Monday, December 29, 2014
To choke out the waters,
Of a dark baptism,
To beat the grave,
More than zombies;
More than eating without hunger;
More than drinking without thirst;
More than these little desires -
Saline for thirst
Sugar for hunger
Like Las Vegas as a church;
When the gasp explodes through it all,
There is life
Life springing from real desire
Not on the skin - But
In the veins
In the marrow
In the soul
There is an oxygen that can only be gasped
Sunday, December 14, 2014
When I became a parent it was whether I was ready or not. I wasn't. I thought I was, but alsa, i was not. What can prepare a person for this? Books? Therapy? Pet dog? Nothing. I entered in unprepared, and then with the title and responsibility of being a parent, these (wonderful) children of mine who made me a parent became a moving target that refused to sit still. They insisted upon growing up at what I have now determined is an unsustainable pace. They keep growing into situations for which neither they nor I are prepared to handle - only I am the one who notices this lack of preparation. The reality is that there is no preseason for parenthood, no scrimmages, no practice children to try parenthood out on. When you have children, it is game day, every day.
I love being a parent. I love my children more than I ever imagined I might - and I had imagined quite a bit of love. I wouldn't want life any other way.
Tuesday, December 09, 2014
(This is a long post -- essay)
Each of us is embedded within a variety of social contexts that have their beautiful parts and have their ugly parts. To others who share my various social systems I may appear to be one of the beautiful parts and to others I may be one of the ugly parts. I accept this reality. I am honored, however, to share a social system.
Whether it is a family, a work environment, a faith community, or a neighborhood, there are no social systems that are perfect. None can be. People are imperfect and in relationships we connect imperfections and synergize them. People are also amazing and in relationships we connnect these amazing aspects and synergize them. Social systems bring together its members and create something more than the sum of the independent members. In short, it's a beautiful mess.
Each of these social systems has an emerging and evolving culture of their own. Healthy social systems move toward stronger and well differentiated interconnnections and strong secure attachments with healthy boundaries. This is enabled through constructive conflict, generosity, and a good dose of repair when there is hurt. Unhealthy social systems either impose or neglect, destory or disengage, exploit or abdicate. They result in hurts that go unreparied and often a drift apart into ambiguity or an explosion. All are destructive.
One of the social systems I am embedded in is the faith community called, Churches of Christ. It is a branch or tribe of Christianity that I was raised in, formed (and continue forming) my faith within, and work within (professor at a university affiliated with this branch of Christianity). I know this social system very well and I love it very much. It is my family of faith. It is also the religious social system for whom I have the most critique. I love us and I want us to be better - thus critique.
And like any family, there is diversity among its members. There are disagreements, concerns, struggles, and fears. But also like any family, there are the things that keep the family a family. There are overarching agreements, similarities, and deep rooted loyalties that facilitate the very life of the social system.
In Churches of Christ, there is an agreed upon high respect for scripture (Biblical scripture), unified belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and that it is through Jesus that the redemption of all things is even possible.
In Churches of Christ, there are also many differences such as how to understand scripture, what the implications are for Jesus being the son of God, and what and who is involved in the redemption of all things. There are also differences on such relevant matters as gender roles in family and in church.
This "Open Letter" is such a case in point. It is a response written by blogger Adam Faughn to a congregation who has a female preaching intern and embedded within the "open letter" is a video of the preaching intern. What the "open letter" contrasted with the embedded video allows for here is a case study in how a social system is going about trying to both stay together as a system amidst diversity while at the same time trying preserve the integrity of the system itself.
For many outside the Churches of Christ, the idea of a female preaching intern may be a big fat yawn because "we dealt with that 20 yers ago (or 40 years ago)." If this is you, I urge you to consider that each soacial system changes at its own pace and addresses issues more organically and locally than might be assumed. Just because such matters have been "dealt with" in one social system does not determine when they should have been dealt with in another. Your social system has yet to deal with some issues that others have long since resolved.
For others outside the Churches of Christ, this is evidence of the embedded sexism within the social system called, Churches of Christ, and therefore serves as evidence that their choice not to associate with Churches of Christ, Christianity or perhaps religion itself is justified. I understand. But please also understand that every social system in which each of us is embedded has its own injustice. All injustice is ugly. This one happens to be one of ours - one of many.
What we see here is a family, a family of faith, having a a disagreement. One side is excited to assert its freedom and putting into practice the gender equality ethic asserted by the Apostle Paul when he said there is no longer male nor female. The other side fears that such actions are sinful disobedience and reference other words of the very same Paul. Thus, an "open letter" such as this serves as feedback into the larger social system in order to make things right.
However, each side asserts their position is right and has used scripture to support their claims. My assumption for both sides is that they are doing their very best to go about doing justice and at the same time both cannot be correct. This is a social dilemma that will likely not be resolved by one side convincing the other of its position, but rather will be resolved being able speak without being silenced, to share their views without being shamed, and to be accepted based on the extension of trust rather than compliance.
I want to make three statements on the matter and then close.
1. It is my desire that this family argument can be conducted in a manner that brings out the very best in each of us. In our fellowship we have a history of just giving up on each other and splitting and then not associating with each other. This is an embarrassing legacy. We have an opportunity right now to genuinely disagree while not pulling the plug on the very meaningful and important relationships we share. We cannot make claims of unity by cutting off all who disagree. The inevitible end to that process is being "right" and very, very alone.
2. From a theological position, I side with those who affirm gender equality in all church matters. We owe it to God, to srcipture, to society, and to young girls and women to no longer read scripture into sexism, but eliminate sexism by use of scripture. But I assert it locally, not generally. What I mean is that I hold my beliefs to myself and do not require others to hold them in order to remain in the same social system. It impacts my selection of a local congregation. It impacts how I converse with people at work. I hope I conduct myself in a manner that is generous toward others and authentically me. It is my hope and desire that I will not be cut off for how I geneuinely and honestly understand scripture. It is also my hope that although I have no intention of imposing, that I will influence. I want to influence without coercion so that if change happens or when change happpens it is authentic and legitimate.
3. If someone or some group does decide to cut off from me or my home congregation or various other shared social systems because of my beliefs or because of this matter, I will openly say this: that is going to hurt. And the closer the relationship the more it will hurt. Cutting off, however, will not convince me to change my mind. Perhaps there is some other way to engage in discourse that could change my mind as I am open to truth, but cutting off will not be a successful strategy to change me. I can understand if cutting off for the sake of preservation of a set of beliefs is more important than remaining in relationship (sort of), but I cannot deny that it will hurt. I will hurt and pray and grieve and heal and move forward with less of a social system.
In conclusion, this is an important conversation to have in its context. Let's have it without hurting each other. Let's show that we love each other.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
If we are on the dawn of a second wave of the civil rights movement, communities of faith had better be engaged and leading as opposed to sitting on the sideline. Pastors, ministers, clergy of all kinds of all faiths must assert their public positions to be voices of peace and love and change. They must motivate their congregants to find meaningful, productive, and transformational ways to do the same.
If clergy and communities of faith remain passive onlookers, what they will be passively onlooking upon is leadership taken by those who spread violence, stir hearts of people against each other, of people who have no higher calling but resolving their own angst at the expense of others. These are leaders whose logic can amount to nothing more than blame and their actions and leadership will take on the base and senseless actions that blame necessarily requires - revenge. Will we stand by and watch revenge take root? Will we let revenge and counter revenge spiral completely out of control? Will we let this day pass and it cost us two or three more decades until we can find a way to heal through all that revenge and try to move forward again?
If this is not the dawn of a second wave of the civil rights movement, then clergy and communities of faith should make it one. The energy is there. People are in the streets, literally, demanding some meaningful direction. Millions more people are in their homes awaiting the very same direction and leadership.
Letting this moment pass without action IS an expression of leadership. Letting this moment pass and hoping for things to just calm down and get back to normal is in itself a serious political and moral statement that the world in which we live is normal and good. Things are not normal and good. We do not live in a normal society. We do not live in a normal culture. We do not live in a normal America. We live in an American where shooting people is controversial, not horrible to everyone. We live in an America where rioting in the streets makes sense to far too many people. We live in an American where taking sides and protecting one's own smaller interests at the cost of someone else's interests makes sense. In short, division is what is normal in America. Standing by and hoping for things to return to how they were is an active and aggressive stance for division, for future violence, and for more of the same.
If communities of faith have struggled for relevance in a culture that is trying to ignore them, then here is your chance to show what you are made of. Here is your chance to demonstrate your calling, your mission, and your ancient-future truth of peace, love, and reconciliation.
Tuesday, November 25, 2014
One of the most important things he tackles in this letter is the idea that doing the right thing or things that are deemed in certain circles as right are not what matters. These things do not make you better than anyone else. It is merely an attempt to assert privileges.
He specifically addressed one of the most important cultural issues of the day for Jews - circumcision. This tradition dates back to their father Abraham. For them it was the identification of proper faith. It is not easy for 21st century Americans to relate to circumcision as some holy thing, but we might relate to "going to church," reading the Bible, or some other good thing that seems to mark purity of faith. Don't get me wrong - these are great things, but not things that make us great. Make sense? What Paul said was all of that meant nothing if there was a void in loving others. While the topic of circumcision is not very relatable, the process of bypassing true love of others by some privilege asserting behaviors is alive today.
Asserting some level of cultural privilege necessarily gets in the way of loving each other. In Paul's most revealing and striking statement on privilege, he unambiguously attacks privilege by saying that "There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male or female for all are one in Christ Jesus." One, two, three, Paul takes on three of the most significant categories of privilege and destroys them: ethnicity, gender, and power.
Finally, Paul is completely transparent about his motivation for being so strong with his words. He is dead to himself and alive in Jesus. He gave up all of his religious privilege to follow Jesus. He was on the fast track to leadership in the Jewish religious system. Proclaiming a faith in Jesus was a career killer for him. He gave up status and most likely wealth to side with the minority, to side with the Greeks, to side with the poor - the very thing he was eager to do.
Paul's rhetoric is so powerful and so relevant, even 2000 years later.
Sunday, November 16, 2014
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Tuesday, October 28, 2014
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Monday, October 20, 2014
Saturday, October 11, 2014
Wednesday, October 08, 2014
So far away;
Into the wind,
Over the water,
To the horizon,
Plunged down deep -
We are one;
I am in you;
You are in me;
No matter where I've been:
Malibu with a crashing cold surf,
Destin with soft white sand,
Accra with African Palm,
You've always had part of me
They can never hold;
The ships come in
Pushing white foam,
Buoyed impossibly full,
Laden with hope,
And at the Gate,
You let them all in
To tell me another secret,
And I look to you
Like a child looks to giants for wisdom,
A speck on the shore,
Surrounded by the relentless
Wave after wave of wisdom;
Such mysterious and violent wisdom,
But I am not afraid of you;
Your spray over the rocks
Cools my temper in the hot sun,
Your rhythm on pebbled shore
Teaches my heart how to pound and ease,
Your million water colors
Tell me to feel all my feelings,
Your winter fog wall
Is a shield about me,
Proves there is Infinity;
I want to see you!
But I can wait to see you again,
For you have taught me Temperance,
You have taught me Baptism;
The River will eventually flow to you,
I can wait,
Because it is inevitable,
I will see you again
I am in you;
You are in me.
Monday, October 06, 2014
I have seen couples at a restuarant unable to utter a word to each other. I watch and wonder what is the depth of their intimacy. I wonder whether they are angry with each other or whether the life has drained from their relationship. I wonder a lot of things and none of them are good. And sometimes my prayer life looks like that couple who can't find a single word to say to each other.
Prayer, what can be a simple conversation, a desperate wail, a deep confiding, an intimate connection, an expression of gratitude, an attentive listening, can also sometimes be a sort of awkward moment, an uncomfortable social situation - it can feel like a blind date mismatch.
I wish for prayer to be easier, more in the flow of my life. I wish for the mere experience of something to fling me automatically into prayer, like the thing that happened that I cannot wait to share and then I do share and turn MY experience into OUR experience. And sometimes it is, but sometimes it isn't. I wish the very angst I feel, the joy the bursts within me, the laughter that explodes, the hurt, the hope, the uncertainty, the anxiety, the fear, the optimism, the dreaming, the...I wish everything I think and feel was prayer.
And maybe it is, in some sense. Maybe it's all prayer. Maybe having an intermittent prayer disability is not some new thing or the dashboard light indicating low faith. Perhaps I am not alone to shoulder the responsibility of prayer. Perhaps...
"...the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans." - Romans 8:26
Sunday, October 05, 2014
When I believed everything,
Everyone ever said,
Because everyone was every bit good;
One honest tear
Cut like a diamond blade
Through the granite shelf;
Sunlight pierced through
Quivering, formerly safe boysoul,
Confused in a manbody - a broken manworld
So bruised; so scarred;
So beaten up by theology thugs,
Charlatans, Minions, and Monsters,
The Biblically conflicted and confused,
And legions of misguided innocents,
All filling their roles
For perpetuation of abomination,
One tear bleeding toxins
Of profound sadness;
When someone could have told a boy the truth
But hid it under a bushel instead -
Instead, a tear:
Too honest to abandon truth;
Too broken to risk seeking it;
Too angry to see straight;
Too tired to shake off sadness;
So overwhelmed by the massive soulgaps
Exposed when illusions wore off
Holes so deep they can't be filled for me,
But what about my son?
Saturday, September 06, 2014
Fear didn't speak English - not in the conversation I was listening to. It spoke its own language. It was not a spoken language at all or even a nonverbal language. Fear spoke one of the emotional languages, so it was not easy for me to interpret the meaning of what it said in any efficient or quick way. I labored heavily translating fear-speak into English. It was exhausting at times.
I write down everything I heard. Here is what Fear believes about me:
Fear believes I am weak. It says I am merely the sum of my instincts and so is everyone else. It believes that the powerful will dominate and that I am not powerful.
Fear believes I am stupid. It wants to convince me that I don't think right and everyone else knows it - and everyone else exploits it. It wants me to believe that the joke is on me, that everyone else holds in their laughter until I am gone, and then their mocking, contemptuous and gleeful laughter pours out at my expense.
Fear believes my body is ugly. It says I am undesirable. It wants me to believe that anyone who gives me attention can have me, that affirmation is enough, that affirmation is all there is. It believes that my body is not spiritual, that my body is worthless, that my body is the problem.
Fear believes that I am dying. It says death is the end and the end is near. It says we are all dying and therefore life is pointless. Fear believes life ends when the body quits.
Fear believes that I am insignificant. It says I do not matter, that my life makes no difference, that my death would not even be noticed.
Fear believes I am powerless. It wants to convince me that life happens to me and there is nothing I can do about it. It is trying to find a way to get me to believe that I cannot resist, that I cannot subvert, that I cannot be myself because an identity will be issued to me regardless of who I am.
Fear believes I am unlovable. It wants me to assume that if people really knew me they would hate me. It wants to convince me that pretending is my best chance for love, that being fake is the pathway to acceptance.
Fear believes I am unforgivable. It wants me to believe that I have done too much that is too wrong, that I am permanently stained, that I am broken beyond repair. Fear wants to convince me that I cannot be OK because of what I've done.
Fear believes I will never get home - because there is no such thing. It says I was born to be homeless, that there is no where to go, that the very deepest and purest longing of my heart is a lie. It wants to convince me that my longing for home is evidence that I am crazy.
Fear believes I am alone, completely isolated. It says people aren't worth trusting and that it's all up too me. It says that friendship with Fear is the best I can do.
Fear believes I should worry all the time. It desires for me to be consumed in anxiety. It wants to convince me that hope is for fools and that peace is a lie because it is impossible.
Fear believes gratification is the solution, that distraction solves problems. Fear says pain is the enemy and that medication, gratification, and sedation are the solution. It believe numb comfort is the highest achievement.
After listening to what Fear believes about me, I had this response:
Fear does not know me.
Fear does not understand me.
Fear underestimates me badly.
Fear does not know God.
Fear has nothing better to do.
Fear is the opposite of everything I know of love.
Fear is the absence of love.
Fear is death in slow motion.
Fear is desperate to justify its existence.
Fear is the taproot of hate: hate of self, hate of other, hate of God.
Fear has many words, but nothing to say.
Fear has many ideas, but none of them life-giving.
Fear is death energy.
Fear makes many claims, but none of them are true.
None of us is what Fear believes us to be.
We are children of God, born with the DNA of our parents - God.
We are vulnerable, yet strong;
We are sensitive, but fierce;
Our lives have inherent, intrinsic, and immutable meaning;
Our collective mistakes are a single drop of water in the galaxy;
We are the answer to God's question, "what is the most loveable thing I could create?"
Inside of us are infinite capacities for beauty, compassion, love, courage;
We were meant for each other, to help tap into our infinite capacities;
We were meant to live, to love, and to long for home;
The only power Fear has is when its lies are believed as truth.
Monday, September 01, 2014
Thursday, August 28, 2014
Sometimes confession is repugnant to people because sometimes confession is forced. It is the outcome of oppressive acts perpetrated by the powerful. Even if there is some genuine desire to draw out some genuine sense of contriteness, such an outcome cannot be forced. Forced confession, even if it is a true telling of the wrongs, is contrived contriteness.
Some people view confession like self-harm, like spiritual cutting. Why in the world would a person do that to themselves? Others view confession as some sort of exhibitionism - a desperate move for attention. And to be sure, there are some people who share their darkest secrets for these purposes, but these people are not actually confessing. There are a variety of things they may be doing, but confession, in these cases, is not one of them.
So, where is this "joy" in confession?
The joy in confession comes in the relief felt in taking a secret from inside and setting it on the outside, into a social context of you and another who loves you no matter what. Two can bear the weight of the sin more than one. When confession is a discipline, a common thing, the practice of the day or week, it loses its fearful anticipation of what bad thing might happen in confession and turns into the desired process that provides so much relief of holding in anything for too long.
When confession is a frequent discipline, it functions like other normal part of the day - exhaling, going to sleep, going to the bathroom, perhaps sneezing. In the discipline of confession, there is no sense to be made of waiting for some big infraction or for the minor infractions to accumulate to a critical mass. Daily confession is spiritual health like exercise is the body.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
When it intrudes,
Like a third lung in the chest,
Pressing everything else out of place;
Heart pushed back,
Tears pushed up,
Soul pushed down.
When it intrudes,
Makes announcements, at strange times,
Like television commercials,
Drowning out meaningful conversation,
Tarantino of dreams
Shyamalan of visions
Steven King of memories.
When it intrudes,
Weighs in at twice bodyweight,
Like instant obesity,
With a sweat-sheen of shame,
Oh unwelcomed intruder,
You are invited,
Into the sea,
Into Hell where you belong
This space is reserved for the One,
Who lived pre-Ache
And outlives all Aches
And redeems the mess you made
With soothing mercy balm
To the soresoul
To the worrysoul
To the hopesoul
Monday, August 25, 2014
Wounds so slow to heal;
Places so easy to wound;
We can get so afraid,
Because it can hurt so bad
Just to be touched
We wonder why flesh covers bone,
And not the other way around;
We fight like warriors,
But we are built to play and dance -
Too - This place is just too
The sting after sting after sting after sting - they just keep stinging,
To stop the shock - get stuck one more time.
Were we even meant for this place?
A parody of home,
A caricature of home -
This is bizarro home!
With cracked mirrors that lie,
And full of things that die,
How are ever going to get some rest?
I want to sing a song
And walk through the melody
That opens the door home
Close my eyes
With a song I know from home
I'll just sing til I'm there
Let's just sing our way there
We'll join a song already going
And it will carry us home
The Spiritsong in our voice
And we are home
Sunday, August 17, 2014
Saturday, August 16, 2014
To push the idea of systems even further, the MFT views the social system as the client, not a collection of clients. MFTs treat families in which someone bears the symptom of depression as opposed to an individual with depressive symptom that also happens to have a family. Context is everything for MFTs.
But what would happen if MFTs engaged on a level one step up from the family system? What if MFTs entered the system at the community level? What does MFT work look like at the community level?
Well, the good news is that it is happening already and it is happening more and more frequently. Here is what I mean: Traditionally when a family comes in with a child with school problems, MFTs think of the family taking their position relative to the school system. That is excellent. But now MFTs are engaging at the school level seeking to help develop systemic processes in the school to help families. When a family comes to therapy because their child is not complying with his diabetes regime we consider the medical community - and that is awesome. But now MFTs are developing ways to collaborate with medical professionals to help families to work in the context of other families with the similar challenges to build supportive communities of families. Healing happens better in community.
As mental health professionals trained in systems thinking, MFTs are taking lead in creative ways to engage at the community level for the benefit of individuals, couples, families, and the overall health of the community.
It is now more common than ever for an MFTs to engage with:
- Hospitals, medical centers, and clinics
- Public and privates schools, homeschool co-ops, and school districts
- Non-profits, service organizations, and agencies that serve specific populations or needs
- International NGOs, mission groups, and relief organizations
- Religious congregations, parachurch organizations, and faith-based agencies
- Neighborhoods and community associations
Friday, August 15, 2014
I don’t like it – the language that is. The language that has become the most common way to talk about the problem called depression is also a personal identity statement. This is not good.
Think about it – people fighting cancer do not say, “I am cancer.” People who have the flu do not say, “I am flu.” And yet, the most common way to communicate a struggle with depression is to make an identity statement – “I am depressed.”
So, what’s the big deal? Who cares how a person articulates their experience? Isn’t this just a nit-picky thing for academics to argue about as they try to sound important enough to justify their position?
Well, as it turns out, it matters quite a bit. Here is why:
Objectification. When a person says, “I am depressed,” they are making a self-objectifying statement. Objectification is treating a person like a thing, and it is corrosive to the soul. No person is the problem that they are dealing with, and yet that is what “I am depressed” is communicating and reinforcing. Furthermore, When the rest of us allow depression and identity to be synonymous, we participate in the objectification. People deal with problems, but people are not problems.
Dangerous. When people say, “I am depressed,” they are making no distinction between the problem they are dealing with and who they are. When there is no distinction between a person and the problem the only way to get rid of the problem is to get rid of the person. WHOA! This just got real. When the problem is as insidious as depression and people identify themselves as the problem, it can seem logically impossible to get rid of the problem without harming the self. With depression increasing the risk of suicide, this is no small matter.
Externalizing is healing. When we are able use language that makes a distinction between depression and the person, the problem can be externalized. When depression can be understood as something other than the self and instead something that happens to us, that ambushes us, that pays us unwelcomed visits, the problem can be resisted without damaging oneself. Many people experience some relief with the simple distinction that they are not the problem.
Just changing the way we communicate about depression, and mental health issues of all kinds, can help bring some relief. Changing how we communicate about mental health is a way that all of us can be part of a supportive social system for people struggling with depression. It is certainly not the cure, but it can contribute to a cure, it can be a first step to a cure.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
The tragic death of Robin Williams has caused quite a bit of conversation about depression and suicide. The topic is difficult enough to discuss all on its own, but in the midst of shock and grief over someone so loved as Robin Williams, the conversation becomes even more challenging – and even more salient.
There are social narratives of depression and suicide that inform, challenge or reinforce existing beliefs and ideas people have concerning these topics. Some of the narratives are accurate and useful while other narratives are riddled with flaws and are not the least bit constructive. Here are four narrative about depression and/or suicide that do not help.
The Freedom Narrative. One of the suicide narratives that is difficult to handle is the freedom narrative. The Academy decided the go this route. We all love the genie metaphor and the iconic voice work Robin Williams did in Aladdin. The image below is awesome and memorable. The play on words is clever. However, the assumptions supporting the message are troubling.
The Freedom Narrative is meant to be generous and liberating, but what appears to be a message meant for the one who died is really an attempt for those of us remaining to be soothed – and in some way let off the hook for the tragedy. Of course is it not my fault Rabin Williams is dead, but at the same time I feel terrible about it and wish it did not happen. The Freedom Narrative is an attempt to gloss over the tragedy without responsibility.
But if the embedded selfishness in the Freedom Narrative of suicide were not enough of a problem, the message it gives to those who are on the brink is worse. People contemplating taking their own life are in such a dark and pained place that they are looking for a meaningful end to the pain and suffering. None of these people desires to take their own life, but when every other option appears to be a dead end, then taking the dead end option makes sense. The Freedom Narrative allows for the literal dead end option to appear far more reasonable than it is.
The Choice Narrative. Another suicide narrative that is seriously flawed in its failure of depth is the Choice Narrative. Matt Walsh has espoused this narrative and aggressively defended it on his blog. The Choice Narrative functions in many ways (ironically) as the opposite of the Freedom Narrative. The Choice Narrative assigns complete and total responsibility for the death of the individual on the individual and only the individual – without exception.
This is a flawed and risky blame-the-victim narrative that serves to absolve everyone from any responsibility, as though people just end their lives out of context. Only through the myopic lens of hyper-individualism does such a narrative begin to make any sense.
Walsh seems too understand that the effects of suicide are contextual in that people who knew and cared about the person who died are hurt, but fails completely too understand how context can contribute to the suicide itself.
He makes the same mistake many people do when trying to make sense of something so tragic – going to the single story. Suicide is NEVER a single story of a person who takes their own life. There is ALWAYS a complex interplays of biological, psychological, social, and spiritual factors with each suicide. Suicide is not the problem in and of itself, it is the horrific symptom of a complex systemic function and dysfunction on all levels.
To say that it suicide “is a choice – end of discussion” fails to address the issue. It is a gloss over just as much as the Freedom narrative. The Choice Narrative:
- Is not a thoughtful or accurate understanding of suicide
- Leaves people unnecessarily absolved or hurting even more
- Does not prevent future suicides
- Hurts others in its self-righteous disposition
- Fails completely to demonstrate empathy for the hurting people who live with the aftermath
- Increases the risk of suicide because people on the verge are only discouraged by the necessary social distance that the embedded blame causes
Spirituality, religion, and faith can serve as protective factors against depression and suicide, but there is no evidence that a deep faith, regardless of the religion or spiritual bent, is an impenetrable psychological dome of mental health perfection. People of faith fight depression. In fact, Jeremiah the Old Testament prophet would most likely have been diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder. Did God judge him for having no faith? Nope. Did God just heal Jeremiah’s depression because he was a believer? Nope. He did find Jeremiah a good follower just as he was. Depression did not disqualify him from service. In fact, there were times when it drove him toward a deep and meaningful outpouring of pain that people can identify with.
Another sliver of the Spiritual Narrative is that suicide is a one way ticket to Hell. This perspective is completely unsupportable and is rooted in a theology that is void of the grace and generosity of the God of the Bible and the Jesus found in the new testament. No, of course God does not desire suicide, but what kind of God sends someone to Hell forever just after that person has already been through Hell on Earth?
It is a contempt of scripture to use it for the blaming or damning of people who suffer from depression and end up taking their own life.
The Disease Narrative. This is one of the perspectives I hear from people in my field – mental health practitioners. I have a problem with the word disease in this context. The reason I have a problem with the word is that due to its connotation, it does a few unintended things that are not helpful at all.
For many people, the word “disease” is reserved for infections that are bacterial, viral, or fungal in nature or a process that is in their minds tangible, like heart disease. When the word “disease” is used to describe something that looks like a “behavior,” the word become unhelpful. For example, addiction as disease makes no sense because there is an observable behavior that appears to be synonymous with the diagnosis. Thus, when the word “disease” is used and there is not an infection or condition that can be identified AND there is an identifiable behavior that is present, the whole conversation about the problem gets dismissed and people get polarized talking about the definition of the problem, but not the problem.
For others the term disease is debilitating. If something is a disease it means that it is beyond their capacity to resolve it. For some people there is a debilitating permanence connected to the term and thus makes treatment seem like a meaningless waste of time and energy.
Finally, it seems like the term “disease” is used as push back against people who deny that there is a problem. It is as if the problem is elevated to the level of “disease",” then people will take you seriously. In my opinion, the disease language is more about being taken seriously in a world that objectifies, stigmatizes, and dismisses what it does not understand or would prefer not to deal with than it is about a meaningful and useful terminology. The Disease Narrative is playing defense in an offensive world.
Depression and suicide are not easy topics to discuss ever, but are even more difficult or more charged when we are still aching from a loss from suicide. My suggestion is to be generous and thoughtful when discussing these topics without giving in to simply dismissing it altogether. There are many narratives about depression and suicide and many of them do not help in conversations because they are infused with assumptions that are filled with blame, abdication, or dismissal. And yet, many of these narratives are so easy to latch on to because they are plenty, come from what seem to be trusted sources, or allow for simply closure and a moving on to the next topic.
Monday, August 11, 2014
There is no way to tell the whole story of any story. Words capture as much as an image at a moment in time. All the smells, sights, sounds, sensations, tastes and moods cannot be gathered into writing.
Such is true with gathering words to write about Kenya life. What was it like day and day out at MITS? Being submerged into a culture different than my own made for everything being worth noting. I even understood the people I knew from the states differently in Kenya. Context can change the meaning of something that itself does not change. Weird, but true.
There are four things I want to share that were a constant experience in Kenya: weather, mobility, access, and time.
Weather: The weather is important no matter where a person lives, but I would argue that it is more important in Kenya than in the states. The reason has not so much to do with the weather, but rather than so much of Kenyan life is outdoors.
We were within about 100 miles from being on the equator. Prior to going to Kenya, my assumption was that being so close to the equator would mean being super hot. I geared up for it. I had been to Ghana twice, about 300 miles north of the equator, and it was always hot there. However, where we were in Kenya was about a mile high in elevation. Mornings were cool, in the 50’s and days were warm, but not hot, in the high 70’s and maybe low 80’s. Days run about 12 hours near the equator. Since we were south of the equator, it was technically winter in Kenya. Felt pretty good to me.
It rained once while we were there, which of course prompted a chorus of Toto’s 1980’s song, Africa, more than once. The rain was not a deluge as it was not rainy season, however, the rain mixing with the dirt there made for some of stickiest clay-mud I have ever experienced. Since all walking paths and roads at MITS (and everywhere) are dirt, there is no escaping the clay-mud when it rains. Yes, read NO SIDEWALKS.
The way that the mud-clay accumulated on the bottoms of shoes was extraordinary. It was not the sloppy mud that is so messy, but sloshes off after some accumulation. It was not clay that sticks, but might knock off. It felt as though with every step the mud-clay accumulated a little more with the end result being an every increasing heel of some accidental Kenyan platform shoe.
When it dried, it wanted to solidify so hard as to simply become part of your shoe.
Getting around. There is more walking in Kenya than in the states. A lot more walking. I had a 30 minute walk to get from where I stayed to where I taught. Had I a car, I would have driven it. But no one does that. Long slow walks are part of the life in Kenya. It was good as it provided opportunity for conversation and getting to know people.
In the states, 30 minute commutes are singular activities with radio too offset the solitude. I liked the rhythm of daily walks.
Driving was necessary in order to get into the city or run to the store for something that was not at any of the local vendors. And driving is terrifying. With random, massive, and unexpected speed bumps and humps, with driving on what I consider the wrong side of the road, with the aggressive passing, with all the honking and flickering of the headlights, with all the “overspeeding” (as they call it), and herky-jerky here and there, side to side, speed up fast and brake driving action, it is enough to make one never want to be in a vehicle ever again.
Locks. Everything is behind a pad lock, gate and wall. Security is an issue. Poverty is just life. Taking what is not yours is not acceptable, but it is understood to be a common occurrence. The challenge with everything being behind a padlock is that most of the locked were key locks with a single set of keys – that were in someone else’s hands when you wanted them.
Not having access to the place you are staying can make for a great deal of insecurity, especially bathroom insecurity.
Time (now). Now is the time. Clocks, schedules, appointments, deadlines, and so many of the situations that time-obsessed Americans tether to the clock are not so much in Africa. Although the more westernized style of educated Kenyans does lean toward time-centered flow of the day, there is still a sense that there is Africa time – which is when it happens. Time is now. We are here now and that is what matters.
There are ups sides and down sides to this. Being present in the moment is easier as a Kenyan. There is less worry about the future as today is all that there is to deal with. Americans may view this as an unproductive way to go about living, and in some measures of American productivity, it is. However, what Americans lose in their ever time-conscious worldview is the moment in which they are living. This can come at a high cost with excesses resulting in regret.
Kenyan life and American life differ, sometimes greatly. I hope to capture being in the moment more now than I did before.