A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

My Own Mental Illness And Words To Those In That Darkness

Again our world has been shaken by the effects of mental illness.  Again there is a clamor of voices, who is to blame, what should we say, what should we do.  It seems easy to talk about the “issue” or to pass judgment or glorify one who is gone.  Some of what we say is beautiful, some thought provoking, some horrifying.  But, I am left wanting to say something to those in the trenches, those struggling this very moment with darkness, despair, or overwhelming anxiety.  

My brother, my sister you are precious, you are brave.  If the world could see the darkness you face we would be humbled by your courage.  

We speak words on top of each other trying to find a balance between honoring the lives of those whom we have lost, comforting the ones left behind, and yet deterring you from terminal paths.  We try everything from shame to the fires of hell to frighten you into remaining here with us lest hope be lost.  But, it is always the case, when the terror of hell becomes the best motivation for a choice, something is terribly wrong.  And shame does no good.  

We want to harry you to therapy or sweet talk you into medication.  But perhaps what would be best is, for those of us who can, to come along beside you and speak our own experiences.  The silence must be broken to shatter the shame and then perhaps there will be one less obstacle for you to face in your weariness.  

Once I faced some darkness.  For a time I wrestled with anxiety.  I say wrestled but I think in the worst of times wrestling with it would have been a relief.  I couldn’t get a hold of it enough to wrestle.  It was an allusive, slippery thing.  Before I could grasp even a corner of one irrational thought to face it for what it was, another would spring up and then another and another always slipping beyond my fingertips.  Time, and work, and cognitive behavioral therapy later and eventually it became more akin to whack-a-mole: attempting to smack down irrational thoughts before they got a hold, only for another to pop up again and again.  Yep, whack-a-mole in my mind was a vast improvement.  

I still get to play mental whack-a-mole from time to time but things are soooo much better.  My brother, my sister, there is hope. 

I remember my therapist suggesting I try to laugh at my irrational thoughts.  I tried.   I don’t think I ever managed even a half hearted chuckle.  There just didn’t seem to be anything funny about no longer being able to trust my own mind.  I am humbled by those who manage to laugh. My journey with anxiety was relatively brief compared to many.  For those who fight for years and years I have a great respect.  

But no matter how monumental the battle, hope is not to be found in quitting.  Please don’t quit.  Gather all the weapons you can find: counseling, medication, family, friends, exercise, art, the beauty of nature, knowledge, spirituality, helping others.   Keep fighting.  The rest of us will fight alongside you when we can and when we can’t it is our duty to clear away as many obstacles as possible, to hear you when you cry out for another weapon, to honor you as a warrior.    

My sister, my brother you are precious, you are brave.  I know you are weary.  Please don’t quit.  There is hope.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Removing "Well, at least..." From Our Vocabulary

There have been some events of late which crystallized for me the reality of stark, extreme, excruciating injustice run rampant in our world.  I am not trying to be cryptic in not elaborating upon what those events were.  These weren’t all large things but somehow several things working together painted a clear picture in my mind of the scope and minute detail of the injustice enmeshed in our world.  It wouldn’t make sense to anyone else.  It barely makes sense to me. 

But as I ponder heartbreaks and tragedies and near misses and such another thing came clear to me: there are three little words which I would like to remove from our vocabulary when we are speaking to someone facing difficulties or grief.  These three little words are “well, at least.”  We think we say “well, at least” to cheer people up, to help them look on the bright side.  “Well, at least you’re young.”  “ Well at least you had many years together.”  “Well, at least you know the truth now.”  “Well, at least you didn’t lose everything.” Two of my favorites, said to someone who has lost a spouse: “Well, at least you have your children.” And “Well, at least you didn’t have any children.” Laying them out side by side kind of shows the ridiculous nature of these well meaning comments.  How can two opposite statements both be bright sides?  When we say, “well, at least” we may think we are comforting someone else but in reality we are comforting ourselves.  We are uncomfortable with someone else’s pain and are trying to make it seem smaller.  Sometimes there is a bright side but if there is, the person in pain will likely need to find it and has a right to claim it him/herself.   It is one thing for the crucified to break into the song  “Always look on the Bright Side of Life.” (From Monty Python’s the “Life of Brian”)  It is quite something else for the onlookers to ask such a thing of those suffering.  The former is amusing dark humor.  The latter is rank insensitivity and selfishness.

I recently almost said, “Well, at least…” to a friend.  I understand the temptation.  But, I am so glad I stopped myself and listened instead.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Supreme Court Decision and What My Faith Is Not

I am very disturbed by the Supreme Court decision regarding the Hobby Lobby case.  Others have spoken more knowledgeably and eloquently on this topic than I could.  Instead I would like to address what this case has to do with faith.  I feel compelled, more specifically, to state what this case does NOT have to do with my faith.

My faith is not about believing my religious freedom is infringed upon if I am prevented from forcing others to live according to my beliefs. 

Nor does my faith mean choosing when to believe science, relying on science for everything from transportation to health care but ignoring science whenever the results of scientific studies are politically or religiously inconvenient.

My faith has nothing to do with siding with the powerful.  Again.  And again.  And again.

Claiming I am a follower of Jesus does not mean believing a company, a politician, or any public figure is beyond criticism as long as they claim to be a born again Christian and are against abortion and homosexuality.

I am all for standing up for one’s beliefs….which does not look anything like judging others, demanding preferential treatment, or blindly praising anyone who claims his/her actions as Christian

There is an aspect of my faith which is not purely logical because faith speaks to things which are beyond words, much like poetry and art.  This does not give me license to ignore logic to the detriment of others.   If your faith calls you to try walking on water, go for it.  But using faith as an excuse to throw someone else into the stormy sea is not okay. 

Therefore, “I believe” is not an adequate rationale for public policy.

Yet again, this week, news events painted a picture of Christianity which I fine infuriating.  This picture is far from what my faith looks like to me.  I hope it is an inaccurate picture for many but when this type of thing keeps happening and I hear people celebrating such decisions my hope wanes.  Judgmental, pushy, seeking preferential treatment, ignorant of science…none of these seem like the descriptors for which people of faith should be striving.  Not a great image for evangelism (if I believed in evangelism) nor a great way to love our neighbors. 

To my fellow Jesus followers I issue a plea to consider this simple litmus test:  if a particular stance makes life easier for those with great power and great wealth and more difficult for those with little power and little money, it likely has nothing to do with following Jesus.