Saturday, September 1, 2012

Code of Silence

Now what provoked this thinking has to do with the fact that I'm doing a short presentation about my spiritual journey at my church in a couple of weeks.  While speaking in church (even preaching sermons) was common in my old life, I really haven't spoken in front of a church about anything in about twenty years . . . not since I went through the looking glass and found myself at a different place.

To pack my "spiritual journey" into a 5 minute presentation has required me going back and thinking through some bad experiences, which changed my life for the better . . . and the worse . . . from a long time ago.  Those things have had healthy closure and it is not good to go back and think about them very much.  That was my great hesitation about doing this talk.

I tried to explain to my pastor that my great trepidation is the fact that I've never told this story in public and now I'm speaking of it in front of an entire church, many of the people I don't even know.

Now, I know that I've alluded to my experiences here ad nauseam (I know I use that phrase too often I guess that would be ad nauseam-ad nauseam)  but my comments are like looking at an eclipse without looking directly at the sun. I have not spoken of the details of our bad experience nor am I ever, but I do talk a lot about the process of suffering, especially Christian suffering.

It seemed strange to me that back when we had our bad experience, we had this big crowd of supporting church bodies (as all missionaries do).  Something terrible happened on the field but then we come back and we told no one.  As if I were examining the behavior of a complete stranger . . . or maybe a Rhesus Monkey . . . this week I was examining our own motives of silence (twenty years ago).

There is a unwritten code of silence for victims and I think that is even more true in the Church. But why is that? I wanted to look at some of the motives and false assumptions.

I've committed plenty of bad sins in my life, but one of my worse was when I was 20. My best friend at the time was a young (18 year old) lady named Dana.  It was Platonic. It had to be.  I was part of the Navigators and my leader already forced me to break up with my girlfriend so I'm sure he would have been livid if I had a new one. But Dana and I were close friends, but purely a friendship.  I think we would have been dating if I had been allowed to. But that's beside the point.

The point is, Dana had a very close and funny little sister (age 16) named Amanda.  She was equally a good friend . . .okay, not equally.  On one cold December day, my aunt called me to tell me that she just heard that Amanda had been killed.  It was her first solo drive as she had just gotten her driver license. She was going to the store in the family pickup, if I remember right, to get milk or eggs for making Christmas cookies.  The store was just a few miles away.  Somehow her tire dropped off the edge of the payment (she wasn't going very fast) and, being a new driver, she didn't know how to correct for that and it pulled her into the ditch. When she hit the ditch, the truck rolled . . . crushing her. It was a freak accident.

My great sin came in how I reacted. I was her sister's best friend at the time. She had to have been totally devastated. My great sin?  I never have seen or spoken to Dana since the day I found out about the accident.

There is no excuse for my actions but I thought through what made me abandon my best friend when she needed me most?  There were several factors. For one, I had a friend at the time in the Nav ministry who thought very dualistically.  I remember him advising me not to go to the funeral home or not to call Dana because, he said, "as Jesus said, let the dead bury the dead. We don't have time for this kind of stuff, we live in eternity."  I know that was strange but it had some influence on me. Now, I will deconstruct why he said what he said a bit, down to the very ground level. This nav guy, I am sure until this day, was romantically in love with me (while one the surface despising homosexuality) and he was trying to persuade me to go on an out-of-town ministry trip with him, forcing me to miss the funeral. So that is really why he came up with this "let the dead bury the deal" line. He stalked me all through college.

But moving on.

The other thing that was told to me by my other friends and even some family members was, "Dana needs some space," and "Don't bring it up until she does."

Well Dana never called. I'm sure she was distraught even more when I didn't show up at the funeral . . . while all of her minor friends did.

So, what was this myth about "giving them space."  Or "it is too painful to talk about." I think that is all bullshit!  People hurting need to talk . . . to talk in a place where there is pure grace.

When we got back from the mission field there were several reasons we followed a code of silence. First, when we reported the bad things our missionary boss had done to us to the mission board . . . they didn't believe us. He persuaded them that we had made it up.  Later he was proven to be the liar when he abused the next family that came over as well. But that was a huge reason we didn't talk.

I have had many patients who tell me they have been raped. Often they were raped in high school by the famous jock. Sometimes it was a family member. In either case, they kept a code of silence because they believed that the perpetrator had more credibility than they did. That is a big reason we didn't talk.  Our super-duper godly missionary boss was much more believable than we young punks were. So why take the chance?

Another reason we didn't talk about the terrible thing that happened to us was the the director of the mission board (the one who concluded we had made up our story) famous last words to me were, "For the sake of the Kingdom of God . . . don't mention your experience to anyone!"  I remember those words like they were yesterday. To deconstruct what he was saying, what he really meant was, "You better not say a damn word about what happened to you, even it is is true, because it will make me look bad and our organization. If our organization looks bad, it will be harder to raise money from people."

So it raised the next question, how often do we not talk about the bad things that happened because we don't want Jesus to look bad? Or, as someone has said, "ruin our wittiness." But if Jesus is who He said He was . . . then He is truth and truth never hurts. He would never hide from the truth. It is impossible to make "Jesus look bad."

Another reason that I followed a code of silence in our situation was personal shame.  My family was hurt badly and it happened on my watch.  I was so swept away with "Godliness" that I ignored the reality right in front of my face (as I was living on the 70th floor away from the ground floor of reality). I am responsible for my family being hurt by ignoring the warning signs of this nut-job who hurt them.  I'm, until this day, ashamed that I wasn't the husband and father who figured things out in advance and protected my kids and wife.

I have known many women who have been abused and keep the code of silence because they know (and it is sad that they might be right) that they will be assumed to be guilty by association.  It must be worse for men who were, say, sexually abused. I can't imagine the shame that must come with that, even if they were (and most are) totally innocent.

Sometimes there is a psychological factor that says even if a pure accident occurs, like with Amanda, that somehow it is our fault.  Not bad driving, but God wasn't watching over us . . . because we weren't obedient to Him.  This is that prosperity gospel crap. You know, love God and obey Him, then only good things will happen. Your son will be the one survivor on the 747 that crashes . . . not the ONLY one killed.

So, my point isn't that we need to blab constantly about being a victim. But there is a place for victims to talk . . . and it can be healing.  I'm hoping to create a place, such as a Internet forum, where people can share their stories and find comfort . . . as part of closure.

Let me add, I did come across Dana's page on our high school's page in ""  I posted on her page and told her I was very, very sorry and a jerk for what I had done to her 30 years ago. But I let my subscription expire soon after that (about 5 years ago) and I don't know if she ever read that or not.

This is too long and I must go. No time to proof once again.


brenda said...

Oh my hit the nail on the head. I have often alluded to our experience as the abused wife who tells know one her pain because she is so ashamed and somehow thinks she deserves the abuse. Our "advisor" told us that it wasn't necessary to "share" our experience because Jesus said that what was done in darkness will be brought into the light...I think I might like to be part of this internet forum for sharing that you mentioned.

jmj said...

I would like to create a forum for open discussion. We just created one for my office and we are working through the process of learning how to run it. Maybe within a few months. But there would be many different topics geared towards the post-evangelical, including space for people to talk about things they have gone through in a very honest way.