Browsing Tag



understanding, communication, and being wrong


“It would just be so much easier if I was just mad at him. But I’m not– I mean, I understand why he’s doing what he’s doing. It hurts so badly, but I get it. I really do.”
“No, you misunderstood. That’s not what I meant.”
“Wait! Please, just let me explain!”


I was talking about this concept with a friend of mine the other day, and a few things I read today solidified it all for me. I don’t think that what I’m about to talk about is a particularly Christian problem, but I think that Christian rhetoric surrounding ideas like community, harmony, and forgiveness all exacerbate this problem.

It’s this rather basic notion that if we understand where the other person is coming from, if we understand what that person said or even why they said it, then… we shouldn’t be upset. If actions, or words, are capable of being understood, then there’s no place for anger. And, frequently, we tend to portray an emotional reaction as one not based on understanding. We only get angry when we don’t understand.

We can see this in all of the tragedies we’ve experience recently. Why would anyone want to bomb an event like the Boston Marathon? It just seems so… so incomprehensible. Why in the world would someone walk into a crowded movie theater and gun people down? That’s insane.

And, we see it on a smaller scale. A Cry For Justice talked about this in a post today:

The typical goal of those called upon to “help,” [in church disagreements] is the preservation of unity, the reconciliation of relationships, the extending of forgiveness, and the attainment of true understanding of the other by each of the previously estranged parties. Peace. Harmony. Unity = Success. That is the mindset . . . the philosophy embraced by such “helpers” is not going to be one of doing justice for the wronged, calling evil for what it is, and justifying the good and righteous. Indeed, such people don’t really even acknowledge evil. They assume that everyone in the matter surely has a good intention, but there has merely been a breakdown in understanding. So the answer is to facilitate communication.

This concept has also reared its head in the comment thread on my post at NLQ. A new commenter, who goes by “Patricia” is sympathizing with David Cuff, who had this to say about how the purity culture told me that I was responsible for my rape:

“While many of us have fallen from the Biblical standard for sexuality, if we repent and turn back to His guidance we can walk in the Light of His love for ourselves and our spouse.”

Patricia stressed, in the seven comments she left, that we were all being so emotional, and if we “humbled” ourselves and “objectively” examined what David said, we would realize that we’d just “misunderstood” him:

David, You have been misunderstood. I find your posts kind and compasionate [sic], while also agreeing and being able to relate to Samantha’s original post. This is all a sad misunderstanding. What makes it even sadder is the fact that no-one is willing to humbly renounce to their “emotion” for the sake of doing justice in this matter.

Here’s the problem.

None of us misunderstood David Cuff. We were all extremely well-versed in the kinds of terminology David was using, we all understood that he was representing the purity culture, we knew what he meant by trying to explain biblical redemption to us. None of us missed his main point, and the general tone and thrust of his comments. One of my readers here, Anne,  had an amazing way of phrasing the tension:

Repentance and redemption, in general, are important concepts to discuss, sure. But this wasn’t a general “type whatever’s on your mind today and feel free to change the subject” blog post, it’s on a very specific, very sensitive topic. He lost me at “repent.” No matter what little niceties about grace and forgiveness follow it up, that was a conversation-changing choice of words . . .

Person A: The culture I was raised in made me especially vulnerable to abuse and I was raped.
Pastor B: I’d like to reiterate the importance of sexual purity, and that it doesn’t change if you’ve been abused.

Anne understood David’s point. She acknowledged that his goal had been to communicate a message concerning “biblical redemption,” and she even acknowledged the importance of such a message. What she is referring to, and what we were all objecting to, wasn’t based on a misunderstanding— we were pointing out the inappropriateness of how and where he decided to communicate this message.

This happens in so many areas of our lives, however, and isn’t limited to rants on the internet. I can understand all kinds of evil things. I can understand why people do evil things. One of the reasons why Iago is my favorite character in Shakespeare is that he’s evil, to his very core, but he’s still an understandable and relatable character.

This even happened in my relationship with Handsome. At one point during our engagement, he decided to take a course of action that involved me without asking what I thought about it first. When he told me, I became distressed, and my first reaction was why would you do that? We spent a long time talking about it, and, eventually, I did understand why he’d thought it was a good idea. His decision-making process and his motivations made sense. But they were still wrong, and he agreed with me. It took a while for me to explain to him how his actions had hurt me, because, after all– he’d had a very good reason for doing it. But, eventually, he also understood that just because he had a very good reason didn’t make it ok.

Very often we conflate how incomprehensible something is with how wrong or evil it must be. Just because we can understand something doesn’t make it right.


the dangers in biblical counseling, part one


[This is the first in a five-part series on my experience with biblical counseling]

I was almost done with my internship at the Academy– also known as “14 weeks in Shayol Ghul.” The internship itself was demanding 100+ hours of work every week, and combine that with my insomnia and trying to keep myself together after my fiance had broken our engagement . . .   it wasn’t a very pretty time in my life. So when my internship director confronted me about my less-than-eternally-cheery attitude, my response was, well, less than lackluster. I mustered up enough assurances and promises out of my lethargy– yes, I’ll do better, yes I’ll try harder, yes I’ll focus on my work . . .

About a week later, I was standing in front of my mailbox, staring at a green note. A green note had a variety of names on campus, none of them pleasant, but the most favorable was “The Summons.” It meant I had an appointment with Student Life– a non-optional appointment. It’s a bit more like a mandated court date that if you don’t show up for it they put a warrant out for your arrest. There’s also never a specified reason on the note. Sometimes, you know what you did– sometimes you didn’t. In this case, I was pretty sure it had something to do with my interview at the Academy. “Catching the Spirit” of my fundamentalist college was also one of those non-optional requirements. I certainly did not “have the Spirit.”

I waited in the Student Life office, trying to tune out the chipper quartet singing in the background and trying to ignore the receptionist that was earnestly stapling papers– a bit like Marianne from Easy A. Eventually, one of the Student Life deans called me into her office. I had been hoping to graduate without ever meeting her– or her husband. Ironically, her husband’s previous position had supposedly been a prison warden; we students that was just a bit too coincidental, considering the fact that our campus was surrounded by barbed wire and we slept on beds purchased from a shut-down prison.

I sat in the miserably uncomfortable chair and waited for her to speak. She didn’t say anything for a while, just looked through a file on her desk. After flipping through some of the papers– one of them I recognized as a copy of a form I’d filled out at the campus clinic about depression– she looked up. “So, Samantha . . . well, we’ve been hearing from people who are genuinely concerned about you. It seems that you’ve been having some trouble.”

I waited. Not saying anything was always the safest course of action until you knew exactly where they were going.

“Well, are you, Samantha? Having trouble?”

I shook my head. “Not really. Just stressed, but who isn’t?”

“Well . . . that’s not what we’ve been hearing. There seems to be something more going on. Do you want to talk about it?”

“I’m not exactly sure what you’re talking about?”

“Well . . .” She seemed hesitant to give specifics. “Dr. Marlowe* said . . .  that when she talked to you about your internship and your plans for graduation . . . your reaction seemed to be like there might be something you should talk with us about.”

“Okay . . . I remember that.”

“And?” She had this odd Southern drawl that was lengthening her words that reminded me of creepy villains from black and white films.

“And . . . she said one of my supervisors hadn’t seen enough focus from me. I’m working on that.”

“That doesn’t really seem to be everything you two talked about.”

I just shrugged. “She asked about after graduation; I said I didn’t know what I wanted to do.”

“Oh, alright – – have you thought about staying here? For grad school, I mean? We have an excellent education program.”

I pursed my lips and shook my head a little bit. “I’m not really interested in being a teacher.”

“But then why are you an education major? Our world needs good, Christian teachers, you know.”

“I’m just not really cut out for it, I don’t think.” I also just wanted this pointless conversation to end. She badgered me for a few more minutes about staying for grad school, but then moved on.

“Well . . . I can see that there is clearly something going on that you’re not telling me. I’m going to send you to our counselor, Miss Bradley*. Set up an appointment with her– do you know where her office is?”

I nodded.

“Ok, good. Now, make sure you set up an appointment with her today, and she’ll decide how many visits you need.” I could tell that this was just as non-optional as coming to see her. She dismissed me, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful to get out of that particular office.


The next week, I was sitting in yet another office, waiting to be seen, in yet another uncomfortable chair. At least there wasn’t any music and the receptionist wasn’t glaring at me. And I didn’t have to wait as long. It was still at the end of a 14 hour work day, and my exhausted self was not exactly thrilled about being required to meet with the counselor. Miss Bradley*, while a much sweeter and gentler woman than the prison warden’s wife, was still not someone I wanted to talk to. Not talking to anyone would have been my preference, but my college doesn’t have a reputation for not caring about personal agency for a reason.

She called me into her office and asked me to sit down in a slightly more comfortable chair. She opened up a cabinet behind her desk, and I saw that it was stuffed to the brim with Kleenex boxes. She set one on my side of her desk, and gestured that it would be ok if I took one.

“So, Samantha, how are you doing?”


“I heard you were getting married– how are the wedding plans going?”

I went blank. It was an innocent enough question, but the answer . . . I didn’t want to talk about this. “We, uh– we’re not getting married anymore.”

“Oh.” She seemed genuinely surprised, so at least not all of my personal life had managed to make it through the Student Life rounds. “What happened?”

I closed my eyes. “Uhm . . .” Don’t think about it. Don’t go there. Just don’t. “It– it just didn’t work out.”

Her voice dropped, became even more gentle. “Was there sexual sin, Samantha?”

It didn’t even occur to me that this was an unusual and invasive question. I didn’t have the tools to sense that she had just made a huge leap forward in the conversation– but the leap had been fueled by an assumption that I was more than familiar with: the assumption that physicality in a relationship always leads to its downfall.

I didn’t even know how to begin to answer this question. If I said “yes,” then that would put me on the road to getting kicked out. I wanted to tell the truth to someone– I wanted to explain what had happened and have someone tell me that it was going to be ok, that I could come back. That maybe, maybe, what had happened to me hadn’t been my fault. My mind was skittering all over the place– for a millisecond I could feel old carpet scraping against my back, then I could feel a flash of pain from my head being slammed against a car door, then fluorescent lights glaring down at me, my neck twisting as I was thrown on a bed . . . I swallowed down the rising bile.

I tried to respond, to find the words to describe what had happened to me, to explain that something horrible had happened, but she interrupted me. “You do know, Samantha, how deep God’s forgiveness is? No matter what has happened, you can ask to be forgiven– you do know that, right? God is just waiting, hoping that you’ll come to him, that you’ll see His face . . . You don’t have to carry the burden of your sin all your life.”

I didn’t event want to nod, terrified that if I admitted to anything they would kick me out.

“You see, no matter what’s happened, there’s always something for you to do. You can’t take responsibility for what he’s done, but you need to admit to the sin in your life. If you do that, then you can find freedom from that sin.”

I managed a nearly silent “okay.” Inside, I felt bruised and drained. It felt like someone was trying to crush my heart, to squeeze it until it just disappeared from existence. I felt hot and cold all over, and agitated– like I needed to run, to flee. I wanted to get outside, just to feel like I could breathe. And I wanted to bury myself in blankets and never come out again.

Miss Bradley* slowly managed to cover the same topics I’d been over with Dr. Marlowe* and Student Life, and I managed to give the same answers. No, nothing’s wrong– just stressed and not engaged anymore, that’s it. Finally, she looked at me. “Do you feel like you would like to come see me again?”

I was so grateful she was giving me an option. I didn’t know if I could ever do that again. “No, I think I’m ok.”

“Ok, well, Samantha– you can always come back to see me. Anytime you need to, alright?”

I just nodded, picked up my bad, and tried not to make eye contact with her again before I left.


I didn’t seek counseling again. I didn’t tell anyone what had happened to me. I did my best not to think about it– I buried it, and hoped that would be enough. These two experiences, as well as a lifetime of victim-blaming, had taught me that if I were to “go through counseling,” it would be a heavy, long-term process of confessing my sin, taking responsibility for my actions. To me, just avoiding the problem would have to get me through it.

It took me three more years to start to see the truth.