Here I am on a looooong flight from Seattle to Taiwan…then on to Cambodia. I’ve been mulling over some thoughts and really couldn’t pull them together into something coherent….not until I gave up and watched a movie. The movie said what I was thinking in many ways and you ought to get out and go see it. It is, A Funny Kind of Story. The story is about a 16 year old boy, who is facing a lot of pressures that young people and all people face, realities of a bad local and global economy, two wars, global warming, pressure to excel at his private school, extra pressure from his dad to get into a summer program for gifted teens with business acumen, and the fact that all of his affluent peers have academics come easy to them, as well as sports, drama, and music, etc. Craig actually has to work extremely hard at all these things to keep up. Craig has been on anti-depressants and goes off them. He finds himself checking into a sanitarium on his block because he feels suicidal, and after getting a tour and seeing his new roommates, he begs the psychiatrist to let him out- he made a mistake and wants to go home. The head shrink takes his admission of feeling suicidal seriously, and tells him he has to stay for a week. Craig is petrified among these people; schizophrenics, an orthodox Jew who burned out on an acid overdosed, an Egyptian man who can’t get of bed, an middle aged African-American woman who flipped out when the Patriot Act was passed, his closest new friend Bobby, a mid-thirties guy who just can’t make it on the outside and a beautiful teenage girl, Noelle. He wants out, he tells the head shrink, because he isn’t like them. Ring any bells?
And, I fear this is what many of us church goers feel when we look outside the four walls of the church. We are okay because we are not like ‘them’ and that attitude is our death sentence. The church is busy dying instead of being born. We need to ask ourselves as individuals, “ are we busy dying or being born?” Christians today have more of a need to be converted than many other groups we pity or point our fingers at, groups that are the target of our ministries.
After a few days in the psych ward Craig’s whole perspective about life is changed as he learns from patients he lives with. He discovers how to express himself in art which relieves him of the great burden of stress he carries. He also learns wisdom from his fellow patients and begins to understand that although they may be screwed up every which way, each one imparts wisdom for living to him. By the end of the week, Craig drops his sense of entitlement and decides to live the life of a normal teen rather than become a victim of the overachiever mindset his dad is imposing on him. Craig plans to do art, go biking, skating, spend time with Noelle who met on the ward, and just live life. He is excited about the prospect of being normal and simplifying.
I see so many Christian parents put academics as a priority over discipleship with their children. They want to make sure their children will enjoy the affluent, safe and ‘risk free’ life which is not what Jesus calls to at all. Jesus calls us to yoke up with his suffering, self-sacrifice, self-denial, simplicity, equality and solidarity with the poor. Damn, what a disservice. How can we as parents discover our error and change our tact before we create bigger Pharisees of children than we have of ourselves? We can only be converted to the truth by becoming the poor, the marginalized, the addicted, the ostracized, and the mentally ill, or experience their reality. We need to build our theology and perspective of life not from our perch in the affluent burbs, but from the margins of society, which is the context and perspective from which Jesus spoke.
By the end of the week Craig is serving the patients and doing things for them that enrich their lives. He decides that volunteering on the ward will be part of his new life. He was born again, and he became a new person because he became one the dregs of society, one of the forgotten, and the experience has changed his life, and he has a new course that will freak out his parents. He was spared from a sentence of being a teenage overachiever in a pragmatic world where all activities were done to put on a college resume in order to get into the best college, to get the best job that makes the most money. Perhaps he would become a great psychiatrist and help those who taught him how to live.
Probably by this time, half of you stopped reading and the other half of you are muttering charges of heresy and ‘let’s burn him at the stake.’ That’s ok, though. I’m just writing from my own experience- no full time job, lost my spouse and former ministry, and other that, I am doing great. The last 3 years of life has been one of conversion by the marginalized and to the marginalized. I owe them my life.