Have you hugged your porcupine today?

Odd title, huh? Actually it is appropriate for today’s blog: the two sides of living with depression. One side involves the person who is depressed, the other side involves the people who live with the person who is depressed. And the porcupine imagery catches some of the tension and difficulty in living on either side of depression.

English: Photograph of two North American porc...
Hugged a porcupine lately?

One who struggles with depression is acutely aware of pain, suffering, woundedness, etc. When some one close wants to help, through words, or hugs, or just listening, the quills of the porcupine make it painful even for the helper. Often unknowingly the one helping may trigger some reaction (see Depression and Triggers) in the depressed person. It may bring back memories (see Depression and Memory) that cause further pain. The quills are getting sharper.

At the same time, for the depressed person, the quills pointing inward feel much larger, much sharper, and much more focused on the areas of pain. Thus, the helper is reaching out and getting stuck with quills, and may withdraw. Meanwhile, the depressed person is hurting more, and tends to withdraw. It is a catch-22, the depressed person needs more companionship in the best sense of that word, yet the encounter can be painful and self-defeating.

It doesn’t take long for the porcupine effect to close doors rather than open them. Thus, for the depressed person every event becomes intensified. Rejection is more acute, a sense of abandonment lurks behind every relationship. Not a winning combination.

For the person who is depressed, it really comes down to having a few people who will faithfully walk with you, not pressuring, not demanding, but to be there for you. In the darkest days, God was drawing me, even when I wasn’t aware of it. In the flesh, I was blessed with my wife, our son and daughter-in-law, and three elders and their wives. They stuck by me in the very worst of times. I marvel at their patience, their willingness to “put up with me.” And they did so for several years. Always supportive, always listening, always loving.

As I look back, I can see how difficult I was to live with. In the worst days they needed to direct me to do things, every day things that we most often take for granted. If someone has not been down that dark road of depression, it might seem silly to need help with simple tasks. My close circle of family and friends never once gave that impression. They demonstrated Christian fellowship in the best way possible.

Another aspect of companionship is to realize that I as the depressed person wanted to be around some people, but not necessarily participating in their discussion. It sounds odd, but for me I wanted to be a wall flower, listening and seeing others respond, but I didn’t want to speak or interact. It was almost as if I had to learn how to interact with people all over. And I didn’t trust myself on what or how I said things.

I have found that dialog was hard for me. In the slide down and coming out the other side of the depression valley (for me a 4-5 year process for the actual diagnosed depression), I sometimes would speak, but not appropriately. I don’t mean vulgar or filthy talk, but it was if I couldn’t see how my remarks affected others. Even now when the depression battle rages, I have to be careful on what I say; when I forget about that, it can have negative repercussions. Of course, that plunges me further into the recrimination of despair.

There were always two questions people would ask me: 1. Are you okay? 2.What can I do to help? I couldn’t tell whether I was okay, because I had been out of kilter for so many years. And I didn’t know enough about myself to ask for help, or even what kind of help I needed or wanted. The questions showed concern, but as a depressed person I wasn’t capable of providing even an intelligible response. That made me feel bad for a long time. As years have passed, I realize that neither I nor the other person knew what to say… And I am okay with not really answering. Those who care also can accept the lack of answers. Their love and presence spoke more than their questions, and more than any answer I could give.

For me the ultimate place to be with people and yet not be part of it was in worship. The liturgical worship service provides the environment to welcome, embrace, and lead people who are hurting. Confession: I was good at internally… I could beat myself up quite well, thank you. But confession before God exposed the shallowness of my beating myself up. It wasn’t only words and attitude towards others, but towards God that I needed to hear, to face, to confess—most often in my heart, the words not actually forming on my lips. But it was confession nevertheless. I could never tire of hearing that my sins were forgiven for Jesus’ sake.

For me some Sundays I couldn’t sing the hymn of praise (“This is the feast…”). But inwardly I liked being around people who could. The creeds brought me reassurance that not even this congregation was my world; they drew me into the “cloud of witnesses” throughout the ages. The Lord’s Supper likewise reaffirmed the eternity of this reality, being in God’s presence, receiving His gifts. Once again the body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.

The beauty of family, close friends, and worship comes together to bring about God’s work of pulling a person through even the deepest valleys.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; or if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which is effective in the patient enduring of the same sufferings which we also suffer; and our hope for you is firmly grounded, knowing that as you are sharers of our sufferings, so also you are sharers of our comfort. (2 Cor. 1:3-7)

Ten times “comfort” is used in the passage. Speaks volumes, doesn’t it? And now God has given me the grace and comfort to embrace other porcupines… Been there, done that, and yes, porcupines can be loved. And God wins!


Depression and Memory

My first post on this topic: Depression—The Triggers that Surprise

Our ability to remember is an amazing gift from God. I have always had a good memory; it isn’t something I developed… it was just there. I don’t know whether memory problems are generally part of depression, but here I relate how they were connected in my situation. Over the years I have discovered that memory can be good, bad, or confusing.

Memory: The Good 

From grade school through college, I was fascinated with numbers. My memory allowed me to be both fast and good. I didn’t think about it at the time, but I could do most math problems in my head. In fact (this was in the days before calculators!), in college I took 85 credits of math and 35 credits of physics—and never learned how to use the slide rule. I could write down about every 3rd or 4th step, keeping everything else in my head.

I could remember dates, people, and events very easily. When reading, I could often remember where something was on a page and sometimes the page number. No, I don’t have photographic memory. But memory was of great value. If I have driven somewhere, many years later I can drive through that area and remember exactly where to turn—and I don’t even need to know “that I turn after the third oak tree on the right after the end of the fence posts.”

Memory: The Bad

As a Christian, I have found memory both good and bad. I can easily memorize things, where they are in the Bible, Greek and Hebrew vocabulary/grammar, etc. So what is bad about memory? I can remember details of events, especially bad ones. I can remember sins I have committed years and years ago. Even more, I can remember the hurt and pain I have caused through my sins.

And that is when memory seems to be no longer a blessing, but a curse. While occasionally I can remember someone else’s sin against me, there is not the intensity and continuing rehashing as with my own sin. For several decades the memories also meant that I didn’t (couldn’t) sleep at night. My mind was too busy, going over the pain, hurt, anger, frustration, etc. of whatever I had done wrong.

In the long slide into depression, my memory took on the role of the accuser… Now instead of the wonderful aspects of my memory, the ugliness of myself, my sin, my inner turmoil were my constant companions. I didn’t need someone else to help me on this frantic descent, because I was more than sufficient, and my memory kicked into high gear. Oh, there were others who consciously or unconsciously aided me in this memory deconstruction. Even now, as the worst of the depression has passed, my memory serves me well and I remember… sort of.

Memory: The Confused

Perhaps most surprising for me is when my memory failed me in the final year before my breakdown and in the first two years afterward. There are gaps… During that time, and since then, my wife might mention something that happened, and I would look puzzled as if “what is she talking about?” To me, it never happened. And the confusing part—for me, I was usually the one who could recall events, conversations, etc.

And so, what had been a normal part of my life, a well functioning memory, was no longer “normal.” But the gaps are primarily limited to that three year period of time. Sometimes I get frustrated that I have gaps in my memory. Other times it doesn’t bother me. Mostly it confused me. In one sense during that three year period, it seemed like I was floating along as an outsider to everything that was happening. In that sense I could even imagine my memory gaps related to my floating alonside the action of life and then switching to living in the midst of that life. Mostly that three year period is a confusing time for me because of my fragmented memory.

Memory: So What?

Memory is a wonderful gift from God. And for most of my life, it has served me well. During the darkest days of depression and in the aftermath, memory failed me, delighted me, and confused me. I think the remembrance of sin and its effects stayed with me, and that haunted me the most.

Yet, right there is where God in His graciousness has worked his marvelous, loving work. In Jeremiah 31:34 when prophesying about the new covenant (testament), he writes:

[Yahweh declares:] “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

God in His infinite wisdom and perfection states clearly that he will not remember my sins. That means that with my memory I am trying to “be better than God at the memory game.” My memories of my sins were tearing me apart. Those sins had been forgiven by God, and now even the memories of them were gone! That was overwhelming to me—and freeing. Forgiveness through the Word, through the Lord’s Supper, through absolution was no longer a part of life, it was the heart of my life, a life which would be destroyed by the memories, but is now forgiven, restored, and enhanced by God’s forgetfulness.

Over time, I have discovered that the memory gaps no longer have a hold on me. But even more, the memories of sin have been transformed into memories of God’s faithfulness and His forgiveness and His love. “And I will remember their sin no more.” God grant me that kind of memory.

See God Has Amnesia for more reflection on this grace aspect of “remembering.”

Depression—The Triggers that Surprise

I have battled depression for many decades, and most of that time I was not even aware of it. During that time, to even consider what was happening as depression was considered a sign of weakness—and that could not happen! As I sank deeper into depression, though, the more I fought against that possibility the deeper the hole became. My desire to avoid that, eventually led me to work 18 hours/day, then 20 hours/day, then 22 hours/day. Two hours sleep is not healthy—for anyone. For one battling the unknown depression, it was disastrous. Ultimately, following a dramatic two year slide my body, my mind, and even my spirit rebelled, and gave up.

When you reach absolute bottom, it is not a pleasant place to be. I could neither read nor write. I couldn’t concentrate. And I couldn’t bear to be with other people. I was lonely, yet wanted to be left alone. Lamentations 3:17-20 captured where I was:

My soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, “My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the LORD.”
Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me.

I received professional help and medicine—notice, I received, I couldn’t even take the initiative to get help on my own. Over the next two years of recovery, as my body and mind rested, I was led to discover and even recognize what had happened to me. But my ultimate help came from God. Again in Lamentations 3:21-24

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.
The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.”

In my mind, I did not want to go back to the darkness that slowly strangled me. God’s promises and deliverance were my new home for comfort and peace. And yet…

The Triggers that Surprise

At times I was caught … by that downward slide! What was happening? I thought I have moved beyond this experience. It can’t be happening again! I don’t want it, I can’t stand it one more time!

It took time, but finally I began to recognize that there were triggers around me that caused such a backward slide into depression. The triggers can be events (holiday, birthday, etc.), meeting certain people (who may have had no role in the original depression), or even time of year.

For me, the big trigger was the time of year. Every year from late January to early March, I sense this looming darkness in my spirit. It’s not something that charged into me, but a slow squeezing effect. And that brought back the memories and fears of the worst days of the depression and collapse.

Through this process, I realized that I was going back to the longer hours, if my body would permit it (thankfully, it would not). My approach changed from focusing on more work to focusing on protecting my heart—not an easy thing to do in weakness. During this 6-7 week period, I had to be careful about how much sleep I needed. I found that after the breakdown, sleep was easier for me. I couldn’t physically keep up the hours. And that was good.

Spiritually, I rediscovered how critical the Lord’s Supper was to me. Also, I had to specifically concentrate on maintaining daily Scripture reading, and prayer. For some people, this seems so obvious, “Well, duh!” But recovering from depression meant for me a daily battle, and not always successful. And as difficult as it was at times, I needed to be around people. Their fellowship, even when almost no one knew about my background and what I was experiencing, was critical for my stability. I didn’t even need to talk, just to be around people was important.

It has been 14 years,a and the trigger of winter still rises every year. It is not as intense as it had been in the first 3-4 years. But it is there; the battle has begun anew in the last two weeks.

There are other triggers. Occasionally I will hear a song that brings back the depression in all its ugliness. Other times, it will be a smell that evokes memories. Even glimpses of photos will take me back 50 years… and the battle of depression, unknown at the time, comes upon me.

Once again I am drawn back to Lamentations 3:1-24

This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.
The LORD’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.
“The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I have hope in Him.”

“I Have a Dream!” — The Challenge for us as Christians

Note: Occasionally I will use a term that can be emotionally loaded. Please do not misunderstand this—I do not do so to antagonize anyone or to add to heat to the discussion, but only as an understanding of what was heard in context in that time.

Growing up in the 1950’s and early 1960’s as a Caucasian I was not aware of any kind of racial issues, not by my intention, but by circumstances. My personal life was separated from that, physically and in terms of communication. Hey, I only made one telephone call (the nine-party line) before I was in Junior High. So my exposure to racial issues was limited to what was on the radio and later TV.

English: Dr. Martin Luther King giving his &qu...
“I Have a Dream!”

My sense of “segregation” is that we who lived in the country with homemade or second hand clothes were the outsiders, segregated from those who lived in town with the new clothes (my little mind felt that way, whether it was true or not). In the world I lived, I knew only one kind of racial barrier: Caucasians (‘whites”) and Native Americans (at the time, “Indians”). For me, the common terms “colored” “nigger” “black” or “African-American” were lost; that was not a world I inhabited. (Just as a side note, I never used the terms “colored” or “nigger” at any time in my life [except in reference when teaching, see below] because I found them offensive even when hearing them at the time.)

I knew about the Civil Rights movement, and followed the events in those “other worlds,” like Selma, Montgomery, Detroit, Los Angeles, etc. But that was not my experience, and there was really nothing I could do to change that… I didn’t even have enough money to take a bus trip to locate a troubled spot. But I was fascinated by Martin Luther King, Jr. even then. He spoke to my heart, even though I had not “been there, done that.”

Going to college in 1967 meant for me entering a new world—I met a friend who happened to be “black”—that was the term everyone used. And I met more. They were not angry, belligerent, or mean. They were “just like me.” For good or bad.

But I also saw on TV what was taking place and the violence. I knew in my heart from own experiences (another blog?) that what had happened, and still happening in many places, was not right. But not being “there” and life still going on in my own world (college then teaching), I was on the sidelines.

Several years later (early 1970’s) I served in the U.S. Navy. And there I was immersed in the aftermath of the riots of the 1960’s and 1970’s. As an Intelligence Officer in a Navy squadron that meant I did all the other jobs that none of the pilots wanted. One was to teach an “engagement” series of meetings titled “Race Relations” (plus a couple other related topics) to our squadron. The Navy was responding to real problems in real life on board ship. So I moved from the sidelines to active involvement. And now I saw the anger and hostility, arrogance, and condescension —on all sides—because we had “whites, blacks, and Hispanics” all mixed into close quarters.

Over the next three years I led many discussions, some heated, but none violent. That experience opened my eyes to the hurts and anguish that many felt, and that I had not. Surprisingly, during the entire three years, we did not have one “explosive” event, fights, stabbings, or confrontations. Looking back, it was a combination of things. At the time I wasn’t sure what I had done was helpful, but now 35 years later, I see the value of my observation close up and personal of what racial strife does to people, no matter which side.

In the 1980’s at seminary, I had many friends, but one of my closest friends (who happened to be “black”) became my daily Greek reading partner. Every day we met to read the Greek text, discuss, and pray. I remember during our fourth year he was asked to preach in Seminary Chapel on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He asked me about the sermon and how he was going to preach it. We talked about it. He preached it, and he did an excellent job, good Law and Gospel presentation and application. He began the sermon (as only he could have): “I have a dream!” … I have come a long way since the early 1950’s.

Since 1967 I have had a greater appreciation for what Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed —he far better than anyone—and what he fought for. It saddens me to see many twist what he had said and done. Many claim to follow him, but they really do not (another post?). That is, they have inherited a complaint or plea without having lived the reality behind the plea. They have not lived in that same environment that gave rise to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s passion and dream. And in the process, prejudice, discrimination, and segregation continues, but not always along racial lines.

We adopted two brothers from Korea in the 1970’s. We experienced the hidden prejudices, the intentional sometimes silent, but sometimes very vocal, forms of racial discrimination. Does it compare to what “blacks” experienced in the years prior to the 1970’s? No, and it is not written to elicit that comparison. Rather, to show that looking at only one aspect of discrimination misses what Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed.

My heart aches for anyone who lives in that kind of environment, especially for those who cannot do anything to change the circumstances. And sadly, abuse (marital, family, elder, etc.) falls into this same category. It is not popular like the Civil Rights movement eventually became; it is hidden by the abuser, the one being abused for fear, other family members, and by the “silent majority” who pretend it doesn’t exist. Even in the Church.

As a Christian I have begun to appreciate even more what Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote and proclaimed. Also as a Christian, I can appreciate even more what the Bible reveals about God’s care for those who are outsiders: widows, orphans, foreigners, aliens, outcasts.

As Christians are we continuing the prejudice, the strife, the separation, the willful neglect of those who suffer injustice? And from that Biblical perspective, we, of all people, should be sensitive to what is happening in our world today—and then realize that God may be using us to be a voice from those who have no voice. And if God used and continues to use Martin Luther King, Jr. to challenge us out of our complacency, then so be it. After all, it is not just him that can say, “I have a dream!”

Matthew: The Unmentionables

As we begin our study of Matthew, the first thing to notice is that genealogy doesn’t follow the normal pattern, in several ways. There are three groups of 14 ancestors, which necessitates skipping some generations (although that is not uncommon in genealogies). The list starts with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the patriarchs of the faith, then proceeds through some familiar and some unfamiliar names. So far, so good.

But then Matthew lists four women: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, “the wife of Uriah.” These four listed seldom make genealogies. They are “black spots” (a daughter-in-law who tricks Jacob by playing a prostitute, a prostitute, a foreigner, and wife of a soldier who attracted David’s attention). Especially black spots on the genealogy for the greatest of all, Jesus. Wouldn’t it make better sense to include the four “great women,” namely Sarah (with Abraham), Rebekah (with Isaac), Leah and Rachel (with Jacob)?

Or are they “black spots”? Maybe they are more in line with the rest in the genealogy. With Sarai’s problems accepting God’s plan (Gen. 16), Rebekah’s duplicity (Gen. 27), etc. David was not exactly a man of virtue regarding Bathsheba. So, perhaps these four women listed are in the right spot after all. They have not spoiled the genealogy, any more than the men listed.

So rather than seeing them as black spots to be avoided, they are included as the signs of God’s gracious work even in the midst of less than perfect lives. God uses each of the four women at critical times showing that God’s grace is dominant. Thank God that He is gracious enough to not only mention the unmentionables, but restores them and uses them for His mighty purposes.

Matthew’s genealogy is the last one of the old covenant. Once Christ comes, he not only fulfills that genealogy, he initiates a new genealogy based on faith. Those who believe in Christ, are now the heirs of Him.

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:26–29 NAS95)

Since by faith we are in the new genealogy of Jesus Christ: we are “in Christ.” And we are in the same category as the mentioned unmentionables, certainly no better than they. Therefore, we see God’s grace in these four women as illustrative of God’s grace in us.

How many unmentionables do we know, who need to hear of the grace of God in Christ Jesus?

Prayer focus for today:

Pastor Will Weedon, a seminary classmate of mine, has been blogging for quite some time. He includes new Lutheran quotes, old Lutheran quotes, and early church father quotes for our learning and enjoyment. http://weedon.blogspot.com/

Lord God, we give thanks that you are a God of grace and mercy. Look with favor upon Will and his ministry at St. Paul’s. Bless his blogging and writing on the internet; give him wisdom and compassion to write effectively the truth of your Word. Through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen

Creed, The Faith, and Faith

Icon depicting the First Council of Nicaea.
Image via Wikipedia

The post from yesterday about creeds and the Bible raises another issue. What is the relationship between creed and faith? That still isn’t where we want to be. Faith can be used in two different ways pointing to two different things (in technical terms, each has a different referent). We will start with each of these terms but in reverse order, then get the order right again.


The referent here is the faith of the individual. This is the most common use of the word, often used interchangeably with “believe.” When Mary says, “I believe in Jesus Christ,” that is a reflection of her own faith. Is this critical from a Christian perspective? Absolutely. Unless the person believes, has faith in Jesus Christ there is no salvation for the person. A good way to state this is: “faith which believes…”

Two examples of this use of faith in the New Testament:

Romans 3:26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Hebrews 11:11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised.

The Faith:

The referent in this phrase is not the person’s faith, but what the content of what is believed. It is not dependent on one person or even a group of people. The content of faith is determined by God in his Word. Thus, when Mary says, “I believe in Jesus Christ,” the content of that statement is “the faith,” or “faith which is believed.”

Two examples of this use of faith in the New Testament:

2 Corinthians 13:5 Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.

Jude 3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.


So how does Creed fit into the above two words (and referents)? The passage from Jude is critical in making the connection. Notice that he says “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” There is a public passing on of the content of the Christian teaching, the content of what is commonly believed.

This leads to the Creed as it developed over the years, not adding content, but refining how we summarize what is the essence of the Christian faith. Not everything is equally important in the Bible. The two sons of Eli play a part in 1 Samuel, but are not the essence of the Christian faith, nothing like the fact of the birth of Jesus.

The Creed then is a public statement of “the faith once delivered to the saints.” It tells us and reminds us of what is important (most important!) when we claim to be Christian. The Creed spans the entire age range of the local congregation. Further, it spans Christians throughout the world. And finally the Creed spans the centuries since the time of the New Testament. The creed connects to the person’s individual faith, by linking it with the bedrock of “the faith.”

So we need faith in Christ for salvation; we need to state the content of the faith, and the Creed helps us in both cases.

The Total Witness of the Church

A hallmark of society in the last 40 years is the sense of fragmentation. Especially in the church is the sense of fragmentation more noticeable. The unfortunate result is that we think we can piece meal together aspects of the church and its worship life as if it does not matter. But fragmentation of who God is and who we are is never healthy. Paul Althaus wrote consider the totality of the church’s witness, especially insightful for us who struggle with the fragmented view of church.

The Word and its embodiment belong together, not only in the individual preacher, but also in the church as a whole. The preaching church is at the same time the serving church, which takes upon itself the need of people and in every way seeks to set up signs of the love of Christ in the world. It is intended to be understood as witness.

It is in this comprehensive context that the preaching of the church’s ministry stands. And there is still more to be said. Preaching also belongs in the totality of the church’s “worship of God,” all its forms and structures. This totality bears witness along with the preaching and thus sustains it. So it is with the liturgy, above all the word of the Bible in it, the songs of the church, its prayers, and hymns, the order of every service of worship and the church year, the whole of the church’s order and custom. But also the building, pictures and sculpture, liturgical music, the whole of Christian art, insofar as all this has had its impulse from the encounter with the gospel and is born of the Spirit of God, can become a witness that builds the the church.

Paul Althaus in The Minister’s Prayer Book: An Order of Prayers and Readings, edited with an introduction by John W. Doberstein, London: Collins Liturgical Publications, 1986 (Fortress Press, 1986), p. 263.