Quick post on the situation in Oregon. Why we need to weep and my troubles with the problem of evil. What I hope will happen in the church and what I hope will not happen. Some thoughts on mental illness from someone who watched a loved one deal with mental illness in their life. Each and every person who reads this will have a homework assignment at the end.
“Tears shed for another person are not a sign of weakness. They are a sign of a pure heart.”
Jose N Harris
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn
Romans 12:15 NIV
There are two posts in the works but they are going to take a back seat. I came close to doing this when they had the Virginia shooting of the two newscasters. I was horrified to read that and couldn’t comprehend who in their sick and twisted mind could stage something like that. I was at work on Thursday when I saw the early reports coming from Oregon, I got a sick feeling in my stomach and I honestly hoped we wouldn’t have another mass shooting. As the situation started to unfold and I heard more and more and I was horrified. Today at work I took a break and checked the news and saw the biographies of the victims on the Washington Post. I cried at my desk and was shook up. Before I continue I also want to ask you to read Michael Newham’s post.
Here’s what troubles me…each victim, is unique and created intimately. Each one stands apart in the universe in the sense that there will never be another person like them. From their mannerisms, to speech, to how they walk, dress, act, smile, laugh, each person is exceptionally unique. Their interests are different, and their skill sets are different. They were cut down in the prime of their life with so much promise ahead of them. Our country and society lost something that can never be replaced. It troubles me deeply to hear of these acts happen continually and in all honesty I just don’t get them. I remember being on a lunch break in 1999 at a Washington Mutual bank in Clovis, California and hearing the first news reports about Columbine. I remember being in Butte, Montana in 2009 and hearing the news reports about the shootings at Fort Hood, Texas. I again remember sitting on a bed in a Butte, Montana motel room and hearing the news reports about the shooting in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. And again I remember hearing about the news reports concerning Sandy Hook. Each time I felt sick to my stomach, and I just can’t wrap my mind around the situation. How can people intentionally cause malice or pain to others is beyond me.
There is one other point I am going to state. I am not going to repeat the name of this gunman on the blog. The reason why is because he wanted attention and fame. And I am not going to give it to him. Instead I want to deny him that which he wanted. What bothers me, and I will proceed to speak about mental illness below, is that there are a growing frequency of shootings. It seems as if each shooter is inspired by a previous shooting and is infatuated with the methods, behavior, etc.. Its for this reason that I honestly wish the media would not report all the details. There are people in our society that need help, and mental health treatment. These kind of events inspire someone somewhere to plan and chart the next evil act. This is not going to be the last shooting, in 6 months or a year there will be another. Yet I wonder if those can be prevented if the media refuses to spill all the details of each event.
The Problem of Evil
This is a hard post for me to write. Its also off the cuff. Because I am penning this on the fly and doing this on a Friday night and Saturday morning, I am not going to get another post up until Wednesday. Those who read me…know how I feel about the problem of evil. I am very sensitive to the topic. The problem of evil alone is the single best reason to reject Christianity in my opinion. For me that happened from 2009 until 2013. The problem of evil troubles me deeply. The way I made my peace with it is to realize there is no answer. The reason why I rejected Neo-Calvinism is that reformed theology makes the problem of evil worse. But on days like today, I have to push back and I want to go out on my balcony and scream why? Why would a loving God stand back and allow a gunman to wreck this kind of carnage in Oregon? What would a loving God create a gunman if he knew what was going to happen? Wouldn’t an abortion have been better? Wouldn’t it have been best had the gunman not been born at all? Its like Hitler…what type of loving God creates Adolf Hitler?
I still respect and can nod my head when I hear atheists asking this question or pointing out the issue of why does a loving God allow evil? Its natural to reject God I believe, over this issue. If you are a Christian and if you haven’t struggled with this issue or evolution or something else than I am honestly baffled. While I have made a working peace with the problem of evil I still struggle with it. For me its right below the surface, and that is why I am writing this off the spur of the cuff. I need to get this off my chest and know that there is going to be more acts of evil in the course of time. Evil will always exist, yet I must ask why must it? I’ve thought about it, and wrestled through this in my mind and yet the presence of evil is so horrifying to the senses. While evil takes place in many forms in this case its the idea of people showing up to class and sitting in a desk and having a gunman enter a classroom that I can’t comprehend. A lot can change in a moment. Who thinks that their life is going to be over when they go to college? Life isn’t supposed to be like this! A parent is never supposed to bury a child, and acts of violence are not supposed to happen in a place of learning.
No Culture Wars Please, What I Don’t Want to Hear
During this time I want someone to do the following. During this time of intense pain and grief in Roseburg, Oregon someone please do the following. Take away Twitter from John Piper. Make sure Pat Robertson doesn’t go on TV. Make sure Al Mohler, Russ Moore or Joe Carter don’t shoot their mouth and tie this insane act of violence to some aspect of the culture war. I don’t want to go to The Gospel Coalition website and see some hit piece where someone writes an article and says the reason why this tragedy happened is due to a Supreme Court decision or something insane. For the sake of the families and the victims can we put all that aside? Can we act like Christians and just grieve? Can we suspend the culture wars and can we know that someone, somewhere is not going to use this situation to propel themselves or their cause? Its bad enough to process this situation, its a million times worse when that is compounded by someone wanting to make a cheap shot for personal gain. Now is not the time for any of that to happen. But can I plead for the powers to be to refrain from saying something that adds to this pain? I also don’t want to hear about evangelical churches who plow forward committed to their programs and ignoring the pain. For once…I’d like to see a church act like a church. I hope evangelical churches will respond to the situation and deal with it in a sensitive, and appropriate manner.
What I Hope Will Happen
Here’s what I hope will happen. I hope that churches will scrap their planned service this Sunday. I hope that churches will light candles for all the victims and pray for them. I hope a pastor stands before his congregation and says “I don’t have all the answers…and I struggle with this issue as well. There are times its okay to question the faith at God, and scream at him and get angry. It’s not a sin to get angry at God. Actually you’d be in the company of the prophets who expressed anger and disappointment at God. You’d be doing what most of the Psalms do…you’d be lamenting and asking, ‘why?’ and ‘how long must this continue.'” I hope that the church will respond in prayer and some frank discussions about the problem of evil will be had. I hope that people who are emotionally upset and troubled can get some type of answer or at least be able to discuss this issue. I hope that they take comfort in seeing a pastor act like a pastor and leading a congregation in mourning. I also hope that churches pray for the gunman’s family and that in an amazing act of love they reach out to them and express their condolences to them. I hope they remember that family in their prayers. If all or any of this happens then I think it would be beautiful and the light would shine out of the darkness. I hope and pray that against this shooting that people can see the church shine and living out the Gospel and not just talking it. I pray we can weep together and encourage those who have been hurt by all this carnage.
The United States Needs to Have a Discussion on Mental Illness
We need to have a long talk in the United States about mental illness. I have to tell you this and its painful to talk about it, but I need to get this off my chest. Our policies and procedures in dealing with the mentally ill are largely worthless. Unfortunately I know much more about mental illness than I care to know. You see I have a loved one, a sister who has dealt with mental illness in her lifetime. Now let me just say that mental illness is a disease. Its no different than cancer, diabetes, sickle cell, etc… The brain is a complex organ. Our science has barely cracked the human brain. My Dad was a neurosurgeon in his practice. Attended the University of Chicago, Duke, and University of Washington. He would be absolutely amazed about the human mind and its capabilities. I remember him telling me from time to time about how complex the human mind is and how science has a long way to go in understanding it. So we need to invest more in science and research for mental illness. Just as the kidney or heart can get sick, so can the brain.
I know more about mental illness because I have a sister who has struggled with schizophrenia in her life. She became ill when I was in college. She went into a hospital on my birthday on April 23, 1996. I was a Junior in College. I talk about how the false accusation from Andrew was dark, well watching this was also unsettling. I cried in my dorm room when this happened. Due to the emergency my mother flew to Chicago to take care and convince my sister to admit herself. The phone calls I got during those days when she had psychosis were frightening. My roommate was spooked out and I couldn’t make sense of what was happening. But I didn’t understand mental illness…I thought it was like a cold or a flu. You take some medicine and it clears up. That is not always true. The laws that exist in this country are too geared toward privacy and one cannot intervene against someone who is having a mental health crisis. The system looked at my sister as an adult, capable of making her own decisions, when she couldn’t. My mother couldn’t do anything. She begged and pleaded for my sister to admit herself to the hospital. She finally did. She was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It was a roller coaster ride from hell. It took me 5 years to grasp the enormity of the mental illness and what had happened to my sister. In a way it was like I experienced a death…the sister I knew growing up was gone, and in her place was someone I didn’t recognize. I was angry when I realized what was going to happen long term, and I got in the car and drove from Milwaukee to St. Louis which is where I dug in for a few days trying to understand the mess. It took time and in Milwaukee I slowly got involved in National Alliance of the Mental Illness. Its a support group for families that have loved ones who deal with mental illness. I learned something in NAMI that was horrific. You see when I was a grad student at Marquette I used to cross paths with a homeless man. I sometimes saw him loitering around the Marquette campus. I recall walking past him on 16th and Wisconsin as I headed back to grad student housing. Well, when I got into NAMI I realized that person was someone’s son. I heard the story of how he became schizophrenic and then entangled in drugs. I heard about the run ins with the law, and how the family couldn’t do much of anything. As an adult he refused treatment, and if he wanted to eat out of dumpster he could do that.
We really need to change the laws and draw more attention to mental health issues. because of what I learned about mental health when ever something happens, my first gut instinct is to think “this is related to mental health…” And that is what happened Thursday afternoon before the details came forward. It shouldn’t take a massacre to change the law, we need to have a deep, honest discussion about how to intervene in cases where people are mentally ill.
Your Homework Assignment
Here’s another thing that I was thinking about….it shouldn’t take a massacre and people to be gunned down in a college classroom for people to realize how precious and valuable life is. We honestly take it for granted. One of the reasons why I am at peace with my grandmother who passed in 2009 is because we both loved each other and that bond was tight. When I had that final conversation with her I had no idea it would be my last. Yet we both loved each other and expressed it, and when she died I took comfort in knowing of the love that existed. There were no regrets, no “I wish I had told her _____.” Instead I feel at deep peace with her today. Each and every person who is reading this has unresolved conflict and tension in their life. They have estranged and broken friendships, long lost relatives who they let fall away, or family members who have built ridiculous walls due to some conflict. Its with that in mind that I am going to ask each person who reads this to do the falling.
- Tell those in your life, wife, husband, child, etc.. how much you love them.
- Knock on a neighbors door, or a co-workers cube and ask them how they are doing.
- Take one estranged or broken relationship that you have a regret about and take a step forward in righting the wrong.
Why do I say this? Life is short, and we all live on borrowed time. I could be killed tomorrow or in a fatal accident. You could have a heart attack tomorrow as well. It shouldn’t take a massacre, or a cancer diagnosis, or a loss of a relative to jar one’s attention. When a person dies, they die. There is no undoing any pain, no final conversation, no action that can be done. You shouldn’t be in such a boat where you are thinking to yourself, “I wish I could have told that person I loved them…” Well you can do that, today is your opportunity and you can do that before its too late. If you read this that will be my challenge to you. I would love to hear a story or two and you are free to email them to me. My contact is up above.
This situation in Roseburg, Oregon is deeply depressing and I honestly feel sick. We need to do something. The other thing I also wonder as well, is the following. While the gunman was mentally ill, what if the right person reached out to him and expressed love. What if someone befriended him. Could this have been avoided possibly if he felt loved? People are good at hiding stuff, that’s one of the things that angers me about the evangelical Christian culture is that it encourages the building of facades. People are given the perception of there being no problems. But people are people in the privacy of their homes, marriages, bedrooms, and life. That co-worker who is excelling and appears successful could have a kid dealing with substance abuse problems or a marriage that is having problems. Don’t look at someone’s outside “success” and let that be the determining factor. People are broken, it’s our human nature. But my hope is that people can love more and reach out to others. I don’t want to hear about another massacre. The hard part about this in reflecting upon this is the days and times to come. Those that lost loved ones are in incredible shock, and mourning. But many will never get over this…birthday’s anniversaries, holidays will be triggers to pain. It like September 11, those who lost people in the Twin Towers are still dealing with the pain now. Someone’s birthday is painful in 2015 as it was when it was missed in 2002.
That’s all I have to say, I just needed to get this off my chest. Since I spent a late night doing this as well as a Saturday morning I am not going to get up another post until Wednesday. This counts for Monday. I love you guys, I mean that…