Review of Unbroken by Madeleine Black

Unbroken: Used, beaten, but never broken. My story of survival and hope. Madeleine Black (2017).

Rape is horrible, no matter how we describe it, no matter what words we choose—rape is still horrible. Madeleine Black in her book uses words, graphic words, to tell the story of her rape and close brush with death. As difficult as the book is to read, this book needs to be read—by survivors of rape, by families of those who have been raped, by friends who want to help but may not not know how to respond.

And it needs to be read by those who get impatient, frustrated, and exclaim “Just get over it!” If only it were that easy. Madeleine takes the reader through the process of dealing with rape and all the associated emotional, mental, psychological, and spiritual dimensions of rape and survival.

At the end the reader discovers that the road to “get over it” is something each rape survivor wants to do. But it can’t be done with an impatient shout or frustration from a friend, family member, or even the survivor. There is so much more to it. Madeleine writes:

I have been a victim of a crime that leaves you silent, and there is so much that stays hidden in that silence. It not only protects the perpetrators, but it also keeps the victims in the shadows, drowning in their inappropriate guilt. Now, my strength is my voice and I intend to use it, not just for me, but for others who aren’t able to speak up yet. (p. 266)

As you read the book, Madeleine walks you through the horrifying details in essentially chronological order. That means at the beginning she will generally describe the rape and associated death threats and degradation. But it isn’t until much later in the book that she gives the full details—and it is so bad that she provides an appropriate warning about the graphic nature of the events surrounding the rape. Why that approach? Because Madeleine is living with the reality of the rape, which means some events are blocked from her memory as a defense mechanism. The frustration and despair of rape includes gaps in memory. She couldn’t get past it, because she didn’t and couldn’t have the entire story in mind. The reader takes the journey with that hole in her memory—she lived that way not having answers, fighting at times to remember, thus, the reader experiences it that way, too. Consider how many years Madeleine endured those struggles to get to this point in 2017. A one week immersion in her book does not fully give the reader the understanding of what it means to “get over it.”

I have known people who have experienced horrible circumstances. Neighbors fought in World War I, one was a Bataan Death March survivor, my father, uncle and father-in-law all fought in World War II. When I was in the Navy I met several former POWs of Vietnam. Our commanding officer came to the squadron the same month I did. He was a POW for 6½ years, severely injured and was in the hospital for 15 months upon his release. I persuaded him to tell of his experiences. So every week for a year he walked us through captivity and torture chronologically from the time he was shot down until he was released. As a pastor I have ministered to and cared for rape survivors, so I was not a newcomer to the agony of many who had endured severe trauma and major accompanying (often hidden) issues.

Yet, even with that background, this was a difficult read for me. I was surprised when I got about half way through the book—I had to stop. I didn’t read for two weeks. Very uncharacteristic for me. Puzzling: how could I be hung up on reading it? After considerable reflection I finally discovered why it was so hard for me. I thought I had the answers to “help Madeleine.” But what I was really doing was trying to re-write her book, from a different perspective so that it would get to the point where I had all the answers. Yeah, I know—how arrogant and disappointing! I had failed at the one point that had always been a strong point of my ministry— listening to the person on his/her terms.

That seems so obvious but I wonder how many critics of rape survivors approach it the same way, hence the exhortation “Just move beyond it!” By doing so, we fail to understand what really happened and what the teller of the story is presenting to us and lived through. Once I came to this realization, then I could go back and read the book, in other words—let Madeleine tell the story on her terms in her way. And then I could finish the book.

While reading, I gave Madeleine updates on my progress (or lack of). She wrote several times “It gets better, stay with it.” I did stay with it, and I am glad I did. My heart aches with what she endured, my heart rejoices that she came through decades of profound struggle. And now she has a voice to add, an important voice, a strong voice through her book and through public speaking. If you or someone you know (male or female) has been raped, seek help. There are many resources. Madeleine’s book is a valuable resource for every person.

Thank you, Madeleine for your story, your perspective, and your encouragement. Well done!

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“I have seen Your salvation”

In tomorrow’s Gospel reading, Luke 2:22-35, we come across a startling statement.

it had been revealed to him [Simeon] by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. (Luke 2:26)

But that isn’t the startling point, because in a few minutes he sees the baby as promised. What is startling is Simeon’s public profession:

“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32 NKJV)

Notice that Simeon does not say “I see the infant child, this must be the one.” Rather, “my eyes have seen Your salvation.” This infant had not yet lived the (complete) perfect life. This infant had not healed anyone. This infant had not forgiven anyone their sins. This infant had not taken on the sins of the world while on the cross. This infant had not risen from the dead.

And yet Simeon says, “my eyes have seen Your salvation.” This means his faith was such that since God promised all of that work in sending this infant, he believed that God would accomplish all of this other stuff through this infant. In that sense, his faith was exactly Abraham (Gen. 12; 15), Isaac, Jacob, David, and all other believers in the Old Testament.

How are we doing with believing God’s promises?

We who lived after the fact of the incarnation have not seen Jesus in the flesh. He accomplished the salvation of the world before even our great-great-great grandparents ever came on the earth. Our faith is the same as Simeon’s—he looked ahead in faith to completed salvation in this infant, we look back in faith to the completed salvation in this same infant/man/crucified-resurrected man.

Thus, this First Sunday after Christmas is a reminder that what we celebrate in Christmas is not a tradition, nor a seasonal shopping frenzy, family oriented gatherings—all good things, but not what this season is about. Rather, the infant in front of Simeon has indeed accomplished all, including the Lord’s salvation, is still living as the Savior who came for all people:

For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (Timothy 2:3-4 NKJV)

May we join with Simeon in confident faith that God promised and accomplished everything especially salvation through this infant.

Today, we don’t see the infant, but we see the Savior as he comes to us through the Word, through Baptism, and through the Lord’s Supper. They are signs and seals (that do what they proclaim to us) of what this infant accomplished.

 

Christmas Story Continues

22 When the days of her purification according to the Law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be called holy to the Lord”) 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he came into the temple. And when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the law, 28 he received Him in his arms and blessed God and said:

29 “Lord, now let Your servant depart in peace,
according to Your word;
30 for my eyes have seen Your salvation
31  which You have prepared in the sight of all people,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of Your people Israel.”

33 Joseph and His mother were amazed at those things which were spoken about Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, “Listen, this Child is destined to cause the fall and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign which will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. And a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”

(Luke 2:22-35 MEV)

Prayer re: Amtrak

At this time of tragedy we come to Your throne of mercy:

Gracious Lord, in the midst of tragedies, we often want answers on what happened. And yet the needs of surviviors and families of those who died is uppermost in our minds. Grant rescue workers safety as they continue to bring people out of the wreckage, and those injured on the interstate. For those who have lost loved ones, grant Your comfort and peace. Raise up the right people to being that comfort to them. For those who are injured, may their treatment prevent even further damage and loss. We raise them all before Your throne of mercy in their own special needs, concerns, griefs; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen

 

Reading Luther

As we enter this 500th year celebration of the Reformation, the danger is that we might read about Martin Luther. However, how refreshing it might be to read what Luther actually wrote. Obviously Luther wrote more than most of us read even in a year. So let’s narrow down the list of writings that will expand our knowledge about Luther as a writer.

One invention, the printing press by Gutenberg, appeared ~70 years prior to Luther beginning to write for others. The printing press allowed the rapid spread of Luther’s writings, not just books but especially pamphlets. Thus, instead of what took weeks, months, or years for hand written copies of what he wrote, the speed of the printing press drastically shortened the time from writing to distribution, not just for one copy but many copies.

What should I read?

Confessional writings

As Lutherans we do not follow Martin Luther, rather we confess the same Christian faith that he did. Our public statements of faith are compiled in The Book of Concord, dated in 1580. Surprisingly, Luther only wrote three parts of the book: Small Catechism (1529) Large Catechism (1529) and Smalcald Articles (1537). However, his influence on the others confessional writings is evident. He reviewed and approved of the Augsburg Confession (1530) and the Apology [Defense] of the Augsburg Confession (1531). Further the next generation of theologians who wrote the Formula of Concord (1580) borrowed heavily from Luther, quoting some passages in length.

So a starting point for reading Luther is to read his three writings in the Book of Concord. If you have been raised in a Lutheran church, you are very familiar with the Small Catechism. Luther wrote it to help parents teach the Christian faith to their families. In addition, Luther wrote sermons for pastors to teach the congregations, published as the Large Catechism. Thus, the two catechisms complement each other. Reading both will enhance your understanding of the key topics of the Christian faith.

Early writings

The 500th celebration of the Reformation highlights one of his earliest writings (Oct. 31, 1517): “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” better known as the “Ninety-Five Theses.” You can search online for this document. Luther’s direct approach to false teaching emerges in this document and continues in his later writings. He also wrote “An Explanation of the 95 Theses” in 1518. Even in this early period, Luther focused on the Church and the individual Christian. Here is the first thesis:

Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said “Repent,” willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.

Other early works worth reading: “Heidelberg Disputation” (1518) and “Two Kinds of Righteousness” (1519). In 1519 the Leipzig Debate presented a theological disputation originally between Andreas Karlstadt, Martin Luther, Philipp Melanchthon, and Johann Eck [papal expert]. The topics were originally to be: free will and grace. However, Eck and Luther met and expanded the topics to purgatory, the sale of indulgences, the need for and methods of penance, and the legitimacy of papal authority. In the debate Luther claimed that sola scripture (Scripture alone) as the basis for Christian beliefs. In June 1520 Pope Leo X banned all Luther’s views from writing and preaching.

There are three significant writings from 1520: “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning The Reform of the Christian Estate,” “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,” and “The Freedom of a Christian.” These three have significant influence on the public life of the 1500s and lead to the Peasants Rebellion and later to the nobility responding to control the masses.

Other Important Writings

Because Luther wrote doctrinal statements and discussed what is commonly called systematic or doctrinal theology, we have to realize that his other writings were more closely related to his specialty, namely exegetical theology, particularly the Old Testment. Thus, as you begin to search his exegetical writings you discover his series on Genesis (8 books in English translation), his commentaries on the Psalms, and his commentaries on the Minor Prophets (1524-1526). Perhaps the premier commentaries include his ones on Galatians (1535 ed.) [vol. 26 and 27 in English] and his commentaries on the Gospel of John (1537) [vol. 22, 24 in English].

This list is only a sampling of what Luther wrote. But your time will be well spent reading some of these books and articles. And there is no need to rush through them. Take time to understand the key points, to appreciate his writing style (even in Enlish), and to give thanks that God used Luther who dedicated his life to teaching the Christian faith.

For Further reading:

Here is a web site that provides a chronological list of Luther’s writings with the English volume references.
https://lutherantheology.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/luthers-work-chronological-website2.pdf

Prayer in midst of tragedy

Our hearts grieve today in the face of a major tragedy when family and friends suffer so much. As Christians we turn our hearts toward God.

O Lord, once again death has invaded our ordinary daily lives. Sin and evil have again striven against the life You have given and won a battle; spreading death where there should have been life, and sorrow where there should have been joy.

You who are the Resurrection and the Life, be with the families who have been so cruelly separated by death. Comfort those who put their trust in You that You have overcome death. Remind them of the hope we have in You that those who put their faith in You, though they be gone from us here, are safe and at peace in Your everlasting arms, looking forward to the grand reunion at the Resurrection at the end of this age.

Grant we pray to those who have lost loved ones the grace and strength that their grief may not turn to bitterness, their sorrow to despair, or their hurt to rage. Grant them the grace to help and comfort each other rather than allowing the anger that comes from grief to further tear apart families and friends. Help them to find in You the grace and courage to forgive the unforgiveable and leave the one responsible for this outrage to Your justice. Be with those who seek to bring comfort and aid and inspire them with Your loving kindness that they may be effective in helping them through their grief and sorrow.

Assist those responsible for investigating and judging this crime to determine the truth of what happened and to respond appropriately for the good of the community, to speak for those injured and killed, to honor their memory, and to act on behalf of those who have suffered such great loss. Assist us as You will, to understand what could drive someone to commit such heinous acts, not to excuse his actions but to explain them so that more may be done to help the afflicted to avoid such evil. As we as a nation go forward having again suffered the effects of such sin and evil in our midst, help us to respond with love and comfort for those experiencing loss and carefully consider with Your wisdom and counsel what may be done to deter or prevent such occurrences in the future.

Be with us at this time of sorrow and outrage, and especially be with, comfort, and strengthen the families and friends most affected. Help us to remember that Your Son came to save us from the sin that infects us all and whose death at the hands of cruel and sinful humans was for our salvation from that sin, that He is our Way, our truth, and our Life. Amen

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