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Saturday, March 03, 2007

Blessed be the mentally ill

John Smulo recently asked a question about why poor people are not well-represented in western churches. In responding to his post it raised other questions for me with regard to people with mental illness.

There are a number of issues that need to be addressed the first of which is our level of comfort. Churches are often extremely comfortable places. The ambience, venue, expectations, sermons, events etc are all geared to maximise the comfort of the consumers, i.e. the congregation.

Church is not so much a gathering of Jesus followers meeting to worship and study Scripture with a view to moving out as living witnesses to the local, and wider, community; it has become an "event". Church attendees will often comment that the music wasn't what they liked, the sermon was too long or they, simply, didn't enjoy church.

Of course, if someone comes into this situation who is poor or mentally ill then it is going to disturb the comfort of the group and the event. In the Australian context there are parachurch groups and some churches that cater for those types of people but it is not for the rest of us.

I think it would help if Christians were to admit their prejudices and stop pretending that we are all fully committed to living life as Jesus followers. At the present time large sections of the Church mirror the world outside of the Church. Once Christians admit their biased viewpoints at least the starting point would be one of honesty and integrity. Also, from this foundation stronger teaching could come into the local church.

Then again, one of the issues is that the local Church is often very much informed by the attitudes of the wider society. I work with mentally ill men. I struggle with a form of mental illness myself. As an ordained pastor I am well integrated into the church "system" but many of these men are not. They are prone to anxiety, mood swings but most of all they are misunderstood and incorrectly judged by their "labels".

Churches like to think that they are "open" but the openness seems narrowly limited to a strict socio-economic demographic. The men that I work with are wonderful men. They all have a "story" and all respond to genuine love. If anyone would like to offer suggestions I'd be interested to hear them.

4 comments:

John Smulo said...

Les,

I'm glad you raised this. We don't talk about this virtually ever. I think our greatest problem is segregation. I just don't see God in that.

Les said...

Yes, a couple of the guys at work told me that, in their opinion, schizophrenia is "the last taboo". That phrase really struck me. It is especially so in the church where we struggle to know in what box to put schizophrenics.

Colin A. Lamm said...

I have not admitted this overtly in any of my blogs (if some were to see this comment I'm sure they would remark "oh, that explains a lot!"), but it looks like the illness that has kept me off work since the fall of 2005 may be in actuality a form of mental illness (and not neurological as previously assumed). I do not like to mention this due to the facts that: 1) I personally fear this diagnosis; 2) I fear others reactions, including family, to this. Of course you can discern a note of pride in this.

I guess, truth be told, I have historically been one of those uncomfortable people when it comes to dealing with mentally challenged individuals. The interesting point, however, that has blessed me immeasurably, is that those individuals that I secretly harboured feelings against because of their mental illnesses are the very ones (unaware of my own 'diagnosis') who have consistently come to visit and pray with me (currently I am unable to even go outside of the house unless closely monitored).

Forgive me if I have jumped in with too much information off the get-go, but based upon your posts here, I felt a comfortability in honestly discussing this issue that I have previously not experienced. From what I have experienced from various vantage points I think you are spot on in your analysis.

Les said...

Colin

Thankyou so much for your post. I really appreciate it. I read your profile and we have a lot in common. I love Dostoevsky and am fascinated by the Russian Revolution. I have taken a slightly different tack and am reading a biography of Victor Hugo right now.

I have so many ups and downs and my marriage has held together by a slender thread at times. I take men out on gardening jobs and certainly am not where I expected to be but God's grace is awesome.

Please feel free to visit here or email me at lchatwin@gmail.com

Bless you indeed. p.s. I also resonated with all of your musical tastes.