“Sheep Suit” by Sylvia Taylor, from the “Laughing Bear” portfolio

This Spring, we exhibited the “Laughing Bear” Portfolio  in Pilgrim Hall.  Artist Diana Eicher put this beautiful show together.  She sent the “Laughing Bear” poem, by Katherine Tilton, to twenty some printmaker colleagues and asked them to make a print.  You can read the poem here:

We held a  reception for this exhibit on Friday May 13, which included a reading of the poem, beautifully rendered by Sally Wingert.  Since the poem addresses the subject of domestic violence, we invited representatives from area organizations to join us.  Carol Arthur, Executive Director of the Minneapolis Domestic Abuse Project, and Rebecca McLane, Operations Manager from the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project both talked about their programs and gave a bit about the history of domestic abuse intervention in The Twin Cities and in Minnesota. The Twin Cities have been in a leadership role in this area since the beginning.  We were thrilled that purchases of prints donations raised over $700 for the St. Paul Domestic Abuse Intervention Project.

The “Laughing Bear” event inspired First Church member, Carol Cochran, to write this reflection:  


I wrote a God, hear our prayer article for Chimes [First Church newsletter] in 2005. My brother, a psychiatrist, was locked in an Arizona jail with a $1,450,000 bail. His crime—domestic violence. I was shocked, confused, angry, sad, and grateful. Our parents deceased, I, his big sister and only sibling, went to his trial in January 2006 to testify and find out more. The trauma of seeing him shackled and fallen from his throne where I, our family, and his community had placed him, was like a horror movie, not real life. He was a forensic psychiatrist with the Arizona Department of Corrections (DOC) and formerly for the Utah DOC, where he gained fame as the psychiatrist for Gary Gilmore, Utah’s first death row inmate, after many decades, to die by firing squad. Now, my brother was on the other side, without the keys.

The Laughing Bear exhibit brought back many memories of my brother’s and my domestic violence experiences. I believe his behavior was learned from his father, my step-father. I had no contact with my brother while he was in prison. I had been one of his emotionally-tortured victims, and we both buried that relationship. I moved on and focused on survival needs of my family and self.  Last fall, I received an email from my brother, who was out of prison but still under supervision. He was desperate, needed help, and turned to me. That in itself was a major switch. We began a series of emails, several every day, long, complex, confusing, angry, unbelievably strange. We became reacquainted. Reacquainted is not the right word. We never knew each other before, only had perceptions, perhaps illusions. His communications were sometimes threatening (a manipulation and test some perpetrators enjoy).

I had become a MSW, had training, and worked with an array of challenging adults and youth. I discovered my brother was quick to make threats, direct and covert. I surmised that threats gave him power and beneath that power was his own fear. I hoped I knew what I was doing when I did or did not respond. (The “did not” is more powerful according to my Gandhi thinking and diverts manipulative traps.) Finally, he discovered that trying to fight with me and making threats didn’t work. He learned that I am not fear-based. I learned that he was more blow than show, and that was a good thing. Distance helped, too. We have connected only through the written word. Our emotional bond is too strong for voice connection (phone calls), and the emails give more time for reflection and response.

My brother began therapy in Arizona with a MSW, not a psychiatrist, and credits my interactions with him for that. That’s nice to hear, and I hope it’s true, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Trust is not solid. His life is a book that has not been written. My life is a book that has not been written. Everyone has stories, even First Churchers. Telling the stories, and artistic expression in all forms, is cathartic and healing. The themes can be found in The Bible. They include struggle, pain, faith, forgiveness, respect, caring, and love. They can be found in Pilgrim Hall, also. This bear is laughing. God, in your mercy, Carol Cochran

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