Saturday, July 28, 2007


Social Club or Faith Community?

I have been writing in this blog about faith communities, spirituality, and recovery and then I ran across an article in the The Charlotte Observer titled “Beliefs? Take your pick”. It made me begin to think about what belonging to a faith community really meant.

The article said,
“American spirituality is a mile wide but only an inch deep.
"America is awash in faith," said D.G. Hart, a church history scholar, but people often don't clearly understand what their religion teaches.
David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, reached a similar conclusion after directing a recent study on Americans' beliefs and behavior.
"Most Americans do not have strong and clear beliefs," he said, mainly because "they lack a consistent and holistic understanding of their faith."
Results from the study by the Christian research company tell some of the story:
• Sixty-six percent of Americans believe God is best described as the all-powerful, all-knowing perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today. This is down from 71 percent a year ago and represents the lowest percentage in more than 20 years.” There is increasing pressure on Christians to bend and shape their views into something that's popular, something that fits the pop culture's view of what spirituality ought to be," Kinnaman said. "And why would so many Americans -- seven out of 10 -- say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus but show so little evidence in their lives?” For one thing, the church has failed to teach young people to think as Christians, so many of them put Jesus on the shelf after they reach adulthood, he said.
Many people are shaky on the teachings of their faith, said Hart, a former church history professor at Westminster Seminary in Escondido, Calif.
One reason is that pastors often don't teach certain doctrines and biblical principles on certain topics, especially those that might offend people, he said. Another reason is the weakening of church discipline.
"Traditionally Roman Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox have believed that churches should supervise the lives of their members and make them accountable if they don't do what they're supposed to do," Hart said. "Some of the disciplinary aspects of the faith have been compromised for the sake of evangelism, drawing more people to come to church."
Despite the decline in traditional views, when compared with other industrialized countries, the levels of religious beliefs and behavior in the United States is still high, said Roger Finke, professor of sociology and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University.”

What does all this mean? It means that we may be treating our faith communities more as social clubs than as the place we go for spiritual growth. In the recovery process both are important. There is a social component to worship and fellowship in a faith community, but it can’t be the central or main reason for a person’s participation. Spiritual growth is more than going to a social function.

Why is spiritual growth so important to a natural recovery path and being able to live daily with a mental illness? Because any illness or trauma has lasting consequences on a person’s inner being and only by building a better inner life can one learn to cope each day as they ascend a natural path to recovery.

Being rooted in a faith community is the best place I know to grow spiritually. It affords the opportunity for social contact, but more important it provides a place to gather with folks who believe the same as I do who can help me grow in my own faith and hopefully I can be of some help to them. Helping others is another one of the keys in the natural recovery process. To feel useful to others is a great building block.

As with any building the foundation must be solid and so I became worried when I read the article. Are we building social clubs or faith communities? I hope we are building faith communities on solid foundations and are teaching those foundations to all who come to our communities for fellowship.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2007



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I received another email from my friend Jana in reply to my last blog about “supported spirituality”. I think her reaction may reflect the honest gut feeling of many of us. I thank her for allowing me to share her words here on this blog.

“Yea. That's all we need, mental health professionals supporting us in our spirituality. Thank you very much, doctor, therapist, case manager, for giving me permission to pursue God. Without your permission and your support I don't know if I could do it. Then again, I'm a mental patient, so I need your permission for anything I do in my life, don't I?
At this point, in conversation, is when I would let out the four letter word. “


I am glad that the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal devoted an entire issue to the topic of spirituality and recovery. I sincerely hope it opens up the dialogue the editors of the issue invited and seemed to hope for.

In Dr. Andrea Blanch’s article you will find the following words, “A few courageous clinicians and consumer/survivors have been working for change, and some advocacy organizations have started to get involved (NAMI’s ‘Faith-Net” is a notable example) but the situation remains basically unchanged.”

Maybe Dr. Blanch was unaware that going back to the early 90’s NAMI had a RELIGIOUS OUTREACH NETWORK which published the LUMEN, a quarterly newsletter of the network. I was Associate Editor of the LUMEN and National Co-Chair of the network for awhile in the early nineties. At that time Duane Glasscock was the other Chair and Claire Griffin-Francell was the network’s NAMI Board Liaison. I am not sure of the year the network started, but the LUMEN was first published in 1991. Laurie Flynn, Executive Director of NAMI in those years, was very supportive of the Religious Outreach Network.

The 1989 Spring Conference of the North Carolina AMI was called “The Mental Illness Awakening: A Call to Compassion.” The materials about the conference read, “The 1989 Annual Conference of the North Carolina Alliance for the Mentally Ill is designed to provide an opportunity for consumers of mental health services, family members with mentally ill relatives, professionals working with mentally ill persons and caring leaders of religious communities to join together to:
1) Understand the nature of mental illness
2) Learn about appropriate treatment and services
3) Devise strategies to advocate for mentally ill persons at all levels of government, within society, and within religious communities.”

John Baggett was Executive Director of NCAMI then and together we did a special Friday evening presentation called “A Ministry of Compassion With Mentally Ill Persons and Their Families.” There was special music by the A&T Fellowship Gospel Choir and also a Panel of Religious Leaders.

My point here is that there has been much done by NAMI for almost as long as there has been a NAMI to encourage a discussion about spirituality and recovery. Some of us have been working within NAMI since 1989 on this very issue. So now you know some of the rest of the story.

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Thursday, July 19, 2007



I saw the words “supported spirituality” for the first time in the Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal. A friend from Florida had sent me her copy to read with the promise I would return it. Volume 30, Number 4 is a special issue on Spirituality and Recovery and the Editors of this issue had used the words in their piece. The article is called ,”Supported Spirituality: A New Frontier in the Recovery-Oriented Mental Health System.” It is by Zlatka Russinova of Boston University and Andrea Blanch of the Center for Religious Tolerance, Sarasota, Florida.

They talk about the “emerging evidence about the beneficial impact of spirituality on recovery”, but they also warn that “nothing would deflate the possibilities for positive change faster than being seen as an ‘anti-science’ movement.” Did they use the words “supported spirituality” to make sure everyone understood they were talking about a scientific approach to the matter?

Anyone who has been reading this blog or who has known me for very long knows that I believe that spirituality plays a central role in the recovery process, but for some reason the words “supported spirituality” seems to take away the naturalness I always associate with the process.

I have to speak about what I know. My own recovery journey and my faith and spirituality. The church is a faith community and one of the natural supports for my spiritual life. It is not the only one. Trout fishing Wilson Creek and kayaking the Catawba River are also natural supports for my spiritual life. My point is that to me “supported” makes it sound too formal and professional when I have found that the more natural the supports the better.

Let us just lay it out on the table. The mental health system can’t even get it’s own system designed correctly in most places. It does an even poorer job of coordinating care with primary health so we don’t die earlier than the general population. I cringe at the thought of what “supported spirituality” might look like designed by the mental health system that we have in most states that I know about.

There is already a “supported spirituality” system in place. They are called faith communities. They come in all shapes and sizes. They are “natural” supports. They are already proven. They pass the “best practices” test.

You can reach me directly at
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Sunday, July 15, 2007



“Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” Luke 6:26 (New International Version)
New International Version (NIV)
Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

These words are recorded in what is referred to as the Beatitudes which are part of the Sermon on the Plain given by Jesus. I have never had the problem of “all men speaking well of me”.

In fact, these days I am reminded of what a friend in south Florida once said to me. She said, “You are much better at these meetings since you went on your meds.” This lady is the heart and soul of a wonderful drop-in center mainly for artist in Broward County, FL and she was then and still is a true friend. She was telling me something I needed to hear. I am not always aware of how I come across to others.

Recently, something happened here in Burke County, NC that simply sent me over my tolerance limit. In short they picked folks up for involuntary commitment without anyplace for them to go. The first 48 hours of treatment was a deputy sheriff watching them. I called and wrote letters. I went to the next mental health meeting I knew of. I called this state’s federally funded Protection and Advocacy for Mentally Ill Individuals Program. Most of the people I came in contact with would not describe me as kind, loving or compassionate.

I may never be a good advocate, but I certainly am not when I am mad and I was mad. Not only was I mad, but I am right at the point of breaking into mania. I had to change medications last September and things have not leveled off for me since. Ask my wife.

My point here is that my illness does give me knowledge I can use in understanding what a system should look like, but it can also at times make me the worst advocate in the world. Picture this, I am trying to talk to folks who to me seem to be in slow motion and it seems like their minds are working in reverse rather than going forward.

There is a danger when an advocate wants to be loved by everybody and I have seen that many times over the years. I don’t have that problem. I don’t need the attention or praise of the people in power. I just need them to understand a simple fact and I am too manic to make my point well enough to get it across.

This is the fact I want known. If you are well enough then let the people in North Carolina know this is a truth. IF YOU ARE SICK ENOUGH THAT THE STATE CAN INVOLUNTARILY COMMIT YOU, THEN IT IS IMMORAL, UNETHICAL and UNJUST TO MAKE YOU WAIT HOURS FOR TREATMENT.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007


Hi Ed
I appreciate your insights and for sharing Jana’s e-mail. I have one comment about your response to her concerning appropriate language. Since I am currently writing a discussion guide to accompany a documentary by Susan Smiley on her mother’s schizophrenia (“Out of the Shadow”), I just completed a section for the chapter on Guidelines for Faith Leaders the importance of modeling appropriate language to help erase the stigma of mental illness. So I was sensitive to your comment in red below, although you later refer to “those of us with a mental illness.” Because so many of us are doing well on our medications, I also like to refer to “minister to and WITH those of us with a mental illness.” I agree with you both that we have a lot to contribute.
I’ve attached the section from my draft discussion guide below. You are welcome to share it with your e-mail group if you wish. Our website has many resources that Jana and others might find helpful in their ministry.
Take care and thanks for your insights.

Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries

Appropriate Language When Referring to Mental illness
Faith leaders have the opportunity, and responsibility, to model appropriate language when speaking about persons with a mental illness. The language we use can compound the stigma and misconceptions about mental illness or it can educate persons and help reduce the stigma and shame associated with these illnesses of the brain. We’ve all heard stigmatizing language from other people and from the media. Words like “crazy”, “psycho”, “looney”, “nuts” or other demeaning terms are not only hurtful, they are not accurate.
The language we use should reflect our belief in the dignity of each individual and that we are all created in the image and likeness of a loving God. It is important to use “people first language.” We need to refer to people as the person they are and not the illness they have. Instead of referring to people as “the mentally ill,” we need to say, “A person who has a mental illness.” Just as we don’t refer to someone as “the cancer person,” appropriate language helps to dispel misinformation mental illness.
Many persons living with a mental illness are very productive and have much to offer in all arenas of life. We often leave these persons out when speaking about “ministry to persons with a mental illness.” We can acknowledge the contribution of this group by saying, “ministry to and with persons with a mental illness.”
Millie has a diagnosis of schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is an illness that has symptoms of delusions and hearing voices. It is not having a split personality. There are also differences in the severity of mental illnesses. It is helpful to be more specific and use the terms “serious mental illness” or “major mental illness” to describe severe disorders.

Used by permission of Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Hi Ed:

I read your posts all the time; how are you? Thank you for sharing your insights with all of us.
I have a personal stake and response to this particular post, because for some years now it has been clear that this work I do is not just work, it is ministry. Ironically, of all churches I have ever interacted in, it is my childhood church, the Episcopal Church, some congregations, that has been most open to reaching out, providing space for, and in general being available for people with mental illness. They are so liberal, however, that I left years ago, disappointed with what I perceived as not standing up for the gospel and creating their own theology, separate from the Bible's. Other churches where I have found community and worship and teaching and spiritual nourishment, shy away from directly addressing the problems and the lives of those of us with serious mental illness. My current church actually taught a series out of which one message was dedicated to "emotional problems". They were surprisingly loving, understanding, wise, and smart enough to encourage people to seek professional help if needed. But when I asked about hosting a support group in the church the answer was to send me around to different people, none of whom ever returned a call or an email. I believe it will happen, in its right time. In the meantime, it's undercover--just like in the jail--I meet a person, we develop a relationship, and the spark comes up--and I go with them, spiritually, wherever they want to go. I can provide reading materials if they ask; the chaplain will provide bibles if they ask--I just can't be the one to do the asking. At church, I'll strike up a conversation with someone, and when I bring up that I live with bipolar they respond--and it goes from there. How do we get people to stop being afraid? I have no clue.

Jana Spalding

I received this email from Jana in response to my last blog and asked her permission to start my next blog with it. I first met Jana when she was working at a drop-in center in Broward County, Florida. As you can tell from the email she now works in a jail system.

We both live daily with bipolar disorder, but at first glance one may think we do not have a whole lot more in common. I am an old white man and she is a much younger attractive well educated black woman. However, first glance never tells the real story. We have two things in common for sure. Our experiences with the church and our belief that our work is a ministry.

In 1989 I was ordained as a missionary/minister to the mentally ill by the elders of a church in Georgia. I had been ordained as a Pastor at Newport, Kentucky in 1970 and as an Elder at Red Oak, Georgia in 1985. Remember in a previous blog I told you I had started preaching when I was 12 years old. My missionary/minister/educator father took me to church from the time I was born. In fact my parents dedicated me to the Lord in a service at Union Church, Berea, Kentucky when I was a baby. Why is all this important? To show you how I know the value of the faith communities to those of us with a mental illness. They are in my blood. Just like Jana does, I know how important faith communities are to us.

If we had done as much research into bio-psycho-social-spiritual “best practices” as we have into brain research, the lives of those of us with mental illness would have a far higher joy quotient as two researchers called it in a paper I once read. The joy quotient is determined by counting the number of smiles over a certain period of time. I consider it to be the best monitoring tool I ever saw.

There is no doubt that those of us with serious mental illnesses are leery of faith communities, but also there is no doubt that faith communities are uniquely equipped and committed to embrace us if only the canyon could be contracted.

You can reach me directly at
HOMEPAGE: http://

Friday, July 06, 2007


Why did the Christian community make me feel so unwelcome for so many years? Was it me or was it something they were doing? Did the Jewish community do any better? Can we talk real for a minute?

You can say it was all my fault, but was it really? I will take part of the blame. I did feel guilty for some of the things I had done. Being a minister/missionary kid and being in the pulpit myself from the age of 12 meant I knew the kind of life I was suppose to live. I knew I had fallen far short and I did not feel like the church wanted me there because of the kind of life I was living. I can blame my lifestyle on my bipolar illness and on manic episodes, but Dr. Karl Menninger wrote a book with this title: Whatever Happened to Sin? Was it my illness or my sin?

I stopped preaching on any regular basis even before I went into the military. In other words my regular ministry stopped before most folks even head off to college much less to seminary, but by that time I had been preaching 6 years and had already been a pastor of a church outside Winchester, Kentucky. The last thing I did was as a radio evangelist out of Newport, Kentucky in the early 70’s.

I knew the church well, but I did not feel like I could go there to ease the pain of my soul. I did not feel the embrace of the community of believers. The Jewish community I encountered in south Florida didn’t feel any better. My friends I am not alone in this feeling. Many of my fellow sojourners feel like faith communities have let them down.

Many folks have put their heart and soul into trying to get faith communities to reach out to those of us with mental illness. Some of those who have been around for awhile are Florence Kraft, Jennifer Shifrin, Nancy Troy, Gunnar Christiansen and Susan Gregg-Schroeder. Their efforts have not gone unrewarded, but the work is far from finished.

Most faith communities do not have any special outreach to folks like me. Wonder why? Addiction programs are far more common than any outreach to folks with serious mental illnesses. Wonder why? There are far more programs for the developmentally disabled than the mentally ill. Wonder why? There are more programs for the recently divorced than for the mentally ill. Wonder why?

I have a theory. The stigma of mental illness is so hard to fight because people fear looking at their own minds or the possibility of being mentally ill themselves. They simply do not want to look into the mirror of mental illness. Until we can get society over this hurdle we will never get the faith communities to embrace those of us with a serious mental illness which is so vital to the recovery process.

You can reach me directly at
HOMEPAGE: http://

Tuesday, July 03, 2007


I read the other day that evolutionary biologist were hoping for a small paradigm shift because of some new knowledge in their field was challenging their old theories. I wonder what would happen in the mental health field if they were suddenly confronted with two facts they seem to ignore. It would cause a cosmic paradigm shift. That I am sure.

Fact # 1 We are more than our disabilities. We are fully human.
Fact # 2 We have a soul.

If those two facts were truly taken into account the mental health system would look totally different than it does. Lip service is given to the idea that services are person- centered and recovery oriented, but look at what is funded and at the forms to be filled out. The services can only address the disability and there is certainly nothing person- centered about most forms.

When I spent 2 ½ hours on the Catawba River the other morning in my inflatable kayak it was a recovery oriented occasion. I felt fully human and my soul was being nurtured by the beauty of the nature provided to us by the Creator. I am lucky. I can afford such an activity. Many of my fellow sojourners live in poverty. To them what I get to do could only be a dream, but if Fact # 1 & 2 were truly incorporated into our mental health system folk’s dreams would be the goals that drove the process.

Their abilities, their dreams and the desires deep inside their souls would become more important to the system than their diagnosis. Now don’t go off screaming. I know my diagnosis is important and I know that if I go off my meds and get manic I am not an easy person to live with. I am not saying regular mental health stuff is not important, but I am saying it is not the driving force in recovery.

The driving force in recovery is feeling the embrace of a community. Feeling rooted. Believing they see you as a human rather than as something defective. Being able to dream again and see some of those dreams come true. The road to recovery begins with a diagnosis, but it only continues if folks allow you to dream and help you see some of those dreams come true.

So the mental health system’s paradigm shift would be to learn that recovery is from diagnosis to dreams.

You can reach me directly at

HOMEPAGE: http://