Christmas is a few days away and I so love the Christ child, born to the Mary who could well have been stoned to death if not for the story of the seed God popped into her, if not for the Joseph standing alongside—outcastes, the pair of them. The innkeeper and others who turned them away sure knew the score like, perhaps, what would happen to them if they provided shelter, if they created the safe space for this hero to be born.
Nuh. Couldn’t go there. You know the rest, the stable and straw and animals and, wise ones coming from all directions bearing gifts. My adult hero, embraced by the love and care of nature’s gifts and, others from all walks of life. “So the last will be first, and the first will be last" Matthew 20:16. How beautiful it is to be reminded, especially in light of those who’ve been violated as children, no matter the context, especially at this time of year.
In my classrooms, teenage kids know the Christmas story and what it means for them, food and family and gifts galore, but nothing much else. Biblical stuff like Eve and Adam and their antics in Eden along with misogynistic consequences that have underpinned attitudes and beliefs and appalling injustices that have permeated our thinking and lives for centuries—nothing about laws that have influenced Western Culture, nothing about the inherent wisdom that, as far as I am concerned puts to shame so much of the so-called wisdom of contemporary psychology.
I mean, what happened to what Jesus said? "Leave the children alone, and don't try to keep them from coming to Me, because the kingdom of heaven is made up of people like this" Matthew 19:14 (Holman Christian Standard Bible (2009). I like this translation the best because it’s super clear. What does this all mean? Leave them alone? Does it mean turn a blind eye like the majority do, to kids who are abused in all manner of ways in my country? Australia. Thank God that Julia Gillard, our Prime Minister has recently announced a National Enquiry into State and Church institutions who, for the most part, have done just that for years—turned away. Oh, some say they have ‘dealt’ with that blindness but how? That is the real question.
Maybe it means to pray in the hope that some obscure notion of a God in the sky will fix it. Maybe it means, leave kids alone, don’t go near to them, let them struggle and muddle to, perhaps, make their way through and past the violations they have experienced at the hands of creepy adults because after all, the good name of institutions and those who work in them too often count for more than such kids. Employers and employees cover butts—so important in far too many institutions I’m familiar with. Better to quickly sweep under the carpet disturbing news of child abuse than shine the public eye on places known for their good works.
What does this mean? Jesus a-la-up-to-date talk, “don't try to keep them from coming to Me”? This fella stands for love and care, right? Now I know there was no such thing as psychotropic labels and drugs and big companies to profit from hurt people and shut them up way back when the grown man Jesus spoke and walked the earth. Now, tell me, do the growing number of diagnostic tools and labels designed to box in and categorise human responses to trauma in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) ring true of Jesus’ words? I don’t think so. For kids who hang out to be heard, they end up with an increased load on their backs, pathologised and tragically, too often drugged. ADHD is just one example and, what concerns me is the all-too-ready tick-box tools teachers and others fill in to answer questions simplistically designed to determine what’s wrong with a kid. Even shyness has a label. In my opinion and in many ways, Thomas Szasz was on the ball in his book, The Myth of Mental Illness (1961).
He talks about Pharmocracies calling the shots in the 60’s, not Democracies or Theocracies. Pharmocracies? Still relevant, even more so. Like, Pharmocracies having the last say when it comes to those who challenge the norm in schools and other institutions—so right. If I needed the love and care I’ve known, from those who understand the kid born in a stable, I wouldn’t as a kid or adult go anywhere near to anyone who spruiks current medical models for ‘errant’ human behaviour. In my understanding of caring people who are here to help troublesome kids who don’t fit for one reason or another, so much of what the medical profession espouses is bollocks. Of course, there are exceptions and there are very real out-of-whack kids and adults who do not fit with my thinking here and, I have as many answers as the medical and psychiatric profession when it comes to knowing how to help them, which is zero. Drugs don’t heal in such cases and I know that for sure. Sedate? Yes. Chemically lobotomise? Yes. Maybe I have something to learn here but, I do wonder if as much money goes into researching why such out-of-whackness occurs, as it does with cancer and other research into illnesses that affect the flesh.
Time is of the essence in our busy world and it is often far quicker, more streamlined to slap a diagnosis and label on a kid than to sit and listen to what lay beneath their distracted or muck-up behaviour. Could be anything from diet to bullying at school to sibling rivalry—or the terrible abuse at the hands of a peadophile. During the course of my PhD research into the ways in which physically and sexually violated kids are ‘treated’, I read many stories where kids who either spoke of such abuse or kept it to themselves, ended up pathologised and drugged. Ignorance of child abuse is a terrible weapon to further harm victims of peadophiles, for instance, and Australia’s appalling lack of education in this area astounds me. I know that clued-up caring people are aware of such matters and I am glad to be one of them. “Don’t try to keep them from coming to Me”? Ignorance does it, keeps such kids well away from anything the Christ story has to offer.
How about the notion of heaven? I’m not into worrying about what’s at the end of the line for me because I reckon heaven can be had right here right now—knowing I am loved and doing my damnest at times not to forget it—knowing too, the peace that comes with it, especially when new insights wisp through my mind to settle and affirm me. I seriously question how such insights into child abuse comes without connecting with those who know, especially those whose stories challenge and sometimes throw us into a spin. Without the risk of opening our lives, without knowing the struggle, without stepping beyond the familiar little enclosures we pop ourselves into to keep ourselves safe from the world, how can we count ourselves amongst those who care?
Am I stirred up? Yep. Why? I asked a few people whether or not they’d read my memoir about growing up in a violent home. Teachers. Now, I do not expect all people to zero in on child abuse to fuel their passion to make a difference in our world. Not at all. There are so many ways we can work to make our world a better place and stop those who ravage it, the environment to name one, peacemaking, another. But when a teacher says, “I want to read good things,” or, “I want to stay happy,” or “I don’t want to get depressed,” my immediate unspoken response is, “Get the hell out of the classroom.”
The one response that I do hold dear to my heart is, “I am afraid.” Fear’s something that I know only too well—a great teacher of mine in so many ways. It helps me to see to see danger coming from miles away. It, among other things, worked to silence me since I was a kid, from the time I promised myself at eleven years of age that I’d write my story. I’m sixty-three as I write this, and my memoir about growing up in a violent Australian home was published by Fremantle Press in June 2012. What a celebration! When We Remember They Call Us Liars took some pluck to write as I often worked to overcome my fears of speaking up—terror more like it.
I am not the kind of teacher who places my 'happiness' and desire to read good things above the wellbeing of my students. I want to know them, what makes them tick and while the limits are there I will surely educate them to know what child abusers look like, peadophiles especially. For me, knowing the natures of such predators and the widespread ramification of their actions to enable me to help kids face the world is so very important. Knowing that twisters who prey on kids are out there, while doing nothing to make them aware, is tantamount to criminal negligence.
There are plenty of times that I read to make myself feel good, and I need to. But not at the expense of choosing to ignore what happens to kids who fall into the hands of twisters. Stories? How very important they are. Heroes? Bring them on.