Medicating the Religious Mind

I’ve been taking an antidepressant for six months now. Psychiatry wins: I’m a more functional human. I don’t feel so isolated and restless. The tasks of daily life don’t seem impossible. Even the feeling of shame that I need to be on medication has been lessened by the medication. But it’s a dry season, God seems distant, and some days I don’t recognize myself.

I wonder how much higher the dosage would have to be to silence that little voice that wonders with every shift in mood and emotion—is this me or Celexa?  Is the real me revealed when the medication suppresses my anxiety, or am I suffocating her with an SSRI?  Is there a drug that can quell this stubborn refusal to be well—even though I feel well—the belief that peace is just a chemical haze that clears as soon as the bottle empties?

At the risk of sounding like a religious freak, or even just a garden-variety freak, I confess I’ve often worried that this voice inside is the devil. Except it’s the same voice that urges me to write and to throw myself at the foot at the cross—two good things I’m decidedly less inclined to do now that I’m on drugs. Physically, mentally, I’m waking up, getting well, returning to life. Why do I feel so spiritually and creatively dead? [Read more...]

The Prodigal Bears His Scars

My last communion was during a brief suspension of my former church’s policy of forbidding it to children. I was already halfway out Protestantism’s door, and three-quarters out of my marriage, but on this their mother and I agreed: we should seize the opportunity to have communion alongside our children. The table was soon blocked again, after much pastoral consultation of texts. Communion remained accessible for hard-drinking adulterers like me, but not for my four year-old.

I lingered at the edges of another church in the following months, and then not at all. The shape of a newly divorced and even harder drinking man is not well-suited—at least it can seem to him, in his vanity and stupor—to pews. I drifted, and far.

My memory of that long descent’s end is the memory of a voice, nightly, over the phone. That voice spoke truths I’d forgotten apply to me: truths about forgiveness, about purpose. It was not the voice of an angel, but close enough, and to this day the sound of it conjures for me salvation.

I still hear it every morning, because it is the voice of a woman who chose to become my wife, long after I stopped believing I deserve such a thing. She took my hand despite my past, took it though her cancer left us unsure if she would live long past a honeymoon. We had no money, no home. Each of us bore a sickness. Today we are mending, and we have a house in a little town, and my children love her more than I imagined possible.

[Read more...]

Jesus Died for Somebody’s Sins (But Not Mine)

For Pastor Matt, who hopes to convert my skeptical ears to belief in bluegrass, and our new Associate Pastor Meredith, who has added intellectual hipster chic to our congregation with her PhD and her nose piercing alike. You two help make First Baptist Church in Lawrence, Kansas feel like home.

Patti Smith’s 1975 debut album, Horses, famously opens with the line, “Jesus died for somebody’s sins, but not mine.” Smith goes on to sing, “My sins my own, they belong to me, me.”

I think about this when I serve communion at church, as partaking of this sacrament is a way for believers to proclaim, “Jesus died for me—even me.” In my three years as communion coordinator, I have only seen a few people dismiss the bread or the cup. They wave their hands at the plate as if to say, “Sorry, this isn’t for me.”

Of course, that may not be what they mean at all. I cannot read minds. They may be allergic to wheat or grapes, for all I know. But if Patti Smith’s lyric speaks for them, I understand. Doubt, disbelief, and disillusionment with the church are rampant, and for many good reasons. [Read more...]


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