Over the last couple weeks, we have been exploring the debilitating effects of mental illness within our communities. A recent article in the Star Ledger, shares that over 3000 deaths for this year can be attributed to drug overdose. One of the bigger questions that would often times face us as Christians is how can our faith respond when mental illness comes knocking on our doors?
St Paul in his letter to the Ephesians seeks to bridge a huge cultural gap that seemed unsurmountable. How can Christian Jews and Christian gentiles live together in community? They both bought along their cultural heritage which at times seems fiercely mutually antagonistic with circumcision being the touching point. In many ways culture shapes our response to life’s challenges and as vital as they maybe to our heritage they can become prisons rather than gateways to wholesomeness. In many ways alienation remains the enemy of faithful.
In our present contextual reality racism is the driving force which sustains alienation within our communities. This creates a ripple effect in the response to mental illness. One wonders for example if in calculating the fatalities due to mental illness if urban violence ought not to be included. Many of our young men are thwarted in our educational systems. They are held back, are diagnosed with having learning disabilities, are given drugs intended to calm and keep them sedentary, easy to handle. Eventually, they are pushed out of the educational system on the basis these possible learning disabilities and the failure of the drugs administered to them. Many in our educational system will share stories of the disparity in the way school counsellors respond to our children’s needs simply based upon the counselor’s cultural heritage. Suicide by cop is a term often attributed to some of the unfortunate incidents between the police and our young men. Prison awaits the boys who are not allowed to succeed; death awaits those who resist. Our entire community finds itself impotent; living under the weight of poor mental health, frightened by those who should be protecting us and struggling with an old, reemerging tyranny of racism now imbedded in a government lead by those, who themselves are in the grips of mental illness and lack of moral judgement. We are losing our jobs, the rights that so many have fought and died for and the resources for which we pay taxes.
Mark 6:34 “As Jesus went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” I prefer the Mathew version, Mathew 9:24 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
We often times find ourselves harassed by life’s many challenges. When mental illness comes knocking on our doors, it can be devastating. When we are forced to live within the confines of our cultural heritage, it is sometimes difficult to explain that the color of skin is the only difference that separates us from the resources needed for recovery. When we become overwhelmed and harassed by the challenges life throws at us, we can succumb to serious mental health issues.
In these past weeks we have examined the problems that plague our community through the lens of mental health. We have read and reviewed journals, listened to the wisdom of our forefathers, like WEB De Bois, to examine our history, our twoness, and our struggle to find and live a healthy existence in an unwelcoming and complicated environment. Like doctors we triaged our patient and now we need to understand and prescribe much needed treatment.
The church, more than ever, needs to recover that voice fixed in the moral teachings of Christ that challenge the church’s own cultural heritage to bring us all into that radical community of love formed by God through Christ Jesus. The call to treatment is for us, as a church, to remind the world of the radical message of Jesus that is echoed by St Paul. It begins with the reminder given to David that God is the giver and sustainer of His world. Then we must set out to live out the message of Christ which begins by transforming us, the messengers, to live in a radical relationship of love for God and each other.
As Christians we are called to live by the faith which is the practice of making ourselves receptive and available for Christ to make his presence at home with us no matter the struggles in life we may be facing. Emmanuel is not just a Christmas message, but lies at the very heart of who we are called to be in the world. The miracles of Jesus were not just the fantastic outcome, but the willingness of Jesus to enter into the turmoil and to sustain and transform rather than alienate ourselves from those who need our faith as well as their own to heal. The role of the church in the urban community in many ways places us on the very frontline of the struggle against the sin of alienation. We preach a message of community versus separation. As we now live in union with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We live moment by moment with the awareness that the Holy Spirit is transforming us into the image and character of Christ.
My friends, the prophet Nathan preached a prophetic sermon to David reminding him that God is the one who went before to create the space for Kingdom building. That same God came in Christ Jesus to invite us to live in His kingdom based not upon our cultural heritage but a radical understanding of love. This love sustains in all of life’s struggles. The hymn writer of my all-time favorite hymn sums it up best:
1. Through all the changing scenes of life,
in trouble and in joy,
the praises of my God shall still
my heart and tongue employ.
Lyrics: Tate and Brady
Music: George Thomas Smart (1776-1867)