I read a blog today, a blog that shouldn't need to exist. It was a fantastic piece over on the website of one of my favourite charities 'To Write Love on Her Arms'. It's an organisation that supports people who battle depression, and who produces a really decent fashion line as a way of raising awareness. If you don't know it, then stop reading this and go read about them.
The blog? Well it was a piece encouraging Christians who have depression to go and speak to their pastor about it. As well as telling pastors to talk about it. This message needs to get across, but I hate that it needs to.
You see, I grew up in a church for most of my life, apart from a few 'wilderness years' that all Christians seems to wander through in a Pilgrims Progress kind of way. Having always been in a church or Christian environment I have an idea as to what I think a Pastor should look like. Kind, patient, wise, understanding, slow to judge etc.
Unfortunately, and to no-one's surprise, not all are like this. In fact, few I know seem to be.
There is a trend amongst pastors to be trendy, to focus on delivery over content. You hear a lot start their sermons with a joke about their relationship, perhaps an edgy one involving something 'sexy', I've even seen one pastor come on to stage rapping to a re-written 'N*&%£!S in Paradise'. Yeah, it was funny... but so what.
One of the trends that I seem to have noticed is that they like to slate youthful and post-modern culture. In particular using the phrase 'Selfish Selfie Culture'. Oh well done you for an alliterated soundbite. This gets rolled out and congregations clap, 'yeah, selfies suck, let's think about others'. We all go away feeling like we have risen above today's average Joe. But I think this is dangerous and irresponsible.
This message about a selfish culture is in part right, but it never comes as just that. Buried in the message is a thinly veiled attack that can look like this. "You always see people posting about how they feel on Facebook looking for attention". This is the dangerous bit.
I used to do that, in fact sometimes I really still want to. When I used to do it I was depressed. I remember a few years just writing a massively profanity filled 'f-u world' because I hated everything around me. I would have been labelled as part of this selfish culture. But what was really going on? I'll tell you, I was doing something that Men and Christians don't do enough of, I was showing that I don't live in a perpetual bubble of joy and angels, harps and miracles. You know, sometimes I even leave church feeling depressed and I don't think I am the only one. In fact, feeling depressed after an encounter with God puts you in good company!
Elijah cried out to God to kill him, he had had enough. Would he have posted it on Facebook had he had the option? I don't know, but that's not the point. Elijah is evidence that even the best of Christians get depressed and want to give up, it just so happens that he had a different relationship with God then perhaps you or I have.
A lot of people close to me struggle with depression. In fact, if you know more than 10 people then you are statistically likely to know at least 2 people with depression. If you do, then you'll know it's not a joke. When these people, mothers, daughters, sons, fathers, religious, non-religious, elderly or young feel down they very often want someone to know. They are NOT just looking to broadcast selfishly, they are in need and they are letting you know.
It's dangerous to put people off sharing how they feel and I sometimes feel like the 'selfish selfie-culture' comments are the religious equivalent of 'shut up and man up'.
Pastors, we need to talk, about depression and about you're awareness of it.
Someone in your congregation is suffering and you may be telling them to keep quiet.
If you see it, approach them and support them. They are doing something brave and saying how they feel. In this super connected world people have help at their fingertips, they have support and friends, they have somewhere to sound out and that's a great thing.
Rather than loathing social media I am growing to love it. People can finally hear how I feel and help. I can see how they feel and help.
Let's spot these 'selfish selfie socialites', let's get in touch and ask what's up.
Be kind, patient, wise, and slow to judge. Be pastoral.
You never know, someone might just find what they were looking for, you may just save a life.
*this blog was originally posted on www.digitalgruel.com