Moving Beyond Ableism: The Silent Monster – From Stigma to Inclusion – A Journey in Mental Illness

Editor’s Note: Moving Beyond Ablesism is a quarterly column featuring the work of the Anabaptist Disabilities Network (ADNet) www.adnetonline.org and offers reflections from different authors on the various issues facing persons with disabilities.

By Ezekiel Lee

Jesus called His followers to embrace a message of hope and love. A lifestyle in which we shrink margins, practice restoration, and embrace healing. This is the very essence of peacemaking. A desire and thirst to move towards what is better, to move towards inclusion, and to practice empathy. It is a climate in which investment in the souls of individuals trump their differences. This message also has been sadly missing throughout much of my life as I have struggled with profound mental illness.

The thought will forever be emblazoned in my mind. Me, the awkward 16 year old, just starting grade 10, and with a recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder. To be honest, at 16, the term “bipolar” sounded like a death sentence. On the one hand, I was relieved to know that these endless days of intense depression followed by a period of shifting elation and hyperactivity could soon be combated; but in the moment, all I could feel was a profound sense that I had done something wrong, that I deserved this life, and that I would never amount to anything.

I began seeing a psychiatrist. She was young, inexperienced, and just a bit brusque. Although pretty on the outside, she made me feel very small with her insistence that I would never amount to anything without the use of medications. That I would never be able to have a family or get married because I was too unstable, that this disorder would wreak havoc on my professional and personal life. She doubted my ability to pursue higher education, my ability to date, and my ability to handle my emotions. Hearing her say all of these things, after already feeling the weight of the new diagnosis made me even more anxious and resentful.

I began taking medication. The combination of negative side effects coupled with my ever growing desire to prove this psychiatrist wrong eventually led me to stop taking them. That struggle – first developed due to a nagging professional – has led me down the slope of being rather ambivalent towards medications, often starting and then abruptly stopping, much to the chagrin of subsequent doctors and counsellors.

I grew up in a very emotionally detached family. Although both my parents are very loving, their relationship with me and with each other has often been withdrawn, devoid of any intense feelings. My Asian mother found cultural solace in the concept that there was no need to discuss anything that would portray our family in a negative light. Asians, she reminded me, have no time for such things as mental illness. Mental illness, she insisted, can easily be solved by “snapping out of it,” forgetting or else denying that a problem does indeed exist, and simply plunging oneself into working hard and attempting to add more things to one’s schedule so that we won’t have time to continue thinking of the path we are going down.

With stigma comes an inevitable weight of shame. A weight that no one, especially a 16 year old, should have to carry. As months turned into years, I began a steady road to healing and recovery. Although bipolar is an illness that I will have for the rest of my life and I have come to accept it, I have learned that this does not limit my ability to positively impact the world.

Through gracious mentorship, generous counselling, prayer, and supportive doctors, I have learned that although I cannot change my diagnosis, I can try to have a happier outlook on life and not let it hinder my desires for marriage, a family, or further schooling. With this new outlook, I have been able to finish off my master’s degree (and will eventually pursue my PhD). I’ve been able to buy my first car, work with adults who have developmental disabilities, and form satisfying friendships. Actually, my life is quite normal. I have my challenges for sure, and my professors have mostly been understanding of that, but I am still capable and expected to do the same amount of work, to socially function the same way in society, and to pursue the same dreams as everyone else my age.

People who have bipolar, or a host of other mental illnesses, can often be misunderstood, marginalized, or ignored. Sadly, I have experienced unprofessional disclosure, teasing, and even suggestions that I may be demonized. I have had well-meaning Christians suggest I should simply pray more or have more faith. I even have had people suggest that I NOT enter leadership positions because I may get out of hand. What these people are failing to understand is that peace building begins right here, with us. It begins by understanding and embracing those who are different from us, all the while noticing that they really are not so different after all.

Ezekiel Lee is the pen name of a writer who prefers to remain anonymous.

Peace on the Hill: Tears and Hope

By Charles Kwuelum

CharlesKwuelum“… saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’ They shall feed along the ways, on all the bare heights shall be their pasture” (Isaiah 49:9).

I recently received a call from a friend who is an international development worker in one of the countries in the Sahel region of Africa. He told me about a group of young children who for a while were identified only as numbers in U.N.-run camps because their parents or guardians had died as a result of war, disease or malnutrition. The children face the same fate. For a moment, we broke down in tears as my friend and I mourned the lives cut short by violence and the unsecured future of the children who lack the basic amenities of life, education and family.

The terrible hunger, water scarcity, health and humanitarian crises in various countries makes my heart burn with passion, exhibiting that divinely-ignited hope that God is timely in favor, covenant and salvation. Sometimes, such situations are not only outcomes of war and conflict, but also natural disaster, poverty and unfair policies. The life of the church in missions is expressed, in part, by the prophetic zeal put into relief, development and peace work (Luke 4:18-19; Isaiah 42:1). It is a way of life to which we have all been called to participate, and we are filled with the sure hope that our efforts can help reduce protracted humanitarian crises that are deepening by the day.

One small way in which we can work to ensure that people’s basic needs are met is by supporting reforms to U.S. food assistance programs. We must therefore call on Congress to support and pass into law the reintroduced Food for Peace Reform Act (S. 525).

If passed into law, the bill would:

  • Make food aid more cost effective by allowing the purchase of more commodities locally or regionally, as well as the use of vouchers and cash transfers;
  • Save about $50 million per year in shipping costs and shorten the shipping time;
  • Remove the policy of ‘monetization,’ a process that allows U.S. donated food to be sold first by aid organizations, producing cash that then funds development projects. This policy causes the loss of 25 cents out of every dollar. Ending monetization would free up an estimated $30 million per year, feeding an additional 800,000 people.

At the end of my conversation with my friend, I felt an extraordinary kind of assurance together with a deep sense of lively and unfailing hope for the great mission of meeting the needs of communities torn apart by hunger and violence.

In order to be faithful followers of Christ who would inherit the Kingdom, we must heed the call to attend to the needy in acts of mercy by ensuring access to enough food, improvement of farming techniques and fairer trade policies (Matthew 25:31-46). When we raise our voices and translate the prophetic zeal of our hearts through congregational prayers and calls to our representatives in Congress, we seek to bring dignity and hope to millions of people through food, relief and development provided in a modest and dignifying manner.

 Charles Kwuelum is Legislative Associate for International Affairs in the MCC U.S. Washington office.

Peace on the Hill is a monthly column in PeaceSigns written by staff of the MCC Washington Office highlighting congressional developments and detailing ways the church can continue to be engaged in the work of peace and advocacy.

Our Sin Problem

by John K. Stoner john stoner

We humans routinely mess up through carelessness and selfishness. And all too frequently, we harm others through acts motivated by covetousness and pride.   These behaviors are the shadow side of our capacity to reflect, plan and act.

Yet when this universal human experience of sin is spoken of within the church, a highly theological meaning is often added. Our sins are an offense that separates us from God. This relational rupture is said to be the crucial reason we need a savior; it is the core of what many churches refer to as “our sin problem.”

Since this understanding is so prominent in Christian theology, we would expect to find Jesus speaking of it often in the gospel accounts. But that is not what we find. Instead, we find Jesus described God as sending rain on the just and the unjust, forgiving us as we forgive each other, standing on the front porch watching for our return from a long and fruitless journey, and as eager to meet our needs as any human parent to feed her hungry child.

Yes, Jesus often engaged people who were estranged from God; recall, for example, his encounters with persons possessed by evil spirits. But always the estrangement was rooted in the human side of the relationship. Never did Jesus suggest God had a score to settle with us.

Some parts of the Bible can be interpreted to support the notion that our sins prompt God to turn away from us in disgust. Generally, however, such passages describe the real-life consequences of our sins, not God’s rejection of us as sinners.

If it is biblically incorrect to say God rejects us because of our sins, then why do we need a savior?

Behind every First Testament call to “repent” (and there are many) is the assumption that the Israelites were able to repent, Gk. metanoeo, to change their minds, to make a different choice.  Yet repentance must have been nearly unimaginable for them. They assumed the world worked by violence and greed; everything in their experience confirmed this.   Though the prophets called for repentance, it was beyond the people’s reach.

This is the sin problem the Apostle Paul writes about in Romans.  God’s compassion and grace are on display all around us, but we are blinded by false gods and deceitful power structures that find great advantage in the exploitation of our sinfulness. These false gods and deceitful structures fix a false reality into place.  This is the “the power of sin” of which Paul wrote (Rom. 3:9), a power that renders us incapable of imagining an alternative to the world’s bleakness.  So repentance, a new way of thinking, remains out of reach.

Until, that is, we look at Jesus.  In him, the “righteousness of God has been disclosed” (Rom. 3:21)  He breaks the stranglehold of the imperial worldview, re-ignites our imagination, and raises high a standard of compassion and justice that shines a light on all that is violent, tawdry and deceitful.  Jesus overcomes evil with good.

Jesus did this by his life, death and resurrection.  The memory, power and vision of his life are what enable our repentance today.

From Genesis to Revelation, we read of God opposing empires and structures of deceit and coercion. It is most obvious in the story of the Hebrew exodus from Egypt, but the same dynamic was at work in the movement launched by Jesus. Paul wrote of it in Colossians: “(God) disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them” (Col. 2:15). It is from their tyranny that Jesus saved us.

The gospel invites each of us as individuals—and our cultures collectively—to repentance and the new life Jesus has shown us. It is a life very different from the one the rulers and authorities tell us is the norm. This is the part of the gospel neglected by the church, which often views principalities and powers, kings and empires, as better teachers and examples than Jesus of how to live this life and run the world.

This, then, is the meaning of salvation we must recover:  Jesus has rescued us from false realities that hold us captive.  Because we have seen the world set right with a new form of power in Jesus, we are able to recognize the pretense and deceit of the powers that bind us, whether those powers take the form of the mighty U.S.-led empire, an economic ideology or a set of lifestyle expectations.  And we are able to repent, turn and walk in newness of life.

Jesus has provided a way of escape from our sin problem. Thanks be to God!

John K. Stoner co-authored this essay, which first appeared in the March 16, 2015 issue of Mennonite World Review. Stoner and Friesen are authors of If Not Empire, What? A Survey of the Bible. They blog at www.bible-and-empire.net

Editor’s Note – Kudos for Peace?

Keith 1Friends;

If we’re expecting to be lauded by the powers that be for standing up for peace and justice then we will be disappointed. There rarely if ever are kudos for peace. While we may be recognized for our work at some time, that shouldn’t be why we do it. We work for peace and justice because it was what we are called to do and be. As you peruse the offerings of our writers this month, I hope you will be encouraged to keep the faith (kudos or not)!

Blessings and Shalom

Keith

A Box of Broken Toy Soldiers

Originally posted on the Artist as a Contemplative Man:

image

Yesterday I opened my front door and stepped out into a box of broken toy soldiers.
They limped along the construction paper streets or lay shell-shocked on their cardboard beds.

I did my best to help.
I cut holes in the walls to let the light in.
I added an army of paper doll nurses.
I fashioned crutches out of clothes hangers.
I tried to glue on artificial limbs.

But I could not find a way to end the war
and when I looked up from my box of broken toy soldiers, I saw a million more.

View original

Puppets and Peace Parades!

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By Bert Newton

At the Palm Sunday Peace Parade in Pasadena, Calif. last year we called attention to economic injustice and consumerism that drives war. We created a 12 foot Lady Wisdom puppet and a smaller Mammon puppet who rode a coach called “The Excess Express.” You can watch the struggle between Lady Wisdom and Mammon here.

This year we decided to focus on the ecological crisis, so our theme is: “Restoring the Earth, Redeeming the City; Peace, Justice and the Ecological Crisis.” And we decided that Lady Wisdom will, again, lead the parade.

The parade arose out of our study of the Gospel. Here is the story of how it began:

While we originally were going to call it “The People’s Palm Sunday March,” we now call it the “Palm Sunday Peace Parade” not only because this name has the advantage of alliteration but also because it reflects the context in which the march actually began. We began the Palm Sunday Peace Parade in Pasadena in 2003 at the outbreak of the war with Iraq, so it was a peace march. Even though the context was war and the death that war brings, we made our event joyful and celebratory, much like the original Palm Sunday event; the gospels tell that Jesus marched toward his death and yet entered Jerusalem in celebration of his victory over the forces of death. So we designed our event likewise to be festive and celebratory, a peace parade.

The idea was originally conceived several years earlier in a Bible study in which we were studying the first Palm Sunday. We realized that the story of Palm Sunday was that of people coming from the margins of their society to the center of it in Jerusalem.  These people, Galileans coming to Jerusalem for the Passover, waved Jesus into Jerusalem as their chosen king, a popular king.

Passover celebrated the Israelites’ deliverance and liberation from the Egyptian empire. At the time of Jesus, Israel was under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Naturally, Passover celebrations lit the hopes and dreams of the people for their liberation from Rome. Rome understood this tradition well and sent extra troops to Jerusalem at Passover in the event that they might have to put down a rebellion.

To wave Jesus into Jerusalem as “king of Israel” with praise and palm branches (recalling the entrance into Jerusalem of the triumphant rebel leader Simon Maccabeus, who liberated Israel from the Seleucid Empire in 142 BCE, see 1 Macc 13:51) at such a time constituted a brazen act of symbolic resistance.

The resistance was both against Rome and its puppet government that ruled from the temple mount. That is why, upon entering Jerusalem, the capital city, Jesus went to the temple, cleared it of the money changers who worked for the temple establishment, reclaimed that space for the people, and began teaching there about the new society that he called the Kingdom of God. In this society, he proclaimed, the outcasts are included as full members in good standing, wealth is redistributed so that everyone has enough, and the rulers wash everyone else’s feet. In this society, peace and justice are established.

When we came to this understanding of the Palm Sunday story, we began dreaming of a people’s march, the people marching to the center of town, proclaiming justice for the poor and inclusion of the outcast, a fully egalitarian society.

We decided that our march would be fully political as well as fully spiritual, but not political in the establishment sense. Establishment politics reflects establishment interests. In the U.S. that results in a two party system in which both parties are bought by the large corporations and act largely on their behalf; the people play a minor role.

We decided that our politics would be the politics of Jesus, which is the politics of the people. Jesus built his political power among the people, sitting with them, healing them, teaching them about the new society, empowering them with the authority to heal and forgive each other. Only after laying this foundation did he engage the established political class, and he did so with scathing critiques and nonviolent direct action (the reclaiming of the temple).

With the Palm Sunday Peace Parade, we attempt to lay the same kind of foundation that Jesus laid. We do not practice establishment politics. The primary role of the parade is not to lobby city hall for justice or Congress for peace. This parade is a people’s march. The primary role of the Palm Sunday Peace Parade is to get the people out in the streets together, putting one foot in front of the other, feeling their own spiritual and political power. Having built this collective confidence, they begin talking to each other, begin networking to build grassroots power.

It is important to us that we practice the egalitarian society that we want to see emerge. For example, we try to maintain a balance of men and women in up front leadership roles; we do not give a privileged place to established political leaders; and we emphasize lay leadership (although, since we are organizing primarily through churches, we have pastors say the opening and closing prayers).

The Palm Sunday Peace Parade has spread to Elkhart, IN and Harrisonburg, VA. Our hope is that this movement continues to spread across North America and the world as a Gospel-based people’s movement for peace and justice.

PS Bert

 

 

 

Bert Newton is the author of Subversive Wisdom; Sociopolitical Dimensions of John’s Gospel

Balancing Acts – Wise as Serpents

tom b

Editor’s Note: Tom Beutel, a regular contributor to PeaceSigns, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Mount Vernon, Ohio. Balancing Acts is a monthly feature of PeaceSigns.

by Tom Beutel

March 2015

See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Matthew 10:16 (NRSV)

Jesus’ words from Matthew 10 are included in his instructions to his disciples as he sends them out on their own to proclaim the kingdom of God and to do miracles and cure the sick. So, it may be a bit of a stretch to apply these words to the topic of this article: scams. Nevertheless, I think they may get us pointed in the right direction.

I recently had an email claiming that the sender needed me to “verify” some information so that a sum of money (over $2000) could be released. Needless to say, I did not give the information. But, it did get me thinking about scams and the vulnerability of many, particularly in the internet age, to such schemes.

The Free Dictionary (www.thefreedictionary.com) defines a scam as a fraudulent scheme or swindle, or to deprive of by deceit. Interestingly, it also defines to “scam on” as slang for “to kiss or caress.” I mention this in light of Judas’ kiss of Jesus which was used to betray him, a fraudulent show of affection intended to deprive Jesus of his freedom! The human inclination to deceive and defraud is nothing new.

According to CNN Money, “More than 8 in 10 consumers have received a ‘potentially fraudulent offer,'” and, “of those targeted, about 11% said they lost ‘a significant amount of money’ by falling for a scam.” (money.cnn.com/2013/09/12/pf/financial-scams/). The site also states that “elderly respondents were 34% more likely to have lost money than people in their 40s,” This is because older adults are generally thought to be more trusting and to have more savings. (www.stopseniorscams.org/#)

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) says that financial scams targeting seniors are considered to be “the crime of the 21st century.” (www.ncoa.org/enhance-economic-security/economic-security-Initiative/savvy-saving-seniors/top-10-scams-targeting.html)

The UK takes the issue of scamming so seriously that they have a “Scam Awareness Month” each May with public announcements and other promotions aimed at protecting people from fraud. We, as Christians and as peacemakers, might also take this issue seriously and take steps to help make ourselves and others aware of the problem of scams, and how to be “wise as serpents” to avoid scams.

Here are some steps we can take:

Be aware of common scams Information is available at several sites:

Understand risks and ways in which you or your friends or family may be vulnerable to a scam:

Follow guidelines for avoiding being the victim of a scam. Here are a few basic ones.

  • If it seems too good to be true, it probably is (too good to be true).
  • Never send money to someone you don’t know.
  • Don’t reply to email or phone messages if you do not know who is contacting you. If a message appears to be from someone you know, email them (not as a reply) and ask if they did email you. Banks and other institutions will never email asking for information or for verification of information.
  • Carefully check monthly credit card and bank statements to be sure that there are not charges that you do not recognize.
  • Keep personal and financial information safe and confidential (Social Security number, bank and credit card account numbers, etc.)
  • Report suspicious communications or other possible fraud at sites like stopfraud.gov/report.html

Finally, consider ways that your local community or your community of faith can raise awareness of this issue. It is one way that we can protect others from harm. Ideas might include: having a scam awareness week, writing a letter to the editor or your local paper, having a youth group make posters and put them up at church and in the community. Whatever you do, don’t ignore the problem. Be “wise as serpents.”