Monday, July 31, 2017

The Chaos of Life and the Music of Suicide

Hi, my name is Paul. This is my first blog here and I’m kind of messed up. (Hi, Paul.) Since I finished my first Master’s degree in 1985 I have worked in bars, colleges, universities, churches, motels, insurance, and now at Steelcase. It was the turn of the millennium when working at the University of Arkansas that I was diagnosed with depression. It’s not like one day I was feeling under the weather and decided to go for mental health screening. No, I’d felt off-center for years. I finally felt that it was time to see somebody and do something about it. Then I began my long line of medications and counselors.

About 30 months ago, fifteen-some years after my original diagnosis, I was hospitalized. That first Master’s degree? It’s a Counselor Education degree focusing on College Student Development with classwork in crisis counseling. This is what I knew because of my training. First—I wanted to hurt myself; for me that’s a euphemism for “I wanted to commit suicide.” Second—As soon as I shared this, I knew my counselor would ask me a bunch of questions to “evaluate” my suicide plan. She would check the lethality of my plan, my access to execute the plan, and the possibility of being saved.

The third one is interesting. Was I going to try to overdose in the house where people come and go all day? If so, there would have been a very good chance that I would be found, a very good chance I wanted to be found. Highly survivable. That’s really a good sign for a counselor. As for me, my possibility of being found/saved was so remote she asked me to never share it.

So, my lethality as B-, my access was A-, but my lethality/would I be found in time to be saved was A+ with extra credit meaning I had no intention of being found alive. With that knowledge, knowing I was a danger to myself, the only question she had was would she have me committed with my cooperation or not. I cooperated. Like I said, I knew enough, but it was a struggle to actually say “let’s do it.”

I spent ten days in the hospital. I was in individual and group counseling. I spent most of my down time reading my bible and accidentally became the Chaplain on my ward. It was bizarre, it was surreal. It was also where I got my new, improved diagnosis, Type II Bi-Polar Disorder with Anxiety. When I saw my counselor for the first time after getting out, she asked me what I thought about the diagnosis and I told her, “I like it! It’s not that I’m glad to have this disorder, but it explains so much!” The chaos of my life finally fit into a description, a diagnosis. That was comforting.

I’ve given you this much history to give you this. A friend in Wyoming (the Grand Rapids suburb) who also suffers from Bi-Polar disorder introduced me to Disability Advocates of Kent County through LaughFest. I auditioned and performed at the St. Patrick’s Day LaughFest event, which is how I met Maddie Schaab. The other day she posted a link to an article on the Disability Advocates Facebook page called "It’s not what you think" about the death by suicide of Soundgarden front man Chris Cornell. After lamenting the accidentally self-inflected deaths of so many grunge era musicians, author Rich Larsen writes:
Chris Cornell died of suicide on May 17, 2017, at the age of 52. He was a dad. He was a philanthropist. He was becoming an elder statesman of rock. He was a grown up. Cornell was aging gracefully, even doing that thing where some guys get better looking as they get older. He got Soundgarden back together, and they made a great new album a couple years ago. His voice still had all the power and strength it had displayed in his youth. Much like the rest of us, the world had kicked his ass a couple times, and he survived.

But now he’s gone, and goddammit, his is the death that bothers me the most. As I’ve been thinking about this, I’m realizing that it’s both a personal and a generational thing. Cornell had a long struggle with depression. As have I. As have many of you.
I want to say this again, Chris Cornell was a grown up. He had his problems. He struggled with depression, as many of us do. He seemed to have his stuff under control. No drink, no drugs. Great show in Detroit. He seemed to have his stuff together… and he hangs himself in a hotel room.

This should be the time in the blog when I mention that I wrote this on Memorial Day. In 2016, the Military Times reported that on the average 20 veterans kill themselves daily, which is twice the national average ("New VA study finds 20 veterans commit suicide each day"). Considering Vets make up 9% of the population, this number is disproportionately large.

Among persons with disabilities I can’t find numbers as easy to understand as exist with veterans in the popular press. Sorry Google, I couldn’t. One scholarly article that evaluated over 100 articles and abstracted another 31 (Understanding suicide and disability through three major disabling conditions: Intellectual disability, spinal cord injury, and multiple sclerosis). Maybe the editor can find me better number and give me one of those little Ed. comments at the end of the blog. The general consensus is that the number is high enough that this deserves study.

In truth, in Truth, what is really important comes from the lyrics of a song by The Rainmakers front man Bob Walkenhorst, “Numbers don’t lie, but numbers don’t bleed.”

Talking about the music of suicide in his life, Rich Larsen lamented the deaths of Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Kristen Pfaff of Hole, and Shannon Hoon of Blind Melon. Of Alice in Chains’ Layne Staley gruesome overdose he wrote, “The fact that his body was not discovered for more than a week felt somehow fitting. He was emblematic of a generation that just wanted to be left alone.”

As for me, I remember Del Shannon, Keith Emerson of ELP, Bob Welch who was better known for his solo career than his time with Fleetwood Mac, Michael Hutchence from INXS, and Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks. Following Larsen’s example, citing those whose death was “suicide by lifestyle” there was the trinity, Jimi, Janis, and Jim. John “Bonzo” Bonham, The Who’s rhythm section of Keith Moon and John Entwistle, Lowell George of Little Feat, AC/DC’s Bon Scott, Howie Epstein who played bass for The Heartbreakers, and Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy. Amy Winehouse! Prince!

On the subject of royalty, did I mention Elvis? Did I mention Michael Jackson? The King of Rock and the King of Pop? Numbers don’t lie, but numbers don’t bleed.

None of these struck me harder than the death by self-inflicted shotgun blast of Megan Walsh before Christmas of 1987. She was my first love, going to school in Wyoming (the state, not the Grand Rapids suburb), and she was coming home to Kansas City for the holidays. After a time of personal angst and alcohol abuse, I finally knew how I felt about her and was going to tell her, consequences be damned. Then I got the call about her death from my sister. Damn, the consequences...

About suicide, her mother said to me, “Don’t you ever do that, Paul. You hear me. Don’t you ever do that.” I told her, “No, Nancy. I won’t.” Twenty years later, as I contemplated my own death, I remembered that conversation and knew how far I had come. I knew her plea. I remembered well her heart wrenching plea and even that could not keep me from wanting to end it. I knew I was rounding a corner there was no way back from.

I also knew I was in so much pain that if anybody had told me “this was a permanent solution to a temporary problem” my reply would have been “yes, permanent.”

That’s what’s so seductive about voluntary death. All those problems, coming like a flood from a burst dam to sweep you to pain, sorrow, despair, and hopelessness… death ends all of that—permanently.

Some would have this be the part of the blog where I tell you not to be seduced, tomorrow is only a day away. Let’s be honest though, with the music in this post, the soundtrack from “Annie” is out of place.

Now that’s what makes this post difficult. You my gentle reader, whether you are suffering or know someone who is, the last thing you want to read is a platitude. We’ve already dealt with “the permanent solution to the temporary problem” and “wait ‘til tomorrow.” You don’t want to read that “everything will be better” because all evidence points to the contrary.

So here’s what I will say. There is help out there. Friends and family usually don’t have all of the resources needed if you have deep depression. If you are contemplating hurting yourself the people who love you will probably hit you with the reflex saying, “Oh no you’re not, you’re just… (insert whatever here).” That doesn’t help anybody.

Name your hurt. Claim your pain. Find what you need. The good people here at Disability Advocates can help point you in the right direction.

To close, this is the last chorus from “Everybody Hurts” from REM’s “Automatic for the People.”

Well, everybody hurts sometimes
Everybody cries
And everybody hurts sometimes
And everybody hurts sometimes
So, hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on
Hold on, hold on

Everybody hurts

You are not alone

Really, you’re not alone. We’re not alone.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255. There website can be found here.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Playing and Passing it on

Last night I was reminded of a story from my youth. Really there was no good reason to be reminded of this story, but I remembered it with a smile and I have so few of them I felt it was worth sharing.

When I was little and we would go to visit my Grandmother in Mexico, MO. When we got there I would immediately go next door to visit Kenny, the son of the next door neighbor. He was about six or seven years older than me and we would play. We'd play football or tag or just go to the park across the street. He made me my first pair of stilts and watched me bruise my knees and elbows until I finally found my balance. Success was sweet. It was a good time and what was fun was that this was an older guy letting me hang out with him. Good fun.

Eventually he got older. This meant girls and cars and a job and less time for me. I was sad, but I was getting older and I understood. I was kind of sad, but I understood. That was when I met his little cousin Matt.

I was about six or seven years older than Matt and when I would come to town we would play together. We'd play football or tag or just go to the park across the street. More than anything else though, we'd wrassle around a lot. I'd let him crawl all over me, try out new holds and find his balance and his strength. It was a good time and what was fun was that he found an older guy who was letting him hang out. Good fun.

And he became an All-State Wrestler in Missouri.

When we were in our twenties, I was sitting on his grandfather's front porch, Kenny's front porch so long ago, and he told me how much fun it was playing so long ago. He asked why I did it. He asked what he could do to pass it on. I told him about Kenny. I asked him if he did the same thing with a little brother or cousin or neighbor and he said yes, he did. I told him he passed it on without even knowing it. Shoot, I passed it on and didn't know I was passing it on. I was just playing.

So here's the thing. Be in the moment. Play. You may be passing on something you don't even know you're passing on. As for Kenny, was he passing it on or did he start a ball rolling that may still be rolling today? The only answer I have for this is yes, and I'm glad he did.

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Last year, I was working at the Motel 6 in Marshall, Texas. Yep, one of the most important roles in the Christmas story and that was me, the Innkeeper.

Allow me to back up for a moment, on the Sunday before Christmas Eve, I told my pastor The Reverend Doctor James Freeman that I would not be in worship because I had to work at the Motel. I added that IF Jesus and Maria came in a Bronco and she was pregnant I would text because it was going down.

Note: No, Jesus and Maria isn't racist. Admittedly, Spanish is the only language where the name of our Lord is commonly used as a proper first name and Maria is a common first name in Spanish speaking countries, but if ascribing these two to be the modern doppelgangers of the parents of the Lord is racist I would ask, "Wait, is being parents of the Lord a bad thing?"

The defense is restless, on with the story.

So that night, some guy (a white guy for those keeping score) came to get a refund for the room and said his girlfriend would be up in ten minutes with the other key. Thirty minutes later, she still wasn't there.

I went to the room to rush her out. Kind of a Motel 6 no-no, but I did it. So she answers the door and what do I see? She's pregnant. She's smoking. There are beer bottles all over the room. I get to tell her not that there is no room at the inn, but her boyfriend checked her out and she has to leave. What a guy.

She begins to cry and load her bag. She starts with her smokes. Gets the rest of the beers. Grabs her phone. The whole time she cries about the friend whose house she was supposed to be going and where is her boyfriend. If I was a betting man, he was in the bathroom. Their car was still outside.

I get the key. I get her out. I see them drive off ten minutes later. Ever want to feel like Scrooge? Kick a pregnant woman out of a motel on Christmas Eve.

Let me say again, corporately I was right. Legally I was right. Morally I was right. Now let me add this, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Samaritan left the injured man with enough money for an estimated two month stay and promised to come and pay the extra. The boyfriend took the money back, he didn't pay for the night.

Yeah, I didn't bother to text this story to Jim. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Men (and Women) in Albs

Reformation Day has passed, but before it did, I remembered this bit from the movie Men in Black when Tommy Lee Jones as K is talking to Will Smith as James Edwards before he became J:
Edwards: Why the big secret? People are smart. They can handle it.

Kay: A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody knew the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody knew the Earth was flat, and fifteen minutes ago, you knew that humans were alone on this planet. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.

So how does this apply to Reformation Day? Imagine if you will, as I did, a conversation between Martin Luther as he is putting his Ninety-Nine Theses on the door of the Wittenberg Church door and a fellow cleric...
Cleric: Whatcha doing Martin?

Luther: I've got some problems with our theology, some big problems. You know that. And it's high time everybody knows, not just the bishops.

Cleric: What do you mean Bishops, you're the Father of Lutheranism, you're not Roman Catholic! Your reformation started the whole Lutheran Church thing!

Luther: Stupid! Don't you know anything about church history! I'm Roman Catholic and so are you! So is most of Europe in 1517! Dumbkopf!

Cleric: So what is this about?

Luther: The Church needs to be reformed if...

Cleric: There's that word!

Luther: Yes, and do you know what it means? Reform, change, big change, very big change, maybe even change in italics! It doesn't mean schism, it means change. What comes of it after my death, well, we'll see where it goes from there, but what I want is for the Church Universal to change.

Cleric: What do you mean by Church Universal?

Luther: That's all catholic with a lower case c means, universal. When you read it in the creeds it doesn't mean Roman Catholic or even the Eastern Orthodox, it means the universal church. Do I have to explain everything to you?

Cleric: Looks that way...

Luther: What's causing you problems here?

Cleric: Well, here it says you want us to stop selling plenary indulgences. Why would we ever do that?

Luther: Insert eye roll here! With these indulgences we sell, with cash money we sell the holiness of good people to bad people so that they can get into heaven, right.

Cleric: Sure, that's the only way my Uncle Stugotz will even sniff heaven!

Luther: That's what I mean! You can't sell holiness! Where is that even found in scripture?

Cleric: Er, in the book of...

Luther: Yeah, don't bother. It's not found in scripture. We soil ourselves to believe this is even possible and for what, a few coins in the treasury?

Cleric: Hey, don't knock it. Giving is down. We gotta do something to put butts in the pews. We gotta get giving up Martin. The Sistine Chapel Ceiling didn't paint itself. Pope needs cash to do the work of the church.

Luther: How is another fresco going to serve the poor and the widowed and the travelers and the...

Cleric: Well Pope Trump is going to build a wall across the Rubicon so...

Luther: There is so much wrong with that statement I'm not even going to try to correct you. The point is the work of the church is not nice things. The work of the church is outside the walls, not inside the walls.

Cleric: So why put this stuff up on the door? You want the biships and doctors of the church to discuss this stuff right?

Luther: Surely yes I do. But I've been neglected in small groups. Maybe posting this on All Saints Day when we all come to Wittenberg will cause us to act.

Cleric: If you mean your trial, excommunication, and death sentence, then yes, your call to action will be met.

Luther: Yes, I suspect you're right. And do you know why, because a person is smart. We're having a decent conversation, except for your lapses in church history and that "Pope Trump" crack. A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky, superstitious animals and you know it. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody thought Jesus was a poser and a Jewish heretic. Five hundred years ago the bow was the latest in war technology, and fifteen minutes ago, you thought money could take holiness from the treasury of merit to help your Uncle Stugotz. Imagine what you'll know tomorrow.
Well, that isn't what happened, but as Kurt Vonnegut once said during a Palm Sunday sermon, you can always count on a crowd to look at the wrong end of a miracle. A person is smart. Two people can have a conversation, we can have coffee and a streusel. We can discuss and if we can keep a calm head we can discuss the matters of the day.

If our day and time has shown us one thing for sure, if it's the church or politics, and let us remember a secular government is an American invention, people are dumb, panicky, superstitious animals. And you know it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Pastor Paul's September 20 Newsletter Article

Pastor Paul's Letter to the Church at Weatherford

So, what do you hope? The Cowboys can keep it up with fourth-quarter-pull-it-out victories? Both Dallas and Oklahoma State pulled that off last weekend. Both are either at or above .500 for the season! Maybe you hope Ohio State will quit scoring on Oklahoma, finally, as the Sooners fall out of the Top 25. (Sure, they’re only #26, but still, it’s out of the glory.)

Maybe you hope this semester, only a few weeks old will let you take a breath soon. I saw a sign the other day that said “ONLY 35 MORE DAYS UNTIL FALL BREAK.” Wow, now there’s hoping. Classes haven’t been in session 35 days and somebody’s counting the days until fall break.

As Christians, our hope is in Jesus Christ. That’s it. As Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica, “We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

We remember and we are remembered. Our work is prompted by love and love is returned. We endure by our hope in Christ. If our hope is in being friendly, or charismatic, or family or anything other than in our Lord Jesus Christ, we fail. Our only hope is in Christ, everything else is loss. That other stuff, that is because our hope is in Christ!

So remember, “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16)

See you in Church, Paul

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Pastor Paul's September 13 Newsletter Article

Here's my article for the Federated Flash, the newsletter of The Federated Church in Weatherford, Oklahoma!

Paul’s Letter to the Church at Weatherford

Reading the announcements in last Sunday’s bulletin, you saw this…

Monday, September 19
6:00 pm Preliminary Budget Meeting—If you have anything for the 2017 Budget, please get it to Pastor Paul, Bruce Magill, or Suzy Maness by Sunday September 18.

First off, don’t let the image put you off, it’s true, budget work is God’s work, Christ’s work, the work of the church. I would tell people I loved statistics because it took numbers and translated them into English. “Yes, based on all of this gobbled-gook there is a 20% chance of rain.” That’s just statistics and weather and the percent chance your picnic will be rained out. (We’ll leave the statistics on how trustworthy the meteorologist is for another day.)

Budgets are just how we translate how we do the work of the church into dollars and cents. How much did it cost to heat and cool the church building and parsonage last year and how much do we estimate it will cost this year? How much do we send to the three denominations so they can do their work? How much money do we send to missions? Do we tithe? How much does it actually cost to have a pastor? Is there more than salary? What does it cost to run Positive Pathways? How much does Ronda make? Do we even pay Ronda? (The answer to that one is “not this year,” she volunteers and puts money into the program.) What do we get from… well, what do we get?

These are all good questions, and deserve good answers, so here’s the Board’s tentative time frame:
Monday, September 19—Pastor Paul, Treasurer Bruce Magill, and Board Chair Suzy Maness will review the budget from 2016 with an eye to 2017. If you have any suggestions of things you want to do in 2017, let’s say a yoga class in the Fellowship Hall, a Music Program in the Sanctuary, or a Bible Study, put something in writing and share it with one or all of us! This is a closed meeting, we’re going over numbers and not making any hard decisions.

Monday, October 3—Board Meeting This is the meeting where the Board will review the budget. All Committee Chairs are board members so they have voice and vote. Make sure your suggestions are in so considerations can be made! If you have a suggestion that falls outside of the normal structure, find an advocate on the board, it’s the best way!

Sunday in late October or early November to be decided: The board has not decided on what day the budget will be presented.  
Sunday November 20—Consecration Sunday That’s the day we put ourselves in the offering. That’s the day we pledge to offer what we have of our time, talent, and treasure to make this ministry plan happen. Because the budget is a ministry plan the way an accountant sees it.
So like the statue says, Church budgets are Christ’s work too. We must treat them like they are the work of God to do the work of the Church to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ, because if it’s not, we’re just a Sunday Social Club and there are better ways to spend a Sunday morning if that’s all we are. But I say we’re more than a social club, we’re the Body of Christ, so…

See you in Church, Paul

Sunday, September 11, 2016

I'm Beginning to See My Problem with Colin Kaepernick

I think I've begun to figure out what bothers me about Kaepernick's protest and especially the followers...

When I got out of school in 1985 I couldn't find a job in my field, Reganomics decimated hiring in Higher Ed. Does any of this have to do with my "winning personality?" Maybe, but five years later, after throwing drunks out of bars for a few years I found an entry level job. Thank you David Shellberg and Lamar Community College.

I worked eight and a half years in Lamar and three more at the University of Arkansas, ten years of that was spent working with low income students and students who would be the first in their family to earn a Bachelor's Degree. Statistically speaking, people who qualify for these programs are more likely to be people of color, but don't believe for a minute that there aren't a lot of white children who fulfill those qualifications too.

So here's the deal. These programs, and the nearly 2,800 like them are a part of the United States
Click here for the Department of Education TRIO Homepage
Department of Education's TRIO programs. These programs include Talent Search, Upward Bound, Veteran's Upward Bound, the Talent Search Math Science Initiative and a few others. They help students whose families are less likely to get their kids into higher ed into Higher Ed and on toward graduation and even graduate school.

These program's are a part of President Johnson's War on Poverty. That's right, that "Redneck Som-Bit from Texas" Johnson, the President who made sure the Civil Right's Act didn't die with Kennedy on a Sunny day in Dallas worked to make sure kids who never considered higher education not only considered it, but had the support and the tools to succeed.

These problems have existed for hundreds of years in America. So why in the world are we paying so much attention to this guy? I'm sorry, he's a Johnny come lately to the party with the assets, the charisma, and the authority to do more than just whine. I've done more for race in America after someone called one of my regular customers who was black "The N-Word" in the bar I managed than he did and that took fifteen minutes.

I have sat in rooms full of people who could do more with what he makes in a single game sitting on the bench to further justice in America than he has ever dreamed. I've done more working ten years in higher education working with students and working to secure the jobs of the people delivered services to these students.

People aren't actually talking about race or society or justice, they're talking about Colin Kaepernick. He's more of a distraction. Colin Kaepernick doesn't need to keynote a discussion on race, he needs to go to a regional or national TRIO convention and see what people are doing to move toward a just society. He doesn't need to talk, he needs to listen, he needs to pay attention, and he needs to get involved and maybe put some of that money where his mouth is.

By the way, these are federally funded programs, you know, the federal government, That thing he protests by taking a knee. And I thought taking a knee was how a football player gives up on a play. All hat, no cattle. All protest, no action. Sorry Colin, spend ten years as an Upward Bound counselor helping kids get into college, which you seemingly took for granted, then you might have a better idea what the problem is.

Then you can go to your gated community and your swimming pool and tell the world how bad life is for people of color.