Category Archives: Justice

Caught in the Middle: Oscar Romero and Me

Archbishop Oscar Romero

Did you know that today is the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero? March 24, 1980 in El Salvador. From his Wikipedia article:

Traditionally, the church had been complicit in the aims of the state and military to privilege the wealthy and powerful while the majority of the population remained in abject poverty. [Romero] spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations and torture.

But it is important to note why [the Church] has been persecuted. Not any and every priest has been persecuted, not any and every institution has been attacked. That part of the church has been attacked and persecuted that put itself on the side of the people and went to the people’s defense. Here again we find the same key to understanding the persecution of the church: the poor.     — Óscar Romero, Speech at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium, Feb. 2, 1980.

Romero was shot on 24 March 1980, while celebrating Mass at a small chapel located in a hospital called “La Divina Providencia”, one day after a sermon where he had called on Salvadoran soldiers, as Christians, to obey God’s higher order and to stop carrying out the government’s repression and violations of basic human rights. According to an audio-recording of the Mass, he was shot while elevating the chalice at the end of the Eucharistic rite.

 

When I learned about this martyr while in college, I was struck by his radically different view of faith and of the role of the church than the way I had been trained to think. A chord was struck. I think his words and his actions triggered my now deep-seated belief in social justice, human rights, inclusiveness, cultural education and sensitivity, and equality among all people and opposite all -isms.

I fail a lot at living up to this belief, ideal, and way of life. But I try very hard. I could probably be more outspoken though.

I’m caught in the middle of this ideal right now. I feel deeply about and for all the people suffering under classism, racism, sexism, homophobia, cyclical poverty, imperialism. I feel helpless to do anything, though I follow stories from the news through my social media outlets. I offer up what little prayer I have in me these days.

But deep down I feel like I need to be on the receiving end of some of this justice and attention. Though I don’t know if I am as deserving as those I pray about. There is huge stigma through all cultures about mental illness – check any kind of media for portrayals and assumptions. I’m suffering, not necessarily because of this stigma, but the stigma certainly limits the kind of community I can find. And my inabilities from the illness itself limit the community I can find to help me through this life. I’m suffering, daily, to make it through each day with enough hope to keep doing the things that promote life rather than give in to the hopelessness I feel that will lead to certain death.

So I am pondering the martyrdom of Archbishop Oscar Romero who stood up, did the right thing, spoke truth to the Church and culture. And I am pondering my being in the middle of that – needing to stand up but also desperately needing others to stand up for me in this time.

Are the Mentally Ill in the Image of God Too?

Symbols I'm Pondering: Sleep as Healing Balm

Last week’s rough schedule of oversleeping and churning from therapy continued this week with more oversleep and another therapy appoint that stirred up exhausting tears and emotion. This time the churning is about how many memories of pastoring keep flooding my mind. Each day is an anniversary of something, and there are significant anniversaries of emotional events coming up in August and September. And I don’t want to be so flooded that I end up in the hospital, as happened as Easter approached. I’ll need to be extra nice to myself and need extra support to make it through the next couple months!

Also continuing this week and contributing to the churning mess of me: the chronic pain flare-ups from the last several weeks, mostly brought on by excessive walking to take part in normal life’s special activities (i.e., a parade, a fireworks display, a concert). I think a lot of the sleeping is to help the pain. But each morning, even without sleep meds, I find it hard to wake up at all and feel drugged for hours. “Woe is me,” right? Just another week in the life of a bipolar person, and another issue to talk to my new psychiatrist about next week. (Another worry in my head – a new psychiatrist to meet.)

In the midst of all this struggle to get through each day, I actually read a book! YAY! I haven’t read a book since the fall! This one was for a book group that I ultimately bowed out of since the topics and company would remind me too much of my earlier life as a parish pastor. But the book I read was fabulous, and I highly recommend it to pastors AND parishioners – y’all need to read it! Oh, God, Oh God, Oh God! Young Adults Speak Out About Sexuality and Christian Spirituality, edited by Heather Godsey and Lara Blackwood Pickrel. 

Symbols I'm Pondering: Embodied Life As Holy

One chapter was on body image and the chase we take part in to attain the unattainable perfect body presented to us everyday. The body that will redeem our existence. First we blame the body for not having the perfect life, and then we turn to the body – and endless consumer helps – to fix it. The antidote is the Christian belief that we are all made in the image of the God. And, the author asks us, what’s the point of faith if we do not help one another realize this, and see those around us who desperately need to hear it and believe it, and work toward the beautiful balance within ourselves and with others and with the tangible, embodied world.

I also believe we are all created in the image of God. I believe I am created in the image of God. But are our illnesses part of the image of God, or a sign of the broken world we live in? And when my illness affects my ability to know myself, accept myself, connect with others, relate with others because of mood and emotion disturbances, then am I really in the image of God, or just a life hidden by illness? I don’t believe I am only my illness. But my illness is disguising my image of God. And that frightens me. And I’m turning to caring for my weight and food and exercise in order to have something I can control in order to make myself in the perfect image of God. I’m falling prey to chasing the unattainable body image because I can’t control this inescapable illness that will forever blur my ability to be in the world.

Thoughts?

Celebrate Being Human

On Sunday I attended the Chicago Pride Parade in Boystown, Chicago. In its entirety it was a celebration of humanity, and especially the lives of my brothers and sisters who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, inquiring. Without taking away from the urgent need to celebrate being LGBTQI, I still got the feeling from the crowd and the parade participants that everyone ought to feel pride in who they are.

Be happy to be human and to be alive! Diversity is a beautiful thing! Be proud of the diversity you bring to the human race!

And so, I felt good about myself too. My mental illness self that is also human and worthy to be celebrated.

 

Because of the celebration, especially through dancing I thought of the song “Human” from The Killers (Album: Day and Age, 2008).

The chorus asks, “Are we human, or are we dancer?” I think we’re both!


I did my best to notice
When the call came down the line
Up to the platform of surrender
I was brought but I was kind

And sometimes I get nervous
When I see an open door
Close your eyes, clear your heart
Cut the cord

CHORUS: Are we human or are we dancer?
My sign is vital, my hands are cold
And I’m on my knees looking for the answer
Are we human or are we dancer?

Pay my respects to grace and virtue
Send my condolences to good
Hear my regards to soul and romance
They always did the best they could

And so long to devotion
You taught me everything I know
Wave goodbye, wish me well
You’ve gotta let me go

CHORUS

Will your system be alright
When you dream of home tonight
There is no message we’re receiving
Let me know, is your heart still beating?

CHORUS

You’ve gotta let me know

CHORUS

Good News, Bad News

Mental Illness sucks. People not knowing you are sick, sucks. The junk in my mind that thinks other people are judging me, sucks.

We finally got our rears in gear and got a cleaning service to come out. Today they are here and I have the relief that the place will be really clean, and stuff is picked up. I SO need this environmental therapy! Having a straightened house has always helped me cope and feel better about life.

Symbols I'm Pondering: What's the Price of Clean?

On the other hand, I’m here while the women are cleaning. I could be going through my schedule, but it’s embarrassing to try to do a little cleaning or a little activity, then have to sit down and rest for half an hour, while the professionals are here working through the house without tiring. Instead, I’m sitting on the couch, trying to hold a thought in my head, warding off a headache, knowing I’m sick, but that it’s invisible. And I’m wondering what the women think of me.

I don’t appear sick, (hacking cough, or illness paraphernalia around) and so I feel this weird class difference of upper class woman doing nothing while paying lower class woman to clean her house. Having been on the other side of this relationship, I know that I’m paying for their labor, and their health. And I know some of the conversations that happen while you care for another woman’s house or children. But it’s different when you know someone is sick , really sick, and cannot care for their house. There is a measure of compassion in the work instead of only a monetized class-difference transaction.

So, I feel double amounts of shame. Shame that my situation appears like a class transaction, and I don’t like that. I wish my illness was visible so I could be the recipient of some compassion in the situation. I could use some compassion, seriously. But if  people knew the illness that I live with, there is the all-too-common response – the stigma of mental illness – and the shame that goes along with the stigma when people say, or act as though they are saying – “Just get up and do something” or “It’s all in your head” or just plain “That’s not a real illness. Call me when you have cancer.” Shame.

Are these thoughts just in my head, or are they also going through others’ minds? Am I working myself up into a tizzy, or just feeling what’s in the middle of the situation?

Probably both. Mental illness sucks. Its invisibility sucks too. Stigma sucks.