Tag: Mentally Ill

Never Orphaned

Acts 17:22-31hands-old-young
John 14:15-21

 

Orphan. This is one of those categories of people the Bible has a lot to say. Over and over again God tells us to care for the orphaned and the widows. To care for the fatherless and the stranger. To care for the outcast and the afflicted. A sign of God’s people is their love and care for those who are most vulnerable.

In these ancient cultures where our scripture comes from, men are the people who can own property and bring in income. So… a widow… or a child without a father…. where are they going to get food? Water? Shelter? Who is going to protect them from being victims of violence?

God says again and again – you are. You are their protection.

Jesus reminds us that it isn’t just widows and orphans God wants us to care for – but ALL. So he shows us again how to care for strangers, care for outcasts, care for the physically and mentally sick. Whomever is at risk, we are their guardians.

So who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

I tell you, I visited an orphanage.

I know – you tell me they are all closed. There are no more ran in the US and we only use the foster care system. But I tell you otherwise: I walked in and signed my name to the Visitor’s Sheet. Eyes poked out of doorways to see who this new person was with curiously and then disappeared back into their rooms. I got my badge that marked me as something even more different. That badge saying I’m permitted to be there, but not OF there. Permitted to enter, but also permitted to LEAVE. And I walked the halls of these orphans. Some laid in their beds calling for their mommies. Some had photos of their missing parents on their walls. Some asked me if I’d seen their loved ones, or knew who they themselves were.

Here, in this Alzheimer’s Unit, are the people who need others to give them food, and water, shelter. To protect them from violence. To be parental figures.

I found my orphan and she didn’t know who I was. But my orphan and I, we sat and talked anyways. Bit by bit, she told me a few memories of her parents, a sister… or a brother…

I sat and I thought it’s strange to think that nearly all of us will be orphans before we pass away. Eventually, nearly all of us, will bury first one parent, then a second, maybe even a third. We actually pray we pass away before our children, so it’s not a strange thing to be orphans… but yet… it doesn’t mean its any easier.

My orphan lost her parents decades ago, but the hurt was still so deep and fresh. And she still thought of them with mixed emotions. Relief – that they are no longer in pain. Relief – she’ll see them again. Sorrow – she doesn’t see them now. Sorrow she can’t ask them for advice, can’t introduce them to her great-grandchildren, can’t just share a cup of coffee. Simultaneously she recalled to me great bitterness and anger with her parents and great love and longing for her parents. No one has simple relationships with others when we’re honest.

The same is true in our scripture on feeling like an orphan today. This isn’t a simple relationship Jesus is describing. He is giving his farewell speech to his disciples. He’s telling them he’s going to a reunion with his father and they’re not welcome… yet. Telling them they know the way… but it isn’t on a map. And they are realizing Jesus is speaking about his death, and going to Heaven, and waiting for us there.

They are realizing they are about to be orphans.

Anger. They can’t go back home. They gave up their homes to follow Jesus. Fear. Who is going to protect them when Jesus is gone? Worry. Who are they going to turn to for advice? How are they going to keep following Jesus’ Way when Jesus isn’t there to lead them? Sorrow. There won’t be walks together and sitting down to dinner. Fear. How can they trust themselves to be the leader, the parent, the wise on when they know they know so little? Feeling so not ready.

And Jesus reassures them in these words. You do know the Way. What is more, the Spirit of Truth, which you have known through me, will be given to you to abide in you. This Holy Spirit will help guide you on the Way. We will meet again.

You will not be orphans. You will not be without someone caring for you. You have someone watching out for you, someone being your advocate – your helper and companion and champion – you have someone leading you, listening to you, loving you.

Want evidence? Lead, listen, and love another – and you will find you, too, are led, listened to, and loved.

So, again, who is at risk? Who is Jesus telling us to remember to lead, to listen to, and to love in our prayers, to give our money and food to? Telling us to protect?

Those who are aging are one of our brothers and sisters we need to give special protection to.

Another is those with physical or mental disabilities. Remember in Jesus’ time he cared not just for the widows and orphans… but also those with trouble walking, or speaking, or seeing. And those who suffered from mental illness and internal distress.

Today, our orphans are not in orphanages. They are in nursing homes, and at friends’ and families’ homes. And our orphans are in foster care and state custody. Our orphans are often homeless because there is so, so little help for those with mental demons.

Sadly, many police are like you and I, and not trained how to handle responding to someone in mental distress. So they see this ‘crazy erratic’ person, and choose to respond in ways that cause MORE distress and so more erratic behavior. Many, many mentally ill people are killed by responding officers because neither the cop nor the person know how to relate to each other – fear takes over – fear what the other will do – and one or the other goes from fear into attack mode.

Growing up, there was one of these guys living under a bridge near my hometown. Everyone knew him. He screamed at telephone poles most of the day. Where was his family? Did they know he was doing this? Had they passed away, had he run away and they lost track of him? Had he been more than what they could handle and care for?

… I’m his family, you know. So are you. Where were we?

Standing on the opposite street corner watching him and blaming his absent family. Judging them. When in actuality, Jesus commissions us – gives us the commandment – to love and care for those at risk and orphaned.

That man with mental illness is my brother. Your son. Our family.

And yes, he needed more help than any one set of parents, any one person, could give. But that is why we are more than one. We are the Body of Christ. Our parent in heaven, our risen Messiah, and our abiding Holy Spirit give us when we work together all that we need to care for all the orphans among us.

Paul argues to the Athenians in part that God isn’t like their statues. God doesn’t need us to feed God, bathe God, and bring God gold and silver because God provides US with everything and God isn’t IN a statue. Rather, God is in us and we are in God. We are God’s children, offspring.

In the same way, Jesus says he is in God, and we are in Jesus, and therefore with God. God doesn’t need us to care for God… but if we love Jesus, we will do as Jesus asks. Jesus asks us to love God – and love each other. Scripture tells us to love God, and love each other. The Spirit within us tells us to love God, and love each other. That Advocate reminds us again and again of the highest commandant: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind: and love others as you love yourself.

God doesn’t need bathed, need food, need support – God’s children do. The aging and the young, the physically or mentally challenged, or able or disabled, the often well or often ill – the widows and widowers – the orphans and the foster care kids – the moms and dads – the grandparents and neighbors – every single soul needs someone being their earthly advocate, just as we all need our Heavenly Advocate.

So who are the parents to the orphans?

Who are your parents?

We are. We are each other’s support, each other’s protection, each other’s advocates. We are each other’s family. We are the family of God.

Care for every person in some way – great or small.

Care for each other – here. And care for each other – out there, the strangers we are yet to meet.

We are never orphaned.

We are the children of God.

We are the family of God – and to love God is to love one another.

Amen.

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Blame Game

Isaiah 55:1-9
Luke 13:1-9

Who’s to blame? Jesus’ disciples are trying to get their heads around the idea Jesus is preaching. An idea that isn’t popular in Jesus’ day, or our own day…

That message is don’t blame victims for their plights.

In our reading, Jesus is speaking privately to his disciples, but people keep bringing him more and more issues to address. There are so many, the scripture says the people began to trample and step on one another. And someone in the crowd calls out, “Rabbi! Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me!” And Jesus is upset with how greedy and lacking empathy the people coming to him are.

Some other person in the crowd comes and tells Jesus about an attack. Pilate murdered these worshipers as they brought their offerings to the temple. The person telling the story suggests, “Surely God protects God’s own people. So since these good faithful worshipers were killed in the middle of worship… they must have actually been sinners and made God so mad, God used Pilate to kill them. Right Jesus? So we can go boycott their funerals right?”

Jesus replies, “Ah, so then the 18 people who died in Jerusalem recently when that building fell – they must have been the 18 worst sinners in Jerusalem, right?” I think the crowd must nod. Yes, that’s right.

Jesus says, “No, I assure you. They weren’t the worst sinners. But unless you repent, you will perish just like they did.”

Who’s to blame when bad things happen?

When bad things happen – we, like the crowd, often lack empathy and we blame the victim. We say they weren’t a victim at all. They brought this on themselves. This is their own fault.

If a woman is pestered by a man, catcalled, touched: it’s because she shouldn’t have worn that clothing. She brought his attention on herself.

If a kid is bullied in school, he should be more of a man and stop crying. No one likes a whiner.

If a man is cheated on, he really should have been a better husband. Good husbands have faithful wives.

These people deserve their fate.

Do you remember how many preachers were saying hurricane Katrina was God’s response to Mardi Gras? It was God punishing the sinners of Louisiana? Surely Louisiana is the most sinful state of the US. So they deserved all that death, destruction, disease, and destroyed families.

How many preachers and politicians right now are saying the US is not flourishing because of “those sinners.” Depending on who you ask, those sinners are women seeking reproductive health care, gays and lesbians, non-Christians, or drug users.

Surely God is punishing the US, and that is why we aren’t the world’s only super power.

No! Says Jesus. No!

No to all of this! Each of these cases heap burdens on those already burdened.

Do not judge lest you be judged.

Nations rise and fall; hurricanes happen; good men are cheated on; all kids are bullied; and a woman isn’t responsible to police men.

Blaming those already in hurt turns us into sinners: into people who are hypocrites because we preach love but do harm.

One’s luck in life – whether good or bad – is NOT because of one’s sins. And, unless we repent of judging others, repent of harming others, repent of sin… we will perish. We will die on the inside. We will be heartless, and cruel, and continue to judge others…. continue to play the blame game and tell victims they deserve their bad luck.

Jesus, when no one understands what he means, tells a story about a fig tree. The land owner wants to cut it down, because the tree doesn’t produce figs. The gardener says, “No! Let me change the tree’s environment. It may be a bad tree, if so – then cut it down. It’s a bad tree. But give this tree the benefit of doubt. Give it a chance. Change the environment and you may be surprised.”

What does that mean?

… Often, we are victims of our circumstances, our environments, and not wholly to blame for our deeds.

Did you know one of the largest, if not THE largest, mental health institution in the US is the Cook County Jail in Chicago? It houses 9000 people, of which 35% are mentally ill. That’s 3150 mentally ill people at all times.

It didn’t always used to be like this. There had been social workers working the streets, and mental health places, and homeless shelters… but the city cut the funding for these projects. They said having these aids available encouraged people to be homeless. And, they said that with “Obama Care” everyone has health insurance, so now there is no need for free and low-income mental health help.

If you make too little money to afford health care insurance, you get a paper from the government that says you’re excused from purchasing it. So in reality, many people still do not have health insurance. Mostly the poor.

If you are able to get health insurance, next to none of them cover the full cost of prescriptions. Mental health drugs are expensive – $100 a pill at times. Even a good insurance plan that pays 80% of drug costs leaves a person paying $20 a day for their medication… and that is $20 most poor people have a hard time coming by.

Food stamps don’t cover medication.

In cities like Chicago, in cities like Columbus, like Lancaster, and even in rural areas like ourselves… the mentally ill fall through the cracks, often don’t have family or friends to help them, and end up homeless, hungry, and off their medication for months.

They do things like Daniel at Cook County did. His family was very rough growing up, and since he was 11, he’d been battling depression and PTSD. These things happen when you see your own relatives murdered.

When he turned 18, he was too old for foster care, he couldn’t get the money for his prescription antidepressants. So he went cold turkey. That was way too hard. He couldn’t afford a doctor, or the health care insurance, or the prescription drugs – but he could afford alcohol and street drugs. So he used these to self-medicate. One day, cops picked him up for loitering and found the drugs on him.

Daniel, like many in the Cook County Jail, are glad to be in the new environment. In jail, there is food, access to the right medication, and people to help kick addictions. But he worries when he gets out… where will he get this support?

Back on the streets, back to being homeless, now with a criminal record – so it’s harder to get a job – back to being without access to his medication… what is he going to do? Will he still produce good fruit when his environment is so bad?

Daniel is one of over 3000 people DAILY in this jail suffering from mental illness. Daniel is one of 9000 people there DAILY who are there because of something they did, some crime, but untold thousands of them did the crime because of circumstances outside of their control. They are victims of their environments. With different environments, with some fertilizer and a caring hand, with some love – they may just start producing good fruit.

Jesus is telling us that we are fruit trees, and supposed to produce good fruit: fruits like love, patience, kindness, forgiveness…. We’re supposed to produce the same fruit our parent tree, God, produces.

Here, this church, is a garden. We invite the gardener in to tend to us, to give us a good environment, to give us a place of welcome and forgiveness.

Jesus’ controversial teaching to his disciples and the crowd, his hard message to us today is that good people don’t have God’s magical protection barrier around them. Jesus is saying that bad things happen to people regardless of how much they sin.

Indeed, Jesus is saying that good people don’t go to heaven.

Forgiven people go to heaven.

For as our psalmist writes,

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord,
that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God,
for he will abundantly pardon.

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.

We are not good people. We try to be. But our environment, our circumstances, means we often sin. Instead, we are forgiven people. People who know what its like to rely on mercy.

Jesus came for the sinsick. Came for fruit trees like you and me who need a better environment. God, who’s ways aren’t our ways and thoughts aren’t our thoughts, abundantly pardons us when we ask for forgiveness.

God is merciful with us. Let us be merciful with one another. Let us forgive each other. Let us forgive ourselves.

Let us not play the blame game, but worship God with love for God and one another. Amen.

Resource http://www.vice.com/read/what-life-is-like-inside-the-massive-jail-that-doubles-as-chicagos-largest-mental-health-facility?utm_source=vicetwitterus))\

Perversion of Justice

Isaiah 53:4-12

Mark 10:35-45

The man of constant sorrows, the suffering servant of Isaiah, is never identified. He is alluded to as like Moses, like Ezekiel, but more. We Christians know the suffering servant as Jesus. But the text does not say this. The text never names the person.

By not naming the person, we Christians not only can use the text as a prophecy about Jesus… but also read the text as speaking about all the people who are outcasts. For you see, Jesus says what we do to the least we have done to him.

The person in Isaiah is described as unwelcome in society. He or she isn’t pretty. They are dirty. They have sores. Even though he or she does nothing wrong, we don’t like them.

So we abuse the individual. We turn our faces from him or her so we can’t see them. We ignore them. We pretend they are dead. We throw them out of our community.

… Who is not pretty? Who is dirty or has sores? Who, just by their very presence, gets us irritated and we pretend not to see them?

Did you know when famous people visit an area, police usually go ahead of them a day or two ahead of time and clean out ‘the undesirables.’ You know — panhandlers, homeless, the mentally ill, and the poor? People who we want to pretend we don’t see. People who just their presence is offensive.

Have you heard bad comments about people who are on food stamps, WIC, or social security? Do you turn your eyes away from the the beggar so you don’t ‘see’ him?

Isaiah goes on to say that these vulnerable people then get beat.

And they do.

Violence against the homeless, the mentally ill, the poor is so much higher than violence against other groups. Abusive parents raise children who only know how to be abusive. Poverty makes thieves. Mental illness makes a person homeless as they turn away all help and burn bridges in their episodes.

The police get involved in Isiah.

As they do now a days too. And when the police show up, they are much more likely to say the homeless, the poor, or the mentally ill brought about the beating on themselves than they are to say the more affluent, cleaner, more respectable person did wrong. Who are you going to believe? The soccer mom or the homeless wino?

We don’t mean to, but assumptions of character based on how people appear slip into all our judgments. Police are people too, and so although the try to be neutral… they, too, slip into assumptions. I am not siding against police. I am the granddaughter and niece of officers. I am saying police are human and humans make assumptions.

Assumptions are what the #blacklivesmatter movement is about. Assumptions are what feminism is about. Assumptions are what movements like these are trying to combat. The normal person assumes all people are treated equally and get the treatment they deserve… but that simply is not true.

In Isaiah, the servant is sent to trial and justice is perverted. Justice isn’t done. We founded out nation as a nation with liberty and justice for all — yet we have more people incarcerated than any other country. 2.5 million! .91% of our population. So 1 for every 110 people are in prison or jail at this moment. 1/31 on parole, 1/3 have a criminal record.

If you have criminal records, are on parole, or in prison or have been in prison… it is very, very hard to get employed. To have a life. Even if you change and don’t get in trouble with the law anymore… you are cast out of society.

A stupid decision at 18 means a life of poverty, hardship and a temptation to do worse crimes waits you for the rest of your life.

Mandatory sentencing for drugs means a single marijuana cigarette at 18 can lead to 70 years in prison. Who among us made smart choices at 18?! Why is that kid who made a single bad choice spending more time in prison than a man who chose to murder or rape another?

Justice is often perverted. Messed up. Not done. Even though we all try to do justice, and to uphold our laws, and write laws to bring about justice…

… too often, justice is not done.

Seed saving is one of my personal interests. You know — collecting some seed from this year’s crops and reusing it next year. Now you know if you sign an agreement with a seed company, like Monsanto or Syngenta, you’re not allowed to save seed and plant it the next year. The company owns the seeds as a patent. This makes sense to me. They designed the seeds. They own the seeds.

What doesn’t make sense to me is that they have a patent on the genes of the seeds and own wherever those genes go.

So take the case of 75 year old Vernon Bowman. He went to the grain elevator, bought some soy, and planted his field. He didn’t know some of the seed in the grain elevator was from RoundUp Ready crops. Crops whose seed was owned by Monsanto. So after he planted his field, he was sued. He was accused of purposefully robbing Monsanto, and the courts agreed. He’s the 410th farmer Monsanto has sued.

In some of these 410 cases justice was done. But not all of them. I think Bowman wasn’t intentionally stealing. But this elderly man now has a criminal record.

In Canada, the canola is a worst deal. A few years back a RoundUp Ready crop was planted on one side of the road by one farmer, and another planted a regular crop on the other side of the road. When Monsanto came out a few years later, they found their genes were in both crops. The farmer who didn’t sign a contract was sued. He was adamant that he never planted RoundUp Ready crops. But he saves his seed and replants some year after year. The courts decided that the two crops had cross pollinated over the years and although the seed-saving farmer had done nothing wrong at all… he was ordered to burn his crop.

He then was told to start with fresh seed and to leave an open fallow area between himself and the RoundUp Ready crops if he didn’t want cross pollination to happen again.

“Shouldn’t the RoundUp Ready crops leave a fallow space so they don’t contaminate the others?”

No.

That farmer lost crops, lost seed, and lost land.

The same pollination issues are happening in south America. Native corn crops are being burned because they have cross pollinated with GMO crops. The GMO seeds are five times more expensive than local corn. So poor people plant the local corn. But the local corn, like the corn in the grain elevator, is mixed with patented corn. Then the poor can’t afford a lawyer to defend their crops. And their crops get burned. And they are poorer than when they began. They starve if they plant seed and they starve if they don’t plant seed. And they starve because they cannot afford the GMO patent and cannot find corn that hasn’t been pollinated by GMOs.

These are the crazy kind of injustices that get me so angry. I know Monsanto, Syngenta, and other big names are doing great work and feeding more of us than ever was once possible — and I also know what kind of insane injustice is happening too.

Right now, the way our court system is set up, since genes themselves are patented and the company who owns the patent owns where the genes show up… it means a court someday may decide that our pigs who eat RoundUp ready crops belong to Monsanto. Or us — when we eat the pigs — get the genes in us and now we belong to the company. That’s ridiculous! But that’s how the law is being applied.

Neither me, nor, do I think, any of these seed companies, want this. They want their research protected. Local small farmers want to not starve. I want justice to be done. But sometimes all these desires get awful muddled when we get to court.

Justice, in courts, can get so perverted. So messed up.

I saw injustice in the courts most recently with a trial over children. Mom and dad divorced and shared custody of the kids. But mom wanted full custody. Dad said no, he wanted to share. The judge said, “Why are you trying to keep these children from their mother where they naturally belong?”

… Sexism in the court. It happens very frequently. Even if a mother is dangerous — has a drug habit, an unstable job, and many boyfriends — she is preferred over males to raise the children because the mother is where kids naturally belong.

Please — sometimes dad is the better parent!

Assumptions.

The judge assumed the woman had to be a good mother since she was a woman while the father wasn’t a good father since he was a man.

The judges assumed the farmers who saved seeds and replanted them were trying to steal from a company. Assumed the farmers were thieves.

Assumptions.

We all make them. God forgive us when our assumptions cause injustice and pain!

The suffering servant in Isaiah is assumed to be nothing, and he is dealt injustice, and he is murdered. People assumed Jesus was trying to start a rebellion against Rome, assumed he was speaking blasphemy when he said he was the Son of God, and he was murdered. People every day are assumed to be worthless, they are dealt with unjustly, and they get murdered.

Our jobs, as Christians, is to understand that injustice happens and will continue to happen until Christ comes again. It is our job to listen with ears that aren’t full of wax and dirt. Ears that are clean of past assumptions, clean of old hurts, clean to hear someone’s story anew.

Our job is to see Christ in the suffering servants of the world. To see someone who is poor and instead of thinking ‘what did they do to become poor’ think ‘there is Christ. Let me greet him.’

It’s our job to hear someone has done time in jail, or prison, and to treat that person as fully human. Fully worthy. Not a less-than. Not someone to bypass. You don’t know what they did. You don’t know how they’ve changed. You don’t know if they were there unjustly.

I am not arguing for you to assume everyone you meet is a saint. Oh no — there are bad people out there. Use your wisdom. I am arguing to be aware of your assumptions.

And when your assumptions lead you astray, be humble enough like the authors of Isaiah who wrote how wrong they had been. They wrote, “Who will believe us?” Who will believe the revelation that we have had ? Who will believe that the one we accounted as nothing is actually one of God’s great? Jesus told us again and again, and again in today’s reading, that those who are little… the servants, the people we overlook, the ones who the world ignores… are the ones God honors and calls great.

It isn’t human nature to NOT discriminate. It is godly nature. So we have to work at not discriminating, we have to practice.

Our Lord walks among us now. Will we greet him or tell him to beat it and get a job? Will we wash his feet and welcome him or tell him to get a hair cut and leave us alone? Will we greet him with palm fronds or handcuffs?

Our Lord walks among us. Is suffering injustices now. Will we walk with him or will we be the first to cast stones at him?

May we practice not discriminating. May we ask God for forgiveness when our assumptions hurt ourselves or others. May we always strive to be better disciples of Christ.

Amen.

Given to Saint Michael’s United Church of Christ, Baltimore, OH, 10-18-15