Monday, December 24, 2012

CONSUMERISM: OUR NATIONAL RELIGION

Matthew 25:31-40

New International Version (NIV)

The Sheep and the Goats

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

This time of year we claim to be celebrating the birth of the Messiah.  To me it seems we are celebrating our God named consumerism.  I am not sure how much attention is paid to the birth we say we are celebrating.  The person in the story found in the Gospels would find little to praise about how most of the world celebrates Christmas.

I wonder how many of us have ever felt the pain of hunger in our bellies or been without food long enough to become weak and light headed?  Maybe when we were getting ready for surgery, dieting, or fasting, but I am talking about being hungry for months and years.

Do we reach out to people we don't know?  You are probably like me.  I am more comfortable either by myself or with people I know.

My point here is that I just may be a goat.  You may be a goat too.  It does not matter if you believe the New Testament or not, you still face the moral questions raised in the verses above.  Does our national religion of consumerism where corporations and wealthy folks rule remain or do we try to build a community where the least of our brothers and sisters come first? 

How long can a country survive built on a three-legged stool of individualism, consumerism, and free market capitalism?  I wish I could say that I believed this Christmas would be a turning point.  We have seen enough over the last few years that it should make us wonder if a new direction is needed.  However, the bright lights are a big draw.  We think maybe we will get the big break.

The break we need is to break the bonds of slavery to ideas that condemn us to a slow death.  There truly is a better Way.  

Saturday, December 22, 2012

WHATEVER BECAME of EVIL

Karl Menninger, M.D. wrote a book that was published in 1973 with the thought provoking title of "Whatever Became of Sin?".  The book attempted to make the case that psychiatry had gone too far in making all behaviors a disorder and had forgotten or left out sin in their paradigm. You will have to read the book to see if he made his case.

Today, I ask the same question about evil.  We listen to the "experts" selectively.  If we want to believe something was done by a severely mentally ill person, we believe the folks telling us that a certain person must have been very very sick.  If we don't want to believe that homosexuality is as real as heterosexuality, we call gay folks sinful or evil.  We pick the times we believe in the majority world view and we don't believe it when it suits our own needs.

Let me tell you a fact you might not want to hear.  Those of us with Axis 1 diagnoses, which means severe and persistent mental illness labels from the DSM which is a categorical classification system, have been abused and died at the hands of  caregivers and chronically normal people in greater numbers than we have harmed others since this country has existed.  In other words we are far more likely to be the victim than the perpetrator.

I am not trying to say we don't ever commit violent acts.  I am saying even when a person with a label does some horrible act you don't know what caused the action.  If I was planning a mass killing, I might start seeing a therapist a few weeks before I carried out my plan.  I might act crazy as hell when they locked me up if I survived the mass killing scene.  The people looking assume they are seeing, but are they?

Sometimes evil acts may just be that.  The result of a dark and evil soul.  To understand that, you have to believe we have souls.  Soul is not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). That presents a major problem.


Friday, December 21, 2012

LOOK DEEP WITHIN

https://www.facebook.com/ProjectDreamAgain


I wrote the following in 2008.  I suppose it is a good time to take stock of our own inner beings.  The nation, indeed the whole world mourns, but we need to do more than talk about guns and folks with behaviors we have labeled.  We need to look deep within.  All of us and ask one simple question.  How did we become such a violent people?  From our interactions with others to horrors we can't explain, we are a violent people that inhabit this earth.  Maybe if we followed more closely in the footprints of the Peacemaker we would become a more peaceful people.


FOOTPRINTS of HIS SON /January 17, 2008
It is three in the morning here in Glen Alpine, North Carolina and it is snowing outside. Everything is turning white. How I wish my insides were as white as the outside looks right now, but they are not. Lawrence Wright, a Texan, is the author of the book Saints & Sinners. He also wrote City Children, Country Summer: A Story of Ghetto Children Among the Amish.

I often ask myself am I a saint or a sinner? Good or bad? Growing up with a father who was a minister, missionary, and high school principal among other teaching and educational positions and having a mother who was a school teacher (they are both deceased) does not allow one the luxury of avoiding the question. So I am forced to try to answer the question in some fashion. Let me tell you about three men I wish I was more like in some ways. You may be surprised because they are not very famous, but they are my trifecta.
First, my father Lester J. Cooper (1919-1989) not because he was a minister or missionary or educator, but because he taught me how to learn, to love philosophy, and he loved the dirt. When we got to the mission field in 1960 conditions in southern Africa were dangerous for people of my skin color. Since I am white it was decided that I would have to stay on the mission station 100 miles from the nearest town and that the missionaries would teach me. The other missionary kids seemed to do fine, but I was a problem so Dad taught me. The main thing he taught me was how to learn, and a byproduct of that was a love for philosophy. He grew up in the hills of Kentucky and had dirt in his veins. He had a garden, fruit trees, and grape vines etc. on his little lot in College Park, GA. Until he was no longer able just before his death.

Second, is Will Davis Campbell who was a major supporter of the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi. Born July 18, 1924, in Amite County, Mississippi, Campbell grew up in Liberty, Mississippi — a town name fitting for what Campbell wanted to find through his work as a Civil Rights activist and a preacher. Campbell earned his A.B. at Wake Forest College and a B.D. from Yale. He was a Baptist preacher in Taylor, Louisiana, for two years before taking the position of Director of Religious Life at the University of Mississippi from 1954 to 1956. Forced to leave the university because of his ardent Civil Rights participation, Campbell served on the National Council of Churches in New York as a race relations consultant. Campbell worked closely with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Lewis, and Andrew Young towards bettering race relations. Today, he continues his pursuit of spiritual and racial liberty as a pastor in Tennessee. Campbell's Brother to a Dragonfly earned him the Lillian Smith Prize, the Christopher Award, and a National Book Award nomination. The Glad River won a first-place award from the Friends of American Writers in 1982. His works have also won a Lyndhurst Prize and an Alex Haley Award.

Third, is Don West (1906-1992) In a book review written by Rachel Rubin this native of the North Georgia mountains who worked in in the mountains of North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia is described by her like this, “West is widely viewed as one of the most compelling political and literary figures of the Southern Appalachians during the middle of the twentieth century. She goes on to say, “Don West was a poet, a promoter of mountain music, a minister, a labor organizer, an educator, a leftist activist, an amateur historian and a firm advocate for grass-roots mountain people and traditional regional values.” Could there be any higher praise for a life well lived?

What do these three have in common? They were all three ministers and teachers. They all three believed deeply in their mission.

Am I a saint or a sinner? The truth is someone else gets to decide. For now the folks who watch me live my life can decide for themselves, but ultimately I will be judged by my Creator and on that day I must rely on the hope found in His Grace. Until then all I can do is try to walk in the footprints of His Son.
You can reach me directly at edcooper@projectdreamagain.com

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

FREE BUT DAMNED TO DIE ALONE

 Since I first came in contact with it in 1964 as a teenager, I have watched the mental health system reinvent itself many times.  I have watched it most closely in North Carolina and Florida.  We have changed everything about the system except how we think about the person and their family, and thus we drift aimlessly and try another redo.

I have seen great things written, but few implemented as they were written.  I have watched one buzz word after another come and go.  Everyone says their system is based on a recovery model.  In North Carolina NCRecovery.gov. is has nothing to do with mental health or substance abuse.  It is a site about recovery money from the federal government.

If the word recovery has an agreed upon meaning somewhere in government or academia, it sure does not in practice in the field.  In reality it means whatever the agency delivering a person's services and the agency's funding sources decides it does.

Another word that has been heard since at least the 70's is deinstitutionalization.  It is a great sounding word, but for some folks it meant ending up homeless and others in a smaller institution in the community.  For those who ended up in a good housing situation, they did not always find it very easy to get back into the community.  They were no longer in the state hospital, but they were not really back in the community either.  Books were written about how to help us reintegrate.  Return to Community by Paul J. Carling ( ©1995) is my favorite.

I can't tell you why others feel so isolated and have a hard time making friends, but I can tell you some of the reasons I do.  It takes lots of energy which being bipolar I only have at certain times and during those manic times I might not make the best friend.  Over the years the system and others have treated me in ways that leave me both with trust issues of other people and frankly of myself also.  I have failed at things so many times I don't want to disappoint or get more people mad at me.  Is that enough for starters?

The system has not done well in learning how to connect people.  The faith community has fallen way short in reaching out to us.  Will our fate be to die alone deinstitutionalized because no one found a way to embrace us and bring us into the community? 

Friday, December 07, 2012

PROGRESSIVE THEOLOGY and JESUS



                          Not a Fundraiser.  http://www.facebook.com/ProjectDreamAgain 
                                                         Just go "like" it if you do
 





Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-92) was England's best known preacher for most of the second half of the nineteenth century. Spurgeon frequently preached to audiences numbering more than 10,000—all in the days before electronic amplification. He described the people who followed Jesus around like this.

“Our Lord Jesus Christ while he was here below was continually in the pursuit of lost souls. He was seeking lost men and women, and it was for this reason that he went down among them, even among those who were most evidently lost, that he might find them. He took pains to put himself where he could come into communication with them, and he exhibited such kindliness toward them that in crowds they drew near to hear him. I dare say it was a queer-looking assembly, a disreputable rabble, which made the Lord Jesus its centre.”

Jesus himself tells how He feels about folks lost in the wilderness.

Luke 15:4-7
New International Version (NIV)
“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

Why do I call this progressive theology?  Not because the parable contains politically progressive ideas, but because there is gem in these few verses.  The story does tell about going after the one and how there will be rejoicing when the one is found.  That is not the gem.  The real gem is what is not done.  There is no mention of the worthiness of the lost sheep.

Can you imagine if the church today never saw color, economic status, social status, or engaged in listening to rumors about the people it is suppose to be serving.  What if the church never tried to get into their bedrooms before they even spoke to them about their souls?  I dreamed of the day that standing in the pulpit saying I had a mental illness would be helpful in educating people rather than just make them shy away from other folks like me.

There is a big difference between Jesus and progressive theology or progressive Christianity.  Jesus never said just take any path you want and walk it and in the end you will find God.  He does claim to be the One Way.  Then again, why do I attach progressive to His teachings.  Because they are so far ahead of what most folks have as a worldview. 

If we just learned to be as accepting as Him, the world would change faster than we could even comprehend.  Our dialogue would turn from talking about how much we spend and do for the undeserving to how can we bring everybody into the community and care for all.  Care about the lost.  Not what they have done or are doing, but that they are important simply because they live among us.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

WILDLIFE or Wellbutrin


Give Moral Support to Project Dream Again by going to Facebook 
http://www.facebook.com/ProjectDreamAgain and "like" it.


Wilderness, wildlife, wildflowers, or Wellbutrin that is the question. I mentioned Wellbutrin, an antidepressant, because it happens to start with a w and I like alliteration and also I have taken it for more years than I wish to admit.
I found this little gem in the last issue of Psychiatric News. “It looks as if the power of the placebo can also extend to medications’ side effects. So reported Australian researchers online September 19 in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.”
I wonder if that means that weight gain happens because a person is told that is one of the possible side effects of the med they are taking. The following is what the National Institute of Mental Health says about it.
“Atypical antipsychotic medications can cause major weight gain and changes in a person's metabolism. This may increase a person's risk of getting diabetes and high cholesterol.1 A person's weight, glucose levels, and lipid levels should be monitored regularly by a doctor while taking an atypical antipsychotic medication. Long-term use of typical antipsychotic medications may lead to a condition called tardive dyskinesia (TD). TD causes muscle movements a person can't control. The movements commonly happen around the mouth. TD can range from mild to severe, and in some people the problem cannot be cured. Sometimes people with TD recover partially or fully after they stop taking the medication. Every year, an estimated 5 percent of people taking typical antipsychotics get TD. The condition happens to fewer people who take the new, atypical antipsychotics, but some people may still get TD. People who think that they might have TD should check with their doctor before stopping their medication.”
The National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors did a study in 2006 which concluded that people with serious mental illness died 25 years earlier than the general population. Some tried to blame it all on how many of us smoke, but that is not the whole answer of course. It may make some folks feel better to blame it all on our lifestyles, but forced poverty, poor healthcare, and medications that harm as well as help need to be put in the mix.
This is not a rant against meds, but a plea for some reality. Medications can't reach a soul overwhelmed with sadness or darkness. They can't be your friend. They can't make you smile or smile at you. They can't give you a dream to make tomorrow turn today into a more livable time. They can't give you a hug.
The wilderness, wildlife, and wildflowers can do some of the above. I remember going to a Transpersonal Psychology conference in California years ago. Early on a speaker said this type of therapy should not be tried on people with a serious mental illness. I left and walked to the beach. There I saw a small wildflower. Patty and I then rented a car and went on a wonderful trip seeing many beautiful things. I had had high hopes for the conference, but it was the natural world and my wife that made my spirits soar.
I have said before that we are more than our dis-ease and that labels are for cans of food not people. How do we get up and on the journey again? Only by looking deep within and finding a dream worth walking or crawling towards. Anyone who says they have recovered is speaking a language I don't understand. It is always just a journey. I will always have to get up many times. I will take many wrong roads. The important thing is not how far I get, but that each time I fail I start again towards a dream.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

ORDINARY DAYS by Patrica Cooper



 





 
Waking up and thinking
Oh no, another ordinary day
 
Then the extraordinary happens
Every pore begins to exude the specific
All air is purer and
All things become exquisite
 
Waking up and thinking
Oh no, another ordinary day
 
Then it happens and everything
Everything
Becomes agony
Every breath too heavy a labor
Every movement surely impossible to make
It goes on…Forever
 
Then dreaming
Oh, just to have an ordinary day

 



 
© Patrica Cooper
December 2012