Wednesday, February 08, 2012

an unwanted opinion

Even in my relatively sheltered circle of interactions, I cannot have a conversation these days without the Powell tragedy being the preface to the dialogue.  It is such an intense worst-case-scenario that it haunts the human spirit.  It hangs heavily on anyone who brushes by it.  And everyone responds with disgust in either the direction of rage or recoil.  It is easy to understand why.

But I have learned two things so far in life that come up in these cases.  One is that I strongly resist the urge to snap into strong default judgments that are entirely based on emotional response.   I have, I think, stronger emotional responses than most people; and life has been a practice for me in learning how to check them.  The other thing I have learned is the importance of making and interpreting meaning where it is otherwise hard to find it.  It requires immense faith and patience to persist in believing that God is in His Heaven sometimes, but I do persist anyway.

I remember hearing Bryan Doyle speak about the day Osama Bin Laden died.  So many people had such happy emotional responses to that news.  But he was surprised to find himself sad.  "What a waste." He said, "What a waste of the divine spark that lies in the heart of every human being.  What a waste of talent and of persuasion.  What a waste of the opportunity to create meaning and love within the framework of a lifetime."   And I was so happy to hear a perfect verbalization of what had been my shared response.

I am not quick to that kind of anger which rejoices in seeing others penalized or destroyed.

(Which is not to say I never yell at my kids, but I don't think I've ever hated anybody.  Not even people whom I would have ample "excuse" to hate.  I found it easy to learn the lesson that hate is self-destructive, and that letting it go is a miraculous possibility couched in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)

And so in place of the disgusted hatred that seems to be (justifiably I suppose) flaming in the hearts of so many, I'm compelled to share some suppositions that I've encountered that have helped me circumvent hatred.

And here are the thoughts that have helped me feel sorry for Josh Powell.  Pity is a good start if you're aiming away from anger and hate.

I begin by supposing, as would be typical given the exposed information, that Josh Powell was raised in a home that was not emotionally safe.  Based on what has been made known about his father, it is extremely likely that he was sexually abused as a child.   It is also highly likely that at some point someone else in the family became aware of the fact and chose to hide it instead of revealing and rectifying it.  Wives and mothers do this often, out of fear, and they become enablers.  I hold enablers nearly as guilty as perpetrators.  I do not approve of basing important decisions on fear. But you have to fight to have that opinion, I have found.

In such an environment, what sort of "morality" does a child learn?  What is the concept of "right" and "wrong" in such a household?  There is no right, and possibly no wrong.  Only a need to appear socially acceptable when one is not, and a fear of being caught.  The light of Christ, which is inherent in every person, has no light or truth to cling to in such an environment.  The ability to cultivate a conscience is severely short-changed.  A child raised in this way is severely handicapped in trying to make sense of the world or function in a constructive way.  But they are doubly handicapped by being trained frightening well in the arts of manipulation.  They are never in a situation where they are able to realize that their normal is desperately abnormal and that their reality is terrifyingly warped.

It is not altogether surprising the psychotic behavior that can follow in a child turned adult who was only taught that the end justifies the means.  Not every such story ends so dramatically, but this seems a textbook worst-case-scenario.  And unlike nearly everyone who's vocalized an opinion, I am not automatically convinced that the one act of murder is an admittance to the other.  It is certainly possible, but not proven, and not yet a fact.  I am willing to wait.

This is why I am such a mighty, mighty fan of the Brown Sisters (of the 5 Browns) and others who create vehicles for those willing to speak up against abuse.  This is why I want to make certain that every woman within my sphere of influence is aware of the existence and resources of Women's Shelters.

My Freshman Year of College I volunteered through a local women's shelter to be a rape-survivor-advocate.  The training was intense, but enlightening.  I lasted 8 months as a volunteer before I was completely emotionally spent and had to move on.  I learned ever so much about the cycles of psychological manipulation and why they are so frighteningly hard to break.  It is terribly important that people who desperately need to talk feel like they can do so, but societally we have a bad habit of "not wanting to talk about" unpleasant things.  "Don't ask, don't tell" is a horrible but not uncommon policy for abuse.  Have you ever done anything to enable a conversation or confession about abuse?

And so if I follow the train of all of these suppositions, I find myself feeling miserably sorry for Josh Powell.  I see a little boy who never had an inkling of what it meant to love or be loved; who had nearly everything holy snuffed out of him before he could even communicate with other people, and who was never taught how to tell the truth.   What a desperate, frightening way to live.  And what a sad and desperate way to die.

I am grateful that God is his judge and not I.  I trust God to be a perfect judge, and I leave that task to him with relief.  I know that I am an inherently incapable judge, especially when I judge quickly and emotionally.

My heart breaks over and over for Susan's family.  How can it not?  But my greatest hope for them is that they not be consumed by hate.  Hate could destroy them, oh so easily now.  Theirs is the most complicated grief I can imagine.  They have so, so many things to grieve.  I worry that their only hope is in the type of the phoenix, which lies contrary to all the angry words that are bound to be buzzing around them with a hundred times more intensity than they buzz around me.  Will they be swayed by the tsunami of anger swelling both within them and around them?  They are supported by millions if they choose to be angry.  Who will support them in any other choice?

I think I will.

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