But after that summer, I never again felt guilty about not "living for Jesus today".

Thursday, April 4, 2013

10 Things on Thursday

I am planning a solitary DIY retreat for the last week in April.  Here are ten things for my portable altar:

1.  An alter cloth (that will double as a head scarf when I am out in the sun)

2.  A few tea light candles

3.  A lighter

4.  A small abalone shell to hold the candle

5.  A found shell that reminds me of half a wing as a meditative focus

6.  A bag of Dead Sea salts

7.  A flask of whiskey (yeah, not really this one)

8.  Heretic Anointing Oil (my own blend that a local store makes up for me)

9.  A collection of prayers

10. A rose petal/white sage smudge bundle

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Weaker Vessel

I see myself
In the sight of men.

Men who exploited
My innocence,
My obedience,
My female body,
To gratify their own lusting.

To assuage the bursting ache of their own grasping for control, they used me.

Because of their use,
They despised me.

I am a
Walking manifestation of the
Evil they have been
And cannot acknowledge.
I must bear their shame:

It must be I who
Am too alluring
With my developing sexual body.

I who
In my very vulnerability
Should be protecting myself
And them
From their own over-reaching desires.

I am the one in the wrong place, in the wrong clothes, too weak, too alone, too silent.

I wear the mark
Of their transgressions
In my wounded eyes. 

I fear
The evil I must be
To have tempted those
In whose care I am
To violate their sacred responsibility.

The weight of their (my) shame weighs heavy on my soul.

(© 2013)