Monday, May 03, 2010

God and Suicide

Chris Erdman preached a sermon on the Second Sunday of Lent this year, which focused to a great extent on the suicide of a close friend, Jamie Evans [photo] three days earlier.

The sermon needs to be read in full, but in this post I'd like just to quote three extracts relating to the way in which we continue to regard those who have a mental illness, by which I mean, and Erdman means, not necessarily those who wander the streets talking to themselves, or those who inhabit psychiatric hospitals sometimes for years on end, but those who live amongst us in the community and are suffering daily from the difficulties of (often severe) depression.

First, we must work to remove the stigma of mental illness, a stigma that keeps mental illness secret and hidden and dangerous.
Look, there’s no more shame in mental struggle, mental anguish, and mental illness than there is in high cholesterol or high blood pressure. We readily recognize our need for help in other areas of our lives. For God’s sake, why then do we consign people whose minds are troubled to the secret and lonely life of walking the road of clinical depression alone? We must end this secrecy! We must throw open the windows of our lives to the fact that to one degree or another we are all troubled, some of us more than others. In fact, there are more reasons to be struggling mentally, emotionally, and spiritually today than there are reasons not to. Let’s get that into our heads and learn to live more honestly and compassionately toward others as well as toward ourselves.

Second, self-care is not an option. We all need to learn to practice some kind of vulnerability, some kind of internal awareness of what's going on on the inside of our lives. There are many ways to do this.

Third, those who are in great mental and emotional pain need community.

We must become more educated about the signs of mental illness, and more able to recognize those signs in those around us, as well as in ourselves. Let’s face it; we’re not very aware of what’s going inside the skin of others, let alone ourselves. Our faces are buried in our cell phones; we’re glued to computer and TV screens. Our minds are fixated on the thought parade that never ceases to march through our brains. The noise of this modern world drowns out true awareness. We look but cannot see; we hear but do not listen; we walk the paths of daily life but aren’t very aware of what’s really going on around us.

When you’re aware, truly aware, you slow down. You listen. You see things others, in their busyness and distraction, do not see. You sense what others cannot sense. Awareness is the ability to see beneath the surface, to detect the subtle changes in the emotional climate within you and within those around you. You see it in their eyes. You hear it in the tone of voice. You sense it in their touch.

Awareness is a particularly Christian virtue—a way to be fully here, to be completely in this present moment because you know God holds all things, you know God loves this world, and you know God is at work to bring about the goodness we all seek. Awareness is necessary for community. You cannot build a community when you’re distracted.

Erdman discusses the way in which he believes God looks after those who've committed suicide. For decades the church labelled them as people who'd committed an unforgivable sin. Erdman, (and I suspect, Jesus Christ) doesn't think that's the case.

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