Perspectives on Spiritual, Intellectual and Pastoral Issues: Host – Lowell Qualls

Archive for April, 2008

Rape and Abuse

The long term effects of rape and abuse confound and frustrate me.

I’m a former pastor who, from time to time, tried to help victims of abuse and rape overcome the affects those crimes had upon their lives.  Because I was a community leader (pastors still are), I was thrust into the netherworld of the human psyche – both the victim’s and the perpetrator’s. 

My training in pastoral counseling was broad and useful.  It was meant to be beneficial to my “clients,” both my congregants and the Man on the Street who might come by my office for conversation and prayer.  I felt my role was to provide first aid … to stop the bleeding long enough to get these poor, psychologically and emotionally wrecked people to better equipped individuals – “professionals” (if there is any such thing when it comes to dealing with human brokenness and pain).  

Nothing – no amount of education or training – could have prepared me for my conversations with rape and abuse victims.

That said, the reason I’m writing today is because I’ve been reminded of the continuing effects this kind of violence has on men and women.  Once again I’ve been painfully exposed to the long-term influence and power of abuse upon its victims.  Once again I heard (and most of the time I’ve heard), “If I had been smarter, this would not have happened.”  Or its variant:  “How could have I let (this or that) happen to me?” 

It’s been my experience on many occasions that rape’s victims seem to think they are at fault in the matter and that they brought the violence upon themselves.  The abused many times take responsibility for the actions of the abuser, saying, in effect, “I let this happen to me” (emphasis on I).

That may or may not be the experience of other pastors, counselors, or mental health professionals.  I’m saying, authoritatively, that this has been my experience … and it has and continues to sicken me.

In my thirty-three years of being a pastor my joy has been to preach about Jesus.  I’ve had the privilege of sharing the love of God.  The most loving thing I’ve done is lead people to an understanding that God has a solution for the sin they, themselves, are responsible and accountable for.  The Word of God says, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.”  It also says, “The wages of sin is death” (eternal separation from a holy God who cannot look upon sin, or have it in His presence).  But that same Word says, “But …”  (I love it!)  “ … the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” 

The good news (Gospel) in a nutshell is, “Jesus took my sin upon Himself, dying in my place, so that I might have eternal life … and if I believe that, and ask God for Christ’s death to cover my debt to Him (‘the wages of [my] sin’), I can be forgiven of ALL my sin and sins.  As a result I can be made (by God’s work, not mine) clean (holy), and be assured that I am ‘saved’.” 

I’ve watched people accept this Idea, this His-story (sic), this Truth, and I’ve watched God’s LIFE permeate their entire beings – bringing freedom from addictions, guilty pasts, and the lies of our enemy – Satan.  I’ve then watched as freed people joyfully live out their days!

Many times I’ve led rape and abuse victims to this loving Father God, the One who commissioned His Son Jesus to provide salvation, and watched as He changed MUCH of their lives while giving them assurance of eternal life.

But (and here’s a frustration of mine) many of these same folks continue to struggle with the memory of their physical and emotional rape.  [NOTE:  I’m not suggesting that God, when He saves a person, takes away bad memories.  In fact, 99.9% of the time He does not, I believe because He wishes those bad memories to become the springboard for empathetic ministry to other victims.]

Here’s the crux of my frustration:  On an intellectual and psychological level, these victims have never quite gotten to a place where they could say, “I didn’t do this to me!  I don’t have to take responsibility for anything but my sin, and in this case I didn’t sin … I was sinned against!”

I realize now that I am way over my head, and that much of what I’m writing will be fodder for critics of God’s amazing grace.  Still, I must write, “Oh, how I wish I could somehow magically transform the mindset of these wounded people by saying something, or by waving a magic wand over their head and heart.  I wish the truth of what has happened to them would come into clearer focus.”

Today, my purpose in writing on this subject is not to suggest a quick fix or religious version of “Abracadabra.”  That would be insulting, and insensitive.  I’m writing to express my ongoing disturbance – that victims of past violence continue to live with a kind of self-imposed “responsibility” for the crimeand that’s a LIE.  I’m also writing to suggest a way to break the power of the LIE.  I believe the only antidote for a lie is truth. 

Further, I’m saying that one dose of the truth may be adequate for one person but not for ninety-nine.  I’m saying that for most victims, repeated doses of TRUTH will break the power of any lie.

Jesus said, “The TRUTH will set you free,” and I believe that.  And the five-fold Truth I’ve gleaned from my experience with rape and abuse victims is this:  At some point, if a victim is to experience real freedom from the violence of their past they must BELIEVE (1) that they didn’t do to, or bring this violence upon, themselves!  And they must believe (2) that God didn’t WILL that terrible experience for their life, but (3) because people are selfish, and because selfish people have a mind and will of their own (“freedom to choose” being one of the first gifts God gave mankind in the Garden), God is NOT the One they should be angry at or distant from.  They must accept as fact that (4) Satan puts the thought into the rapist’s head (tempts him or her) that being violent against someone else will lessen their own pain.  Satan puts the thought into the abuser’s head that hitting someone will undo the damage done to them.  And victims of rape and abuse must believe that (5) when a person is deceived by such lies, and acts out, the perpetrator is responsible for making that choice and the resulting action … and by extension, Satan is a coconspirator in the crime.  (NOTE:  I don’t think it’s a sin to be angry at Satan.  Just keep this in mind:  he’s a powerful adversary.  Refrain from taking him on in your own strength!)

When I hear abusers say, “She MADE me do it,” I know the abuser bought a lie of Satan.  (And for those of you who don’t believe in a real Satan, just a few thoughts to ponder:  One, Satanists believe.  Two, God knows there is a real Satan … he visited Jesus in the desert, and Jesus said He saw Satan fall from heaven.  Three, wishing or thinking he does not exist is not very bright – you’d be denying empirical evidence found in the world’s daily newspapers.  There’s more, but I just include these three.)

I’m inviting comment, of course.  This is a very emotional topic.  If I’ve written anything that has offended any reader, my intent was not to stir up pain and anger but to bring my experience, my thoughts, and the love in my heart to the public square for consideration.

THINK ABOUT IT.

Mysticism

The search for understanding and truth winds through the “Land of Mystery.”  To find wisdom we must begin with unknowns – things we do not understand today but we may tomorrow.  Moving from infancy to adulthood, experience should tell us that we begin not knowing anything and discover that we can know some things.  (Interestingly, along life’s way, if we have the good fortune to become elderly we return an infancy of sorts – this time KNOWING that we don’t know much of anything still.)  Part of life’s journey, if it to be LIFE at all, must wander through the extraordinary, the beautiful, and the complex.  Otherwise, life remains two dimensional – flat and statistical … numbers and letters, having no color, no joy, and no love.

The agnostic may know what they logically don’t know, but such an approach to living remains a mystery to me.  Why would any man be content to eat tasteless food or walk the path of self-imposed blandness?  Instead of saying, “If there is a God, prove it to me,” why not approach the question of God this way:  “If there is NO God, prove it to me.”  Why not accept that we know only in part … we do not know the whole, or everything.  Ah, but that is a fool talking.  No self-respecting agnostic would ever dare start there.

Only when a man can look into the heavens and say, “It’s too wonderful for me,” or smell a rose and say, “The fragrance is marvelous,” can that man begin an honest search for truth.  If, however, that man can brush aside the wondrous and marvelous, is there any hope that he can grasp any truth at all?

G. K. Chesterton wrote, “Mysticism keeps men sane.  As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity.  The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic.  He has permitted the twilight.  He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland.  He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of today) free also to believe in them.  He has always cared more for truth than for consistency.  If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths AND the contradiction along with them.  His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight:  he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that.  Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.  Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth.  He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not.  It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man.  The whole secret of mysticism is this:  that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand.”

Think about it.

 

The Spiritual Journey 3 – Humility

Sheldon Vanauken wrote (in A Severe Mercy):  

“To believe with certainty, somebody said, one has to begin by doubting.” (p. 83)

“… there is nothing in Christianity which is so repugnant to me as humility – the bent knee.” (p. 91)

“… if we were a species that didn’t normally eat, weren’t designed to eat, would we feel hungry? … Do fish complain of the sea for being wet? … [and] Notice how we are perpetually surprised at Time.  (‘How time flies!  Fancy John being grown up and married!  I can hardly believe it!’)  In heaven’s name, why?  Unless, indeed, there is something in us which is not temporal.” (in a letter from C. S. Lewis to Sheldon Vanauken, p. 93)

Based on these quotes, I’d like to make a few observations.  First, if you’re going to believe that Christ is the Son of God, and therefore the Savior He claims to be, it is no fault to begin by doubting such a phenomenal claim.  

Doubting allows a person to begin with a clean sheet, so to speak.  A person that has been raised in the Church, had positive experiences in the Church, and is therefore open to indoctrination from early on, doesn’t wrestle with doubt on the same level as someone who (a) has been raised in the Church and had negative experiences or (b) not been exposed to either positive or negative Church experiences during their childhood and adolescence.  In speaking to those who doubt, I suggest:  that is a good place to start one’s spiritual journey, as did Vanauken.  Why?  Because of the “clean sheet.”  But to be truly clean, one’s “sheet” must have a valuable and necessary ingredient in its makeup or constitution, and that ingredient is HONESTY.  Not openness but honesty.  If it is discovered during one’s investigation of Christianity that there is a prejudice (a pre-judgement) based on anything – peer pressure, education or one’s educators, or the bias of unbelieving parents – and that prejudice is not addressed or challenged in one’s heart and mind, that person is not being honest.

Second, being honest comes from or springs from a general HUMILITY, and that humility is based upon an appreciation that NO ONE knows everything, and that there may be someone or something outside the existential confines of one’s reality and intellect that knows and understands more about the universe of ordered things.  Therefore, true humility must be allowed to and may result in “a bended knee” – acknowledgement that something is true when it would appear to the honest seeker, based upon the life-education-experience limitations mentioned above, that it “should” be false.  Humility requires the honest seeker of truth to allow for things to be true outside “the box” of one’s current thinking.  Again, this basic, this fundamental humility must be allowed to move toward a greater humility – a humility that would require a bended knee.

Third, it seems that if there is a hunger for something (say a belly for food, a fish for water, or the temporal for the metaphysical or, in this case, the sacred or mystical), that longed-for something may exist.  REPEAT:  The humble man will allow that something may be true that was, up ’til now, thought to be improbable, false, or impossible.

I would suggest, humbly, that mankind hungers for God because there is a God.  If one honestly doubts that supposition, help me understand the immaterial part of me – thought, love, joy, sadness, etc. – and why there is this debate about all things spiritual (and in this case, the idea that there is a God)?  How is it that the idea or possibility of God cannot be easily dismissed as some have dismissed the existence of the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, or flying saucers?

Think about it.

Teachers, by Mary Eady

Earlier today I revisited a fantastic blog site – “Merlot Mudpies.” (http://merlotmudpies.wordpress.com), hosted by Mary Eady.  She’s quite the writer.  What drew me to her site initially was her blog about the cancer-death of her mom.  It’s a great article, one I highly recommend if you want “an eternal perspective.”

Today I’ve posted the article quoted here, along with one of her pictures (with her permission, by the way).  I’m copying her to this site to expose her insights to a larger audience … well, at least one that’s growing.Picture by Mary Eady

Read, and think about it.

Barry, one of my fellow gardeners, reminds me a lot of one of my old teachers, Mr. O’Hagan.  Mr. O’Hagan wouldn’t give you answers.  But he asked you questions that led you to them.  He would not tell you how to do things, but he’d guide you through your own thought process until you got there.  He didn’t gush at his students, but with a well placed word he made you feel 10 feet tall.

This whole experience of getting my plots at Ivey Ranch has been intimidating from the get-go in its way.  As I’ve said before, I’m a renown black thumb in my family.  My mother-in-law and I used to giggle about my “dried herb garden” — my attempt at growing an herb garden in a strawberry pot that I’d seen on TV.  It was dead within the month.  Not just one of the plants I planted.  All of them. I don’t buy houseplants for this very reason.  No matter how sweet they look in the store, they turn into a brown, depressing mess the second they enter my domain.

But this seems to have changed somehow in the past few months.  Maybe it’s just that I finally get the wonder of it all.  I finally understand those people who stop and smell the roses, pet the alyssum, and admire the inside of an iris for minutes on end.  It really is, in a word, glorious.  Creation is happening all around us still — no longer perfect but still stupendous, brave, and amazing when you stop to consider it all.

My husband, Ryan, is a tolerant man.  He helps me cart my 20 tomato seedlings back and forth from the apartment courtyard every day and doesn’t complain about them all sitting on our laundry hamper in the evenings where it’s warm next to a little lamp.  He smiles about my avocado seed which I couldn’t bring myself to throw away and is now sprouting in a glass of water in the kitchen on the sill next to a six-pack of okra seedlings and a six-pack of cranberry bush bean seedlings I’m hoping will start soon.  He doesn’t say a word about the strawberries I have sprouting on one side of the kitchen sink.  Maybe he understands how the newness and awe is so important to me now.  I think he does.  He’s that sweet kind of man.

However, all of this does not mean I know what I’m doing at all.  When I find bugs I rack my brain trying to decide if they are good or the kind I should consider killing.  When I see things sprouting in my garden I didn’t plant I let them go for a few days until I’m positive they are weed-like and not veggie-like.  This sometimes takes a few weeks for me to figure out. I even grabbed a handful of nettle one day and stung myself with it to a ridiculous degree because I thought it was mint.  You get my drift?

But Barry just stands there and smiles at me while he pounds in rebar and trims his beautiful beet greens.  He asks me things when I come to him with questions instead of answering me.  He says things like, “Well now — where did you think you’d go with it?” or “So tell me then…what did you have in mind?”  Then he listens and encourages and leaves me to my own devices.

Today we talked as I walked Eamonn (Mary’s young son) through the plots looking at plants, lizards and flowers.  “Look at what your neighbors did, Barry!” I cried, staring at a freshly tilled and composted plot that had been overgrown with weeds last week.  “Yeah…people are gettin’ the bug to work hard around here.  Maybe they feel like trying to garden like you, figured a little hard work wasn’t going to hurt anybody.  You’re inspiring people girl.”  I sputtered and blushed and didn’t know what to say.

Later on he told me, “I’ve been coming and checking on this plot of yours and I’d say you figured out you know what you’re doing!”  I beamed from my tomatoes and peppers and squash.

How do people learn this trait of building up instead of tearing down?  Of guiding instead of directing?  I’m sure I don’t know but I love it when I see it in action and feel blessed when I’m the recipient of it.  I hope to model the way I interact with Eamonn, Ella and others who come across my path with that gentleness and insight.

Today I left Ivey Ranch feeling 10 feet tall.

The Love of God for Muslims

Friends, please watch this video.

April 2008 Update – Dancing With The Healer

Vicki QuallsFor all those who have been following the progress of my writing “The Vicki Book,” I have some news.  I’m really close to finishing the “creative stage” of the process.  Soon I’ll be entering the dreaded “editing stage,” where everything I’ve written is on the block.

I’d like to ask my blog readers for some input.  Please comment on the process I’m going to outline below – one that I believe I’ll follow in order to bring the book-writing to its proper conclusion.

Before I share that process I want to thank Caroline Eitzen-Cocciardi AGAIN for her encouragement to “stay in your creative mind, Lowell,” and not give in to the temptation to constantly go back to what I had already written and edit it (which I had done, time and again until she gave me her wise counsel).

I shared last month that my goal was to have the manuscript done before I went on vacation to Maui.  I didn’t make it.  Plain and simple.  But the goal helped push me like never before.  Now, I’ve set another goal – one that I think I will make.  I’m working on the last 75 pages of Vicki’s journal.  I’ve been able to do about 10 a day (on a good day).  Given that, I’m inside two weeks of coming to the end of the creative stage.  Then, I’ll read the manuscript from start to finish, trying to find any grammar/spelling mistakes, typos, and breakdowns in the flow of the story.  That’s probably another week or two.  Then, the gutsy part.

My intention is to share the manuscript with several close friends who have a writer’s background.  Some are published authors.  Others are journalism majors and masters.  One or two of my pastor-buddies will be asked to look over the theological content, and a few readers will be people who lived through much of what Vicki wrote about – family and friends.  I’ll be asking all these folks if they would evaluate my style, the flow of the story/book, and its content.

Whew!

Like I said at the start, anyone out there in the internet world is welcome to comment on the process I’ve outlined above.

And for those who have been praying for me and the book … please continue to do so.  I’ve seen that when I’VE been in prayer and close communion with the Lord, the process of writing the book becomes mystical and supernatural, and in turn, I’m able to produce much more than normally possible.

I could use some encouragement right now.  I’m tired.  I feel emotionally spent at the end of every day.  Thank God for Becky!  She’s been such a supporter and helper.  I can’t think of a day when she hasn’t been there for me.  But most of the time she’s been a single (lone) voice.  Is there anyone out there who could join her?

Well, back to writing the book.

By the way, the blogging has rarely (I can’t say never) interrupted my writing the book.  Actually, blogging has served to break tension, relieve emotions, and strangely – rest my mind.  Blogging has been like having a conversation with a friend who’s only purpose has been to listen as I vent or wade through issues that distract me.

Love to all.

Saint Mobes

Jim Moberg is a saint.  You may have never heard of him, but he’s a saint nonetheless, and I say that, beautifying him, because he has taken hospitality to a saintly level.

At Jim’s place, what’s his is yours.  Need a bed?  Done.  Need a meal?  Pull up a chair.  Need some conversation?  You got it.  Need an internet connection?  Plug in.

mobes-at-kaanapali.jpgThis hospitality thing in Jim’s life could have come from good genetics, but it didn’t.  His gift came from a new birth – a second birth.  If he were so bold, Jim would tell you that he’s generous because he’s been the recipient of God’s love, forgiveness, and grace.

His face may never adorn a cathedral’s façade, but that doesn’t matter to Jim.  He may never receive a Nobel for showing warmth and kindness, but Jim won’t lose any sleep over it.  He’s got something better than fame or reward.  He’s got satisfaction.  What Mick Jagger complained he could “get no,” Jim has by the boat load.  And he’s hospitable for the best of reasons.  Jim’s a Jesus freak.

When he reads this – my tribute – Jim’ll blush a little and say, “It’s no big deal.”  But it is.  It is a big deal, Jim!  You enrich the planet.  You model the love and grace of God.  You’re a good friend.  If you worked on your ping-pong, you might be perfect.  Ha!  Kidding aside, I wish Jim could bottle his version – his recipe – for hospitality.  You’d love its taste.  It goes down sweet and smooth, and refreshes its recipients to the bone.

Good for you, Mobes!  You’re the best.

Oh, and can I come back?

(St. Mobes is the guy on the right … with Ryan, Brandon, and me)