The other evening, as I often do, I picked up my guitar and started strumming some basic chords and began creating different melodies. I hadn’t played my harmonica in awhile, so I pulled out a G major harp and then started playing over the chords I was strumming – which means every note will sound harmonically o.k. because I was strumming my guitar in a G major scale too.
Then, I picked up a C major harp and I blew some notes over the same G major scale I was strumming on the guitar. This is pretty common in folk music, playing C harp while strumming the guitar in G major scale. It does seem to create some harmonic tension, but it works – just ask Bob Dylan.
Soon I started adding some words.. and this is where I got in trouble. I had been reading about the child abuse cases and cover up in some of America’s Catholic churches. I thought to myself, “Didn’t this happen just a decade or two ago too???” It saddens me on so many different levels. First of all, the psychological, physical, and spiritual harm caused to the victims; It is beyond belief, comprehension. sadness. Also, although I am not Catholic, there are some amazing teachers in that faith. They have shared a different way of looking at things that has helped me on my own quest. I am also impressed by their commitment to issues of social justice. So as I read about the years of administrative cover up, I felt sick. Hypocrisy galore. With this, combined with deep feelings, from the heart, for the victims, I developed a heartsickness, all while I continued to play the guitar and blow the harp… in the darkness.
My train of thought continued though as I considered the spectrum of child abuse. My generation knew very well, at least where I grew up, the uncontrolled rage of a parent. Many young children experienced corporal punishment with a leather belt or the fists of a grown man pounding on the child. Perhaps the crime was telling a lie, or talking “out of line” or even a poor mark or grade on a report card. It often didn’t take much. (An old family story we have is about the beating my own father once endured for leaving the cap off of the toothpaste.) Other children, particularly young girls, but not always, have suffered from sexual abuse from inside their own home, where they were supposed to be safe. I know about this on many levels, as I worked as a Child Protective Social Worker for a bit. The stories are too sick, too painful, too private, and too many to share. I also understand the consequences of abuse from a personal level, but I certainly am not alone there.
There are sick, sick people out there. Combined with a world that seems at times to be teetering out of balance, it is common to seek a deeper meaning and even a moment of peace by consulting our religious elders and leaders. I wonder how many of the victims of the most recent Catholic Church abuse case were already injured from previous harm done to them by adults outside of the church?
So what do you do with all of this? I don’t believe that one religious organization is the culprit. As a social worker, I once removed a child from a life threatening situation – he/she was left in a car in intense summer heat while their ‘caretaker’ was getting drunk in the bar, flies were sticking to his/her face – and I placed them in the safety of a licensed foster home. Guess what happened that night to him/her. You hear of child sexual abuse from all corners and by all people. Still the betrayal by the priests really makes me want to vomit. I hear phrases about forgiveness and seeking God’s grace and I find it revolting. It is like using the same line that opened the door to the abuse in the first place, the company line sort of. I don’t think you get to use those words and phrases if you were directly or indirectly involved in the act or the cover up. Only the victims get to talk in those terms, if they choose and who would blame them if they chose not to?
But, I am not comfortable either being the judge because for I have fallen short (not that short!) in my own life. So I end up just kind of sitting with the filth of it all, not knowing what to do, strumming my guitar, recording whatever words come my way. It is not a joyful way to write music. It is not an enjoyable way to write music. I could not go to sleep until I had recorded what came out of me in that dark and heartsick moment.