One of the parts of growing yourself up is finding out your flaws, weaknesses and foibles and working on them. I have a few things that I can’t tell if they’re personality, nurture, trauma or even a “real” problem… But one of them is an inability to write things down publicly.

This may seem odd coming from a person with a blog, but in a sense, one of the reasons my output on my blog is so infrequent is this inability to commit to the written word.

I think all the time about things I could write about on the blog, but I don’t end up actually writing them down. Some personality profiles explain that this is because Type 5s or INTPs grow bored quickly once they’ve figured something out and want to move on to other things. I know that’s part of it, but this is often balanced by a desire to share knowledge, to teach, to interest other people in the things interesting me.

I think part of it is a fear that written words are so much more substantial than the guff I fluff on with every day, all the time, and the responsibility and accountability of that is intimidating.

But whatever it is, I’m also constantly urged to write. Which is flattering, and exciting, but also very interesting to me. I certainly feel that I’ve always been better on my feet, talking. But writing is a way to get information further than just one temporal audience, so there is an attraction to it.

This happens though to touch against one of my other foibles which is a lack of confidence that I have something useful to say. Again, this may surprise you. I have a blog, I’ve given sermons, I seem a confident and competent person, surely I think I’m as qualified and deserving as any to share my thoughts in public.

But I don’t.

I won’t bore you with all the reasons for that – safe to say for at least two years now I’ve been trying to adopt the mantra “be as confident as a mediocre, middle-aged white man”. Not because all middle-aged white men are mediocre, but surely we can all admit there are plenty of them, and research on everything from how often men verbally dominate women in meetings and constantly interrupt them, to how much and how frequently men are paid more than women for the exact same job proves it. There are many mediocre men spilling ink and waffling on in front of congregations and audiences all over the world with the self-assurance of a King announcing a holiday to a happy populace. So, if they can do it, so can I.

Therefore, I’ve decided to publicly commit (oops!) to updating the blog at least once a week (it’ll be Thursdays or Fridays) until the end of the year and see how that goes.

Fortunately, if I’m reaaaalllllly stuck for content, I can post a picture of my cat to general acclaim.

Next week, some real thoughts. On… Something!

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Orange Move Three Month Update

Atypically for me, I’m making this blog post a little early. Essentially this is my three month post-move update, but really that should be on the 29th.

Anyways, as for all my posts, it’ll be tl:dr, so a very basic outline of the facts:

  • living with my sister, small nephew and soon-to-be-born other nephew
  • started a Teacher’s Aide course at TAFE and have placement at a lovely local Catholic school. I’ve also very graciously been given some hours of cover at the local Christian school
  • yes, I want to visit Sydney but in terms of “coming back”? All the reasons I came are still true. So, even though I miss Sydney (a LOT on some days – although really the people over the city), I’m looking at Orange as long term.

For those brave enough to continue, here we go!!!

Having your husband walk out on you is pretty damn tough. From shock, to grief, to embarrassment, to panic, to shame, to horror, to desperation, back to sadness… It’s a whirlwind.

If you have a small person (or more) at the time, it’s even more complicated in some ways because the small person doesn’t disappear. And is experiencing trauma of their own.

I’m sure many of you can imagine or empathise your way at least partly into this situation, and some of you of course have experienced it. And I know some of you have been dealing with abuse on top of this.

It’s heartbreaking.

It’s made worse by having to communicate constantly with this other person because you share a child.

I can’t actually describe all of my emotions about this on a public blog post because I don’t want to cause any legal trouble.

But it’s tough.

So, yes, living alongside and in that is difficult. I’ve had a lot of (I believe, righteous and justified) anger, with no ability to speak with the person concerned. This can be compounded with each new message, new action, new lack of action that impacts my life (yes, there’s a strong selfish element to it of course), because I’m now helping to provide for and support his wife and sons. There have been some very difficult days. And a lot of praying. And a lot of running out of any energy to pray and therefore really needing and being encouraged by the prayers of others.

One particularly nourishing moment was my first time praying in person with some new-to-me people out here about how hard it is to be patient and not hurt when my nephew goes through a phases of telling me I’m not allowed to talk and to go away any time I enter a room where he is. I don’t know if that sounds like a small thing to you, and in many ways it is a small thing. I know it’s more to do with him and his emotions than me, I understand that cognitively. But it’s still hard having someone tell you “no! You aren’t allowed to say anything. Go away!” every time you see them! But I was able to share and cry a little and receive the blessing of prayer.

On that note: I miss you all so much.

I miss my friends a lot. Church family, friends who’ve been alongside me for so many years, newer colleagues, older ones.

We moved a lot when we were kids, I went to five schools, I hadn’t experienced friendships that went for longer than a few years, until Sydney. Some, to my amazement, were some highschool relationships that actually continued. But a group of very precious friends from my time at UTS have been the longest continuous friendships I’ve experienced. And we’ve done friendship at a distance before, and I know we’re not going to stop being friends just because I live here etc etc. But I miss them.

How wonderful it is to have people who know you and love you. Who are so easy to spend time with because there’s such deep affection and knowing there. It’s a blessing that stuns and surprises me every time I ponder it. I hope I don’t lose that wonder.

But here’s the crazy thing. One of those friends, a precious friend from first year of uni, LIVES IN ORANGE. With her hubby and kids. Isn’t that wild? The very thing I miss, I also have right here.

It’s so interesting to me that among these sad and difficult things, there are moments of goodness. In many ways, all of life is like that. And I’m trying to embrace the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and psychology in accepting the sad and the good and crying when it’s crying time and laughing when it’s laughing time.

Unsurprisingly, moving after such a long time and in fairly distressing circumstances has prompted plenty of existential angst as it is wont to do. And I think #covidlyf has done that for us all a bit anyway. In the usual throw-the-spaghetti-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks method of my subconscious, this has involved mini-crises about: my weight, my marriagability, my future, my economic status, my inability to sing well, my inability to write or say anything useful for anyone else. If I was Bridget Jones, and had Alsatians instead of a cat, I’d’ve spent (and would continue to spend) periods of days or weeks convinced I’ll die alone and then be consumed by them.

Like the other “dramas” I’ve mentioned so far, these all have to be experienced and weathered to a certain extent. Like, if I’m sad about having to make big life decisions with no partner, while I can cognitively recognise the upsides to this situation as well as understand that it doesn’t actually rate my value at all, it’s also something that, for a time, I’m sad about. And that’s reasonable. We’re often so uncomfortable or distressed by the distress of our loved ones we try to hurry them out of it. I know I do. I may not think that’s what I’m doing, I may think I’m trying to be reassuring. But often the impact is actually being dismissive by cognitively debating their emotional experience. It’s something I’m trying to keep in mind with my nephew, but also for myself. It’s ok to be sad sometimes. And I’m probably not gonna be sad about it forever, but if I push it off, like trying to stop a sneeze, it’s still going to come. So, I’ve cried. A lot. And the not-crying moments haven’t even always balanced them out so far in these first three months. But that’s ok too. “There’s a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven.”

In the sad moments I have to remind myself that I’ve made the right decision. I know this is where I need to be. And in my heart I’m trying to remember as well that because God is actually a loving Father, there very much is scope for things to get better. And that in the tough things, He’s still here, leading the way and holding my hand.

Oh, and of course, the most important thing (as far as he’s concerned) is that Alexei is very happy. He’s getting fat (again! Gaah! How does this happen?!) and LOVES having a back and front yard to walk around in. He requests daily walks now and would very much like to introduce himself, at speed and with mouth open, to most of the local wildlife. Unfortunately for him, I still insist on walks only on leash, so he hasn’t caused any environmental degradation yet. He enjoys the free cat TV from his many windows though, and when I’m not giving myself day-mares about his future death, or sometimes even while I’m doing that, he is still lavish with his cuddles and scratches and leapings, and seems quite happy where he is.

Maybe cats need a different version of Ecclesiastes. “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven. A time to dream of chasing birdies and a time to be frustrated in your desire to chase birdies. A time to nap, and another time to nap. A time to sleep, and then a time also to stretch and then resettle to sleep again.”

It’s typical for my generation to talk about the pains and confusions and difficulties of “adulting”. And I am no expert. I also hate returning phone calls and understanding what insurances I need or don’t need and I don’t know how to “carve out a career”. But I also know that many more people of my age than would even realise themselves are more than ready to deal with the real challenges of adulting. And they are real challenges. The challenge to be faithful, loving, patient, kind, gentle, peaceful, self-controlled and to care for those around you. In #covid I haven’t been able to do much for the people not proximate to myself. But I wouldn’t want to stuff that up by not doing my best by those to whom I am morally and physically proximate. I’m not my brother’s keeper, nor am I my sister’s saviour. But I’m glad I can help her, and I’m gonna keep hoping for good things when I walk through the sad and worried and nostalgic and grieving moments.

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Welcome to stress

It may sound a little silly to you that I, or anyone, would find anything exciting about #lockdownlyf but, I’ve found something that I feel I can finally contribute to those around me at a time they’re willing to listen, so I’m excited! I have a specific skill, a niche experience that has wide application for a moment, and I’m glad to be able to share what I’ve learned about it! (If you don’t want background and just want tips, skip down to the numbered points. And at the bottom I’ve put some resources for you to call on if/when you need help.)

And no, I’m not just talking about being an introvert! Although hey, you know introverts have some useful skills for isolation life. But that’s another post for another day.

I’m talking about #cptsdlyf

So, I was diagnosed with depression a long time ago and I’ve been medicated for quite a while, but it took me a while to see a psychologist and partake of their particular expertise. Psychs are expensive and I could see a counsellor through a subsidised organisation a lot cheaper. And counsellors are magnificent and helped me a lot. But, what the psychologist was able to contribute was to delve a little further into medical research etc and explained that alongside my depression, I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Now, there’s controversy around the term, there often is in psychology when things are in the initial stages of being described. Some would like to use the term Developmental Trauma Disorder or simply Complex Trauma Disorder, and eventually there may be a more settled articulation of the name, but the symptoms, or description of the disorder is widely recognised in psychology. Many different things can cause it, and you can check out the Wikipedia article if you’d like more detailed info but the main thing you need to know now is in the name C-PTSD, complex post traumatic STRESS disorder.

That’s right, stress!! I’m an expert in stress! My body and brain have been deeply shaped by it and it’s taken years of work and expensive therapy to get to a point where I’m much better at recognising what’s going on and am more able to deal well with it. And you can’t deny we’re all feeling pretty STRESSED right now, so me and everyone else finally have something in common!

Because C-PTSD and PTSD life can sometimes be lonely. For a lot of C-PTSD havers there’s heavy denial (from other people) around the trauma they’ve experienced (it’s often connected to abuse, which is usually accompanied by a web of denial and lies), and for PTSD havers, the traumatic event has passed for everyone else but is alive and well for them (yes, Lieutenant Dan in Forrest Gump could spring to mind here and that makes sense. Vietnam vets were a generation who were scorned and derided for their experiences but also one of the first war generations to eventually find some help and advocacy regarding their mental health. It took too long… But that’s what it is…). But one thing that’s different at the moment is that very few people are left in denial that we’re all in a stressful situation at the moment. So, you’ve immediately got one weapon against your stress that a lot of C-PTSD and PTSD people don’t – everyone knows you’re stressed and why and that it’s legitimate.

But what are some things I’ve learned from stress life that I can encourage or enlighten you with?

1. You’re going to be exhausted and that’s perfectly normal.

When you’re stressed, your body and brain are using extra energy to cope/function/be normal and that’s quite tiring. Also, your brain might be looking for defence mechanisms, ways to escape the stress, and often, sleep feels like an answer to that. My body is excellent at “playing possum”. In panic attacks, I quickly black out, and in life in general, when my stress levels are high, my body wants to sleep. Aaaaaalllllll the time.

The memes going around about how we should all be using this time to write a novel and invent gravity can be inspirational but it’s very important to remember, you’re under stress! So also, be kind to yourself! And your body may demand more sleep than you’re used to. This isn’t necessarily a sign that you’re on the verge of a breakdown, but it does mean you’re stressed. But, feel free to talk to someone and check the resources I’ve put at the end of this post.

2. You’re going to have very weird dreams.

This is something I always forget isn’t normal for most people because extremely vivid and often disturbing dreams have been part of my life every night since I was very young. But I’ve been reminded a lot in the last couple of days that my normal is now becoming normal for everyone else.

Yeah! The dreams are weird hey!

PTSD is known for flashback moments, but also our brains doing a lot of processing of trauma when it can, which is often while we’re unconscious. Our brains often use dreams to try to work through the days events, or, as Dr Norman Swan put it on Coronacast, your brain is “taking out the garbage”.

And your brain has a lot of garbage atm! There’s a lot of STRESS it needs to work through. Personal, interpersonal, intrapsychic, relational, physical, social, systemic loss are part of our day-to-day at the moment. We have a lot of things to grieve and a lot of things to worry about. Your brain may choose to do this in odd to bizarre ways in your dreams. Sorry!

A vivid and disturbing dream can cast an emotional pall over the beginning of my day (and remember, for me, for most of my life, this is 70-90% of the times I sleep), and that can be a real downer. It can be hard to shake it off. So, maybe experiment with some ways to leave that dream world behind. For example, write it down. Shake your head over it. Thank your brain for trying to take out the garbage and then remind yourself today is not the dream. That may help for you. One tip I can give you for sure though, not many people are going to want to listen to you telling them about your weird dream-of-the-night every morning, so, good luck to the verbal processors. Maybe keep an audio journal so it feels like you’ve told someone? Parents, you may need to help your kids process theirs. Let them tell you about it, and then help them through the steps of “thanks brain for taking out the garbage. But now it’s today, so we’re going to do some fun things.”

There are lots of other tips out there for how to deal with the weird dreams, so feel free to research reputable sources.

3. Your capacity will be reduced.

Obviously connected to the first two, your body and brain are working over time, so you may not function at your usual capacity. You have a choice about how to deal with this:

– berate yourself for being a slacker

– be kind to yourself because this is an extraordinary time and you don’t need to function to any particular imaginary standard anyway.

I often choose the first or others choose it for me because they can’t see the trauma I’ve experienced and that I’m living with every day. Unfortunately, mental illness is invisible. But like I said above, you guys have a gift. EVERYONE recognises the difficulty at the moment. So, embrace that. Blame the situation BECAUSE IT’S REAL. You may not be functioning as you usually do or at someone else’s concept of your capacity and that’s ok. You’re stressed, it’s normal. Be kind to yourself.

4. You may make some bad choices, or want to.

So, many of us C-PTSD/PTSD havers make some “bad” choices to deal with our pain. Drugs, alcohol, excessive sex, porn addiction, “comfort” food. Our bodies and brains are often flailing to find an escape, any escape, that will lower the extremity of what we’re feeling and experiencing.

My main weakness on this front is comfort food. And it’s something I need to tackle with psychological help because it is a HUGE and complex issue to work through.

But at the moment? I just want all the chocolate and all the cake and all the fried chicken and maybe you do too. It’s unfortunate because we know that’s not necessarily great for our bodies, but it’s understandable because your body and brain want soothing because they’re dealing with STRESS. So again, what I’d recommend first is be kind to yourself. Understand why you may be seeking even more comfort than usual from your chosen source. And if you’re really wanting to resist seeking comfort there, recognise that a vacuum needs to be filled. So, make a list of other things you enjoy and can do at this time, ways to de-stress and relax and feel soothed and do them all!

Also, you may just want to remove all alcohol or chocolate from your house. It’s up to you.

5. Find the silver linings and find help.

Self-care has become more known about and recognised as a concept which is wonderful because it’s essential. If you want to keep caring well for yourself and the people around you, you need to be able to function well. AND, you deserve to be good to yourself. This is a concept my self-hatred finds hardest to recognise and believe, but I have value as a person just for who I am. I’m precious, and I’m worth taking care of. My fellow Christians would want to fling a few Bible verses at me at this point, and they’re right, I am fearfully and wonderfully made by a loving Creator who knows every hair on my head. But the gremlin inside me who tells me every day that I’m a piece of s*%t doesn’t believe in those Bible verses. So, I have to spend a reasonable amount of energy every day on this fight, alongside dealing with everything else.

I hope for your sakes that your gremlin doesn’t exist or is much quieter, but even if you don’t have that particular battle on your hands, all of the STRESS means you still need to be taking care of yourself. This requires some mental work, some physical work and some relational work. And more and more of it is becoming “common sense” which is wonderful. So, for eg:

– find healthy ways to process stress mentally, for eg, meditation, counselling, prayer.

– do some exercise, go outdoors when you can for the exercise. Combine the mediation and exercise by doing yoga! Iyengar yoga has changed my body and my life over the last few years and continues to be an incredible support. There’s a lot of research going into the benefits of yoga on trauma, google trauma sensitive yoga if you’d like to learn more.

– spend time talking to people you love or just hanging out on zoom while you read a book.

Our lists may look different but the principle is the same. Take care of yourself, you’re worth it.

There’s so much more I could say about this. I’ve been accumulating experience and lessons (I refuse to say “learnings”!!!!!!!!) about this for years, and I’d love to share it but also, this blog post is too long already. So, read up a bit about stress, and it’s extremes in traumatic stress, and figure out some ways you can take care of yourself and those you love.

Some resources that might help are:

Mental Health First Aid Guidelines here.

Black Dog Institute here.

Helplines like:

Lifeline – 13 11 14

Kids Helpline – 1800 55 1800

Mensline – 1300 78 99 78

Suicide Callback Service – 1300 659 467

Your local health care areas also have access to translation services.

Your GP. You’ll need to speak to your GP to create a mental health care plan if you’d like Telehealth services with a psychologist and GPs are trained in helping triage mental health issues generally.

Be kind to yourself and others. Stress can be a huge burden but it’s not one you have to carry alone.

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Being annoying in the time of cholera*

One of my many annoying characteristics is that I interrupt a lot. It’s probably why some people have wondered if I have a personality disorder, and why others have simply wondered if I understand basic manners. It’s a no to the first and a yes to the second, but I forget sometimes, for lots of reasons, that interrupting isn’t always the best choice.

Another of my annoying characteristics is giving unsolicited advice. It makes me a good teacher, because it comes from a place of wanting to share information to help people. I have very few other ways of usefully helping people, so I default to that. I can understand that it’s very annoying, even patronising sometimes, and like the interrupting, it’s not malicious, but it can make me hard to be around.

You, of course, have many annoying characteristics as well. I could keep listing mine, the above is not an exhaustive list, and we could probably make a long list of yours. Comedians have even noted that long-married couples can get to a point of familiar contempt that even the way their partner breathes can be annoying.

But what does this have to do with this time of global pandemic, a time of crucial economic, social and medical decisions? A time of great personal and social challenge?

Well that’s exactly it actually. A time of great personal challenge.

Everyone is stressed, and that already limits our capacity for empathy and patience. Soon and already many of you will be locked in your homes with your nearest and dearest, wondering why they have to breathe so very loudly.

For some, this may lead to dire outcomes. They are shut in with their abusers who may find any chance to damage them further… I can only hope and pray that help and alternatives will still be found in these times.

For the rest of us though, it’s not necessarily a time of emotional or physical danger, but certainly a time of many opportunities to hurt each other with an impatient word, or judgemental thoughts. And those things still matter. Especially of note is that they accumulate. Even for a person who doesn’t consciously “keep score”, we notice if and when blow after blow lands.

I know I’m very annoying, so I need people to be patient with me. But I also know everyone else is really annoying so I need to be patient with them!

So is that where we leave it? Another plea to be patient and kind? Such pleas are important, but can also be a bit useless. If I’m stressed and isolated and tired, if I’m at the limit of my emotional resources, how can I be patient with everyone else?

People try to draw strength from many resources in many ways, some useful, some the profiteering BS of charlatans. But I have learned two sources of strength through knowing God. They’ve helped me deal with many difficult situations already and I know they will continue to help.

When Jesus knew He was about to die and then return to the Father, He promised He wouldn’t be leaving His followers alone. He promised a Counsellor, the Spirit of God, who would live in our hearts, and intercede for our groaning spirits. The Counsellor brings God’s word to life in our hearts, minds and lives, transforming us to be more like Jesus. The times I am patient, or kind, gentle, slow to anger, self-controlled, or wise, I am empowered to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t need to rely solely on my own efforts (good! Cos I have about as much energy as a sausage sometimes!) nor on the strength of wishful thinking or crystals or being white and wealthy in an exploited world or any other power. I can rely on the power of God the Counsellor.

The other blessing necessary to me when trying to be patient and kind is forgiveness. Because I fail. I’m not always patient and kind. I screw it up. I resist what the Spirit is trying to do, I let my tired, selfish monkey brain take over and am only constrained by social habit from flinging poo. So, I also need forgiveness.

I need to be reminded that God forgives me. That because Jesus has dealt with the consequences of my failures and errors, God can sincerely and fully forgive me in a way that doesn’t just mean “I’m ignoring this for now but I’ll bring it up again letter in an argument where I’m listing your faults.” He truly and fully forgives. It’s a relief.

It also gives me the perfect reason to forgive others, or at the very least be patient with them. Unlike my relationship with God, the consequences of what I do and what I’ve had done to me aren’t always all dealt with, but I have been forgiven much, so it’s an abundance I can share from.

When I feel my shoulders tensing up because yet another friend has said something completely insane and unhelpful about the pandemic and how to fight it, I try to remind myself to be let the Spirit help me be patient and kind. The Holy Spirit is the breath of God, so I’m not surprised that so many forms of ancient wisdom engage with the wisdom of taking a deep breath. I take a deep breath, a deep drink of the breath of God given to us, and try to let that fill me and change me before I let it out.

And when I screw that up, I ask God for forgiveness. And ask Him for the courage to ask for forgiveness for the person or people I’ve hurt as well. I don’t always get that right either, so the cycle continues.

But what a cycle it is. A cycle of breathing in love and breathing out forgiveness. A cycle of breathing in strength and breathing out kindness and patience. A breath that can’t infect anyone.

*I’ll resume part three of the current series soon.

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Historical abuse

This blog is the second in a three-part series about responding to revelations of abuse in the church. Please see the first post first. This is an invitation to move on from shock to a heartbroken, truth-filled and more useful response.

Another reason some of us aren’t shocked or surprised at every fresh revelation of abuse in the church, or supported by the church, or perpetrated by church leaders, is an awareness of the history of abuse and the church, in our families as well as in our institutions.

Both sides of my family are still church goers, and of course, once you go back a couple of generations, back to Christendom, almost all of our families were. And yet, my family, and my friends families, and many others, have stories like this in them:

– Oh yes, great-grandfather. He kept great-grandma pregnant for 20 years. She lost 12 babies. Grandma said it was because he hated her.

– He used to hit them, whenever he was angry. But no one thought anything of it then.

– She always used to lock her in a cupboard during the holidays because she was “such a bother”. She always looked forward to going back to school.

– Oh, everyone knew not to leave that Elder alone with the children, even though he’d always insist on taking them off for a ramble at church picnics. But he was still an Elder when my mum was a child, years later.

– The pastor knew he was beating them, so he used to preach extra sermons about submission. When she finally left, the church wouldn’t grant a divorce and she was shunned. Eventually she moved towns.

There are those of us who live right now in families where cycles of abuse go back through generations of church goers. In church communities where by commission or omission that abuse was encouraged, or abuse even perpetrated by church leaders.

And so, when a revelation comes that a minister has been abusive, or that a church has turned a blind eye to abuse in its midst, we are not surprised, because it is the story we already live.

We’re also not surprised because we know the history of the church outside our personal family stories. For example, even though many of us have listened to Christian leaders decrying feminism (for eg), most of us are glad that women now have the ability to own property, vote and have jobs, as all of these things make it more difficult for people to trap them in abusive relationships because they have no financial independence. This sadly still happens, but at least it’s been made more difficult than when women were property. There were Christians among the Suffragettes but many Christian leaders who at the time (as well as now) say that God objects to women voting, and also fought tooth and nail against divorce rights for women leaving abusive marriages as well. Christians have often stood against every step that has brought men and women toward equity and equality in our society. Why would we think that has changed?

Those of us who are unsurprised also know the history of the way the church has treated its followers as well. From the more recent revelations of Royal Commissions in Australia (you’ve seen the statistics right? Again, do you think this only happens in other people’s churches?!), to historical abuses like using the threat of hell to gain money for indulgences. Apparently a lot of you think the church has changed, or maybe that your church has, but do you honestly think you’re immune from these possibilities? I heard just recently of a (“good bible based”) church that encouraged its members to go into debt to support a new church building. Giving an implication that only the truly sincere will take this risk for Jesus? The church has burned witches, led inquisitions, acquired land by force, and benefitted from the worst parts of colonialism. And yet many of you seem to think that story miraculously stopped at some point, apparently quite recently?

The track record of the church on abuse is terrible. And combined with the realities mentioned in my first post, it leaves me surprised that anyone can honestly be surprised any more when yet another leader is rightly convicted of sexual abuse, or when I hear that another church has responded poorly to a spousal abuse, or that another has covered up the crimes of a leader and moved them on. History tells me this is expected.

And so does a lot of the theology I hear, but that’s for part three.

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When the silence is broken.

So here’s the thing. For every new revelation of abuse within the church, there are those of us who are not surprised. Saddened yes. Heartbroken even. But not in the least surprised.

Maybe it’s because we’re the real Calvinists, even though we’re usually the kind of people Neo-Calvinists think are off the straight and narrow. We’re the ones who believe in total depravity. Usually because we’ve experienced it. We’re the ones who’s lesson has been “it could be anyone”, and it’s a heavy burden.

But it means we’re not surprised.

And sometimes, your surprise hurts. It’s a reminder that no one has listened to us. It’s a reminder that our lives exist in a different universe to yours apparently.

So, in this three post series, I’m going to try to explain why we aren’t shocked. And ask some questions about how that might finally change.

The first post is about real church reviews. The second is about historical abuse. And the third one is more directly about theology, although of course, every part of this conversation touches on it.

So, first, the real church reviews.

I’m on several Facebook groups where people ask for church recommendations. Maybe their friends are moving to a new area, or they know someone who has become a Christian and want to know where they should go.

And because evangelical circles in Australia are small and ossified, I can almost predict which churches will be recommended. They’ll be recommended as “solid” or “bible based”. Sometimes as “welcoming” or “good for new Christians”.

But because evangelical circles are small, the weird among us usually know each other too. And the ex-vangelicals. And the victims.

So, often, this process of reading recommendations is painful for me. Because the head pastor of that “bible based” church told my friend to go back to her verbally, physically and emotionally abuse husband because “it’s what God commands”. Or because the head pastor of that church which is “good for new Christians” has chewed through so many assistant ministers that people will call people any person who they think might apply for a job with them to warn them. Or because that “great ministry” has employed someone who was moved on from their last ministry because of spiritual abuse and has tried to sue people who’ve made it publicly known. Or because that “great church” is full of people who’s response to another friends deep depression was as useful as Job’s friends, so that friend has given up church altogether now, with not even one follow up call from the church she was at for five years. But they teach the bible, goodness yes they do. Much better than that other terrible church down the road.

I’m not just talking about “my friend didn’t like that church because there were no people his own age”. I’m talking about “my friend told that pastor he was suicidal and the pastor told him to read Lamentations.” I’m talking about “that church has defined Christian maturity as attendance at their events and serving in a minimum of two specific tasks from a list and very clearly don’t see anything troubling about that.”

I’m talking about abuse from leaders (of other leaders or of church members). I’m talking about leaders who facilitate others in abuse. I’m talking about leaders who neglect the basic tenets of pastoral care, and I’m talking about leaders who’s fear-driven, Pharisaical theology burns up and spits out the little children.

And I get these reviews of your churches from the people who’ve left. The people you’ve stopped listening to. Many of them have even told you why they’re leaving and have had their problems minimised, criticised or ignored.

Have you asked them why they’ve left? Do you know them?

Or, more troublingly, why do *I* know about the reasons they’ve, but only because I *do* know the right people? Why don’t we talk about this? Why does it keep taking commissions and inquiries and investigations to unearth what some of us already know?

Do you know what your church’s real review is? How would someone in an abusive marriage rate your church? How would someone suffering under child abuse rate you? How would your ex- Assistant Minister rate you if his future jobs weren’t on the line? The answers to those questions are vital to the effectiveness of your church and its health in bearing witness to the suffering of Christ.

If your first response is “oh, we’d probably be fine! I’ve never heard of anything like that happening here” then think again. And if your first response is “well, we have some disgruntled ex-members, but they’re obviously wrong”, then you probably have even more reason to pause for thought.

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The Mundanity of Suicidality – or, why one RUOK day is never enough (even though I recognise the value of awareness raising and hope you all check out the resources available).

For those of us for whom depressive thought patterns started early on in life, it can be tricky to understand what’s normal for most people. Part of me figured that probably not everyone went through phases of suicidal thoughts (of varying degrees), but on the other hand, they’d been part of my life for so long, I figured they must be normal. Maybe everyone goes through phases like this but no one really talks about it. 

The older I got, the more I began to understand that it’s not a common thing for everyone, nor (of course) does it look the same for those of followed by this particular black dog. 

It’s still difficult to talk about though, because of course, it’s a fraught topic for many people. My family included. It was my cousin Marc’s birthday just the other day, and as his mum, my Aunt, reminded us on facebook, he made it to 27 before he ended his life. The various health struggles of people in my family make it easy for me to feel guilty at the thought of adding to the stress by talking about how I’m going. 

And it’s the same with friends too. Everyone has stuff going on, some related to this issue specifically, and I don’t want to add to their sadness and angst. So, another reason not to talk. 

But something else I’ve found I have in common with other people who can be troubled in this way is that it’s so bloody normal to us, it feels overly-dramatic to talk about it. We’ve experienced the worry people can respond with, and we don’t want to make that worse for them, and feel that if we mentioned just how often this can pop up, they’d freak out completely. For some people, intrusive thoughts of suicide area part of their every day. It’s bloody exhausting, but doesn’t claim the shock of the unusual. 

Or for some us, it’s not the frequency but the way it pops into our heads, so matter-of-fact. “You could go to dinner with your friends, or you could kill yourself” our minds say, and we worry that no one will quite understand what we mean when we say we have suicidal thoughts, that they’re just not always particularly dramatic. Not all of us are Javert standing on the bridge singing melodramatically about stars. For some of us, some of the time, it’s just much more mundane than that. 

For example, I’m at a bit of a cross-roads type moment in my life. I know from past experience that these scenarios are triggering for me in various ways, including an upswing in the number of times my brain suggests to me that maybe I should just kill myself. I might look around my apartment at all my junk and think about how to pack it all up, and my brain says, very matter-of-factly, “instead of the hassle of continuing this charade of an existence which brings yourself and others pleasure, why not pack all this shit up, give the useful bits to the people who’ll need them, take the cat to your friends place, pre-book the Salvos to come pick up the furniture no one will want and the rest of your shit, and then take a long walk into Blackwattle Bay without scuba gear”. 

You’ve got to admit, it wouldn’t leave many loose ends, material-wise anyway, and would probably be the tidiest my apartment has ever been. 

But this is the problem you see, this is reasonably normal to me, especially at times like this. I know all the arguments to have with myself about why not to do that, and if I have a big cry about how lonely, pointless and depressing I feel, that usually helps too and I can move on from it. Until the next time the thought comes unbidden to my head. 

But I know that for some people, some of my friends, my family, thoughts of suicide are so rare for them (or have never happened apparently!) that they’ll feel like this means action stations. But it honestly doesn’t. 

It means I’m more tired than usual (I’m constantly battling myself after all, so tasks take me longer, or I run out of energy for them altogether), more glum than usual (my brain keeps telling me all the reasons I have to view my existence as fruitless/useless/harmful/going to get worse), and will probably make more excuses than usual for not coming to occasions at which people will want to make small talk (because it’s not polite when someone says, “so how’re you, what’s going on?”to say, “I’m terrible, thanks, and you?”) but I’m not at point where I need to be watched or sedated. 

That’s why it can be hard to talk about. I don’t know what normal looks like for you, but I know what it looks like for me. Sometimes it looks like this, and to me, that’s pretty mundane, serious as the idea is. So I’m sorry if I’m not great at explaining that to you, sorry for all the loved ones who wish their depressed loved one would just talk about it. It’s hard. It’s hard to know how to, it’s hard to know when to (you try slipping it into your average conversation!) and mostly we don’t want to make you sad. A hug will help (for some, ask permission first, for some of us, physical touch without warning is invasive and stressful), a lot of things might help. But if it’s a regular part of someone’s day, one hug isn’t gonna make it go away, and we need you to be ready for that if you’re going to offer help at all. 

Dealing with this could get pretty mundane. 

If you too commonly experience intrusive thoughts of suicide, please consider talking to your GP and getting hooked up with a psychologist. The government will only help you pay for a tiny part of the help you’re going to need, but there are other resources for help available. And please also know that many many people throughout history have struggled with this, and have still given and received love. They’ve still written symphonies, theses, recipes and birthday cards, made great contributions to humanity whether seen or unseen, and have had the opportunity to learn about life in a way not everyone gets to. It’s not a fun ride, but it’s our ride, and we *can* cope with it. 

(Apparently the blog looks better with pictures and this is my favourite picture of mundanity that I’ve taken and therefore doesn’t break copyright.)

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How to deal with all the persecution. 

One of the super-fun things about being a Christian who’s not going to vote “no” in the Australia-wide postal plebiscite regarding same-sex marriage is being a pariah among other Christians. Apparently my political theology means I’m not a “bible believer” or am “weak” because I’m “keeping in step with the world and not the Lord”. 

I find it especially ironic because the main reason most people I know have used to argue for why I should vote “no” is because apparently our religious rights are at stake, which puts all Christians at risk of being regarded pariahs. As someone who’s experienced marginalisation and a taste of ‘persecution’ within Christianity, I’m familiar with our own abilities to disturb, disrupt and distress, and I know how painful it can be to experience. So I understand why people are scared. 

I understand why they’re worried about how they’re going to get and keep a job when everyone knows what they believe, because as a woman who believes it’s biblically acceptable for women to preach to mixed congregations, I’ve faced that difficulty myself already. 

I understand why they’re worried about whether or not family members will keep talking to and accepting them, because when you have family who react in an exclusionary rather than an inclusionary way, it’s a real risk. I’ve experienced that as a Christian from other Christians too. 

But you know who else has had thorough experience of persecution? The LGBTQI community. They’ve already experienced everything Christians are currently afraid of happening to them. 

When closeted, they’ve been in endless conversations where people have spoken of them and their community with ignorance, misunderstanding, mocking and hate. 

When ‘out’, they’ve been jailed, chemically castrated, murdered, isolated and mobbed. 

They’ve been wrongly accused of everything from paedophilia to being the reason for natural disasters. 

When they’ve struggled with sickness, they’ve been ignored and mocked, told they’re just receiving the natural consequences of their actions. 

Imagine that happening to you. 

To every Christian who’s afraid, to every Christian who sees a future where we’ll be meeting in graveyards again, back underground, walking the fine line between being our real selves and keeping our families safe, realise that this is what every LGBTQI person experiences and has experienced. They’ve been underground, on the sidelines, criminalised and devalued. They’ve been where you fear to be and where we’ve been before. Please understand that “both sides” of this debate actually want the same thing. Freedom, recognition, the right to be themselves. 

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What’s the time?

“There is a time for everything, 

and a season for every activity under the heavens: 

a time to be born and a time to die, 

a time to plant and a time to uproot, a

 time to kill and a time to heal, 

a time to tear down and a time to build, 

a time to weep and a time to laugh, 

a time to mourn and a time to dance, 

a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, 

a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, 

a time to search and a time to give up, 

a time to keep and a time to throw away, 

a time to tear and a time to mend, 

a time to be silent and a time to speak, 

a time to love and a time to hate, 

a time for war and a time for peace.”

‭‭Ecclesiastes‬ ‭3:1-8‬ ‭NIV‬‬

Posting about singleness is always interesting. If I’m having a moment of sadness about it, people always want to tell me the good things about singleness that I’ve just “forgotten”. If I’m happy about it, they want to remind me that it’s tough for some people, so I shouldn’t “forget” that either. Sometimes, if I’m having a tough time, they tell me that marriage can be hard too, so I should be happy. Maybe if I was married and posted about it being hard, some people would say, “well my marriage is good, so yours can be too, perk up.”

It’s infuriating actually, not just interesting. Instead of just listening to what I’m saying, in that moment, it’s dismissed, devalued or undermined by those responses. Sometimes I’m happy about being single, sometimes I’m sad, both are true. Whether from a desire to see me happy, or from a defensive discomfort, other people trying to move me on is frustrating and painful. And it’s not very wise. 

One of the big messages of Ecclesiastes is that the wise person responds well to what time it is. If it’s time to mourn, you mourn, if it’s time to sow, you sow. Like the other Wisdom literature, Ecclesiastes embraces the rhythmic, cyclical, dependent aspects of human existence and encourages the wise person to do likewise. Like the old chorus says, “I will weep when you are weeping, when you laugh I’ll laugh with you…” 

Now imagine I’m one of the many Australian victims of Domestic and Family Violence who’ve had contact with the church, either in a minimal way or as a frequent, embedded member. Imagine I cope with the impact of DFV in my life every day, the expensive therapy bills, the ongoing physical impact, the difficulty trusting people, perhaps the inability to keep a stable job, or just being one of those weird people who don’t have Christmas with my family? 

Then imagine there’s been a report, by one of our best news agencies, that indicates that the church hasn’t always been great at helping DFV survivors. Which doesn’t surprise the victims, and doesn’t really surprise the general public because not only have there been years worth of investigations into how churches have covered up the horrific crime of child sexual abuse, but unless the general public has it’s head in the sand, it’s undeniable that our whole society has a problem with DFV. Even our garbage trucks have advertising campaigns on them about it. It’s a problem. So it’s a problem in the church too. And some people exploit some Bible verses to justify it. Big surprise. 

And I feel it, I’m part of it. I’ve been abused and the church, a big part of my life, has done nothing about it. Maybe continues to do nothing about it. 

How do you think I feel about people attacking the journalism and saying the issues are overblown? How do you think I feel about people saying “it’s not all bad news! We do good things too!” I probably feel like a single person saying their finding it tough at the moment and being told to perk up. Except a lot worse. The insult of dismissal is added to the injury of silence, inaction, and sometimes, perpetuation of abuse. 

Maybe the critiques have some truth to them. Some people have objected to the use of American research – considering the fact that half the point of the investigation was that we don’t have enough stats and research about this in Australia seems to me to make a nonsense of this objection. But maybe that’s an issue worth debating. And maybe Christians are singled out in a particular way (which considering that Jesus said that’s exactly what would happen, why be surprised or outraged at that?), and maybe there are lots of good stories that should also be told. 

But what time is it? 

Did someone mention sackcloth and ashes? Well, I wish they did… Some people have been abused, and then ignored. Some people have been abused and then helped. Do we actually think one cancels out the other? Well, I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t. 

This is a time to mourn. A time to weep with those weeping. A time to apologise and repent. And a time to let the survivors tell us what’s needed, not to tell them. 

If I was thinking about coming forward about my domestic issues (great, the onus is on me to come forward instead of expecting pro0active intervention (it’s one, I know that’s so far off it’s practically a pipe dream)), what can I now expect will happen? 

“We don’t condone it. But there’s not really as much of a problem as people say and there’s this one person I know of where things went quite well.” 

Can’t you just hear me? Listen? For a moment? In this moment? This is a time to mourn, isn’t it? 

Am I saying we should never defend ourselves? No. There’s a time for that. I just don’t think it’s now. 

But what about the urgency of the news cycle? The bad impression! 

Is that the real priority at the moment? Or is this moment about saying, “I’m sorry.” Is this moment about saying, “what have we done?” Or, probably more relevant at the moment, “what have we not done?” As Julia Baird herself has said, no theologian is ever going to say the Bible condones DFV, and we’ve said that. We’ve done that. But we still have a problem. So maybe there are things we’re not doing? 

I’ve tried over the last week to be empathetic to my brothers and sisters who are feeling like this is an ABC-axe-grinding moment, or some other kind of attack. But it’s hard to keep holding my tongue. The issues are so much bigger and so much  more important to me than one journalist or one news article. I don’t actually give a toss about that at all. 

I want the many people who are hurting to hear that we’re sorry. I want the many people who are hurting to see their leaders talking about that on Facebook and on their blogs, not rushing to critique the report first, or saying “there’s also good news” first. The first response should be to mourn. And that involves more than just saying, “mm, that’s sad, and we don’t condone that.” Maybe we could hold a service of repentance and contrition? At a cathedral say? At least a moment of acknowledgement? Allow survivors to speak? 

Ultimately I want to see change. I want survivors listened to, systems improved, relationships improved. I want this to turn into a good news story, not because we critique what’s written til it’s changed, but because all there is to write is that our churches are leading the way in positive institutional responses to DFV. 

Joanna Hayes

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Why is domestic violence under-reported in churches? For Rectors thinking about domestic violence (and others who want to eavesdrop)…

Having seen a report on the Sydney Anglican Diocese’ investigations into reporting of domestic violence to Rectors, I’ve been thinking about the problems that contribute to under-reporting and probably therefore under-dealing-with (so to speak) domestic violence, with helping the victims and the perpetrators. If we want to deal with the problem, we’ve got to find it, so the under-reporting is concerning. Obviously the reasons for under-reporting are complex, buuuuuut, I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to blame Rectors. What can I say, I’m petty and you’re so handy to blame! For starters, you’re all men, which makes it impossible not to convey a boys club image*, let alone the hurdles there might be for victims abused by males in power to talk to a male in power. Also, a lot of you are highly educated, well-paid white people, who seem to have it all together, with your smiling families lined up next to the paddocks of endless Taragos at Evangelical gatherings. I could go on, BUT, a lot of you know that already, and I know enough of you (and of the hardships of ministry) to understand that actually mostly you care about people, and particularly, understand that being in parish means pastoral responsibility.  You want to be part of the solution, to a problem that may feel a little new to you, so, I’m going to share some thoughts about three of the other causes of under-reporting, and maybe they’ll provide some useful food for thought, for Rectors and others. 

1. A lot of victims of domestic violence love their abusers. For a child to betray their parent by saying “dad hits mum” or “mum screams at us all the time” takes not only immense courage, but a break with all the social conditioning they’ve received in their life so far. What is a family? It’s the group of people you’re born into, you share blood, they’re your whole world as a kid. And mum and dad? Well, they’re basically God. Everything you need comes from them, or is supposed to, and you learn even how to smile from their repeated smiling at you as a child. This often means, if a child has felt that enough is enough, they may want only to hint at the problem, so they don’t have to ‘dob’ their parent in, but that you might figure out what’s going on. In which case, you may think, “well yes, all mums shout from time to time!” Rather than understanding the child has totally underplayed the real situation. 

This can be the same for partners. They chose this person as a spouse after all, they love them. Telling someone else that their parner’s behaviou is no longer acceptable also feels like a costly betrayal. Maybe it will get better? Maybe they deserved the treatment they received? These and other lies will circle round and round, ad maybe they’re simply afraid people will think it was their choice that got them into this mess, so no one should have to help them out of it. And they fear the consequences for their loved one. I love him, life’s been rough for him, he’s really stressed at the moment, I don’t want this to ruin his life forever just because I tell someone or get the police involved. I love her, she just doesn’t understand the impact of her behaviour. I’ll try to protect the kids from it, but I don’t want to make it worse by telling someone. 

Both partners and children can feel like they and their abusers are in an unbreakable contract, that the situation must remain secret because the consequences are so distressing. Would you like to accuse you’re nearest and dearest of horrible acts to the spiritual leader of your faith community? 

2. The consequences are unpredictable. The worry of the unknown answer to “what would happen or change if I told someone” is a reasonable worry because we don’t know! Will children be removed from parents? Will someone provide housing for family members who need to leave? Will everyone end up knowing all about the situation? What’s actually going to change in the long run? 

People who are exposed to abuse for a long period of time, thus accumulating trauma, develop various coping mechanisms for dealing with the complexity of life-in-trauma. For some, this means strategising, planning, thinking through every possible outcome before choosing to act or speak. After all, they’ve been living in a volatile situation. Who knows what might happen? That uncertainty is terrifying. At least the abuse is predictable. 

Finally, 3. They just don’t know they’re being abused. For people who’ve had a history of abuse in their family, who, for example, were raised in an abusive environment as a child themselves, and have perhaps carried those patterns into adult life, now replaying their previous roles, this is all they’ve known. They might be used to emotional persecution, harsh words, raised hands, and think it’s normal. For them, it is normal. But it’s not ok. It might be that coming into Christian community leads to a slow awakening that maybe not everything in their family is ‘typical’, it might simply be that their Christian community who has witnessed the generational abuse either knowingly or unknowingly without doing anything about it, has started speaking about what sort of relationships parents and partners and children should have, and the picture they paint is quite different to what they’ve always experienced at home. But for many, especially in families and communities where all or certain aspects of domestic violence have been common, normal and unchallenged, they’re not going to report violent behaviour because they think no one expects or has the right to expect anything else. 

Who did you think about when I described that category? Possibly “members of our Indigenous communities” or “people in low socio-economic demographics”. Domestic violence, even multi-generational domestic violence, is as indiscriminate as depression. No matter what ethnic background, economic status, level of education, domestic violence could be part of a family’s story. Children are hit in wealthy homes and poor ones. Women of all backgrounds are sexually abused. Great-Grandad always beat the boys black and blue, so did Grandpa and now so does Bill. It’s the discipline he was taught. It’s normal. 

It’s always hard in a short space not to seem glib… I mostly hope that from these few thoughts people understand that it’s really hard to say “my husband is violent with me” or, “my mum is verbally abusive” so when we talk about how to get noticing the problem more so we can get helping, that there’s difficulties inherent to the problem of domestic violence itself that makes it hard to report on. 

Perhaps things that make our response more predictable may help. I know of one church whose leaders have been known to tackle the problem in the past, help find housing for those who needed it, counsel for both victims and abuser, support throughout the process of recovery. I think if I was at that church, I’d feel reasonably confident I could be a bit more secure in predicting the response. 

Perhaps talking more about what behaviour is and isn’t acceptable will help people know that their normal isn’t necessarily right. Even just an encouragement from the pulpit during a sermon on the qualifications for Elders that gentleness and kindness are important, especially when our children are driving us up the wall. That we all struggle to keep our cool sometimes, but that if it’s a problem a lot of the time, that’s ok, better to seek help for it now than to fly off the handle and do or say something you’ll regret. Remind everyone that Christians aren’t perfect and don’t claim to be, so it’s no shame to ask for help to learn a more godly way of behaving. Then recommend a good, local anger management course. Couldn’t hurt, could it? 

The first one however, in my mind and experience is even harder. The conspiracy of silence. Often, it’s even just an attempt to show grace to someone who has wronged you. Which is a good and godly impulse isn’t it. But doesn’t bring about justice. 

When it comes to reporting of domestic violence, we have to remember that victims are vulnerable for any number of reasons, and that this is going to be a long haul problem. We need to know how to respond well as well as how to identify the problems. I look forward to further recommendations from the taskforce in the Sydney Diocese, and I pray for all those trying to tackle these issues. And I think of a friend who doesn’t talk to her parents any more, for many excellent reasons, including the probability of further abuse, and of the many people who’ve tried to counsel her over the years to ‘mend things’ because ‘that’s what Jesus would do’. It certainly makes me feel reluctant to go what she goes through. 
Joanna Hayes

*which is naturally obnoxious to a person like me, ie, a woman. Please tell me you’ve thought about that! Even when you’re down with male headship, it can be really annoying to feel like a secret cabal is running your entire spiritual life… 

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