Ayn Rand, Hallucinations, Criminalization, and Marriage Challenge: Mental Health Monday

It’s that time again … Mental Health Monday.  I’m happy to say I found a wide range of quality posts without having to spend much time searching.  This week, our posts cover modern political philosophy,  changing religious attitudes, the challenge of being vulnerable, the profile of psychotic hallucinations, the criminalization of those with mental illness, the costs and benefits of more medicine, and the challenges of marriage relationships with a mental illness.

To find these informative and inspiring posts, click on the title link below —

“Ayn Rand, Hallucinations, Criminalization, and Marriage Challenges: Mental Health Monday

mental illness photo: Mental Illness Awareness Poster MentalIllnessStigma.jpg

Finding Freedom from Religion or Freedom for Religion?

Today (July 4), Americans celebrate our Declaration of Independence from “British tyranny” (as it was then perceived.)  It was primarily a declaration economic and political independence (a reaction against “taxation without representation.”)  My thoughts today, however, turn to the “religious freedom” our ancestors sought in the new land.  I am particular interested in those “founding fathers” who signed the Declaration of Independence 237 years ago today.  Were they seeking “freedom from religion” or “freedom for religion”? And if it was “for religion,” what was the nature of this religion?

To read more, click on the title below —

“Declaring Independence: Economically, Politically, and Spiritually”

A Declaration of Independence (from ED)

A Declaration of Independence (from ED) from Kaila Prins in “Skinny” Genes

John Prine, Prison, Sex, Religion, Abe Lincoln, Grammar and Happy Meals (favorite Google Hits)

photo

I was inspired by a recent blog post I read to check out the Google searches people have used to find “A Way With Words”.

My overall impression is that Google Search is doing a fine job of directing readers I want to reach my way.  I hope, in turn, they are finding here much of what they are looking for.

I thought it might be a helpful service, however, to directly address a few of the searches I found particularly appealing –

has john prine ever been to prison

No, you are thinking of Johnny Cash, who recorded “Live at Folsom Prison”.  John Prine did write the song “Christmas in Prison” but he did this with his artistic imagination and poetic license (which he keeps in his billfold next to a picture of Fiona in a bathing suit).

the pursuit of happiness sex scene

Hmmm.  I guess I could work in a sex scene between my 70+ year old lead characters, but that would be just, well… gross.

religion is a system of wishful illusions

On the contrary, as C.S. Lewis once wrote – “If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were precisely those who thought most of the next.”

which president is better abe or george and why

Well, according to one of my new blogging buddies, Abraham Lincoln was actually one of our worst Presidents.  I disagree.  While it’s hard to definitively discern history, I believe Lincoln did as good a job managing the worst period in our nation’s history as any President before or after him has done (in much less difficult times).

why is there a place for grammar and mechanics in modern culture

Just as the sun rises in the morning and the moon rises as night. we rely on grammar rules and mechanics to provide anchor our words such that we can make beautiful sense.

how to write an interview on happy meal

Go to the source.  Old McDonald’s Farm.

The End of the World (as they knew it)

Tonight I’m doing a reading for the “Upstart Poets Series” at the People’s Bar in Bloomington, Indiana.   Here’s one of the pieces I’m going to share.

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There was a knock at the door and suddenly the Christmas lights went out.

“It’s the end of the world!” said Maura, an avid reader of apocalyptic literature who had yet to give up on the Mayan 2012 prediction.

“We need to pray.” said Paul, who, at 16, had found his way into a youth group at a local evangelical church.

“First we need to confess our sin,” said Father, rather quizzically.  He was a lapsed Catholic who hadn’t been to Mass in years and he wasn’t sure of confessional rules in the End Times.

“Okay, I’ll go get my cell phone.  I just downloaded a confessional app.” said Thomas who, after a season of doubting, had found a link to a site called “The Virtual Vatican” that had given his life new meaning and purpose.

“Let’s just answer the damn door and check the breakers!”  said Sonya, who had come out last year as an atheist.  Two years ago, she came out as a lesbian.  The year before that, as Bipolar.

Sonya answered the door.  Nobody was there.  She checked the breakers.  None of the fuses were blown.

“I tell you, it’s the end the world!” repeated Maura.

“Let us pray.” said Paul, bowing his head.

“First, confess.” said Dad, a little more certain.

“Where’s my cell phone?” asked Thomas.

“You guys are nuts.” declared Sonya.  ”I can’t wait to post this on my blog!”

“YOU ARE A BLOGGER?” they all exclaimed.

Sonya just smiled and quietly brushed a strand of hair from her face.

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What do you think?

Wrestling with Our Flesh; Glorifying God with Our Minds

15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. 16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.    (Romans 7:15-25, ESV)

Addictive sin was more than just a casual theological interest for the Apostle Paul – it was a profound, painful, personal struggle.  Paul doesn’t name his specific sin here – just what “very thing I hate” he keeps on doing.  This ambiguity does not weaken the application of this passage, but strengthens it – as we can fill in the blanks with our own addictive behavior.  What do I keep doing that is the very thing I most want to stop?  What am I avoiding that I most need to do?

I’ve spent the better part of the last 10 days wallowing in a pit of sloth, numbing my senses with episodes of crime thrillers and senseless sitcoms, eating excessive amounts of sugar products and washing them down with diet sodas, staying up all hours of the night for no good reason and sleeping away nearly every morning (typically my best time to pray and write).

I’m grateful to God I haven’t turned to favored addictive substances (aside from sugar and sugar substitutes) as I’ve wallowed in the pit.  But, by isolating myself from healthy and holy relationships, I have failed to “redeem the time” – instead allowing the sin of sloth to rule in my flesh and overtake my mind.

The good news is I find myself peering out from the edge of the pit, looking forward to what I hope will be a productive week.  More than this, I celebrate the good news that I haven’t had to climb out the pit alone.  In fact, even while I was in the depths these past ten days, the arms of Christ kept reaching out to me…

… in an encouraging e-mail my editor sent when she noticed my lapse in on-line presence.

….in a conversation with a local bookstore owner about my work in progress and a complimentary copy of Ken Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

… in the exuberant fellowship of my college roommate Joe and his son Dan, particularly as Dan played a few of his songs along the banks of the Ohio.

… over lunch with a local pastor, sharing our stories and discussing quality story-telling music we enjoy.

… in the news that a friend battling addiction is taking some key steps in treatment.

We fight a spiritual battle each day as we attempt to glorify God with our minds while our flesh turns to sin.  Sometimes it feels like we’re fighting a losing battle, but we can’t let our feelings overwhelm our faith.  Our own feeble flesh can not withstand enemy attacks, but the faith of Christ within, among, and around us keeps us moving forward.  Thank God.

"Jesus Christ" HUGE Mosaic Collage of Jesus Photos

“Jesus Christ” HUGE Mosaic Collage of Jesus Photos from  Valerie Redmon in Art, I Love !

I’ve Got Good News and Bad News (and they’re the same thing)

Meissonier, Jean-Louis-Ernest - Prophet Isaiah (c. 1838) - Oil on fiberboard 35.3x23.8cm

I will punish the world for its evil,

and the wicked for their iniquity;

I will put an end to the pomp of the arrogant,

and lay low the pompous pride of the ruthless.  (Isaiah 13:11)

In Isaiah 13, the prophet is addressing the faithful remnant of Israel (and all who suffer persecution) with harsh words about their persecutors.

Where is the Good News here?

The good news is that as pervasive as evil has become, it will not endure.  The reign of those who are wantonly wicked will come to an end on the day of the LORD.

Do you believe this?

There is a prevalent presumption in popular culture that there is a “divine spark” in all things, that there is good in everyone.

One of my virtual friends expressed this notion well when he said, “Even Hitler loved his dog.”

I don’t deny that all things were created good and that everyone is made in the image of God.  Further, I would say we shouldn’t “give up” on anyone or conclude that someone is beyond the grace of God.

But wickedness and evil are extremely powerful and harsh realities in our world and we can’t dismiss them with positive thinking or self-esteem therapy.  We need to hear and heed God’s warnings about wickedness in our own lives and share them with others.

I often hear people quote (out of context) the words of Jesus, “Don’t judge, lest ye be judged.)  Or, they may even refer to his word picture about having a log in your own eye and trying to remove a splinter out of another’s eye.  People conclude that we are to withhold all judgment, to be spiritually laissez-faire – “I’m okay; you’re okay.”

But Jesus doesn’t say to leave the logs and the splinters in your eyes so you can all be spiritually blind.

First, he says, take the log out of your own eye – address your own sin.  Then, deal with the splinters in the eyes of others.

We are in desperate need of this Gospel today – especially in the area of sexual sin.

When I was unfaithful to my wife – at first I was in denial.  But, when I was convicted by the Spirit of my sin, I confessed it and repented.  I did it personally with my wife, as well as publicly (in the best way I could).

Many people (well-meaning friends and family) advised me – “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”  What they were really saying, of course, is “Don’t take the log out of your eye or else you might see my splinter.”

We want forgiveness for things we refuse to confess.  We want mercy at no cost.  Our prayer should not simply be “Lord, have mercy.”  But, “Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

image above “Meissonier, Jean-Louis-Ernest – Prophet Isaiah (c. 1838)” from  Jason Urso in A Little Bit of Everything That I Love

Dear Dr. Love, You Should Change Your Name: “P.S.” by Jill McCorkle

Cezanne

“P.S.” has all the elements of a disgruntled Freudian romance (minus the sex).

It is written as a letter from “Hannah from three suburbs over” to her former marriage therapist – “Dr. Love”.  She bemoans the way she appeared after sessions “like s–t on a stick”.  She blames religion for the break-up of her marriage – “I think that marriage vows should include an escape clause that says the contract is broken if one party ups and makes a big switch in religion…”.  She regrets her investment in therapy – “I wish I could get all that money back from you.” Hannah has decided to move on – beyond therapy, beyond marriage, beyond religion.  She now realizes –

I am someone who does believe in the higher power of necessary medication.  Amen.  At times, a smidgen of this or that is just what you need.  I loved the feel of Demerol when I was in labor, and I don’t know what I would have done without that epidural — scream out lots of terrible things, I suspect, which I did anyway… And I believe in spiritual highs, too.  What I don’t believe in is someone having the power to dictate someone else’s spirituality or aesthetic code.

Hannah’s husband Jerry was not “born-again” when they married.  He was a Mensa nerd who worked at a Toyota dealership and solved Rubik’s cube.

But being normal wasn’t enough for Jerry, he had to always be into this or that.  He always had a new hobby, and he’d go at it full tilt for a few months and then move onto another interest.

From Sudoku to pottery, model trains to beer making to a kind of tag wrestling” Hannah refers to as “homoerotic dance”. Hannah goes on in her letter to speculate about what mental and emotional problems led Dr. Love to pursue the field of psychology.  She advises him not to charge her for the time spent reading her letters – “like that lawyer keeps doing every time I e-mail or call him back to answer a question he asked me.”  She wonders what his life is like at home, with his wife, after a day spent listening to other people’s marriage problems –

“She looks a bit older than you, and so I did wonder (when I saw the photo on your dresser) if she had had a husband before you and how you had adjusted to that or if you all have some different kind of marriage like a mentor/mentee, or mother and child.”

She recalls her “big confession” – having sex with the plumber – and admits it never really happened, that she had made it up as an interesting story because she was bored.

No, my biggest betrayal to Jerry is that I quit trying.  When I finally found my own voice, I realized I had nothing else I wanted to say to him.  I stopped talking, nothing feeding nothing until  nothing was huge and nothing begot nothing.  Feeling nothing is not good, but it’s where a lot of people stop and stay.  The nothingness is so delusional and numbing.

As a contemporary reader, I ache with the realization that Hannah is right – in so many relationships finding your own voice often leads to disruption. As a man who is separated from my wife, I feel convicted by her observation that a lot of people (like me) stop and stay with nothingness. As a person of faith, however, I find hope in these sacred words –

And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  (Genesis 1:2)

The Spirit of God moves, even in the void.  Out of nothingness, comes new life.

“P.S.” was first published in The Atlantic. It can be found within Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle.

image above from elly gay onto Artwork and More Galore: Art, music, politics, writing, books, women, photograhy, etc. GALORE

Pitiful, Persistent Prayers

Julian Fałat - Praying Old Man

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit.  (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19)

“I must say my prayers today whether I feel devout or not; but that is only as I must learn my grammar if I am ever to read the poets.”   ―     C.S. Lewis,  A Mind Awake: An Anthology of C. S. Lewis

For some time now, my prayers have been pitiful.  I’m not really sure if you can call them prayers at all.  When is it prayer and when is it just wishful thinking?   Worrying?  Complaining?

I look for words of advice in Scripture.  Here (in the passage above), Paul connects prayer with rejoicing, giving thanks.  What will I rejoice over today?

…. the beauty of an early Spring day.

… a bowl of honey-nut cheerios and warm cup of coffee.

… the promise that God listens to even the most pitiful prayers.

Prayer is to give thanks in all circumstances.

… for my family, even though they are miles away.

… for job prospects, though I am currently unemployed.

… for relative health, even with a chronic illness.

As C.S. Lewis writes, saying our prayers is like studying grammar.  It may seem pointless in the present, but over time we grow in our relationship with the One to whom we pray such that we can more fully experience abundant life – the joy, the peace, the love – we can only receive from God.

(image above “Julian Fałat – Praying Old Man” from Kayla Shifrin in Painting and Drawing)

Saving Joy: Better Than a Reality Show

You will say in that day:

“I will give thanks to you, O Lord,

for though you were angry with me,

your anger turned away,

that you might comfort me.  (Isaiah 12:1, ESV)

Some people reject the notion that God becomes angry with us.  Many flee from the idea that we are “sinners in the hands of an angry God” (as one Puritan pastor put it).

But there is no good news to be found in the concept of God as a stoic, cosmic force unaffected by our behavior.  God is deeply concerned about us – grieving our losses, celebrating our joys, and – yes, becoming angry with us when we sin.

The good news is not that God couldn’t care less how we behave, but that God doesn’t hold grudges.  As Isaiah writes – “your anger turned away, that you might comfort me.”  Though God becomes angry with us, God is also the One who best comforts us when we recognize our sin and turn away from it.

There is no comfort to be found in sin, though it seems to satisfy our senses for a short season – to scratch an itch.  Yet, it only causes more craving and produces a wound that only the Spirit of God can heal.

For some such words seem shallow… disingenuous… hokey… unreal.

For many “reality” is the sort of stuff you see on TV – seduction, obsession, steamy sex.

But this is not reality.  What is most real can’t be seen or tasted or touched.  What is most real is the joy we experience in a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

This is the Good News, as Isaiah expresses so beautifully –

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.    (Isaiah 12:3, ESV)

Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitants of Zion,

for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.    (Isaiah 12:6, ESV)

joy by susanne anette

joy from susanne anette

Life After Death

empty tomb

 

(1)  After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.  (2) And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  (3) His appearance was white like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.  (4) For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.  (5) But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  (6) He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.  (7) Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’  This is my message for you.”  (8) So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  (9) Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!”  And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.  (10) Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”   (Matthew 28:1-10)

The sun is peeking over the horizon as the two Mary’s approach the tomb where their friend, their teacher, the one who had healed them, was buried.  They had come to prepare his body for burial, having been prevented from doing so earlier because of the Sabbath.

Suddenly, the earth shakes beneath their feet.  The great stone covering the tomb rolls back.  A bright figure, with clothes as white as snow sits on the stone.  They are afraid.  The Roman guards posted to catch any potential body snatchers are frozen with fear, like dead men.

The angel atop the stone speaks to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.  He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said.  Come, see the place where he lay.”

The Marys, having come on a mission of mercy, suddenly find themselves in the midst of a miracle, the first witnesses to discover the Risen Christ.

Strange as it seems, we are often better prepared to deal with death than with new life.  The Marys know how to grieve, how to go through the motions of preparing the body, comforting one another in their loss, finding solace in quiet memories privately shared.  But new life?  What do you do when God brings someone, something, a relationship or a reality to life, that you had written off as dead.

I’ll give you an example.  My first experience in ministry was as a student chaplain in an institution for persons with severe and profound mental and physical handicaps.  In my time there I met a young man named Robbie Heckel.  Robbie had smooth dark hair.  He was a bit small for his age.  His most noticeable feature, however, was an extremely enlarged head.  He had been born with hydrocephalus, and was not expected to live out the year.  While I was there, he turned 11.

For most of his first 10 years, Robbie was left in bed to stare at blank walls, curtains pulled.  The only voices he heard were those of attendants talking about him or about their lives which had very little to do with him.

One day however, an older woman from a nearby church appeared and became Robbie’s adopted grandmother.  She spent 8 hours a day, 5 days a week sitting beside him, reading to him, telling him Bible stories, brushing his hair, sharing with him the love of Christ.  She brightened up the room with decorations.

She encouraged staff members to linger and talk with Robbie instead of about him.  She even recruited a physical therapist to give him foot messages.  I was there when, for the first time Robbie’s face came to life, more animated with emotion and feeling than anyone had ever witnessed.

What an amazing thing to see new life come to someone given up for dead.

The challenge for each of us this day is to receive the Spirit of new life God offers in the Risen Christ.

As the two Marys found out, you never know what God will do next.  You never know when God will bring back to life something (or Someone) we’ve written off as dead.

Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed!

 

image “empty tomb” from Robbie Allan in Trust