Saturday, December 8, 2007


He stood there holding my daughter’s bloody teeth in his hand. He waited.

I try to picture him and to project my thankfulness out across the ocean. I hope he can somehow sense my gratitude.

Emily’s motorscooter went straight into a wall in that small Indian town. She went to the ground and lay bleeding in the dirt. An ambulance took her to the local hospital.

While her wounds were being stitched, a friend went back to the scene of the wreck to look for Emily’s teeth.

Namaste.” The Indian man politely bowed his head and handed off the teeth.

Back at the hospital, they reinserted the teeth and wired them in place as best they could.

The next day, a sari-clad woman stopped a couple of Emily’s friends at the market. In a small town, the light-skinned, funny-sounding American students weren’t hard to spot.

She asked them to show her exactly where the scooter hit the wall and exactly where Emily fell. They walked to the spot. Emily’s blood still marked the site.

While Emily’s friends watched, the woman proceeded to lay out candles, flowers and leaves. She knelt and slowly lit the candles one by one. No one knows what she was actually saying, but she seemed to be praying.

She rose, bowed slightly, and said, “Namaste.”

When Emily left the hospital, she went past the display of candles, and was deeply moved.

Though she was an outsider, the people of that small town extended themselves to include her in their thoughts and prayers and hopes. They even made a physical reminder as a symbolic gesture of care and concern.

I don’t know whether that sari-clad woman was Hindu, Sikh or something else. I don’t know who she prays to or how she views her God. I simply say my own prayer of gratitude for the prayerfulness that she extended on behalf of my daughter.

We flew Emily home, and her calendar is now full of doctor, dentist and surgeon appointments. She will eventually be fine, and she will long remember the care that was shown to her by people in that small Indian town.

When I listen to her talk about the candles and how much they meant, I can’t help but wish that Southern Baptist leaders could find themselves capable of making a similar sort of gesture for those wounded by clergy sex abuse. It was what I requested when I first started down this road back in 2004.

I requested some sort of public symbolic gesture of care for clergy abuse victims. I felt then, as I still do, that even a small gesture would hold meaning and help with healing for many who have been so wounded.

I proposed a small millstone sculpture, but church leaders said that was too “negative.” I wondered whether they thought Jesus Himself was too “negative” in Matthew 18. But of course, the reality was simply that they didn’t want to do anything at all.

I proposed a small contemplation garden with a labyrinth and a plaque saying, “Dedicated in prayer for victims of clergy sex abuse and in honor of their efforts to reclaim life and faith.”

They refused that idea as well. They didn’t think it was “fair” that people who had nothing to do with any abuse should have to see such an “unpleasant” reminder.

It seemed sad to me then – and still does - that church and denominational leaders were incapable of seeing something positive in my proposal for a symbolic gesture.

To make a physical reminder of something terrible is not “negative.” It is showing respect for the humanity of the people who suffered. It does honor to the wounded, shows the care of the community, and bears witness to the hope for healing.

Southern Baptist leaders could learn something true and gentle and good from that sari-clad woman in India.


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