Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Reflections from The Hill – Demons or Madness - June 23, 2013


As I was reading this week's gospel text, I re-entered the familiar world (for me) of mental illness. As I did, I began to wonder about the myriads of carers of the mentally ill, especially those who cared for this one. 


This much I know, mental illness doesn’t get better quickly. It isn’t like having a broken leg or dealing with the ‘flu or something, but requires a whole raft of people to keep the caring going because it’s probably been going on for quite a while.


Then I had to ask myself a few difficult questions like “Who was this guy’s mother?” Did she send him to live in the tombs or did he run away all by himself?

This was followed up by some other questions, like “Who fed him?” “Did people from the village bring him food from time to time or did he scramble for tucker in the dirt and among the rocks?”


“Did people from roundabout leave food for him at a safe distance or were there people he trusted to come near? Did he have any friends? Who were they?”


“Did he have bouts of sanity? Or was he sick all the time? Was he like so many suffering with mental illness, who had periods where he was seemed to be on the planet and functioning?” 


“How did his friends or family interact with him during his times of wellness? Were they on edge waiting for his behaviour to take its well-known and inevitable turn?”

The world of mental illness is a world defined by fear, depression, suicide, chemical imbalances, sleep deprivation, anger, rage, sadness, crying, confusion, hallucinations. And that’s just the carers.


For those who are afflicted, it’s worse. Even after thousands of years, the mentally ill are still people we shun.

When you get involved with people who have a mental illness, there is always volatility, always unknown outcomes, always concern, and, only rarely, stability – your own and that of the sufferers.

To name all ‘mental illness’ as ‘demon-possession’ can be as problematic as naming all ‘demon possession’ as ‘mental illness’. Plainly, like any generalisation, neither are true yet both are true.


There are too many examples of successful exorcisms to dismiss them that easily. What’s more, The Bloke’s entire ministry is liable to be explained away in terms of logic and science if they were and that’s not on.


We forget at our peril that he spent most of his time in the spirit realm, so to try to pass the miracles off as some kind of ordinary event is just fanciful.


Luke has gone to great lengths to link a dead man and a lady of dubious character with a nutter. Then he places this young man in the cemetery of a Jewish town (yes, Jewish) where the main source of income was raising pigs. Luke couldn’t be any more offensive if he tried.


In the context, it seems that Luke wants to help the reader see that The Big Fella’s intention is to include those who previously have been regarded as contaminating and unclean.


Spare a thought for the poor pig farmers who have just seen their precious porkers plunge faster than the fortunes on Deal or No Deal and so terrified were they that they asked The Bloke to get on his bike real quick.


At the end, we have a man was made whole and he wanted to follow The Bloke. We have a town community was made whole and it begins to notice that the young man’s health was emblematic of theirs.


I guess it’s only my curiosity that wants me to know what happened next and how the man’s story ended.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Reflections from The Hill – In The Midst of the Valley – Luke 7.11-17


From time to time, events in The Bloke’s Story really stir the pot. Take the business of dying, for example.


Apart from his own Up-He-Came, there are just three occasions in The Good Book when The Bloke intervenes in someone’s death: his mate Lazarus: Jairus’ daughter; and the event in today’s Gospel Reading about a dead man, his mother  and a funeral procession.


Maybe it’s something of a surprise that this list of three is as short as it is but it is full of significance, as we shall see.


I don’t suppose people back in Those Times felt any different from the way people feel today when someone shuffles off the coil, especially if the deceased one is a close relative.


What we hang out for in grief today is a sense of peace, a chance to grieve and to join in, as much as we can, with the loved one’s final journey. In one way or another, while cultures may do it slightly differently, these would be common expectations.


So it’s a bit more than a shock to the system when The Bloke interrupts a funeral procession. In any culture, even now, interrupting a funeral is a huge violation of propriety; you just don’t do it.


I wish someone had told the local police about propriety at funerals before an all-too-eager constable began to breathalyse the whole cortege on one sad day back in my home town. I believe he was posted out of harm’s way very soon after.


For The Bloke, well, he just added ritual uncleanness to his list of blunders by reaching out his hand and touching the bier. That little action was about as rude as what Constable Plod did.


The one difference between The Plod and The Bloke was that the dead person sat up and spoke. It’s not surprising to read that some of the onlookers were speaking by then as well.


It’s interesting and educational for us to recognise that The Bloke did what he did out of compassion for a person in need, out of someone else’s broken heart.


He wasn’t protesting against death and he wasn’t making a big song-and-dance about death. It was Jairus’ devotion, Mary’s tears and the Widow’s desperation that motivated him, nothing else.


Of all the people who The Bloke met, of all the people he prayed with, touched, preached to or just walked past, there were only three who were brought back from the finality into which they’d gone.


That challenges me. It challenges me because I’ve got this lingering belief that, as a Christian, I’m saved from all that. Healed and saved from death. It’s not huge in my array of life beliefs but it’s there just the same.


In those occasional madnesses, I can sometimes get to a point where I reckon that all I need do is shoulder my way in a bit closer to Him and He’ll pick me.


It ain’t like that, though, is it? What it is, however, looks as if The Bloke is pushing us to see that death is not the Spectacular Evil we think it is but is an ordinary, almost banal, happening in life.


The three people He raised from the dead will die again. No resurrection next time. Next time, death is final and permanent.


If you and I are to know the wonder of life in the midst of death, then somehow we’ve got to see that life is not about being a spectator, watching death proceed to the cemetery or wailing at the doorway.


Life is about being human, about having a heart that breaks, about knowing the difference between those decisions that increase the power of evil and those which restore life in the valley of the shadow of death.


When The Bloke is nearby speaking and touching and healing even the broken hearts, we’ll know we’re on a winner.