Monthly Archives: June 2015

Blessed are the Dead

Blessed are the nine slain saints of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina:

Rev. Clementa Pickeny, Rev. Daniel Simmons, Cynthia Hurd, Rev. Sheronda Singleton, Myra Thompson, Tywanza Sanders, Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson.

Blessed are they who welcomed a young white stranger named Dylann Roof into their midst, making room for him to join them in the study of Scripture. 

Blessed are the dead, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What can we make of Roof’s motivation for turning a Bible study into a bloodbath? Many have speculated about his mental health and wondered, “Is this the kind of thing only a crazy person could do?”

The answer is no. Most crazy people are non-violent, statistics prove this fact. A good place to check your facts on mental illness NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

However, this is the kind of American terrorism that white supremacy creates in a country so ensnarled in centuries of racism born out of slavery and oppression. Roof’s primary motivation for the slayings was his hatred of black people, and his logic was in keeping with the extreme ideology of white supremacy. 

Roof may have mental health issues, and no doubt he will be thoroughly psychologically tested. But can we say that the primary motivation of the slayings was a psychotic episode, where Roof went crazy in a Bible study?

There are dangers in this approach. First, crying crazy in response to every mass shooting significantly adds to the stigma and shame around mental illness. My loved ones and friends who live with mental health disorders are not mass murderers. To claim that people with mental illness are prone to violence is not only false, it is harmful. 

The other serious danger is that for white people, calling it crazy is an easy way out of the uncomfortable and disturbing conversation about the messed-up state of race relations in America.

I notice that it’s mostly white people who are wanting (so badly) to cover this up with mental illness. I hear from other whites, “he was a loner…he was a drop out…he was lost.” This frames Roof as the victim of a bad economy and poor education, sort of an “unlucky guy.” What is alarming about this rationale by whites is how oblivious it is to the gut-wrenching reality of whites killing blacks just because, at all levels of authority, from police officers to kids like Roof. 

I have yet to hear a black person claim that the slayings were motivated by mental illness. This causes me to wonder why as whites we are in such denial about the primary role of race in this case.

My two cents: in the main, this is about a society that allows white supremacy and hate groups to run unchecked, without any accountability. We have become a country where it’s unsafe to be a person of color, or perhaps it has always been. 

Merciful Savior 

As day breaks we arise weary 

for there is no rest for the soul torn asunder 

by the brutal realities of our American sin, so deeply disturbing our peace

Racism is our uniquely American sin as much a part of this nation as baseballs and apple pies.

Merciful Savior, how grotesque to see Your House so defiled by sin.

We tear our hair out and gnash our teeth.

We weep with Jesus now.

Only by Your holy power we still pray, we still believe in love. 

Send us Your power in the form of a New Generation of leaders who will help us arise one day free from this sin. 

We pray for our children. We have failed them.

Merciful Savior, we repent and lament this evil thing that ensnarls us in racial disharmony.

Forgive us, O Lord of Love, forgive us. We do not wish to be known by acts of terror, but acts of love.

We dare to hope that our sins may be forgiven and our souls liberated from hatred. 

Merciful Savior, we need desperately to know that You are with us even now. Enfold all those who grieve, who cannot speak, who are weary and worn.

Resurrect this Body. We in the white church have been dead too long to the realities of racism in America.

Help us walk the long road of race reconciliation and justice, in our Merciful Savior’s name.

Amen.

God and Depression

Living with chronic depression and anxiety can feel like walking on the beach wearing ski boots. It’s uncomfortable, annoying and inconvenient. It interferes with experiencing simple pleasures. 

When our mental health is unwell, we can feel very alone. Depression and anxiety can heighten our sense of inadequacy, drain us of energy and motivation. Depression can cause us to isolate ourselves, distancing us from our network of support. During a depressive episode it takes extra effort to connect with people and engage in activities and conversations. 

Stepping into a church while experiencing depression and anxiety can also be challenging. Often we wonder about God in relation to our own feelings of disconnection. During a depressive episode it can seem as if God is very far away. When we aren’t feeling hopeful, it’s hard to trust God.

This is why the witness of other Christians is so important. In times where we cannot believe, others believe for us. In times when we cannot pray, others pray for us. In times when we cannot sing God’s praises, others sing for us. This is the gift of amazing grace that we can experience through Christian community.

During times of despair and doubt, when God’s love feels far away, we need not suffer alone. There is no shame in depression or anxiety. When we are feeling the most vulnerable, it is time to embrace God and to connect to trusted care givers: mental health professionals, spiritual directors and clergy. 

Churches are filled with people all along the journey of mental health. Many people in church struggle daily with depression and anxiety, including Sunday school teachers and pastors, youth ministers and youth group members. Church is not a place for perfect people, but a place for broken people to find grace, mercy and love. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ invites us to experience God’s love so profoundly that we can begin to love ourselves, even when we are in the shadows of depression and anxiety. By loving ourselves and loving our neighbors who live with mental health challenges, we love God.