Tag Archives: churches

blogathon: about the church, again

this is an interview with m. a bit more serious. you just never know.

i: now i will interview you, m.

m: now i’m in trouble!

i: (looks at m)

m: what are you interviewing me about?

j: men.

m: men? oh, heavens!

g: religion! there’s a good one!

i: what shall it be? men or religion?

m: religious men!

i: what about religious men?

m: well, i’ve always found them kind of interesting and crazy.

(there’s a side conversation about men in kilts going up ladders. isabella isn’t quick enough to catch the whole thing)

m: alright. mh. so. as a child, i was a catholic. we were told that the priests were very special and holy men. quite the surprise to find out that most of them were perverts, later in my life. well, maybe not most. many.

(as we’re saying this, my husband walks around the kitchen, wearing a t-shirt that says “utterly perverted”)

m: that’s probably what trigged me into this topic. g’s t-shirt. so then later i had a friend who went off to join a monastery. he was bisexual or confused, one or the other, and thought this would be a good way to sort out his sexuality, by going to a monastery. he returned a year later because he found out all the guys in the monastery were having sex with each other. no confusion there! he was pretty disappointed. that didn’t help him at all.

m: you have to ask a question! come on, interviewer!

i: so then what happened? (note the intelligent question!)

m: i just found that i was exceedingly disillusioned about religious men and the whole religious establishment. the church has a lot to answer for.

i: but this was all a little while ago. have they changed, perhaps?

m: not likely. been reading the papers lately? no, not likely. no.

i: is there anything that can save the church?

j: pure anarchy.

m: yeah! women!

i: what about the nuns?

m: oh, please! not the nuns i knew! no, i’m talking about laywomen. any organization that eliminates women from certain positions is doomed to failure. don’t your agree? (she asks the interviewer)

i: (the interviewer just types and types) (then scratches her head)

i: i have a question!

m: yay!

i: i posted something about a woman who started a church support group for people with mental health issues. did you read that?

m: sorry, i didn’t.

j: i read it!

i: does this contribute something to our conversation?

j: yes. it showed women being given the opportunity to grow in leadership and being supported in that. she was an inexperienced facilitator and was a co-facilitator to work with and it was extremely successful.

m: was that within the church?

j: yes! it was supported by a minister.

m: what church?

j: i remember her being nervous about it, then through trying it out finding it was the best she could have done.

i: it was an evangelical church in burnaby.

m: most of my experience has been with the catholic church and although they are evangelical catholics – maybe they’re better, i don’t know.

i: but the ones that you know … ?

m: they’re stuck. they’re totally stuck.

this is hardly a comprehensive discussion but it might open up comments for people who have had similar, or maybe completely different, experiences.

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!

blogathon: mental health support in churches

in my announcement of this blogathon last week, i mentioned marja bergen, the founder of the living room, a church-based support group for people with mood disorders. let me give you a few excerpts from her new book, a firm place to stand, where she describes the birth of the living room.  marja’s experience stands in interesting contrast to that of the author about whom i wrote in an earlier post today, where mental illness was met with ignorance and much talk of the devil.

god gave me an idea that wouldn’t stay quiet. i wanted to start a faith-based support group for people with mood disorders. i knew there was a need. several people in my church, including me, could use a place to talk about their struggles. secular support groups were readily available, but participants to not always feel comfortable talking about god. for those who believe in jesus, discussing faith issues is important in dealing with emotional problems.

don dyck, our pastor, liked the idea, and we set the wheels in motion. the process took time. where would we meet? how would we let people know about it? would it be for our church alone, or would we advertise in the community? what would a meeting look like? who would facilitate the group?

the last person i thought of to lead the group was me. i could not see myself doing anything like that. yet, as our plans proceeded, i received the courage to take charge of the project and decided i would try facilitating.

we called the group living room, a name coined by dr. john toews, psychiatrist and author of no longer alone: mental health and the church. dr. toews is a proponent of better church support for people with mental illness and helped inspire the organization of our group.

living group became an outreach project in partnership with the mood disorders association of BC, also known as MDA, a secular organization that trained us how to facilitate. pastor don would not let me start without a co-facilitator. we found janice, a great support for me and someone i could not do without.

relationships built on authentic sharing of our vulnerabilities become strong. because we have all suffered, we have compassion for each other. we share the same langue. when the participants believe in god and talk about how god works in their lives, the strength of our bond grows. not only do we share similar emotional problems, we encourage each others’ faith. we share god’s love with each other.

an amazing thing happened to me as a result of leading these meetings. though we talk about sad things, i feel quite uplifted when i go home, emotionally and spiritually. after meetings, i pray, thanking god for this gift. it is hard to describe the joy i have found in this work.

my desire to give support rather than always being on the receiving end has been met in the living room. i am helping others deal with their problems. to give is to receive. the more support i give, the less i need to go to others for help. i feel stronger, happier and more whole than i ever have before. when i think back to the needy person i used to be, i am amazed where god has taken me.

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!

blogathon: leaving a cult

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: www.canadahelps.org/CharityProfilePage.aspx?CharityID=d2252. you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!

losing the the way – a memoir of spiritual longing, manipulation, abuse and escape is about kristen skedgell’s intense 15-year involvement in a christian cult. it shows how easily an idealistic young person can be swept away by a spiritual quest and manipulated through the quiet malevolence lurking beneath the religious exterior.

kristen is a fellow blogger. some months ago we had a few conversations and it ended in her sending me her book. since a friend of mine is touched by a similar situation, i was particularly interested in the book. i raced through it, am writing about it today, and will then pass it on to J, whose whole family has been taken away by an aggressive evangelical ministry in bellingham.

the following excerpts trace a bit of the story. a teenager, lost between an alcoholic father, an emotionally absent mother and a hostile brother, finds “the way”, an evangelical ministry. the head of “the way” is dr. victor paul wierwille, who is also called “the doctor”.

the doctor also likes folksy tales of homespun poems. he read one called “the touch of the master’s hand” at the meeting. “joyful noise”, the way band, played in the background and by the time he was finished half the room was in tears. the poem described an abandoned violin that was going to be “auctioned cheap to a thoughtless crowd” until the master musician came and played on it, making it sound beautiful and more valuable than anyone could afford. i thought of my brother’s violin and how wonderful he made the instrument sound. i thought of my life and how much of a failure it was. how someone needed to pick me up and play on me as the master had played on that violin. god was the master.

one of the things that can quickly make me angry is what we might call “sentimental manipulation”. hitting those easy-to-reach emotional trigger points with hot-and-heavy black and white emotions and twisting them for irresponsible purposes. it usually involves a crafty way of mixing “beautiful” and “pure” emotions with guilt, grief and shame. and it seemed to have work just peachy for the good doctor. or, as it were, the bad doctor.

when kristen, now already deeply involved in the ministry of “the way”, goes to a fancy high school and then college, she starts experiencing hard-to-understand moods and has no idea what to do about them. again, the doctor has an answer (that’s what these people do, they have answers; questions, on the other hand, are NOT allowed). the answer is: it’s the devil!

when it comes to my own healing, i’m not even sure what to ask for. i don’t yet know the word for these debilitating bouts of depression. i only know that suicide is caused by a devil spirit and i don’t want to be possessed. i limp through my classes and delegate ministry responsibilities as much as i can. i pray in tongues often, and i sit on the roof, waiting for help.

through all of this, however, kristen still has lingering doubts, caused by her intelligence (she’s studying political science, for goodness’ sake!) and her mental health difficulties, which, in the doctor’s mind, seem to be either unimportant or of the devil. she also wonders whether having sex with the doctor is the right thing to do. not surprisingly, this sort of sexual abuse is sold to her as a special secret between the doctor and herself, never to be disclosed. understandably, she dissociates. after another such encounter (as usual, boring, unloving and clinical)

suddenly, something shifts deep inside me. now i get it: all things are pure to the pure. my mind can do anything. a great door has opened and the doctor has ushered me into the deeper mysteries of the world, where grace resides supreme. i promise the doctor that i will keep his secret. i promise i will be here for him whenever he needs me. i have successfully squelched my feelings and my renewed mind is in control. i am finally committed to the word. in the bright light of the coachman’s suite, i am initiated.

“all things are pure to the pure” is taken (stolen?) from the bible and used as a perfect pretext to engage in whatever the doctor and his minions feel like. since he is so pure, there is no problem, right?

being “committed to the word” means a commitment to a literal interpretation of the bible. which turns out to be the doctor’s interpretation. no-one is allowed to interpret anything for themselves. the successful squelching of the feelings is accompanied by a successful squelching of critical thought – indeed, the two go hand in hand.

kristen gets married to an equally unhappy, abusive man. she gets pregnant, and then …

but here he was, this infant, as honest and real and fragile as life itself. it was impossible to dissemble in his presence. his very existence demanded that i be honest. i had to come clean, to face my life in all its complexity and be real for once. i was not the useless, angry, depressed failure i thought i had become. i was not a thing to be used. i was a giver of life. a mother. a woman. a human being. i had participated in the greatest mysteries and god had allowed it. surely, if this baby had the right to exist, so did i. i was not here for something bigger, bigger than the god i knew. it overcame all my doubts. it loved me in spite of myself. and that is the gift this baby brought me. love.

reading this again, tears come to my eyes. kristen is saved by the child. ironically, the doctor de-emphasizes jesus. we can take the image of jesus-as-the-child, the quintessential babe-in-arms, we, perhaps, see in our hearts that it was jesus who liberated this woman from the clutches of a devilish church.