By Rev. Mindi
October is Disability Awareness Month and October 5th-11th is National Mental Illness Awareness Week, but both disability and mental illness are rarely mentioned in church life. Sarah Griffith Lund is hoping to break the silence on mental illness in both society and church in her new book Blessed Are The Crazy.
Crazy is a beautiful, raw testimony of Lund’s life with a father, brother and cousin who all have mental illness. Using language that resonates with her own experience, Lund uses the Christian practice of testimony to tell her faith story, a story that includes mental illness in her family. Often we tidy up our stories and hide the bad parts, or we use the bad stuff that happens to show how God was present with us. Lund does not do this. Her story cuts through, right to the heart, to deal with theodicy and the fact that there is no cure for mental illness, no magic pill that makes everyone better.
Lund begins right off by stating “Church taught me a lot about a loving God, but not how to tell my own story about love, or the lack of it.” We have failed as a church and society to help people tell their own stories using the language of faith when it comes to mental illness. She addresses the stereotypes, both in our society and in our church world, of people living with mental illness and their families. She does not offer easy solutions or theological answers. Instead, she offers the only thing she can: hope. Hope that in sharing her story, someone else will find the words for their own. That in talking about mental illness and reducing the stigma, we can reach out to one another and know that we are not alone.
One of the most powerful images Lund shares is that of her cousin’s execution by the state. In this chapter Lund challenges the justice system that penalizes persons with mental illness. She shares the pain of having to witness her cousin’s death by the state, someone who was unable to get the help he desperately needed before committing the crime that landed him on death row. Lund calls for restorative justice rather than punishment, which benefits no one.
“Families and communities of faith need to be intentional and proactive about changing the culture of shame, secrecy, and stigma.” In Lund’s own testimony of her faith journey that includes mental illness in her family, I found so many moments where it resonated with my own. I am a daughter and granddaughter of men who have struggled with depression and alcohol addiction. I have my own story of a scary ride in a truck with my dad, who should not have been anywhere near a steering wheel. I have my own testimony, but I have been afraid to tell it, afraid of who will hear it or read it, and what they will think of me or my family.
Blessed Are The Crazy breaks through the shame and stigma of telling our stories of mental illness. Lund not only shares her story, but a vision for a church that welcomes and accepts people with mental illness exactly as they are, and uses storytelling as a way to take the next step.
*On October 7th, there will be a synchroblog event to commemorate the launch of this book and also to give our own testimony about mental illness in our lives and church. Visit the Facebook Event Page for more information.