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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Church Wide Vow of Silence

A Church wide vow of silence.  Wouldn’t that be something to see?  Or hear, rather.

I love science fiction/fantasy novels and I dream of one day writing one.  Mostly I realize there are others more gifted than I to do the writing and I should stick to the reading.  But sometimes, I do a little writing or have a storyline idea floating around in my head.  One of the scenarios about which I dream of writing is a religion, with a history similar to that of Christianity, taking a vow of silence as an act of repentance. 

Sci-Fi/ Fantasy stories often represent our fondest wishes or our greatest fears.  A church wide vow of silence would not be a fear for me. 

Haven’t we said too much already?  There is such a history of words.  Hurtful words.  Hateful words.  Ignorant words.  Arrogant words.  Manipulative words.  What if we just stop?  Stop talking.   Stop trying to convert others.  Stop using religion as an excuse for discrimination.  Stop using God’s name as a way to minimize someone else’s pain.  Stop with the platitudes.  Stop using religion as just another way to blame the victim.  Wouldn’t that be a glorious act of repentance?!?! 

It might be tempting to make exceptions.  Maybe we could at least say, “God loves you, ” for example. Yet we could manage to say even those words in a way which sounds like we are talking to something we just scraped off the bottom of our shoes.   Considering the number of times I have heard “I am praying for you” said in a way which clearly means “you are SO going to hell,” I just don’t know what words with which we could possibly be trusted.  

I suppose it would be okay to very carefully and quietly talk about God amongst ourselves.  Very carefully.  I had a Seventh Day Adventist friend years ago.  I disagreed with her on many things but one thing I appreciated was the care with which she spoke about God, carefully trying to say only things which she believed were true in the deepest sense of the word.  Something to be learned there.

I know some of you might ask, “But if we don’t tell people God loves them, how will they know?”  We have used so many words.  Their echoes will resound long after we have stopped speaking.  Perhaps we could trust God to make sure the echoes which resound longest are those times when we did speak love.  Or, scripture talks about even stones will speak.  We have done such a lousy job of speaking surely the stones could do better.  Perhaps it is time we gave them a chance. 

But, since a church wide vow of silence doesn’t seem likely, I guess I will go on speaking and writing and hoping against hope the church will some day at least turn firmly away from proselytizing and 
toward speaking out for justice for all people.  Or perhaps I have better odds of writing that Sci-Fi novel.

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.