Depressed Christian, Part 1 – Four Principles Guiding My Recovery

You may have noticed I have been reblogging some articles about depression. The reason is I have been working on my own statement about depression, and posting other people’s articles has allowed me to (1) keep content flowing while I work on my own, and (2) start getting information about depression out there.

There are a lot of misconceptions about depression that keep people who suffer from getting the help they need. So in this series I’m going to try to clear up those misconceptions, especially within the church. In my own experience, religion sometimes brought healing and comfort when nothing else would, and sometimes intensified and made my depression worse in ways nothing else could. And so I say I am in recovery from two things: Depression and certain kinds of faith or religion.

The first misconception is thinking depression is only an emotional state. Typically, people say they’re depressed when they are VERY sad. So depression in this sense is extreme sadness. Anyone can feel depressed after the death of a family member or friend, loss of a job, divorce or breakup, or some tragic event in their lives. This is what I call “situational depression.” But depression in the sense I’m talking about is not that kind of sadness. It is a medical condition. It is not something that happens because of life. It is an ongoing condition of the brain.

Did you know that your brain is constantly producing chemicals? More than 100,000 chemical reactions are processed in your brain every second. Obviously that is too much to describe in detail here. For purposes of this discussion, you just need to know that an important part this activity involves the production of chemicals like Serotonin and Dopamine. I will refer to them generally as “happy chemicals.” You have happy chemicals and stress chemicals in your brain. When your brain does not produce normal levels of happy chemicals, you live in a constant, underlying, and invisible state of depression – even when there is no reason for you to be sad. This kind of depression is a medical condition, not an emotional state where you can just “cheer up” or pray your way out of.

I would not know any of this if it weren’t for my personal experience. Sixteen years ago, I was professionally tested for depression. When the psychiatrist gave me the results, he said, “You tested high for depression in every possible way.”

Floored. Stunned. Discombobulated. Those are the only words I can think of to describe how I felt on hearing that. In that moment, my entire view of life and myself changed forever. High in every possible way? There is no more room for denial after that.

And it was not a recent development. I have been living with Clinical Depression all my life. This means my brain needs help in creating a healthy level of happy chemicals. When it does not get help, I walk around moody, temperamental, irritable, and looking angry even when I’m not. I isolate myself and either dread or loathe social interaction. I think all kinds of bad thoughts about myself, friends, family, strangers, the world, God, and life itself. I suffer with anxieties for no good reason. I think no one understands me, so there is no point in talking to anyone.

Of course, I was not like this all the time. It would have been easier to recognize if I were. I had ups as well as downs just like everyone, or so I thought. My emotional/mood spectrum felt normal to me because it was the only thing I had ever known.

If any of this sounds familiar, especially if you can’t identify any good reason for it, you may be one of millions of people living with undiagnosed Depression of some kind. How do you know for sure? Since it is a medical condition, it needs to be diagnosed by a psychiatric professional. But if people close to you think you are depressed, you should seriously consider getting tested. My mother and sister thought there was more going on with me than just the normal ups and downs of life. If they hadn’t urged me to get tested, I would still be undiagnosed, still moody and depressed, and still thinking it was normal.

Sorry for all this boring technical explanation and my personal stuff. But this is important to understand and so easily misunderstood. The depression I’m talking about is not about feeling sad. It’s about living with a brain that does not produce enough happy chemicals. Not understanding that has led to a lot of bad practices and bad advice that make depression worse, not better. When religion gets mixed up in it without understanding what Depression really is, it creates more problems than it solves. An article on Beliefnet said it well. “As we consider the causes of Depression, those of us in the church must face the ways we might be responsible for creating it.”

I’ve experienced some of those ways that church, religion, faith – whatever you want to call your spiritual life and practice – can be responsible not really for creating it, but for making it a lot worse. I thank God from the depths of my soul that He led me out of that and into a church, faith, and spiritual practice that helps my recovery and healing, rather than beats me down for not having “enough faith,” whatever that means. Because the only thing worse than living for ten years (approximately) in a faith or religion that will only acknowledge “spiritual” causes of depression is living in that kind of faith for ten years… and one day.

What I say next, I don’t say lightly. I’m not the type of person who goes around saying, “God told me this, God told me that, God has called me to do this…” So many times I have heard people say things like this and thought, You know what? I bet if I could hear God talking as much as you claim to, right now I’d hear Him saying, “Leave Me out of this!”

It’s not that I believe God doesn’t talk to anyone. I believe God talks to us all the time, but some people hear better than others. I’ve learned from hard experience I don’t hear nearly as well as I would like to. Probably because it’s being filtered through a Clinically Depressed brain. With that disclaimer, I’m going to go out on a limb and say I believe God is calling me to help others who are in the same position I was 16 years ago. People who know they are depressed and in recovery. People who don’t know it but have a sense that something is wrong with them. People who think it’s normal because they have lived with depression all their lives. And more specifically, to help depressed people who are hurt by religion. I believe I am in a position to help point you to what is helpful – and away from most of what is hurtful.

I don’t think I will ever say I am healed from Depression, but the recovery model of Alcoholics Anonymous has been very helpful to me. Just recently I have been able to look at my life today and realize I have come a long way on this road of recovery, though I have by no means come to the end.

There are some lessons I have had to learn the hard way. I hope to spare you some of that drama. With that in mind, here is what I think is most important for you to know.

  1. God is for your recovery and healing, not against it (Isa 53:3-5).
  2. God will not kick you when you’re down (Isa 42:2-3).
  3. Some churches and spiritual leaders are good for recovery, and some are bad. Make sure you know the difference.
  4. With the right help – spiritually, psychologically, emotionally, and perhaps medically – you can live a happy and fulfilling life. You just need to learn how to stop Depression from sabotaging it.


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Meditation: Why it’s more important than you think

Why does the past seem so infatuating?   Imagine a place. It can be anywhere. It can be within the empty residence of a loved one recently departed or at a seaside where you used to make sandc…

Source: Meditation: Why it’s more important than you think

What is Depression?

Can You Beat Depression Without Medication? I am always unpleasantly surprised when I listen to some of the advertising done by some clinics on radio shows claiming that they can treat depression without medication. The Real Definition of Depression I cannot stop but wonder if they are confused about what the word ‘depression’ means for […]

via Alternative Medicine For Depression: Beware of False Advertising — Midtown Psychiatry and TMS Center Blog’s

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 6 – The Violence Inherent in the System

This is the sixth and final part of an in-depth series I’ve been doing on the trial of Jesus, focusing on what the gospels say about Pontius Pilate’s role in Jesus’ crucifixion. If you want to review the posts leading up to this, here are the links. However, I don’t think you necessarily have to read them before this post. I’ll give you my conclusions here. The links are here if you want more information on how I reached my conclusions. To put it simply, you can look at them if you want to, or you can skip them and go to the article below. It’s up to you.

 

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 1 – Witnesses of Matthew and Mark

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 2 – Witness of Luke

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 3 – Witness of John

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 4 – The Detective Makes His Case

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 5 – John Breaks the Silence

 

Now if you’re ready, we can begin to draw to a conclusion.

***

In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, there’s a scene where King Arthur is “riding” among a group of peasants going about their daily activities. He wants to know who lives in the castle. They are not very helpful. Finally, someone tells him no one lives there. They have no lord. They are an “anarchosyndicalist commune.” As one man explains how executive power is shared among them, Arthur grows impatient, tells him to be quiet, and grabs him.

Man: Aha! Now we see the violence inherent in the system!
Arthur: SHUT UP!
Man: (yelling to all the other workers) Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help, help, I’m being repressed!
Arthur: (letting go and walking away) Bloody peasant!
Man: Oh, what a giveaway! Did’j’hear that, did’j’hear that, eh? That’s what I’m all about! Did you see ‘im repressing me? You saw it, didn’t you?!

I love how the peasant drops radical twentieth-century egalitarianism on a medieval king who is claiming rule by Divine Right. That phrase “the violence inherent in the system,” though, perfectly describes the crucifixion of Jesus.

If you are Christian, or even if you know only the most basic ideas of Christianity, you’ve heard that Jesus died for our sins. What does that mean? When we hear about “sins,” we tend to think of personal sins, and so we think Jesus died for our personal sins. But if you read about Jesus’ trial without the centuries of tradition and doctrine that have been layered on top of it, this is obviously a story of an innocent man killed by systemic, not personal, sins. To put it simply, Jesus was killed by “the violence inherent in the system.”

What system? There were actually two systems involved: The political system, represented by Pontius Pilate, and the religious system, represented by the Sanhedrin. They existed in a specific historical context,  and yet for 2,000 years, oppressed people all over the world in all kinds of historical contexts have recognized Pilate and the Sanhedrin in their own authorities. They’ve recognized Judas in those who betray them to the authorities. What were the systemic sins that killed Jesus?

Political system

The political system, of course, begins with Rome. They ruled the area around the Mediterranean, including Judea and Galilee – the primary Jewish territories. Rome at times was extremely brutal in forcing their domination over the world. Crucifixion was, after all, a Roman punishment. But they were not just brutal. They knew how to use the stick but also the carrot. They had a system of rewards for individuals and entire communities who served them well. Of course they also had a system of punishments for those who did not toe the line.

The Jews chafed under Roman rule. In some ways, this probably perplexed the Romans. The historian Josephus tells us Herod the Great had been one of the best friends of the previous emperor, Augustus. Through this friendship, Herod was able to secure a number of benefits for the Jews, not just in his kingdom but throughout the Empire. They were free to practice their religion for the most part, including keeping holidays and the Sabbath. So while the Romans were brutal to anyone who refused to pay taxes or challenged the authority of the Emperor, the Jews were spared the worst of it – except when they openly rebelled(1).

As Governor, Pilate represented the Emperor. It was his job to keep the Pax Romana in his territory. The Gospels, I think, present a convincing case that Pilate thought Jesus was innocent. If so, why would he execute him? In previous posts in this series I have examined Pilate’s motives. I believe there was more than one reason, but I think the overriding motivation was definitely to keep the peace and keep Caesar happy.
His options were:

A. Protect Jesus from the mob, even if he has to use force(2).
B. Sacrifice him as a scapegoat to pacify the mob(3).

He chose B, and any Roman governor would have understood.
The violence inherent in the system, Point 1: Kill anyone if it will keep the peace.

The Religious System

The religious system is represented in the Sanhedrin, a sort of council of elders responsible for decisions regarding Jewish religious life, particularly with regard to the Temple in Jerusalem. The council consisted mainly of Sadducees (Temple priests) and Pharisees (local rabbis). The Sadducees, for the most part, benefited from Roman rule. The appointment of the high priest had to be approved by Rome. The order and stability Rome provided, the ease of travel through Roman roads and shipping lanes, and the active trade throughout the Empire created economic opportunity and wealth for the area’s residents, of which the Jews were commanded to pay a tenth to the Temple.

Rumors of Jesus being the Messiah were stirring up hopes among revolutionaries that he would be the one to shatter the yoke of Roman rule and restore the kingdom of David, which would bring the Roman legions to crush them. You can’t have much of an economy when your cities are reduced to rubble.
The violence inherent in the system, Point 2: Kill anyone who messes with the money.

The charge that finally sealed Jesus’ fate to the Sanhedrin was when someone heard him say he would destroy the Temple and rebuild it in three days. Talk of destroying the Temple was not going to sit well in this council that was led by the high priest. It was in response to this charge that the high priest ordered him to answer whether he was “the Messiah, the Son of God” (Mat 26:63). When Jesus says yes, that brings about the charge of blasphemy, which under their law can only be punished with death. There is just one problem. They don’t have the authority to order the death penalty.

They have to convince Pilate that Jesus is guilty of something that would compel a Roman governor to crucify him. So they try to trump up charges against him: He is challenging Caesar’s authority. He claims to be the king of the Jews. He tells people not to pay taxes. He claims to be the Messiah (and Pilate knows that claims of messiahship have always led to rebellion). He is gathering followers around him, i.e., an army. All because they thought he was threatening the Temple.
The violence inherent in the system, point 3: Kill anyone who challenges the religious institution.

However, I think the heart of the religious resistance was this. The religious establishment of the time – especially the Pharisees – represented a system based on purity, nationalism, and exclusion. Jesus preached a message of compassion and inclusion. The Pharisees thought God wanted them to keep out everything foreign – especially Gentiles, Samaritans, immigrants, and Jews who were not “pure enough,” religiously or racially. Jesus focused his ministry on reaching out to those who were excluded: Gentiles, pagans, Samaritans, foreigners, lepers, tax collectors (yes, tax collectors!), women, the sick, the blind, the lame, the poor, children. And in true prophetic fashion, he spoke out against the unjust religious leaders who “devoured widows’ homes and for pretense made long prayers” (Mar 12:40; Mat 23:14; Luk 20:47).

They were offended by the way he called out their injustice masked with piety. They were offended by who he associated with. They were offended by his willingness to welcome anyone of any background who sought God in spirit and in truth. And they were offended enough to want him dead.

I don’t say this as a blanket indictment of the Jewish people. Remember, Jesus was a Jew. His parents were Jews. All twelve original disciples were Jews. But any religious organization can become corrupted when it sees itself as privileged. The Jewish leaders of that time saw themselves as the people of God – exclusively. They taught other Jews to see themselves that way as well. In this way, they were blind leaders of the blind (Mat 15:14). Jesus came along and told them their days of privilege were over. God is the God of all people, Jew and Gentile, equally.
The violence inherent in the system, point 4: Kill anyone who challenges your privilege and superior status.

The Mob

You can’t talk about the system without mentioning the mob. It seems obvious the Sanhedrin was at work through the night, gathering others who also wanted to kill Jesus to put more pressure on Pilate. Were they motivated by religion, politics, or a mixture of both? I believe it was not just one political or religious faction. Probably several factions who normally hated each other were mixed in together, united by one common enemy(4).

Some wanted Jesus dead because they were afraid he would be another messianic pretender who would bring down the wrath of Rome. Some were nationalists, disappointed that he was refusing to lead the people against Rome. Some wanted him dead because they heard he had blasphemed by calling himself the Son of God. Some wanted him dead because he spoke against the Temple. Some wanted him dead because he loved the very people “God hated.” All of these varied reasons were enough to have them all shout together, “Crucify! Crucify! Crucify!”

And what about Barabbas, the man they asked to be spared? In some texts of Matthew, he is called Jesus Barabbas, which allows Pilate to say, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Jesus Barabbas or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” (27:17 NRS).

By the way, Barabbas means “son of the father.” And who is really the “Son of the Father”? Uh-huh! So the choice Pilate unknowingly presents is Jesus who is called the “son of the Father,” or Jesus who is really the “Son of the Father.” Perfect irony. Maybe a little too perfect, which is probably why “Jesus Barabbas” is not recorded in all the manuscripts.

Would a mob really choose a thief, murderer, and/or insurrectionist over Jesus who is called the Messiah? I can see that. One person’s insurrectionist/murderer is another person’s patriot. Look at some of the political rallies of this campaign season. We have all seen what happens when a crowd gets stirred up against one person who does not toe the line. A mob is like a Zombie horde, mindless and seeking only destruction and death. They will accept and even cheer any violence against the outsider. I have no problem believing that part of the story.
The violence inherent in the system, point 5: Kill anyone who loves the people we hate.

Walter Rauschenbusch identified six systemic sins (he calls them “social sins,” which is an equally proper term) Jesus bore on the Cross:

  1. Religious bigotry
  2. The combination of graft and political power
  3. The corruption of justice
  4. The mob spirit
  5. Militarism
  6. Class contempt(5).

And I am going to add one more to the list: 7. Nationalism.

In examining all the players of this gross miscarriage of justice, you can probably see how each of these sins played out in nailing Jesus to the cross. Where do you find yourself among them? Don’t kid yourself. We are all guilty. I could easily see myself making the same decision Pilate did under those circumstances. In the past, I have used religious dogma to justify my “superiority” to non-whites, foreigners, gays, lesbians, and women, ergo I could have been one of the Pharisees or the mob.

A Final Word

In saying Jesus died for our sins, let’s not forget the social sins that killed Jesus. We have all participated in the violence inherent in the system, even if only by our inaction. As one of my former pastors said, “We would rather crucify Jesus than be transformed by his love.” We would rather cling to our purity and bigotry than welcome the stranger with compassion.
Rauschenbusch goes on to say,

“…every student of history will recognize that these sum up constitutional forces in the Kingdom of Evil. Jesus bore these sins in no legal or artificial sense, but in their impact on his own body and soul. He had not contributed to them, as we have, and yet they were laid on him. They were not only the sins of Caiaphas, Pilate, or Judas, but the social sin of all [hu]mankind, to which all who ever lived have contributed, and under which all who ever lived have suffered”(6).

 

References

(1) A few examples are given in Acts 5:35-39.

(2) In a similar situation, a mob in Jerusalem tried to kill Paul. The Roman tribune brought in his soldiers to protect him (Acts 23:10). Pilate could have done the same thing. However, unlike Jesus, Paul was a Roman citizen, which meant the tribune had a legal obligation to protect him from the mob.

(3) One ancient source says during Pilate’s tenure, the emperor Tiberius came to see the Jews as his friends. It would require at least another blog post to explain how that came about. The point here is Pilate had more reason than usual to fear the mob, because Tiberius had warned him not to offend the Jews.

(4) Unlikely alliances between factions started forming early in Jesus’ ministry, such as when Pharisees plotted with Herodians to kill him (Mar 3:6).

(5) & (6) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Rauschenbusch

 

P.S. What’s that? You found my analysis so brilliant you want to go back and read the other posts in this series? Aw, shucks! You’re making me blush!

Okay, maybe I’m delusional. But I want to be as helpful as I can. Just in case you are interested, I’ll save you from having to scroll up to find the links.

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 1 – Witnesses of Matthew and Mark

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 2 – Witness of Luke

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 3 – Witness of John

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 4 – The Detective Makes His Case

Verdict of Pontius Pilate, Part 5 – John Breaks the Silence

Grace and peace to you.

-David Anderson