Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness

How could I serve in ministry with a serious mental illness? How could someone riding manic highs dipping to deadly lows promote stable growth for a congregation? How could I faithfully hear God's voice in the midst of competing voices within and around me? These questions stir my mind and stab my heart.   My mind says yes -- I served as a minister with bipolar for almost two decades, a good dozen of which were quite fruitful. My heart grieves that my illness progressed such that, in 2009, I stepped away from pastoral ministry for health reasons. 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, has allowed me to serve in ministry with a serious mental illness.   Persistent Prayer Partners I fell into the pit of psychological despair [...]

Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness2019-03-10T21:18:29-04:00

Faithful Friends: Eric Riddle

{first published May 8, 2017} I first met Eric Riddle 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 churches [...]

Faithful Friends: Eric Riddle2019-02-17T21:13:40-04:00

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 Illness2018-12-12T17:55:27-04:00

Ironic Iconoclasm: Healthy, Holy Humor

Some time ago, I was asked this question: In two words or less, how would you describe your sense of humor? The first two words that came to my mind were - "Ironic Iconoclasm". Then I wondered, "What does that mean?" This post is my effort to answer that question. First, irony comes in various forms.  I like how this on-line dictionary defines one aspect of irony - a pretense of ignorance and of willingness to learn from another assumed in order to make the other's false conceptions conspicuous by adroit questioning —called also Socratic irony. I've learned this form of irony not so much from the classic Greek philosopher Socrates as from my self-proclaimed Kentuckian father Veston.  When Dad wants to catch someone off-guard with a thought provoking question, he begins with - Now, I only have a sixth-grade education, so you'll have to help me understand this... Dad is actually [...]

Ironic Iconoclasm: Healthy, Holy Humor2018-09-03T20:55:08-04:00

Flight Risk

July 9, 2018, 6:30 a.m. Indianapolis airport... I sit in a cafe sipping mediocre coffee to cap off a $20 breakfast. It’s a price I’m willing to pay for the peace of mind to be at the gate several hours early to collect myself. December, 1983 to Kansas City... I become jazzed for Jesus at a New Year's Eve prayer party sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. I return and discover all my possessions had been taken from my apartment. I spend the night at a local IHOP, witnessing to the waitress. For a tip, I leave two quarters and a tract, all I have left to give. March, 1988 to Boston... I visit a woman I met on a mission farm in Georgia. I spend the days reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the nights belittling her for being an upper-class liberal. October, 1992 to San Francisco... I travel [...]

Flight Risk2018-07-10T21:29:30-04:00

Revealing Voices: The First 10 Episodes

One of my social media friends, Cat Lyons, asked me if Revealing Voices is still running. It is. This faith-based, peer-led, story-driven, stigma-breaking podcast is now 10 episodes strong. All these episodes can be accessed through our website: Revealing Voices {dot} com.   Here you will find a diverse collection of voices from people on the front-lines of faith & mental illness. Nurses. Pastors. Writers. Activists. Therapists. Advocates, and others. For a taste, here are the episode titles (with links) and show notes. Episode 1: "Faithful Family": Jen Riddle (Eric's wife) & April Cohen (my sister) discuss what drew them into their spiritual and healing professions. April shares what it is like to care for an adult brother who has bipolar disorder, and Jen reveals how she and Eric navigate a relationship with a mental health diagnosis. Episode 2: "Amy Simpson is Unsatisfied": Amy is an author, speaker, and life & leadership [...]

Revealing Voices: The First 10 Episodes2018-07-09T01:59:09-04:00

A Close Encounter with a Combative Commentator

Some time ago my dad had his 8th vascular surgery in 6 years. I wrote this in my journal that day... The surgeon said it went as well as could be expected.  Dad is now awake and responsive. There is a palpable sense of peace permeating the air in this expansive waiting area. I'm here with other close family members,. We are sitting in solitary solidarity. All is well. All was not well two months prior the last time dad had surgery. We were shoehorned into a cubbyhole with what seemed like hoards of masses of thousands of other families. and clans and troops. Fox News was blaring over the airways. One man in camo jacket, tube socks and scuffed penny loafers did the commentary: On International Affairs: "Who cares if he has personal relations with the Russians? I say keep your friends close and your enemies closer." On Health [...]

A Close Encounter with a Combative Commentator2018-05-13T23:42:10-04:00

I Ain’t Got No Home

{This post was originally posted on May 20, 2017} Lately, I have felt an all-too familiar sense of exile. As a pastor, I moved around a good bit and was encouraged by my ministry supervisors not to put down roots. Now that I'm retired, divorced, and living on my own, it is easy to given in to the temptation to withdraw, to isolate myself, which leads to a vicious depressive cycle from which it's hard to escape. While it does not replace face-to-face contact, I appreciate the community I  have come to know through social media. Often, I read posts that give voice to my unexpressed feelings and help me feel less alone. The post "My Father's House,"  from Mama's Musings is a reflection on how mortality impacts our desire to "come home." Today has been a long and emotion filled day. I have spent time with two people close [...]

I Ain’t Got No Home2018-05-09T18:31:24-04:00

Prayers Answered: Sometimes Yes; Sometimes No; Sometimes Wait and See

At age 55, my father-in-law was diagnosed with an advanced stage of colon cancer. He received an aggressive round of chemotherapy. Inexplicably, he went into a coma. We recruited prayer warriors throughout the country. In just a few weeks, one of his medical interns happened to read a case study that perfectly fit my father-in-laws profile. They adapted his treatment. He returned to full function. He is now 85 and enjoying life to its fullest. Prayers answered, "Yes." Some time ago, my (then) wife and I separated after 20 years of marriage. I desperately wanted to reconcile. I sought intensive counseling for over a year.  I met with church elders and deacons. I prayed. My family prayed. My friends prayed. My church prayed. After 5 years, it became clear marriage reconciliation would not happen and we got a divorce. Prayers answered, "No." I served in pastoral ministry for twenty years [...]

Prayers Answered: Sometimes Yes; Sometimes No; Sometimes Wait and See2019-02-08T22:00:34-04:00

Cracked Pots

“… the jar he was making did not turn out as he hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.” (Jeremiah 18.4, NLT). Some months after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I returned to work as a pastor. It was difficult at first, but with much prayerful support, our ministry became fruitful. People who had hidden mental health issues for fear of judgment, now confided in me and together we grew in grace, offering our whole selves in worship and outreach among those who sought healing for body, mind, and spirit. I was asked to serve as a mentor for students preparing for pastoral ministry. One weekend, they brought together mentors throughout the state for training on how to best equip persons for service in what can be a consuming career. Many topics were addressed: spiritual growth, emotional well-being, financial fitness, etc. During [...]

Cracked Pots2018-04-12T01:20:35-04:00