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. 

Dad

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