Giving Thanks for My Illness

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5.16-18) “While she might not have opted for this illness, neither does she entirely regret it; she prefers, as she writes so movingly, a life of passionate turbulence to one of tedious calm.” ― Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness. This Thanksgiving I am grateful for many things. I'll name five: Food to eat. A roof above my head. Family members who care for me. Faithful friends who make me laugh. And my mental illness. Yes, I am grateful for my mental illness. I have come to prefer the "passionate turbulence" of bipolar disorder to the "tedious calm" of being "normal". This is not to say I enjoy all aspects of my illness. Sometimes it is a pain in the ass. Sometimes [...]

Giving Thanks for My Illness 2017-11-24T14:48:35+00:00

How We Talk When We Talk About Faith and Mental Illness

“But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” ― George Orwell, 1984 "... speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ." (Ephesians 4.13) Language can build up. It can also tear down. Language can reveal truth or it can perpetuate lies. An inspired Word creates the world. A death-dealing sentence can go a long way to destroying it. When I studied for ministry, I became keenly aware of how language impacts people.  It was 1989, the year the  New Revised Standard Version of the Bible came out. This version, among other things, changed the male pronouns referring to humanity to more gender-neutral ones. It was quite awkward for me at first, but I got used to it and the more I studied the original languages and the evolution of the English language, I could appreciate why the changes were made. Yet, there are other [...]

How We Talk When We Talk About Faith and Mental Illness 2017-10-10T12:37:27+00:00

Does Mental Illness Lead to Violence?

I read a news story today about the mass killings in Las Vegas. The report said the killer had no known political or religious affiliation, and there was "no history of a psychological diagnosis." On the one hand, I can appreciate why such a point be made. There have been many high-profile cases of violent events involving persons with mental illness who were not under proper treatment. I know first hand how psychotic episodes can escalate to aggressive behavior. This is one crucial factor contributing to the need for better mental health care. On the other hand, reporting on a condition that has not been confirmed is a misleading, irresponsible practice that perpetuates social stigma toward those who do have a diagnosis. Can you imagine an article that read, "the killer is not known to have diabetes," or "leukemia," or "herpes." Mental illness is a medical condition, not a [...]

Does Mental Illness Lead to Violence? 2017-10-06T14:59:30+00:00

The Highs and Lows of Homecoming

It's been over 35 years now since I graduated from high school. For the first time, I'm going to the class reunion. Why am I going now? Why haven't I come before? I didn't go for years because I believed there were certain expectations on my life and until I fulfilled them, I would be too ashamed to go back. I'm not sure what these expectations were, but they were more likely self-imposed and largely unattainable. Nothing so easily calculable as monetary success, world travel, beautiful family. I measured my worth by affecting a life-changing difference. Saving the world one hurting soul at a time. It took me 32 years and one "nervous breakdown" before I let this dream die. But, by God's grace, I didn't die with it. My life story doesn't end there. But I wasn't ready to reconcile who I was in high school with who [...]

The Highs and Lows of Homecoming 2017-08-31T23:50:10+00:00

A Beautiful, Brilliant, Unquiet Mind

         When I first received my bipolar diagnosis, the picture painted for me of my future was rather bleak.  The staff at the psychiatric hospital explained that I would likely not be able to continue in ministry.  I would go on disability, have repeated hospitalizations and the chances of remaining in my marriage were slim to none.           My psychiatrist, however, offered a ray of hope.  He recommended a memoir that had just been published by one of the most world-renowned expert on bipolar disorder - Kay Redfield Jamison.  In Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Jamison beautifully describes her own life-long struggle and brilliantly depicts the love-hate relationship many folks with Bipolar have with their illness.  She defines what she prefers to call "Manic-depression" ...a disease that both kills and gives life.  Fire, by its nature, both creates and destroys.  "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower," [...]

A Beautiful, Brilliant, Unquiet Mind 2017-06-12T17:29:05+00:00

A Mixed Response to “Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness”

Over this past weekend, I posted a piece ("Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness") on a Facebook page for mental health advocates. I posed the question, "I am a former pastor who has wrestled for over 20 years with bipolar 1. Here is part of my story. I would love to hear from you on how faith has impacted your mental illness, or, how mental illness has impacted your faith." The responses were very thoughtful and uplifting: "The only way I became as stable as I'm proud to say I am today is because of the right meds, a good therapist & learning to have a deep intimate relationship with Jesus. Of these three things I believe my faith is the strongest saving grace for me." "I pray that more people with understanding of mental illness will enter the ministry on their behalf. I watched my son pray for and [...]

A Mixed Response to “Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness” 2017-06-12T17:27:57+00:00

Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness

How could I serve in pastoral ministry with a serious mental illness? How could someone riding manic highs dipping to deadly lows promote stable growth for a congregation? How could someone who hears voices pretending to be God presume to interpret God’s Word?   How could I serve as a pastor with bipolar disorder? These questions stir my mind and stab my heart. My mind says yes -- I served as a pastor battling bipolar for almost two decades, a good dozen of which were quite fruitful. My heart grieves that my illness has progressed such that I am now deemed disabled from service. The story I want to share here is not what led to my decline but what, by the grace of God and with the help of the church, allowed me to flourish as a pastor with a serious mental illness. Persistent Prayer Partners I fell into the [...]

Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness 2017-05-30T15:07:51+00:00

Budding Faithful Friendships with Mental Illness: Eric Riddle

Our guest today is Eric Riddle. Eric and I first met in March, 2014, a week before the release of my spiritual memoir, Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission. We went on to form a faithful friendship that, well, I’ll let Eric tell you about it.. (My words are in italics.) Thanks for joining us, Eric. We’re here to talk about faith and mental illness, two subjects I know you are passionate about. First tell me how you came to faith. I was raised in the church. As many who grow up in the church, I was following in my parent's tradition. I became more serious about my faith after my daughter was born. Going on a "Walk to Emmaus" retreat was a turning point in getting much more serious. I’ve heard those can be very transformational. Yes. The retreat was for men only and about 40 guys representing many [...]

Budding Faithful Friendships with Mental Illness: Eric Riddle 2017-05-30T15:00:51+00:00

The Cost of the Cross, Much More than a Free Smiley Face

The symbol of Christianity is a cross, not a smiley face. I write this on the Tuesday of Holy Week, the week we remember the final earthly mission of Jesus Christ, culminating in his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. When I was a pastor, I would silently refer to this as “Holy Hell Week.” I was expected to do four times as much ministry and all with a cheerful demeanor. It was only by the grace of God that I did, at least to the degree that I did. Easter, of course, was designed to be the spiritual peak, the week you could reach many more folks than the rest of the year. People came to hear the Good News that “Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed.” Because Christ is risen, we have the hope of new life in Christ. Very few from the Easter crowd had come to [...]

The Cost of the Cross, Much More than a Free Smiley Face 2017-05-30T14:09:33+00:00

A Child Is Born: March 28, 1992

There was a shift change when you entered the world. A cheering crowd of scrub-clad women there to see your red raisin skin, hear you cry out at the shocking light and cold air, and breathe in the fresh scent of new life. Your life. I was 25 at the time, the same age you are today. Unlike you, however, I was ill equipped to become a parent. I was less than a year into my career as a pastor, working hard in a field that was hardly working out. I had become tangled in a web of depression. Your mother and I were already seeing a therapist for deeply-entrenched issues from our not yet three years together. Not only did I not feel equipped to become a father, I still had doubts about bringing a child into the world, wicked as it was. I was still somewhat under the [...]

A Child Is Born: March 28, 1992 2017-05-30T14:08:33+00:00