When violence breaks out and murder occurs, we want an explanation, a reason, and preferably someone to blame. After Buford Furrow shot children at a Jewish day-care center and then a Filipino-American postal worker in Los Angeles, the media trained its sights on the Idaho-based Aryan Nations, to which Furrow belonged.
An impoverished doctor in an Alpine valley of hearty people, lures a naive country boy into his examining room, shows him frightening anatomical charts of the mysteries within, and awakens fears about hiccups and hair loss, acne and gas pains. According to this old French fable, the boy leaves clutching a bottle of medicine and carrying alarming stories to pass along.
Jean sits down with the rest of the committee members, and the meeting gets started. She's in her familiar light blue cashmere cardigan sweater, her reading glasses hanging from a thin black woven cord around her neck, her gray-streaked hair pulled back into an efficient bun. She is as proper as always. But tonight her face is completely blank, as if she doesn’t dare reveal anything. She says nothing. “What’s up with Jean?” I wonder.
Ignorance is the opposite of love,” writes the father of a young man with schizophrenia, reflecting on his efforts to understand his son’s delusional behavior. Most of us have heard similar, more obvious claims: hate is the opposite of love; fear is the opposite of love; indifference is the opposite of love.
In 1992 I had a clinical depression. It was a long time in coming, but in hindsight it was inevitable. I was hunkered down in my study trying to write a sermon on the atonement. Behind the stormy sky in my mind, I saw not a smiling Providence offering a gesture of boundless love in sharing his son Jesus, but a scowling ogre, an angry, petulant father. Whether this torment was a function of the descending depression or a contribution to it, I cannot say, but I called my wife and said, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m coming unglued.”
The Ash Wednesday service in the state psychiatric hospital where I work was hardly an elegant affair. The sterile, brightly lit multipurpose room, with its white plaster walls and tile floor smelling faintly of cleaning solution, hardly qualified as sacred space.
At age eight, Sam became totally paralyzed. A year later he emerged with brain damage, learning disabilities, complex emotional problems and severe behavioral problems. His family began to disintegrate under the strain. His mother committed suicide, and Sam was placed in a psychiatric hospital. In this horrible situation, what earthly difference can Jesus make?
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