NOTE FROM PASTOR J R FOR AUGUST 20, 2014
I’m still on my mini-sabbatical for the month of August but feel compelled to write this Note from Pastor J R. I hasten to mention that some of what I use below is not original with me, so I owe a debt to all of the wise authors of articles I’ve read on suicide in the last week or so. They helped me tremendously in formulating my words to address the issue of suicide as a Christian Pastor from a grace perspective.
While in Cleveland last week for Gay Games 9, I learned of the tragic news of the death of Robin Williams. Of course the public outpouring from every sector was tremendous. This man touched a lot of people’s lives. He connected deeply in a lighthearted way with such a broad cross section of people. His inner child was his outer adult, which shows bravery most of us lack.
Last week, I was part of a Facebook conversation in which some folks with great boldness declared Robin Williams has gone to hell because he committed suicide. Of course this was the pronouncements from “Good Christian Church Folk.” This was just one of many posts and comments appearing in this vein condemning Robin Williams and judging him without truly knowing him or understanding his struggle. Therefore, as Pastor of Covenant, I feel the need to take this opportunity to speak what I believe to be the ‘GRACE” point of view that we should take in response to suicide.
- Suicide has had a Personal Effect on people you know and love. Somehow, someway, just about everyone’s lives have been touched by suicide. For me, my first encounter with suicide was when a very good friend took his life when we were in high school because of being gay and effeminate, he was tormented every day with taunts of “faggot, sissy, etc.” Sometimes those verbal taunts came with physical violence just because he was “different.” It’s still a painful memory that I rarely have ever talked about. How I wish I had known and was able to say or do something to ease his pain. But, as a 13 year old, all I knew was to be unabashedly his friend. The note he left railed against such name calling and violence that caused him to live in such turmoil that he could see no way forward. So his way out was suicide.
Most people don’t consider suicide, but some do. “Good Christian Church Folk” need to stop and think that some of the people who hear or read your words will see a friend or loved one in the words you speak about Robin Williams’ suicide. Others will even see themselves. When you send Robin Williams to Hell with your words, you are also sending their loved ones there. Think people, think! Maybe saying nothing is your best option if what you say has no grace in it!
- Finding Jesus is NOT the Cure for Depression. God can heal physical and mental diseases. No doubt. Personally, I have known and prayed for people who have received miraculous healing. I’ve also prayed with people who received miraculous grace that got them through one day at a time. I suppose if Robin Williams had died of cancer or heart disease, these “Good Christian Church Folks” might be more understanding. Yet, many physical illnesses are incurable and, just as often, mental illness is also incurable. While mental illness can be managed and treated, it never goes away.
For some reason, especially in the church, we often judge people who are mentally ill as making poor choices in their lives or somehow not fully trusting in God. It’s almost as if physical impairments can’t be helped, but mental impairments just require people to simply try harder. If trying hard cured mental illness, then mental illness would be cured, because I don’t ‘know of anyone who tries harder to fit in or just function than people who struggle with these diseases.
There are plenty of Christians who love Jesus with all of their hearts and have committed their entire lives to Him, yet they are Schizophrenic, Bipolar, Clinically Depressed or smitten with another illness. There are also Christians who love Jesus, and they struggle with diabetes, heart disease, obesity and a number of other mostly preventable conditions which are actually often within their control. Their deaths may not be imminent, but it will certainly come sooner than it should. God’s love and grace is extended in abundance to those facing both physical and mental struggles.
It would do us well to remember that in scripture we read of the great Apostle Paul praying for his tormenting illness to disappear, but he didn’t get healed. God offered him grace instead of healing.
- The Church Must Do Something. People suffering from mental illness are often misunderstood and stigmatized. As hard as they try, they often don’t fit in. If they have a family, the family often feels like outsiders as well. Where can they find acceptance and understanding? If it’s not in the church, then where? I can’t help but think that each Sunday when we boldly declare at Covenant “no matter who you are, who you love, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here;” that surely this also includes especially those struggling with mental illnesses.
So I ask: are we at Covenant truly welcoming of those with mental illnesses? When they come, are we prepared to accept them? Will we offer support? Are there organizations in our community that our church can partner with to help those among us that struggle with mental illnesses? At a minimum, could we offer a meeting room for a group that addresses these issues for free? If not, then why do we call ourselves a “community” church?
My prayer is that “Good Christian Church Folks” will begin to live and practice what they say they believe about “Grace.” Perhaps then our Facebook conversations and posts will begin to reflect more grace! What do you think?
As a result of this, the next Wednesday night series to begin at Covenant will be called “Let’s Talk About Grace!” Look for it in the near future.