The photo is mine and it is of an actual millstone.
They are big. And heavy.
(*trigger warning: this post contains airbrushed details of spiritual and sexual abuse)
It is common for dysfunctional families to develop a set of ‘unspoken rules.’ Things like don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t feel. Known behaviors and attitudes which are acceptable and unacceptable. Rules are powerful and implied through ‘tells’ in conversations, body language, throat clearing, and other verbal and nonverbal cues of acceptance or rejection.
In my family of origin one unspoken rule was that we loved having a minister in the family. It was a source of pride. As if we had, by default, a faster track ‘upstairs’. The fact that the minister in the family was abusive to me made it so much harder to come into the light with it. Compounded by another unspoken rule: a minister’s word was more important than mine. Who would believe me? I’d likely be blamed.
Even in light of recent movements and church scandals, clergy have retained a type of ‘untouchable’ quality. Some Christian friends do not question if they can trust ‘what my pastor told me…’ which often makes me envious for all that I didn’t have and never will have (a simple trust in church leaders). At other times such devotion in the face of obvious error, abuse, or leadership inadequacies, irritates me.
Other Christian friends do nothing BUT question all that church leaders and ministers say and do. I ‘get’ it, yet staying there all the time seems wrong too.
Most of the time I didn’t view my uncle as a minister. He was just family. In surveying the damages, I recognized there were many times he used scripture to intimidate me and brainwash me. He never really let me forget that he was a (supposed) man of God.
The spiritual abuse was used in the grooming and normalization process. Which led to greater physical abuse beyond the incest of my toddlerhood. Furthermore it was the spiritual brainwashing that caused me to then pretend to myself that sexual abuse hadn’t been abuse, but a combination between my fault, my imagination, and accidental exposures.
When I was in Junior High, and he was settling in at a new parish, he used verses from the Song of Songs to tease me about the size of my breasts. I turned red and took it for a long time. He made up a little song and everything. When I finally got up the courage to try and stop it by saying just that, “stop it!” his eyes knifed my soul. “It’s in the Bible. I didn’t say it. God did.”
He would visit my house and insist on one-sided, uncomfortable conversations. If I resisted, saying I had chores to do, he got angry and told me that I am ‘turning into a Martha’ and Jesus wants us to be like Mary. (sit and listen versus being preoccupied with ‘busy’ work). The guilt chained my soul and I dutifully lent him my time and my ears.
During those talks he told me private ‘bedroom’ details from the married couple he was counseling. The unspoken rule was that I was special enough to be trusted with such intimate details. Part of me was flattered. Even as I wanted to puke. Other times, he ‘treated me’ to x-rated movies. When I was ten.
He talked a lot about ‘fundies’. People who took scripture too seriously and didn’t understand what his education had taught him–that God isn’t as pious or punishing as everyone thinks. (Another unspoken rule in my family of origin was that you could do anything at all and still get to Heaven; so long as you believe in Jesus.)
The physical abuse stopped when I left home and entered adulthood. But, oh, those unspoken rules were as strong as ever. They kept me quiet. Confused. And the spiritual and emotional abuse continued until I cut ties. When religion was brought up at a family gathering, I learned to just leave the room rather than engage. The few times I did share thoughts, the minister in the family would exclaim, “Ooh, I didn’t realize you are now a Bible beater.” His eye rolls and heavy sighs implied I was someone who was too uneducated to understand what God was really saying.
Now that interactions with him are in my rearview mirror, I am exploring who I am without the cloud of twisted scriptures over my life and spirit.
Part of my therapy homework is to write a list of my unique qualities and talents. To think about things like “What do people often notice about you?”
One thing I hear frequently is that I know the Bible well, and that I can sometimes put it in a unique way others appreciate or hadn’t noticed themselves. I usually brush this off, as to me, I do not view myself that way. The more I learn the Bible, the more I realize how little I know about it. I see ‘more’ in passages that weren’t there the first six times I read them. Other passages and stories I will read for seemingly the ‘first time’ as I don’t remember ever seeing them prior. There is still so much I want to learn. AND. Sometimes I struggle with my mind drifting when reading the Bible. I don’t know that many verses by memory. I use google; a lot; to find Bible verses and stories. I’d put myself at average knowledge. With a fast draw on Biblegateway.com
What I am thankful for is this: for whatever reason, having a minister sexualize scripture and use it to shame and control me, did not make me want to throw out the Bible. It had this powerful effect of sparking curiosity and rage which fueled into passion. You can’t fake passion. You can’t manufacture it either.
I wanted to look up the rapes that scripture documented, the awful concubine story in The Book of Judges, the verses about breasts in Song of Songs; and figure it out myself; without making it into an exercise in perversion as my uncle had. And I wanted my own ammunition so that I could fight back when someone struck me with the sword of Scripture. That’s what I wanted. And I found it. In stories like Jael, and Tamar, and Deborah, and Daniel (I see him as a powerful, redeemed survivor of body mutilation–a form of sexual abuse, since it’s quite likely he was made into a eunuch when he was taken captive by Babylon) and Esther–another powerful survivor of sexual abuse (she was more or less sold into the sex slave trade of her time).
And then, shortly before the PTSD hit, I started to see just how many warnings there are in scripture…warnings about those who would dare to use it as it is not intended. Like the famous Millstone verse. Who would be better off being drowned with a millstone around their neck? Is it those who do things like sexualize children, sometimes using the very Word of God?
In the right hands, scripture can be like a surgeon’s scalpal. Dividing joints and judging attitudes of the heart. Doing the least damage possible in removing disease.
In the hands of a wolf, scripture can be used as a tool of torture, or an object of guilt, shame, and confusion rather than freedom. Yet. Therein is the power of God, and His word. What man uses for evil, He can turn around and use for good.
And so, every time I use scripture in a conversation, or an essay, or a journal entry–I am reclaiming what happened to me. I am undoing the spiritual abuse. Feeling free enough to quote scripture aloud and not caring if I get an eye roll, or told to quit being so intense, or told not to ‘bring religion into this’ (I’ve heard all of that). Because none of those things could ever be as bad as a childhood wherein I had a pastor taunt my Junior High breast size with the Bible….I only know one way to redeem that. It is to continue to speak and proclaim and study and share… the Word…in proper usage, not abusive contexts…
Yes, every time I exercise my freedom to proclaim God’s word with my own mouth– I break the chains left on my soul. I defy once being called a ‘fundie’ or a ‘Bible beater’ both in my past and in my future. And I neuter the unspoken rule that I’m not educated enough to understand or share scripture.
If I’m honest, parts of me would actually like to be a Bible beater, just as I was once accused of being. It would be momentarily satisfying to beat any who twist and harm with the very Bible they are mishandling. According to scripture, though, that punishment would be too lenient for the crime.