Monday, January 18, 2016

Shoving Can be Good

 Epiphany.  The word means showing.  When Jesus showed us who he was. Like the pulling back of a veil, the moment the curtain opens, a tear in the fabric of reality when the Son of God lets us know that he is real.  He is alive.

The first Epiphany that we celebrate in the season of Epiphany is the Baptism of Jesus. That was last Sunday.  Today we celebrate Jesus’ first miracle in the Gospel of John, the changing of water into wine.

The strange thing about this first miracle is that it was totally spontaneous.  You would think that the Son of God might have a plan to unveil his ministry, a strategic plan. Or at least a first step.  But no, Jesus begins his miracles at a wedding, at a party, when his mother pesters him.

The relationship that Jesus has with his mother in the Gospel of John is very different from the relationship that he has with his mother in Matthew, Mark and Luke. In the other three gospels, Mary seems determined to stop Jesus in his tracks and to bring him back home.  In the Gospel of Mark, Mary claims that Jesus is possessed and must come back home. He is not acting himself!  He is out of his mind, she claims.

But in John’s gospel, Mary is not trying to stop Jesus and bring him home. In fact, in John, Mary is doing the exact opposite.  She is trying to activate her son’s ministry.  Mary is challenging Jesus to get started.

“They have no wine,” she says to him.  And you know that she must have given him that look that only mothers can give, the look of “you’d better do what I say.”  And here they were, in the middle of a party.  And Jesus’ disciples are with him.

Was he embarrassed?  Angry? Annoyed?  Something was wrong.  Jesus’ response is curt and unfriendly at best.  “Woman,” he says.  “What have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
Woman.  People addressed women that way. It was not considered rude. Jesus would later address the woman at the well in the same way.  But he is clear with his mother that this is not the time.  And he sounds firm.

But she doesn’t listen to his protests.  Instead, she instructs the servants to follow his orders.
And Jesus performs his first miracle because his mother would not leave him alone.

What is your most challenging relationship right now?   Sometimes, miracles come when we confront the most difficult people.  Challenging relationships- they can be exactly what God wants for us.

In the late 1870’s there was a doctor living in Paris.  His name was Stephane Tarnier and he was an obstetrician, he delivered babies. He worked in a hospital for some of the city’s poorest women.  And he saw their agony when their babies died. 66% of low-weight babies died in his hospital. 66%. Being born early was close to a death sentence. 
Tarnier could have gone to another hospital. He could have escaped the pain.  But he didn’t. He looked into the faces of the mothers in agony and realized that he had to do better. They were asking him to help them. One mother in particular looked at him and begged him to help her baby. Desperate for an idea, he went wandering through a zoo. There he stumbled upon chicken incubators, there to help the eggs hatch.  In that moment of challenge and grief and frustration and even agony, Tarnier had an idea.  An idea that would save the lives of millions of babies to this day. The incubator.  It was already being used on chickens but no one had connected the dots.  So simple.  Such a miracle.

How random that Jesus would make wine for his first miracle.  No one was starving. No one was sick and in pain.  No great humanitarian need.  Just a newly-wed couple trying to celebrate their love.  And a mother challenging him.

When I was in college, I traveled to Russia to research the Eastern Orthodox liturgy.  But there was just one problem, I was too scared to talk to a priest.  Most of them didn’t speak to women about worship.  I was not only a woman, I was a foreigner.  Who would talk to me? So I wandered into churches day after day not daring to strike up a conversation with a priest. Until one day, I brought a friend from college with me.  He too was studying in Russia that summer.  He knew my dilemma, how I was stuck.  He stood there with me in the church after the service as I watched the priest greet people.  I was hanging back.  So my friend shoved me.

It made me really mad.  He came up behind me and pushed me.  Arrg!  I could have turned around and hit him.  But his shove also humiliated me, just a bit.  I knew he was challenging me. And I took that anger and walked over to the priest, to establish one of the most formative relationships of my life.

We always think that the most successful relationships are the peaceful ones, the loving ones, the supportive ones.  But what if God works best when we are with people who shove us, make us mad and even annoy us?  Maybe the ones who make us uncomfortable, maybe those are the people we should make sure that we meet.

Jesus changes water into wine and launches his ministry.  All because his mother would not take no for an answer.  Who shoves you?  Who pushes your buttons?  Who holds you accountable and tells you the truth?  Love does not sit by and allow the other to just be comfortable, not when the world is so broken and we have so much to do.  Love challenges.  Love makes you move and grow and reach out for something that you did not know that you could attain.  Love does not wait for you to like that other person.  If they truly love you, they will be willing for you to dislike them or even never want to see them again.  If someone truly loves you, they will challenge you.  They will ask something of you.  They will not rest until you grow.

Epiphany.  God is showing you something right now.  It has to do with the challenge of being in relationship.  When someone shoves you, maybe the best response is Thank You.

Monday, January 04, 2016

As a Child...

Sometimes I babysit Liesl and Paul’s little girl Alexis.  She is not yet two.  In a odd way, I find that she is my teacher when she comes to my house.  That may sound strange but Alexis sees the world.  I mean, she really sees it.  With absolute fascination, she will look at the clock in my house, point to it on the wall and say the word CLOCK!  And it will hit me like a ton of bricks that yes, this is a clock and it is a wonderful thing and fascinating and why did I not notice it?  In fact, now that I am an adult, I pass by so much without seeing it. I pass by entire days, sunsets, flowers, rain…not even noticing.

This past week, my son Luke and I took Alexis for a walk on one of her visits.  It was getting dark and she kept pointing out the moon and shouting at it, “Moon!!”  Then we reached a small puddle at the end of a driveway.  And she was intrigued.

Knowing that a washer and drier were not far away, I let her stomp in the puddle.  SPLASH!  I said, and she giggled loudly.  SPLASH! She sang out.  And splash and splash and then run faster and faster and come back and splash again.  Alexis was fascinated with how the water worked, how it moved around her feet, how there were leaves in it. (yes, we did wash our hands afterwards) She did not want to leave.  She was not done exploring that puddle for a very long time. I could not rush her. She moved and jumped in that tiny amount of water.  It was a song of praise. It was a dance. It was pure joy. 

There was another little boy who would not be rushed. Today we hear about the boy Jesus. He was just twelve years old when he went to Jerusalem with his parents.  They visited the temple annually. But this time, Jesus did not leave when everyone else left. The adults all thought that Jesus was lost, but he was not lost, he just never left the temple. He was not done with what he had to do there. Jesus did not wander off.  It was everyone else who wandered off without him.  He was exactly where he should be. 

Jesus was in God’s house, where else? And that to me is no surprise at all.  Jesus felt safe and fascinated by the beautiful space just as you and I do.  Isn’t that why we are here?  Jesus was drawn into God’s presence even as he was God himself. 

Remember that God tells us again and again that this is the place to be.  If you encounter someone who is lost or lonely or suffering, invite them here!  It is so simple but we forget.  They can say no.  You are not going to offend them. Just invite them.  After all, Jesus wanted to be here too.
It took his parents an entire day to realize that he had not left Jerusalem with the group from their village. I can’t imagine how frantic they were when they went back to look for him.  I have felt that panic before, the rising sense of danger as your child is lost.

When they find Jesus, they are no doubt frazzled and rushed and angry and afraid.  They felt like most of us do on many of our days.  Sort of self-pitying and afraid.  We often rush at God will all of our urgent problems as if God has abandoned us when we actually left God somewhere along the way.  We say, “How could you do this to me?  Don’t you know how much I have been worrying?  How could you be so thoughtless? How can you leave me?”

It is not where he was that surprises me, it is what he was doing.  For years, I glossed over this passage and assumed that Jesus was arguing with the teachers and rabbis and telling them about God. I assumed that Jesus would show them how he knew more about God than they did. I was wrong.

Jesus was not telling them anything.  Jesus was listening.
And Jesus was asking questions.

It blows my mind that the Son of God would be listening and asking questions.  But somehow, the child Jesus knew something that most of us grown-ups seem to have forgotten…that God is in the questions.  God is in the wonder and the amazement and the awareness.  If we want to find God, we have to stop talking for a minute and listen.

In this world, it seems that we are bombarded by talking.  Everyone knows what they think and everyone has an opinion.  But we do not learn from talking at each other.  We do not learn when we pigeonhole another person as liberal or conservative and stop listening. No one human being is exactly like another.  We no more understand each other than we can understand the moon.  When we stop listening, we cut off the very means by which God communicates with us. 
Jesus listened and Jesus asked questions.

Recently, I have begun to picture an image in my prayers. It is an image of glass.  Each of us is surrounded by a lens of sorts, a piece of glass or a bubble of our perception.  When we encounter events in life, they color or warp the glass.  When a girl is abused by her father and touched inappropriately, her lens becomes warped.  She sees all men as dangerous and even the sweetest man will step in front of her and his actions will look warped to her through her lens. She will not be able to see him clearly or to love clearly.

It is not only traumatic events that warp the glass, it is simple opinions.  Telling a child that teenagers are rude or old people are bad drivers or that Republicans are mean or Democrats are stupid. They believe us and it colors their perception. And if they don’t clean the glass, forever will their world be warped.

And finally, the worst kind of warped perception is when we don’t try to look through the glass at all because we are simply too busy looking at ourselves.  Or when the glass becomes so dirty, so covered over with opinions and arguments that we can’t see through it at all, all we see is a reflection of our own selves. It is amazing how fascinated we can be with our own moods and actions meanwhile the true awe exists all around us waiting to be seen.

We all see through a glass dimly, wrote St. Paul so many years ago.  The point of prayer is not so much to talk as to listen, to ask questions and to clean the glass of your perception.
Remember the children.  Remember the child Jesus who listened.  Return to who God created you to be, a child of God.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

How John the Baptist Listened

There were 24 priestly families. Zechariah was part of the eighth family, the priests of Abijah.  The duty of caring for the Holy of Holies would rotate from family to family. On this day it was the order of Abijah who assumed the care of the inner sanctuary of the temple.  Those in the family of Abijah drew lots and the lot fell on Zechariah.  Only one man could enter the inner room and replace the incense. This space was considered so holy that no one dared enter except the one priest assigned to replace the incense. We do not know if Zechariah had ever had this privilege before. What we do know is that when Zechariah walked into that holy room, his life changed forever. An angel visited him and told him that he would have a son.  And he was to name his son John.
I saw a friend of mine a few weeks ago.  His name is also John and he is a priest.  We had not seen one another in years.  We were at a short conference together and I had the opportunity of sitting with John over dinner.
“How are you?” I asked.
“I am well,” he said.  “In fact, I am more than well. Kate, can I tell you something?”
“Of course.” I said.
“I had an experience of God.  It was such an experience that I find it hard to put into words. It is hard to explain and I wonder if people will think that I am crazy so I don’t mention it much.  Can I tell you about it?”
“I would love to hear…” I said.
John proceeded to tell me of how he went to visit the Wailing Wall in Israel, the only wall of the temple still left standing in Jerusalem today.  I’m sure that you have seen pictures of it if you have not seen it yourself. It is enormous and every crack and crevice is filled with the prayers of Jewish people and others who come to the wall to pray.  Jews stand facing the wall, praying with their phylacteries and often swaying as they sing or speak their prayers.
John approached the wall and he felt the urge to reach out and touch it.  The moment that his finger touched the stone, he had a vision.  It was as if he was transported in time.  He could see his own past.  He could hear the prayers of people far away on the wall.  He saw how he and all of humanity, how very frail and precious we were. It was overwhelming.  He took his hand away, thinking that he had lost his mind.
The next day John went back to touch the wall again.  “Maybe I was dehydrated,” he thought. “Maybe I was not in my right mind.”  So he touched the wall again and the very same thing happened.
“Kate,” he said to me, leaning in as if to tell me a secret. “This experience has changed me and it has made me lonely.  I have a hard time sharing it with people.  It was so overwhelming.  It was scary. 
“I am afraid and alone and yet I am so grateful to have had this experience.  It was like no other and it changed my life.”

John the Baptist was a priestly son, born into a tribe of Israel that was seen as the highest class.  John was loved like no other child, for his parents were old when he was born and they thought that they would not be able to conceive.  John was educated by the best priests and scholars.  John had a good life.
John decided that his comfortable life was not enough.  He wanted to listen for God, so he left everything behind: his education, his family, his career.  He left everything to walk out into the desert and live as a homeless man.  And it was there, in that quiet place that the Word of God came to John.
What is implied by this simple verse is something immensely important.  The Word of God came to John and John was listening.
John was listening. 
If John had a message to preach, why would he have moved away from people?  Why not stay and spread the news of repentance right there in Jerusalem?  I think that John thought that listening was even more important than preaching.  And he knew that he could hear better in the desert, away from the crowds.  He left to be alone.
It is scary to listen to God.  You must be willing to silence the cacophony around you.  You must be willing to make space in your mind.  Have you ever cleaned up a very messy room?  You have to lift clothes off the floor, take laundry baskets downstairs, sweep the floor.  It is a lot of effort to make space, to clean things up, to make a path straight. 
When you pray, if you chose to really listen, it is a forceful act. Your thoughts will rush at you like an oncoming train and you must constantly put them aside.  “Yes, I hear you. Wait.”  Let me clear a space in my mind for God. Let me clear a path, make a path straight.
John had the courage to really listen.
The scary part about listening is the potential for God to speak.  God might tell you to move to the desert.  To give away all your belongings, to preach in the streets.  Most of us are scared to find out what God will ask of us, so we get busy and pretend that we cant really hear right.
It is painful to listen and it can be lonely.
There is no one who was more revered by Jesus, more honored, than John the Baptist.  “Of those born of women, there is no one greater,” Jesus said.  And John was alone.
At the end of his life, John is still listening.  And the voices of darkness and doubt enter his mind when he is in prison.  He wonders if he has made a mistake.  He fears that maybe his entire life has been in vain.  Maybe Jesus is not the Messiah after all.
John sends a message to Jesus just before he is killed. “Are you the One or are we to wait for another?”
Did I make a mistake?  Was this all a big mistake?
John doubted at the end.  He wondered if he had listened to the right thing.  And this, more than any other part of his life, makes me admire him.  John was listening so hard that he was even willing to admit that he might be wrong.  He was willing to admit that his whole life might have been one big mistake.
I think the thing that scares me the most about religious extremism is the certainty with which they act.  Not only do these Muslim extremists believe that God asks them to kill but they seem to be so certain.  And holy men, like John the Baptist, have room to doubt.  Holy men and women are always listening, always willing to admit that they might be wrong.

I wish I could thank John for what he did.  The great messenger.  He showed us what it means to listen to give your life to God.  And he will be remembered until the end of time for his faithfulness.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Woman and The Sacristy

This past weekend, I traveled to the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast to run a retreat for the women of the Diocese.  The women were extraordinary.  We talked about Mary Magdalene and her role as someone who suffered from demons and who became one of the greatest followers of Jesus.  Some of these women were Daughters of the King and many had served in their churches for years.  There were some incredible stories told.  I want to share one of them with you…

After fifty years of marriage, one woman came home to find that her husband was leaving her for a younger woman.  She was so distraught that she went to bed.  Her sisters convinced her to come to this same Diocesan women’s retreat and she went but immediately got back in bed once she arrived.

One of her sisters scolded her and told her to get up, that God had work for her to do.  So she got up and started wandering around the Camp and Conference Center.  She wandered into an old sacristy which was messy, dirty and covered in cobwebs.  She said to herself, “This room looks like how I feel,” and she began to clean.

As she cleaned that sacristy, God came to her and it became clear that she was to work in her church.  This was her way forward, this was her path through her pain.

This past summer, at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, she was recognized as a Woman of Distinction for all the work that she has done.

What makes us who we are?  It is not only the crises that we must endure, but it is how we choose to respond to them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Great Divorce: Faith and Mental Health Today

This presentation was made on Saturday September 14, 2015 at the conference on Faith and Mental Health offered by Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida…

I want to dedicate this presentation to a young woman. I will call her Kathy.  I knew her years ago, when I was a young minister in my very first parish.  She was very tall and generally scary looking. She wore black always. Combat boots. She looked like the kind of person you didn’t want to cross. She came not just on Sundays but began to drop by my office during the day. It was a small rural church in South Carolina. We would sit together in my office. She would perch on my sofa and wring her hands, unable to speak. She showed me where she had cut herself.
Over the months, Kathy told me what had happened to her mainly by writing it down on small scraps of paper that she would bring in with her.  I got her to see a therapist quickly, but she still wanted to come by and talk to me. And this was her story.
Kathy was raped beginning around the age of four.  Her uncle came to live with the family and he would find many ways to hurt her.  Her mother was working full-time. She was often alone with her uncle. She didn’t know how to explain what was happening, how to put it into words. She thought it was her fault.
So she began washing her hands. Over and over again, many times a day, she would wash her hands until they became chapped and dry and red. And still she would wash them.  Her mother didn’t understand why. It took her mother four years to discover what was really happening.  Four years.
There are many different kinds of vocabularies that we use when describing mental illness.  What Kathy did was suffer trauma as a child that resulted in mental health issues.  Voices inside her head told her she was dirty and unworthy and that she should die.  These voices and feelings originally came from outside her.  They were instilled in her by trauma. They were a normal response to a horrible situation. Kathy was just trying to make sense of a crazy world.  She was just trying to survive.
Kathy grew up into this tough young woman who carried a knife in her pocket, took martial arts and was plagued with anger and misery. We would pray and she worked so hard in therapy.  When I moved away, I was certain she would be OK. But just three weeks ago, I heard from her mother that she had moved away from her support system and all alone in a new city, she had taken her own life.  She was gone.
Like so many of you who have worked with patients or had loved ones who suffered, I feel such sadness and inadequacy when I think of Kathy. I wish I could have helped her more. I wish she had been born into a world that was fair and kind and treated her like the child of God that she was and even still is.  So I dedicate this presentation to her and to all those who suffer from mental health issues. To you, Kathy.  I am so sorry.

And as I look back, I wish that I had talked to Kathy about the value of her therapy.  I wish that I had taught my entire congregation about the value of mental health professionals.  We were on the same team. I simply referred her to a therapist and then did not mention it again.  As a clergy person, I might think of Kathy’s struggle as a struggle against the evil that happened to her as a child, as the spiritual battle with demons of self-hatred that were instilled in her when she was raped.  The therapist would have other words…But why did we not support one another?  Could we have done more for Kathy if we had acknowledged each other? 

This is a presentation about a divorce that happened at the dawn of psychoanalysis.  The divorce that Sigmund Freud initiated when he brilliantly began to articulate a new discipline called psychoanalysis in order to understand and heal the human mind.  It is my firm belief that if we are ever to truly help young women like Kathy or others who suffer from mental illness, we must join the hands of faith, science and medicine in a multidisciplinary approach to mental health. This divorce of the psychological from the spiritual has left us inadequately prepared to hear the sufferings of our fellow human beings. We have tried to dissect the human mind into psychological issues as opposed to spiritual issues.  This has handicapped us in our treatment and in our compassion.  Jesus made no such distinction.  Nor did the great teachers of other faith traditions. It is time for us to admit that this divorce has not done us any good. The segregation of our practices weakens our work and ministry.  It is time for a reconciliation.  Human healing and wholeness can only be achieved when we join hands, when mental health professionals teach in churches and clergy come to the rooms of patients. We need one another.

In 1907, in one of his first books, Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices, Freud argued that religion was a neurosis created in an effort to fend off a fear of death.  He called religion a “universal obsessional neurosis.” (The Freud Reader, p. 435) Those who truly wanted to be mentally healthy must admit that religion was a crutch created out of a need to answer questions which could not rationally be answered. If one was to be taken seriously, in Freud’s opinion, one must say good-bye to any kind of faith in God.
Freud was a genius in many ways. Because he was the pioneer in a new discipline, his voice still echoes today.  All mental health professionals must consider at some point Freud’s thesis that faith is born of neurosis and is just another sign of mental fragility.  For decades, mental health professionals were taught in some circles that matters of faith could only serve to illumine a patient’s mental illness.  Religion was a symptom of dysfunction and not a source of support. This is very much the case in New England, where I am originally from. 
If faith and the spiritual life are in themselves symptoms of deep insecurity, then they can never be part of a treatment plan for mental health. Even if you go to therapy, you must not admit to prayer or any such nonsense, lest that become another symptom of your neurosis. 
At the same time, the religious community has reacted to the rise of the mental health profession with skepticism.  Mental health practices have often been criticized, even as seen in direct competition with faith communities.  If you want to be well, all you need to do is pray.  Jesus said clearly that your faith made you well so if you are struggling with mental health issues, then you must not be praying right. Don’t go to a therapist, simply put your trust in God and God will heal you. And if you do go to a therapist, it means that you are being unfaithful. You are not putting your trust in God.
In addition, Christianity has piled on guilt and even spoken of damnation when addressing the mentally ill.  Talk of sin and demons and evil itself has made those who suffer from mental health issues afraid to admit that they need help.  Look at this cartoon…Mocking the mentally ill…
Without realizing it, the Church has accused children of God of succumbing to temptation, wallowing in sin or simply making bad choices.  The formula of prayer alone as a remedy for mental health has led to shame and in many cases suicide for those who cannot find relief simply by praying. The Church has abandoned them to judgement and loneliness. St Paul taught us that all illness is community illness-that we are the body of Christ, but we have abandoned our brothers and sisters who suffer from mental health issues.  Our fear of that which we do not understand has caused us to shun them, label them and force them into hiding. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, those who struggle from mental health issues find themselves running away from God and hiding for fear of showing their vulnerability in a church that has no words of comfort, nothing to wrap around their shoulders. Instead of embracing the mentally ill, we have treated them like the lepers of our day. We have treated them as if they are weak at best and evil at worst. We in the faith community have much to confess in how we have maligned and treated those who suffer from mental illness.

The mental health professionals and the faith communities have existed too long in separate silos. Both sides of this divorce have limited their resources by insisting that the mentally ill need only one disciple to find health and wellness. We have crippled ourselves in our arrogance.  The shame is on us. All of us.  Has not God given us the mental health profession to help us understand the human mind?  And has not God given us faith communities as sources of support and strength?  We make a grave error when we think that any one of us can do this alone.
Strangely, this divorce between the psychological and the spiritual did not seem to happen as deeply in the field of medicine.  Other than Christian Scientists, most Americans have sought out medical care for over one hundred years. We believe in prayer, but Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus will all show up in the ER if they are bleeding.  And many will articulate the belief that God works through the hands of surgeons and doctors and nurses.  In almost every hospital parking lot, there is a space reserved for clergy.  So why is the physical body fixable by doctors and clergy together while the mind must choose between a therapist and priest? Why is it that, in the mental health field, we somehow feel that we are competing for the same territory?

In order to begin the process of reconciliation between faith communities and mental health professionals, we have to begin with the concept of SHAME.  We must destroy the shame that has been associated with mental illness.  In the recent JCCI report entitled Unlocking the Pieces: Community Mental Health in Northeast Florida, JCCI reports that one of the greatest reasons individuals don’t seek treatment is because of the stigma that is still associated with mental health issues. “The stigma of mental illness is both pervasive and firmly entrenched in our society,” they write.  This stigma leads to a lack of hope, despair and alienation. This stigma is very real and present here in Jacksonville.

How do we combat shame? We combat shame with by inviting Adam and Eve to come out of hiding.  We combat shame by showing our own failings, our vulnerability. We combat shame with honesty.  We combat shame with integrity.  We combat shame with courage.  Clergy, we must be willing to talk freely and openly about our own battles with mental health issues and the battles of our loved ones.  We must, without shame or fear, show the world that even those who pray can suffer from mental health issues.  Mental illness is a disease and just like a cancer patient, those who suffer from mental illness deserve our full support.

So let me begin with my own story.
This is a picture of my dad on his 70th birthday. My dad suffered from debilitating clinical depression when I was growing up.  The mental health care of our day was not sufficient.  He would go to bed for months, months. When I started therapy at the end of college, I thought that he had been in bed for three years, but he clarified that it was three months.  That was the longest stretch.  He would lie in bed with tears streaming down his face.  And he would tell much, when I was far too young to hear this, that the only reason he didn’t kill himself was because he believed in God.  And he believed that it was a sin to take his own life.
So I began to pray.  As a very little girl, the first memory that I have of prayer is of trying to write a letter to God in my head.  It was a simple letter.  It read, “Dear God, Thank you for life, love Kate.” I thought that you had to write to God in your head to pray so I would lie in my bed at night, look at the birch tree outside my window and say that prayer.
And I became a priest. Freud would have a field day.  It was God who kept my father alive, even if it was purely through the fear of damnation. So I dedicate my life to God.  And even as a child, when I entered the church, it felt safe.  I felt my worry and anxiety melt away.  There was a kind of solidity, of trust-worthiness there.  There were grown-ups who seemed solid and stable and who seemed to love me even when I didn’t show up for months.  I found my home.
My father has tried everything: medical, therapeutic, spiritual. In his effort to find relief, I was exposed to all kinds of methods as a child.  My dad took medications, all kinds of them. He had electroshock therapy, back when it was a bit rougher and caused memory loss. And we prayed.  I still pray for him daily. 

Why would I ever consider that my dad should only pray and not receive treatment for his depression?  Does not God work in all things? Are we not called to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world?  God works through the love and support of a community. God works through the gifts of mental health professionals.  We are all on the same team.

Take a moment.  There is a piece of paper at your table.  Write down someone in your life who has suffered from mental illness.  Let’s take a moment for you each to ponder who in your life has been touched by suffering in this way…
Now, turn to your table.  Share a story.  Model honesty.  This is the only way that we can combat shame.  Have courage.  Talk to one another.

Give me your feedback…You impression of what it is like to talk openly to one another…
Here is JK Rowling on depression…
It is time for a change. This conference marks one step in a movement to rectify our mistakes. It is time for us to learn from one another and to seek strength in the insights of each other.  Our disciplines are not at odds with one another.  We are all on the same team!
We must agree with the fact that mental health is a continuum.  The mind is like a garden.  It must be tilled and cultivated.  There is no such thing as a simply healthy mind.
Jesus often used images from nature when trying to explain our relationship to God and to each other.  One image that he used over and over again was the image of the wheat and the weeds. 
Just yesterday, I was pulling weeds in my overgrown Florida yard. They grow up so fast, especially when conditions are right.  Our minds are full of wheat and weeds.  All you need to do is sit down in silence for ten minutes and you can hear them.  We have thoughts that are life-giving and thoughts that are destructive.  Our job is to identify the wheat from the weeds. And notice that Jesus tells us that only God can rid us of our weeds.  We can’t pull the weeds from our own minds, we cannot strip ourselves of destructive thinking or feelings of despair. But we can identify them and learn to live with them. I don’t have to listen when I tell myself that I am fat or stupid or a bad mother.  I can realize that that though is a weed, planted there sometime when someone said something hurtful to me, and I can just let it be there. Worry, obsession, even addiction…weeds of the mind.  Weeds can choke and even destroy a mind if left unchecked.
Doesn’t the world of therapy agree with this notion that we are to identify the weeds and get to know them?  That we cannot get rid of them? And do we really think that there is a human mind out there that has no weeds?  And would not we call this process of self-realization a holy process?  Is not the Holy Spirit present when one human being truly listens to another?
One thing that I know about weeds is that they tend to look alike.  The same weeds come up again and again and again.  I pull one and another grows in its place.  It is a constant battle.  A healthy mind takes upkeep and analysis.  We can’t just let it go.  Just like the physical body needs exercise, so the mind needs observance, listening and careful cultivation.
The Bible talks clearly about the fact that we all have unclean thoughts and feelings.  Even Jesus himself was tempted.  It is part of what it means to be human, to be tempted.  And we notice that it was Jesus who mastered his temptation before he set out to help anyone else.  For we all know that you cannot truly help others if you don’t know how temptation works in your own mind.
If we could only understand that to be human is to suffer, and to be human is to grapple with mental health issues.  To follow God is a process of continual discernment, constant self-reflection.  Just like we care for the body, so we must care for the mind.
For the person of Jesus’ day, soul, spirit, breath were all one. There was just one word for them. In our effort to understand and dissect the human mind, we have tried to pry apart those things that coexist in a dance of mutuality.  We have tried to dissect and segregate those things which are in fact one. 
It is time for us to understand that we all are approaching a great mystery together and that mystery is the human mind and spirit.  We come at this mystery like blind men feeling an elephant. Faith communities can help in one way.  Mental health professionals in another way. We treat the same mystery from a variety of perspectives, none of us fully understanding that which only God can fully comprehend.
So I dedicate this conference to Kathy.  Let her not have died in vain.  Let us come together in this battle for the human spirit to be free, as God intended for us to be.