When Despair Wins

There is a community of young, black activists in Columbus, Ohio, which is mourning today.

They are mourning and they are in shock because one of their foot-soldiers, MarShawn McCarrel, apparently killed himself yesterday. The report say that he killed himself on the steps of the Ohio State House, a location from which many marches have begun.

MarShawn was a poet and an activist, who was fierce about fighting for the dignity of black people. Up close, he was shy and unassuming, polite and well-mannered. To think that he is gone is almost too much to bear.

As I listen to GOP politicians talk about Americans being angry, I am angered because in their dialogues about anger, they do not consider the anger and frustration and sense of despair of black people. Many older black people have learned to manage their hopelessness, but the young people, those in the streets and in the malls and in the courthouses demanding dignity and justice…have not.

Not a single GOP candidate has bothered to mention that the despair of black people is valid. It is a despair with which we have lived for generations. Not Trump, not Rubio, not Cruz, not Christie…none of them seem to give a horse’s ass about what black people go through because of white supremacy.

Not a one of them (of the ones I mentioned) have voiced concern and/or outrage over the lead-filled water given to people in Flint, Michigan, but I would bet that all of them will, in the future, be on some bandwagon to do something with black kids who have behavior problems – forgetting that lead affects people in horrific ways for years. Lead poisoning affects everything from IQ to the ability to have a healthy body. Not a one of these candidates, and too many white people – care about that. They say that they are pro-life, but they only want life for unborn fetuses and for white people.

They want their country back, a country marked by racism, sexism, homophobia and an economy which puts way too many people on the bottom, without thought of what poverty does to people.

They don’t think about what black and brown kids feel when they go into schools that are shoddy and broken, where heat doesn’t work in the winter and air conditioning doesn’t work in the summer. They don’t think about or care about what it must feel like for little black children to see their white counterparts with fine, fancy schools and they are given the worst facilities imaginable.

They don’t care that in many urban schools, the toilets don’t work, the windows are broken, and the books are old. They don’t think that these little children have feelings, and grow up believing they are inferior because they are treated as though they are inferior, like they do not matter.

The kids, the young people, who have taken to the streets, are tired and angry. They are tired of being ignored. Tired of being marginalized. Tired of being shot down or shot at. Tired of being labeled. Tired of getting second best. But none of the GOP candidates talk about that anger. It is only the anger of white people who feel like perhaps they are losing control of their grip on America that seems to matter.

My heart is breaking today because this young man is said to have committed suicide. He fought until he couldn’t fight any longer. His anger turned inward, where it morphed into depression and finally into despair. He went to the place where unjust laws are made, and he killed himself.

Those running for president should care about the despair about all people, not just their base. White anger is no more sacred than is black anger. And black anger in America has a history grounded in the policies and practices meted out because of white supremacy.

In the Bible it says that God will turn our mourning into dancing. I guess God didn’t get to MarShawn soon enough.

A candid observation…



In Suicide, Does Religion Help?

The tragic suicide of the young nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, who was caught up in the phone hoax perpetrated by two Australian DJs, gaining access to information about Kate Middleton, reminded me of how difficult and distasteful the subject of suicide is.

When Kansas City Chiefs  linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, and then committed suicide in front of his coach, I read some of the comments posted on a story about the unfortunate incident…and most of the comments were harsh, calling Jovan a coward.

I wonder what comments are circulating about Ms. Saldanha. I have no idea of what her religious affiliation is, but as a Christian, I know suicide is frowned upon.  One of my most glaring failures was a sermon I preached at the funeral of one of my members who had committed suicide. I preached that God surely could not be condemning her; that God knew her pain and God, being a loving deity, surely received her into heaven. I asked the people present to celebrate her life. She had been a brilliant scholar, and a woman who loved to dance. She would dance in the pews during Sunday service, her spirit seemingly taken up by and with the power of the music played and sung during worship.

So, I reminded people of those apparently brief spurts of joy in her life. I asked them to remember her moving. I asked them to remember some of the questions she had asked during Bible studies; they always stumped me.  She was a lesbian, trying to find peace and the presence of God in her life. Surely, I could not say at her funeral that this God had abandoned her and would not let her in His/Her presence because she had committed suicide

It didn’t go over well for many of the people in attendance.

She was tired of being in despair, my member, and I imagine that this nurse who committed suicide must have known despair by name as well. I suspect she was hard on herself, demanding perfection, and this being “taken” by a prank call affecting such important people must have soiled the cloth of perfection she demanded of herself. I can only imagine…but I would again say that this woman knew despair, just like my member did. I cannot believe suicide comes because of one bad moment. Suicide comes when there are too many bad moments, stacked upon each other, which becomes a burden too heavy to carry after a while. Heavy despair weighs the human soul down, sinking it like tires sink in mud. I believe the nurse, as well as my member, were sunk in mud.

Someone asked me, in the matter of my member, why she didn’t take her meds. I thought the question was out of line and invasive and didn’t answer; how could this person know that my member hadn’t taken her meds. The fact of the matter was, though, that she did take her meds and was always looking for the right medicine and the right dose of the medicine, to ease her spiritual and mental pain. Mental illness, mental despair, is still such a taboo that many of us who need to take medicine to make us well will not. We will not even go see someone who might be able to help us. To say that you are “mentally ill” is to put a yoke around your neck, and nobody does that on purpose…

And yet, to NOT admit disease and deep despair produces such horrific and sad results.

English: Kate Middleton at Prince William's Or...
English: Kate Middleton at Prince William’s Order of the Garter investiture (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am not sure what role religion plays in alleviating the despair of mental illness. I don’t think my member had much faith in religion, though she was working to change that. Religion had rejected her because she was a Lesbian. She had found little love and less acceptance. Paul Tillich wrote a sermon, entitled, “The Yoke of Religion,” in which he posits that religion is a burden. He cites Jesus saying, “Come unto me, all you who are weak and heavy laden…” and asks, “with what are people heavy?” What is burdening people? Tillich says it isn’t sin and guilt, and it isn’t the daily struggles of life. The burden of which Jesus wants to relieve us, writes Tillich, is the burden of religion. “It is the yoke of the law imposed on people of His time by the religious teachers…Those who are sighing are signing under the yoke of religious law.”

I don’t know if religion helped or hurt my member, Jovan Belcher or Jacintha Saldanha.  I find myself unable to call any of them cowards, however. I find myself praying that fewer and fewer people are burdened by despair, in spite of religion…

We need to do better than that.

A candid observation…


Don Cornelius and the Silent Killer

The only thing that makes the death of Don Cornelius more troubling than it is on its own is that he reportedly killed himself.

This brilliant, innovative visionary man, who forever changed lives of African American entertainers and the music world with an American experiment called “Soul Train,” apparently shot himself in the head at the age of 75.

The report made me weep.

Why? Because of all the illnesses we talk about in our society, mental illness is still taboo. Mental illness is rampant, just as are other diseases like heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s Disease, and yet, we don’t want to talk about it. To admit that we do not feel good emotionally, that we are depressed and just cannot seem to “get it together” makes us feel like we are weak.

And so, to escape being called weak, people drown in depression or other mental illnesses on a daily basis. People are sick and are not getting treated, nor have many of them ever been treated.

I am quite sure that much of the dysfunction that is so much reported about the African-American community is because a lot of African-American children suffer from some sort of mental illness. The illnesses are written off by parents and teachers alike; sick children are labeled “bad,” are suspended or expelled, because nobody likes their behavior – behavior that comes as the result of being mentally ill.

Children of more affluent families at least have parents who recognize when something seems to be wrong with their children emotionally and some, not all, get help. But even in those families, it seems that there is a stigma to needing help to deal with one’s emotions or mental health.

But back to Don Cornelius: here was an African-American man who apparently walked with horrendous mental anguish and didn’t know how to deal with it. He carried it inside him, as so many people who are mentally ill do, until it drove him to the depth of desperation and despair that resulted in his committing suicide.

I cannot imagine how badly he hurt. What people don’t seem to realize, or don’t realize, is that mental illness really does hurt. It’s not like a headache or a sore elbow, or even a bacterial infection, where some pretty readily accessible medications can help the pain go away. The pain of mental illness is different; it is a cloud that forever hangs over one’s head. Some days are less cloudy than others, but that stupid cloud is always there.

When little children, especially poor children, are labeled “bad” in addition to already feeling emotionally bad, the illness of  self hatred is added to the broth already simmering within. When one hates oneself, one hates others as well, and that self-hatred, fueled by an illness that was never treated, leads, I am convinced, to much of the criminal behavior we see today.

Mental illness is no less an important issue than is hypertension, breast cancer, diabetes or heart disease.  It is no less a silent killer than is hypertension…and it is way past time that we take our heads out of the sands of shame and “man up” to the fact that way too many people are suffering silently, and are being driven to despair.

It is no more a sign of weakness to be mentally ill than it is to have any physical disease or ailment. In both cases, something physiologically and or biochemically is out of alignment, causing discomfort and pain.

As we work hard to heal physical illness, so should we be working as hard, or maybe even harder, to at least effectively treat mental illness, and move the stigma out of the picture.

Too many great people are living with mental illness, and too many have died way too soon from it…

Like Don Cornelius.

A candid observation …