Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Goodbye, Patch...

"What’s wrong with death sir? What are we so mortally afraid of? Why can’t we treat death with a certain amount of humanity and dignity, and decency, and God forbid, maybe even humor. Death is not the enemy gentlemen. If we’re going to fight a disease, let’s fight one of the most terrible diseases of all, indifference."
Hunter – Patch Adams
I know I won't be the first, or only writer to do this.  Yesterday a man I had never met in person, but whom I've grown up with, took his own life.  At least that's what they are saying.  I grew up with Mork from Ork, as many of you did.  I cried when I listened to him read "O Captain, my Captain," as many of you did.  I loved him in his hilarious, yet sometimes stupid roles, and I loved him in his serious ones.  Rest in peace, Robin Williams.
Here's what bothers me about his passing.  Not only did the world lose one of the greatest actors it's known, but it didn't have to happen.  It could have been prevented.  On the outside, Robin Williams was a carefree, funny man with an uncanny knack for making you laugh and cry in the same movie.  But evidently, funny and happy are not the same thing.  From what I read last night, Robin Williams reached a level of despair that few of us ever know, and the ones who do know that kind of hopelessness usually don't survive it.  But it doesn't have to be that way.  
I'm not necessarily a movie buff.  It's just too much of a time commitment for me, but I bought Patch Adams for a sermon I was planning a couple years ago and have to say it was probably the greatest movie I've ever watched.  I know that it wasn't autobiographical for Robin Williams, but looking back today, I can see how he was able to get into that character so easily.  The scene on the cliff is the one standing out for me right now.  
Now, certainly, I don't have all of the details that led to that moment in his life from whence there was no return, and I don't claim to understand what was going through his mind at the time.   However, having been in pastoral ministry for 15 years I've seen people in a similar place as he, and I have also been witness to the response from people around them.  It doesn't have to be that way.  It just doesn't.  
Depression is real.  It leads to addictions to drown out the pain.  It leads to isolation.  It leads to despair and despair leads to hopelessness, and hopelessness sometimes leads to that place from where there is no return.  
Now, some colleagues might take this opportunity to talk about the sins involved with suicide, waving their bibles, shouting about all of the many different routes to hell this can take one down...but that's wrong.  It's just wrong...and may God have mercy on their souls for turning a tragedy such as suicide into a soapbox for their fundamentalist beliefs.  
What Robin Williams needed, and what others contemplating the same need, is not bible waving, narcissistic mouthpieces telling them that suicide is the unforgivable sin because there is no way to repent of it after the fact.  I'm throwing the BS flag on that one, and here's why. From my experiences, when a person reaches that level of despair, there is no way they can be making rational decisions.  
What they need is compassion.  Wait...let me rephrase that.  Since I have been there myself, having almost gotten my wish on two different occasions, let me include myself with the "They." What "We" need is compassion.  
We need someone to notice that something isn't right in our lives and spend the time with us that it will take to help us find healing.  
We need our families to love us, especially now. 
Sometimes we need someone to just talk to...someone who will listen without trying to "fix" us.
Sometimes we need a phone call or a text just to ask us how our day is going and to let us know that someone cares.  
Sometimes we need professional help, and if we know that you love us, we might not fight the suggestion.  
Those are just a few of the things we need when we find ourselves in the valley, with no obvious way out.  There are, however, some things we don't need.
We don't need you to yell, "Snap out of it!" at us.  Believe me, if we could we would.  
We don't need folks talking about us behind our backs.
We don't need to hear that we're going to hell, or that God can never forgive us for taking our own lives.
We don't need a spur of the moment "intervention."  That will probably just drive us farther away from you.  
And for the love of God, please don't tell us, "It's just in your head."  We're already struggling with the demons running loose in our heads and don't need you causing us any more self-doubt.
We don't need to be ignored, but we're not just "looking for sympathy" either.   
What we don't need is for you to act like it's no big deal.  It is to us, but we just don't know how to fix it.  Please don't be indifferent.   
If you know someone who you may even suspect is at a similar place, please, for the love of God, don't blow it off and think they'll be ok.  Your phone call may be the one thing that stops them from pulling the trigger or swallowing the pills.  Please, if there is someone you love, whose behavior has changed inexplicably, ask them if there's something going on.  They may be ready to talk about it or they may not, but they will at least know someone cares.  If you suspect depression in a friend or family member, take them to lunch and just let them talk.  Then keep what they said to yourself unless you sense that they are in immediate danger of hurting themselves or someone else.  
Depression is real.  I've been there.  I've thought things I shouldn't have thought.  I've even made plans.  But thanks be to God someone loved me enough to pull me to the side and say, "I'm worried about you.  Are you ok?  Really?"  When that person was someone I actually trusted, I was able, for the first time, to say, "Not really."  
Robin Williams, you'll never know the impact you had on millions.  You made us laugh.  You made us cry.  My heart breaks that we missed the signs.  May you now, finally, find rest for your soul.  God speed, Patch.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

1166: A Pastoral Letter

1166. I'm not blowing my own horn, but that number has some significance in my life.  That's the number of friends I have on Facebook.  Now before you say, "That arrogant so and so..." and stop reading, let me tell you why I'm doing this.  It's not that I have that many super close friends, I'm really not that popular, but that is the number of people I have the potential to make contact with by just a few clicks of the keyboard.  That's big.  Why?  It can either do great good...or it can do great harm...and it can do good or harm en masse.

I'm a fan of social media, let me just go on record saying that now.  It's allowed me to reconnect with people I haven't seen in over 20 years.  It allows me to stay in contact with my flock.  It also allows me to invite nearly 1200 people to church every week.  That's pretty cool.  Imagine how long it would have taken to reach that number of people just 50 years ago.  It's powerful...but what is it "they" say about power?  "With great power comes great responsibility."  True, true.

So, in the style of pastoral guidance, let me offer some suggestions about social media.  I'm not the first to address this, and certainly won't be the last.  I'm also not the first to address it from a pastoral angle.   I'll also confess that I have been guilty of some of the very things I'm about to discuss, so...Lord have mercy...Christ have mercy.  Here we go.

#1  "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me."  BUMPKIS!  Words do hurt, and the wounds they cause go deep.  When something is posted on social media in the heat of the moment, whatever that moment may be, all it takes is for a few eyes to see it and it spreads like wildfire.  What does wildfire do?  It burns like hell.  Before you hit "post" stop and take a breath.  Think about who may see what you just wrote and about the collateral damage it may cause.  Then decide if it's really worth it.  99% of the time it won't be.

#2  Facebook is not the OK Corral.   It is not the place to air out your personal grievances.  Why?  A couple reasons.  One, nobody needs to know.  And two, and please don't take this wrong, but most folks really won't care.  The ones who will are already looking to start something anyhow and will be more than happy to spread your private life all over cyber creation.  So you had a fight with your girlfriend...I'm sorry it happened, but calling her a bunch of trashy names on Facebook is just going to make you look petty and childish.  Grow up, for crying out loud, and handle your differences like adults.  Face to face, and in private.  Who knows, you just might save a relationship.

#3  Save the drama for your mama.  This is just a personal observation, but I have enough drama in my life without being slammed with yours.  It's not that I don't care, really I do...I care about all of the folks on my friends list.  I care greatly about my flock as well.  When they hurt, I hurt...honest.  Here's what I've noticed, though.  There is evidently a certain type of personality, and I wish I had paid more attention in Psychology class in college, but evidently this type of personality craves the attention that is given when personal drama is poured out over cyperspace.  I wish I understood more about the inner workings of that kind of thinking.  Alas, I don't.  To reinforce the importance of #3, refer back to #1 and #2.
Don't be that type of personality.  If you're hurting, or have been hurt, please... please... please... reach out to someone, or several someones, but maybe a private message to a select group would bring better and more positive results than painting your page with negativity.

#4  TMI... Practical aspects aside, too much information is, well, just too much information. Forget about the potential criminal surfing facebook to see the vacation pics you posted 2 minutes ago from 1200 miles away, (Do the math, they can get to your house way before you can)...I don't need to see pictures of your puss filled staph wound, nor do I personally need details about your love life, what you ate for dinner, or who ticked you off in the checkout line.   While those things are important...again, refer to #1 and #2...they're important, but most of the time, also very private.  Now, you could say things like, "Well, just don't look..."  "It's my page, I'll post what I want..." or my personal favorite, "Well, if you don't like it, just unfriend me."  Easy, tiger.  Let's don't get hasty.  Some things are just better left unsaid and kept at home.  Which leads me to #5.

#5   "Just because I can post it, doesn't mean I should."  I wish I had come up with that, but I didn't.  I heard them first from a colleague from Florida.  That one really doesn't require much explanation.  You're absolutely right, it's your page and you can post whatever you want (as long as Facebook allows it) and you're also right in saying I don't have to look.  But that's not the point.  The point is, there is power in that "enter" button or that "post" icon.  Once those words are gone, they're gone.  You can delete them, but more than likely you can't do it quick enough to keep SOMEBODY from seeing it, and that somebody may be the one person who needed to see it the least.  Then the damage is done and there is little chance of undoing it.

Ok, so there's five ways social media can bring harm to someone's life.  But...It's not all bad.  Personally, I love Facebook.  I'm more careful about posting things about my personal life on there now, but if I see something that I think is funny (remember, I have a sort of warped sense of humor) I may post it.  If it offends, I apologize.  That was not my intention.  Here's the brutal truth though...and I'm doing this in the spirit of transparency...those 5 things above...I'm guilty of all of them at some point.  For those it offended, I apologize.  I think I have matured some over the last few years...ok a little...ok maybe somedays...ok...every now and then...but I'm trying.  Now I try to think about how what I'm typing will be taken and how it will affect the ones who see it.  I don't always get it right, though.

Facebook can be a great thing.  It can be fun.  It can be a great ministry tool.  It's a great way to veg out for a few minutes (just a few, though).  But every good thing, if used for the wrong reasons, can be dangerous.

So, what can we do?

Take some time to think about what you're typing.  Do you really want to say what you're saying?  I mean, really want to say what you're saying?  If not...don't.

Change your password on a regular basis to lessen the chance someone will hack your account.

Change your settings so that you personally have to see and approve any item that is posted to your page. Unless you've changed the default, probably any one of your friends can post anything to your page without your permission.  This should not be so.

Change your settings so that you can't be tagged by just anybody, also.  Nothing can start a fight quicker than you going to the grocery store, but being tagged by some blonde at a restaurant by mistake (unless your wife is blonde and y'all are at a restaurant after you go to the grocery).

Oh, and here's a thought.  Pray about it.  I know... "What??!!  Pray about a facebook post???!!!"  Why not? I'll bet you prayed over the final four.  Oh snap, Jamie, you didn't go there!

Bottom line is this.  Social media can be one of the greatest things to happen in the last 50 years, or it can be one of the worst...depending on which side you're on of who's posting what.  As a pastor, it has been one of my best tools, and one of my worst enemies.  It has helped me do ministry in a way I would have never thought possible 7 years ago, but at the same time, it has caused me more stress and sleepless nights than most things in my ministry.

So, facebook friends, I'm so glad we connected or reconnected.  I love keeping up with what's going on in your families and in your ministries.  You make me laugh.  Bonds are built.  Relationships are built.  But, relationships can also be damaged, so be careful.  Guard
your heart and your keyboard.