Saturday, 28 April 2012

Warning - christian counselling can damage your health!

This week is mental health awareness week and Channel Four has been featuring different perspectives on mental health as part of those short Four Thought slots. This contribution by Malcom Bowden, an Evangelical christian who believes depression is "very deliberately decided" on by the sufferer and is about self-centeredness and self-pity. A "true" christian (whatever that is) would in his view never be depressed - he does actually say that!
This clip angered me, but on reflection I found it left me saddened and frustrated as well. Bowden represents all that I object to most about "christian" counselling. Firstly, it is very easy for anyone to set themselves up as a self-appointed expert in areas of mental health. In some christian counselling, especially from a fundamentalist christian perspective, a lot of ignorance and assumptions based on religious ideology underpin the approach. The bible has much to offer us in terms of wisdom and perception, but it cannot be applied as a science textbook or a substitute for proper medical and  psychiatric knowledge or training. Some christian counselling and ministry relies on ideas about demon possession which belong firmly in the dark ages.
Secondly, what masquerades as christian ministry is often a form of emotional, psychological and spiritual abuse. I do believe that a fair amount of christian counselling is about controlling other people and exerting power over them.  There may be a disproportionate emphasis on certain concepts - such as the imperative to immediately forgive others or a focus, as in Bowden's approach, on how the sinfulness of the person counselled led to their situation. I have not had christian counselling or therapy myself, but I have met those who have and heard some horror stories about how, if they did not respond as the counsellor required, they were told this was due to a lack of faith or a rebellion against God.
Bowden accuses the depressed  of being arrogant, proud and self centred. Is this true of depressed people? Well, if it is, I would say that it is no more true than it is of someone who is not depressed. Pride and self- obsession are common to most of us, including christian counsellors! It is true that people do need to engage with therapy in order for it to be successful and some individuals are not willing, or perhaps not able to do so, but those who are depressed are generally in need of help! To call depression inverted pride is not, I think, helpful, and it does run the danger of stigmatising those who suffer from mental health problems.
As someone who was sexually abused I briefly considered christian counselling, Thankfully, after a few enquiries and reading some materials, I decided against this. My secular counsellor treated me as an adult with dignity and respect. I never felt coerced or stereotyped. This gave me the confidence to truly explore and try to make sense of past experiences for myself and later to understand what had happened through the lens of my faith as well. I am sure that there are good christian counsellors, but I am afraid that I am probably a bit prejudiced and would never, never go for specifically “christian” counselling for anything like abuse, trauma, sexual issues or depression - in fact, not for anything. My advice is to steer clear and IF you go to any counsellor of whatever ilk and feel you are not treated with dignity – leave! One in three of us suffer from some kind of mental health problem at some point in our lives and deserve proper and professional treatment, not to be damaged at the hands of those who are themselves arrogant, ignorant and egotistical.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Archdruid for Archbishop says liberal, neo-pagan blogger!

Anglican Mainstream has accused liberals of bullying tactics, which is methinks a case of the pot calling the kettle sooty arse...It has also spoken of neo-Paganism. Clearly they have somehow found out that I  would like to nominate the Archdruid as the next Archbishop. Her wealth of experience kicking ass and laying down the law to the crazies  individuals seeking spiritual enlightenment in the Beaker Community would stand her in good stead for dealing with the tensions in our beloved Communion. Plus the ABC is apparently an honorary druid, I don't see why it can't work the other way round! The writing is on the wall!

Archdruid Eileen
The Archbishop

Saturday, 21 April 2012

We've been Hermaned...

A brand new occupant has joined the M household. He sits in the corner blowing bubbles and smelling mildly yeasty and alcholic. He came with strict instructions to give him a "plenty of room to grow" and to "feed him" when he is hungry or even really hungry. I am intrigued by him but also find the demands for food slightly creepy. I snuck down to check on him this morning and he was still bubbling away like a latent volcano, quiescent but vaguely menacing.
Yes, we've been given one of those "Herman cakes". For the uninitiated (aka me until yesterday) it is a cake based on  a sourdough recipe. You leave the mixture to ferment in a bowl, you stir it every day and add ingredients when instructed. After ten days, you split the mixture into four, bake one as a cake and give the other three away. Each of your three victims  friends repeats the mixture and before you know where you are the entire nation has a sourdough cake plus surplus mix and a mini-miracle that puts the feeding of the five thousand in the shade has been accomplished. (OK, that is an exaggeration, more likely that some of the mixture is quietly festering in the bins of the nations...)
The Herman cake seems to me like a cross between a chain letter and a tamogotchi and that is not particularly auspicious. When I was about twelve I received a  chain letter which I dutifully sent to all the required recipients on the basis that I would get about a thousand postcards back in six months - I didn't. In my twenties I once babysat a tamogotchi for a week for a friend - I forgot it for one day and it phoned social services and threatened to leave home. After a few days of TLC, I forgot again. It died.
I shall let you know how Herman gets on...

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Living gladly

A link to today's Sunday programme in which Colin Coward (Changing Attitude), Mike Davidson (Core Issues) and Lynda Rose (Anglican Mainstream) discuss the "Ex-gay bus ads".

If, like me, you are increasingly sickened by what you hear and reaching that tipping point where you wonder if you wouldn't rather walk away from it all - then I suggest you read and absorb the passages below on Christian maturity and how to honour God. They reflect on the generosity and empowering nature of God's love for us with real wisdom and insight and may help you to enjoy this beautiful sunny day with a sense of gladness for that love and grace.
“It’s a gift to joyfully recognize and accept our own smallness and ordinariness. Then you are free with nothing to live up to, nothing to prove, and nothing to protect. Such freedom is my best description of Christian maturity, because once you know that your ‘I’ is great and one with God, you can ironically be quite content with a small and ordinary ‘I.’ No grandstanding is necessary. Any question of your own importance or dignity has already been resolved once and for all and forever.”
                                                                                                                           (Richard Rohr)

“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”

― Julian of Norwich

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Titanic - revisiting distant lives

The picture above is of my grandmother's family, she is the young woman on the far left of the photo, with her hand on her father's chair. I think this picture must have been taken about 1917 because Jennie (the baby) was born in 1916 and looks about one year old in this photo. I have blogged before about my family history and in particular Jennie and Elsie who never married but devoted their lives to Methodist mission and ministry. My grandmother's life was very different; she went on to marry and have five children. The reason I am posting this today is that before her marriage my grandmother was a fairly prolific writer of religious verse and tracts and one of the earliest poems we have is a reflection on the sinking of the Titanic which happened in her early teens and which (partly because it is fairly unsophisticated) we think may have been written at the time of the disaster. It is certainly not great literature, but it is an interesting example of religious / didactic verse and of interest to me because it is family history. It is also distinctive because many of the poems inveigh against the evils of alcohol rather than topical or historical events.

The Wreck of the Titanic

The Titanic grand sailed out to sea
One smiling April morn
Two thousand peple were on board
Swift oe'r the ocean borne.

She was the finest ship afloat
That ever eye did see
But this monster of the mighty deep
Was wrecked and sunk at sea.

She ran into some floating ice
That's what the papers say
And hundreds found a watery grave
Before the break of day.

The cottage and the mansion grand
Of grief each had its store
And mourners there in vain will wait
For friends they'll see no more.

The gospel ship is sailing now
I'm a passenger, are you?
If not, why not? Come on friends
And join our happy crew.

Jesus is our Captain friend
He'll manage things quite nice.
He'll look out for the danger points
And keep us off the ice.

He'll land us safe when morning breaks
On a bright and shining shore
      And together friends, "Hallelujah!" we'll sing
                                                   For ever and evermore!

We have no writings from after my grandmother's marriage, they all bear her maiden name. It is hardly surprising that she gave up writing given her responsibilities as a farmer's wife and the fact that she went on to have five children and faced health problems. The only writings we have from after her marriage are some rather amusing lists of household rules (keeping your fingernails clean and not wearing clogs in the house feature among them) and programmes for the Sunday school that she ran (below.)

 Needless to say, Sunday involved two trips to church, cold meals to avoid working on the Sabbath and the only book which could be read was the bible. However, my grandmother was far from joyless; she was devoted to her children and organised many  village activities and events at Christmas, Easter and Bonfire night.  I never knew my grandmother because she died  of cancer aged only forty-five when she still had a growing family to bring up, ranging from teens to a toddler of eighteen months. I think this must have caused her great anguish and I guess it felt like her personal disaster. I hope the strength of her faith went some way to steer her through those difficult waters. I am sure it did.

What price Good News?

Christians are marginalised...everbody hates us... and we're going to tell our mummies and  sue in court... and we'll all wear a cross to show you atheist scum that we've got our rights as well. Blah, blah, whinge, sob...

Meanwhile the Torygraph has apparently run a front page article about how Christians are persecuted and are fighting back (aren't we supposed to rejoice when we are persecuted and to turn the other cheek?)

It's all looking a bit, well, negative, isn't it? Frankly, I'm thoroughly fed up with it all. So here is a postive message for the day, and if you think it is has its own ideological slant ('cos it does) you can opt for Stuart's lovely message below it. Or you could make your own. Happy positive-message-about-Christianity day!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Good Friday songs

I don't often post worship songs! This is partly because the "Oh-dear-that's-not-Anglican" part of me can find them a bit happy clappy :) and also because they can all sound the same after you've heard a few. However, I am posting the two  rather different songs below for Good Friday.
The first was sent to me by a friend recently and they told me it meant a great deal to the as it helped them make sense of suffering and difficulties in their life.  I hesitated to post it because I am very wary of  saying trite things about human suffering  (such as, "God lets us suffer because it draws us closer to him") but at the same time some of us do find redemption as much  because of pain, difficulty and failure as much as despite it. Those who really turn to and rely on God sometimes have a greater sense of the tenderness of his love.

Meanwhile, Peter Carrell at Anglican Down Under has been posting a series of Easter Hymns and  has posted  the one below for Good Friday. I am sure he won't mind me posting it too:

Wednesday, 4 April 2012


A lovely post about Peter, on the theme of betrayal, failure and forgiveness by Benny Hazelhurst. Benny points out that Jesus consciously reminds Peter of his former betrayal, in fact John 21:17 says that Peter was  deeply hurt by Jesus' words. Jesus does not remind Peter simply in order to hurt him though - perhaps more because the betrayal of Jesus was a defining moment of Peter's life and journey of faith. It was a memory which was too important to forget. The danger was that Peter's shame might lead him to bury or deny this memory when it was the one from which he could learn and be transformed.
Peter is perhaps one of the most transformed people in the gospels. Those who feel they have failed desperately, yet still discover they are forgiven, understand love in a way that others simply cannot. The man who chose to save his own skin and turn his back on his dearest friend  went on to be a courageous leader and a rock on which to build. He does point the way to how failure is not something that gets in the way of growth, but rather something which is central to growth, development and knowledge of ourselves and God.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Judas, Peter

Rembrant's Judas returning the pieces of silver
Because we are all betrayers
taking silver and eating
body and blood and asking
(guilty) is it I and hearing
him say yes
it would be simple for us all
to rush out
and hang ourselves

but if we find grace
to cry and wait
after the voice of morning
has crowed in our ears
clearly enough
to break our hearts
he will be there
to ask us each again
do you love me?

I have recently discovered this wonderful, simple but meaningful  poem by Luci Shaw. In it we are all  cast as "betrayers", as guilty sinners. The difference lies in  how we respond to the pain of sin-whether we choose despair or reach out for grace. The events of Holy Week "break our hearts" but it is through being broken by a sense of love that we are transformed.