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.

 

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

💔💔💔

❤️❤️❤️

Time—for nothing and yet for much

It’s been a while since I last blogged. I have had many thoughts and ideas. But I haven’t been able to type.

July 20, 2017: A fall on concrete caused me to break two bones in my left shoulder. The good news— no surgery. But the rehab path is longer than I would like, and there are many things I can’t do.

What I can’t do?

Not as much as I would like. I can barely use my left arm/hand, and any movement causes extreme pain in the shoulder/elbow/arm. So this is my first attempt at trying to use both hands for typing. It’s frustrating for me because of my life as pastor and president of seminary. Many check lists of things to do, but I can’t right now.

One of the things I have loved doing over the past 50 years (post-high school) is reading, averaging 100+ books a year. But even that activity has been off limits. I can’t hold small (empty) plates, (empty) glasses, and certainly not a book to hold and read.

But the last two days I think I have found a work around. I sit in a recliner, pushed back to first “notch.” I put a large but soft pillow in my lap. Then with my right hand I lift the book and position it at an angle in the pillow so that I can read comfortably. I tried several positions and angles. Finally yesterday I attempted to read a little. I managed 15 pages. Tiring, but so relieved that I can do that.

(BTW the two handed typing lasted only the first two paragraphs of this post.)

I haven’t driven since my fall. And it looks like maybe 2-3 weeks before I can attempt that. I can’t buckle myself into a seat belt.

What have I done?

So far I have written about what I can’t do. But one thing I have done is think— a lot. Not the frantic thinking that my vocation demands, but slow, deep thinking. This takes time, not clock-watched time, but mind-resting time. I have needed this for many years, but never seemed to have time to make it happen.

So despite my complaints of what I can’t do, this aspect of thinking has been refreshing. No writing notes (that’s hard to do too). No pattern, demands, but thinking.

One topic is “What is Church?” At our (TAALC) 500th year celebration of the Reformation in Minneapolis, I am teaching on that topic. This isn’t a new topic for me. But it has given me an opportunity to think, think, and think more.

The current pace of “church” and attempts to tinker with the concept have left the church starving to death from lack of refreshing itself in Word and Sacraments. Likewise the church has been trying to implement methods of previous generations, or suffering from jet-lag reaching for the latest method, newest technique, sure-fire way to grow.

And yet…

Yet God has been building His church for almost 2000 years. One of the benefits of the Reformation for us as Lutherans is found in two statements appearing often in our confessions (Book of Concord):

“The church has always taught”

“We believe, teach, and confess”

The thrust of my presentation will revolve around these two expressions. Over the past month I have outlined in my mind the sense of the presentation. Even more I could begin teaching now. But I look forward to being able to write on this in the coming two months, to hone my topic, to be sure that I have expressed what we do “believe, teach, and confess.”

So, in this “lost time of productivity” I have gained what I need most: time to step back, evaluate, examine, reflect—and rest, physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. For that I am truly thankful.

================

Thank you…

BTW, thank you to the people in the church who have helped—driving me to doctor appointments (60 miles each way), to those who have made our congregation continue smoothly. Thanks to Alex McNally (seminarian) for preaching and teaching here during August. I was supposed to be on vacation, but that plan changed; in God’s time Alex’s planned visit couldn’t have been better timed. And thank you to everyone who has prayed for me during this time. And thanks be to God for the time I needed, but didn’t think I could afford.

More on Fire

Fire has been part of my life from my earliest memories. Our house burned (kitchen area) in 1952. I was three and caught in the kitchen‚ still have a snapshot memory of that. My father rushed in to rescue me. In the process he singed his lungs. My forehead had 2nd degree burns and entire face 1st degree. Being Irish and having that happen, I cannot be out in the sun very long.

I worked on the Maintenance Crew of the School District for four years while in college (1967-1970). One of the men I worked with was also a volunteer firefighter. One afternoon on the way home, the traffic was at a stand sill (yeah, in the country). There was an accident and my friend responded. One car was on fire, and the people were still alive, yet they couldn’t do anything to get out and neither could the fire fighters. Their screams haunted him for years. That stuck with me, too.

I served in the Navy from 1973-1982. I deployed aboard the USS Oriskany (CVA-34) for its last cruise (1975-6). We never had fire drills aboard the ship—Why? Because we has so many real fires that we didn’t need drills.

I worked at Sprint from 2000-2008. When we moved to the new campus (one of the first groups to do so), they wanted “Safety Monitors” (think fire). I accepted the position with one provision: if we ever had a drill, everyone on the floor (about 100 people) had to evacuate, no exceptions. People thought I was bluffing—until the first drill.

When the alarm went off, I began chasing people out, going to every desk in the unit. Some were reluctant. One Director did not want to go during a drill, I didn’t care. I offered that the Director could walk out, or be carried out. I went to VP and said we all needed to participate in a timely manner.  VP agreed—until a few fire drills later. I broke into an “important” meeting that the VP was having. VP was not happy, and mentioned that he was a VP and far outranked an analyst. I told VP that once the alarm went off I outranked him. We did have a couple fires over the years.

Interestingly after a couple years of training, our unit was always the first safely outside, accounted for, and reported.

When we moved to another building a (different) Director went to the (different) VP and said: I don’t care where you put me as long as Rich is the Safety Monitor on the floor.

I don’t have all the answers regarding fires, I only know from experience that thinking ahead and planning is critical. So when people talk about fire, DO NOT take an indifferent attitude, that doesn’t set well with me and shouldn’t with you.

We have moved 28 times. One of the first things we do is look at the fire escape routes. When we adopted our boys we did the same thing. Telling about fire dangers is not scaring them, it is protecting them They are worth it—you are worth it.

A couple years after the fire I discovered several 2nd cousins on my father’s side (my father never knew his father or any family until he met an aunt and uncle in 1979). There were about 10 of us in the family room talking. I mentioned the fire we had in 1998. I noticed concerned glances going around the room and couldn’t figure out what was going on. So I asked.

They said going back to my great-grandfather, every generation in every family branch, there was at least one fire. So my father had the fire in 1952, mine in 1998. And going back to the 1870s the pattern had held in every family. Sadly my son was in the 1998 fire, so he joins that “heritage.” Yeah, fire has been part of my life far longer than I imagined.

Bottom line: be prepared, be wise. If you have smoke detectors in your home or office, make sure they work, batteries are replaced regularly. If the alarm goes off, get everyone out—right away, if a fire extinguisher is handy and may be sufficient, good, but don’t risk other lives. Two minutes can be the difference between life or death.

June 30 — not on the calendar

There are special days on the calendar that carry much meaning and joy: birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, moving days, etc. We may likely mark them on the calendar, as if we could forget them. They help define us and shape us.

Other days are still significant, but carry much different meaning. The focus isn’t joy, but something just as profound. We may not mark the date on the calendar, but our hearts know exactly the date. Etched in memory for good or bad.

June 30 is such a date for me.

Background

We were married in early 1971. One of the first things we did was to make sure we had smoke alarms. Second thing: we changed the batteries on April 1 and October 1, every year. I couldn’t do anything on those two days until the batteries were changed. A private joke between us. Little did we know how critical this would be.

In 1998, our son, his wife, and three grandchidlren (ages 3, 2, 1) had been living with us (in the parsonage) for almost a year and a half. A delightful time of love, and adjustment. Many happy memories amidst the challenges and struggles of melding two families.

June 30, 1998

In June 1998, my wife and I took vacation to Minnesota. At the end of that time, my wife decided to stay with her parents for a longer time. I drove home on June 29, a 12 hour drive capped off with joy at seeing our loved ones again after weeks apart. Our DIL’s youngest brother (age 12) was staying with us at the time, too.

At 4:45 AM the next morning our lives changed dramatically. The snoke alarms in the entire house were going off. The initial fogginess quickly dissapated. Replaced by urgency!

Our son instantly grabbed the keys to get our cars out of the garage and driveway. Our DIL and her brother and I began gathering up the grandchildren to get them outside. We had no time for gathering anything but children—no clothes, no extras, just get them out.

We rushed across the parking lot to the church. Since there were no cell phones, we had to get there to call the fire department. We could not even get near the house by that time. I don’t remember the time it took but eventually the police cars and fire trucks were all over the parking lot.

I remember one fireman said they couldn’t even go into the house for the first 20 minutes because the smoke was so bad. Later one of the investigators noted that had we been two minutes later getting out, we would not have survived because of the smoke.

The Aftermath

Later that morning and afternoon, the sudden change in our lives was further highlighted because we had no place to live (for 8 of us). We had no clothing, no food, nothing. We were in survival mode and even thinking about any immediate needs was beyond us.

By that time I was so shelled shocked I couldn’t think straight. But members of the church were arriving and helping us with minute to minute decisions. Including getting some food for the kids because breakfast was not a top priority initially. These people opened their homes—by afternoon we were separated into three different homes. We stayed with them for the next weeks until I could find a house for us to live in.

So grateful to those three families for sharing everything with us. That became our safe haven. We will never forget their kindness and love, their help in our instanteous need. Thankful for many others who pitched in with immediate clothing needs. We lost all of our household goods as well.

I felt really bad for our son and DIL—they had been saving some household items each month for the time when they would get their own place. They stored all of that in the basement —in the center of the fire. They lost everything. My heart was broken for them.

Both our son and DIL demonstrated how strong they were that day and in the following days. Both acted quickly, but never in a panic. I am so proud of what they did and all that they had been through. Love you both so much. 

One Last Effect

June 30, 1998 will be etched in all our minds as the day of the fire. Happily we had no injuries/burns. Our son and DIL eventually had two more children.

For me it marked the 7th major crisis in 9 months in my life. Three weeks later I had my breakdown—and that has affected me every day since then.

June 30 will not be marked on our calendars, but will be seared into our memories. So thankful to God for saving us that day, for seeing us through the long months afterward.