the rice affair – the grains of my truth

Ray and Janay Rice – their February Atlantic City altercation during which he knocked her unconscious and the ongoing reverberations in renewed focus on violence in the universe of human relationships and in that corporate sports-entertainment monopoly known as the National Football League – have kept me up at night, reducing my typical 5-6 hours of sleep to 3-4 (day by day, making it increasingly more difficult for this 62-year old to function with any semblance of sense). This morning, awaking at 3, I prayed, wrestling with both my angels and demons, asking myself: Why? This is what I discerned…

I’ve recited the tale, my tale so many times that I can reduce it to shorthand. Still, sometimes when I ruminate on it afresh, I feel like a voyeur surreptitiously standing on tiptoe at a window, looking in, spying on someone else’s saga in some largely risk-free attempt to catch some scant sight of behaviors, both good and not so, from which I, later retiring to reflect in solitude’s leisure, might learn something useful for my continued life’s journey. Yet whenever I attempt this out of body, out of psyche maneuver, I am undone every time, for the window always proves to be a mirror.

My father, a good man who loved his family, was possessed of an unstinting sense of responsibility, caring for my mother, my brother Wayne, and me beyond measure. He also was deeply embittered by many disappointments; chief of which, a lack of opportunity to fulfill dreams arising from his vast pool of talents. Daily, with alcohol, his drug of choice, he would spend evenings alone playing one-man Bridge (repeatedly dealing four hands, turning tricks, and processing the patterns) or, quite conversely (I used to consider it wholly ironic, but, for quite a while, no longer), reading the Bible; all in his solitary effort, I believe, to anesthetize his inner rage. Sometimes, when successful, our home was quiet. When not, when his volcanic temper erupted, it wasn’t. He could be physically abusive (though blessedly never to my mother as far as I know) and emotionally overbearing as he, in pledging to provide for Wayne and me “chances I never had”, sought, through our living present, to relive, to revive his distant, discouraging past. Generations before “do-over” and “boundary violation” were popular terms, my father, running roughshod over our native individuality, demanded that Wayne and I think and feel, speak and act as he deemed right. Wayne was cleverer than I, oft holding in clandestine reserve his views, and I, noisily rebellious. Nevertheless, each of us received more than a share of the wrath of my father’s belittling correction.

My mother, a good woman who loved her family, was the embodiment of the Christian grace of holiness as it was defined and preached, especially for women, during her formative years. Rarely a critical word and never a curse crossed her lips. Without fail, she practiced the adage of saying nothing about people or things or ideas unless her thought was kindly and her temper mild, which explained, as much as I could understand, why she oft sat in silence. Sadly, her reticence expressed itself in her quiescent obedience to my father’s rule of our home, never a happy place for me.

The summer of 1970, before entering college that fall, was the last time I lived year-round in the Abernathy household. From college to seminary and beyond, I, the prodigal son, would visit on fleet occasion, but never return to stay in the home that wasn’t home for me.

Through the years, through many means – among them, chiefly, the love and kindly counsel, support, and forbearance of my wife and daughter and friends, and prayer and therapy – I slowly have understood that in seeking to escape the abuse of my youth, I could not erase the wounds that mark my soul, which I, in oft unconscious, but no less self-righteous ways, inflicted on others. Those who know me best, that is, well, all too often have witnessed me at my worst. Not physically abusive, but – with a sharp sensitivity to slights (real or imagined), a fiery, quick-to-rile temper, a ready mind filled with deprecating words, and a rapier-tongue – emotionally punishing (in some perverse sense, succeeding and outdoing my father). Moreover, and as important, over the past 10 years, I progressively have discerned and deepened my practice of my theology and its immediate, active ethical expression in unconditional love (benevolence) and justice (fairness) for and toward all.

All this said, this is the truth, my truth. The Rices disturb my sleep because I (though here I speak symbolically, for I do not – and I dare never to – reduce always complex human beings to mere signs) am Ray Rice and I am Janay Rice. I have within me the power and propensity to abuse and the penchant, the proclivity to absolve the abuser; to claim responsibility for the abuse whilst doing little by conscious choice to do, to be otherwise. This, I think, is somewhat analogous to knowing that there are military munitions buried somewhere in my backyard, but rather than seek them out, at least (if not to remove or neutralize them) to know where they are and their potential triggers, I tiptoe about hoping not to set them off. It is time, far past time for me to do something else, to be someone else, that is, more fully my self. Wounded, yes. Always. As long as I have breath. But, in every waking moment, with every mindful, prayerful intention, not allowing (or trying not to allow) my woundedness to be the sole, even primary clarifying lens through which I look either through the windows of the souls of others or into the mirror of my own likeness.

One other thing…

I am a sports aficionado.  In my youth, I played many. In mine older age, I’ve enjoyed being a spectator. I’ve also discerned that I like violence, whatever the arena, athletic or otherwise, less and less and less, verily, not at all…

So, I’m taking a self-imposed sabbatical from watching sports that involve the premeditated infliction, the practiced imposition of bodily pain and suffering. For how long? I don’t know. What I do know is that I need to concentrate, to spend more time and energy paying attention to those clashing, crashing parts within me, whose conflicts all too often have spilled out onto the streets of my daily living.

6 thoughts on “the rice affair – the grains of my truth

  1. Oh, Paul, m heart aches to read this honest outpouring, for I know, too, the constant companionship of this “wound to the soul.” We resolve to live differently, to create a better life for our families, to be good people–and it is exhausting. Reading your words, I realize that it is only in seeking to be healed (whatever that means), not in trying to earn or make my own heaven here on earth that my soul will find true rest. You have inspired a new outlook for me, and I thank you for that. I am sure every person who ever lived has suffered some wound to the soul. Perhaps, it is our wounds that make us fully human. We must each find our own way to healing, restoration, peace–to enter into the joy of salvation (which, I think, is not some floating-in-the-sky idea of heaven, but a reality here in this life). However we find those blessings (or allow them to find us!), please know that I am praying for you. I hold you in God’s gracious, tender, and compassion Light.


    • Yes, my dear Caroline, I believe, as you, that all of us “(suffer) some wound to the soul.” As I’m wont to say if you scratch anyone hard enough, s/he bleeds, which is to say all of us have wounds. I also share your believe that struggling with our wounds – seeking to be/do better – is exhausting, that healing is a worthwhile, indeed, necessary aim, and that this end is not in-the-sky, but part and parcel of this life in this world. Amen to all of that. I am grateful for whatever inspiration I may have offered for you and more than grateful for the kindness of your prayers. May God’s love and peace abide with and within us.


  2. Brother Paul, when I first saw that single eye in your Facebook image, I knew that I knew you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences regarding the Rice family. I find myself praying for them, and for so many other families affected by violence, whether it be verbal, emotional, or physical. Thank you for sharing yourself.

    My sister shared with me recently that in the last few years she has reexamined her sharp tongue and equally sharp wit, her delight in sarcasm and its skillful application, because as she heard those scathing words coming from her own now grown children, she understood that she had wounded them. This is something I have also sought to deal with, although I haven’t been as successful as my sister has. Yet.

    I’ve found some comfort in this: we are Judas who betrayed The Lord Jesus. We are the angry crowd that cried out, demanding his death on the cross. We are Peter, terrified and confused, who denied him. We are John the beloved, who kept watch at the foot of the cross as he died. We are his mother who wept for him. We are Mary who discovered him risen. We are the disciples in the upper room whom he visited. We are Thomas, who doubted. We are Stephen, the first to follow him in death. We are Saul, at whose feet Stephen’s robe was cast, and Paul, who carried the gospel to the world. We are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, in heaven and on earth: the good and the bad, those who transcended and those who muddled through, the proud and the humble, in order to remind us that we too are the Lord’s redeemed, his beloved and most favored. Healed and healing, to help heal one another.


  3. Sandy, it is a great gift to know and to be known. I thank you for the affirmation of your acknowledgement and acceptance. I also thank you for your honesty in sharing a part of your and your family’s life story. And I thank you for your insight that we – all of us – are all and each of the disciples of Jesus. You grant me a new meaning in response to that haunting question: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Up until the moment of reading your comments, I’d always thought of my answer “yes” to that question in the context of my angry crowd-or-Peter-or-Thomas-or-Saul-like failings. Never had I thought of being present at Jesus’ crucifixion in the light of my (admittedly few and far between) acts of my John-or-Mary-Mary Magdalene-or-disciples in the upper room-or-Stephen-or-Paul-like faithfulness. I will ponder that profound image that we are each and all of them. Blessings upon you, my dear sister


  4. Paul,

    I’ve read this three times, and I share you anguish and feel your pain. As a person who knows you well and cares for you deeply, I understand your struggle.

    Thanks for your honest sharing!! It certainly explained why you’ve been virtually sleepless of late. I’m praying for you as you continue to process and understand, both your childhood history ad they relate to the current events of world today.

    I understand your reluctance right now to watch violent sports too!!! I’ve found myself being less excited about football as this season has started too, re examining my own thoughts and feelings about abuse and violence.

    Much love and peace to you.


    • As always, Loretta, I thank you! You are one of those whose love and kindly counsel, support, and forbearance I’ve learned to honor, to value, and to trust. Hence, when you say, “(you) understand (my) struggle”, I know you do. As for violence, it is all around us…me and, as truth demands I confess it, within in. It is not that in not watching football or other violent sports or activities I will or, indeed, can forget the presence and prevalence of violence as in attempting some naive mindlessness. However, it is clear and growing clearer to me that to watch, in some real sense, is to feed and nurture that tendency within me, even in some small way. So, again, I embark on this sabbatical to see what unfolds for me. Again, my thanks and love

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