The Multipersonality Disorder of the American Church

Multipersonality Disorder – A disorder characterized by the presence of two or more distinct personality states.

Disclaimer: I have had multiple drafts of this post.  When my communications/writing major daughter read through it she commented that the post was obviously connected to my experience locally.  She felt it was not objective enough to just be a neurtral treatise (whatever that may mean – but it sounds scholarly, right?).  

I thought about that a lot and I imagine none of us are truly neutral.  If we were neutral, we would be pretty BORING.  We would be like robots, cogs in a wheel.  If we are to have opinions and be passionate about any issue, we must have personal experience with the content.  My personal experience with this content is my local congregation and others we have attended in the past, both while church “shopping” and visiting friends and family in different parts of the country.  I don’t think the experience is unique to my local congregation.

As stated in one of my all time favorite movies, “Write what you know.”  So, I shall, with this rather long disclaimer.

We don’t know who we are.  How can we expect to be any sort of compass to a world in terror & confusion when we ourselves are confused?  I’m talking specifically about what some might call the “Order of Worship” on any given Sunday. (Although my apologist friend may argue that we are very confused about what we actually believe and why – but that’s for another post, or for me to point you to his blogs.  Check it out!)

This confusion is not good for people like me.  Magpies who are easily distracted by shiny things.

We don’t have a plumb line.  There is nothing grounding from week to week that is ritual and meaningful.  We try so hard to be relevant to everyone that we end up being spastic and the Order of Service ends up feeling haphazard.  I know that is not the intention.  I’m not discussing people’s intention or their desire to make it meaningful. And I know that quite a bit of trial and error goes into creating the flow of a service.  That is not in doubt in my mind, at least when it comes to my local congregation.

I believe there is value in ritual – even if we end up just going through the motions.  In fact, I believe that may be the point.  The beauty is in the ritualistic part of the ritual.  The beauty is the fact that we have done it so many times we could do it in our sleep.  We can participate when this crazy life is so insane and we can’t think straight; and precisely because it’s a ritual, we can still participate.  The beauty and mystery of it is that even when we just mumble along with the words and ‘go through the motions’, the words or actions are still keeping those neural pathways open in the brain and connected to the meaning of the words or actions, particularly when we find it hard to remember what we’re saying or doing or why.  

It can be as simple as a paragraph or scripture that we repeat as a congregation every. single. service.  
It can be as elaborate as celebrating the great mystery and intimacy of communion every. single. service

Instead our churches are filled with a buffet of styles to choose from, and sometimes that buffet is offered up during a SINGLE Sunday service!

We are trying too hard because we think we are losing the next generation.  The leadership reads all kinds of theology books, studies, and polls about why people are leaving, why people are staying, what supposedly works, what supposedly doesn’t work, etc. We try to appeal to the dissenters.* Those within and without our church who throw accusations at us so as to put us on the back foot; such as:

  1. “The church is full of hypocrites!”  Well, duh!  It’s full of humans.  
  2. “The church doesn’t meet my needs.”  Boo-hoo.  Maybe you’re supposed to meet someone else’s need.
  3. “I can’t find a church that does things they way I think they should be done.”  Umm…there is no perfect church (see #1)

I know, I know.  You see my list and say to me “Duh! Is she really this thick?” YES, I am; but I get it.  Remember, this blog is so I can talk to myself without raising eybrows at the grocery store.  

The church is full of souls who have no idea how to live life, how to be a friend, how to move beyond those shallow conversations.  None of us have it together, although some pretend like they do.  I try to ignore these folks; but the more I try, the more I notice.  Hmmm…

The church should be a safe place where we can bare our struggles in community and I believe that ritual can help us be just that.  Something to cling to, something familiar.  Familiarity can breed comfortableness. You can  argue that familiarity breeds complacency, perhaps…in some.  But, I believe that those finding meaning in the ritual will far outweigh those who become complacent.  There will always be weeds in the church.  Jesus tells us so (Matt. 13:24-30).  

“Imagine if every church became a place where everyone is safe, but no one is comfortable.  Imagine if every church became a place where we told one another the truth.  We might just create sanctuary.” – Rachel Held Evans in Searching for Sunday

We can tell the truth in the ritual.  When we…say, recite the Beatitudes every Sunday in unison – that becomes telling the truth; to ourselves and each other.  Frankly, I don’t need another worship leader trying to force spiritual meaning on me from his life during the previous week: what God told him through a gas station fill up nozzle.  I need Jesus infusing meaning into my life from the coporate acts of speaking His Words out loud, from sharing communion with my brothers and sisters.  It’s when we are vulnerable that we find meaning.  Ritual allows for vulnerability because our minds are free from worrying about watching the screen to read what to say next or whose turn it is the speak – the leader or me? – and instead we can say the words by heart and our souls can be vulnerable and feel the balm and notice the hurting soul beside us.  

“And he opened his mouth and taught them saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Imagine!  EVERY SINGLE SUNDAY! At the same time, no matter what.  Then, imagine that followed by communion! 

Peace to you!! xx

*ADD moment:  I appreciate the plethora of books about church written by women and men much smarter than me.  People who have degrees and lots of capital letters after their names, but I think that the people in their churches might benefit from our pastors reading books like:

The Idiot by Fydor Dostoyevsky

Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy Sayers

The Cantebury Tales by Chaucer

The Aeneid by Virgil (The Lind translation is best, in my opinion)

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (seriously any thing written by Wendell Berrry, seriously)

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott

The Office of Assertion by Scott Crider

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

Norms and Nobility by David Hicks

Evensong by Gail Gibbons

and just for fun

May B. by  Caroline Starr Rose

Currently, I believe the best books for a time such as this in the American Church are (and it’s precisely because these two titles/authors may seem incongruous to one another that they are beneficial):

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

A Weed in the church by Scott Brown

This post does NOT contain affliliate links.  Alas, I wish it did 🙂

The Post I’ve Been Avoiding

This is the post that hurled me back in.  It’s about Robin Williams.  In case you haven’t heard of him, here’s a favorite clip of mine.   I like Robin Williams.  I always have.  He has made me laugh since Mork and Mindy.  I don’t think he ever made a secret of his addictions or his struggles.  He had been married three times and struggled with infidelity among other things.  But he was human, just like me and just like you.

What bothered me was a particular “share” that showed up in my Facebook feed.  I can’t get it out of my head.  I didn’t even click on the link, I just read the comment that my friend who did the sharing made.  I was sick to my stomach.  In effect (and I take liberal license with this since I refused to read it) it claimed we shouldn’t be surprised he committed suicide because that’s what happens when someone “does voices and allows the devil into their soul”.  Really?!?!?!?  Mind you, I suppose I should be surprised that such an assertion came from a so-called “christian”, but I wasn’t.  I was disgusted by the tagline. There’s no sugar coating my feelings, I was pissed.   I read no further.

But…what if I had?  What if I, as a Christian, read those words through the lens of mental illness?  Would an article like that help me?  I don’t think so.  I think it would push me further into despair.  Articles and words like that, in my opinion, cause more suicides among believers than having the talent to “do voices” and genuinely make people laugh.

No wonder those with mental illness or those with family members who are struggling with mental illness hide it from the church.  The church likes things tied up nicely in a box with a pretty polka dot bow on top (I think teal and brown is particularly fetching).  We like God to answer our prayers for healing.  We like to point to the healing and shout, “See! God answers prayer!  That little boys arm was broken and now it’s healed.” or “There was a spot on his lung, but, praise Jesus, it’s gone now!”.  We whisper, “She has a mental illness.  I don’t think her family has enough faith”, or we say in hushed tones, “Pray for Hank, he’s depressed.  God bless his heart.  Pass me a doughnut.”  To quote Amy Simpson in her book Troubled Minds, “Mental illness is the sort of thing we don’t like to talk about.”  But we must.  From a study of 500 churches in 2010 and outlined in Troubled Minds:

  • 84% of church leaders are aware of some type of anxiety disorder within their congregation.
  • 91% of church leaders have seen mood disorders such as depression within their churches.
  • 37% of church leaders indicated that someone in their congregation had suffered from a psychotic disorder such as schizophrenia.
  • Of the church leaders in this survey, 38.7 % indicated they had suffered from a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder.
  • 23% (church leaders) indicated they had suffered from an anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder or social anxiety disorder.*

*The list continues…

We must begin the conversation in our large churches and our small churches.  Mental Illness is not demon possession.  It is a sickness of the mind.  It is no different than diabetes, or cancer, or multiple sclerosis.  There are treatments, but sometimes there are no cures.  How can we look at someone who struggled and lost the battle with cancer and see their tremendous faith in the midst of the pain, doubt and unanswered prayer; but look at another who has struggled and lost the battle with bipolar disorder and not see their faith in the midst of pain, doubt and unanswered prayer?

The church reminds me of that commercial on the radio in which a girl tells her friend she has a mental disorder and the friend keeps trying change the conversations to earrings, “Look over there, something shiny!”  Are we a bunch of magpies?  I don’t want to make the church sound crass, but we are.  Particularly when uninformed clergy share articles like the aforementioned one on Facebook.  You read that right, a member of the clergy, a pastor, a shepherd of a congregation.

The silver lining here is that the church is slowly coming around.  There are voices all over the place and I’m grateful and I’m honored to add my small voice.

I really didn’t want to go here.  I didn’t.  I fought the urge to add my voice to the Robin Williams discussion, but God did not allow me rest from the thought of it.  I got out of the house and ran mindless errands.  I don’t want to cause a stir.  I know this blog will post on my Facebook feed and I know that people from my church will read it and I know that they will know of which “share” I speak.  But, I cannot avoid it.  I have tried for two days.  Two days of shopping (my husband is thrilled I’ve been running), but I can run no longer.  I have nothing else to occupy my time or my fingers.  The house is quiet.  I have the time to write, not well because I’m still a bit steamy about it, but to write nonetheless.

Here’s how God got me finally.  My son likes to listen to Adventures in Odyssey.  I allow him to use the app to listen to current episodes.  There are about 10-15 to choose from on any given day.  Yesterday, after I had run my errands and drowned out the quiet voice in my spirit, he started an episode called The Other Woman about Tom Riley’s wife revealing she struggles with mental illness.  There are some opinions voiced in AIO that I don’t agree with, but on the whole it’s good radio to listen to and Whit got it right on the money about mental illness and the church.  I couldn’t deny it anymore, I had to speak up.  More than a Facebook post or a snarky comment.  So, back to the blog I trot.

Robin Williams may not have been a Christian.  No one knows.  Only he and God know that.  I venture to say that right now, both of them are very sure about Robin’s life after death.  However, we have NO RIGHT to claim that his suicide shouldn’t be a surprise or that he deserved it or somehow he brought it on himself because he could “do voices”.  In fact, deep down, I secretly hope that I’ll see him in heaven :).

Did Robin have his “demons”?  Yes, as do we all

….and God help us.

Give me grace for the broken.

Grace for the weary.

Grace for the burdens.

Grace for the ignorant.

Grace for the crass.

Grace for the uninformed.

Grace for the sinner.

Grace for myself.