Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bootstrap Spirituality

Another key issue that seems to be a line in the sand is this concept of spiritual self-reliance or "victory" over sin.

This one issue seems to be what separates Democrats from Republicans, social conservatives from liberals and etc. I think it too is a dividing line between evangelicals and Christian non (or post) evangelicals. But first I must give some background.

Most of my posts have their roots deeply planted in conversations I have with one of my evangelical friends. After all, I am a post-evangelical struggling to live in an evangelical world.

A friend of mine was describing a testimony he heard from one of the guys who attend the motorcycle church that meets in our church building. I can’t remember the details of this man’s life but it was rough. I think he grew up with a drug addicted mom and no father in a tough L.A. neighborhood. It seems like he was raped by some of his mother’s boyfriends when he was really young. Then he got involved with drugs and gangs. I think he became a gang leader and maybe even killed some people.

But some how, like Paul’s road to Damascus experience, he became a Christian. Immediately he left his old drug and gang life and became a new man. Now he is either a pastor or an assistant pastor, living a very “godly” life.

My friend, who was telling the story, remarked that this man is proof that you can recover from anything with God’s help. Therefore, he didn’t buy the “excuses” of PTSD.

I of course don’t agree. But it got me thinking about this. Like I said, I don’t have certainty in any of my positions so when I hear something that seems to challenge my presuppositions, I meditate on it for a few days to see if I am wrong (but I’m not a wishy-washy Olive).

When it comes to personality, weaknesses, addictions and mental illness, I’ve said before that the cause tends to be a mixture of nature and nurture. For some people (say severe schizophrenia) it is mostly nature. For PTSD, it is mostly nurture. Both of them can be the results of old sin (genetic flaws through the fall of Adam or abuse at a young age by the hands and sin of another). Of course our own choices (sin) can magnify them (choosing to use drugs etc.) However, I’ve stood my ground that for most people, who suffer from significant mental health problems, to be totally healed in this life-time would take a Biblical-grade miracle. Something along the lines of a life-long, cripple suddenly jumping up and walking or a blind person seeing. Not just a “card-trick” type of miracle that you hear in a typical Sunday morning sermon (landing a plane on the Hudson, grandma having cataract surgery and now she can see 80% better).

So my point, while mental health problems are treatable, rarely (especially if they are serious) can they go completely away.

My position is based on hundreds of patients whom I’ve worked with over the years . . . and my own brush with mental illness. My mental illness (which I’ve disclosed before) is not severe but significant. It is a generalized anxiety disorder. It has waivered up and down over the years. I knew I had it by age 5-6. I’m not sure how much of mine was nature vs nurture and it really doesn’t matter. I do know that I’ve fought this plague with every ounce of strength that I have for my entire life. When I was an evangelical, I jumped through every spiritual hoop that you can imagine. I can guarantee that I exceeded any spiritual trick that anyone could think of. I mean, I’ve fasted for days and I’ve fasted once a week for weeks or months. I’ve memorized hundreds of verses. I have attended enough discipleship programs to render me brain dead . . . and I have not been delivered. I’ve had charismatics laying hands on me including those who have all kinds of gifts of healing. The only time I was “delivered” was when I considered myself a “godly man” and I buried my terror so deeply so that no one else would notice. Then I could claim I was “healed.” The only thing I have not done is taken a lot of medications. I probably would be better off if I had.

It is hard for us (and I really think the majority of people make up the broken “us” that I’m speaking of) to have worked sooooooo hard on something, then to have a spiritual evangelical come up and immediately tell you how it is your fault that you suffer so much and that there is an easy fix, just like they’ve fixed all of their problems. PLEEEEEEEASE! This is either someone who has never, ever suffered from your problem, or they live way up on the 60th floor (away from reality on the ground floor) that they, like I’ve done before, pretend they are perfect.

But the question has to be begged—who are these people (like the motorcycle pastor mentioned) who do seem to recover fully? I mean, besides the ex-gang born again saints, I think of those great people who survived the holocaust. I can’t think of anything more horrible (psychologically) that living through that. But I don’t hear of many (of course they are old now and not as many left) holocaust survivors suffering from mental illnesses as a result. Maybe it was a huge problem and wasn’t mentioned.

I think it is an important issue. If we really can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and over come completely these issues, then the Church must choose. Either it becomes the Grand Theater, where we all pretend . . . or it becomes a safe place. A safe place where we can talk about what ails us and we support each other but we don’t expect each other to ever reach that level of “victory.”

But still I wonder about that pastor. If he was raped over and over as a child, beaten, abused, drugged up, abused others . . . how does he live Godly now without the hang ups that I still carry? Is there still a balm hidden in some Christian self-help book that I haven’t done? Or,( as I am often tempted to think), am I just an inferior person . . . disgusting in God’s eyes for failing? I think that latter way often . . . but I really don’t believe it. I think it comes from the great accuser.

7 comments:

E. A. Harvey said...

Thank you for saying aloud when many of us think but don't know how to verbalize. I especially appreciate your honesty in regards to mental illness. I guess I cling to the fact that Paul asked over and over for God to take away his thorn (whatever it was), but God didn't. I also tend to think that Kings Saul, David, and Solomon all had their own types of mental illnesses... God still held them responsible for their sin, but being "godly" doesn't mean you'll have all your issues figured out. Far, far from it. Just another reason and reminder why we have to throw ourselves upon His grace.

Trevor Morgan said...

It is hard for us ... to have a spiritual evangelical come up and immediately tell you how it is your fault that you suffer so much and that there is an easy fix, just like they’ve fixed all of their problems.

I've seen this happen, and it disturbs me deeply. I've seen parents told that their child died because they didn't have enough faith.

Paul tells us to 'carry each other's burdens'. Maybe sometimes, for some burdens, this means being a conduit for another's healing or deliverance. But I suspect that more often than not it simply means being present; helping our brothers and sisters get through life when weighed down by loads that are too heavy to be carried individually.

I am convinced that the ethic of the gospel is fundamentally 'other-centered' rather than self-centered. It's not a mechanism to fix our own problems, but a calling to be compassionate to others.

Anonymous said...

But the question has to be begged—who are these people (like the motorcycle pastor mentioned) who do seem to recover fully?

Obviously, it IS possible to recover fully, just like Our Spiritual Betters claim.

Where they get it wrong is that such full recoveries are rare. Miracles, like all paranormal phenomena, are by definition a rare and unusual event.

I think it is an important issue. If we really can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and over come completely these issues, then the Church must choose. Either it becomes the Grand Theater, where we all pretend . . . or it becomes a safe place.

Sounds like your church has already Chosen.

Hannah said...

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Anonymous said...

your thoughts are a relief... I suffer from PTSD, and a whole bunch of things that let me struggle through life... After having been in the hospital for a month, my family seems to think that I should be "better".. I never thought I'd live to be this age because the stress in our home growing up made me feel like I was slowly dying. This post is a relief. I may never get "better". My body will never be the same, my emotions/soul/will are severely damaged. I may live a weak life and then die, but I'm still alive today and have a voice now if nothing else. My biggest pain is that I have a husband who loves me passionately and I struggle to respond. *sigh* Sometimes I think about all of the things I'd like to do and be and feel in heaven when I'm out of this broken body.

Quivering Daughters said...

Excellent post. Thank you for this.

frogla said...

I guess to me it doesn't matter whether or not you or I have "fully" recovered from anything or even have enough faith. I believe that it's up to God anyway if we are healed or not. Where is our faith anyway in the healing or in the Lord Jesus? We are called to be weak so that He can be strong not the other way around. We need a doctrine of suffering to push us into the presence of the Lord who alone is responsible for our spiritual growth. Thanks for the thoughtful post. Too many are teaching that there's something wrong with you if you have "problems" of any sort. Look @ Paul; his entire life was filled with problems & it doesn't matter whether or not he, or others, or God permitted them. What matters to me is that Paul didn't resist them but allowed them to push him into the presence of the Lord time and time again. That's what I want!