Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On Mental Illness, Christian Education and Leadership

Why does mental illness, and even suicide, afflict Christian families?

Have deficiencies in theological study and application contributed to the prevalence of mental illness among Canadians?

Anton T. Boison discussed his own psychotic breaks and suggested that they represented efforts to reintegrate his personality. He developed an empirical theology which sought to study the patient, his symptoms and the healing process. He became one of the founders of clinical pastoral education. This field has largely been taken over by secular psychologies which allow the patient to become a subject for experimental testing of theory. Pastoral theology has thus been transformed from the divine cure of souls into the pseudo-Christian effort to correct human flaws by human techniques.

Arno Gruen describes the folly of so-called normal behaviour when it is shown to be counter-productive. (see his book, 'The Insanity of Normality') Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, has been pointing out, for several years, inaccuracies in the financial formulae used to predict market behaviour. Could there be similar errors in the spiritual formulae which our churches develop to meet their 'objectives'?

True leaders cultivate the ability to foresee events and potential circumstances. Robert Greenleaf claimed that it was actually "necessary (for a good leader) to live a sort of schizoid life, always at two levels of consciousness, both in the real world -- concerned, responsible, effective, value oriented and also above it, seeing the actual reality, being deeply involved in daily events, but having the perspective of a long sweep of history and looking to, and planning for, the indefinite future".

The schizophrenic features of our churches, and our various denominational divisions, are hardly conducive to good mental health in a society in which many families are split among different, often antagonistic, churches.

For those of us whose churches are more formal, we have an "inherited attitude toward the liturgical act (which) reflects a kind of schizoid state. We hear but do not really hear. The liturgy is an encapsulated experience, entered into in isolation from real human experiences. It does not connect with the real world because it has been shaped by a piety which is often consciously an escape from the pressures of the real world. Liturgical time is seen as ‘holy time’ working according to its own laws, and feeding our hunger and thirst for God. But it does not connect for the great majority of our people with the real choices of daily life." - from 'Sacraments and Liturgy: The Outward Signs', by Louis Weil.

Education involves much more than filling students with facts and theories. It is an attempt to lead out of darkness and ignorance into light and wisdom, an attempt to develop competence and ability in the area of study. In short, good leaders show the way as well as talk about it. Real teachers lead and real leaders are good at teaching.

But, do our schools value this reality based approach?

for more see http://globalchristianangst.blogspot.com/2009/04/on-mental-illness-leadership-and.html

Saturday, April 18, 2009

On Mental Illness, Leadership and Christian Theology

Christ is risen from the dead! So some of us say.
He is risen indeed; He's alive today!

Why then, one wonders, does mental illness, and even suicide, afflict Christian families?

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five of us suffers mild forms of mental distress. One in ten will suffer a major crisis in their lifetime. One in a hundred will suffer from schizophrenia.

Just as cancer was once a taboo subject, not discussed and certainly not admitted to, schizophrenia, psychosis and major depression have until recently been unworthy of serious public attention, even in our churches. In spite of the prevalence of mental illness in the general population, somehow it has not been given the necessary attention. We talk more about distant terrorist acts and threats of economic disaster. Yet we are finally starting to address this epidemic.

It is, however, but a window on the much deeper crisis: our spiritual health, or lack thereof. Some of us, even some of our leaders, exhibit questionable symptoms and appear somewhat disconnected from God, His people and the world. We function in our own virtual worlds, even using our own unintelligible language.

Scripture says, "Clap your hands all you peoples, Shout to the Lord, all the earth, with loud songs of joy", yet from childhood we're taught to be quiet in church. We're called to sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to one another, yet few churches really allow this to take place. Everything is 'pre-scripted' and the Holy Spirit is made redundant. We're expected to be able to talk about our faith to our neighbours, however most of the time ordinary believers are not even allowed to address the regular assemblies of God to share what the Lord is doing in their own lives!

Are our leaders acting as servants of the Living God? Or are they exhibiting a form of spiritual schizophrenia, hearing the Voice of God and seeing visions, but then doing things contrary to their own words and beliefs?

Here in Canada, as in other places, there has been a tendency among some officials in the more liberal Christian churches to foster unrest and legally push toward denominational division, out of desire to preserve faulty church systems for political purposes. This is both unbiblical and anti-Christian. Anglican Church leaders have brought legal arguments against godly ministers and their congregations before the secular courts. This has happened despite the clear injunction against such action found in Holy Scripture. In the U.S. denominational officials have even tried to install as church leaders people who believe in and practice non-Christian faiths. Their abuse of position and pseudo-spiritual authority is being seen for what it is: hypocrisy, arrogance and willful deceit.

Those who insist on pharisaic disobedience, which often comes with top-down leadership, will eventually discover the bankruptcy of their position. They show by their actions that they deny or ignore the reality that both our global society and the ecclesial family have changed and can no longer be held within the denominational boundaries outlined since the Reformation. Such a break between thought and action, or lack of appropriate engagement with reality, is one of the ways that schizophrenia has been described.

Why do some church leaders, and those who follow them, act in spite of reality, sometimes even against biblical values? Why are so many church meetings devoted exclusively to budgeting and servicing money? Why is church growth considered so important? Why do we rarely speak in our churches about ministry to and by Christians outside of traditional church settings?

Have deficiencies in theological study and application contributed to the prevalence of mental illness among Canadians?

For those of us whose churches are more formal, we have an "inherited attitude toward the liturgical act (which) reflects a kind of schizoid state. We hear but do not really hear. The liturgy is an encapsulated experience, entered into in isolation from real human experiences. It does not connect with the real world because it has been shaped by a piety which is often consciously an escape from the pressures of the real world. Liturgical time is seen as ‘holy time’ working according to its own laws, and feeding our hunger and thirst for God. But it does not connect for the great majority of our people with the real choices of daily life." - from 'Sacraments and Liturgy: The Outward Signs', by Louis Weil.

Perhaps there might be redemptive value to some degree of dissociative thinking and behaviour. The prophets of Israel often showed schizoid tendencies. The difference between clinical illness and prophetic insight can be razor thin. Madness is after all a matter of judgment. A measure of openness to the Holy Spirit has often been seen as eccentric. Just look at the record in chapter two of the Book of Acts!

Anton T. Boison discussed his own psychotic breaks and suggested that they represented efforts to reintegrate his personality. He developed an empirical theology which sought to study the patient, his symptoms and the healing process. He became one of the founders of clinical pastoral education. This field has largely been taken over by secular psychologies which allow the patient to become a subject for experimental testing of theory. Pastoral theology has thus been transformed from the divine cure of souls into the pseudo-Christian effort to correct human flaws by human techniques.

Arno Gruen describes the folly of so-called normal behaviour when it is shown to be counter-productive. (see his book, 'The Insanity of Normality') Benoit Mandelbrot, the father of fractal geometry, has been pointing out, for several years, inaccuracies in the financial formulae used to predict market behaviour. Could there be similar errors in the spiritual formulae which our churches develop to meet their 'objectives'?

Psychosis is too real. Suicide is too real. Does it matter what label is used? Whether mental or spiritual illness, it cannot be denied but it is often avoided, and is shuffled back into the pack of issues for society to deal with. The presenting problems are dealt with in sullen isolation by individuals, families, close friends and clinical support teams.

The pain of exposing these wounds is intense. But it must be so. Just as physical disease demands treatment, the 'cure of souls' is essential, not optional.

Is your church comfortable with discussing poverty and mental illness? How do we address such difficult issues? Do we really believe in the power of prayer? If so, how should we pray in particlar circumstances? Why are we so willing to leave it to other professionals to tackle these problems with sociological or medical techniques? Do we doubt the promises to heal which God has given to us? Why do some clergy deny the reality of mental illness? (See the study done by researchers at Baylor University at http://www.baylormag.com/story.php?story=006239 )

True leaders cultivate the ability to foresee events and potential circumstances. Robert Greenleaf claimed that it was actually "necessary (for a good leader) to live a sort of schizoid life, always at two levels of consciousness, both in the real world -- concerned, responsible, effective, value oriented and also above it, seeing the actual reality, being deeply involved in daily events, but having the perspective of a long sweep of history and looking to, and planning for, the indefinite future".

The schizophrenic features of our churches, and of our various denominational divisions, are hardly conducive to good mental health in a society in which many families are split among different, often antagonistic, churches. We have been expected to accept as unchangeable these intrusions into our communities. We know that Jesus prayed for unity among His followers yet we are reluctant to question our leaders about building links with other Christians. We're sometimes told not to bother even with other churches within our own denominations: there's too much inertia against change! Is it possible any longer to believe Holy Scripture and at the same time tolerate and support the unbiblical systems which separate us from one another?

We must recover the model for servant leadership given to us by the Lord Jesus. Some are called as overseers, some as pastors, some as evangelists, some teachers, and some healers. These are identified by the body of Christ and not by secular non-believing institutions. What then is the purpose of theological education and how is it related to Christian leadership?

Too often, “emotional pressures (have been) adapted to the use of those who wish to impose what to think without regard to how to think...Teaching the young those aspects of religious doctrine which are beyond their intellectual capacity and relevant experience to understand and to assimilate often lays the groundwork for emotional collapse and serious mental disorder of which guilt complexes and disabling fear are the symptoms.” So wrote Donald G. Stewart in 'Christian Education and Evangelism'.

Students must pay large fees to participate in theological reflection, study and discussion. Until recently Christians lacking financial resources were denied a part in theological discussion. The internet has changed matters somewhat. Our leaders have been trained by many who gained their credentials either by manipulating and using the educational system or by tolerating and surviving it. In some circles the value of theological education has long been suspect. Academic study tends by its nature to reinforce a certain detachment from reality. It promotes the analysis of concepts and the search for historical context, usually with adherence to a denominational worldview. It reinforces an artificial gap between church and seminary, between life and study. In some cases we have even allowed non-Christians the exercise of authority in these institutions. Is it wise, some ask, to entrust students, and their questions, solely to professional theologians?

Lee Smolin writes in his book, 'The Trouble with Physics', about the way that academic studies can be diverted from experimentally verifiable truth towards highly speculative theory. Christianity is often formally taught as a set of propositions to be believed, or else! This approach can negate the practice of faithfully developing a lifelong relationship with the Living God.

Education involves much more than filling students with facts and theories. It is an attempt to lead out of darkness and ignorance into light and wisdom, an attempt to develop competence and ability in the area of study. In short, good leaders show the way as well as talk about it. That's good education!

Isn’t it interesting that young people and new believers are quite perceptive in pointing out inconsistencies in church life? Secular processes that assume the ignorance of the student tend to undermine the beliefs and experiences of candidates for ministry. Yet, isn’t the experience and wisdom of even the biblically grounded student usually ignored by the seminary? This is a tragedy. Lives have been ruined as a consequence of constantly shifting approaches to developing potential leaders.

For some years, "seminary and divinity school students (have) complained that practical courses lack intellectual rigor and that scholarly courses seem irrelevant to their vocational and professional goals. The classical fourfold curriculum (church history, biblical, systematic and practical theology) creates an enormous gap between the academic and practical aspects of a ministerial curriculum. Just as important, this standard curriculum eliminates theology from the core of both practical and academic studies. Theology as a theoretical discipline appears disconnected from the skills needed to be a successful parish pastor. Theology as an inquiry emerging from faith and piety appears to lack the marks of an impartial and critical discipline." - Dr. Ronald F. Thiemann, 1987, Harvard Divinity School, Cambridge, Mass.

Front-line ministers of the gospel are isolated from and can feel abandoned by ivory tower theologians. Students are caught in the crunch, trapped by desire for ordination, emerging only to perpetuate a sick system. Yet many Christians have refused to undergo the theological re-education process imposed by institutional religion and have chosen lay ministry as being more effective, pursuing self-directed study, independent counsel and only occasionally partaking of the standard academic fare.

It seems to escape the notice of some professional academics, and others, that true followers of Jesus, both young and old, are already primarily theologians, already leaders. Some lead behind the scenes. Others share reflections and insights through writing or speaking. Some are pastors. Some are called to the battlefront in politics and administration, in secular or spiritual realms.

Do you know of any seminary which has these issues on its radar screen? Where do you find theological work being done to investigate and comprehend the ways that spirituality informs and supplements medical practice? Given these questions, and more, how do we identify and engage theologically informed people who can help put the experience of the average believer in proper context? Is it acceptable, or even possible, for one or two people to fill this role for a whole congregation? What means is used to access the combined wisdom of the community?

I submit that, for our day, the crucial need is for God’s people to pray against our national and international schizophrenic behaviour and to pray that faithful Christians quickly regain effective oversight and control of their theological seminaries. We must protect them from interference from the secular authorities of the university. The local church must be fully involved in the seminary teaching and learning experience. Clergy must be prepared to chastise, exhort, inspire and empower both parishioners and students under their charge. Anything less falls short of their call as pastors of God's church.

Is your church part of the problem? Do your leaders preach freedom or legalism? Are you part of God's solution? Do you follow Jesus, no matter what anyone says? Have your leaders been trained to identify and empower people to use their gifts and talents in both church and society?

It appears that churches with conservative, biblical agendas are growing. Christians in Canada, and elsewhere, are showing signs of rising from a deep slumber. We are beginning to realize that not a few of us are dealing with mental illness. We are learning again the power of prayer and utter reliance on the blood of Jesus as the only power effective against certain conditions. God's Word calls us to pray and to rejoice without ceasing, even in the midst of our personal and corporate struggles.

Popular opinion and political influence too easily push truth aside, at least until disasters force belated adjustments. How do we cope with the frantic pace of life, the constant bombardment by bad news, the instantaneous communication of ideas on all conceivable subjects?

Only as Christians live and work together can we be of any value to God and His World. Can we be really be inclusive and evangelistic, catholic and reformed, orthodox and charismatic, faithful and post-modern? Is it possible to live out such a convoluted faith? Do we concentrate on details at the expense of grasping the overall picture?

Several years ago I heard a story of a godly woman who gave a testimony to a group of believers. She had been paralyzed for years and was brought into the gathering on a stretcher. Her disease left her with diminished and sometimes blocked flow of blood through her body. In prophetic utterance, she compared her physical health to the spiritual state of the Church, the Body of Christ Jesus. She suggested that the barriers between different denominations actually restricted the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit in His Church. She illustrated the way we reinforce the separation of the spiritual from the worldly.

We know there are many valid historical and theological differences between us, yet if we say we believe in one Lord, one faith and one baptism, we are compelled by the love of Christ Jesus to find ways to remain in fellowship with all who love Him.

I've worked for nearly 20 years in an evangelistic ministry setting. When I join my brothers and sisters through the week I do not leave my church behind. I represent my tradition and bring my heritage with me to work with and draw upon as I serve the lost and encourage my co-workers. This includes all that I have learned, whether from my own tradition, or that of a co-worker. Indeed whenever Christians work together, God’s Church, both visible and invisible, is truly present with all its warts and powers. It never has been confined within our man-made denominations! People come to us on the understanding that we as individuals have banded together to reach out to them with practical help. Many come with struggles that go far beyond being resolved through physical or material assistance. They often recognize their needs before we do. We struggle to put them in a particular ministry category, and discern how we might proceed.

Considering the woeful state of many of our churches, it's a wonder that we are able to survive and prosper. It's only by the amazing grace of God that He shows us the Way. Some of our leaders are standing for God’s kingdom of righteousness and the sifting is taking place.

Let us all return to speaking plainly about Jesus and the gospel. The Lord is shaking His Church, moving His people in Spirit, truth and power. Our God is able to heal even a schizophrenic people; He is mighty to save and the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church.

Let us live as Ones who truly believe in the Resurrection. Perhaps then our joy shall be rekindled and overflow to our neighbours and
... Death shall lose its sting. Amen!

Friday, April 10, 2009

Easter Message - EMERGENCY? Call Jesus

Every child that comes into this world is special. In a way we are all emergency babies, but some are born into the very center of pain and tragedy. So it was with Jesus. His parents searched for the most basic need: a place to stay where Mary could give birth. It was a normal delivery in desperate conditions. King Herod caused the death of all the children that were found to have been born about the same time as Jesus. We don’t know the exact date. It could have been Sept. 11th or Nov. 30th, Apr. 10th or Dec. 7th, 4 B.C. or 4 A.D.; we just don’t know. His mother bore Him in labor and the threats and assaults of the world eventually overwhelmed him.

Mankind is still oppressed. Sin has shot straight into our hearts. Jesus answered our emergency. He lived for us. On that first Good Friday, during the annual Passover observance of the Jews, He died for us. He is God's first aid offered to all. The only cost is willingness to make the call for help, to listen to, and follow, His directions for our safe delivery. When we follow His instructions, our innocence and weakness will mature into wisdom and compassion, and we become co-labourers with Him in ministering to all in distress.

In trouble? Need help?
He is indeed risen from the dead; He’s alive!
Why not call out to Him today...

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Continue...Convey...Conflict...Convoy

The Christian Church is sometimes described as a ship carrying its passengers across dangerous waters to a distant port. One of the perils we face as believers arises when conflict develops between our fellow sojourners. Differences of opinion are normal, however we sometimes can allow our disagreements to fester and distract us from our common destination.

In the Bible we find recorded many different ways to deal with Life's stresses and trials. Abraham reasoned with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. He sought to use arguments and logic to convince the Most High God! Pilate and Herod were both appeasers, solving dilemmas at any cost for the sake of keeping the peace. Jonah was the typical evader. He ran from his assignment at Ninevah, fearing the conflict that he would encounter there. King Saul was an aggressor. He shifted blame to David and verbally attacked and actively sought to get rid of him by threat of death. David prayed and showed dependence upon God in his struggle with Saul. Whenever he did this he was on the right track, yet he often fell short of the Lord's standard.

Jesus shows a better way. He always went beyond the human concern to the root cause of the difficulty and dealt with those who opposed Him with divine compassion and courage. He commands us to do the same, to pray about our disputes, to give attention to His advice, His Word, and to be obedient in loving the person despite the problem. After all, the Scripture does not say, 'Love your neighbour, if', but rather, 'Love God and love your neighbour'. No conditions! We are called to obey even when in serious disagreement. Love works through our petty squabbles and goes far beyond them to touch the wounded hearts of our adversaries. When we learn to live and work together our ship will reach port with fewer delays and dangers. Are we really prepared to love the other?

Jesus loves us! He establishes peace in the natural and man-made storms which beset us. All we need to do is invite His divine assistance.
The storms are raging. He is mighty to save. Alleluia!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Discrimination and stigma plague Canadians with schizophrenia

Evidence straight from those who know!
Would you wait 18 weeks to have a broken leg treated?

According to a national report released in Winnipeg, Manitoba, on March 30/09, by the Schizophrenia Societies across Canada, 60% of Canadians assume that people living with schizophrenia are likely to act violently toward others.

Schizophrenia in Canada: A National Report calls on Canadians, health care professionals and government to support a National Mental Health Strategy that addresses the disparities and inequities faced daily by those living with schizophrenia and their family members.

The report describes different factors affecting those with
schizophrenia, such as public perceptions and discrimination, quality of life, access to health care services, access to medications, wait times and government spending on mental health. These are key factors that illustrate the standard of schizophrenia care in Canada.

"While 92% of Canadians surveyed have heard of schizophrenia, most do not understand what it is or its symptoms. In fact, the majority confuse it with split personality disorder," said Chris Summerville, CEO, Schizophrenia Society of Canada. "Misconceptions such as these lead to negative stereotyping and stigma towards people living with schizophrenia."

The report examines how stigma negatively impacts the lives of people living with schizophrenia. Stigma causes gradual social isolation, making it harder for them to seek the help and treatment they need to manage their illness.

The report found that people with schizophrenia also experienced discrimination within the Canadian health care system. Schizophrenia in Canada calls highlights the findings of a 2008 report by the Fraser Institute on hospital waiting times, in which, physicians were asked to provide a reasonable wait time to receive various medical treatments. On average patients are waiting over six weeks longer for psychiatric treatment than is deemed reasonable. (Source: Fraser Institute, Waiting Your Turn: Hospital Waiting Lists in Canada, 2008 Report)

"It is simply unacceptable that people living with schizophrenia wait an average of 18.6 weeks from referral to receiving treatment for psychiatric care," said Mr. Summerville. "Mental health must be considered a top priority in the national and provincial wait time strategies."

The research for Schizophrenia in Canada: A National Report was conducted by L├ęger Marketing and supported through an unrestricted educational grant from Pfizer Canada Inc.

******************************************************************

The Schizophrenia Society of Canada began in 1979 and is dedicated to improving the quality of life for those affected by schizophrenia and psychosis through education, support programs, public policy and research. The Society works with 10 provincial societies in a federation model to: raise awareness and educate the public in order to reduce stigma and discrimination; support families and individuals; advocate for legislative change; and support research through the SSC Foundation and other independent efforts. All the Societies are united through each organization's efforts and share a common goal to raise awareness and educate the public in order to reduce stigma and discrimination.


For further information: or to book an interview with Chris Summerville, CEO, Schizophrenia Society of Canada, please contact:
Jennifer Gordon, Thornley Fallis Communications,
(416) 515-7517 x 348, gordon@thornleyfallis.com;
or
Marissa Lukaitis, Thornley Fallis Communications,
(416) 515-7517 x 324, lukaitis@thornleyfallis.com

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Are You a Schizophrenic Christian?

If so, you're in good company. The prophets of Israel often showed schizoid tendencies.

Hopefully your condition is under the control of the Holy Spirit by whatever means the Lord has given that works for you.

Click on the title above to read an article by Gary DeMar which critiques a less than healthy theology which advocates care for creation and then presumes to suggest that The Lord's imminent return excuses us from strenuous activity in the realms of social and ecological justice.

JESUS is both our Salvation and our Judge,
and HE is NOT schizophrenic.