Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry Christmas with Mr. Brand: A Gift for Male Sex Abuse Survivors Who Struggle With Addictions

Six weeks ago I had no idea who Russell Brand was, but one morning as I was perusing the Internet when I found posted in humor section of the Huffington Post a segment from Conan O’Brien’s new show -- an interview with British comedian, Russell Brand.  I am a big fan of Conan O’Brien so I watched the segment.  Within a minute or so I was an even bigger fan of Russell Brand.  Within two minutes I was sure that Russell Brand was my all time favorite comedian.  He was talking about the royal family and about the shiny hats they wear as well as how buxom the queen is -- foreshadowing what I was in store for as a virgin Russell Brand fan.
I am a middled aged child sex abuse and rape survivor who is a dedicated mother and kind let a certain part of my life wither a bit.  I don’t think like a guy.  I think like a lady who goes to church a lot.  I didn’t think about what Russell Brand’s comedy might be like.  I just thought about the fact he was just about the funniest person I had ever encountered in the media.
As a mother I was also thinking that my 12 year old daughter has been creating jokes since not long after she was able to speak would also love Russell Brand.  So I ran upstairs to get her to come see the segment I had just seen.  We laughed uproariously together.  That night we sought out more Russell Brand courtesy of You Tube and laughed some more.  It turns out that Russell Brand’s comedy is frequently R rated pushing the envelope towards X.  But my daughter tells me that she’s learned much more about sex from her teenaged stepsister than she has from watching R rated movies with me.  I have no control over the stepsister, who is the daughter of my ex’s new wife.  So it is probably better that I talk about sex with my daughter to give her my counsel -- so watching Russell Brand videos is not bad as it might be.
And Russell Brand gives ample opportunity to talk about unhealthy life style choices with my daughter as well as healthy choices as he has undergone treatment for drug and alcohol addiction and as well as sex addiction.
I learned about all these addictions and their causes by reading his book, My Booky Wook: A Memoir of Sex, Drugs, and Stand-up.  This is not a book for the faint hearted or the meek.  Brand’s writing is very funny and poetic.  It is also filled with “f” words and descriptions of various sex acts.
My justification for reading My Booky Wook is that Brand was sexually abused as a child, and that the book clearly describes the relationship between his adult addictions and dysfunctions and the abuse as well as multiple other traumas he suffered as a child.  I read My Book Wook to see if I thought it would help survivors of abuse look at their wounds, and I think it would, but the book is written to entertain rather than to help people come to terms with their own wounds and seek healing.  Brand describes the conscious choice he made while describing his misadventures with a Turkish prostitute in Istanbul
“....there are two ways this tale can be told.  The first is from the perspective of someone who is a connoisseur of sex in general but also prostitution.  The second is through the eyes of a man who has since awoken from the amoral dream of commodified sex.”
The problem with prostitution being is that the majority of it’s practitioners  are child sex abuse survivors and even if they are not, many suffer from symptoms similar to sex abuse.
I strenuously disapprove of people going to prostitutes.  Prostitution is not a victimless crime.  There is a victim -- the prostitute.  On the other  hand, I identify with Russell Brand in other parts of his life.  Like him I was sexually abused as a child in a one time incident although the abuse I endured was considerably more serious than the abuse he endured.  But for a long time I didn’t view my abuse as abuse because it was only one time and all the books about abuse were written by people who had suffered years of ongoing trauma.
Like Brand I also suffered from multiple milder traumas, both sexual and nonsexual.  such as being raped on a date at age 22. I won’t describe in detail the other sexual traumas I suffered because they fall into a “not a good idea” naughty juvenile behavior category rather than the criminal category.  I don’t wish to embarrass the offenders.  
Specifically the sexually traumas that Russell Brand experienced included being tutored by a man who stuck his fingers into Russell’s anus as a way of rewarding him for work well done.  Russell did not consider the finger a reward.  Another time a babysitter masturbated in front of him and invited him to join.  When his parents wanted the babysitter to come back for more babysitting, Brand protested but his parents did not believe him.  In addition to all this, Brand’s father introduced him to pornography as a young child and prostitutes as a teenager.  Fortunately, no one tried to introduce me to pornography, but, some of my other sexual and non-sexual traumas were similar to Brand’s.  Brand’s mother got sick with cancer three times during his childhood, and his was shipped off to live with grandmothers.  My mother suffered a few bouts in the psychiatric hospital for psychotic depression during which I was shipped off to life with grandmothers or babysitters.  Years later my cousin told me that our aunt had told her that all the girls in the family were sexually abused by our grandfather.  But the point is that I know what it is like to lose the support and guidance of a loving parent as a child.
And Brand had stepparents with whom he clashed so he moved out of the house when he was a teenager, ending up living with friends and surviving by stealing sandwiches from grocery stores and riding the subway without paying.
In experiences similar to Brands, I left my alcoholic mother's house to live with friends until I felt I was a burden.  Then I moved in with my Dad.  I lasted barely more than a month before my stepmother cajoled my Dad into moving me into my own tiny house.  Most teens would be thrilled, I felt sad at having no home where anyone wanted to take me in.
This is where Brand and I part.  He started drinking and smoking marijuana at this stage.  I don’t seem to have an addictive bone in my body.  In my senior year of high school I watched my mother set the dining room table on fire when she tried to light a cigarette while drunk.  I felt her slap me and tell me “I hate you,” while drunk when I poured her bottles down the drain.
I was not going to going to risk following her down the path to addiction.  Even now, I don’t drink outside of taking sips of communion wine during the Eucharist.
I always sought my highs by hiking in the mountains, and when I made mistakes by having sex with someone I should not have sex with, it happened about once a year as opposed to the 4 or 5 times a day sex addict Russell Brand descended to.  My dysfunctions, like me, are much quieter, and I’ve read enough about Russell Brand on the Internet to doubt that sex rehab cured him of his addiction to sex.  He just seems to have toned down the grossest of his excesses.  I have the jaundiced mind of a  woman who had bad experiences with casual sex.  I feel hesitation in advocating for his lifestyle and his book because I know he has probably hurt many people in his lifetime with his behavior... however I have more to say on this point a few paragraphs below.
And there was one more difference.  Russell Brand cut himself when feeling hopeless or alone.  I did cut myself a few time, but it was just a few times and never the gaping wounds that sent Brand to the Emergency Room.
Brand wrote his book to entertain so the details and these deep reflections concerning these incidents are brief, but his is a story of a child traumatized and neglected, struggling to to come to terms with his wounds as an adult.  What the book is, between the brief reflections and the long narratives of bad behavior is extremely funny.  Humor, for Brand, was a way of escaping every day pain as well as depression he suffered much of his life.  It was also a way attracting attention and manipulating women and the policemen who arrested him for bad behavior into letting him have his way in-spite of his bad behavior.
But humor really does make the pain easier to take.  Laughing at our problems can help us get through them.  So I recommend this book if you are a survivor of child sex abuse, particularly a male survivor struggling with the demon of addiction.
Since it is Christmas time, give yourself the book as a gift or if you know a survivor, give him or her the My Booky Wook as a gift.
Why give it as a gift? Because the My Booky Wook is so, so, so funny.  Please note that this is the first Booky Wook because there is a sequel, My Booky Wook II: This Time it is Personal, that culminates in Russell Brand meeting his wife, Katy Perry.  I haven’t read My Booky Wook II yet.
The happy story that is not told in My Booky Wook is that the sex addict learned his lesson and has embarked on a life of commitment to marriage with one woman.  I hope they make it.  The longer, the better.  They do seem to have taken some very wise steps.  They have made rules for their marriage that include weekly visits to a marriage counselor, no alcohol in the house, no pornographic literature in the house, no visits to clubs without each other, and Katy Perry will learn how to make breakfast in bed every Sunday for Russelll Brand.  I guess that is a concession on Katy’s part for all the rules she placed on Russell.   But good luck to them.  I will be watching to see if they keep these promises........I’ll be very interested from my perspective of someone who works on helping other survivors find the path to healing to see if they can make their marriage work.
One note of caution, if you are a Christian who does not like swear words or descriptions of sex, do not read this book.  It will offend you.  However, if you see that sometimes great sinners know they need redemption when more saintly folk do not and don’t mind a good dose of grit, then this book is a great read.
I’ll leave you with three last Brand quotes from My Booky Wook to illustrate my point.
“Had to write a victims’ list -- a litany of the women I’ve wronged as a result of my sexual addiction.  I feel like Saddam Hussein trying to pick out individual Kurds....”
“He understood that life is transient and that material attachments bring suffering.  Not the way I understand it, which is by nodding sagely when the topic is brought up in conversation then sneaking home to marvel at my glorious skull emblazoned boots.”
“The fact that I had a drug problem meant that wherever I went in the world, from Havanna to Ibiza to the mean streets of the Edinburgh Festival, I always had to seek out the poor and the dispossessed, as they are the people who where the drugs are.....of the immediate recognition of shared humanity.”

Copyright 2010 Virginia Jones

Please check out my Facebook at Compassionate Gathering

Friday, December 17, 2010

Why Not Give Compensation to those Who Suffered?

My television is hooked up to my Mac Mini as a computer monitor. I guess we could watch television if we really wanted to, but we'd have to disconnect some wires and reconnect others. So we don't watch television. And if we did have our television positioned to be able to watch it, I don't subscribe to cable. I have this thing about Comcast. I have an allergy to giving them money. I prefer to use my money spending quality time with my children and to giving support to survivors of abuse.

Well, anyway, to get to the point, I was reading the Huffington Post online and their front page story was Jon Stewart's show on 911 First Responders and how congress voted down compensation for 911 responders who suffered health problems.  The article contained a link to Jon Stewart's show, and I watched Jon Stewart drop his humor and interview some first responders who have lost their health and how they felt about congress voting down benefits for them and others like them.  You know, I'm a peacenik.  I'd get us out of Afghanistan in a wink and a nod if I had the power to do so.  But that does not mean I don't care about what happened on 911.  I have watched documentaries and movies and You Tube segments on 911 over and over and poured over many books written on the subject.  In one day we saw the worst of what humanity has to offer as well as the best.  The worst was the terrorists who thought violence was the answer to their concerns and the politicians who demagogued the disaster.  The best was the selfless actions of the policemen and firefighters who entered those burning towers to risk their lives to save people or to die trying.  People came from around the country to help.  But in the collapse of the burning towers toxic chemicals and ash were released into the atmosphere and now many of those who risked their lives to save people suffer from respiratory and other related ailments.

If we ask people to risk their lives for our country, whether they be war veterans or First Responders,we need to properly care for them.  I feel pretty annoyed that Congress and the president sustained tax cuts for the wealthy and left out people in need, especially those 911 First Responders.  The House passed the bill and paid for it by closing a corporate tax loophole.  But the Senate voted the bill down.  So corporations that are sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars of reserves and not hiring are more important to care for than First Responders?

Talk about misplaced priorities.

And then my thoughts turn to another human made disaster -- the disaster of abuse.

My first thoughts were about clergy abuse survivors.  Wikileaks revealed that the Vatican, while one side professing concern for survivors, took offense that they might be investigated by a commission investigating clergy abuse in Ireland.  Once again the concern is for those who hold power and prestige and not those who are wounded.

Jesus said, "What so ever you do for the least of these, you do for me."

In the expanded version of that saying -- in the Gospel of Matthew 24: 35-46, Jesus actually says that you will go to hell if you don't give to those in need or visit those who are sick or in prison.

I think many Catholics are afraid of losing their churches and their schools, but one of the most dynamic parishes I've ever seen was St. Juan Diego here in Portland, which managed without a church building for 6 years or so.  The people of the parish lived the saying, "The church is the people."

I understand that it is a pain in the neck to cart around everything, but the point is that people who are dedicated to their faith and to their Church, don't need a building.  The Church is built on spirit, not on bricks.

Moreover survivors who come forward are like First Responders to 911.  Abuse happens when we are silent.  We have to speak out to end it.  Unfortunately, not everyone in society is grateful for when the wounded come forward.  Sometimes the wounded are reviled for disturbing our peace.

And what is true of clergy abuse survivors is true in society in general because Child Protective Services  and foster family programs are seriously underfunded everywhere.

Abuse is corrosive of our society.  I went to a lunch yesterday here in Portland given by the Wholistic Peace Institute.  I sat, without knowing next to Israel Bayer, the editor of Street Roots, the newspaper sold by homeless people struggling to get out of live cycles that caused them to be homeless.  I am a fan of Street Roots and often speak to the men and women selling the paper.  At least half were abused as children.  Some tell horrendous stories.  One man lived in a series of foster homes and was abused in almost every home he lived in as a child.  The man had a life long struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, but selling Street Roots was among his efforts to clean himself up and get himself off the streets.  But that is really hard to do alone.  Fortunately he had help from Street Roots and some other non-profit organizations.  But there are so many people who have to wait for these services.

When a survivor come forward they are like a First Responder to a disaster.  They are fighting in their own way to end this scourge that is so expensive to our society.  The abuse cycle continues as long as people remain silent and so often when people come forward they are reviled for disturbing the peace of those around them.  Catholics can't believe that the priest they love did such a terrible thing.  Members of the community can't believe that this well liked man terrorizes his family in private.  All too often survivors of all stripes are not supported.  And like the 911 First Responders, they have so many long term wounds.  How can we abandon survivors as a Church or as a society?

So what sacrifices can we make as a Church and as society to support our first responders to our human made disasters?  We also cannot wait as a people for Church leaders or politicians to address these problems.  We must do what we can ourselves now to support those in need.  So ask that we all give.  Why can't we establish an independent fund for survivors of clergy abuse to support when the Church fails to do so?  And for regular survivors of abuse there are all kinds of deserving charities such as Street Roots and well, Compassionate Gathering too.

Copyright 2010 Virginia Jones

We welcome your donations to help us move forward on increasing awareness about the issue of abuse and to nurture support for survivors.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Peace on Earth -- at the Mall

I went to the mall with my daughter on Sunday before Christmas.  We like to eat cheap Chinese food in the Food Court, buy a pastry and green tea at the Barnes & Noble Cafe, and sit and read books together.  On this particular Sunday the bathrooms at Barnes & Noble were shut down for maintenance so I walked down the mall to the anchor store, Nordstrom’s.  Then I walked back to Barnes & Noble on the second floor of the mall and passed by a kiosk I had not seen before --a kiosk named “Holy Lands Crafts” selling Christmas decorations and Christian items made from olive wood from Bethlehem.    
The kiosk hit a soft place in my heart.  I traveled to the Holy Land  twice in my life -- once in 1980 and again in 1991.  The first time I went with a Christian group from my stepmother’s church.  The second time I went with Mid - East Citizen Diplomacy, the group that later became The Compassionate Listening Project ( from whom I learned Compassionate Listening).
I am aware of the sensitivity of the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.  Ten times as many Palestinians have lost their lives from Israeli violence as have Israelis from Palestinian violence, but every Israeli has a friend or family member who has been killed by a bomb or some other act of violence by a Palestinian.  Israelis often view their own violent acts as justifiable and reasonable military responses to Palestinian violence.  Just so, Palestinians see themselves losing their land house by house and block by block.  Some Palestinians feel that they have their backs to the wall and have no choice but to engage in violence because Israel never changes.  Many others don’t engage in any violence at all, but still end up suffering from Israeli military actions.  Sometimes Israel suspends settlement building on Palestinian lands; sometimes they slow it down, but they have never stopped building new settlements.  Israeli settlers drill wells deep into the ground and cause older, pre-existing Palestinian wells to run dry.  And during the time all the of the West Bank and Gaza were occupied, Israel banned Palestinians from drilling wells while Israeli settlers were free to drill wells.  During my 1991 trip with Mid - East Citizen Diplomacy, we visited a Palestinian village where the wells had run dry. The homes I visited did not have indoor plumbing, and the villagers' crops withered in the fields while at a nearby settlement that we also visited, there were irrigated green lawns, a swimming pool, and houses you’d find in very nice American suburbs.  You really can’t expect the Palestinians to be happy about this situation or even to take it and do nothing.  At the same time for Jews there is deep pain and fear stemming from having Hitler try to exterminate them 70 years ago and having so few other countries be willing to give them refuge.  The desire to have a home country of their own runs deep among Israelis, and Palestine is the land their ancestors came from.
You can go round and round in this fight: who did what to who first, and who is more at fault, and who is more justified for  engaging in violence.  And you never settle anything.  Probably someone better informed that I am will be able to pick apart my facts and correct my details. I can’t settle the conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis, but I know that people on all sides are suffering, and I can reach out with compassion.
I didn’t know anything about this man standing at the Holy Lands Crafts kiosk.  He was relatively light skinned, and I thought he might be Jewish.  I asked him first where he was from.  He was from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.  Then I asked if he was Christian.  He said he was Muslim.  I visited Bethlehem on a vacation with my parents just after Christmas 1980, and I visited a nearby Christian village, Beit Zahor, with the peace group, Mid-East Citizen Diplomacy in 1991.  Since then, the Israelis have built a 30 foot wall around Bethlehem to restrict movement of terrorists in and out of Israel.  But this wall has also heavily restricted the number of tourists visiting Bethlehem and has badly damaged the economy of of the town -- which is why this man from Bethlehem was managing a kiosk in an American mall instead of managing  store in Bethlehem.
“You are Palestinian?” I asked the man.
This issue is so tricky and difficult, I have to know the sympathies of the person I am speaking to so I won’t offend him by saying the wrong thing.
“Yes,” he said.
“I’ve been there twice,” I said.  “I know what is going on.  Palestinians are losing their land house by house, field by field.  Most Americans don’t know.”
I added, “There are Israelis who want peace, but not enough to change things.”
“I know,” the man said, “I have Israeli friends.”
I went on to say, “I know about Islam.  Mary, the Mother of Jesus is one of the five most blessed women in Islam.  Muslims think of Jesus as a great prophet.  I know about the Haj.  Everyone wears the same clothing -- a simple white cloth -- because all are equal in the eyes of God, and Muslims pray five times a day.  The pastor of my Catholic parish despairs because he can’t get us Catholics to pray once a day.  We are all one people, one God, we just have different traditions that help up connect to God.”
The man nodded enthusiastically, “Yes, yes...” he said, “You understand.  Thank you so much.”
I paused to examine his wares.  My budget is limited so I asked the price of a small bag of wooden Christmas tree ornaments.
“How much is this?”
“Ten dollars,” the man said, “But it is a gift to you because you are so kind.”
“I don’t want a gift,” I said.  “I want to support the Palestinians living in Bethlehem.  I know what your situation is.”
“No,” the man said, “It is a gift for you because you are so kind and caring.”
“No,” I insisted, “I must pay for it.  I can’t take a gift from people in need.”
I circled the little kiosk so I could see all the wares for sale and found that all I wanted was a simple olive wood cross that could be held in the palm of your hand and more Christmas decorations.
“How much is this cross?” I asked.
“Five dollars,” the man said, “but free for you.”
I ignored the offer of a free cross.  “I’ll take three bags of the Christmas tree decorations and the cross.  That will be 35 dollars,” I said.
“It’s all free for you because your kind words have made me feel so happy,” the man said.
“I can’t take $35 worth of goods for free from people in need,” I said.  
Then I added, “If everyone in the world was like you and me, we’d have peace.  I’ll take one bag of Christmas decorations for free.  I  work with survivors of abuse, and I’ll give them away as Christmas gifts to my survivors.  The rest I will pay for.  that will be 25 dollars.”
He reluctantly accepted my money, still insisting he’d like to give me everything as a gift because I was so kind.
Accepting gifts and asking for money is hard for me.  I guess that saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive" really got drilled into my head when I was young, but now I am reaching the point where I have to ask for money in order for Compassionate Gathering to grow.  I have way more work than I can possibly handle alone.  I need to find more volunteers to help me, and as soon as possible, a paid Administrative Director.  And I need to pay myself a salary for a change, as I have two kids to support and bills to pay.  I have never written a fundraising letter before. Compassionate Gathering received not-for-profit status with the IRS this summer so donations to us are now tax deductible. And if you send me money,  I promise to use it to give support to survivors -- just as I am giving away the bag of olive wood ornaments the Palestinian man gave to me. 
Below you will find my first fund raising letter so you will know how exactly we at Compassionate Gathering will use money you donate to us.  Thank you for reading this blog and Peace Be With You, Salaam Alekyam, Shalom Aleicheim, Meer e Droozhba, and Dona Nobis Pacem.  All of us.  No exceptions.

You can now donate using PayPal:

Or send your donations to:

Compassionate Gathering 
PMB #348
2000 N.E. 42nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97213-1305

Copyright 2010 Virginia Jones

Compassionate Gathering
End Abuse, Heal the Wounds

Mailing Address:
PMB Box 348
Suite 2000
Portland, OR 97213
Virginia Jones, child sex abuse and date rape survivor
Vice President
Elizabeth Goeke, clergy abuse survivor and clinical counselor
Secretary/ Treasurer
Mary Lou Betzing, Third Order of St. Francis, St. Care Fraternity

Virginia Jones
President, Board of Directors
Compassionate Gathering 
December 10, 2010
Dear Friends;
Elizabeth Goeke and I, with help from others, founded Compassionate Gathering in early 2007.  We incorporated with the state of Oregon in 2009.  This August we received non-profit status from the IRS.  Now we are asking you to support us so we can continue our work bringing healing to individuals and communities wounded by abuse.
Although Compassionate Gathering formed to work on the clergy abuse issue, others came to us, attracted to our message of compassion.  Over the last 4 years we provided temporary or ongoing emotional support for survivors of various forms of trauma or their supporters, including more than 20 clergy abuse victims, 13 child sex abuse victims, 4 domestic violence victims, 2 physical abuse victims, and 2 who suffered other forms of emotional trauma.  
What is the need?  
Experts say that one in four girls and one in six boys is sexually abused as a child – and that is just child sex abuse.  Many excellent non-profits work on these issues, but twice the current number of non-profits could engage in this work and not everyone in need would find support.  Moreover, much support for survivors of abuse involves diagnosing and supporting people in the midst of crisis, but after years of therapy, long after the ink has dried on criminal convictions or settlements from civil lawsuits, many adult survivors continue to struggle with employment, relationships, addiction and other issues.  And many more do not have enough documentation of abuse to pursue either criminal or civil litigation.  What do they do?  Compassionate Gathering places no limits or constraints on who we help.  We support anyone who comes to us.  
Our unique about approach to healing the wounds of abuse involves the whole community.  We teach communication and relationship skills so members of the community can support survivors, so survivors can heal wounded relationships, and so parents can learn to be better parents.  We mentor survivors privately through phone chats, e-mails, and face-to face-meetings.  We offer group support and Compassionate Gatherings for listening, during which survivors and their families experience support from a small community of people.  We also empower survivors too filled with shame and guilt to come forward to express their needs and concerns through anonymous Internet based surveys.  We also encourage community involvement in apology by distributing an article on  the subject by Dr. Aaron Lazare and by making and distributing Sackcloth Penance Patches to express penance and prayers for clergy abuse survivors.  In addition, summer 2010, marked the third time we walked across Oregon through rural and urban areas to promote awareness of abuse, support survivors coming forward, and heal by having fun.  This last summer the Walk Across Oregon to End Abuse and Heal the Wounds received press coverage in every community we passed through.  Interest and participation in the Walk is especially valuable in rural Oregon, because there are fewer support services and because awareness about abuse and the need to support survivors is less developed than in urban areas.  Volunteers and staff from local domestic violence advocates, child abuse advocates, Child Protective Services, and Victims’ Assistants walked with us through every community during summer 2010, except Portland, where the agencies and non-profits are large.  
Our unique approach to ending and healing the wounds of abuse works.  I’ll share just one of our stories.
During the Walk Across Oregon in 2009, when we passed through one particular rural town, staff and volunteers  from the local domestic violence agency and their children walked with us.   The local newspaper covered our Walk, including an itinerary in their article.  The grandmother of an abuse victim joined us at our meeting site listed in the newspaper.  She was very upset because she had reported the abuse of her grandchild many times, but the child had not been removed from the abusive situation nor had the abuser been punished.  Each time the grandmother reported the abuse and nothing happened, she grew angrier.  Eventually officials told her that she was the problem.  Next the mother of the child cut off visitation for the grandmother.   Mediation concerning the grandmother’s right to visit her grandson had previously been scheduled for the day after the Walk Across Oregon.  The grandmother felt unprepared and was worried about what would happen.  Nothing had gone right for her in her efforts to protect her grandchild.  During the Walk Across Oregon that day we took time to visit a park while all the children accompanying us played together.  I sat with the grandmother and went through a list of things the she could say to express her anger and pain and concerns for her grandchild more effectively and diplomatically.  The normal human reaction to the failure to protect a child from an abuse is anger, but most people recoil from being shouted at or accused.  This was the trap the grandmother had fallen into.   After the Walk Across Oregon ended that day, the grandmother went home to practice what she was going to say with during the mediation.  A few days later she called me.  
Everything had gone her way, and the mediator said, “I am going to recommend that you resume visitation with this child.”
“Thank you, “ the grandmother said to me over the phone, “You helped me so much.”
We did not end abuse of this child, but we helped the grandmother gain skills to better advocate for her grandchild.  During that Walk, we also walked with the grandmother to the offices of local domestic violence services and with their help, connected her to the leader of a support group, so she was no longer alone in her struggle to support her grandchild.
Becoming a part of the process for people struggling to end abuse or heal the wounds of abuse is very rewarding work.  We want to build on what we have already achieved and help more people.  We dream of accomplishing the following goals:
  •   We want to increase our agency and non-profit contacts and involve more community members, survivors, and businesses in the Walk Across Oregon to End Abuse and Heal the Wounds.  
  •   We want to develop a guidebook for the Walk Across Oregon listing local agencies, non-profits, and businesses taking part in the Walk Across Oregon, including resources of support for survivors, information on reporting abuse and supporting survivors through difficult times, as well as information on local historical and natural sites of interest.
  •   We want to develop more classes to help survivors and their supporters, such as the grandmother we met during the 2009 Walk Across Oregon, develop the interpersonal relationship skills they need to face abusers in difficult legal and interpersonal interactions and stand up for their rights effectively.
  •   We want to reach out with the Sackcloth Penance Patch to more churches and parishioners to bring up the issue of abuse inside the Church and encourage parishioners to support survivors of all forms of abuse, including clergy abuse, to come forward.
  • We want to hold more events nurturing spiritual healing for survivors.   Last year Elizabeth Goeke, the Vice President of Compassionate Gathering, led an Advent Rosary Retreat.  This December, Elizabeth led an Advent Labyrinth Walk.  I wrote about the Labyrinth Walk in my blog: The Garden of Roses: Stories of Abuse and Healing.  Almost three hundred people read the blog, revealing a huge unmet need for survivors to support other survivors on the path to spiritual healing.   We want to meet this need.  Elizabeth is particularly interested in incorporating a retreat into a Walk Across Oregon through the Painted Hills or the Blue Basin of the John Day Fossil Beds.  
  •   We also plan to offer one or two special events each year so the community can participate in listening to survivors.  On June 18, 2011, we have a special guest, a survivor of clergy abuse who has remained within the Catholic Church but struggles to remain Catholic will share the story of her spiritual journey through abuse and her efforts to recover.
  • Lastly, we hope to find some interns to help us develop these projects, especially the Walk Across Oregon.
But we need your help to achieve our dreams.  Our wish list includes:
  •   Money to pay for modest salaies for an Executive Director and an Administrative Director.
  •   Money to hire a grant writer to help us obtain more financial support.
  •   Money for two new computers, two new cell phones and 4G internet and phone services.
  •   Money for a commercial website as opposed to our current stopgap website. 
  •   Money so we can post our last survey of survivor wants and needs on an interactive website.
  •   We also need more volunteers to have fun with us on the Walk Across Oregon.  
Whatever you give, however you help, we are very grateful.  And the good news is that your donations to Compassionate Gathering are now tax deductible!
Sincerely yours,
Virginia Jones
President, Board of Directors, Compassionate Gathering
  •   Yes, I am interested in supporting Compassionate Gathering with my gift of ______________
  • I cannot contribute at this time, but I do want to be notified of future news..........

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Reconnecting to Spirit: Survivor Leads Labyrinth Walk in Portland, Oregon

On Monday, December 6, 2010, Elizabeth Geoke, a survivor of an assault by a priest that foreshortened her career as a nun will do something she might have done if she had remained a nun.  She will lead an Icon Labyrinth Walk to begin the Advent season.  Elizabeth’s journey to this event has not been an easy one.
In 2002, almost 40 years after leaving her religious life, Elizabeth returned to her former Mother House.
Another former nun asked her, Of all the young nuns, I thought you were the most likely to remain a nun.  What happened?”
“Well, that was the year I was stationed away from the Mother House,” Elizabeth replied thinking about the reasons she left her order and the Catholic Church, “And then there was the fact that I was abused by a priest.”
On Christmas Eve that year when she was still a novice nun, not yet professed to her final vows, her confessor told her that he had a right to her body.  She fought him off but became bruised and bloodied in the process.  She pulled herself to play the organ for Christmas Eve Mass, but she could not keep silent, so she told another, younger priest what happened.
He put her under a seal of silence, with threat of excommunication...
Well, do I need to tell you the rest... Everyone who reads Abuse Tracker on a regular basis can fill in the blanks.  When Elizabeth couldn’t remain silent, she was thrown out of the church.  Eventually she married a Quaker man and had three children.
Elizabeth admired her husband’s Quaker faith, but she was never inspired enough by the mostly silent Quaker meetings without any music or readings from the Bible to become a Quaker herself.
Before anyone thinks I am remotely critical of Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends as Quakers are more properly known, let me tell you that my ancestors who came to this country were Quakers.  They believe in the equality of all before the eyes of God that all of us have the light of God in us, male, female, black and white, Christian and non-Christian.  Quakers fought against slavery before most other white Americans were moved to do so.  Quakers were also among the founders of the feminist movement and Quakers had female “ministers” before most other religions did.  Quakers are pacifists and they believe in living simply and they are better than most people of faith in really living their faith.  If you go to a Quaker meeting house, in the parking lot you will see an assortment of broken down cars and bicyles but inside you will meet doctors, university professors, engineers, lawyers, former peace corp volunteers and the like.  They can afford SUVs but they won’t buy them because they don’t believe in valuing material objects.
I love the Religious Society of Friends.  I attended on and off for 8 years, but I was raised by parents who were not religious.  I didn’t find enough support for learning about faith in Quaker meeting.  We had the silent meetings of prayer for an hour, but I didn’t know how to pray.  I learned how to pray in the Catholic Church.  Although, honestly, in other ways, I feel more comfortable with the Quaker lack of authority and hierarchy.  At the risk of being excommunicated myself, I have to confess that I am more of a Quatholic than a Catholic.
So I understand Elizabeth.  For many years, she told people for many years after leaving her religious order, “I don’t do religion.”
But inside of her was an ache of longing for connection that she suppressed until that day in 2002 when someone asked her why she didn’t remain a nun.  LIke so many ex-Catholics, she loves the liturgy, she loves the music and the richness of the Catholic faith.  
Her second, more public confession of having been abused, was not really more supported than her first.  No one in her very Catholic family of birth or her religious order.  Her Quaker husband accepted her and supported her for who she was, but that is what Quakers do.
Coming forward in public as a clergy sex abuse survivor became a spiritual journey for Elizabeth, She had suppressed that part of herself so long she didn’t even know why she had suppressed it.  Coming forward as a survivor of clergy abuse helped her understand that she wanted to reconnect to faith she has so long been disconnected from.  But, due to the lack of support from her Catholic birth family and from her religious order,  Elizabeth was not able to reconnected to the Catholic Church.  However, she found an Episcopal Church, one with a dynamic woman priest, and became involved.  
She said at first that she thought the problem was men, but when the woman priest left, she found that the male Episcopal priest who replaced her was fine, so the problem was not men but Catholic priests.  But eventually she met enough supportive Catholic priests, including the Franciscan priests, Fr. Armando and Fr. Ben, at Ascension where we hold our Compassionate Gatherings, but by then she was already involved at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral here in Portland, Oregon, and decided to stay.
In her journey to reconnect with spirit, Elizabeth took classes and went on retreats, eventually gaining the skills to lead retreats herself.  One of her choice involvements at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is the Labyrinth Guild.  Labyrinths are not mazes.  Mazes have dead ends and often lead the walker very confused.  A Labyrinth leads the walker on a clear path to the center and back again.
Labyrinths are found in many religions and cultures and date back at least to ancient Greece.  They were adopted as a form of walking prayer or meditation in early Christianity.  One of the most famous labyrinths is found on the floor of the Chartes Cathedral in France. 
Labyrinths can be a metaphor for one’s own spiritual journey.  Our paths in life take on twists and turns away from God, but eventual our spiritual path take us to our center to reconnect with God.  The path itself can be a metaphor for how we life our life.  Rarely is one on the path alone.  Do others pass us by or do we rush impatiently past others.  Are we distracted or can maintain our minds in meditation.
Elizabeth will be leading a Labyrinth Walk at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Portland, Oregon, on December 6 from 4:30 PM to 8 :30 PM.  This walk is centered on the season of advent and includes a procession of icons of the Holy Family and of the saints at 4:30 PM.
I am going with my children.  They are beginning to rebel against traditional church services.  My son, who like me, connects to God best while hiking of the side of a mountain, experiences almost as much uplift from walking the labyrinth as he does hiking.
Other survivors of clergy abuse or other forms of abuse who have puzzled how God can allow abuse on the earth, may find Walking the Labyrinth a healing experience, a metaphor for their own journey of life, and a way to reconnect with faith without entering a Catholic Church or even an Episcopal Church because the labyrinth is in a parish building across the courtyard from the Cathedral.  If you find Elizabeth (she is the lovely woman in long grey hair), tell her that you are a survivor of clergy abuse and she will give you extra support.
The labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral is an especially lovely labyrinth as it is made of inlaid wood.  Soft music will be playing and the room will be lit by candlelight.

Below is an icon arrangement by Elizabeth.  The icons will feature saints and the Holy Family as this one does.

Here are several links to You Tube videos about walking the labyrinth.  Enjoy!