Friday, October 30, 2009

Advocate for the abused shares a great message in a very few words

"Beyond the Mirror,"
by Marlene Jezierski

"You can't do anything right."
That's a typical verbal abuse.
Marlene Jezierski has heard that and much more from women and men and children who are victims of domestic violence. Not all the bruises of domestic abuse show on the outside of the body.
As she put it, "I wrote the book because I saw a knowledge gap in the area of violence in the home. While beatings and sexual assaults are understood and recognized, the subtleties of psychological abuse are not."
Her little book is just 36 pages, but it's plenty to touch your heart.

Life as a prisoner
Open "Beyond the Mirror" to any page as I did when this little tome arrived and you'll know the hurt, the diminution of spirit, the sadness and the fear of those who don't see any way out of a life that has become a prison.
One page had me.
Jezierski has turned what could be prose stories of victims of physical and emotional abuse into mostly brief, one-page poems that tug at your heart. It's beautiful poetry about a dreadful reality.
What she enlightens readers about is psychological torture:
Degrading statements.
Looks that kill the spirit.
Checking of the car odometer when the spouse leaves on an errand and returns home.
Isolation from friends, often from the rest of the world.

Tentacles reach out
A wake-up call may be in how the meanness and belittling is passed on to the children and to the extended families as well. Another may be the revelation that abusers perpetrate acts of cruelty and violence on family pets to instill fear in the people they live with. One poem quotes the spouse who killed and mutilated the family dog: "If you ever leave, that is what will happen to you, and they will never find the pieces."
And there's a great piece titled "Why on Earth Does She Stay?"
It's a collage of all the bad advice offered from family, clergy and co-workers, all the threats from the abusers, all the fears of the victims.
Yet sprinkled here and there throughout are glimmers of hope:
  • The 6th grade boy who doesn't like himself when he realizes he's imitating the abusive father he's coming to hate.
  • The peace for mother and child when a friend is able to secret them away to a shelter for victims of domestic abuse.
  • The school counselor who is helping the love-misled teen to understand balance in relationships, healthy love, boundaries and obsessive control.

Being part of the solution

A final ray of hope shines in examples Jezierski gives of the support and good advice that comes from true friends, caring health care professionals, enlightened policies at medical facilities, even strangers who witness or overhear abuse and have the courage to speak up and intervene.

Not to be forgotten are clergy who do real pastoring by letting victims know, "Your husband broke the marriage covenant the first time he abused you. God doesn't want anyone to be abused." -- bz

N.B. -- Marlene Jezierski, a retired emergency nurse who lives in Blaine, MN, is an educator and consultant on family violence prevention. As an advocate for victims she has testified before Congress on the impact of violence on women's health. She conducts seminars on physical and emotional domestic abuse, speaks to church groups and teaches classes to interested groups. She expressed the hope that readers of "Beyond the Mirror" will be energized to volunteer or somehow be involved in the cause about which she is so passionate. "My mission," she noted, "is to help raise awareness and engage the community to become part of the solution." Although donations are accepted, copies of "Beyond the Mirror" are available at no cost through the author at

Friday, October 23, 2009

Nothing border-line about history behind border lines of U.S. states

"How the States Got Their Shapes,"
by Mark Stein
Intrigued by the title every time I saw this book in the offerings of, I finally had my resistance broken down when it went on sale.
Who knew how interesting the stories would be about how the borders of our states were drawn. There's a lesson in U.S. history on every page, and the tight yet thorough, informative yet not academic writing style even makes it a fun read. Superb maps make all the difference, too.

Author Mark Stein uses a similar tease to introduce each of the states -- for example, "Why is there a semicircle at the top of Delaware?" -- and most pique the curiosity just enough to get you to the 6-7-8 pages on most of the states.

A story -- and a good one -- lies behind nearly every state in this 304-page Smithsonian Books publication.

If you've ever wondered why the Four Corners area where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico meet is the only place in the country where that happens, the answers include lost or inebriated surveyors, wily members of Congress, royal decrees from English kings, and of course religious prejudice, among others.

Watch our for those Catholics!

You probably recall from your grade school history classes that Britain's King Charles I, a Catholic, created Maryland to provide a place in the New World for England's Catholics.

The Dutch ("which is to say, Protestants," Stein noted) had already begun settlements in the area and they "feared what life for them might be under the rule of Maryland's Catholics."

Ruling that the area mapped out as Maryland was "only intended to include land uncultivated by Christians," a hunk of territory was then lopped off to create Delaware. Stein explains:
"This may sound like a loophole to get the king off the hook, but, in fact, the second paragraph of Maryland's charter states that this land was being granted to start a colony 'in a country hitherto uncultivated, in the parts of America, and partly occupied by Savages, having no knowledge of the Divine Being.' Nasty words by today's standards, but it did the trick."

Somewhat the same thing happened down on Maryland's southern border. The piece of land that extends between the Atlantic Ocean and Chesapeake Bay now called the Delmarva Peninsula (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, get it?) was originally Virginia's, but when King Charles created Maryland, the Virginia colonists already there took issue.

Stein pointed out the anti-Catholic attitude of the day: "If these Virginians (which is to say, Protestants) were now to be within the jurisdiction of Maryland (which is to say, Catholics), what sort of treatment could they expect?"

The king went with a compromise to keep the peace, and now three states share a finger of land.

Similar state and even national borders were impacted by religious differences and fears, and not only involving Catholics. They are relatively few, though, compared with the way state borders were draw for political and commercial reasons.

Method in the madness

Rivers form natural boundaries, and access to water and waterways come into play of course. It's the little niches of states -- like Minnesota's Northwest Angle that juts through the 49th parallel that makes up most of the U.S. border with Canada -- that make for informative, interesting reading.

Slavery has a role, too, as does "acquiring" land from Native peoples -- or pushing them off it.

For some reason I hadn't been aware of one factor about how the states got their shapes: equality. Congress, as it drew borders, was highly conscious of forming states that were relatively the same in area so that each would be likely to have an equal say in the federal government.

That said, Congress in the past isn't all that different from Congress today, and the pieces of state lines that skirt around a town or angle off a north-south or east-west axis or don't line up with a neighboring state might have a very practical rationale behind them. Or a very political one. Or a very profitable one, profitable for someone.

Finding out what happened in each state is like taking the best kind of history class. -- bz

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

If you rue the abuse and misuse of the English language, you have a friend and an advocate for making a difference

"Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies,"
by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Humankind's ability to use words to express, describe and explain is a gift from God, ergo humans should practice stewardship with language in much the same way we are challenged to care for the Creator's gifts of water, earth and other resources.

"Like any other life-source," McEntyre posits, "language can be depleted, polluted, contaminated, eroded and filled with artificial stimulants."

If we are good stewards of language, we'll recognize its value and commit ourselves to protect and preserve it, use it well and battle those who would use language for ill ends. Caring for words, this California college professor states, is a moral issue; conversation is "a life-sustaining practice, a blessing, and a craft to be cultivated for the common good."
The enemies in this war for words are many:
  • Propaganda;
  • spin;
  • ad hominen arguments;
  • smear campaigns; distortion;
  • lies;
  • euphemisms;
  • overgeneralizations.

And many more.

Better solutions than "whatever"

For some years "Valley girls" were mocked for initiating sentences with the word "like," yet the angst that "like" creates for stewards of language may be small beer compared with the aggravation that follows the current non-response that supposedly answers all difficulties: "Whatever."

McEntyre offers three prescriptions against the disease that afflicts the English language: 1) Deepen and sharpen our reading skills; 2)Cultivate habits of speaking and listening that foster precision and clarity; and 3), Be makers and doers of the word, which she describes as "to indulge in word play, to delight in metaphor, to practice specificity and accuracy, to listen critically and refuse cliches and sound bites that substitute for authentic analysis."

She blames text messaging for rapidly eroding spelling and punctuation skills while training users to trade precision for speed.

In much the same way the earth's resources are being depleted, so too she charges "the rich soil of lively discourse is being depleted."

You only need to have what you thought was a relevant discussion be concluded by a "whatever" to find you agree.

Love words, challenge lies

To counter the erosion, if not the near criminal loss of vocabulary, McEntyre presents a dozen strategies for those who would be stewards of words. "Love words" is the first.

Her text itself makes that easy to do and inspires one to follow her suggestion to look at words -- not through them -- and to search for ones that are "intriguing, complex, haunting, curious, interestingly ambiguous, troubling or delightful."

"Tell the truth" is another strategy, and anyone who ever heard the deaths of innocent civilians described as "collateral damage" understands the moral implication behind that misuse of words.

As McEntyre puts it, stewards of words need to be inquisitive about what they read or hear:

"The process by which things come to us are often deliberately hidden or left unmentioned so as not to draw attention to the less savory aspects of process like pollution, abusive labor practices, fuel consumption, dangerous pesticides, unfair treatment of animals, insider trading."

Her solution?

"Humbly inquiring what the user means, and then listening," then calling liars into account -- especially when their lies threaten the welfare of the community."

There is so much more in the 234-page Eerdmans paperback.

Take Professor McEntyre's advice. Read paragraphs and re-read them.

"Taste" words.

Chew on them.

You'll find you are satisfying a hunger you may not have known you had. - bz