Barbra Graber, Associate Editor of Our Stories Untold

Barbra Graber, Editor of Our Stories Untold (2013 photo)

Who is Barbra Graber?

Name: Barbra Rebecca Graber barbra.graber@yahoo.com, 540-214-8874 (please text or leave message to identify yourself if first time caller)

Family:  Born in Iowa, the youngest of six children. Married to Dale Metzler in 1994.  Bonus daughter and son along with their families live in California.

Residence and work: Settled in Harrisonburg, VA in the late 70’s. Worked briefly for a regional Federal Grants Administration office, then taught and directed theater at Eastern Mennonite College, later Eastern Mennonite University. Retired in 2005, co-owns and manages a multi-family housing business with Dale.

Education: BA in English from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA in 1976.  Coursework in EMU’s graduate counseling program, 1997.  MFA in Theater at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, 1986.  Graduate coursework at USC’s Program for Gender Studies.

Ultimate joy: Supporting survivors of any age who are finding the courage to break silence about their abuse and the identity of their abuser.  Watching as strength and self-expression grow and victimhood lessens as they move into claiming their own life, a life no longer defined by what happened to them, but also free from pressure to ever forget or even forgive, but to accept and walk graciously and without shame in the truth of what is.

It is a joy to assure survivors that there is hope in our own inner wisdom and promptings of body, soul, time and nature to move us toward wholly embracing who we truly are, abuse and tragedy included. When I see survivors discover and embrace their own persistent process and time frame for shedding shame and silence it gives me new energy for this work. Walking with others who survived some form of what I survived is a sacred honor and joy.  It gives hope to the challenges I still face in my own life.

Barbra with her husband Dale and their dog Bosley.

Barbra with her husband Dale and their dog Bosley, 2013.

Ultimate past-times: 1) Taking part and taking action in the new civil rights movement to prevent sexual and gender based violence of all kinds, especially among my own tribe of Mennonites 2) Enjoying time with grandchildren, grand nieces and nephews and their families (if only I could see them more!)  3) Schmoozing with others over food and drink 2) Bike riding with Dale  3) Watching inspiring film and television 4) Feasting on the creative expression of others: theater, music, dance, art 6) Interacting with social media 7) Enjoying the company of animals and nature

Ultimate desire: To die at a ripe old age, knowing I’ve done everything in my power to ensure that babies born today will grow up with better chances of avoiding sexual molestation and gender based violence by the age of 18. Sexual violence continues at pandemic levels in our world. It is a public health crisis.  https://vimeo.com/60677991

Proudest moment: Sitting at the back of the Lehman Auditorium theater through standing ovations following performances of an original show conceived and directed with Kenneth J. Nafziger and students at Eastern Mennonite University in the early 90’s entitled “Home Coming Home.” We created dramatic and musical segments on the theme of Coming Home:

    • To the Body, as sacred temple
    • To the Earth, where all things are connected
    • To the Family, with the tragedy of abuse and dysfunction as well as the joy of togetherness
    • To Death, our natural place of rest

Lowest slump:
1) Discovering in my mid 30’s with utter disbelief –until I could no longer deny it –that the family I told myself was idyllic, close and wonderful, and the pacifist church to which I belonged was plagued with multi-generational incest, sexualized violence, harassment, and misogyny…all carefully covered over by denial and a pastoral, perfect image of the Mennonite home, family and church.

I’m thankful to all those who have contributed to the breaking of silence in our family and our church and supported me as I’ve pieced together the difficult truth of my life and now the difficult truth of my church’s troubling history of cover-up and collusion right up to the present.

Brag-worthy accolades:  

    • Award for Excellence and Best of Class Award from the National Religious Public Relations Council for Beyond the News: Sexual Abuse video, with Mennonite Media Ministries, Jerry Holsopple and Carolyn Heggen and the accompanying lecture drama tour across the US Mennonite landscape with Ted Swartz and actors from our AKIMBO theater company. 1992-1994
    • Finalist in the Humanities category of the New York International Film Festival for ‘Free Indeed”, a video about white privilege. With Mennonite Central Committee scriptwriting grant, 1996

Barbra'sOwlUltimate quote: “Searching beneath anxiety, one will find fear. And beneath fear hurt will be discovered. Beneath the hurt will be guilt, beneath the guilt lie rage and hatred.  But do not stop with this, for beneath the rage lies frustrated desire. Finally, beneath and beyond desire is love. In every feeling look deeply. Explore without ceasing. At bottom, love is.” Gerald May

Totem animal: 
I met an Owl when I was fasting in a jungle in Belize….

Biography (updated 2015)

Barbra Graber’s young life took a detour when she was sexually violated as a child by a pedophile ring in her home community of Wayland, Iowa.  As is common for child victims, the blueprint of early abuse led to more victimization until in her mid 30’s she, together with others of her siblings, walked out of denial, broke the silence and entered a long, winding journey toward healing.  

Miraculously her life is no longer defined by what happened to her, but her research and study, dedication to healing, justice and activism in the area of sexualized violence and its roots in patriarchal Christianity have been with her for more than three decades.

Barbra with her husband Dale and two grandchildren.

Barbra with her husband Dale and two grandchildren, 2014

Barbra was Director and Professor of EMU’s theater program over nearly two decades between 1981 and 2005. With her students she created a variety of  original theater productions: “Storm: an improvisation on the theme of the Sexes”, “Home Coming Home” with Kenneth J. Nafziger, and “Drippings of the Honeycomb.”

Also with Ted Swartz at EMU, between 1991 and 1998, she co-founded and directed AKIMBO, a community based professional theater with Mennonite themes and participants. In 1993 AKIMBO toured Mennonite Colleges with Carolyn Heggen and AKIMBO actors under a C. Henry Smith lectureship grant.

The work of this tour was later featured in a MennoMedia video with Jerry Holsopple, “Beyond the News: Sexual Abuse.” AKIMBO actors also performed “Suzanne, Tamar, and the Concubine”, three dramas of sexual violence from sacred texts in support of presenter Marie Fortune at a 1992 Sexual Violence: Framing the Ethical Questions conference.

During leaves from Eastern Mennonite University, Barbra continued graduate coursework and scholarly activity in theater, counseling, literature, women’s spirituality, and gender studies. She completed her MFA in Theater at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1986, and took coursework toward a Graduate Certificate in the newly formed Program for the Study of Women and Men in Society (now the Program for Gender Studies) at USC.

She found herself in Los Angeles during a profound cultural shift and a renaissance in women’s spirituality movements and was a research assistant for Dr. Gloria Orenstein, a leading scholar in the ancient religion of the Goddess and the return of the Divine Feminine.  

While at USC she performed at an Eco-feminism Conference and worked on the planning committee of a Women in Media conference with Betty Friedan. She later facilitated a panel on Myth and Ritual in Plays by Women and presented at the first International Women Playwrights Conference at SUNY Buffalo.

In 2014 Barbra attended her first SNAP Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests conference with Rachel Halder in Chicago, IL. This introduction led her to join with 11 others to form in 2015 the Anabaptist Mennonite Chapter of SNAP. She now leads a confidential and anonymous SNAP Survivor’s Support Group in Harrisonburg, VA on the first Thursday of every month. Call or text her at 540-214-8874 for the details. She also supports and helps create actions that challenge the church to better deal with and prevent sexual violence.

You may contact Barbra at 540-214-8874. Text first or leave a message to identify yourself as she does not answer calls from unidentified numbers.