Friday, October 23, 2009

Getting the Jump on Things

Today, just after noon, a woman living in my building tried to jump out of a 10th floor window in order to kill herself. I learned about it because I was on my way back from the first floor residents' lounge to my room on the 12th floor. The head security guard told me in an agitated tone of voice that I couldn't use the elevator because they had a "situation" which required that they commandeer the elevators. So I took the stairs, wondering what kind of situation would prevent residents from being able to use the elevators.

As I reached the 10th floor, huffing and puffing a bit more than usual, a couple of staff members passed me on the stairway. I overheard one of them say that a woman had locked herself in her room, and she was hanging out of her window, presumably getting ready for the big leap. Shortly thereafter, I heard sirens, and when I looked out of my window (which faces west, towards Moody Bible Institute), I saw that fire trucks had gathered below the building on Dearborn, right in front of the main entrance for the headquarters of the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, which is located on the lowest floors on the west side of our building.

Later this afternoon, I asked a fellow resident about the situation, and I was told that they were able to prevent the woman from jumping. But they haven't always been able to do so. Earlier this year, in February, a woman living in my building succeeded in jumping to her death. (Patsy was her name, as I recall.) Shortly thereafter, a fellow resident mentioned the incident to me one day in the elevator. He also mentioned other similar incidents which had occurred there in the past. He asked me, "What is it about this place? Is there a jinx on the place?" I didn't know what to say, but I was tempted to answer in the affirmative.

In fact, despite my awareness of the stigma attached to such admissions, I must confess that I've been tempted along those lines myself during several particularly stressful periods in my life. I wish I could say that my fellow Christians did all they could to help me in those situations, but that would be a lie. There were a few who did in fact help me, and I am grateful to those people, but there were far more people (including people who had more than enough resources to help me) who offered nothing but empty talk which did nothing to reduce the stress I was experiencing. In fact, some of the Christians in my life were directly responsible for some of the stress I was experiencing.

Some people think that suicidal "ideations" are a sign of mental illness. Depending on how one defines mental illness and on the individual situation, they may sometimes be right. But I can attest from personal experience to the fact that extreme poverty, such as the poverty which afflicts many of the folks living where I live, can lead to suicidal depression, even in otherwise normal people. At the very least, extreme poverty can greatly exacerbate depression which already exists on account of other factors.

It's a real cop-out for other folks to respond to such crises by just throwing pills at people (as if all depression was chemical in origin), or by subjecting depressed people to humiliating involuntary incarceration in mental health facilities, without addressing the real underlying problems. The same thing could be said for Christians who respond to pleas for help with brain-dead bromides designed to excuse them for their indifference to the needs of people who, with more loving practical help, might never be tempted by feelings of hopelessness to literally leap into the unknown.

There's a reason that most of the folks I've invited to be my Facebook friends are Christian musicians. I got saved in 1969, when I was 13, and those musicians played a vital role in solidifying my commitment to Christ, even to the point that I aspired to follow a similar path in terms of my own career. I remain committed to Christ to this day, despite the difficulties I've experienced over the years, but I sometimes feel a great deal of ambivalence when it comes to the church.

Our world is in serious crisis, as anyone who ever reads the newspaper ought to appreciate, but the church seems to be a part of the problem as often as it's a part of the solution. Compassion and integrity are rare, while arrogance and self-centered behavior are not.

I know that I'm not the only one to observe such things. Billy Graham's daughter Ruth Graham Lotz recently told a Newsweek magazine reporter that the "vicious" treatment she'd experienced in churches over the years had sometimes made her feel like a "believer in exile". Folks, that ought to be a wake up call! If one of the children of America's most influential evangelist has felt that way about the church, imagine how people with less power and influence have sometimes been made to feel.

Earlier this year, I told the pastor of the church I was attending at the time that I was offended by statements he'd made from the pulpit. Specifically, he'd used phrases such as "pity party" and "get over it" in reference to people who suffered from situational depression. He responded to my mild criticism by telling me, in an appalling display of arrogance, that if I didn't like the way he did things, I should start my own church. (And here I thought that the church belonged to Jesus Christ, not to any individual man.) What I didn't say at the time was that he was the last person I would ever trust if I needed to share my burdens with anyone.

If you've surmised that I am currently without a home church, you are correct. And frankly, I'm not eager to subject myself to further insults of that nature at any time in the near future.

It's easy to criticize folks for being "church hoppers," but folks, there's a good reason why people are leaving the church in droves, and it isn't necessarily that those folks are afraid of commitment to local bodies of believers. Here's a clue for the clueless: People want their commitments to be reciprocated. They don't want to waste their time and resources in one-sided commitments to people who clearly couldn't care less about them, in spite of rhetoric to the contrary. People are tired of endless empty talk about love. They want to see love in action! And so do I.

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