Sometimes, Prayer is Not Enough



New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opening ...
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg opening the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


I am a pastor. I believe in God with all my heart.  But sometimes, prayer is not enough.


It COULD be enough, I think, if people were fervent prayers as a matter of course. But we are not. We as a people are more “situational” prayers, or we pray in times of crisis. That kind of prayer is helpful, but not effective when a task of mammoth proportions, perhaps Biblical proportions, lurks before us.


This latest tragedy – the shooting and killing of innocent people who were at a movie – lifts up at least two issues that politicians will more likely fight over than treat as life-changing issues, which, ignored, are contributing angst and danger to our country.


Those two issues are gun control and mental health.  With both issues, there is a Goliath which require prayers first, certainly, and then, action, and to most people, those two issues are too big, will take too much energy, to fight. Goliath is just too big.


Mayor Michael Bloomberg hit at Goliath yesterday when he said that politicians, first and foremost at this point, President Obama and the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, ought to speak out for gun control.  Nearly everyone is enraged that the suspect in the Colorado theater incident, James Holmes, was able to buy so many guns and nearly 6000 rounds of ammunition legally.


I am reminded that not everything that legal is right. Everything the Nazis did to the Jews, including murdering them, was legal…but it was not right.


Certainly, our politicians cannot keep quiet on the fact that the obsession by some to protect Second Amendment rights at the expense of the lives of innocent American citizens. Opponents of gun control say that guns are not bad; people are. I counter that and say that of course, guns are not bad, but not everyone who buys guns, or does bad things with guns, are not bad. Many, many times, they are sick.


But to come out for gun control in this presidential election year would be like facing Goliath. The National Rifle Association (NRA) is one of the most powerful lobby groups in this country. If the NRA is not already pouring money into either camp, to speak out for tougher gun control would be like committing political suicide.


But sometimes, politicians ought to show America that they are more interested in pushing for the rights and protection of the American people than in being elected. Sometimes, we ought to see that they are willing to put politics down, pick up a stone, and confront a cowering, arrogant Goliath.


The second Goliath which this incident brings to the surface is mental illness. Nobody wants to talk about it or deal with it. I am convinced that the shooter in yesterday’s incident is not bad, but he is certainly sick – and I am sure he has been sick for a long time.


To lift up the fact that funds need to be spent on researching and treating mental illness will bring out cries of  “no more spending!”  I guess spending on mental health would be spending on yet another “entitlement,” and that is not something the President wants to get his opponents using against him. I don’t think Mitt Romney would dare bring the subject up.


And yet, in the masses of American people that both candidates are appealing to for votes, there are scores of people who are mentally ill. Much mental illness begins in childhood; in urban schools, I am convinced that many children labeled as “bad” are in fact mentally ill, and mentally ill children, whether they are from the ghetto or the suburbs, grow up to be mentally ill adults. There needs to be regular screening – and  treatment – for mental illness. AND, we as a nation ought to stop being so ashamed of it. Mental illness is as prevalent as is diabetes or hypertension. Why are we so afraid of it?


What we have in the Aurora, Colorado incident, I think, a mentally ill or emotionally troubled young man who was free to buy all the guns and ammunition he wanted, legally. He knew what he was going to do, but that does not preclude that his connection to reality is off-balance.


What does all this say about evil? Well of course there is evil in the world, and prayers ought to name the evil or evils in earnest. But after the praying, those who prayed are really mandated to get off their knees and confront the Goliath, away from the comfort and security of a sanctuary or a private prayer space. We are called to pick up our stones, and walk toward the Goliath that laughs at the very thought of being confronted.


Sometimes, prayer is not enough, like now. Sometimes, prayer needs to be followed by a team of people moved to action by their prayers, including and led by politicians who are seeking election or re-election. Who will be the David in this situation, a little boy in the Bible who declared that God had protected him when a lion or bear came to carry off sheep he was tending. Little David said, “I went after it… Your servant went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine. (1 Sam. 21: 34-37)


If we pray, we have to confess our faith in God. We pray not only for comfort, but for the strength to confront the Goliaths all around us.


At least 12 people in Colorado who were alive on Thursday and who are now gone, need that from us.


A candid observation …


Girl Talk: Being Unafraid to Face our Spirits

I was looking for some information over the internet for a book I am writing when I somehow landed on an article about a young, 19-year-old Stanford University student who died after attempting suicide.

The article said that the parents were not saying what, exactly, caused her death, but the same article said that in a memorial statement, the family acknowledged that she had attempted suicide. The writer of the article said that even though it appeared the actual act of attempted suicide didn’t kill her, it appeared that after that attempt, from whatever injuries she sustained, the attempt ended up causing her to die.

I am not using her name, because she could be so many of us women, who are depressed but who will not face our depression, or talk about it, and because the communities that surround us really do not have patience for those of us who suffer from depression.

After my divorce, I realize now that I was depressed – for years. I could not and would not admit it, nor talk about it.  After all, I was a single mother; my children were small and I had to hold it together for them…and to add insult to injury, I was a new pastor. I figured that the congregation was probably already struggling to deal with the imperfect woman who could not and did not hold her marriage together; had I let on that I was depressed, I am not sure they would have kept me on as their pastor.

And so I suffered silently. I am sure I was not nearly as effective as I could have been – either as a mother or a pastor. I remember thinking that my own mother had told me that she had once suffered from a nervous breakdown. I didn’t know what that was exactly, but I wondered if it was hereditary.

My mother never talked about that time of her life, and she certainly never discussed it with me, except for one time when she got angry that I had put on an application that she had once suffered from the nervous breakdown. She was furious, and yelled at me for being so “stupid.” I didn’t know it was a sin to have a nervous breakdown, and a bigger sin to tell someone about it.

I did wonder, though, during my post-divorce years,what I was going to do, what a nervous breakdown felt like. I didn’t go to a doctor; I didn’t take medication. Only once I began to come out of the fog, years after the divorce, did I sit down a few times and talk to a counselor.

I call denying our emotional pain fear of facing our spirits. Our spirits really do a good job of telling us when something is wrong and when our spirits tell us that, it is a cry from within to do something before it’s too late, but there’s still such a stigma about mental illness, and still such a stigma about admitting that emotionally, we just don’t feel so good. I cannot understand why we are allowed to feel bad physically, to be ill, sometimes terminally, physically, but are expected to be on our jobs continually when it comes to our emotional and spiritual health.

I thought about this young Stanford student, who was apparently a good student and a well-respected athlete. She grew up in Santa Barbara, an amazingly beautiful place, so I assume she didn’t have much economic hardship to worry about. Her case reminded me of another Stanford student I read about some days ago who had never bounced back after her mother committed suicide. Within two years, this young woman was dead as well; she had taken some time off after her mother’s death to recuperate, and had recently returned to school, and was now…dead.

Ironically, this girl was a proponent for mental health education.

I guess all people need to face their spirits, but we as women are so good at ignoring ours while we try to take care of everyone else. We are good at dressing up and pretending we have it all together, when that’s not even close to being the truth. And in the end, we suffer, as do those around us who love and care for us.

Was I mentally ill post-divorce? I can say, now, that yes, I was. I am fortunate that there was something enough inside me (maybe my spirit working overtime to save me in spite of myself) so that I didn’t commit suicide. I never considered it, but that doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have considered it. Whenever someone is depressed, the capacity to go to a place that is scary and cold is there.

I hope that the family of both these Stanford students will recuperate well, but will also become unafraid to talk about this menace called mental illness, or, more specifically, depression. We are not required to have it together all of the time. If we would listen to our spirits, and do what we need to do to effect spiritual balance inside of us, perhaps there would be fewer suicides, and fewer people living lives of absolute hell.

A candid observation …

Right to Bear Arms vs Mental Illness

Rethink Mental Illness
Image via Wikipedia

America doesn’t feel so safe anymore.

The school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, has left three teens dead and their families devastated. The alleged killer has forever altered his life and the lives of those whom he killed and injured, and countless others. Sending one’s child to school used to feel like a safe thing to do. Not anymore.

Frank Ochberg, in an article on CNN’s web page entitled Why Does America Lead the World in School Shootings,” concludes that there are a number of factors leading to primarily boys going into schools with guns, including bullying and revenge, mental illness, violent role models, drugs and access to guns. (see But Ochberg says that such problems exist in other countries as well. Why is America leading the pack, and why doesn’t it feel safe anymore, not like it used to?

I remember growing up in Detroit, I had no fear. Particularly annoying would be guys talking with their friends in the middle of a side street; one friend would be in his car and the other friend would be hanging onto the open window of the driver’s side. The two would be chatting as if nobody else in the world existed. You could honk your horn and, though the two buddies wouldn’t move immediately, you didn’t have to worry that they would pull out a gun and blow your brains out.

That’s not the case anymore. There seems to be unrestrained, wild anger amongst people, anger which people either cannot or do not want to contain. Rather than deal with their anger, more and more people reach for a gun.

It’s troubling that that seems to be the modus operandi in general, but the fact that kids have so much anger and despair that even they resort to gun violence makes a tenuous situation even more frightening. A child (and yes, a 17-year-old is a child) presumably doesn’t have the control that an adult has, nor does he or she really understand the repercussions of what they are doing. Kids generally have less fear as well, because it seems that it is life that provides us the experiences that makes our fear so solid. Kids have lived fewer years, and so have had fewer opportunities for carmelized fear…but the experiences they have had, it seems, has wrecked them to their very souls.

When I was young, a fist fight was the way to handle conflict. Not anymore. It makes me shudder to think that many people, especially kids and young adults, are carrying concealed weapons, because it’s legal to do so. Cell phones have made it so that we do not have much privacy anymore; the ready and easy access to guns have made it so that we do not have the luxury of feeling as safe as we once did.

Ironically, incidents like the Chardon High School shooting, or the Virginia Tech or Columbine shootings, do not make the outcry for more restrictions on guns in this country louder; no, the defense of the right to bear arms becomes more tenacious, because violence brings with it the fear of more violence. People look on mass shootings as evidence that there needs to be more access to guns, not less.

I refuse to enter into that argument, but what I am concerned with is that we are missing something early on. We are not learning, and therefore are not teaching, effective ways to handle conflict. Nor are we paying attention to a malady which is as prevalent as is heart disease or cancer: mental and emotional illness. In Ochberg’s article, he mentions schizophrenia and depression as being major mental illnesses that we pay way too little attention to, to our own detriment.  Nobody wants to admit that they don’t feel so good in their spirits or in their minds, and so they go on being sick, and doing things that only a sick person would do – like shooting someone because he or she offended, betrayed, bullied or ignored you.

My hunch is that T.J.Lane, who will remain in custody pending his trial for a triple murder, has been sick and tormented for a long, long time. My hunch is that he gave signs but that nobody paid attention, or, if they noticed, ignored what they saw.  My hunch is also that there are a lot of kids “out there” who are angry, depressed, lost, alienated and scared…and who would, if given the chance, do just what T.J. Lane did, or worse.

I doubt we will ever gain serious ground against those who defend the right to bear arms, but we had really better let go of our inexcusable fear of mental and emotional illness. It is a problem our society cannot afford to ignore – especially since the right to bear arms is a right that some hold more dear, it seems, than the need to take care of our sick. If we don’t open our eyes and our minds, I doubt that America will ever feel safe again.

A candid observation