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Friday, February 23, 2007

Living letters

Suzanne has gifted all of us by sharing a painful part of her life in the preceding post. It has encouraged me to share my story under my own name. It's scary because I have refrained from doing so for so long so that I can protect confidentiality of those involved. But I'm trusting that this blog is a safe place with understanding visitors.

Since this is a blog about Bible translation, I want to tell you all about one of the biggest breakthroughs I experienced in our tribal Bible translation work. Just before I turned 40, our mission supervisor required us to leave our work, move our family far away, and enter a counseling program for therapy to address the lifelong effects of child abuse. That was a very difficult time, but I applied myself as best as I could to therapy. Eventually, the cover came off the cesspool of masked emotions which I had protected for so long. I didn't want to live anymore. I had always been afraid of people and had stuttered badly as a child, I was so afraid. I wanted to tell others something of how I was dealing with the issues of the past, but when I tried to do so before one of our donor churches, I had a panic attack. I gutted it out (as I thought a "real man" would do), but could not control my body and started going into a black fog of fainting. I could hear myself speaking more and more slowly. Finally, I had to be honest and just say I wasn't feeling well. I asked my wife to come up and finish for me. For a year after that I was mute, like Zechariah, John's father, in public, unable to do any public speaking.

The next summer we had a break and were able to visit back on the reservation where we had been translating. Our pastor there notified me ahead of time that he had to be gone our first Sunday back and asked me to take his place, sharing with the congregation "what you've been learning" in counseling. I didn't tell him "no", I guess because I was too afraid to do so.

The Sunday arrived and I had no idea how I would be able to speak, let alone speak about what I'd been learning as a person. Our pastor's cousin was the worship leader that Sunday and noticed where I was sitting on the porch of our old office building next to the church. He asked me if our pastor had asked me to speak and I say yes. Then I somehow had the courage to tell him that I didn't know if I could speak. (I had often done so there before, but that was before dealing with the junk stuffed away in the closets of my psyche.) And then I heard from him what I had never heard before in my life, "It's OK if you can't speak. We'll figure something else out." "Failure" had never been an option in our abusive family when I was growing up.

The service started. The time came when the worship leader opened the floor for anyone to share anything they wanted. I wanted so much to speak, but was so afraid. But I started talking. I just sat in my pew. I doubt that I could have spoken if I had gone to the front to stand behind the pulpit. For the next twenty minutes I told the people for whom we had come to translate the Bible why we had to leave them and what we had been dealing with. I told them about the child abuse. I cried the whole time even though men in their culture are not supposed to cry. They cried with me. After the service they hugged me. One lady, who later became the main translator, told me, "Well, now we know why you had to leave. We thought there were something wrong with us because you told us you had to go away to deal with interpersonal issues." That day we became one with those people. The tables were turned. The people to whom we had come to minister ministered to us. They knew all about abuse. Many of their lives were filled with it. They thought nothing less of us.

We still had a year or two of therapy to go. It was always difficult. But we made progress and our family was rescued. Our children felt safer from their critical, workaholic father. It helped when I would journal and record my experiences in poetry. Eventually we were allowed to return to the tribal translation program. Somehow it was not the same as it had been in the previous years. Our relationships with people took on a different tone. The translation effort was still difficult, but there was a new integrity to it. The translation process became less cognitive and more relational, even while the quality of translation itself improved, both in terms of accuracy and clarity.

I mentioned in a comment on Suzanne's post that I used to have a banner on my college dorm room which said in bold, shimmering letters: TRANSLATE. I understood it in two ways, first, it addressed my desire to become a Bible translator, and second, it represented my desire that my life would translate the Bible for others. Little did I know then that when I was 40 years old the people for whom we were translating helped me translate the freeing message of the Bible into my own life in a way that I had never been able to previously. It reminds me of what Paul wrote:
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:3-4, NET)
I am passionate about translating the Bible for those who do not have it in their language (including those have a Bible translation but one which is not translated into natural forms of their language). But since going through those difficult times of dealing with my past--and I am continuing to do so--I am even more passionate about wanting to help people experience personal freedom through good news from God written in the Bible. I have been privileged to help a number of people who have been abused. I never would have chosen this kind of ministry for myself, but God ...


At Fri Feb 23, 08:16:00 AM, Blogger Suzanne McCarthy said...

started going into a black fog of fainting.

I am glad you mentioned the fog. I almost called my post "The fog". It is how the past seems to me. Other people may have stories and happy memories. I don't even want to open a photo album for fear of the memories invoked. THe past often seems like a fog.

At Fri Feb 23, 08:21:00 AM, Blogger Iris Godfrey said...

Thank you for the open, honest sharing. Once again, it is weakness that provides the necessary key for effective ministry. Paul talked about it, but so often we forget that is not our education, nor training, nor anything else, it is our weakness that provides a hole in our being for the Scriptures to be seen.

Again, thank you.


At Fri Feb 23, 09:44:00 AM, Blogger Dan Sindlinger said...

Thanks for sharing, Wayne. I wish I could give you also a compassionate hug.

At Fri Feb 23, 10:04:00 AM, Blogger Molly said...

Wayne, this is SO good, so good, so good. Especially the part about how you became authentically real before the people God sent you too...and how much that changed your relationship with them for the better. That is SOOOO cool! It makes me want to start jumping around or something! lol...

Thank you so much for sharing a powerful hope-filled story about being real.

At Fri Feb 23, 10:05:00 AM, Blogger Molly said...

(grammar/spelling errors...ugh, I hate 'em)...

At Fri Feb 23, 01:46:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Molly bemoaned:

(grammar/spelling errors...ugh, I hate 'em)...

Whar ar they. Aye didn't sea any.


At Fri Feb 23, 05:28:00 PM, Blogger exegete77 said...

Thanks, for sharing your heart, Wayne.

Looks like we have another common bond. I didn't get help soon enough, and the devastating experience almost destroyed me. But we are never beyond God's ability to rebuild, even from a helpless, hopeless situation. God's grace is, indeed, sufficient.

Isaiah 41:10 and Lamentations 3:22-23 became my lifelines.


At Fri Feb 23, 08:32:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist said...

Oh, Wayne! Thank you for sharing your story with us. As I told Suzanne, I honor you as well for your courage and honesty.

It sounds as if quite a few of us have a past that includes violence perpetrated against us. I, too, have found that God places me among people who can be blessed by the service I can offer them because of my past. Like you, I would never have chosen it for myself. But it's some of the holiest work I do.

One of the mottoes of my life is this: "I would not wish my experience of violence on anyone. But I also would not wish to be the person I would be, had I not experienced all that I have experienced." My prayer is that each of us may allow God to transform our former pain into blessing. It is a hard blessing, never comfortable, and it does not happen quickly, but I do believe God offers this kind of resurrection-in-this-present-life to each of us who have survived violence done to us.

May God's peace be with you. Thank you again for blessing me, Wayne.

At Fri Feb 23, 08:50:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist said...

P.S. Wayne, I think I understand what you described at the beginning of your treatment. I, too, was required (by a kind, generous mentor who understood the importance of healing from abuse) to get help. I had a "cesspool" of my own that I'd known for years I had to keep stuffed down, deep inside, because if I ever once let it out, it would consume me. I was right. For the better part of two years therapy and group work were the most important things in my life. It got better after the first six or seven months, but even after my counselor and I agreed the time had come for me end the therapy, there was so much growth that needed to happen. I was like a child in some ways, testing a new and strange world. I'd traded in my old, ineffective coping mechanisms for new strategies that sounded really good, but were scary to actually use. In a sense, I'm still learning how to live as a healthy, free human being in a world that often distrusts healthy, free human beings.

As distressing as it is to know that there are yet two more brothers and a sister, just based on these blog entries and comments, who have experienced abuse, it gives me hope that you and they have found the strength to tell your story. People who don't yet have the strength to even admit to themselves that they don't deserve what happened/is happening to them, need to know they're not alone so that they, too, may step out of their own foggy living tombs. You're nothing less than the voice of the Christ, calling a dead Lazarus to rejoin the living.

(Thank you, Exegete, for your witness, and again to Suzanne and Wayne, thank you. My prayers for your continued healing are with you, as I crave yours for me.)

At Fri Feb 23, 10:37:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Thank you very much, each of you, for your kind, understanding, loving comments and support. I take them as part of my continued journey of healing. I realize now that I am no longer alone and that helps. My wife and I have just joined a growth group at our church which is very transparent. I think each person in the group has experienced some kind of trauma that they have been working through. They all look healthy as church people often do, but they are willing to admit that life has been difficult but with God's help and personal honesty there has been progress. And they love and support each other. I craved that kind of interaction so much the last few years that we were completing our work on the tribal translation. Now God has given it to us. He is good!

At Fri Feb 23, 10:42:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Iris reminded us:

Thank you for the open, honest sharing. Once again, it is weakness that provides the necessary key for effective ministry.

Thank you, Iris. You have spoken truth. It is not an easy truth to accept. I have had to place myself in God's hands when some of my weaknesses continue and just tell him I'm willing for him to use me to honor him, but if he wants me to mess up through weakness, I've begun to think I might be willing to do that as well. That would be hard for my pride, but I suspect I would survive. So many people are understanding and non-abusive, in contrast to what my experience was growing up.

Paul's comments about God's strength being sufficient for Paul's weaknesses ring true for me. It's been special for me to reach nearly the bottom of my own capabilities and discover that God is still there, never having left, to walk beside me. I never really understood it when I was younger. I just tried to survive in my own strength, even though I would pray and thought I was depending on God.

At Sat Feb 24, 10:41:00 PM, Blogger Psalmist said...

Wayne, you asked a question on Suzanne's post's comments, and I'm not sure you meant it for me or (more likely) for all of us in general. You asked (I'm paraphrasing) if there is a way that translators can do a better job so that Christians can understand better what the biblical understanding of a husband's "head" relationship with his wife is all about.

I honestly don't think translators CAN do any better than most of you do, at least as far as Eph. 5:23 is concerned. The problem is with how this verse and its attendant context is interpreted in teaching and preaching and in individual study. I would imagine that translating such metaphor carries with it at least a little temptation to explain the metaphor, but from what I've read here, you and most other translators resist that temptation diligently.

Our problem is with what we do with the metaphor, since we are not ancient Greek-speakers living in the Greco-Roman world. Once it finally "clicked" for me that this is a unity metaphor and not a metaphor for authority, the "husband is head" part of the Ephesian household code made a whole lot more sense to me. I realized that the husband is the head as the wife is the body, in God's intention for marriage. Heads cannot be separated from bodies; both die. Thus, a man really must love his wife as his own body (Eph 5:28). If he does not, he is doing mortal harm to the one flesh that is their marriage.

That's how I see it, anyway, and it fits so much better into the Christian themes of Scripture concerning unity and denial of self in favor of others, than setting husbands up as "heads" (= "authorities over") their wives. That requires a separation between husband and wife that I see as antithetical to these themes of self-denial and unity. That's the sort of thing that Christ told his disciples was not to be so among them. Of course, there are those who would say that what Christ taught the Twelve doesn't apply to women, because the Twelve were all men. ;)

I'm still praying a great deal over the many self-disclosures that have taken place here at BBB in the past couple of days. God is using this venue powerfully, ISTM, and I thank you and the other contributors for being so generous with yourselves in that process. Bless you!

At Sat Feb 24, 11:09:00 PM, Blogger Wayne Leman said...

Psalmist began:

Wayne, you asked a question on Suzanne's post's comments, and I'm not sure you meant it for me or (more likely) for all of us in general.

I did mean it for you, Psalmist, and I like your answer. I like it because it's the same conclusion I have come to about the meaning of "head" in the headship passages. So with two of us concluding the same thing, it must be right, eh?!

Seriously, I find no mention of any rule or authority in conjunction with the head teachings. And there are several head-body unity passages, as you have pointed out, and also in 1 Cor. 12. I also find strong teachings to husband in the same context where they are mentioned as heads that they are to love their wives to death (not the death of their wives, but the death of themselves!).

Because we have the English metaphor of "head" which is apparently quite different from the "head" metaphor that Paul was teaching, where head and body are in union and the head takes care of the body, I wish that we could do something to steer people away from using the English metaphorical meaning of "head" in those passages. Perhaps we need to include "body" with head, for example, to translate the implied parallelism of Eph. 5:23 explicitly, as something like "For the husband is the head of the wife, his body, as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior."

What that would be doing, I suggest, is filling in a syntactic ellipsis which is actually present in that context semantically. Sometimes that is necessary in Bible translation so that we communicate the original message more accurately and clearly.

At Sun Feb 25, 02:03:00 AM, Blogger Psalmist said...

Hmm...I like that solution, Wayne. Not because I think it should be necessary, but because I'm resigned to the fact that American evangelicalism loves its single-verse practice of propping up whatever issue is being defended at the moment. The problem, though, is that those who do that the most, are the least likely to accept the validity of a translation that fleshes out the actual meaning of a verse like Eph. 5:23, because it's "been changed" from whatever translation they have memorized in order to proof-text from it.

That may be a slight exaggeration, but only slight, IMO. I think the context of vs. 23 does illustrate the unity theme pretty well. We've just been so incluturated in the church to read it as a passage about women-only submission and men's position of authority over them, that we miss the mention of wife as body completely. If all we're going to quote is either verse 22 or 23, we miss the point entirely.

I did want to mention that I think additions to that text have been problematic, hence my reluctance to say it's a good idea to add to it even to make the meaning more plain. I refer to verses 21 and 22 being separated, either by senteces or even by paragraphs, so that it becomes necessary (again, for the sake of the single-versers) to add "submit [yourselves]" when the instruction to the wives, in that phrase, doesn't include a verb at all. If people had to include verse 21 in order to get a grammatically correct reading of verse 22, I suspect we wouldn't have quite as much of the emphasis on women/wives submitting while denying that men have to submit to their wives in any way.

Anyway, I'm glad you liked my answer, Wayne. This is essentially a non-issue in my church's tradition (for which I thank God), but I've been called just about everything except a Christian by fellow believers outside that tradition for believing as I do about the head-body metaphor.


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