Sunday, July 29, 2018

When No One Comes to Our Party

What if you throw a party and no one comes? 

I don’t know about you, but when I have invited people over for a special party or event, like my daughter’s birthday, or to celebrate my getting a PhD, or even to come for my ordination, I go to a lot of trouble to get ready.  I think carefully about who I want to come and I make sure he or she is invited.  I might even make special invitations.  I think carefully about the menu, what are we going to drink?  Will we serve ice tea and lemonade?  Or will we also serve beer and wine?  What are we going to eat?  Will we have bitings or appetisers while people are coming.  And then what am I going to prepare?  Will I cook meat on the grill?  Will I make a special casserole? What about salads?  And what about desert?  Will I make a fancy cake, or maybe a couple of apple and mango pies?  With ice cream?  And then I need to make sure I have plenty of coffee or tea for after the meal.  And then there is getting my place ready for guests.  Bathrooms need to be cleaned, carpets vacuumed, shelves dusted, cobwebs removed.  And outside, the grass needs to be cut, the toys in the garden need to be put away.  You know, parties don’t just happen.  They take effort and work.

So what if I go through all this effort to throw a party, and no one comes?  How would I feel?  How would you feel?

Starting a Church is sort of like throwing a party, at least in terms of all the work it takes.  For starters, someone has to have a vision for starting a Church.  And then there’s all the work of talking about it with all the necessary people, and getting the approval and the blessing of the Bishop.  But in order to have services, one needs to have a place.  Somebody needs to provide a place for the Church to meet.  Somebody needs to pay the rent.  And then there’s the question of who is going to lead this Church.  The Bishop appoints, yes, but that person has to be willing to leave a place where everything is settled and ordered and provided for, and come instead to a place where nothing is settled, nothing is ordered, nothing is provided for.  It takes a lot of commitment for someone to take that step, for someone to be willing to come essentially to an empty space.  And then what about a choir?  Where does a choir come from?  And what about prosphera?  Who’s going to make the altar bread?  And what about the altar wine?  Who’s going to buy that?  And candles and icons?  And charcoal for the censor?  Who’s going to provide that?  Who’s going to try to lite the jiko every time we have a service?  And signs so that people know that we are here?  Who’s going to make them and pay for them?  And biscuits and sodas and tea after the service?  Who’s going to make the tea and the coffee?  Who is going to buy the sodas?  And who is going to clean up after you go home?

It takes a lot of effort, and a lot of money, to start a Church, to throw a party for Jesus in this city.  But what if we go through all this effort, and nobody comes?  What if we start looking at our numbers, and begin to get discouraged?  What if we start thinking that it would be better if we just turned around and went back home?

Jesus had told his disciples to get back in their boat and go back home to Capernaum, probably.  He would join them later, but he wanted some alone time to pray in the hills.  The disciples knew this lake like they knew the back of their hand.  But as they were trying to head across the water, something was wrong.  The wind was against them.  The waves were against them.  They were hardly making any progress at all.  It grew dark.  They should have been home by now, but they were struggling, somewhere in the middle of the lake.  And it wasn’t getting any easier.  In fact it was getting worse.  They were worried.  And then one of them yelled: ‘My God, what’s that?  Look!  It’s a ghost! Coming straight for us!’ And they all yelled and were terrified.

But then they heard a familiar voice - ‘Take heart - It’s me.  Do not be afraid!’  It is Jesus, and He is walking across the lake on the waves, He’s walking on the water.’

And then Peter does something totally unexpected.  I mean, would you have done this?  Would I have done this?  He says, ‘Lord if it is you, give the command and I will walk on the water to you!’

And Jesus simply says, ‘Come.’

Peter steps out of the boat and starts walking on the water to Jesus.  He gets about three quarters of the way there, and then he realises what he is doing, and he feels the wind on his face and the water splashing his legs and he forgets Jesus and starts thinking about the lake that he is now sinking into.  Help! he cries.  Save me! he cries.

Jesus catches his hand and pulls him up to Himself and together they walk back to the boat.  ‘O man of little faith,’ Jesus says, ‘why did you doubt?’

Starting a Church is like the disciples getting into a boat and setting out for their destination.  It’s what Jesus told them to do.  And this Church is what Jesus is telling us to do.  But the disciples found it hard going, unexpectedly difficult.  Discouraging.  And so does anyone who is starting something new for the Lord, whether it is a Church or a school or a ministry.  And the disciples are really discouraged.  And when they see Jesus on the water coming towards them, they’re terrified.  They don’t recognise Him in the midst of the storm and the challenges and all the discouragements.  But Peter does.  He’s the only one who does, and when he hears Jesus say ‘Come,’ he leaves the boat and walks to Jesus.  Just like many of us, we’ve heard Jesus say, ‘Come, follow Me.’ and we have given up everything to follow Him.  We’re like Peter.  We’re even willing to get out of the boat. 

But then reality sinks in and even Peter is afraid and distracted and can’t keep walking towards Jesus, and he starts to sink.  And maybe it’s the same with you and me this morning.  We’ve come so far, but maybe we are losing sight of our Lord, maybe we are not hearing His voice, maybe we are too distracted by all the details, by the wind and the waves, by the storm. And we are sinking.

I really feel this story.  You would think that a full-time Christian worker, a minister, a missionary, would find it easy to follow the Lord, to be a Christian, to start a Church.  It doesn’t matter if I have taken five steps on the water.  If I am sinking, I am sinking.  And I need a Saviour or I will slip under the waves and drown.

In all the icons of this passage, Peter’s arm is stretched out to Jesus, but it is Jesus who grabs him by the wrist and pulls him up.

Have you gotten out of the boat for Jesus?  Are you walking on water for Jesus?  Are you sinking in the midst of the wind and waves and storm?  Cry out to Jesus.  He will save you.  He will grab you by the wrist and pull you to Himself.  And are you in the middle of doing what Jesus has called you to do, but nothing is happening?  Everything is hard and difficult.  And nobody is coming, just a few.  Maybe we are looking around at our circumstances, at the wind, at the waves, at the storm.  And now we are starting to sink.  Like Peter, we need to cry out to Jesus.  Like Peter, reach out to Jesus.  He will grab you and me and pull us to Himself.

I don’t know about you, but I am looking forward to the day when Jesus will say to us, ‘O you man of little faith, O you woman of little faith, O you church of little faith.  Why did you doubt?’

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

'When No One Comes to Our Party'
Sunday, July 29, 2018
St. Moses of Africa Orthodox Church, Kisumu, Kenya
Subdeacon Dr. Joseph Black

The Gospel Reading for Today:
Matthew 14:22-34

            At that time, Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was many furlongs distant from the land, beaten by the waves; for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, "It is a ghost!" And they cried out for fear. But immediately he spoke to them, saying "Take heart, it is I; have no fear."
            And Peter answered him, "Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water." He said, "Come." So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, "Lord, save me." Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, "O man of little faith, why did you doubt?" And when they entered the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God." And when they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Addicts, Drunkards, and Orthodoxy in Kisumu

All of the pictures used in this post come from the web and are of street boys in Nairobi. 

This story starts in an unexpected place.  I had taken the overnight coach (bus) from Nairobi to Kisumu.  We arrived at the station at 4am.  The last time I had done this, I had paid too much money for a ride in a tuk tuk [three-wheeled Indian contraption that apparently is powered by a lawn mower engine) from the station to my house.  This time I decided I would find a boda boda (motorcycle) driver to take me home.  So we agree a price and I climb on board the back with my suitcase, and then spend a period of time praying because neither of us are wearing a helmet.  Then I started chatting with the driver, as one does.  Turns out his name is James.  He became very interested when he found out I was an Orthodox Christian and we had started a new church in Kisumu.  He told me about a group of boys that he would like for me to meet and speak to, street boys who hung out in down town Kisumu.  I said I would love to have the chance to meet them.  By this time we were at my gate.  We exchanged phone numbers.  And I went in and made me a cup of strong coffee to start the new day.

That was in May.  This past Tuesday I was walking home from town in the afternoon when a boda boda driver pulled his bike off the road and in front of me.  I wasn’t sure what was going on, but he greeted me - ‘Dr. Joseph, it’s James Ouma with the street boys.’  We chatted for a while and then he said, ‘I have talked with the boys and they would like you to come and speak to them.’  Ok, when?  ‘On Friday morning at 9.’  I will be happy to come.  Where?  ‘In the public park on the square downtown next to Barclays Bank.’

So this morning came.  I had to arrange for my househelp to come early.  I went early, parked my car at a nearby parking garage, and walked to the square.  I was expecting my friend James with a group of 5-6 street boys.  I turned the corner, and there, sitting on the grass was a group of about 40+ young men, and my friend James.  There were more people on the fringes - passersby, security people, shop owners, all watching to see what was happening.  So I prayed ‘Lord have mercy’ and decided to greet and introduce myself to each one.  Some of them were ok in English, some not, some of them were entirely present, others had the glassy stare of being under the influence of something, probably glue.  Many of them carried little plastic bottles filled with something which I suspected was glue.  Some of them were in their twenties.  I asked one who looked really young how old he was and he said ‘Thirteen’.  None of them have a home.  All of them live on the streets of our city.  Most if not all are addicted to glue or some other substance.  And here they all were, spread out in front of me, waiting for me to say something.

So I told them something about myself.  I told them what addictions had done to people I know and love.  I told the story of the garden I had when I was a young pastor, and how it started out so beautiful, with so much promise of lots and lots of produce.  But obligations took me away from my garden for three weeks, and when I came back, the weeds had taken over.  The garden failed and was unproductive.  And we too are God’s garden, created to be beautiful, productive, fruitful, and a blessing to everyone around.  But when we allow the weeds to grow, and we don’t cut them down and pull them out, it chokes the life out of what God intended to be good.  And look at us, all of us, we are all being choked by the weeds.  But we don’t have to stay here.  The weeds don’t have to define our life.

The small plastic bottles carried by some of these boys are filled with glue.

I went on to tell about Jesus and the good news of the salvation he can bring to each of us, if we choose to follow him.  Jesus will give us a new life.  But we have to be willing to leave the old life.  And that is very very hard, because for so many of us, the old life is the only life we know.  And the old life may be killing us, destroying us, but we are afraid of leaving it.

I went on for some time.  And then I introduced our priest whom I had invited to join me, who shared his testimony.  And then we were done.

We were immediately mobbed by a bunch of young men who were hoping for a handout, or for breakfast or something.  I have a personal policy not to give out money at events like this, because first it sets a bad precedent.  Second it is essentially paying people to come.  Thirdly, I can’t afford it.  I learned long ago that an addict cannot be trusted with money, however sincerely they may intend to use it for proper purposes.  The Father and I said our goodbyes to the boys and to James and went and debriefed at a coffee shop.

James is keen for us to come again.  I don’t know how many of the boys will show up now that they know we aren’t coming with handouts.  But it is an opportunity to meet young men who are at the very bottom of Kisumu society, and to share the hope of our lives with them, the Lord Jesus.  Ironically, there were many times more young men sitting on the grass in that park this morning than their are Faithful attending our Divine Liturgy on Sundays.  Sometimes God raises up a congregation from the most unexpected places.

But this experience also raises very hard questions.  Why are there so many boys and young men sleeping rough, sniffing glue, abusing alcohol, engaged in petty crime just to survive here in Kisumu?  What happened to their families that they are treated as cast-offs, worthless to everyone?  How can they be delivered from the grips of the addictions that are strangling so many of them.  And given that this is the only way of life that so many of them know, how is it even possible to help save them into a new way of living?  And with no resources to help?

I have no answers.  I only have this morning’s experience.  And the fact that for whatever reason, the Holy Spirit has used the boda boda driver James to bring these boys to our attention.  We are like the disciples when asked by Jesus to feed the 5000.  With what? they said.  With what? we say.

Jesus overcomes, not with money or programs, but one by one through relationships.  It doesn’t seem very efficient.  But relationships are the only context in which love becomes free to work.  And love is the preferred miracle that Jesus employs when He is reaching out through His people to save someone.

I have no idea where this will go.  Only that every journey, however long or short, begins with a first step.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Polite Notice - I've Retired from Facebook

I retired from Facebook two weeks ago.  According to the social media giant’s instructions, it would be two weeks before my presence would be removed from their domain permanently.  Two weeks would be today.

I have been on Facebook for more than ten years.  My reasons for participating were two-fold: I wanted to keep up with my children, who at that time were in college in the US while I was living in Kenya; secondly I wanted to have a platform from which to communicate to my supporters, the ones who through their prayers and financial support, made it possible for me to be a missionary in East Africa.

But things changed.  My children are now married and pursing lives of their own and are not regular Facebook users.  And especially recently I noticed that few of my supporters actually follow what I do or say on Facebook.

But mainly I have grown weary of this ephemeral advertising behemoth and its incessant efforts to draw me in further and further into its labyrinth of interactions. 

I was weary of being ‘friends’ with nearly 1300 people, most of whom I did not actually know.

I was weary of the ‘targeted advertising’, which meant in practice that every 5th post I looked at was advertising something that looked remarkably similar to the running shoes I had just shopped for elsewhere.  I found this creepy and disturbing.

I was weary of the politicization of posts, and the lack of charitableness that apparently goes hand in hand with strong views in my country.  The same for social issues.  It was increasingly dismaying to have the depth of dialogue reduced to sheet-of-paper thinness, before the board was upended by ‘outrage’ and the all-discussion-ending labeling of this person or that as a bigot or worse, as if that decided anything.

I grew weary of the snark and cruelty and irresponsibility with words.  So many ‘friends’ so quick to judge, and without recourse to context, intention or clarification.  Heaven forbid we become guilty of thinking the best of someone; thinking the worst of someone is so much more satisfying, and it puts him/her in their place and makes me feel superior.  I was weary of snark because I found myself drawn into the game as well.  And when I found myself every day baited into an opportunity to put someone down with too-clever-by-half words, it was just another indication that the time had come to walk away.  I don’t want to be that kind of person.

Facebook was, for me, a kind of mirror into the human condition.  It’s a fascinating mirror, a seductive mirror.  But the reality it pretends to reflect is even more compelling.  I finally felt the mirror with all its self-selected poses was distracting me from the actual reality around me.  I spent a lot of time in that unreality, engaging with friends and ideas in the superficial kind of way several score words allow.  But I think the cumulative effect has been to reduce my capacity and desire to focus – on people, on ideas, on needs.  Much easier to send a quip to a ‘friend’ than to go see them, spend time with them, see in person what’s going on and help them figure out what to do.  For all my ‘friends’, I think Facebook was actually robbing me of relationships.  So rather than 1300 ‘friends’, I have just a handful of people I consider to be friends here in Kisumu.  And it is a struggle to engage with them as people and not as a post on my ‘page’.  But this is another of the reasons I have retired from Facebook.  I don’t need the entertainment.  I need the relationships.  And Facebook was all about the former, at the expense of the latter, at least for me.

I’ll still keep writing for my blog Onesimus.  But I won’t be getting as many readers, as I was able to post a link to new articles on my Facebook page and got a lot of traffic that way.  But providing links to Onesimus, in the end, was not a sufficient reason to keep me clicking on my Fb icon multiple times a day.  I’ve retired, removed myself, am no longer a player, opted out of The System.  And I’m glad.  And relieved to have disappeared.  

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Dad's Pride in Some Good Things that God Is Doing

My daughter and son-in-law live in Kigali, Rwanda.  They are missionaries there, teaching at the Kigali International Christian School.  Their school enables them to go home to reconnect with supporters and family every year and that's where they are right now, visiting in Florida, South Carolina and Virginia.  But with the help of their home church in Orlando, they have put together this short video describing something of what they do. They are Protestant Christians, as was I for most of my life.  May God raise up more Orthodox men and women who, like Caroline and Will, are willing to say yes to God's call, willing to go wherever God wants them to go and do whatever God wants them to do.  This is where discipleship, missions and stewardship starts for individual Christians, and where mission-mindedness and obedience to the Great Commission starts for churches and parishes.

Here is the link: 

Friday, June 8, 2018

Living with Depression

Another known person has been found dead, according to the media.  Cause of death?  Suicide.  But as the long days go by, stories come out.  He suffered from depression.  She had been seeing a counsellor and was on medication.  For depression.  And it is always, to many of us beyond their immediate circle, such a shock.  We had no idea he was depressed.  She looked and sounded so happy last night.

For those who suffer with depression, our culture, especially our Christian culture, has so stigmatized weakness that we feel we cannot admit our need, admit our weakness.  Even our own family members cannot understand why we just can’t get better.  We live in fear that the wrong person will find out, that we might lose our job, that our spouse might reject us, and so we adopt the only safe posture we know - denial - which turns out not to be safe at all.

You may have noticed that I have rather quickly shifted from the third person to the first person.  And that is because I suffer from depression. I live with depression.  I was in denial for decades, thinking I was just moody or melancholy.  And when I was floored by a major depressive episode 17 years ago, I determined it was a reaction to some anti-malarial medicine I was taking.  But then the episodes recurred, again and again.  I explained it to myself by saying I wasn’t handling the stress of being a missionary very well.  But what was really happening was that I was not handling the stress and the terror of a failing marriage, and there was no place I felt I could go to get help.  And so I stuffed my stress and my terror and fear and anger into a hole in my heart, out of sight and far away from the people I lived with and worked with.  And my heart and my mind responded by becoming septic.

Most people, even Christians, maybe even especially Christians, do not want to be bothered by another person’s troubles.  I don’t want to know about your terrible marriage, I don’t want to know about the verbal abuse you endure. I don’t want to know about your medical problems.  I don’t want to know that you have been banished from your own home.  These things trouble our tidy worlds. And the platitudes on which so many of us construct our flimsy lives.  But they also communicate in no uncertain terms to the one who is depressed that there is no safe place to run and hide.  And the church, so full of the so-called ‘saved’, who supposedly have experienced the love of Christ first hand, the church is often the least safe place of all.  This I know from experience.

I was the senior pastor of a mega church in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  I had been struggling with depression for several years, but I had responded well to medication and one would never have known I had been ill if I didn’t choose to tell you.  We had scheduled a leadership retreat and I decided to lead by example and demonstrate vulnerability and weakness as a mark of the kind of leadership Jesus was calling his followers to be in their interaction with and ministry to one another.  So I shared my experience of depression and some things I had learned, in the hopes that this might motivate my fellow leaders to own their own weakness, and learn how to receive and give grace.

The following Tuesday I received a delegation from our elders and they demanded that I resign.  They said I was sick and that I needed to go away.  I was stunned.  And I explained to them that their very response told me that they actually knew little if anything about depression and how it was treated.  I told them that I was fine, and that if they wanted to remove me from office they would have to find a real reason to justify it.

While I had a very good relationship with my staff and my congregation, my relationship with a few people on the leadership team seemed poisoned from then on.  Oh they were friendly enough when I was with them and other people, but I heard that things were otherwise when they were discussing (gossiping about) me in other contexts.  They finally succeeded in making things impossible for me to stay when they undertook to destroy one of our best staff members, and then went after me when I defended her in one of those jaw-dropping meetings that, even now, I cannot believe what was said and what malice was shown and what complete ignorance was betrayed.

A handful of people stood with me, but I spiralled down.  Even my wife said, after a year or so, that it was time for me to ‘get over it’.  But I could no more ‘get over it’ than a person locked in a barrel going over Niagara Falls can get them selves out and to safety.

After my resignation I spent one more year in a kind of no-man’s land in Ethiopia until we finally moved to Kenya.  I was still teaching courses.  But several times every day I drove by the church that I had pastored and led, and not a single person in the church reached out to me.  It was as if I had disappeared.  Word came back to me that the men who had orchestrated the circumstances which led to my resignation had let it be known that the former pastor was a very sick man and wouldn’t be coming back even though my friends and ministry colleagues there knew I was still teaching down the road and would occasionally see me in the grocery store or at my children’s school.  After the shock wore off I found myself embarrassed, angry, hurting, grieving.  But once again, even though I was a Christian surrounded by Christians, where could I take any of this?  My mission directors were nice people, but they seemed to have no idea how to deal with what I was going through except to say that the Lord was in control and that I could trust him to bring me through this.  No offer of help.  No willingness to intercede on my behalf.  I began to suspect they thought I was the source of the problem, just like the elders.  Home was also not a safe place.  I was listened to up to a point and then my spouse grew bored and suggested it was time to move on.  Not to mention the growing relational trauma that I had been experiencing over many years.  I had no place to go.  There was no safe place. Not church.  Not even home.  So I ate it.  With almost immediate detrimental consequences.

After we moved to Kenya, the floor fell out from under me almost as soon as I got there.  I was teaching, I was trying to process leaving and grieving over the place I had lived with my family for 8 years.  I was trying to navigate living in a new city and a new culture and a new institution.  Things were increasingly bad at home.  And the day came when the world never resolved into color but became dull grey in every direction.  I was listless. I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t read.  I didn’t want to see anybody.  I just wanted to get out of my unhappy house and hide in my office, where I stared at my laptop screen.  I felt constantly on the verge of tears.  And because I was a Christian.  I cried out to God.  I prayed and prayed and prayed for help.  But God felt absent.  And none of the people around me really had the awareness, interest or even capacity to do care.  And there certainly wasn't room for a man with a dark cloud over his head at the mildly Pentecostal church where my wife insisted on attending.  Everyone was too busy being happy and praising the Lord.  Unfortunately, I was still very much in denial that my marriage was tanking, for the simple reason that conservative Christians in missionary work don’t have a very good track record of handling problems like this.  Also, I actually, sadly, believed my spouse, who had said for years that it was my fault, that our problems were a result of my selfishness/stupidity/unwillingness to care for her, etc.  It would take many years more before I realised that none of this was true, that there were other dynamics at work in her life and in mine that caused our relationship to die an unnatural death.  There were also other things in my life that I had struggle with for years, and I was inclined to think that these were the cause of my internal distress.  But I have later realised that I was wrong about this, too.  The point being, I had become profoundly depressed and was confused about why.  I felt the only option was to face it alone, and there was no one who seemed to care.

It was at this point that I began planning to end it all.  There was a row of huge trees along the road on my way home.  It would be so easy to forget to buckle my seat belt.  To pick up speed down the straight away, up the rise and veer into that first massive tree.  And that would be then end.  All the pain, the confusion, the brokenness, would be over.  And I could end that most painful relationship and all the hurtful words and sad scenes.  And that, by the grace of God, is when I realised that I was really in trouble.

When one listens to advocates for those suffering from mental illness, they will always say again and again, ‘Get help!’  That’s what I did.  Mercifully, in my city, there was a counselling centre staffed not by amateur mission administrators, but by psychologists and psychiatrists.  They were able to get me in almost immediately, and I began a five year process of unpacking what was happening and why.  The first step was a medical one, which was to treat the illness of depression with medication.  But it took several tries to find the medication that worked for me.  I have been on this particular medication for 8 years, and I understand that I will be on it the rest of my life.  But the heavy clouds of depression have long ago lifted and I have felt as normal as I ever feel for the longest stretch in my life.  For this I am very grateful.

Challenging as the medical aspect was, the counselling part is still a work in progress.  I can only say that my understanding of myself has been transformed.  I have learned not to be in denial about who I am or what I struggle with. I better understand my past and how I responded to people who hurt me.  I also saw clearly for the first time the dynamics that characterised my marriage and what I contributed to our mutual dysfunction.  And I attempted to take responsibility for what I could change.  All of this has taken years of work - my own reading and reflection and praying, meeting with a counsellor.   And though I am no longer seeing a counsellor, the process of understanding, responding, repenting, and changing continues.  During this time I ended my marriage, putting a stop to the most painful thing I have ever experienced.  This, of course, was incredibly scandalous in the circles where we had served.  And as is so often the case, sadly the stories circulating made me to be the bad guy, though not a single one of these people (who are all ‘strong Christians’ and had previously been friends) has bothered to talk to me in person about it and find out if any of what they had heard was true.  But that is water down the river.

The reason I mention this is not to fight old fights in public or to try to justify myself at another’s expense.  Rather it is to say that depression is very complicated and one of the must human of all diseases. Its causes can be a messy complex of circumstances or a chemical issue out of the blue.  It affects everything - what we see, what we hear, how we cope, what we do, what we think, what we choose.  It’s like a heavy bag tied to even the strongest swimmer.  No matter how hard I stroke and pull and kick, I just keep sinking down, down, down.  Unless I get help, I will drown.

Ironically, Christianity, which has some of the most wonderful and powerful tools that a person and a community can use when dealing with someone with depression - Christianity is full of adherents who may mean well, but whose own inability to understand what depression is or what one can do to help, force the one who is suffering either to go into denial that anything is wrong or to abandon the faith because of the apparent cruelty of the other believers.  I certainly have experienced that cruelty and that ignorance and that stupidity first hand, and it is disorienting and painful and would have been a contributing factor to my suicide had I gone through with my plans.  But things will not improve - people will continue to fall so low that they lose the will and capacity to live and want only to end the pain - unless we begin to give people in our midst permission to be broken.  There is nothing sinful about depression - it is a disease, like diabetes is a disease.  There is nothing shameful about depression - it can be helped and treated.  There is nothing disqualifying about depression - people can recover and become even better than before because they are more adept to understanding themselves and the people around them.  The problem is not depression, it’s all the people in churches, in offices, in schools, and in homes, who believe that someone suffering from depression is somehow deficient, somehow weak, somehow sinful, somehow shameful or scandalous.  But it is the people who think these things that are the real menace to a church or an office or an institution.  Because if church cannot be a safe place for the sick, the hurting, the struggling, even the sinful, then it is no longer the church, regardless of the name and pedigree.

People are committing suicide around us. People are profoundly struggling all around us.  People are deeply hurting all around us.  But the time has come and gone for any of us to profess ‘shock’ or to be able to say, ‘I didn’t know’.  The time has come when such statements are not a reflection of some failing of the sufferer, but of our own moral culpability, as individual Christians and as churches.  We are our brother's keeper, and our sister's keeper, too.