Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Our Courtship Story: Instant Messenger and Little Women

Continued from In Which Things Get Messy

Traverse City, Michigan          late May, 2000

I knew that by nipping a courtship in the bud I was probably ending what had once been a warm relationship, but I had been raised on stories of extreme sacrificial love (Shiokari Pass, for example, where the protagonist throws himself under a runaway train and his fiancee dedicates herself to his memory; or Abraham) and it seemed far more romantic and dramatic to memorialize an ardent friendship than let it wither in a slow death under family scrutiny.

After Chris left, we had more house guests. Two former IBLP staff members were having a Michigan wedding and my old roommate from Brook Manor (also my roommate in Moscow, where we had met the couple who was getting married) was in town for the occasion. As we drove to the church together, I told her about the events of the last week: what had happened with Chris, where things stood now, and some of the reasons Chris and I weren't right for each other. Then we two single ladies sat to watch a courtship culminate in holy matrimony. Eating cake at the lovely yet still conservative reception, we encountered numerous old acquaintances from the Institute. My feelings toward IBLP were definitely mixed at that point, but these were still "my people".

The Sleeping Bear Dunes
After my friend left, we played host to a brother-sister pair we had gotten to know through ATI. Since they were from out of state, we took them to the sand dunes on the shore of Lake Michigan. We had a picnic and then most of the family went hiking to get a good view of the sand and the water. I retreated to the van where I sat in a backseat and cried my eyes out. It was too much, returning to the same picturesque place where Chris and I had played in the sand just the week before, knowing now that he actually had been attracted to me and at the same time knowing that that chapter had been definitively closed.

I didn't regret asking Scott to cease "negotiations" with Chris. But I was overwhelmed with waves of intense emotion. I was grieving something, but couldn't articulate exactly what I had lost. Chris had never been "mine". It wasn't like we had broken up or anything! But I was sad anyway, so, alone in the back of the van, I let myself cry. I was certain that God would give me "the desires of my heart" (whatever they were) but for the present I was still quite miserable. It comforted me to think that I would be leaving for the Summer Institute of Linguistics in a few days. It was time to find a new adventure.

That Saturday I was alone in Dad's office signed into AOL Instant Messenger. Chris had been back in Kansas for about a week, and had just started his new job at the phone company. And then his screenname popped up with a greeting. I checked the door to the hallway. No one there. I positioned my fingers over the home row and took a breath.

A girl was allowed to initiate a handshake, but in relationships she was supposed to be the patient responsive partner. And Chris was initiating. Even though he knew where things stood. That I was not interested in courting him. I felt I had been as honest as possible, and if he thought he could "guard his heart" and still be friends with me, well, that was his risk to take. I was glad to think that our friendship could survive the blow I'd dealt it the weekend before. Surely I didn't need Scott's permission to chat with Chris on IM? We had two years of experience with digital communication, after all, planning everything from pizza orders and work schedules to cross-country trips!

Our conversation was brief, only a few sentences. It was important to me that Chris know I didn't dislike him. When we stopped typing, I felt relieved. I still wondered how Chris had come up with the idea of trying to court me in the first place, but I still esteemed our friendship very highly and thanked God for giving it back to me, as it were.

But there was one more twist to the tale before I boarded my plane for North Dakota. Remember how Chris had wanted to sponsor my upcoming missions trip to the Philippines? He had intended to be anonymous, of course, but Dad had let the cat out of the bag. To my amazement, Chris still wanted to send the money. He convinced his dad to talk to my dad and in the end, Scott agreed that Chris could mail the check to him, with the understanding that there would be no strings attached (romantic strings? emotional strings?). After all, I might meet a stud who was called to the mission field and we could end up sharing a lifelong ministry!

Bill Gothard's definition of Love kept dancing through my head: "Giving to others' basic needs without having as my motive personal reward". What determination Chris had! What guts, what generosity!

The centaur logo
Days later, my mind more at ease, I put on my favorite traveling jumper and headed to the airport. During the layover in Minneapolis, I checked out a bookstore. It was my first time loose in a secular bookstore so I floundered a bit, searching for something familiar. I found it on the shelf of children's classics: a paperback edition of  Little Women. Jo, Meg, Amy, and Beth had been my companions through childhood, from Mama's copy with the broken purple cover to the fine illustrated edition that had been a gift from my grandfather. That had been a Grosset & Dunlap Illustrated Junior Library edition, complete with the centaur illustration that was their logo. I had carefully cut out an oval shape around the centaur, excising him from the back cover, to please Mama. I wasn't sure if this was important because he was half-beast, or because he was shirtless, but it was a small price to pay for owning the book. Using markers, I created my own decorative design on the part of the blank page that showed through the hole. You could say my volume of Little Women was personalized.
The front of my "personalized" copy

And it was dear to me. I must have read it a dozen times. Sometimes straight through, sometimes only the chapter that spoke to me at the moment. Because it was the longest story on my shelf, I took it along on many a road trip. And I was careful never to read the play in the second chapter, which Mama had warned me against. Though I eventually succumbed to curiosity and read the whole of the story the friends made up while having their picnic in chapter twelve. Though it surely contained objectionable elements, it had never been expressly forbidden.

I adored Jo. I sympathized with Amy. I understood Meg's vanity, and pretended my nightgown was her white tarlatan. Marmee was my rock. Mr. Bhaer's advice got me through some difficult phases of adolescence and I could recite Meg and John Brooke's marital conflicts from memory. I loved that Meg's jelly wouldn't jell, that Aunt March was too proud to put her name on her wedding gift, and Demi's precocious antics made me laugh every time. Alcott's phrases imprinted themselves in my brain.

And then, after so many years of offering moral support, my book was taken from me suddenly one night. It had been lying in the living room when my dad picked it up, opened it at random, and read a few lines aloud.
"Good evening, Diana!" said Laurie, with the look of satisfaction she liked to see in his eyes when they rested on her.
"Good evening, Apollo!" she answered, smiling back at him..."
Diana! Apollo! It might as well have said, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" How could I enjoy a novel with such blatant pagan references? I knew the commandment: "And in all things that I have said unto you be circumspect: and make no mention of the name of other gods, neither let it be heard out of thy mouth" (Exodus 23:13). And Louisa May's writing was laced with mythology, from the Romans to the Reformers! Troubled by this damning selection, I looked at Mama, expecting her to come to my book's defense. She had taught me to love it! But Mama only raised her eyebrows sadly and shrugged. I do not remember how old I was at the time--late teens? early twenties?--but I remember feeling beaten, doomed, sucker-punched. I never saw it coming. It was so unfair I was speechless. Scott confiscated my book that night and I never saw it again.

The little paperback at the airport was only a few dollars. Of course, I felt rebellious, but I also felt completely justified. We boarded the plane to Grand Forks and I found my window seat, next to a clean-cut nervous little man who uttered not a word though I tried to give him a friendly smile. After securing my seat belt, I pulled out my new Little Women and headed straight for the chapter where Jo rejected Laurie's interest.

"...[Y]ou're a great deal too good for me, and I'm so grateful to you, and so proud and fond of you, I don't know why I can't love you as you want me to. I've tried, but I can't change the feeling, and it would be a lie to say I do when I don't."
"Really, truly, Jo?"
He stopped short, and caught both her hands as he put his question with a look that she did not soon forget.
"Really, truly, dear."
They were in the grove now, close by the stile, and when the last words fell reluctantly from Jo's lips, Laurie dropped her hands and turned as if to go on, but for once in his life the fence was too much for him. So he just laid his head down on the mossy post, and stood so still that Jo was frightened.
"Oh, Teddy, I'm sorry, so desperately sorry... I can't help it. You know it's impossible for people to make themselves love other people if they don't," cried Jo inelegantly but remorsefully, as she softly patted his shoulder, remembering the time when he had comforted her so long ago...
"You'll love someone else too, like a sensible boy, and forget all this trouble... I agree with Mother that you and I are not suited to each other, because our quick tempers and strong wills would probably make us very miserable, if we were so foolish as to..." Jo paused a little over the last word, but Laurie uttered it with a rapturous expression.
"Marry--no we shouldn't! If you loved me, Jo, I should be a perfect saint, for you could make me anything you like."
"No, I can't. I've tried and failed, and I won't risk our happiness by such a serious experiment. We don't agree and we never shall, so we'll be good friends all our lives, but we won't go and do anything rash."
"...I won't be reasonable. I don't want to take what you call `a sensible view'. It won't help me, and it only makes it harder. I don't believe you've got any heart."
"I wish I hadn't."
...Not until months afterward did Jo understand how she had the strength of mind to hold fast to the resolution she had made when she decided that she did not love her boy, and never could. It was very hard to do, but she did it, knowing that delay was both useless and cruel.
"I can't say `yes' truly, so I won't say it at all. You'll see that I'm right, by-and-by, and thank me for it..."

Clutching the book in my lap with both hands, I let the tears roll down my face.

Continued at Breaking Up With Fundamentalism

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Library Shelf: Hold Me Tight

"Love is not the icing on the cake of life. 
It is a basic primary need, like oxygen or water."

Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love by Dr. Sue Johnson

I've read numerous relationship advice books over the years. Some were common sense; some were bullshit; some were just too long and boring! But this volume stands out because A) it is secular, B) it is research-based, and C) it made me cry. Any book that can draw out healing tears is worth my time!

Dr. Johnson, a clinical psychologist in Canada, uses this book to present her Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy approach. With examples from her decades of counseling practice and research studies to support her points, she guides couples through their unique trouble spots to recognize, value, and enhance their emotional engagement. Johnson builds her work on attachment theory, which resonated strongly with me, though I hadn't seen pair-bonding examined before from that angle.
The drive to emotionally attach--to find someone to whom we can turn and say "Hold me tight"--is wired into our genes and our bodies. It is as basic to life, health, and happiness as the drives for food, shelter, or sex. We need emotional attachments with a few irreplaceable others to be physically and mentally health--to survive.
The people we love...are the hidden regulators of our bodily processes and our emotional lives. When love doesn't work, we hurt.
 The book is organized by different conversations a couple can use to emotionally connect or reconnect. Johnson guides couples as they identify and work through present threats or past trauma to their secure connection then offers advice as they plan ways to cultivate safety and bonding for their long-term relationship.
Until we address the fundamental need for connection and the fear of losing it, the standard techniques, such as learning problem-solving or communication skills, examining childhood hurts, or taking time-outs, are misguided and ineffectual.
This book is do-it-yourself therapy, whether or not you have the aid of a paid professional. It is for couples--married or not, gay or straight--who believe that what they have is worth investing in, worth caring for and repairing so it will last.

Ultimately, Hold Me Tight is about finding comfort and strength in a loving adult relationship. It's about healing each other with love, developing sensitivity to each other's cues so that we can share life's dance with grace and passion. When this bond between partners is secure, Johnson says, "sex becomes intimate play, a safe adventure." (Sexual distress, she writes, is a romantic relationship's "canary in the mine".)

But a healthy love relationship is so much more than a satisfying romance--it blesses all it touches. People who are confident of their partner's loving connection and support have less stress, faster healing, better problem-solving, and more curiosity about new information! Johnson sums up what she has learned from her clients: "All the cliches about love--when people feel loved they are freer, more alive, and more powerful--are truer than we ever imagined."

Thursday, July 3, 2014

When Apologies Make It Worse

Since Bill Gothard had to resign from leading his Institute in Basic Life Principles amid allegations of inappropriate behavior toward female staffers, he has made few public statements. But in private, he has been far from silent.

An article published yesterday by Mother Jones stated:
These days, Gothard says, he is busy "contacting people I've offended and asking them to forgive me." Asked how this process is going, he chirpily replies, "Wonderful. People are very grateful and everyone is forgiving."
However, some former IBLP staff members take issue with Gothard's version of the facts. Gothard has made efforts to contact them, they say, and "grateful" was not a word that came to mind.

One woman, who has had contact with Gothard since his resignation from IBLP, dismissed his attempted "apologies" as unethical and disingenuous. As this woman has requested anonymity, I will refer to her here as "Sally". After her story was published on the website Recovering Grace, Gothard sought to engage Sally in an email correspondence. She has given me permission to share the content of those emails here. Gothard did not reply to the last message included below.

I was grateful for my talk with ***** and he told me of his contact with you. It would be an answer to prayer to be able to be reconciled with you and I would appreciate any direction you would have towards this goal.
Sincerely,Bill Gothard
As a starting point, I would like to know why you have resigned as president of IBLP?
Thank you, Sally, so much for your response. I resigned from the Institute because I have finally realized that relationships with the Lord and others are far more important than the work I do for Him. I have offended many individuals including you and it is my desire to be reconciled with as many as possible in the years to come.
You say that you have offended many individuals including myself.
I would like you to be specific regarding the manner in which you believe you have offended me.
I apologize for the delay in getting this message to you. For many years I have treasured the memories of the friendship that we had. I am praying that this can be restored. Some of my actions were inappropriate and offensive. Is it possible to hear your perspective on these wrong actions so that I can more precisely understand and acknowledge my fault and seek your forgiveness?
I should not have to explain to you what was “inappropriate and offensive” about your actions towards me. It is very wrong of you to ask me to recount them for you, and I do not intend to do so.

If you sincerely desire my forgiveness and you wish for reconciliation, then you need to acknowledge your offensive behavior in an honorable, fearless and truthful manner. If you are not willing to do this, then please do not contact me again.

Readers of the accounts on Recovering Grace will recall that Gothard commonly groomed his victims of sexual and/or emotional abuse by urging them to confide to him all the sexual details of previous relationships. It would appear from this series of emails that even at nearly eighty years old, he still takes a voyeuristic interest in hearing his victims describe the shame he sought to burden them with.
"He consistently asks the girl to tell him what it is she thinks he has done. Then he apologizes for 'her perceived' grievances. There is no ownership of his behavior. He's putting it all back on the the victim."
And once again, Gothard is breaking his own fundamental rules--this time for apologies. In his Basic Seminar textbook, he wrote a whole chapter on the right way to clear one's conscience by asking forgiveness.

For example, Gothard's text points out:
It does little good to ask forgiveness for a small offense when in reality that offense is only a fractional part of a much greater offense.
There are several ways to ask forgiveness which are guaranteed not to work--such as, "I was wrong, but you were too"; "If I was wrong, please forgive me"; "I'm sorry", etc. There is one genuine statement which reflects true sincerity and humility: "God has convicted me of how wrong I have been in (my attitude and actions). I know I have wronged you in this, and I've come to ask, will you forgive me?"
Carefully choose the right wording
  • Your words must identify the basic offense
  • Your words must reflect full repentance and sincere humility
 ...One of the hardest statements for any person to make is, "I was wrong." It is a lot easier to say, "I'm sorry about .. " It is also much easier to say, "Please forgive me" than it is to ask, "Will you forgive me?" and wait for the answer.
Gothard then gives examples of wrong wording:
"If I've been wrong, please forgive me."
 And right wording:
"God has convicted me of how wrong I've been in ______ (Basic Offense). I've called to ask will you forgive me?"
This request, spoken in the right attitude, is certain to be well-accepted by the one to whom it is directed. This approach must include correction of any attitudes or actions which caused the offense and also restitution for any personal loss which was suffered by the one offended.
Oh, yes, restitution. Did you see that mentioned in the emails to Sally? No, I didn't, either. 

But let us go on. The seminar manual taught that one should not go into too much detail, and emphasized the principle with a verse from the New Testament:
In Scripture we are warned that, "It is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret." (Ephesians 5:12) This warning definitely applies when asking for forgiveness. It is neither important nor appropriate to review impure details of an offense. This only tends to stir up the mind of the hearer to the past. 
And yet Gothard needs more details so he can "more precisely understand and acknowledge" his fault? Hmmmm.

Of course Gothard wrote the seminar text long before email, but he recommends making apologies only by phone or in person, not by correspondence. I have highlighted some relevant points in Gothard's explanation:
Please don't write a letter. Most people are tempted to use this method because it is so easy and the least painful to their pride. But it is not effective for many reasons. First, it documents your past offenses and your purpose is to erase them. Second, a letter can be misused by the one receiving it. This only complicates the problem. Third, it often embarrasses the one receiving it, and they may never reply to it. Fourth, a letter doesn't allow you to gain their verbal assurance of forgiveness. That is a very important factor for you and for the one you have offended. A verbal forgiveness allows him to become free of his bitterness.
Oh, yes, bitterness! So we ask forgiveness in order to help our victim "become free of his bitterness"? No wonder these women are frustrated!

Let me give you a tip, Bill. Forgiveness alone is not enough to erase your many offenses. And the women you used for your own sexual or emotional gratification are wiser and more self-protective now. This is not about restoring a friendship, it is about your manipulative abuse of your position.

"I am not trying to reconcile - I am trying to bring to attention a problem that has been ongoing for forty years. I forgive him, but I have no wish to reconcile with him." 

Perhaps most interesting of all, though Gothard's attorney friend-turned-investigator failed to contact any of the women who spoke out on the Recovering Grace website, Gothard himself is contacting them. He is even contacting other women who have not publicly spoken about their IBLP experiences but who were indeed mistreated by him. Would he possibly be working from memory here? And if his memory is that sharp, why would he need to ask for more details?

This is, after all, a man who taught millions exactly how to ask forgiveness for the offense of "Behaving improperly on a date":
Wrong Confession: "I realize that I was wrong in necking with you on our date. Will you forgive me?" 
Right Confession: "I realize that I have been wrong in my selfish actions and attitudes toward you when we were dating. It would mean a great deal to me if you would forgive me. Would you forgive me?" as brief and as clear as possible.... Talking too much will not only "sidetrack" the whole purpose of your coming, but may give the impression that you are trying to justify or explain your offenses in order to minimize them. 
You don't say, Bill? You don't say.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Hobby Lobby and Bill Gothard

From the back cover of Bill Gothard's 2010 book The Amazing Way:
"Through the example and teachings of Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles, we have benefited both as a family and in our business. It is as we take those lessons from God's Word that Bill clearly articulates that we live the full life that God intends."
--David Green, CEO, Hobby Lobby