Hearing voices in the closet.

If I have to be in the closet at church about the fact that God talks to me, then there is something profoundly wrong going on. Church should be the one place where you can safely and unselfconsciously talk about how God interacts with you. You walk on a thin edge if you talk about God at work or at the dentist office or at Wal-Mart, but church? You should be safe there. You shouldn’t be silenced there.

Yet that is exactly what has happened to me. Now, perhaps the priest was concerned because I’m bipolar. Perhaps she is afraid that I’m not in fact hearing from God. I understand this concern. I wrestled with it for years. For many years I doubted what I heard and knew. I doubted my experiences. I doubted God. And yet it was proven to me again and again that I wasn’t making this stuff up.

The Biblical test for prophets is to see if what they say God told them was going to happen actually happened. I passed that test. Repeatedly. God proved himself to me. God was far more patient with me than I ever would imagine.

It is very important to me to not lead people astray. The church has enough loonies. I didn’t need to add to their ranks. So I understand the priest’s fear. I had it too. And I worked through it. But she didn’t know the stories of when God talked to me and how He proved Himself. She hadn’t been there.

She told me that talking about God was “a conversation stopper” because “other people weren’t having that experience.” This should have been my cue to leave. This was in November, when she told me the deacon discernment process was put on hold for me. Hopefully you catch the irony here. If you are in the deacon discernment process, it is because you believe you are experiencing a call from God.

So it is OK to get a call from God. Just don’t answer, and certainly don’t tell anybody if you got a reply.

I waited, and watched to see how others in church communicate about their experiences with God. And I realized in the three years that I have been there, not a single person has talked about how God talks to them. Not a single person has mentioned that they even prayed to God.

Maybe they do talk to God in prayer, and in prayers of their own words rather than the pre-written prayers of the prayer book. Maybe they do hear from God, and in more than just the already recorded words in the Bible. But they sure don’t talk about it. Why not? Church should be a safe place to talk about such things. Church should be a place where we can have a conversation with God, not a monologue about God. And it should be a place where we can share our experiences with others.

Perhaps they forgot that the entire faith started with Abraham talking to God. Perhaps they forgot Samuel, David, Gideon, Elijah, Elisha, Isaac, Moses, Jacob, Solomon, Noah, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus all talked with God. If the entire religion is based on a person talking to God and so many following people doing the same, then why are we discouraged from being part of that?

God is real. God is constantly communicating with us. We just are too distracted to notice. We fill our heads with the noise of television and iPods and videogames. When God is somehow able to get a word in edgewise we ignore it as a trick of our minds or we think we are going crazy. Or worse, we are told to ignore it by the very people we should expect would be experts at knowing how to deal with it.

I’m not special. I’ve just learned how to cut out the noise. God wants you to hear from Him too. I’ll try to write further about how to hear from God. But I know that the first thing you must do is give God a space. Make some silent time. Be alone with God.

It is crazy to follow God. And it is beautiful and amazing. God knows so much more than I could ever know. My life has changed dramatically since I started trusting that voice. It is calmer. I trust that God is in control. I know that whatever happens is meant to happen.

But to not be able to talk about God in church, aside from what is scripted in the prayer book or in the Bible? Now, that really is crazy.

Mental health vs. mentally ill

Originally posted on FB 12-15-12

I am so sick of lowering the flag to half mast. There have been too many tragedies. There have been too many murders of innocent people. But I’m also sick of the news and the public equating the term “mental illness” with “psychopath.”

I have a mental health diagnosis. I am bipolar, what used to be known as manic-depression. You’d never know it by talking to me. I know that once I tell people that I have a mental health diagnosis, things change between us. They look at me differently. They treat me differently.

Yet since being diagnosed I’ve done so many things that “normal” people are seemingly unable to do. I’m stable. I’ve had a job for 12 years. I’ve lived on my own. I have been married for over 8 years. I’ve not been in jail. My credit rating is impressive. I give credit to God that I am doing as well as I am. I also take medicine every day and visit a therapist regularly. I exercise, eat well, and pray regularly as part of my therapy.

I don’t like using the term “mentally ill” to describe myself. Mentally ill? Those are folks who don’t work with their doctor to get balanced. Those are folks who take matters into their own hands. One could argue that anyone who steps over the line and kills others is mentally ill – diagnosis or not. People who abuse their children – verbally, physically, emotionally – are mentally ill. Anyone who lies, cheats, or steals is mentally ill. Anyone who has “not loved your neighbor as yourself” is mentally ill.

I think it is time to shine a light on those of us who have a mental health diagnosis yet aren’t mentally ill.

What follows is from the NAMI website – http://www.nami.org/Template.cfm?Section=Helpline1&template=%2FContentManagement%2FContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=4858

Abraham Lincoln

The revered sixteenth President of the United States suffered from severe and incapacitating depressions that occasionally led to thoughts of suicide, as documented in numerous biographies by Carl Sandburg.

Virginia Woolf

The British novelist who wrote To the Lighthouse and Orlando experienced the mood swings of bipolar disorder characterized by feverish periods of writing and weeks immersed in gloom. Her story is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.

Lionel Aldridge

A defensive end for Vince Lombardi’s legendary Green Bay Packers of the 1960’s, Aldridge played in two Super Bowls. In the 1970’s, he suffered from schizophrenia and was homeless for two and a half years. Until his death in 1998, he gave inspirational talks on his battle against paranoid schizophrenia. His story is the story of numerous newspaper articles.

Eugene O’Neill

The famous playwright, author of Long Day’s Journey Into Night and Ah, Wilderness!, suffered from clinical depression, as documented in Eugene O’Neill by Olivia E. Coolidge.

Ludwig van Beethoven

The brilliant composer experienced bipolar disorder, as documented in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.

Gaetano Donizetti

The famous opera singer suffered from bipolar disorder, as documented in Donizetti and the World Opera in Italy, Paris and Vienna in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century by Herbert Weinstock.

Robert Schumann

The “inspired poet of human suffering” experienced bipolar disorder, as discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.

Leo Tolstoy

Author of War and Peace, Tolstoy revealed the extent of his own mental illness in the memoir Confession. His experiences is also discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Inner World of Mental Illness: A Series of First Person Accounts of What It Was Like by Bert Kaplan.

Vaslov Nijinsky

The dancer’s battle with schizophrenia is documented in his autobiography, The Diary of Vaslov Nijinksy.

John Keats

The renowned poet’s mental illness is documented in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Broken Brain: The biological Revolution in Psychiatry by Nancy Andreasen, M.D.

Tennessee Williams

The playwright gave a personal account of his struggle with clinical depression in his own Memoirs. His experience is also documented in Five O’Clock Angel: Letters of Tennessee Williams to Maria St. Just, 1948-1982; The Kindness of Strangers: The Life of Tennessee Williams by Donald Spoto, and Tennessee: Cry of the Heart by Dotson.

Vincent Van Gogh

The celebrated artist’s bipolar disorder is discussed in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb and Dear Theo, The Autobiography of Van Gogh.

Isaac Newton

The scientist’s mental illness is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr and The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb.

Ernest Hemingway

The Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist’s suicidal depression is examined in the True Gen: An Intimate Portrait of Ernest Hemingway by Those Who Knew Him by Denis Brian.

Sylvia Plath

The poet and novelist ended her lifelong struggle with clinical depresion by taking own life, as reported in A Closer Look at Ariel: A Memory of Sylvia Plath by nancy Hunter-Steiner.

Michelangelo

The mental illness of one of the world’s greatest artistic geniuses is discussed in The Dynamics of Creation by Anthony Storr.

Winston Churchill

“Had he been a stable and equable man, he could never have inspired the nation. In 1940, when all the odds were against Britain, a leader of sober judgment might well have concluded that we were finished,” wrote Anthony Storr about Churchill’s bipolar disorder in Churchill’s Black Dog, Kafka’s Mice, and Other Phenomena of the Human Mind.

Vivien Leigh

The Gone with the Wind star suffered from mental illness, as documented in Vivien Leigh: A Biography by Ann Edwards.

Jimmy Piersall

The baseball player for the Boston Red Sox who suffered from bipolar disorder detailed his experience in The Truth Hurts.

Patty Duke

The Academy Award-winning actress told of her bipolar disorder in her autobiography and made-for-TV move Call Me Anna and A Brilliant Madness: Living with Manic-Depressive Illness, co-authored by Gloria Hochman.

Charles Dickens

One of the greatest authors in the English language suffered from clinical depression, as documented in The Key to Genius: Manic Depression and the Creative Life by D. Jablow Hershman and Julian Lieb, and Charles Dickens: His Tragedy and Triumph by Edgar Johnson.

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Paths and Stars

Originally posted on FB 2-27-12

I’ve noticed that a lot of the images that appeal to me either involve paths or stars. Generally, they are paths that have nobody in front – it is a clear path, leading on. From the perspective of the photographer or painter, s/he is the only person on the path. There might be folks behind – but there certainly is nobody up ahead.

And then there are stars. Part of why I like stars is because of the three Magi. They followed a star, in the dark, to an unknown land. No map, no idea of where they were going – but they followed. They knew that something special, something never before seen was at the end of that journey.

My life’s journey is like this. I feel called. I know what the end is. I’m just not sure how to get there. And for the longest time, I wasn’t sure that I was the one to be going on that journey. Me? Really? I have a mental health diagnosis. I’m bipolar. Society doesn’t look well on the mentally ill. Folks look at you differently when you tell them such things. I’m running a risk here by writing about it. But – that is the way I’m made. It is a genetic weakness – a chemical imbalance. I take medicine. I’ve been in the hospital twice – but both times were where I noticed that something was wrong and I asked for help. It was over a decade ago that I was last in the hospital. One doctor even said I was the sanest person she knew. But that didn’t mean I was healed – I still got a prescription, and I still took it.

But paths, and stars. I’m not going to say what I’m called to – not here. That is really big, and private. And I’m still concerned about embarrassing God. So many folks say that God has called them to something, and they do it in a very human way and it falls and fails. And yet again, God’s church looks laughable. So many times I remind myself that I follow Christ – not Christians. But I don’t want to be part of the problem. I don’t want to be a bad example. I don’t want to be that person who makes those not of this faith think that Christians are goofballs. There are countless examples for this already.

So I follow, blindly. I follow without a map. I walk, one step in front of the other. I trust in the Star. I trust in the Light that shines. I follow because that is how I’m made. I have come to trust that I was made the way I’m made (bipolar disorder and all) because that is how I’m needed. I have come to trust that force, that pull, that call that tells me to create something new. That force that tells me to create new out of old. The same creative pull that got me to break apart old jewelry from thrift stores and redesign the beads into a new creation is at work here. That was prelude. That was practice. It gave shape to a need to reform, retranslate, rebuild.

I follow God because that is how I’m made. It isn’t an easy path. I don’t even know how I’m going to get there. I’m only vaguely aware of what “there” is. But everything else He has ever told me was going to happen has happened. So I trust, that this, the first thing He ever told me, will too. This call, from so many years ago, has kept me going. Like the Magi, I walk in darkness, seeking the Light. Like the Magi, I walk over unseen territory – unmapped, unknown. Like the Magi, I have faith that I am not being led in vain.