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Authors: Frank Peretti

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BOOK: No More Bullies
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Heavy stuff. No wonder the audience responded in self-conscious silence.

Following my speech, the first feedback I received was from the sound technicians backstage. Of all people! These guys were adults, professionals, employees of Focus on the Family. They appeared to have perfectly normal, grown-up exteriors, all decked out with their Life on the Edge T-shirts and walkie-talkies. Nobody would have guessed that they had lived for years with a wounded spirit, with memories of sorrow, abuse, and loneliness, of being pariahs at their schools, on the job, or in their families. But they hadn't forgotten what those wounds felt like, and now, having heard me broach the subject and admit that the faces of my oppressors still haunted my memories, these adults felt free to talk about the ghosts from their pasts.

Later, I sat down with a charming couple, a drama duo who presented some remarkable parables and skits during the conference. They too had a story to tell about demeaning experiences in their pasts, and the similarities were disturbing and comforting; disturbing because the problem is so universal, but comforting because we could share so freely from a common experience.

After I got back home, I heard from the organizers of the event. No, I hadn't flopped as I had feared. Actually, I'd hit a nerve.

Dr. James Dobson heard a tape of my talk while exercising on the treadmill one morning, and it touched him so deeply he took his wife, Shirley, out for a drive that evening, and they listened to the tape again in the car. They agreed they had to share it with the
Focus on the
radio audience.

The opening words of the broadcast are worth recounting. First came the telephone voice of an anonymous woman: “I was one of those kids who at one time in my life was mean to everybody else. I'm sorry . . . I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart. Please forgive me and forgive everybody else, because nobody deserves all that.”

Then Mike Trout, Dr. Dobson's radio cohost, gave a warm and evocative introduction: “Did you ever pick on someone? Tease him or her for whatever reason? Well, of course, you did. Unfortunately, it's an event that happens far too often, and I'd go as far as to say you remember at least one occasion when you were made fun of too. Those memories are etched in our brains, and each occasion, each offense is an ingredient in the recipe that has come together over the years to create who we are today.”

The recording of my talk followed, and I don't know what sort of response Focus on the Family anticipated, but
had no idea how vast an audience would identify with those words. After the talk was broadcast in October 1999, Focus on the Family received 3,375 telephone calls. When the same program was rebroadcast in December 1999, Focus received 1,264 calls. At least 316 callers requested tapes after the first broadcast and 1,117 callers requested tapes following the rebroadcast. The folks at Focus informed my publisher that these numbers are much higher than the usual response to a broadcast. Ordinarily, a response by one thousand callers is considered good; two thousand callers is beyond the best expectations. When
three thousand
calls come in, they know they've touched a nerve.

Now, I'm a writer with a name and an audience, so I wrote this book, but I realize that my story is nothing exceptional, that the wounds inflicted on me are marginal compared to those who have suffered severe child abuse, spousal abuse, verbal, sexual, or emotional abuse. My pain pales in comparison to that endured by the brave men and women who survived Hitler's concentration camps. When I think about the victims and families involved in the senseless murders of those who died in Littleton, Colorado, or the students who were shot to death in Paducah, Kentucky, or the tortures that many people have overcome in their personal lives, I'm embarrassed even to mention the bullying I experienced.

But we do have an issue here, don't we? I'm only one small voice in a sea of voices, and our issue is more than just a simple case of teasing. While we can all accept that bullying and abuse betray a lack or loss of respect for other human beings, there is a deeper issue: the devaluing of human life; and that in turn indicates a lack or loss of respect for the Giver of human life and dignity, God Himself. The message a bully sends is a mockery of God's handiwork, a lie that slanders God's nature and negates His love for us.

This could be important, don't you think?

Consider, for example, how such behavior can distort our view of God. In their book
The Sacred Romance,
authors Brent Curtis and John Eldredge describe the awful feelings of doubt and despair following the piercing of our heart by an offender's “arrow”:

The terror we enter and the seeming lack of rescue from it leave us with a deeply imprinted question about God that we hide in our heart, sometimes not allowing the light of day to touch it for years, even deep into our spiritual journey. We cover the question with rationalizations that let him off the hook and allow us to still believe, but our beliefs rest on foundations that move and quake under us. It is easy to reason that Jimmy and those sixth graders were just bad; you know, “not raised in very good homes.” And of course, our rationalizations do bear a modicum of truth that keeps us from dealing with the question lodged deep in our heart, hidden from our conscious mind: “Do you care for me, God?”

Curtis and Eldredge go on to trace some of our misgivings about God to our childhood experiences, including the infliction of wounds by others. See if you can relate to any of these: “Parents who were emotionally absent; bedtimes without words or hugs; ears that were too big and noses that were too small; others chosen for playground games while we were not; and prayers about all these things seemingly met with silence.”

Ever been there? I'm beginning to find out that many people can strongly relate to these issues, more than we've ever imagined. It brings an interesting, television-like image to my mind: I see myself walking along in the center of a vast room, sort of like those all-white, cornerless sound stages you see in a television studio. For a moment, I think I'm the only one with a story to tell about childhood wounds that still hurt, but then, from one side, a sound technician comes along, an amicable guy wearing a Life on the Edge T-shirt, carrying a walkie-talkie. He was the pariah of his class. He knows what I'm talking about. So we walk together.

Then comes a stage technician for Life on the Edge. And then the drama team that performed, and then a lady, a friend and listener of
Focus on the Family
who could hardly listen to the broadcast because it reminded her of the deeply buried pain from her past.

Then more people walk in from the sides and seemingly pop up out of nowhere, all shapes, all sizes, and all walks of life:

I see a columnist for a major Midwestern newspaper who once interviewed me. He's in his sixties now, and he has polio, so he walks with the aid of crutches. He's needed the crutches most of his life, but he's used to that. What really pains him are the wounds he can still feel, delivered by the kids who taunted him when he was a child.

Ah, here's the middle-aged woman who refuses to sing, even though she has a perfectly good voice and plenty of latent talent. She can remember the very day, during music appreciation class in the sixth grade, when she stopped singing. The other kids laughed at her and told her she sounded like a bird. Humiliated, she closed her mouth and has never opened it again to sing.

Here comes a beautiful, well-known screen actress. Nobody would guess that she had to wear a body cast for four years during her childhood. She was treated so cruelly by her classmates that she dropped out of school in the tenth grade and spent her teenage years as a loner, often hiding away in her bedroom with the door shut. Years later, after she had established a relationship with Jesus Christ, she was finally able to accept herself and to forgive those who had hurt her.

Please don't stare at that young man who is so excited about counting, “One . . . two, three . . . four, five, six, seven, eh-aa . . . eight . . . nine, TEN!” For him, this simple act is a major accomplishment, the opening of an immense door in his life. His father always told him he was so stupid he'd never be able to count to ten.

And along comes Shawn, the boy with the stutter and the harelip. He gave up learning to read because his schoolmates laughed and mimicked his attempts. He's thirty-seven now, and he still can't read.

“Hi, Joseph! Good to see you.” Joseph has one leg that is shorter than the other, severely impairing his ability to run. He might have done well at any sport that didn't require him to run fast, but his gym teacher never told him that; the drill-sergeant-style teacher simply knocked points off Joseph's grade and mocked him, calling him “Slow Susie.” Joseph didn't bother with any kind of physical fitness until well into his forties.

Meet Linda. She was excited about attending college until the very first day of classes, when a couple of senior girls insulted and belittled her for no reason other than the fact that she was a freshman. The upperclassmen didn't know her; they didn't even ask her name. Linda had been stung and hurt enough, all through junior and senior high school. She was not about to subject herself to that sort of treatment all over again. She walked off the campus and never returned, and, to this day, she's never obtained the college education she once dreamed of.

I look around at the growing crowd. Some people in our group are overweight. Some are small and weak. Some have physical deformities, cerebral palsy, or Down syndrome, or scars from burns. Others are Asian, African, Native American, racially mixed. It's not too hard to guess what their stories might be.

Others are more of a mystery. They look so normal, so “together,” so everyday: One's a landscaper, another is an electrician, and over there is a mailman, and now I see a wife and mother, and next to her, a minister. You can't guess their stories. You're even surprised to learn they're carrying the same sort of wounds as you.

There's an important lesson in that: The wounded spirit is borne by many, yet it often can't be seen. It can be a burden heavy enough to bend and warp the course of our lives, but it's buried deeply, hidden in a secret place, and we've been afraid to talk about it.

Until now. I never thought I'd be some kind of Pied Piper, but suddenly, all these people who recognize the validity of what I'm saying are coming out of the woodwork. Some are still carrying deep wounds from long ago; some are enduring fresh wounds each day. As in the case of other secret scars, those individuals who have suffered a wounded spirit often suffer in silence, unwilling to talk about it.

But maybe it's getting to be
that time

Our society, and especially the Christian community, has been slow to discuss many sensitive subjects. Not too many years ago, domestic violence was something we only whispered about across the back fence: “Have you seen Lois this morning? She's all black and blue. Guess he's beating her again, poor thing.” We gossiped about it, but beyond that, we felt it was none of our business. After all, those things didn't happen in our families, and certainly not in our church!

Similarly, just a few years ago, child abuse was something we suspected (and sometimes we were dead certain of it), but we hesitated to say anything. We weren't sure what to do. Besides, surely Christians would never be guilty of such a heinous crime. Sadly, we now know better, that such offenses happen in Christian homes almost in the exact same percentages as those of nonbelievers.

During my childhood in the 1950s and 1960s, the black man in some parts of the country was expected to “know his place,” and we were comfortable with that. We were extremely uncomfortable talking about racism or attempting to change it. “Let them have their own baseball teams. Let them worship in their own churches. Not in my backyard.”

So what about
problem? We call it by many names: Abuse. Teasing. Taunting. Harassment. Bullying. Until now, we've been strangely quiet about it. It happens, we say. We all go through it. All the kids do it. It's part of life. It's no big deal.

It happened when we were kids.

Is it wrong?

Let me ask again,
Is it wrong?

Consider your answer carefully. If the answer is yes, that immediately raises another question: Then why do we allow it? Why do parents, teachers, teacher's assistants, fellow students, friends at school and church, coworkers, extended family members, and others see it happening, hear it happening, and know it's happening but fail to take it seriously? If devaluing human life— and thereby mocking God's creation—is wrong, why do so many do so little to stop it? Worse yet, why do so many participate as part of the problem?

Surely Mr. M was aware of what his students—and his teacher's assistants—were doing to that poor little kid in the shower. Surely the teachers and staff at Columbine— or any school for that matter—could hear the sounds of bodies hitting lockers, can see the ketchup stains all over some students' clothing, can hear the laughter of the bullies and the cries of the victims. Surely the bus drivers know when a gang of losers descends on one helpless kid, knocking his books all over the street at the bus stop. Surely the teachers notice when a child comes into class with his shirt torn, his shoes missing, and his clothing soiled. Most certainly, the kids know what's happening; they're a part of it. They face the bullying, badgering, and other such treatment almost every day in school; they're immersed in it. Why don't they attempt to put a stop to it, to refrain from such behavior themselves, and to confront it in their friends?

What about the parents of children who are being bullied? Do they have no options? Do they have no voice? Must they sit by in silence when they know their child is near vomiting from stress before leaving for school each morning? Or are they even aware of the problem?

BOOK: No More Bullies
12.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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