Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Part 3 of My Coming Out: The Guilt and the Myth of Accountability

It would be a while before I would give myself permission to despise, hate, or be angry with my grandfather for molesting me. I had assumed much of the blame and guilt. If he were good (a deacon who sat on the front row of the church every Sunday), I must have been bad. Five or six years after I broke my silence with my mother, I would connect with someone that I could safely talk to about my abuse.  As a master’s student I providentially encountered an instructor who was also a counselor (whose identity I will protect). I think I first sent her a note about my predicament before speaking with her on the phone. (Interestingly, I have had several female students confide in me in papers they wrote in my classes or in my office that they had been sexually abused.) I told the instructor I needed to talk to her. I explained to her that I could not afford her normal fee. I had no job at the time. She agreed to meet with me at her home office for a reduced fee. When I met with this counselor-instructor, I began to share my story of molestation with her. I revealed details I never believed I could release into the atmosphere lest they overpower and sully me more:  How my grandfather would sit me on his lap and make me take a nap. How he would send my two older siblings to the store.
The counselor would prudently interrupt my story with perceptive questions forcing me to think and recall more than I may have wanted to but no more than was necessary to awake “sleeping dogs” or to focus the projector’s lens that was my memory. She asked me how old I was at the time.  I responded that I was TWELVE years old.  Then she asked me a pivotal question. It was a simple question, but one I had never thought to ask myself: “Where was your younger sister?” I replied without blinking or much thought that she had not been born yet. But those words echoed in my mind and arrested my soul.  She had not been born yet. I am eight years older than my younger sister. (By the way, I love my younger sister for telling me that she is not comfortable with me telling my story because, among other reasons, it hurts her to think about what happened to me. But she wants me to tell it anyway because that’s what I need.) In high school I was good at math. If my younger sister had not yet been born, I could not have been TWELVE years old when my grandfather molested me.  In fact my grandfather died in 1968 when I was eleven years old.
My “Aha Moment” occurred when I realized that I could not have been more than eight years old when my grandfather changed my personality, my inaction with others, my voice, and my life.  Why had I been so sure that I was TWELVE years old when my grandfather molested me? Many people believe(d) that twelve years is (was) the age of accountability; that we bear responsibility for anything we do at and beyond the age of twelve.  And this accountability includes anything bad that is done to us, especially sexually; the child who has reached the age of accountability must have invited or motivated the attention/action of her abuser. Some parents (and religious traditions) have believed and taught that twelve years is the age of accountability because the Scriptures record that Jesus was twelve years old when he entered the Temple and conversed with the elders (Luke 2:41-52). Traditionally, Jews celebrate a boy’s bar-mitzvah (literally: son of commandment), his coming of age, when he turns thirteen and a girl’s bat-mitzvah (literally: daughter of commandment) when she reaches twelve. It is a crossing of the boundary between childhood and adulthood. In the Catholic tradition, a child’s “confirmation” takes place at the age of twelve. So as an adult the guilt I carried about my molestation (believing my grandfather was a good respectable member of the community and church) and the superficial teaching about a child’s age of accountability convinced me that I was twelve years old when my grandfather treated me like an adult. [My goal is not to belittle any ritual tradition but to point out impact.]
I would no longer be the child or adult I would have been had the abuse not happened.  My older sister accused me as a teenager and young adult of being afraid of people. I had a deep shyness or fear of people and especially of men. I was preoccupied with what people thought of me but simultaneously very independent. Every man only wanted one thing—I would never say that out loud but that thought unconsciously tainted my interactions.  When a child is abused, her personality changes and she bears a tattoo on her soul that can fade when properly attended to but a residue of which will remain throughout her life. Pain decreases, behavior changes, but memory remains intact. Some do not survive the wound. Others are so scarred and crippled that they just hobble through life, haunted by their abuse; the wound remains open and pus-filled polluting the mind, body, and soul.
I had read some self-help books like Healing the Child Within, which told me that the person I wanted to be is the person I am deep down. I just needed to recovery her. In many cases the self-help books are the “rocks that cry out.” Many will never get the help they so badly need to heal. This dearth of help is partly due to denial, ignorance, and/or a lack of priority when it comes to sexuality and sexual abuse in churches, among religious folk and in society in general. Sexual abuse rarely happens among Christians because we are “new (and improved) creatures” like new American cars that will never again guzzle gas. Sexual abuse does not happen as often as people say, or that is not the worse thing that can happen to a woman (or child). In the 1983 “Dirty Harry” movie Sudden Impact a woman who was gang raped set out to take homicidal revenge on each of her abusers. One man blurted out just before she riddled him with bullets, “It wasn’t that bad was it…some women are giving it away for free.”  Ignorance and misogyny are like an ingrown hair that eventually rears its ugly shaft and wonders why everybody is so upset.
The opportunity to sit down with an experienced and professional counselor allowed me to begin to unpack my guilt and to revisit my story. A huge burden was lifted from my soul that day. That one session made a world of difference. Despite the breakthrough, it would be a year before I would resume my therapeutic journey. The counselor, for whom I am eternally thankful, lost my trust when she broke her agreement with me and decided she would charge me her regular fee.  I don’t know what motivated her to break her word and my trust, but I do know that too often we let the opportunity to make an extra buck unseat our charity and derail our purpose dragging the name of God through the proverbial mud of our discontent and unfaithfulness. Many people are hurting and need trained, skilled, professional and trust worthy counselors to help discover the road to recovery. Why isn’t the church a safe place to share our stories, to be listened to without judgment and without being inundated with proof texts void of context and with religious talking points? There is a dearth in the land. I would eventually, in the same place, find a professional counselor brimming with the integrity of Vashti, the timeliness of Esther, and the wisdom of Sheba.  I will discuss this in Part 4: “I’m a Survivor” ~ God is a wonderful counselor and she is divine!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Honoring & Integrating Our Divine Masculine & Feminine & Its Meaning for the Future of Higher Education

In a recent Facebook thread, my colleague Johnson Thomaskutty asked for responses to a link to an article about Noble Laureate  V.S. Naipul as stating, "I read a piece of writing and within a paragraph or two I know whether it is by a woman or not. I think [it is] unequal to me" (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23955458-women-writers-are-different-i-can-tell-they-are-unequal-to-me.do)

Author Toni Morrison
My response was to turn to my good friend Virginia Woolf. In A Room of One’s Own she certainly talks about differences between women’s writing and men’s writing, although I believe what she ultimately is showing is the differences between “masculine” and “feminine writing,” or more simply put, left-brain oriented writing and right-brain oriented writing. The left-brain is linear and detail-oriented, interested in analysis, comparison and contrast, rules, logic, with a focus on the external world.  The right-brain is intuitive, non-linear, interested in synthesis, unity, connection, with a focus on the internal experience. Irrespective of gender, any individual can lean more to one type of brain. A famous illustration of a female with a male brain was seen in the case of Alice Bradley Sheldon, who writing under the name of James Tiptree, Jr. composed science fiction that was convincingly male.

Now Virginia went on to say more about gender and writing. She put forth the suggestion that the best writer has what she calls an androgynous mind. I think she is right, and I will maintain even more broadly with Jung that men and women need both their masculine and feminine selves to be completely human. Divorced from a connection to inner experience, the left-brain can be trapped into endlessly analyzing and making rules about that which is ultimately not of significance. This is because without that inner connection, there cannot be a spiritual connection.  At the other extreme, a separated right-brain can be trapped into mistaking that personal intuition can automatically be applied to other individuals (the fallacy about spiritual experience about which William James has warned). Without that connection to external reality, there is no recognition and celebration of human difference, making it very difficult to communicate effectively with others who have different views let alone not harm them. Together however, the left and right-brains can both generate new insights and help make those insights become realities. The right brain works best in deciding what to do and the left-brain works best in deciding how to do it.

Author Anne Lamott
Our current civilization has been suffering from a brain imbalance. It is ruled by a left-brain consciousness that does not get its orders from the divine via the right-brain consciousness. It gets its order from a consciousness that is interested in being in control which it falsely believes is about controlling one’s external environment, both other humans and Mother Earth. Not only is the feminine consciousness not consulted, it is demeaned, whether it is found in women or in men. Yet if only that masculine consciousness could unite with the feminine, it would find the love of self that it so desperately seeks.

There are new changes sweeping the planet beyond the chaotic weather patterns and wars.  There is a growing awareness that the return of the feminine consciousness to rejoin the wounded masculine consciousness is in process now. All over people are leaving jobs and relationships that are no longer based on an authentic sense of self grounded in love. They are moving into better places.  People are protesting governments that have oppressed them. People are recognizing that sustainable living, not nuclear power, can allow us to live in harmony with our planet. There is a better future coming. Together we can bring it forth.

Let’s turn now to Higher Education. We all know that we can see that the wounded male consciousness is in charge here. No one would think up the kind of system that we have out of love. No, the system reeks of money and power. What kind of system is it that makes it difficult to be with one’s family if one wants to succeed? What kind of system is it that rewards scholarship over teaching? What kind of system is it that has created an entire slave class of adjunct teachers? And what kind of system is it that enables and protects professors who abuse their students?

Let us return to first principles. What is education?  Education is the means by which an individual can acquire the skills and knowledge to be the very best person they were meant to be, a fully authentic and self-actualized person whose talents have been honed to the highest level.  So this means, any educational system should serve the needs of its students, not the needs of that system, and not the needs of corporations interested in hiring those students. Ideally, the student should play a large role in designing a course of study, in collaboration with an educator who has the student’s best needs at heart. The way the student’s progress is evaluated is also based on the specific learning goals of that student. You really don’t need grades. Students simply need to know what they have learned and what they need further to learn.

 To properly attend to this most important task of teaching, teachers devote their time to teaching.  If they wish, they are free to publish and may get time off to help with the publishing, but publication is not a requirement. No one who does not feel the call to teach should teach.  Would you have your brain operated on by someone who did not want to be a surgeon? Those called to teaching should also be given the opportunity to study the craft as carefully as a plumber studies plumbing.

All of this boils down to that students and faculty are not at the mercy of a system that possess rules that are not of true significance. That students and faculty with their connection to the divine, have the right to self-determination, to know what is best for them to be their authentic selves, and to be able to live and learn accordingly. The excitement of discovery, the joy found in a new skill, the fun of working together to figure something out, the pride in accomplishment and above all, the love of the life of a mind integrated with the heart and with the gut – that is the learning environment all students shall enjoy one day, may the Eternal make it soon.

Written by Guest Blogger Dr. Naomi Schwartz Jacobs (Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Part 2 of Coming Out: Complete Silence is death and not the Absence of Sound.

Silence is relative. Silence is never the absence of all sound.  Things still cry in the darkness of silence. When we sit on a porch at midnight and comment about the silence, we mean the uninterrupted chirping of crickets and the cacophonous melodies from God's other night creatures.  Silence is not the nonexistence of the sounds of life, but it, as we tend to define it, is relief from ordinary, unpleasant, bothersome, unwelcome, or uncomfortable sounds like the whisking of cars rolling swiftly on paved streets, the crying of babies and incessant whining of children, barking dogs, and uninvited conversation that summons us to think, talk, respond, recall, and imagine.

People from my mother and her mother’s generation believed that to survive many abuses and traumas, they had to silence them or not talk about them.  They believed that if you didn’t talk about certain things, if you insisted upon silence, that those things would be forgotten and exercise no power over us. They believed (and have convinced some of us) that if we don’t talk about things but act as if they never were that in the night, like old dogs, they would sleep.  But silence has a sound of its own.  Self-imposed, forced, delusional, artificial silence cannot mask the sounds of the human heart beat, the consciousness of pain inflicted, the unending DVD that is our mind playing, stopping, and rewinding over and over again the horror flicks of our abuse(s).

In about 1990 when I bought my first new car, a red 1990 Toyota Corolla SR5, I had come home from Maryland to visit with my mother (as I often did). My mother, my younger sister, and I were sitting in the living room watching tv. Coincidentally, a show about sexual abuse came on; it compelled me to speak. I don’t remember if I waited until the show was over or if I blurted out in the middle of the show. But I said “mommy I was molested by papa.” Papa was what we called my grandfather. I remember my mother being stunned into silence. My sister, as I remember, said nothing, as if I had just asked for popcorn or something that was not at her disposal to give. (I asked her if she remembered and she said she did not fully recall. If she was silent, she said, her silence was not the absence of pain for me but an attempt to process what I had said and not knowing what to say.) They kept watching the tv. My mother was visibly shaken. I think she asked me, when?  I told her when I was about twelve (I'll address this in Part 3).  I asked her what was she thinking or feeling.  She said she was deeply hurt that this should happen to me; that her father should hurt me. She rocked back and forth in her wheelchair as she did when her legs ached. But she could not talk about it with me; she did not want to talk about it.  She eventually said that my grandfather was dead now and there is nothing we can do about it; that it would do no good to talk about it.  I insisted that it was important for me to talk about it; I don’t remember where I got that idea, whether I read it or whether I instinctively knew I needed to talk about it to heal and to move forward in a healthy way. I am thankful that my mother believed me, regardless.

I was extremely shy as a little girl; didn’t know why.  I wasn’t always shy.  My mother said the mailman, Mr. Calvin, would come to deliver the mail when I was five. I would grab his rubber thumb, the one he used to sort the mail, and run with it insisting “ain’t you got a dollar” when he had offered a nickel for its return. Somewhere that boisterous, talkative, bold little girl became scared, unsure, and extremely quiet, so much so one could barely hear me when I did muster the courage to speak. My grandmother said I would sit on the steps in her kitchen silently gazing through the banister.  I wonder what I was thinking.  At some point, maybe by the God’s grace, I stashed away the memory of my molestation like winter clothes in a cedar lined chest waiting for the dawning of a new season when it would be safe to unpack my pain and the guilt I felt. Self-denial is often in these cases about misplaced internalized guilt; fear that people will see you for the dirty person that your abuser has made you feel like (and sometimes, tragically, others will blame the victim, the abused, rather than confront the reality of the abuse and identity of the abuser). Abused children often, if not always, feel that somehow they are to blame.  But children are never responsible for the bad things adults do to them. Gone are not the days when a person's "virginity" is taken from him/her and s/he is blamed for "losing" it. Women in India, Afghanistan, and American households, courtrooms, and churches/mosques/temples are punished for being raped.

I think at some point I gave up trying to talk to my mother about how my grandfather molested me. But I would eventually understand her inability to talk to me when I came to recognize how she too was forced to lock away pain.  I saw my mother cry about her silenced pain in her seventies. I would often sit with her and ask her about her life. I was living in Cambridge, MA, and had come home to visit when maybe for the first time as an adult my mother allowed herself to speak about and feel the pain of her own childhood scars. When she was about four or five (maybe as young as three) she and her sister Nellie were fighting over a doll, and my mother fell head first into the fireplace. The plait on the top of her head saved her life. But she carried a painful scar for the rest of her life, one that would take years to heal. Her hair would never grow back on the crown of her head. She could not wear a covering or wig on her head for a long time so that her wound could breathe and heal. Children teased her; they called her a big ball headed baby, she said. Even one of her elementary school teachers indiscreetly laughed at her.  Tears, sixty something year old tears and cries, burst forth from my mother that day.  We cried. I understood then why she required silence from me. Hers was a legacy of bottling up her tears, her pain, some of her stories, and surviving the daily challenges of living.  If she had let me speak maybe her own bottled up pain would have imploded like a ruptured spleen or exploded like a volcano spewing hot flowing lava from an ever seething gaping cavity.

Before I was married, I thought it wise to share my experience of molestation with my then fiancĂ©, just in case it might have an unforeseen impact on our marriage. His immediate response was to pray for/with me.  From my then uncritical religious perspective I thought his was a good spiritual response. But he too could not talk about it with me. Prayer is no substitute for dialogue especially when it comes to exorcising the things that haunt and afflict us.  Unfortunately, my then husband would use my secret against me. It became the only reason I could possibly not be interested in sex whenever he was!

In matters of abuse, silence is never a virtue.  It is not acceptable to turn a deaf ear (or blind eye) to an abusive situation or person whoever or wherever they may be found.  It is neither holy nor charitable to expect the victim to be silent; to act as if the abuse never happened. The breaking of my silence with my mother and my family was the beginning of my journey to healing cut short, interrupted by more silence. I wanted to talk, needed to talk to someone I could trust. Silence is crippling and diminishing.  It diminishes the person and voice of the abused. And if the victimizer is still alive, it paves the way for more victims. According to recent research, as many as one-third of Americans have been abused as children. It is a silent and silenced epidemic.

In Part 3 I will discuss the “age of accountability” and the guilt of abuse: my journey to healing.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Five Memorable Moments of Insight

Doras at RevGals invited us to write five memorable moments of insight:

(1) I can appreciate the rain. When I lived in Columbus with my mother while working on my master's at OSU in the mid 80s, I planted a garden in her back yard. I hated the rain prior to planting that garden. But when I realized the miraculous effect the rain had on my garden, I welcomed it, prayed for it, looked forward to it.  I use to see the rain more as a nusance; an event that ruined my hair.

(2) I can paint well.  I took a painting class in college in the early 80s. I painted a replica of the poster with the two monkeys that said "hang in there."  The background looked like mashed bananas (at the suggestion of my art teacher). The second painting was a picture of a black Jesus coming out of the tomb. The monkeys won first place in our college art display contest. The black Jesus was not received too well at a predominantly white college in the 80s. I wonder if my friend Hyveth still has my paintings.

(3) There were giant turtles down by the riverbank where we lived; it was not a fictional tale. My siblings and I journey down by the riverbank while my mother was at work  and we should have been safe in the house. We did see a giant turtle. And we did get a spanking. The other thing we told our mother we discovered in the bushes along the path above the river was a two headed cat!

(4) I love to dance. My mother helped me to discover this.  She had one of those old record players in a big brown wooden cabinet. She would play records and dance around the floor with us when I was about five or six.

(5) Your don't have to have a lot to help somebody else.  Sometimes all it takes to help someone is a little bit of time.  My mother was always helping someone out of her own poverty, before and after she could no longer walk. 

Thursday, June 2, 2011

My Coming Out, Part I: The Myth: “Good“ Men/Women Do Not Commit Sexual Violence

We often turn a blind eye to the people who are committing sexual violence and the places where it is being done because we believe “good” men/women, the people we know and worship with and who we live next door to, and entrust our children with, [they] don’t do such evil things and certainly not in good places like our churches.  Remember the Sunday School teacher in Tracy, California Melissa Huckabee, a minister’s daughter, who was charged with kidnapping, drugging, sexually assaulting, and killing eight year old Sandra Cantu in 2009. And of course there are the many other church (and nonchurch) scandals~ one of the latest and more well publicized being that surrounding Bishop Eddie Long.  “Good” men and women, Godfearing and other fearing, Christian and of other religions do bad things, including committing sexual assault against children. Human beings are capable of doing good and evil.

April was sexual violence awareness month.  It was going to be my coming out month, publicly. But I got side-tracked by work and life. Now I am back. I was molested at about the age of 7 or 8.  I was molested by a man most people considered to be a “good man.”  He was a well-respected deacon in a Baptist church in Columbus, Ohio. He and his wife sat on the front row every Sunday.  He was my grandfather who died in the late 60’s. His wife was the only grandmother I knew; she was not my mother’s mother.  My mother’s mother died when my mother was a very young child. Her father, my grandfather, did not raise his children; his parents did. My mother’s youngest sister Betty told her siblings that their father had raped her. But nobody believed her.  I remember the talk about it.  And as I heard the talk I knew in my heart she was not lying, but as a child I could not say so.  I could only sympathize with my aunt Betty in silence. I loved my grandfather simply because he was my grandfather and people respected him and my grandmother.  He carried himself with dignity, as much as a young child could know about dignity. He was the only male figure in our lives.  My mother separated from my father when we were very young because he had a drinking problem. My father was a good man, my mother told us, but she would not raise her children in that environment.  But another “good man” was allowed to be present from time to time and he would harm her child.

My mother was sickly as a child and as an adult.  As a child, doctors told her she would not live past the age of twenty-seven; but she was 80 when she died. When my mother was in the hospital, my grandmother and grandfather would sometimes babysit for us. When they couldn’t, Ms. Martha would (she was mean to me and often ridiculed me for being lighter than my siblings; another something I had no control over). My mother had to trust somebody with her children while she was in the hospital. People were always trying to get her to put us in a home for orphaned children. She assumed these church-going folks, her father and his wife and Ms. Martha, were good folks and they would not harm her children.  “Good folks” are capable of harming children, of violating them sexually and non-sexually. When God established sacrifices for sins, according to the Bible, they included offerings for sins and God did not exempt the priests. God knew even the priests would sin.  So do not turn a blind eye or ear to what may be going on around you or to a child’s cry for help because you believe that the “good” men and women you know are not capable of doing such horrible things. Even Jesus once refused to claim inherent goodness for himself as a human being proclaiming that “None but God is good” (Luke 18:19).  I’m not advocating that we trust no one or that we cast suspicion on everyone.  I am suggesting that we listen to our children; that we maintain healthy boundaries; that we do all in our power to know to whom we are entrusting our children; that we remember that “good” people do fall, sin, and violate children; that we reserve blind faith for God

In Part 2 of my coming out I will talk about the silence; it is not a virtue in this case.