Harley Mathews bio:
Along with my wife, i co-pastor The Brewery, a multi-faith community in Corpus Christi, Texas. Along with heavy arts involvement, we attempt to practice the spiritual discipline of “giving a shit”, since 2008. I also am a huge Boston Celtics fan and comic book collector.
Ministering Through Pain:
When Family Ties turn into Nooses.
I have not been the same Pastor or husband or friend since my brother attempted suicide mixed with diagnosis of schizophrenia. I have been forced to look at my family history that deals in more darkness than light. My grandfather’s death, a man who believed in Outlaw Country music as a hymnal and loved everyone deeply even amongst severe depression, has affected my life more than I am able to admit most days. All of us have these parts of our lives, the family/friend ties that seem like nooses at times, choking us right when we forgot that it hurt.
I know the temptation is to forfeit these truths, and give into a façade that would create a greater image for myself or my ministry, but we at The Brewery create spaces for honesty to be priority. The truth is, there are whole days where I miss my mother, as if she were dead, who is still breathing and my brother who is schizophrenic and they both live away from me due to violence and disturbance which follows them. My wife and I limit our involvement with my mother and brother, because of threats and violence ensuing. This element to my family stresses and strengthens how I see grace, it has allowed me more dependence on elements of Catholicism (of which I was not raised, but raised around) which depend on Virgin Mary and her various representations as a mother of ALL, it has kept me from trust in God and has allowed me to believe through the pain and dig deeply in my community of faiths more than I would have otherwise.
To my comfort, I read about the death practices of pre-Christian Jewish community ( Death, Burial, and Afterlife in the Biblical World by Rachel S. Hallote ). The people in the Old Testament are known for putting up stones and altars when something either great of horrible happened; they named the place and permanently placed the event in the history of themselves and their people. This practice seemed ancient and useless to me, until I was looking at the portions of my life that are like stone in my recollection of history. Whether the family member was good or bad, the practices were the same, the Prayers, and even posthumous family involvement were common in early Israel. I could see God’s grace in this.
The dependence of family and history have been a large influence by the Hispanic community I live in, the beautiful ways that they revere God and Mary and the “family of God” including saints and passed on family members. I cannot count how many people see my Johnny Cash tattoo I got for my grandfather who then show me their portraits of passed family members.
There is purpose and use in the horrible things going on, and I am blessed to have a community and spouse who allows me to mourn and rejoice as life happens. My advice for the church today is to create spaces in the life of your building or home or bar or coffee house where you hold services for mourning and rejoicing and teach that the darkness and light have purpose, and cultivate in your leaders a practice of listening and sitting with people in these spaces of your communities life.
A wonderful series by Rob Bell on Lamentations helped me endlessly, as well as having people around me that will not settle for me masking pain. Rob Bell mentioned that even great times in our life involve loss, and loss needs to be acknowledged and worked through. Sometime this means recognizing that we should put up an altar that reminds us where our lives are, so we can look back at it and in some sense rejoice.
Art is helpful.
Music is necessary.
Holy reading is effective.
Community is required.
Whether we are Pastors, neighbors, lovers, enemies, be authentic and I know that God will be present to work with us all in our struggles, our pain that tends to seem more like a noose than family ties.
Grace and Peace to your light and darkness.