The Reconciler

Junior wouldn’t claim title to being a reconciler. In fact, he might give you a blank stare, a look of incomprehension, if you suggested to him that he was. I’m not even sure he was conscious of what he was doing. It seemed to come natural to him. He did it because it needed to be done. He did it because it was the right thing to do. He did it because he loved people. He did it because he was a peacemaker.

The word reconcile has at least three meanings: it can refer to Christian theology, court approved arbitration, or a function of financial bookkeeping. Reconciliation, as used in the Christian Bible, shares some of the same characteristics as an arbitrator. Like reconciliation, arbitration settles differences, but unlike reconciliation it doesn’t bring concord. In the 1990’s some courts attempted to use what they called “reconcilers.” This person went beyond arbitration to not only settle disputes, but also work with the parties at variance to see how they could cooperate with one another for the benefit of both. That’s what reconciliation means.

As I reflect upon the life of our protagonist, Junior had the characteristics that every reconciler must have.

He cared about people. One evening I called him about a problem involving a family that I feared I had offended. His profound advice, “You have to love people.” It was one of his principle philosophies of life. When Junior was involved, both sides of the adversarial situation knew he cared for them. He would call them by name, and name their children and grandchildren, too. He knew where they worked and what hobbies they enjoyed. Very likely, he had been a guest in their homes or broke bread with them somewhere. Neither party of a dispute in which he was involved doubted he cared.

It is said that the four critical components of a reconciler are truth, justice, mercy, and peace (John Paul Lederach). Junior demonstrated these. People had confidence in him. He was reliable. He did not favor one party over the other, not even a son. One of his daughters-in-law told me that she loved him because he often took her side in a disagreement. He was a man of character.

Although he did not fear calling out right and wrong, most often he stayed neutral and allowed people to discover the right thing to do for themselves. The old proverb, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” is appropriate here. Junior did not force decisions on others, but laid hold of a latent desire deep within the feuding parties that wanted to forgive and be forgiven. He knew reconciliation could not be forced, it had to be welcomed.

He was not a warrior; he was a peacemaker. That doesn’t mean he was afraid. I’ve watched him wade in where angels feared to trod. I don’t know if it was his booming voice of authority, the justice of his cause, or because he was a big man with large features, strong arms, and big hands, but he always came out unscathed. In 1978, I remember the newspaper headlines blazing, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” after President Jimmy Carter helped Egypt and Israel come to a lasting agreement known as the Camp David Accords. Such was Junior. No, his face did not grace grand marquees and he wasn’t wildly celebrated. Quietly, he sifted through the hurt and pain to recover peace where hot or cold wars once waged.

Today, the political atmosphere in Washington D.C. is one of winners and losers. The art of compromise appears dead; destruction reigns. Truth is lost in rhetoric. “I want it my way,” tantrums replace reason. As a reconciler, Junior sought the win/win. His goal was for rivals to become partners. Enemies become friends. Enmity become fellowship. For attitudes of intransience to become cooperation. Fragmentation become harmony. I know of people that Junior helped to resolve differences who are now fishing buddies, vacation partners, and regular house guests.

In Christian theology the word reconciliation is mostly used in regard to God and humankind. Jesus came and died to bridge the gulf between the justly offended LORD GOD and the justly condemned, willfully offending sinner. With confession comes instant forgiveness and reconciliation. The relationship between God and humanity is changed forever. When the Christian Bible refers to reconciliation, this is its meaning.

However, there are two or three references that use the term for individuals. There are, of course, multiple passages about forgiving and living at peace with one another that allude to reconciliation. In The Cost of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, I wrote, “In Christian teaching, God both forgives and reconciles us to Himself at the same time when we seek Him. But, with we mortal and finite humans this is sometimes a two-step process.” Junior gently and wisely helped people make this second step.

I don’t know where he got his abilities. He was not an educated man, barely finishing the 8th grade. To my knowledge he never received any formal training in the ministry of reconciliation. Perhaps it was instinct. His childhood was difficult, conflict was common. As a child he vowed to be a different kind of man than the father who raised him. Could it have been a gift from God? If it was, he exercised his gift to help others, never for self-aggrandizement. Junior was a man of wisdom who knew how to lead people. I’ve heard stories about him planting ideas in people’s minds that came to fruition later. When it did they owned the project as if it were their idea all along. I don’t know how he did it. Unfortunately, I never learned to be a reconciler like him.

291858_2366417846546_5943061_nHe was known as Junior in his youth. His birth name was James Junior Shuck. Most people called him “Jim.” I called him “Dad.”

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The People Disposers

On my blog last week, I wrote about disposable people. Today, I want to draw attention to those who dispose of people.

Image result for person in trash canLooking upon people as disposable is not limited to race, ethnic group or color, religion or creed, sex or sexual orientation, youthfulness or old age. People who are among the most impoverished and the ones who live in exquisite splendor as the richest of the rich can be a disposer. It is perpetrated by the ill upon the well and the well upon the ill. The prisoner upon the free, and the free upon the prisoner. The physically challenged upon the physically perfect and the physically perfect upon the physically challenged. No one is immune from the temptation to dispose of others.

What follows is my list of five disposers.

The Meerkat(s): The first disposers are meerkats. The meerkat lives in a colony ruled by an alpha male and alpha female. If any female, other than the alpha, delivers pups, the alpha pair will kill the young and evict the offending mother.

Meerkats dispose of others through unforgiveness and ostracization. Have you ever crossed a meerkat? Perhaps you intentionally did something wrong, or it could have been an unintentional consequence of a set of uncontrollable coincidences. It really doesn’t matter how you offended the meerkat. No manner of explaining, apologizing, or asking forgiveness will do. Mr. Meerkat is finished with you.

With a meerkat, once you are out, you can never get back in.

The Elephant(s): Another kind of disposer is the elephant. It almost seems a shame to cast these majestic animals in a negative light, however elephants have long memories. A caregiver observed two elephants, who had a brief encounter several years before, greet each other as if they were old friends. During prolonged droughts, park rangers say an older matriarch has been observed leading her herd to a watering hole she has not visited for over 30 years. The fact is, it is a compliment to be told you have a memory like an elephant.

But, just as sure as an elephant can remember the good you have done; it can remember the bad, too.  Elephants are the grudge holders that can’t seem to let it go. Long memories of real or perceived wrongs are retained for a lifetime. No matter how many years have passed since the original event, the elephant remembers it like it happened yesterday. They are the stamp collectors who carefully slide each offence into a plastic sleeve to be kept and treasured for years. From time to time, they like to share their collection of grudges with others. Once you have offended an elephant, you are going to hear about it for a very, very long time.

Elephants will not no allowance for a mistake or forget a wrongdoing.

The Honey Badger(s): One more disposer is the honey badger. This small animal is stubborn and savage. It will not walk away from a fight. This little member of the weasel family has been known to chase away lions and kill predators many times its size.

Honey badgers are uncooperative and stubborn. They hold on to their story regardless of the facts. Anyone who presumes to challenge their version of events will get a savage response. Ms. Honey Badger cannot be wrong, she is never mistaken.

Anyone who wants to reconcile with a honey badger must accept his/her version of things before the conversation can begin.

The Chicken’s Pecking Order: The fourth disposer is the chicken hierarchy. Those who observe chicken behavior notice that there are higher, middle, and lower classes of chickens and the lowliest is the henpecked bird. Chickens can be fierce about their position in the flock and will fight to protect their status or to advance. The older quickly put the younger in place. Established birds violently show a new comer its place. Some flocks have bullies who deny others access to food. Sick or injured chickens are killed or driven away. And then, there is the henpecked bird – last to eat or drink, at the end of the line for a spot to roost – this bird tries to be unseen. It keeps its distance from others. By being submissive, perhaps, just perhaps, it may not get any unwanted attention.

The pecking order is toxic for those at the bottom. The top and middle chickens are abusive and manipulative. They have active contempt for those beneath them. If you stay around the higher chickens long enough your self-esteem will be destroyed, your accomplishments dismissed, and your pain and suffering invalidated. You will be fed regular doses of shame, blame, and hatred. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned not against those who could kill the body, but against those who can kill the soul.

The toxic chickens who lord over you will never let you rise. They will always push you down in order to maintain their own position.

The Chimpanzee(s): The last disposer is the chimp. Far from being the adorable creature we see on TV and film, Chimpanzees have been known to be murderers in the wild. In 2013 some observers with a video camera filmed a chimp that was out of favor with the community attempting to get back into the social group. The male chimp was attacked mercilessly, his body torn apart, and parts of him cannibalized.

Chimps are the haters. To hate someone is to wish that person would die and go to hell. Chimps actively try to destroy you. They make false accusations against you that cause others to be suspicious. They can make it difficult for you to do your job and problematic for your employer to keep you on the payroll. Every piece of mud and dirt they can dig up is publicly splattered asunder to see what sticks. Associations with the tainted are exploited and used to implicate you. They paste you with unflattering and harmful labels. After Raymond Donovan was cleared of fraud in 1987, he famously asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” You may run, you may hide, but it is difficult to escape a chimp bent on a vendetta.

The chimp will never allow you to live outside the box they have painted for you.

This is my declaration: Unlike the meerkat, I will strive to be a reconciler who welcomes and forgives the offender. Unlike the elephant, I will release the grudges and bury the trespasses made against me. Unlike the honey badger, I will choose to be a peacemaker. Unlike the lordly chicken, I will be a servant to help and encourage others. Unlike the chimp, I will give hope, I will give life.

With all that is within me, I resolve to never actively or passively dispose of others. Their hearts are too precious, their minds too aware, their souls too valuable, and their spirits too alive to be dumped, discarded, or destroyed.

Disposable People

Image result for person in a dumpsterWe Americans live in a disposable society. Landfills, salvage yards, and recycling plants are evidence of that. Every era has had its disposables, among them were and are disposable people. Every culture from the beginning of humankind has killed, suppressed, ostracized, hidden, ignored, and/or marginalized people that did not meet their standards of “normal.” And no matter how enlightened we think we are in the twenty-first century, we are guilty, too.

Today, in the United States of America, people who are poor are pushed to inferior housing in crime ridden neighborhoods where there is little prospect of making things better for themselves. People released from prison or jail are legally discriminated against for housing and jobs. People who don’t meet society’s standards of beauty are ruthlessly tormented, intimidated, and maligned. In 2006, Lizzie Velasquez was voted the “Ugliest Woman in the World” at the age of 17. It nearly destroyed her life. She said she felt like “dirt.” The so-called ugly, scarred, and physically misshapen are often denied employment, relegated to menial jobs, or hidden in some back room somewhere away from the public eye. My list of society’s disposable people could go on and on, but I want to focus on we who have a mental health diagnosis.

The stigma of labels still exists. People with a mental health diagnosis are often called names. According to one study at Cornell University – nuts, screw loose, psycho, crazy, weird, mad, insane, loony bin, brain dead, and mental were among the most popular monikers. Personally, I have been called “crazy” and “sick” too many times to count, and told to “try harder,” “pick myself up by my own bootstraps,” and that it was “all in my head.”

Last year I wrote a piece for my blog called, Depression: Sin, Demon Possession, or Disease. In the 21st century people with a mental illness are still labeled as: sinners, possessed, weak, lazy, and flawed characters. In 2013 I was accused of “faking” my depression. Wow, I must be one great actor worthy of international fame. I must love hospitals, psychiatrists, counselors, support groups, nightmares, job losses, demotions, abandonment, separations, divorce, homelessness, pennilessness, and alienation from loved ones. All to support my fakery. GET REAL!

The stigma of violence is alive and well. Some people are hypothesizing that Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, had a mental illness. One of his neighbors called him “weird.” A police spokesman said, “We cannot rule out mental illness or some form of brain damage.” President Trump described him as “a very, very sick individual.” The local Sheriff said he may be a “distraught person.” And an Alabama news headline read, “Las Vegas mass shooting prompts questions about mental health.” The same old clichés and untruths about mental health continue to perpetuate. The formula is: a violent person equals a mental illness.

The myth of violence has been debunked multiple times, but the media, politicians, police, and neighbors keep repeating it. It has been well established by numerous studies that, “The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only three to five percent (3%-5%) of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.” (source: MentalHealth.gov) This stigma attached to us with a mental illness is ingrained in society and repeated so often that many, if not most, believe it.

Stigmas are codified in our laws. After the Las Vegas shooting, Hillary Clinton said there ought to be a law prohibiting people with a mental illness from owning guns. In other words, she wants to legalize the stigma.

The state I moved to requires by law that I disclose on the driver’s license application any mental health issues, medications prescribed, and hospitalizations. As a result of being honest, the law required me to take a driver’s test. I wanted to scream! But, I calmly complied with the regulation. After the test, I wanted to ask, “What did you learn about my mental illness in relation to my driving?” The answer was obvious, “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.” I was in partial remission at the time, was not suicidal, and did not have any desires to injure myself or harm others.

I wonder what they expected from my driver’s test? Perhaps they wanted to see if I would play chicken with a semi-tractor on a two-lane road, speed recklessly in and out of traffic on the interstate during rush hour, or deliberately put my car into a ditch or tree to emphasize my need for mental health services? Don’t they know that most people can hold it together long enough to get or renew their license? APPARENTLY NOT! I considered it a complete waste of my time and the time and resources of the state.

Stigmas are institutionalized.  Although laws were passed against inequities between physical and mental health insurance in 2008 and again through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010, the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) reported, “High rates of denials for mental health care by insurers.” The NAMI report also said there are “barriers to accessing psychiatric medications in health plans, high out of pocket costs for prescription drugs, high co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance rates, and serious deficiencies in access to information necessary to enable consumers to make informed decisions about the health plans that are best for them.” Another NAMI article stated,  “We know that people with mental health problems are among the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to: find work, be in a steady, long-term relationship, and live in decent housing.”

“Stigma reflects prejudice, dehumanizes people with mental illness, trivializes their legitimate concerns, and is a significant barrier to effective delivery of mental health services.” (source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) In 2015 (the last year statistics are available), there were an estimated 9.8 million adults, 4% of the USA adult population, aged 18 or older, who had a severe mental illness within the past year. Twenty-one and four tenths percent of adolescents, aged 13 to 18, had a severe mental health disorder during their young lifetime. (source: National Institute of Mental Health) However, 40% percent of us with a mental illness never seek treatment. Could it be the prejudice, shame, laws, and other stigmas are a significant part of the reason?

Although I have used the verbiage in this piece, one writer has called for mental health advocates to stop calling them “stigmas” and call them for what they are, “discrimination.” As a person with a severe mental illness, I join with others shouting: STOP discrimination in social settings and let us belong. STOP discrimination in health care and make our coverage equitable to physical health insurance. STOP discrimination in the law and give us some common-sense laws based on science, not emotion. STOP making us feel like we are flawed citizens and become our boosters. STOP treating us as disposable people and recognize our worth.

 

May the LORD bless you and comfort and help those most affected by the Las Vegas carnage.

Letters from Jail # 3

Image result for spirituality in jail*The following are excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in county lock-up. I have edited and arranged the material for readability.

 

 

 

 

Began:  May 29, 2013

It has been a rough day. My mood is mildly depressed. Incredibly, my moods have been exceptionally stable considering where I find myself. This is not how I planned spending 2013. My brother said he thought I would emerge stronger. More compassion, experience, and wisdom perhaps, but stronger? I don’t know.

A quadriplegic man once told me I was the most compassionate man he’d ever met. I guess when you have gone through the losses and pain I have experienced you either become cynical or more humane. I’ve chosen the later.

God has used the difficult circumstances in my life to make me more understanding. This experience is definitely a teaching moment, but it is hard to imagine overcoming the criminal element (label). How can I speak with authority? How can Christ be glorified when I’ve made such a mess of things?

It’s hard to know how to feel about being in jail. How can God use this experience? What do I have to learn?

Providence can be defined as cooperating with the grace of God to bring about the highest good and the least evil. I’m not finished cooperating with His grace. I want God to “make something beautiful out of my (messed-up, flawed, imperfect) life.”

I’m rereading The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancy. He talks about blessed mourners. They are blessed because they are comforted. Thank God for those who have come along and helped. They are blessed because they have hope. We weep not as those who have no hope. They are blessed because they help others. “Wounded healers” know how to help others heal. Those who are comforted know how to comfort others.

The Bible study was poor again. They’re into numerology and sensationalism. It’s tough to go, but I fear my witness will be damaged if I don’t.

One of the men just told me that if I started a church he would attend. I took that as a great compliment. Another man and I talked for some time about loss and the impression negative comments have on our self-image. A new, young guy came in wanting to change his life. I pointed him toward Jesus. Two of these men went to church with me today.

I gave my brother Power-of-Attorney (POA). I signed the papers yesterday. He will pay my bills. I have legal and hospital bills to pay. I hate debt, but somehow, I will crawl out from under it. When I get out I hope to have enough left to get started again.

I’m not staying in Kentucky any longer than necessary. My future is elsewhere. I may go back to Anderson for a while. My brother, J____, is there and a lot of other family.

As I laid in my rack waiting for 4:00 AM med call, my mind turned to my son, A____. I thought, “I could write him.” Please pray with me that I will say the right things and he will receive it. I miss my children and long to reconnect with them.

W____, I’m sure you don’t have a corner on wavering. We all go from mountain movers to doubters, often in the same day. Perseverance is the key.

Tomorrow I will get my hair cut, beard trimmed, and nails clipped. Since I wasn’t allowed to have long hair as a teen I thought I would let it grow until I get out. But, it’s too hard to take care of so I’m cutting it really short. I’m ready to quit shaving. We’re only allowed to shave twice a week with an electric razor that everyone has to use. My nails are longer than they’ve ever been. I hate ‘em. I can’t stand long nails on men. It’s been almost three weeks; I can hardly wait to cut them off.

I’m falling into a routine. I call us “Pavlov’s dogs” because every time the lights come on we know it’s time for a neat trick. lol.

One of our group was released today. Several of the guys stood at the door throwing his things into the hall. Some of the long termers appear depressed. It was an interesting experience to observe. The sad part is the guy will be back. He’s a 12-year-old boy in a 56-year-old body. He has no clue how to live that does not involve drugs, alcohol, sex, and partying.

Reframing is the process of seeing a problem or situation from a different angle. I’m not in jail, I live in a $10 million-dollar home with my own personal security system and detail. My food is prepared in my own kitchen and delivered to my room. I have laundry service, an indoor and outdoor recreation area, nursing staff, and a chaplain that comes twice a week. So many things are provided I never have to leave my home. (Laugh or cry. You’ve got to laugh or cry.)

Only 48 weeks to go. Club Madisonville appears to be working, I have lost 12 pounds. I may come out of here with six-pack abs. : )

Sincerely,

Jay

The LORD be with you.

In Search of an Answer

Image result for whyWhy?

Why me?

I have been asking that question for several weeks now. It’s a search to which I may never have a satisfactory answer. No records exist. No old journal or diary to consult. What information I have comes from my memory and that is not always reliable.

Why do I have depression?

The year was 1968. It was during the school year and I was in third grade. Although my oldest brother had taught me how to swim, Mom insisted that I take a course at the YMCA. Everyone was confined to the shallow end until you could swim under water from one side of the pool to the next. I accepted the challenge and gained my freedom to explore the deep. But, I couldn’t take advantage of it.

I got sick. It would take two weeks before I was well enough to go back to the YMCA. However, the course had ended and my opportunity had passed. The sickness came on suddenly. A high fever, spinning rooms, hallucinations, and paranoia gripped me. There were several days I couldn’t get out of bed.

My mother took me to three different doctors. We left their offices with three different diagnoses. As an adult I thought it may have been the Hong Kong flu epidemic, but with more study I found out that it didn’t reach the United States until 1969. No further clues and therefore answers are to be found.

It has been observed that people with the flu often become depressed, but it appears not to last much beyond the illness. I have focused on the high fever and that it caused some brain damage. However, fever with the flu (if that is what I had) rarely is high enough to cause brain damage.

The reason I focus on the fever is because of a long term after effect that troubled me for the next eight years. For lack of a better term, I will call them “seizures,” but they don’t strictly fit the definition. On occasion, I would wake up suddenly drenched in sweat, shaking, disoriented, the room spinning, and crying profusely without a reason. Always, I managed to awaken my mother and she gave me sweet hot tea and stayed with me until I was calm enough to go back to bed. A doctor suggested to her that I was just trying to get attention.  When the next one came on, I didn’t wake her and went through it alone.

At first, they were not frequent enough to rouse any concern, but the older I got the more frequent they became. My mother thought it might be related to my older brothers leaving home and beginning new lives with spouses and children of their own. But, when I had about three in a two week period of time, my mother took me to the doctor mentioned above. This time he referred me to a neurologist.

That doctor ordered a brain wave test. After the test results came back, he informed us that I had a blockage in my brain and put me on medication. I took those pills for two years – they were simply awful. Finally, I told my mother I had had enough and I was not taking them anymore. Mother didn’t object, but she prayed earnestly for me. I have not had another “seizure” from that time to this. The only residual effect I have is the room begins to spin if I have a slightly high temperature.

As I look back on those events, I can see a mood change. I was a happy kid, afterwards I was far too serious. Fear replaced courage. I became melancholy. Thirty years later melancholia turned into recurrent, severe depression.

That is all I know. Was that childhood illness the cause? If so, what was it? I can eliminate heredity as a cause – no one on either side of the family ever had long-term depression. No, I still think that prolonged fever caused a biological or chemical change in my brain. But, if that is true, is it reversible? I don’t have an answer.

The neurologist told Mom that I would never be able to handle much stress. I chose to be a pastor and a counselor – among the highest stress jobs you can take. The doctor was right. I have paid a heavy toll  both physically and mentally because of stress.

Although, I know all of the above information, there are questions still. What illness did I have in 1968? Was the water of the YMCA pool a contributing factor? What do I call those “seizures?” Is this the actual source of my depression, or should I look elsewhere?

I don’t know! So, I am still searching for an answer to the “Why?” question. I can only hope that the search is worth it.

Time Off and a Mystery

I am taking this week and next week off as I prepare for and recover from surgery. The Lord willing, I will return on Wednesday, September 27, 2017. Thank you for reading my writings.

My next article, I think, will be an attempt to answer the question, “Why?”. As a former pastor and counselor, “Why” was the hardest question to answer. Many times there was simply no satisfactory response possible. I can remember looking into the longing eyes of people who wanted to know “Why” all of these things were happening to them. Often I bowed my head and said, “I don’t know.”

What do you say to a young couple sitting in a maternity room holding a still-born baby? A baby that was alive and kicking a couple of days before. I didn’t have an answer for their “Why”. They asked me to baptize their lifeless child. I did. It was not a day for a theology lesson; it was a day to be a pastor first. Although it brought comfort to them, the unknowable “Why” still hung in the air.

Just this week a person asked, “Why does life have to be so hard?” It’s not a new question. The author of Psalm 73 asked it in a similar manner, why am I slipping and the ungodly and wicked are prospering? Humankind has been asking “Why” for a very long time.

In two weeks, I hope to give some answers. Until then, I am on a quest to solve the mysterious “Why”.

Image result for question mark

May the LORD be with you.

He Cared for My Soul

After I was incarcerated, there were several people who came to visit me – my youngest son, my oldest brother, men from one of the churches of my two-charge circuit where I had pastored, and a married couple from the other. They all had such kind words of encouragement. The ones from the two churches expressed appreciation for my ministry among them when they could have shamed or scolded me for bringing reproach upon their individual churches. I remain in touch with several of them and thank God for their support. However, none of them asked about my soul.

There were several who wrote to me on a regular basis – my other brother, two friends from high school, my former boss, and a close friend from Eastern Kentucky. The two or more letters I received each week were a lifeline. I was blessed to have my brothers and friends express trust and confidence in me. At the lowest point of my life, they lifted me up. But, none of them asked about my soul.

On every Wednesday, a local pastor made a contact visit. (In most of my visits, the visitor and I were separated by glass and we had to talk over phones. Our conversation could be listened to or recorded. Not so during a ministerial visit. I could actually shake hands with him, talk to him in a normal manner, and everything I said was confidential.)  During my year in jail, he missed at most only two or three times. He listened to my story without condemnation and shared his story with me. Before I went back to my cell, he always prayed with me.

Another minister came to visit after the Chaplain informed him about me. He pastored the local Presbyterian church and wanted to share with me as one minister to another. I felt free to express some fears and issues with him and he prayed earnestly for me more than once. Both of these men treated me with respect and told me over and over again that my ministry was not finished. Their visits gave me hope as they ministered to my spirit, yet neither asked about my soul.

Please don’t take this as being ungrateful or condemning in any way. All of them were concerned about me spiritually and prayed for me repeatedly. They were aware that I was seeking God, reading the Bible and other Christian literature, attending chapel and Bible study, and maintained a profession of faith. Besides, what do you say to a person who has been a Christ-follower for forty years, studied the Bible in depth, and had been a pastor/teacher for 36 years. All of them helped me when I most needed it and were pillars of strength when I was so very weak.

There was one, however, who consistently inquired about my soul. Several times during my year in jail and the years that have followed, he would ask, “Have you repented of your sins?” “How is your relationship with Jesus?” “Are you having daily devotions?” “Are you telling those you hurt how sorry you are?” And more than once he would repeat, “Are you sure you are right with God and know that you have been forgiven?”

He was direct. Fearless. Uncompromising. Persistent. Probing. Unsatisfied until I had explained my answer thoroughly.

I have known this man his entire life. He has overcome a great many genetic, mental, physical, and social issues. Under-educated, he works at Wal-Mart. He could stay home and draw a government disability check, but he chooses to work and support himself the best way he can. He is happy, smiles broadly, and laughs hardily. Most of all, he is a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ. From things he has done and said, I have come to believe that God talks to him in a very intimate way.

As I walked down the jail corridor with a guard escorting me to the visitation room, I heard a whisper, “It’s him.” Sure enough, it was him. He told me about his struggle to know if it was right and proper to visit me, but a lady at his church encouraged him to do so. It was during that first visit that the inquisition began. Each visit afterwards eventually led to the same set of questions.

After being released from jail, he called me one day with more of the same. At first, I was offended and weary of the searching. I had given him the same answer each time he asked. Why was he being so dogged? A few minutes later my attitude changed. Thankfulness replaced offense. Awareness followed. He was holding me accountable for my walk with Jesus.

A few months ago, he asked me again. I gave him a ready answer. He has made himself my spiritual accountability partner. He is welcome to do more of the same.

18447112_10155492554207867_5806284590722023497_nOh, by the way, that man is my oldest son, Adam, and he cares for my soul.

I love you, son.

Harvey is Depressed

About three weeks back, I was brainstorming with my wife regarding writing prompts.Image result for hurricane Harvey at sea There was one that particularly caught my attention: “What would it look like if nature was depressed?” I began jotting down several ideas and planned to post it today. Then Harvey happened, and the thought about nature and the natural event merged into a single idea.

We live about 170 miles north-northwest of where Harvey came ashore. It was forecast that our community could be hit with 70 plus mph wind gusts and up to 12 inches of rain. We made preparations to evacuate, if necessary. The coastal region was hit fiercely, resulting in destruction and damage to infrastructure and property. Flooding has devastated Houston. People have lost their lives, families are separated, and many are missing. And, Harvey is not finished yet.

We were spared the worst. Winds reached the mid-50 mph range and we received about six inches of rain. As I was walking Monday during the waning hours of Harvey in our area, I noticed the north side of all the vehicles was covered with leaves while the south side was clean. Evidently, we were on the downward side of the counter-clockwise storm rotation. Limbs are everywhere, some trees are down, and shingles from roofs are scattered about. But, nothing more serious happened here. Please continue praying and helping the people along the coast.

The reason all this happened started with nature being depressed. The evolution of a hurricane is something like this: a tropical disturbance occurs followed by a tropical depression, tropical storm, tropical cyclone, and finally a hurricane. It all started with disturbed and depressed pressure.

Those are the facts, but allow me, with respect and sensitivity to those who have paid and are paying a high price because of Harvey, to explore the idea of nature being clinically depressed.Image result for dark and rainy clouds blocking out the sun

Depressed nature’s day begins in darkness. Tears drip from its cloudy pillow upon the sheets of grass covering the earth. The night lingers, resisting the presence of light. When at last the sun prevails, it emerges clothed in pajamas of black and gray. The light mopes through the day unable to stop its forward motion and uninterested in trying. There is no struggle against the dimness of dusk. Rather, it is strangely welcomed. The skies moan as another day ends with little hope that tomorrow will be different.

It appears nature is trapped in a state of perpetual fall and winter. Things are either dying or dead already. Plants are in various stages of drooping and wilting, the grass is turning brown. Trees that once stood as towers of strength and grandeur are now denuded, slumping toward the earth. Creatures of the earth roam aimlessly in search of what they know not. Some are thin for want of appetite, while others are fat but never satisfied.

The caretakers of the earth worry about its prolonged sadness, decreased production, and low birth rates. The perpetuation of species is so disturbed that many are endangered. Park rangers and visitors are finding neglected and abandoned offspring. At other times, they observe the little ones being over-protected to near suffocation. Fear is thick in the forests and glades.

If one pauses to listen, silence meets them. Birds are not chirping against real or imagined danger.  The creatures of the earth fail to communicate with each other where food can be found or a pleasant resting place. There are no sounds of snorting deer or howling coyotes. Buzz is absent from the ear. The would-be-listener longs for the annoying gnat to appear, but alas it too is silent.

Frisbees lay undisturbed and balls gather dust as our companions lose interest in playing. The purr of pleasure is silent against our gentle strokes.

Batteries die as solar panels and wind mills are unable to collect energy from the unmoved wind and shadowed light. Coal and oil refuse to burn, atoms will not split. Thermal energy weakens as the core of the earth grows cold. The earth is too weak to quake.

Geysers are less faithful. Springs become temperamental and artesian wells sputter. The dysthymic morning mist that gives the Smoky Mountains its name lapses into depressive fog. The tide whimpers ashore. Nature appears to have lost its will to live.

The caretakers of the earth paint and decorate artificial masks of splendor in an attempt to both hide nature’s sadness and in a pretense of normalcy.

None of this, of course, describes Harvey. He is angry and violent. Anger is widely accepted as a symptom of depression in men. Dr. Michael J. Formica wrote, “Show me a mad guy and I’ll show you a sad guy.” Harvey came ashore in southeast and south-central Texas full of rage. Where he has been is evidenced by the destruction and misery he’s left behind. Although Harvey is weakening, he is still very capable of violence as he heads toward east Texas and western Louisiana.

This is a solemn piece, I know, but clinical depression is a grave condition. In the days before I became clinically depressed, my family and I laughed at the way I shuffled on days I had a depressed mood. I couldn’t replicate that shuffle when I was feeling good. Then came the day when it ceased to be funny and became frightfully chilling.

Texas will recover from Harvey. Nature will rebound. In a few years, scars left behind will exist in memories alone.

Most people who become depressed will eventually go into full remission and never have another episode. For a small minority, partial remission is the best outcome we can expect.

The greatest technological advances of humankind have yet to find a way to control the Harvey-like eruptions or dark and teary moods of nature. This is not so for most people who have a major depressive disorder. For all, but a limited few – 1/1000 of a percent of the population – depression is treatable.

Harvey is dying. By the end of the week it will likely be no more. The wind and rain, and all the other weather events a hurricane can spawn will be gone. The sun will shine again.

Unlike Harvey, you and I who fight depression do not have to die – either physically or emotionally. There is hope for a better tomorrow. You and I have a reason to live.

Letters from Jail #2*

Began on 05/23/2013

I have made the local TV news for two days now. The paper reported that I was doing very good against the two police officers before being tasered. Those two whipper-snappers should have thought twice before picking on an old, fat man. Honestly, I remember very little. (I had a dissociative episode and didn’t know what I had done until the police told me.) I guess all that fighting I have done in my sleep all these years finally paid off. Laugh or cry, you have to laugh or cry.

Reportedly, my reputation is known. The chaplain knows me as the well-educated minister. The guards know me as the guy who took on two policemen. My cell-mates know me as the naïve rookie. I just pray that Jay is not lost and the Jay in Christ overcomes all the other reputations.

I’ve been thinking about my jail experience. The conclusion I’ve come to is, jail experiences can be placed into three categories: noble, accidental, and nefarious. People who go to jail for a cause – persecution, political, or civil disobedience – can be called noble. That is true regardless if we agree with their cause or not. Accidental is obvious – the innocent, misidentified, etc. The criminal element, like me, would be the nefarious.

It’s hard for me to think of myself as criminal or to take responsibility for my actions alone. What I did was wrong, but there were so many mitigating circumstances that few, if any, could not imagine themselves responding in the same or a similar way. Am I making excuses? Am I avoiding responsibility?

If I could’ve proven my side, I could’ve walked away a free man. But, they had all the evidence on their side and my “victims” looked more pitiable. I took the deal, not because I was guilty of all they accused me, but because I had no defense. (I asked my lawyer to plead me “not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect,” but he told me it was almost impossible to prove in Kentucky.)

Rather than being in jail for a crime, I’ll think of it as “forced rest.” This will be the Years of Jubilee I have missed. After 39 years of ministry, I needed a sabbatical. Also, I could think of jail as “Club Madisonville.” My very own weight loss program. Exercise, proportional meals, no snacks . . . that ought to equal 50 lbs. of weight loss over a year

I have prayed for forgiveness. Forgiveness for not being strong enough to walk away. For attempting to direct my treatment when others could see clearer than I. For holding the material possessions of this world dear enough to fight over. (I don’t know how to pray about the fight, because I have almost no memory of it.) For not respecting God-ordained civil authority. _____

I had a real battle with pride yesterday. During Wednesday night Bible study, I couldn’t decide whether to use my knowledge or stay mostly mute. Finally, I decided to embrace who God has made me in Christ Jesus and use my talents for Him. It was a palpable moment for me, but I think I made the right choice.

Sunday is coming. I love the Lord’s Day – celebration, worship, festival, and holiday all in one. The services here have not been professional or well done. It appears a lot who go are looking for “friends” or to just get out of the cell for a while. Wednesday Bible study was chaotic and shallow.

Church today was the same as last week right down to the sermon. The man seems to care, though, and is upbeat. _____

I received a termination letter today from the agency where I worked. As firing letters go, it was the best I’ve ever received . . . It’s the only one I’ve ever received. They were nice and caring.

I received two cards today. One was from my brother and the other from my former boss. He said he was praying for me and offered to help in any way he could. _____

A couple of nights ago it got real quiet in the dorm, just in time for me to start talking in my sleep. “We’re not talking about it anymore,” I said. Everyone laughed and the quiet did not return for some time. One guy told me I better never do anything serious because I talk too much in my sleep.

Pray with me that I will learn the jail culture without losing myself. I need a conscience for this road I’ve never traveled. One guy is “mentoring” me. He said I was very naïve.

My day at a glance:

12-12:30 AM      Blood pressure checks. We all march down to the nurse. Like the rest of me, my BP has been near perfect. (A small attempt at humor.)

4-4:15 AM           Morning meds. I think the Risperidone I’m on is really helping to stabilize my mood.

5-6:00 AM           Breakfast . . . pancakes, oatmeal, or biscuits and gravy with fruit and juice.

6-7:00 AM           Devotions. Right now I’m in Mark and Psalms of a morning and Proverbs at night.

7-8:00 AM           Clean-up. Shower, brush teeth. We don’t change clothes but once a week. Although I change my skivvies more often. (TMI)

8-12:00 PM         I rest, read, and write. I’m rereading The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancy.

12-1:00 PM         Lunch

1-4:00 PM           Rest, read, and write. On MWF we are allowed one hour of recreation in the “yard.” Oh, the feel of the sun.

4-4:15 PM           Evening meds.

4:15-6:00 PM     Rest, read, and write.

6-7:00 PM           Clean-up. Sweep, clean restroom, mop.

7-8:00 PM           Supper

8-12:00 AM        Rest, read, and write. Reading from Proverbs.

Sunday is church and visitations.   Monday and Friday is court if you have a date before the judge.   Wednesday, I receive a visit from a local pastor. Bible study. Library night.   Wednesday and Saturday is wash day for whites.   Thursday and Monday is wash day for uniforms. We all sit around in our boxers until the uniforms are cleaned and returned. Uncomfortable!   Mail and concessions come in the morning, M-F. _____

Sometimes, I can’t help but think that much of my life has been a mistake in light of the way things have turned out. But, I must trust in the LORD. Some of it has been my failure. Some, the failure of others. Some, a combination of the two.

Jay

*I have edited and arranged the material from my letters for readability.

 

Quotes on Restoration

Restoration to fellowship is the fallen Christian’s immediate need . . . The whole purpose of restoration is to get the person back to where s/he was . . . Eventually a fallen Christian who clearly repents (placed under a loving, spiritual mentor for accountability and growth) and reforms should be restored completely . . .

From the sermon: Restoring Fallen Christians and the Ministry of Reconciliation, by Jim Miller on August 20, 2002.