Monday, October 21, 2019
Whispers in the Pews Review
Mental Illness is real. Will the Church get real?
This book is a collection of essays from various authors: men and women, pastors and congregants, counselors and nurses, parents and children. All have a unique view of how mental health conditions affect people, and how the church has responded to these circumstances. Whispers in the Pews tackles how the mentally ill have been, and still are, treated in the church at large by sharing stories.
This is not fundamentally a teaching book, but a book of moments and lives, knitted together by the common theme of mental health. No sermons will be included, though lessons learned from difficulties and their foundations in Scripture are encouraged.
This collection will expand your vision, and your heart, about what the church does well for the mentally ill, and where we can improve.
My thoughts: This book is so needed in the church today, since mental illness is something that we need to talk about more, especially in a church setting. I feel like there has been a stigma against it and the need for counseling on any level, so reading this book of personal stories is a good way for church leaders and members to become more aware of what their friends may be going through. Some of the stories just shattered my heart, especially to read how some people have been treated but it also gives me hope that more can be done as people are made aware. I highly recommend this book for leaders in the church.
I received this book from Celebrate Lit. This is my honest review and is in no way influenced by receiving a complimentary copy.
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About the author:
Chris Morris writes about the juxtaposition of faith and unresolved pain, those moments where we feel like God should show up, but He doesn’t. His writing focuses on bring hope, encouragement, and practical steps to those disappointments, we don’t get stuck.
He is familiar with the confusion and pain of a life interrupted by an illness. He’s had seizures of one kind or another for his entire life. Some days, he loses hours of his day. Other times, the steel trap that used to be his mind…leaks like a sieve.
His daughter is epileptic, and has had over 5000 seizures in her life. She is also a high-functioning autistic, with increasing frustration as she begins to realize she is not like her peers.
Every day, he is reminded in some way that his family will never be normal.
But he won’t give in, he won’t give up. He won’t let the pain and aggravation, the injuries and difficulties that are part of his normal keep him from living a full life. At least, most days that’s true. His heart is to show his readers how to do the same.
More from Chris
Mental illness isn’t going away any time soon, as statistics say more than one in four people are diagnosed with a mental illness in the United States. And yet, the church at large has had a mixed response to mental illnesses. The church should be the one place where people are accepted as they are, no matter the details. Jesus accepted everyone who came across his path—adulterers, tax collectors, fishermen, critics. It didn’t matter. As His footprint upon the earth, the church should be the same.
Even with, or perhaps especially with, mental health conditions, the instinct should be to lean into kindness and love. The local church body should gather around, provide a place of safety and transparency, upholding those who are not well in their midst.
And this is exactly what happens, sometimes. There are pastors who are actively looking to normalize mental health conditions by mentioning depression alongside diabetes as an illness that can be overcome.
But for every pastor looking to build a healthy understanding of mental illnesses, there is a pastor lumping depression in with pornography, equating anxiety with faithlessness, telling their congregation to avoid medicine for treatment, or otherwise refusing to recognize the complexity of mental illnesses.
Definitely there are spiritual disciplines that can help those suffering from depression, but often it’s not enough. And yes, talking with a pastor or a counselor can certainly provide some relief for anxiety, but that’s not always the path forward either. Sometimes medicine is the answer, or at least part of the answer. And sometimes, there is no answer. Sometimes, trauma has left an indelible mark upon a person that cannot be overcome.
How can anyone tell the young man who is battling depression because of his abusive upbringing with a violent alcoholic father that a little more Bible reading and some memorization of a few verses will make the nightmares go away? No, that’s not how it works.
That’s not to insinuate every mental health condition comes from trauma. But even when the root isn’t trauma, there is still complexity involved. Some come from chemical imbalances…and no, that’s not a cop out. This is why antidepressants ease the burden for many suffering from severe depression, because these medications work to balance out various neurotransmitters. This is why some diagnosed as bipolar are able to find rest from the highs and lows with lithium, because a lithium imbalance was the problem in the first place.
Unfortunately, these truths are not always appreciated or understood in the church at large. No, many pastors paint with broad strokes, equating any mental illness with immaturity in the faith. It’s uncomfortable at best, and fear inducing at worst, to tell a pastor that he’s wrong. Especially when it’s hard to nail down why it is that he’s wrong.
Because of this discomfort, many choose to put on a happy shiny Christian mask and act like they’re not hurting. It’s more painful to confront church leadership and answer all the accusations and questions.
Even more disheartening than putting a mask on, many with mental illnesses choose to step away from the church altogether. They’ve been hurt too often, and too consistently, to have any space left in their hearts for trust. So they hang tight to a belief in Jesus, but walk away from the church because it hurts too much. Some of the voices you’ll read in this book have walked away from church for this very reason.
We can do better as the church. We must do better.
This reality is why I’ve gathered almost two dozen voices to share their stories. It’s only in listening—truly listening with every fiber of our being—to story after story of mental illness that we are able to see just how different every person is, even when the diagnosis is the same.
Mental illness isn’t a simple diagnosis, under any circumstances. It’s not like a fractured shoulder blade, where the path to healing is clear. With a shoulder, the bone needs to be set, the shoulder needs to be immobilized, and healing will take place. If there’s a complex fracture, then surgery might be necessary. But, the basic path is the same. This is never true with mental health conditions. Too often the church has treated those with mental illnesses as though there is a straightforward path toward healthier living, and that’s been painful to bear.
Whispers in the Pews has been written because I am convinced that it is fundamentally stories that will change the allowances for bad theology and inconsiderate (or worse) treatment of people. By hearing the pain and the victories that others have experienced in the church, my hope is that there will be room for a new way to approach mental health—one that sees the person before the health condition.
For a complete list of blog stops, go here.
To celebrate his tour, Chris is giving away the grand prize of a $50 Amazon gift card and a copy of the book!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link here to enter.