I’ve been working on some long form texts recently. Here is an excerpt from an upcoming book on faith.
As a kid in high school in the late 1990’s, the band Linkin Park was huge. I wore out their Hybrid Theory album in my first car. The writing captured something our generation was feeling at the time. In the song “Numb” Bennington’s lyrics were about, as you can guess, not feeling or connecting with those he loved. I probably listened to that song a thousand times. Deep down, I understood.
Chester Bennington himself, as the years passed, married and had a family. Recently he took his own life in a successful suicide attempt. That happened not long after his friend and fellow musician Chris Cornell did the same.
At West Chester University, as an undergrad, I had a class called Literature and Psychology. We were a group of mixed majors from the two fields of study. The professor was my favorite there and ran an enthralling class. We spent many days discussing the connection between creativity and mental illness. Was there something about writing that opened the door to deeper issues? Were the creative out there vulnerable to feeling their anger and depression at such great depth that they could not get out? We talked about the prevalence of suicide in writers from Hemmingway to Sylvia Plath and Virginia Wolf. Bennington and Cornell seemed to follow suit.
When I was in my late 20’s, I went to my family doctor one night. I hadn’t been feeling right and I remember her standing across from me. She asked, “On a scale of 1-10, how do you feel about your life right now?” I replied, a 4. She left the room and returned with a prescription for Effexor 150 mg. I took the drug for years.
Depression was not what the movies portrayed, the feeling more disconnection than anything. I’d floated above those I loved and valued. Words seemed to come from a distance. Thinking itself was a burden. I remember driving to work, almost an hour each way at that time, pulling in and realizing I just couldn’t do it that day. I’d call out from the parking lot and drive home.
It took time and effort to get out of the well that took the shape of depression. The interesting part of the experience came from those in my faith community. I’d spoken to some about what I was dealing with and it was pushed to the side. Faith and Depression didn’t mix, in their minds. It was something else. It was a mistake. If you believed, you had no room to feel bad for yourself.
Even later in life, in larger churches, there’d be a message about a mental health support group but it would quickly be glossed over. We don’t like admitting weakness, even if it is reality. It is long past time the stigma against mental suffering within churches is removed.
Our son Carter deals with anxiety. I’ve seen him worry about things large and small. Part of raising children is not only validating their emotions but helping them through it. That is not an easy process and I’ve been frustrated more than once. The same conversations night after night get old. After the tenth time, logic gives way to yelling and that doesn’t help anything.
Part of an authentic faith life is dealing with the dark and ugly sides. When Val and I experienced the miscarriage we didn’t have a single set of friends from our church that we felt comfortable speaking with. We had ones outside of church. That contrast says something.
There are three certainties in life; death, taxes, and the fact that you’ll deal with bad things. Even if you call yourself a follower of Jesus, you will not be immune. If anything, the target on your back will be greater. People watch when you speak of faith. They watch you directly and indirectly. People, in this case, can be friends, family, and coworkers. They look for moments of hypocrisy. They want to see where you fall short of “being a good person,” as if faith could be boiled down to that equation.
We need to redefine the term itself.
Faith is not being a good person. Faith is conviction. It is knowing you are a work in progress, understanding that suffering is coming, and shaping a response that will help move past the conflict. Faith is showing yourself in good and bad times, in the light and the darkness. It is knowing that things do not change in an instant, they are works in progress. Your desired future is out there. It will take a journey of massive effort to make it.
Faith is dangerous.
It calls you to levels you’ve never considered. It makes you face your fears. You step into conversations you never thought you’d have. Faith shines a light in the darkness and those things in the shadows are shown in their full radiance.
Faith calls you to enter in hostile places and make a difference. Innovate. Come up with something never imagined before and see it to creation. Faith is a catalyst for ideal futures that connect to the dreams of God. It is a way in to the most dangerous path in the universe with the greatest reward at the end.
Faith redefines the idea of community. Service. Giving. Support. It transforms spaces into authentic areas of worship. It redefines cities, faces down poverty and hatred, offers hope to those who have forgotten what it looks like. Faith is love across lines, boundaries, belief and act. It is a challenge.
Faith is not ignorance. It is reaching out.
Faith is not silence. It is voice.
Faith is not acceptance. It is transformation.
Faith is not the safe path. It is a journey into the wild.
Faith is an inferno and a whisper, power and prayer, storm and silence. It is change and it is here.