Blogs, Mental Health, and Other Liabilities

A quick lunch-break blogpost:

Two recent situations – one in NASA and the other in the John Edwards presidential campaign – have gotten me to think about the process of becoming a pastor and the dichotomy of the public vs. private self.

Two bloggers recently hired by John Edwards have been criticized for past incendiary writings on their personal blogs (NYTimes article here).  The article examines the difficulty of bridging the gulf between "traditional politics and the Wild West world of the Internet."  Traditional politics, it seems, can’t handle the passionate, free-wheeling, off-the-cuff authenticity of the blogosphere.  Which gets me to thinking – particularly as a pastor-to-be – to what extent can the institutional church handle the freewheeling, honest, questioning, passionate, off-the-cuff authenticity and spirituality of the Christian blogosphere?  On more than one ocassion I have been cautioned about what I write and who may read it (hence why my real name no longer appears on this blog, though it wouldn’t take a 10th grader with Google too long to figure out who I am) . . .

In other news, Astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested for attempting to kidnap a romantic rival.  Over at Scientific American’s blog, they wonder if the fear of losing her job kept her from seeking mental health advice.  Of course, recent news of soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder failing to receive care at Fort Carlson reflects the amiguity – no, the persistently negative view – our society and its great institutions continue to hold toward mental illness.  And this is no different in the church.  Though many Candidacy Committees are notorious for prescribing counselling for seminarians, it has been my experience that many in the church view psychotherapy narrowly as treatment for an illness that needs to be cured – an understanding that flags the file and diminishes the prospects of any candidate who admits to on-going therapy.  Removing from the discussion the extreme cases – and yes, some people with extreme mental health issues do try to become clergy – counselling and therapy are generally not akin to visiting a doctor when suffering the flu – ie, go to the doc to get cured.  Rather, counselling and therapy are more analagous to an on-going fitness program designed to improve health and fitness for the long-term and in daily life.  They guy that goes to the gym three times per week is seen as healthy, disciplined, and caring for himself.  The guy who goes to counseling twice per week, on the other hand, is viewed as sick and troubled.  The stigma that views counselling as a sign of illness rather than health persists and weakens our society and its institutions.

Whew.  That was alot.  The point is this, however: when can we who are in public or high profile roles express what is truly within us, whether it is a raw and unedited opinion or a deeply-felt pain?  Must we be santitized of any inappropriate blogposts or unsavory thoughts about Mom before we can enter stressful positions caring for souls, courting votes or navigating a Space Shuttle?  At what point can we – society, a congregation, an institution such as NASA or the church – accept the raw edges of reality that surround each of us? 

We all have some junk in the proverbial closets of our past and present.  Perhaps we should respect and reward, rather than demean and punish, those who open and examine what’s in their closets.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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One Response to Blogs, Mental Health, and Other Liabilities

  1. PS says:

    Your analysis with going to a gym for fitness is wonderful.
    I endorse, with my intellect, your view that therapy, et al, is for on-going health. However, I find that my emotional side still hangs on to the old view, that there is a big problem with people who seek help so don’t tell.
    Unfortunately, our system doesn’t help with this, as insurance often covers mental health help poorly and, since it is expensive, people say they can’t afford it without insurance.
    If we changed our societal viewpoint, maybe people could view the expense of therapy as no different than car payments or buying liquor, or belonging to a gym or some other on-going expense that they choose to value.

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