Category Archives: Politics

The Secondary Trauma of Doubt

I’m not talking about my doubt here. I’m talking about yours. Which in the sad circular way of emotional/psychological dynamics, can easily become mine.

Doubt that what I experienced was real, that is. Doubt that it matters enough to talk about it. Doubt that the healing process of dealing with what happened is fundamental to emotional wholeness. Trauma survivors already tend to question and second-guess themselves constantly: “what did I do wrong?/ what’s wrong with me that this happened?”, riffs on the “it was my fault” so common with battered wives. How much easier to yield to the powerful and popular attitudes of “it was a long time ago; the past is past; just let it go; aren’t you over that yet?” of those who have no experience–or understanding–of trauma.


Fear of not being believed is almost as traumatizing as whatever happened in the first place. Being doubted shoves the survivor further into isolation, when already one of the hardest parts about being a trauma survivor is the loneliness of the condition. Not only do you already carry the guilt and shame that “something must have been wrong with me that this happened,” which is the norm for victims of physical, sexual, emotional or psychological violence, you regularly face, if you are able to go public with your experience, the doubt, disbelief and, almost as lethal, minimization of it by those around you. It’s usually easier to say nothing, which means you continue on with a life where you live one way on the surface and a whole different reality inside. Which means you continue to feel different; estranged; less than.


Just as you did when you were a victim.

Is it any wonder survivors don’t speak openly about their experiences, even with those closest to them? Let alone speak specifically against the abuser, let alone do that in a public way.

All reasons it galls me, the doubt we’re hearing from those who are convinced the allegations against Judge Kavanaugh are fabrications because they are only now being brought forward.

Who in their right mind wants to go through the public trashing given to those who, to steal a saying of the Quakers, “speak truth to power?”

It takes more courage than you can imagine to open up about abuse of whatever kind. Survivors are extremely good at sensing the thoughts and feelings of those they interact with. For those who endured extended childhood trauma, for instance, safety and sometimes survival depended on reading every mood shift of the adults around them.  The least hint of a negative response in a listener–boredom, indifference, disbelief, rejection–and communication shuts down. Survivors expect rejection, and with good reason. Again, it’s no wonder that so many choose never to tell anyone about what happened. It’s also completely normal, so to speak, that decades would go by before speaking out. It can take that long to attain sufficient trust in a world that before proved nothing but threat or terror.

I’m sure people are tired of hearing about abuse, harassment, assault. Imagine living with the scars of the above for a lifetime.













Strangers in our Strange Land

wire-fenceI was stopped cold this morning at Mass in our recitation of today’s psalm. The words were almost too painful to say, given our president’s recent travel ban on refugees trying to enter our country.

“The Lord keeps faith forever,

secures justice for the oppressed….

The Lord sets captives free.”


“The Lord protects strangers.”

If I were sitting at an airport with the few possessions I had left after fleeing a place like war-ravaged Syria, I would wonder where that justice is. Where that God is, who promised to set me free. Where the people of faith are, for that matter, those who supposedly live by such words, the people who profess to believe that they are to follow the Gospel, which outright declares its support for the poor and wretched of the earth.

The Book of Deuteronomy puts it even more bluntly:
‘Cursed is he who distorts the justice due an alien, orphan, and widow.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’


I used to wonder how a victim of one of Hitler’s concentration camps could possibly manage to retain faith in the face of such horror. Faith in humanity or faith in God.

Many of them, I suspect, couldn’t. I don’t know if I’d be able to. If I were crying out day after day for help, for sustenance, for some end to what I was enduring.

The fact is, God doesn’t usually swoop down and with some swish of the divine magic wand open gates and free the oppressed. God tends to leave that work up to his faithful, indeed, entrusts that work to the faithful. We are explicitly called to minister to the sick, the poor, the abandoned, the imprisoned, the stranger. In today’s second liturgical reading, we are reminded of that: “Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters.”

Are we remembering our calling? Or are we preferring the much more comfortable state of blindness, to others’ needs, to our own responsibility?refugee-words

Not to mention to our own nation’s tradition from its inception of welcoming immigrants to our shores.

I don’t know what action each of us is called to in response to this latest ban on refugees. I understand that most of us don’t have the ability of a leader like the Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to say–to America’s shame–Come on in! We’ll take you! We welcome you!

But each of us is called to do something.


Healing Our Land

In an effort to put a few positive moments into a recent week of mostly negative, James and I went for a woods walk on the Sewanee Domain.  It’s something we don’t usually do because there’s so much work to do on our acreage, but this was a psychological necessity.

James pointed out this one spot:


Do you see anything wrong with it? To me, it looks exactly like the rest of what we were walking in.  Quiet woods, leaf-coated earth. Trees and more trees.

But that’s the point. It used to be the site of the Sewanee dump. James, who roamed all over this mountain as a teen, remember several decades ago when it was piles of bottles and tin cans, rusted bedsprings, a discarded washer and dryer. And now it’s woodland.

It’s healed.

This made me think of what’s needed in order for healing of any kind to happen. Time, obviously, but not just that. Some active effort to deal with what was there.

Beginning with the decision to stop adding more junk.

There’s something in this that seems to offer a lesson to us in this tumultuous year, as we try to heal some of the wounds caused–and revealed– by the election.

We need time, obviously. A little distance. Already, several weeks post-election, the emotional intensity has lessened.

But not simply time. Because I’m not advocating that we pretend the wounds–and the issues– aren’t there.

So we need to take a couple of active steps as well. For instance, each of us might think of some way to reach across whatever division we believe exists between us and whoever we consider “the other.” We might think of some positive action that would contribute towards our nation’s well-being.

But first we need to stop the trash-talking.

Which means that at a fundamental level, we need to recognize that differences of color or race or political affiliation need to matter less than the reality that we’re all human beings worthy of respect and compassion. That we’re all, well, Americans.

This is the hardest part, I think. Accepting that it’s up to us to make the decision to change our attitude.

Or end up with a ruined land full of junk.










Finding Words When There Are None


I’m not a crier, but so far I’m three-for-three in terms of places visited and number of emotional breakdowns this morning.

Words fail.

But here’s my disjointed attempt to articulate a fraction of my reaction, here in this buckle-on-the-Bible-belt, reddest-of-red areas in a red state, after yesterday’s election.

I’m not going into the whys and wherefores. News and social media will continue to do all that. I just want to offer this sentence from the late Robert McAfee Brown, Presbyterian minister, activist and author:

“A moral society will be a society of participants rather than spectators,” he says in his book on the famous Holocaust survivor, Elie Wiesel: Messenger to All Humanity:

There are many troubling parallels between the German election of Hitler and our own recent contribution to history. One of Hitler’s great appeals was that he gave a troubled and divided Germany a simple reason for their discomfort: the Jews. And a single solution: get rid of them. People then and now seem to prefer simple solutions. And self-proclaimed saviors to rally around.

A point made months ago by a national elected official reluctant to support Trump but doing so anyway was that any threat from the man at the top would be minimal because he could be controlled by his advisors.

They said the exact same thing about Hitler.

Chilling that today is the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, “Night of Broken Glass,” the night when the hitherto-quieter actions against the Jews in Nazi Germany became public, with Jewish synagogues, businesses and homes smashed and burned and thousands of Jews arrested and thrown into concentration camps.

While the vast majority of German civilians stood by and watched and did nothing.

So this is what I want to say. Let’s not be bystanders. If we see injustice or prejudice in the coming months, let us speak up. If we’re troubled by whatever occurs, let us speak out. Whatever it is, let’s do our part to create a moral society. Let’s be participants, not bystanders.

In the middle of the nightmare that was last night’s electoral college counting, I finally was able to fall asleep by reciting the first lines from one of those songs we learned long ago in grade school: “God Bless America, Land that I love, Stand beside her, and guide her, Through the night with the light from above.”

It feels like we’re in that night. It feels like we need that light. But we can’t just sit passively and assume some higher power –or somebody else –will provide it. We need to light a few candles ourselves.




The Language of The Game


Caveat: my understanding of football came to an abrupt halt in my early teens when my brothers got a whole lot bigger and stronger than I was, and touch football in the front  yard became a thing of history.

But I have one observation after watching the Tennessee Vols lose to South Carolina last night in a game that should have been a shoo-in.

It’s easy to say ”they lost” and shake your head in dismay (or disgust, depending on how much of a Vols fan you are).

But those two words don’t even begin to explain all that went on.  Mistakes, yes, but also a lot of injuries and missing players who’ve been key to the team. “They lost” essentially erases all the effort and training that go into making up each individual moment of each separate play. “They lost” dismisses the reality of three hours in which a few dozen young men risk their bodies and their brains in a game they’ve spent years trying to perfect.

Isn’t this sadly so much like life? Especially life as we’re experiencing it right now in our divided nation?  It’s so easy–aka usual–to sum a person up in a few words and leave it at that. “He’s Republican,” we say, and immediately assume we know all about him. Or “she’s a liberal,” ditto. In our tiny college town, plagued by town/gown division from the beginning of time, it’s easy to say “he’s mountain–(ie a townie)–” or conversely, “she’s faculty,” and believe we’ve pigeon-holed a person’s educational status and political beliefs.  To think we’ve predicted how they’ll speak and act in every forthcoming situation.

Which also means we’ve dismissed all the struggle that have gone into making  that person the nuanced individual he is. We’ve ignored the entirety of the person in favor of a single easy label.

Which makes it very likely we’ve predetermined the way we’re going to view the person from then on.

Another word for “prejudice?”

So here’s to using just a few more words. Here’s to remembering that language is a tool that can metaphorically dig us into the ground (where we leave our metaphorical heads and also our brains) or expand our understanding, our vision, and– oh yes– our compassion.

Here’s to saying “they lost, but…..” And filling in a few of the circumstances. Here’s to saying “he’s a Republican AND…” (or a Democrat or a Catholic or a Floridian or whatever) and filling in some of the blanks.

Here’s to making ourselves work just a tad harder to see the whole complexity of the person, not just the tagline.

(And if you want to know more about the game last night, here’s Coach Butch Jones himself to fill in the details.)

(photo credit to Marshall Stephens)



Fall of Pope Francis?

I had to smile last week when I saw the brief video clip of Pope Francis in Mexico yelling at whoever pulled at his arm and sent him toppling onto a young man in a wheelchair.

francis falls

No, I’m not celebrating the infliction of pain.

But isn’t it just so “us?” To be so eager to touch the celeb that we completely forget about the message of peace and mercy the man is preaching?

So greedy to get one of the free rosaries he’s handing out that we forget what they’re often used for, to pray for peace, to pray for others?

More, More, More, Said the Baby is the title of a children’s book, but so often, wouldn’t you say it’s the mantra of our lives? more more more

I have to wonder if one of the reasons the current election is so heated is because we’re so greedy for more, more, more. So ready to knock anyone threatening our goodies out of our way, and the common good (does anyone think about the common good anymore?) be hanged.

Nearly said “damned,’ but this did start out as a post about the Pope. Though, as that fall shows us, he can lose control of his temper. Like the rest of us. Sure he got mad. If I were almost 80 and somebody knocked me over, I’d be pretty ticked, too. It’s to his credit that all he shouted was, “Don’t be selfish! Don’t be selfish!”

Which is another point. The Pope is like the rest of us. He’s not God, he’s not Jesus, he’s not a saint, and he’s not supposed to be worshipped. Listened to, if we will, because of what he represents, not because he’s a superstar.

But isn’t it just like us, to be so excited by the presence of power that we overlook its message.  Ignore the fact that grabbing onto the Pope’s coattails, so to speak, isn’t going to get us anywhere. We have to actually do the work. Practice the mercy he’s advocating, for instance. Which loosely translates as looking out for others.


(Felix de Weldon (US-american): Monument to Richard Kirkland, 1965, Fredericksburg. This sculpture depicts the well known incident in Fredericksburg where a Confederate soldier, Sergent Richard R. Kirkland, risked enemy fire to bring water to the injured Union soldiers in front of Mayre’s Heights.)

Except–well, it’s a lot more fun to get a selfie with a celebrity.

And a free rosary.