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Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Reflections

Today I started a second job. I am a General Support Worker at a nursing home. In simple terms I am going to be doing laundry and cleaning duties.

I started this blog as a way to try and work my way through my thoughts on a journey with depression and bi-polar. I also wanted to try and explore a theology of hope as well as bouncing around some thoughts and reflections on theology and philosophy, two of my interests.

Lately I haven't felt like writing anything. I lost motivation. I couldn't see the point and didn't know who was reading this anyhow. Today I have had cause to reflect on where I am and how I got here and what it means for me as a man and a Christian.

The day started with orientation. There were 6 nurses, 1 new admin person and 2 support workers. The previous 2 weeks had been interesting for me because the person who has overall management oversight of this nursing home and one other had phoned me firstly to offer me the position. During the conversation that ensued he asked if I had considered chaplaincy because, in the process of speaking to my referees he had picked up my giftedness for chaplaincy work. This was a very encouraging thing to hear as I have felt a bit low at times in my new employment circumstances of gardening and cleaning. There are not currently any chaplaincy opportunties but I am hopeful that this is a positive move towards caring ministry.

Today after enduring a dry and dull orientation morning and having been made to feel "stupid" by the admin manager I was asked to work in the laundry and "learn" one aspect of my new role. I spent the time from 11am to 2pm folding the night clothes and underwear of old people and putting them into the appropriate drawers. The lady who I worked with today told me that she has been in this role for 18 years. She was a very kind and helpful person.

As I stood there folding clothes I experienced a sense of feeling demeaned and low. I may have been embarassed. I am friend's with the chaplain at the nursing home and he was surprised to see me in this role but also asked if I had considered chaplaincy as a future option. God seems to be moving me in that direction but when and how is the question?

But back to the laundry. As I stood there bored and somewhat depressed I considered my position. In 2003 I completed a degree in ministry at the Baptist Theological College of NSW. I completed it with ease and was ordained in 2004. I worked as an associate pastor from 2003-early 2005 before chronic depression forced me to move out of this role. 2005 was an awful year as I tried to work through depression, overcome sexual addictions and attempt to hold my family together as I seemed to head further into depression.

Early 2006 saw myself and my family move to Newcastle, my wife's home town, to be near her family, as much for her support and health as anything else. Then my psychiatrist diagnosed me with Bi-Polar II after much discussion. I went onto a second medication which has allowed me to rediscover myself, my potential and my hope.

I am not sure how intelligent I am and I know that it is a theme that is bugging me and for which I need some answers. I was physically and sexually abused at various times throughout my childhood as well as ongoing emotional and verbal abuse. My self-esteem has worked its way through varying depths.

But...here I am with a wonderful wife, 3 fantastic children and a positive faith and love for God. I thought I was going to be a "successful" pastor and it seems that that dream/idea may have been removed from me. I thought that a graduate degree was going to be incredibly tough and I had no self-belief but I sailed through it and am now considering my options for post-graduate study next year and dreaming of a thesis should I be given the opportunity to continue my journey into doctoral studies...so I have a lot to be thankful for.

But back, again, to the laundry. I do not mean to be judgmental but I will speak honestly as a blog permits me. As I sat through the orientation and mentally corrected spelling and grammar in the notes and listened to run-of-the-mill talks from people who knew there self-importance I felt like standing up and shouting "Do you know who I am? Do you know my mind?"

Was this okay? Am I right to be frustated and if not right can I properly hold this frustration? As I folded and spoke to Debbie I realised that she was content and also that she had a life story and was loved by God. I realised that God has given me an opportunity to be made low; to wear the clothes of the "working class" and so to be perceived by the "management" and by "passers by" in the case of my gardening attire. I have an opportunity to love those I work with with the love of Christ. I do not know how long I will be in these roles and I am not a hero and want the time to be as short as possible but tonight I lay in the bath and sincerely thanked God for this new job.

I am tired; very tired but I know that my redeemer lives. If you read this can you email me or post a comment. I want to admit that I need to be encouraged at this time that people are reading this and any advice or thoughts will be warmly received. Bless you all.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

5 Years

On September 11th 2001 I was into my 2nd year of theological study and we had a New Testament Exegesis Class that day. The event occurred over night and I found out that day that one of my neighbours on campus had rung round as many people as he could to tell them to put their TVs on for a news flash. We had a 2 year old and a 6-month old so we were fast asleep.

My alarm went off on September 12th. It was a radio alarm and it went onto ABC News Radio. I was waking up and my mind was in a fog as I heard about planes flying into a building. I was convinced that I had misheard but as I "tuned in" it was clear that I hadn't misheard and planes had flown into the World Trade Centre in New York; and so the defining moment of my generation began to dawn upon me.

The lecturer pushed on with the New Testament class but there was a very low key response from the class and some of us were concerned that we were even studying when we felt that praying for those affected was most appropriate. I am English by origin and now living in Australia and have never had a strong affinity for the United States of America but that day I came to realise that something monumental had occurred that was heartbreaking beyond my conceptions of that term.

I have not been in full agreement with all of the 9/11 political responses and certainly have concerns about the validity of the "War on Terror" and the injustice that is Guantanamo Bay but on the morning of September 12th I became aware that the world in which I lived and in which my children would grow up would always be defined by September 11th 2001.

At this time I choose to put aside my many disagreements with the Republican government of George W. Bush and offer my sincerest sympathy and prayers to the people of America who mourn on the anniversary of 9/11. I would also suggest that we pray for those innocent people who have suffered and lost loved ones in Afghanistan and Iraq particularly.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Lord of the Rings

Today I completed "The Lord of The Rings". Reading epic novels is quite an undertaking and one that I am growing to relish. I have also found that such endeavours fall into several categories. For example, one can read a great novel and then study it deeply and join email lists and seek to become well-versed and almost elite in one's understanding. There are those who read novels, such as "The Lord of The Rings" and use it as a form of snobbery to outclass those who have only seen the movie. There are those who read novels and quote lines from those novels to amke their conversation appear more erudite. With a novel such as Tolkien's there is a Christian sub-culture that seeks to wring every bit of Christian-ese out of the book.

I hope I don't fall easily into any of those groups although I am not averse to learning more about a novel. My chief desire in reading any novel is for the sheer joy of entering another world and allowing myself to be taken to new and exciting places in my imagination. As technology advances onwards , seemingly unstoppable, I lament the death of imagination and dreaming that seems afoot in the world.

"The Lord of The Rings" has, I am unashamed to admit, been a deeply moving and challenging journey for me. I have always been a big fan of "The Hobbit" and so starting the book was easy and proved to be full of great delights. As the quest began I was easily drawn into the excitement and the trepidation and found myself consumed for pages upon pages each night before sleep. As the companions moved on I found I needed a break now and then as if my reading was a tiring as the physical journey contained within the pages of the book.

It was when Frodo got captured by the orcs that I had to take a large break from reading. I had become so engrossed in their world that it was a shock and a drain upon my emotions to see Sam lying helpless outside the closed door seemingly in defeat. Am I ashamed or embarassed for my emotions? Surely not! As I came back to the book I fought my way forward with each blow that was struck against Sauron's minions until the last 3 or 4 days as it all drew to a close.

Today the battle was over and all was well in the world but there was still one final moment to tear at my heart strings as Frodo, Bilbo and Gandalf set sail with the elves to leave Sam, Merry and Pippin to return home to a new age in the shire. I share this because I feel a need to and because I want to remind people that there is beauty with books. I might be considered a literary snob by some because I am fussy about what I read but my opportunities for reading novels are limited and I do not wish to waste the opportunity to take a journey into my deepest imaginings.

I have only seen the first film and am interested in watching all of them but am in no hurry. The memories of this book will linger long. I am not sure if I will ever use any excerpts for sermon illustrations. Somehow I want to keep my special relationship with the novel. A part of me has found a home in middle-earth and I would like to keep that treasure in my heart.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Singing Out of Tune

" What would you do if I sang out of tune,
Would you stand up and walk out on me.
Lend me your ears and I’ll sing you a song,
And I’ll try not to sing out of key."

Most people are familiar, whether via The Beatles or Joe Cocker, with these opening lyrics to the song "With a little help from my friends" but this week they came to my mind when I went to check up someone who I felt needed some love and support.

Living with mental illness can be very much a case of "singing out of tune" to those who try and listen in to the conversation. I am speaking particularly of schizophrenia but it also affects many other mental illnesses. I am building a good friendship with a man who has schizophrenia and feels very misunderstood and has a history of rejection. Of course, the stories behind the rejections will be complicated but the hurt is still very real for this man.

He has expressed to be me on a few occasions that he is "mad". To follow the analogy from the song he feels that he sings "out of tune" and that this is the only way that he can sing. For many people in society there is a correct way to sing and if people broadly fit into this "style" then they are "in" otherwise they are "out". Regardless of what Britain, the USA or Australia say in regards to being egalitarian there is a stigma and a fear attached to mental illness that means that many people only hear that the song is sung out of tune; they fail to hear the hurt and the need and the beauty that lies in the words.

"What would you do if I sang out of tune? Would you turn around and walk out on me?" This friend has joked with me that people think that schizophrenics walk around with an axe in their back pocket ready to strike when the truth is that the vast majority of deeply troubled schizophrenics are more likely to harm themselves. This friend has been prepared for me to walk out on him when he gets upset or anxious or angry at his life. He will probably carry a fear of rejection for a long time and part of the cost of befriending him is to make a covenant with myself to be honest and supportive of him. This relationship does not cost me much in the way of time. Contrary to another "myth" this man is not dependent upon me he simply appreciates a friend.

"Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song and I'll try not to sing out of key". Even if someone sings out of key we still need to take time to listen closely to what they are saying. Last night this friend expressed to me his hurt over a simple misunderstanding that occurred this week. He spiralled into depression and admitted that he felt that God hated him and had abandoned him. To be sure, when I first arrived he was singing somewhat "out of tune" but I took time to listen in.

After listening to his "song" as it moved around between keys I began to offer some thoughts that would bring some gentle truth to his situation. By the end of the evening as he smoked a cigarrette outside I offered to pray with him. Today I checked in again and he said that he had slept well and that he believed that that God had sent me in a time of need.

I am no hero and I certainly do not want this blog to be anymore than a signpost on the journey for other pilgrims. This man is a Christian and so I had an opening to pray but only when I had listened and loved and shared from my own heart. Sometimes the "music" that comes across from those with mental illness can be "harsh" and "crude" and "out of key" but if we are to be friends then we need to consider if we are willing to listen past the noise to the emotions that are being conveyed beneath. Jesus seemed able to listen where others only heard noise. Perhaps it is time for many of us to be adjust our tuning dials for those who need to be heard.