Peace in the Middle

Lady Liberty cries as angry words fly and malice stains the palates
Of youth untaught in the ways of grace when coming face to face
With elder glory in story boldly told in chanting prayer for peace,
And yet on the other side another mob from another world of hate,
Who throw out the bait by taunting, vaunting their own religiosity
In some monstrosity of twisted history with apocalyptic prophecy,
While one veteran man stands in the gap to quell the rising storm
As the foundations are being shaken to awaken our sleeping souls

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The ‘Old Calendarists’ of America: The Dissection of an Influential Mentality

They are called “Old Calendarists” because they still use the ancient Julian (for Julius Caesar) calendar, and represent a small, though vocal, minority of Eastern Orthodox Christians. You see, some Eastern Orthodox churches simply refused to adopt the newer Gregorian calendar, which was a revision of the Julian made in the 16th century, because they saw the proposed adoption as a capitulation to the Roman papacy. So to this day, they continue using an outdated and inaccurate calendar in order to (ostensibly) maintain the purity of their faith. Weird, huh?

Well, more specifically, and admittedly more important, these churches have been adamantly opposed to revising the liturgical calendar of their churches, which was part and parcel of adopting the new Gregorian calendar, which was again modified in 1923 by the Serbian astronomer, Milutin Milanković. Now, you might justly wonder why in the world this should make any real difference. After all, wouldn’t you want to use a more accurate calendar? And, if you are an Orthodox Christian (as I am, by the way), couldn’t you continue celebrating all of the feasts and fasts of the year?

Why am I even mentioning this obscure subject, which doubtless interests hardly anyone, least of all my readers? It’s simply because it occurred to me, perhaps especially after reading a recent article by my friend J. D. Wills, that we have our own kind of “Old Calendarists” here in America. Call them “resisters” or “preservationists,” or what-have-you ~ although I resist applying the term “traditionalists” to this group ~ really they have much the same mentality as the Old Calendarists. Having grown up and lived most of my life in the deep South (i.e. the old Confederacy), I understand this.

There are some shared characteristics between the Old Calendarists of the East and resisting-preservationists in this country , including the deeply-rooted, felt-need to resist any and all changes that might be perceived as bowing to some opposing force, or group, even when that change is an overall good change or one that really has little affect on the truly important things of life. More than this, however, there is an unadulterated, hyper-conservative mentality that militates against change simply because it is change. This is the mentality that fueled “white flight” in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.

There are other shared characteristics, though, of which the following few come to mind:

The need to preserve a pure history.

History can often be confusing, especially when one is seeking truth, that is, trying to discover “what really happened,” or the “way it really was.” Now, I’m not so cynical as to think it’s not possible to arrive at some good, solid conclusions where history is concerned, but I do know that it’s oftentimes … well, messy. You know, it’s not the elementary schoolbook version, but resisting-preservationists need their history to be clean, smooth, easy to grasp and understand. Why? Because it underpins everything else they believe and, thus, how they live out their lives. For example, though the Judeo-Christian faith was an important theological-philosophical influence in the founding of this country, the Founding Fathers were, nevertheless, a mixed bag when it came to religion. Many were deists and many more were, to put it bluntly, little more than nominal Christians. The Declaration of Independence was, at best, a deistic document, and the Constitution not at all religious in any sense of the word. Period. This is not to say the newly birthed United States was irreligious, only that the pristine pure narrative of this country being founded as a Christian nation is, at the very least, complex. In other words, there’s more to say on the subject, and when one delves into the founding documents, writings, recorded speeches and whatnot of that era, one soon discovers the difficulty in simply, almost glibly saying, “We were founded as a Christian nation.” And this is only one example, but it leads to another point…

The good ole days were the best days.

Not only is history supposed to be pure and simple, it also needs to be good, truly good, for the resisting-preservationist. This is the anchor-hold for Old Calendarists, both East and West (including this country, of course.) After all, if the good ole days were really not so good, then why try to preserve them or bring them back? Now, don’t get me wrong. I certainly believe there is much ~ very much, in fact ~ to be deeply appreciated, and even in some cases revered, from the past. I abhor chronological arrogance; besides, as I said above, I’m an Eastern Orthodox Christian myself, so how in the world could I possibly despise the past??? That would be to despise my own salvation, as it were, and most especially my Lord Jesus, whom I love with a deep and abiding love and to whom I gladly cling in hope and joy. No, I’m not a despiser of the past, but neither am I a blind glorifier of some carefully selected past that I can use explicitly to justify my beliefs, perspectives and chosen lifestyle. For example, I’m proud to be an American, yet I feel no need whatsoever to “tidy up” the history of my great country. The resisting-preservationist, however, views the whole of his/her communal, or national, history as really and truly being the “good ole days,” when all things were as they should be and, consequently, s/he feels deeply compelled to return to those glory days … and even fight for that return.

If the good ole days were the best days, then these days are not.

In pining for the good ole days, it’s not difficult to understand how and why resisting-preservationists would look at the current scene rather gloomily. Looking back at the past nostalgically, they look at the present negatively. You’ve heard it, I’m sure: “Things just aren’t the way they used to be.” Right? Right. And so another narrative surfaces, one that casts a long, dark shadow over the whole world, and in this world the majority of the major players, if we might call them that, are held suspect. There is precious little talk about the very real freedoms we continue to enjoy in this country ~ including freedom of speech and religion ~ and very little mention of how modern technology has made our lives so much more convenient; hardly any thanksgiving for modern medicine and, comparatively speaking, good access to healthcare (which certainly needs to be improved, but…); very little talk about the relative safety we enjoy in this country, not to mention food and clothing and shelter. Only compare how billions of men, women, and children are forced to barely survive throughout the world and you would think there’s an awful lot for which to be grateful here in America … but for the resisting-preservationist, this contrasts too sharply, too vividly with his/her notion of the good ole days and the way things seem to be now. So, s/he must guard against too much light of reality penetrating into his/her preconceived notion of how the world, and nation, currently stand…

So build a wall or, better yet, a fortress.

We’ve all heard the term “fortress mentality,” and that’s what it is, really. It’s literally erecting a mental fortress around one’s whole belief system, or perspective on life and the world. Let nothing out ~ or, in other words, let nothing of one’s particular ideological view go ~ and let nothing in, i.e. let no one else’s perspective creep into the fortress. And it helps immensely to have friends in this fortress, of course. As the old saying goes, “Misery loves company.” Naturally, too, it’s much easier for these “Old Calendarists” of America ~ the resisting-preservationists ~ to perpetuate their pure and simple history as the good ole days (the best days), as well as their dim view of the contemporary scene with the consequent need to return to the nostalgic past when they do so together in the greatest numbers they can muster. Well, community is great, and we all love to be with folks who share our interests and hobbies and whatnot. I imagine we even like to have at least some friends who share our values and perspectives on life and the world around us … but here’s precisely the point: Most of us, I truly believe, also appreciate other viewpoints and perspectives, even other faith-religions, just as we surely appreciate art, literature and music from different cultures, even when it may not particularly be our “cup of tea,” so to speak. In an open and ideologically liberal society, we’ve learned to value other people and other cultures along with what they offer without feeling threatened or as if we’ve somehow compromised our own dearly, deeply held beliefs. Not so the resisting-preservationist. Any outward show of appreciation for something or someone different is perceived as a sign of weakness and/or compromise. What’s really terribly insidious about this (among other things) is that many of these folks actually, secretly love what they pretend to detest. But since they are in a fortress with others of like mind and heart, they cannot “out” themselves. There is safety and security in their enclave, and this safety and security is simply not worth sacrificing … for anything.

Well, so much for brief observations! Though much more could be added, I’ll quit now by simply reiterating (or confessing) that I know of what I speak. I’ve been there. I’ve been party to the “Old Calendarists” of this country, the resisting-preservationists. Consequently, nothing I’ve written is offered in a mean spirit at all, nor do I imagine it will effect any great change. I just thought that, perhaps, some of my readers might want to better understand what has become an extremely influential mentality (of an abnormally influential minority) in the U. S. I hope I’ve managed to provide this. If not, I apologize. I’ll try better next time! God bless!

 

There is a Storm Rising

There is a storm rising in the deep cauldron of the sea of humanity,
An untamed insanity, wailing louder and louder, like the wild child
Emerging from the jungle of irrationality to destroy all of banality,
To cannibalize civilization in the realization that it is but a carcass
Only to be eaten now in a free frenzied feast of half-starved beasts;
Woe be to the man of upper-clan, who but fans the flames of blame!
The storm rise is upon us, the size of which we cannot measure . . .
But there will be no pleasure, only pieces of what we now treasure

We Kill What We Do Not Understand

And the call of the roads is upon me, a desire in my spirit has grown
To wander forth in the highways, ‘twixt earth and sky alone,
And seek for the lands no foot has trod and the seas no sail has known
~ C. S. Lewis, “The Roads,” in Spirits in Bondage

It’s called “agnostophobia,” and it simply means “fear of the unknown.” (The other related word, “xenophobia,” means quite specifically “pathological fear of strangers,” foreigners.[i]) This is what many people with mental illness face in society at large, and it can be very uncomfortable. Point in fact, it usually is, unless the one who suffers the illness has grown a thick hide, so to speak.

“People fear what they cannot understand,” said Andrew Smith, “and they hate what they cannot conquer.” Touché! And more specifically to the point of mental illness, Elyn R. Saks, associate professor at the University of Southern California and mental health expert and advocate, hit the proverbial nail on the head when she opined, “Stigma against mental illness is a scourge with many faces, and the medical community wears a number of those faces.”

Even in this 21st century, in the Western world, where we are supposed to be so advanced and so enlightened, we are still culturally very ignorant of mental illness (and mental health,) which is largely why there is an ongoing stigma revolving around those who are psychologically burdened and suffering.[ii] This is all the more amazing when we consider the fact that fully one out of every four adults will experience mental illness at some point in their lives, however short might be the duration.[iii]

fear_of_the_unknownMuch of the continuing misunderstanding and stigma surrounding mental illness can, of course, be attributed to the world of popular entertainment. Consider for a moment so many popular psychopaths, such as: Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees, Sybil Dorsett, Annie Wilkes, Norman Bates, and many others. But then there are the real-life psychopaths that the media (in all forms) has consistently brought into our homes via television, radio, newspapers, the Internet … such as: Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Aileen Wuornos, Amy Archer-Gilligan, etc.

But then there is the lesser, “minor” mental illnesses that people commonly misunderstand and, thus, stigmatize. For instance, depression and anxiety. With clinical depression those who suffer may very well be, and often are, told to just “get over it … put a smile on and face the day! No need to ‘wallow’ in depression!” Of course, the antagonist here simply does not understand that one doesn’t just “get over” depression. Likewise with anxiety. The sufferer hears someone say, “Just calm down, everything’s alright. No need to worry,” or the horrid question, “Why are you falling apart? Nothing is wrong!”

Whether it’s one of the “biggies,” like schizophrenia or oppositional defiant disorder or pyromania,[iv] or one of the “littler ones,” Patrick Corrigan and Amy Watson are right:

Many people with … mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness. As a result of both, people with mental illness are robbed of the opportunities that define a quality life: good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory health care, and affiliation with a diverse group of people.[v]

So what can those of us who suffer, or who have a close family member or friend who suffers, from mental illness do? Well, from my own personal experience I would suggest the following:

  1. Know Yourself: Come to know who you really are, constantly calling to mind that you are not defined by your illness. Grasp this truth. Celebrate it. Expand upon it as you look ever more deeply into yourself.
  2. You are not Jeffrey Dahmer, Jason Voorhees, or Sybil Dorsett… And even if you do happen to struggle with, shall we say, inclinations in that direction, there is still much help for you. Yes, you can lead an active, healthy, good and satisfying life. It’s there for you.
  3. Know your illness. Know as much as you possibly can about what afflicts you. After all, knowledge truly is powerful. Knowledge also gives you greater ability to confront, manage, and perhaps even improve your overall situation. Look, it’s happened before!
  4. Knowledge also gives you an advantage over the ignorance of other people, and, who knows, you might actually have an opportunity to educate someone.
  5. Know and remember that there are an untold number of “normal” individuals out there, who simply have not been diagnosed! They struggle each and every day with some mental illness … or, maybe, many. You are more likely to be able to spot those people. Have compassion on them; they need it, and lots of empathetic understanding, too. And don’t be surprised if, at some point, they trust you enough to open up and share with you their struggles, suffering and pain. If you can help them, then help. Just be sure not to lose yourself, or “drown,” in the process!

There are probably many other suggestions I could relate, such as referring folks to NAMI or NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health) for more (and accurate) information on the various mental illnesses and how to best relate to someone who suffers one or more mental illness. Also, where you yourself are concerned, it’s always important to practice good mental health. Personally, I find physical exercise, meditation, and prayer, among other activities, to be good activities leading to good mental health.

What about you? What has been your experience with mental illness? Have you faced stigma? What about your mental health, whether you bear the burden of mental illness or not? Do you practice good mental health? If so, how? Share your answers and comments below. You don’t know who you might be helping in the process!


[i] American Psychological Association, APA Dictionary of Psychology, 1006

[ii] Judy Marshall, “Mental Illness: Stigma and Reality,” as accessed on 09/22/2018, at www.psychmaster.com

[iii] Pete Etchells, “Mental Illness Stigma Has Not Gone Away,” as accessed on 09/22/2018 at www.theguardian.com

[iv] Cf. David Kupfer, Darrel Regier, Dan G. Blazer, et al, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, (DSM-5), 90 – 122, 462, and 476 respectively

[v] Corrigan and Watson, “Understanding the Impact of Stigma on People With Mental Illness,” as accessed on 09/22/2018 at www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles

Crazy Life: Humiliating the Already-Humbled

After a few months in the group home, I actually felt more comfortable than I did in the outside world. Every outing seemed like an encounter with something foreign, something I’d known in a previous life but with which I no longer had much of any familiarity. Well, the truth is, I was around people who no longer had any masks to wear. They were simply who they were, no more, no less, and I liked it that way. Conversely, so many folks I encountered in the outside world seemed somewhat fraudulent. 

I know, I know. This seems harsh to say, but I’m only being honest about my feelings at the time. (And, really, I still feel this way. Going to day treatment in Dothan now feels like reuniting with family, whereas elsewhere with other people feels a bit alien.) At any rate, it eventually struck me that people on the outside pretty much felt the same way about us; they looked at us as if we were personis non grata foreigners. Well, no, perhaps I shouldn’t go quite this far. Most individuals were at least courteous.

However, I do remember very well the day we went to Wal-Mart in Enterprise (Alabama) and two (Caucasian) cops stopped three of our group home residents, who happened to be African-American, on their way into the store. They not only questioned them; they actually went so far as to patting them down … right there in the middle of the parking lot, in broad daylight, when those three young men were simply walking up toward the sidewalk! They hadn’t even been inside Wal-Mart yet, so why the frisking???

It was utterly humiliating, but do you know that those three men did not complain. I can’t say why. They had every right in the world to make a fuss over how they’d been treated, (and SpectraCare should have lodged a complaint on their behalf, but instead did absolutely nothing!) Maybe they were, unfortunately, used to be treated that way? I was told by someone ~ and I don’t know how they’d know this ~ that someone say our van pull up and called the police. Why? I haven’t the foggiest idea, except… 

There is a stigma that surrounds mental illness. When you add to this the fact of being an African-American (or member of any minority), then you’re pretty well f***ed up! Sorry to be so blunt, but this is an issue obviously close to my heart. Everyone deserves to be treated with kindness, courtesy, and respect … at least until they forfeit that privilege. These three young, African-American men had not in any way, shape, or form forfeited this right, though, and those two cops should have faced disciplinary measures.

This may have been the most egregious experience of being treated differently, and degradingly, that I witnessed, but it was not the only one. In fact, there was another episode that I was only told about (because I was at home on a weekend pass.) The group home went to a new restaurant in Samson, only to be treated horribly! The proprietor was arrogant, pushy, demanding, impatient… One of the MHTs (Mental Health Technician) told me it was obvious he didn’t want them there.

Do you remember Sally? This man complained that she was taking too long to order, even though no one else was in his place of business! (Except for the group home residents.) And to beat all, after everyone ordered, they had to wait anywhere from an half-hour to one hour to be served! Wow! But again, SpectraCare did nothing. I think I would have at least had someone in the SpectraCare hierarchy call this man and give him a good tongue-lashing… But that’s just me, I suppose.

To tell the truth, I have never lived with sweeter and more down-to-earth people in my life than my second family in the group home. No, they were not perfect. They had their bad habits and dispositions, but after all was said and done, with very few exceptions, I couldn’t have asked for better housemates. So to see or hear of them being treated so poorly really rips at my heart, and fuels my righteous indignation. And you know what else? They also impressed me as being safer to be around than many on the outside.

Yes, for the most part they were/are kinder, gentler, safer, and more unassuming than most “normal” people. Really it comes down to this: These dear souls have simply been diagnosed, whereas people on the outside have not been. Other than this ~ diagnosed as opposed to undiagnosed ~ there is precious little difference, unless you take into account so many of the prevalent, stinking attitudes that “normal” folks display and contrast that with the meek, humble, and friendly attitudes of the mentally ill!

Forgive me if I’ve offended, but I’m just calling like I see it … especially after months (and, really, years) of personal experience. Thank you for listening, and God bless!


For previous installments in the ‘Crazy Life’ series, see…

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

Crazy Life: Ecclesia et Mentis Morbum

Crazy Life: Just Can’t Say ‘No’

Crazy Life: Hanging in the Balance

Crazy Life: Meeting the Mystery of God

Crazy Life: Sally Dumped and Deserted

The only visitors she had were the voices in her head… During my entire 14 months in the Samson Group Home, no one ever came to visit her ~ not family, not friends ~ and from what others told me, this “Sally Doe” had been there for many years. Of course, none of the therapists or mental health technicians could divulge to me her background or personal information, but from what I did end up knowing, I concluded that she had simply been dropped off and forgotten by her loved ones. Very sad, to say the least…

One time in a group session, Sally expressed her heartfelt desire to go home, wherever that may have been. That was when I realized that despite the severity of her schizophrenia, she remembered family, at least some of the time. But then it was hard to say anything about the reliability of the memories Sally had; after all, there were times she believed herself to be pregnant, or to be a movie star, or some great singer (and she did, in fact, have quite a bluesy, Janice Joplin-type voice.)

Still, she knew she had family. Presumably, her family still knew they had her. They just didn’t visit her. One might quickly conclude they no longer cared, if ever they did care. I know this is what I thought and, honestly, still think; however, it also eventually occurred to me that it might be too psychologically, emotionally difficult for them to visit Sally. This may seem like a lame excuse, but I knew nothing of her family. Who knows what difficulties they struggle with and how vicious those struggles might be?

Did you know that “there is a high heritability to schizophrenia … with heritability estimates ranging from 64 to 81 percent?”¹ This being the case, then, it’s possible that Sally is not the only one in her biological family to struggle with this, or some other, malady. The lesson here (for me, at least) is, “Do not pre-judge! Especially when you don’t know the whole story!” Nevertheless, it was sad to see her day in and day out, seemingly so alone in the world… Funny, though, Sally didn’t seem too upset by her situation.

Point in fact, Sally is mostly happy, although the voices that speak to her do upset her from time to time. She talks to them all through her waking hours, and every so often you might hear her burst out with, “Leave me alone!” or “Go to hell!” or some other virile reaction. Otherwise, Sally is an adorable, happy, 40-something year-old with one of the most beautiful smiles you can imagine. Couple this with the fact that in many ways she is so like an innocent, little girl, and you can’t help but fall in love with her.

Ah, but what about so many of the others with whom I lived? Sally Doe was not the only one who never received visits from family or friends. Tragically, out of anywhere from 14 to 18 residents (at any given time) around eight to ten never had friend or family visit … or even call or write! It’s like they’ve simply been abandoned. According to Natasha Tracy, writing in 2012, oftentimes someone…

… is just left because of the pain and stigma of dealing with a mental illness. Sometimes people just can’t last through the stress of illness and treatment. Sometimes people really are abandoned by those they thought loved them unconditionally

Well, this is one of the important reasons I’ve determined to go back to the group home from time to time just to visit. Perhaps my determination no to forget will make some positive difference. I certainly hope and pray so… Just out of curiosity, what about you? Would you feel comfortable visiting a group home for the mentally ill? If not, of course, that is understandable. If you’ve never experience any kind of mental illness or been hospitalized or lived in a group home, it can certainly be uncomfortable!

Ah … but there are so many in need of pure, genuine love and camaraderie. I think of my second family still residing in the Samson Group Home and my heart aches near breaking. By the way, this is where the Church (and, I suppose, mosque, synagogue, temple, etc.) has really “dropped the ball.” Do you know that during my entire 14 months at the group home, we never received one visit from any church (or other religious institution)? Yes, someone might come by to pick someone up for Sunday service, but…

More on this subject later. It’s an important topic, I think, and perhaps in openly, honestly addressing it we might encourage more interaction between Church and the mentally ill. 


¹ Susan K. Whitbourne and Richard P. Halgin, Abnormal Psychology: Clinical Perspectives on Psychological Disorders, Seventh Edition, 151; for an interesting, informative article on heritability, cf. Natasha Tracy and Harry Croft, MD, “Schizophrenia Genetics: Is Schizophrenia Hereditary?” as found at Healthy Place

² Tracy, “Fear of Abandonment Due to Mental Illness,” as accessed on 09/24/2018 at Healthy Place


For previous articles in this series, go to:

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part I

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part II

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part III

Crazy Life: My Testimony, Part IV