Mental Illness from a Christian Perspective

Mental-DisordersOver the weekend we got the news that Rev. Rick Warren’s son, Matthew, committed suicide. Most of us know Warren as the author of The Purpose Driver Life and several other books as well as the pastor of Saddleback Church. I was not aware that Matthew had been fighting mental illness “since birth” as Warren states. Warren wrote that Matthew committed suicide in spite of receiving the best help available and that the decision to kill himself came in a “moment of deep despair.” My first reaction upon hearing this news was to relate all too well to what Matthew was going through and to pray for the Warren family. My request to you, dear reader, would be to pray for them as well. They are going through something that no parent should ever have to go through.

Unfortunately my reaction to offer condolences and prayer was not the first reaction of all Christians. It would seem that there are many in our dysfunctional family who feel the need to judge, to ridicule and shoot vitriol at the Warrens. Instead of offering comfort they are offering condemnation. Quite frankly it sickens me. I came across this post that talks of the Warren’s tragedy and some of the examples of the pure hate being spread to the Warrens the author included in his post made me want to throttle my laptop at a wall. Here are some of what Mr. Viola included (edit: I want to make clear that Mr. Viola did not make these comments, rather he shared them and did his best to rebutt the comments and admonish those who made them):

Train up your children in the way, live a godly example with right priorities, care enough to home-school despite the great sacrifice involved, don’t let them date unchaperoned, have daily family devotions, turn off the 1-eyed idiot, TRULY HAVE A PURPOSE-DRIVEN LIFE, and your children WILL NOT COMMIT SUICIDE, nor will they be involved in homosexuality, nor fornication.

He killed himself, it’s much worse than fornication or homosexuality or Onanism or eating pork. He denied himself a chance to get better. If your kids need a chaperone to date, why do you let them date? They shouldn’t be dating if they are not mature enough to control themselves.

He could not save his own because Mr. Warren does not truly understand how his own heart works, how it is broken and the mechanism by which Jesus laid out the example of how to fix it. Matthew killed himself because he did not understand either. He was a victim of his own ignorance and the ignorance of his family, friends, society and Christians around him — presently!

Personally I am appalled ashamed that the Warrens are having to endure comments like this. As Christians we are called upon to love one another and this is what they get? We are told to not judge and often we Christians are the most judgmental and hateful people in the room. When did scripture change to state that it’s OK for us to spread hate and judgment so long as we claim that we’re doing it in “Chrsitian love?”

It didn’t and it is unacceptable. We need to stop. Now.

I take this issue personally. I get so angered at the Warrens having to endure this hate because I had a battle with depression and generalized anxiety disorder. That period of a little over a year (I thank God everyday that it wasn’t longer) was the darkest period of my life. I felt alone and abandoned by my Lord. I was literally scared of my own shadow. Fear gripped me at every turn. I constantly had panic attacks and the despair I felt was indescribable. The whole experience was my vision of Hell and it’s not something I would wish upon anyone. I have to admit that before this experience there was a part of me who felt those with mental illness had some kind of weakness but my mind was changed when I was the one on medication and receiving counseling.

You feel differently about something when the issue hits home.

My mental health battle was not the result of a lack of faith or because of a demon. My mental illness was a bump in my life’s road, the same bump that many other people find themselves experiencing through no fault of their own.

I am thankful that through the miracle of medication and a wonderful counselor who is a Christian – not to mention the grace of God – that I was able to come out of this experience a stronger person with a heart for those who are struggling with mental issues.

Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, it is not a judgement for sin, it is not caused by a lack of faith and it is not caused by one being possessed by a demon (these are actual things I have heard for myself by professing Chrsitians!). Mental illness is just that: An illness. When one is fighting a mental disease they require love, support, the best help available and prayer. What they or their families do not need to hear is that their faith isn’t strong enough or that they have somehow sinned and are getting what they deserve.

Jesus said, “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NLT). Would you want someone telling you that your son’s or daughter’s depression was being caused by a sin they had committed or that their suicide was because you had not “trained them up” correctly? Would you want someone telling you that mental illness is a sign of weakness when you know yourself that it isn’t? So why would anyone do this to someone else?

It’s time for us to become educated about mental illness and it’s time for us to be loving and show grace to those who are experiencing this dreadful and hellish battle. We need to stop looking at depression and other mental illness as a pox or a sign that one is unclean and find out what we can do to help that person and their family. It’s time to truly be the salt and light, hands and feet of Jesus to those who need it the most.

Let this experience with the Warrens encourage us to reach out to those who are experiencing difficulty with mental health instead of condemning them. Jesus loves them just as much as he loves us. Why can’t we do the same?



Graduation Reflections (or: An Open Letter to Recent Graduates)

Tonight I attended graduation at the school where my wife teaches. I want to say congrats to everyone in the class of 2012, no matter where you are!

During the ceremony as I listened to the speeches by salutatorians and valedictorian, I reflected upon my own graduation. I graduated high school in 1999 so it’s been 12 years since I was in their place. When I had my cap and gown on, these kids were first graders. First, I felt old. Very old. But I also began to realize that I should have listened to those who went before me when they told me things to expect once I hit the real world. As I am now part of the generation that has gone before these guys and gals, I feel that it’s our responsibility to impart advice based on our experiences.

Geez, I sound old again.

So, if I could say anything to those who have graduated tonight or at any point recently, it would be the following:

First, congratulations on reaching this milestone in your lives. Take some time to enjoy this step and to relax a little. Key phrase: A little. You’re in the real world now. No longer will you have people telling you where to go and when to be there. That is now your responsibility.

If you thought high school was tough, it’s nothing compared to college. In high school you had teachers who would take extra time to help you and do whatever they had to do to get you to accept it. Your professors and instructors don’t care why you “had” to miss their class or that you “need” extra time to finish a project. You do the work on their terms or not at all. They don’t care. They also don’t care whether you pass or fail. And if your parents call your instructors to try and take up for you, they’ll probably not give them the time if day (and you’ll likely have hell to pay). You’re an adult now; it’s time for you to handle your business like an adult. And your instructors/professors? They’re there to teach, not to coddle you. Those days are over. Soon you’ll realize how good you had it in high school.

The same goes for your bosses. If you miss too much work, you’ll get fired. Be where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there… but again, remember that this is now your responsibility.

The question is not “if you will fail,” it’s “when.” Regardless of what you may believe, you will experience failure. You will get fired eventually. You won’t do well on probably many tests and papers. There will be times when you won’t be able to pay your bills and you’ll wonder whether or not you’ll be able to afford gas to go to work. With all of this in mind, the real question is “how will you bounce back when you fail.” And don’t fear – you will bounce back.

Don’t be afraid of hard work. Nothing is going to come easily – that’s just the reality. Nothing is handed to you in the real world – you have to work hard and earn it. Hard work is what has made so many before you great. Mark Zuckerburg – one of the founders of Facebook – didn’t become the wealthy man he is by sitting on his duff. In fact, he dropped out of Harvard. However, he worked hard and now he’s reaping the rewards. Wealth may not come as easily to you and in fact it probably won’t come at all, especially to the level of Zuckerberg. However, if you work hard, you will have everything you need and probably a good many things that you want.

Boyfriends and girlfriends will come and go. Don’t worry about experiencing heartbreak because you’re going to. There’s nothing you can do to stop it, it’s going to happen. Don’t fret about a relationship not working out; there are plenty of people out there for you to date. Somewhere there is someone special whom you may marry. Regardless, enjoy the ride and make sure you not only learn about your significant other but also learn about yourself. I learned something about myself in every relationship I ever had. Even though many didn’t end well, I’m still glad to have gone through them because I was able to learn a lesson. Having the same attitude will be good for you too.

Floss. Yes, it’s a pain but do it. Your gums will thank you.

Get a hair cut. Don’t get 20 piercings and 30 tattoos. In the real world, dress codes exist and are enforced. Like it or not, most companies haven’t accepted what you consider fashion. They also don’t care about your need for “self expression.” Keep the “art” to a minimum.

Go easy on the beer and booze. As a paramedic, I could tell you many stories about the consequences of bad decisions made while someone is drunk. Be safe. If you’re going to drink, give up the keys. Don’t become a statistic.

Stay away from illegal drugs. Don’t become addicted to prescription drugs. I know that should go without saying but, again, I could tell you stories about the consequences of addiction. Don’t even toy with it. It’s much easier just to not do it than to overcome it. Again, don’t become a statistic.

Read “Oh, The Places you will Go!” by Dr. Seuss.

Most importantly, keep your faith in Jesus Christ as the number one thing in your life. Yes, more important than any boyfriend or girlfriend, school, a job, anything. Don’t be afraid to respond to His calling should He call you to be a minister, missionary or even to sing in the praise band or choir at church. Listen to the Holy Spirit – He will guide you and let you know if you’re on the right path. Find a translation of the Bible that you can understand and enjoy reading… then read it as much as possible.

There’s much more but you’ll will just learn it from experience. Take advantage of every opportunity to grow. The growing pains aren’t fun but once you experience growth, you’ll be glad you went through it. Also, never stop growing.

I hope I never do.


My Testimony

The following is a testimony that I’ve typed out. At the request of a couple of my Twitter followers (speaking of Twitter, you can find me here), here it is in blog form. God bless!

Many of my earliest memories involve church. From as early as they could, my parents had me in church as much as possible. However, this wasn’t always possible because I spent a large percentage of my childhood in a hospital bed. I can remember many instances where my pastor or the hospital chaplain would visit and pray, where other people would pray and of course my parents would pray. I was told about Jesus at an early age so I have a hard time finding a time where I never believed. Jesus was a part of my life from the beginning.

As I got older and learned more about the faith, I joined my church and became active in the youth group. There were many times where I questioned whether I was really saved or if I was playing church. One evening when I was about 16, my youth group went to a play at a Meridian church. The drama deeply affected me and I wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t spend an eternity in Hell. When the invitation was given, I responded.

Later on I graduated high school and went to college and I did the things that college kids do but I always knew that I was doing wrong and that Jesus expected more of me. However, much to my detriment, I continued down a bad road. Eventually I moved to Indiana and it became even worse, mainly because for the first time in my life I was truly on my own and thought I could do anything I wanted to without consequence. You name it, I did it.

One night when I was about 25 I was laying in bed, having problems sleeping because I kept thinking of all the junk in my life. The Holy Spirit had been working on me for quite some time and that night He made Himself known beyond a shadow of a doubt. I heard a voice say “you can’t keep doing this.” Right then I hit my knees, repented of my sin and rededicated myself and my soul to Jesus Christ. Soon after that I became active in a great church, surrounded myself with strong Christians and I was even re-baptized.

Now that I’m back in Mississippi, here I am: A man who’s still a sinner but who realized the way he was living was wrong, the things I had placed more emphasis on rather than Jesus were wrong and that I was trying to do it all myself. I can’t. No one can. Only Jesus can save us and I thank God that I came to realize that. I married a Godly woman, I am involved in an amazing church and am seeking out God’s will for my life. I’m proud to say that I love Jesus and I want to serve Him in all ways as possible. My road has been a bumpy one but I thank God that I went down it because it helped me learn to rely on Him and that without Him I am nothing.

A Pastor That Leads

Today I heard one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard in any church that I’ve ever had the privilege of worshiping in.

My church – Central United Methodist Church of Meridian, MS – has decided to undertake a very bold and brave experiment in order to find ways to help the church grow. Before I go any further with that, let me just say that my church is very healthy and is growing by leaps and bounds. However, in the years to come, this might not be the case. The reality of any church is that members have a finite lifespan either through things like moving, death, poor health or other factors. In order to ensure that the church continues to grow and is able to sustain a healthy membership in the decades to come, the sooner we begin finding the ways to make that happen the better. The experiment I speak of involves reversing the order of our worship services.

Central has two services on Sunday mornings: A contemporary worship service at 8:30 and a traditional service at 10:55. Each week attendance numbers are published in Central’s newsletter and the early service is a much larger draw (normally over 200 – sometimes close to 300) than the late service (normally less than 200). The Administrative Council voted to try an experiment in which the times for the services will be reversed. The purpose of this is to find out if more people are coming to the contemporary service because of the time and also to find out if having a contemporary service later in the morning may attract even more young people to church who currently are unchurched.

It’s bold and different. I also fully support it.

Our Senior Pastor, Dr. Bob Rambo, spoke today in length about the experiment and how he understood that some people don’t support it because it’s different. Let’s face it: A lot of people don’t like change. A lot of people don’t like the boat being rocked and thus they’re opposed to anything that will shake up their lives especially when it comes to church. However, Bro. Bob reminded us all that we have a mission: To offer Christ to as many people as possible in as many ways as possible and as many times as possible. He acknowledged that change is never easy (and also emphasized that this just a month long experiment, not a permanent change being made at this time) but that it’s necessary in order for the church to continue to grow and be sustained in the future.

A church that doesn’t experiment and try new things is a church that will die. It might not be tomorrow but it will happen eventually.

Bro. Bob related a similar situation that arose while he was serving a congregation in northeastern Mississippi. A large sum of money was left to the church but with the stipulation that the money had to be used to help people, not to be used for the church budget. A committee (we United Methodists love our committees!) determined that a big need in the community was for more daycare services and their recommendation was to use the money to start a daycare service. A faction within the church was opposed and did all it could to derail the decision – including physically threatening Bro. Bob and members of the committee who made the recommendation. By the time it was all said and done, the final decision was made to start the daycare. Many years later Bro. Bob returned to the church to preach at their homecoming and he found a congregation that was vibrant and growing. Many of the new families who came to the church did so because of the daycare. Some of the people who were opposed to the idea sought Bro. Bob out to apologize to him and to let him know that they were wrong.

The congregation that Bro. Bob served had an opportunity to do something bold and many people didn’t like it. However, the experiment worked and the church is still growing today because of the vision for the daycare.

I applaud Bro. Bob for having the forethought and vision to propose this idea. He knows that he won’t be at Central forever (UMC clergy are moved every so often) but he wants the church to survive and thrive long after he’s gone. I also applaud the Administrative Council for being willing to take a risk and try something bold that may very well help to sustain the church long after all of us are gone.

Today Bro. Bob spoke to the congregation about our mission and how sometimes we have to do things that are uncomfortable in order to further the gospel of Christ. While the growing pains may be difficult, it’s well worth it in order to serve Christ and help others see Him. Bro. Bob showed us all what a pastor should be and that’s a leader with vision and the boldness to want us to try new things.

He also showed that a pastor should not only serve the current congregation but also consider those who will come through the doors after his time at the church is done. Not only is he helping us now, he’s seeking to help future members of Central by laying a foundation now.

This, friends, is what a pastor should be doing.


Officer Down: Michael Walters, Pearl (Mississippi) Police Department

ImageThis morning three investigators  – officers with the Pearl Police Department – were attempting to do something they do day in and day out: Serve a warrant. This warrant was for the arrest of a suspect charged with sexual battery of a minor and possession of child porn. The suspect hid in a bathtub and when he was discovered he resisted arrest. One of the officers attempted to use a taser but the suspect had a gun and fired. All three officers were hit – Investigator Walters was hit in the face. All three were transported by EMS to the University of Mississippi Medical Center (a Level I trauma center). Approximately 40 minutes later, Investigator Walters died from his wounds. The other two detectives were listed in “good” condition as of the last time I looked at the various news sites in Jackson.

Anytime a police officer, firefighter or EMS worker is killed in the line of duty, it’s a reminder that we put our lives on the line to serve the public. I particularly hate these situations because it’s a reminder to me that at any point I can get that one call where it all goes wrong and where the end isn’t going to be a good one. I never want my wife to get that visit that tells her that something has happened to me.

If I had my way no one would ever get that visit.

Believe what you want about prison, the death penalty or whatever but these acts are inexcusable. Anyone who kills a firefighter, police officer or EMS worker in the line of duty should at the least be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. If the DA wants to pursue the death penalty, I say bring it on. People like this suspect are the scum of the earth and should have no right to be among those in civilized society.

Let’s remember this officer, his family, the other two officers who were shot and their families and the Pearl Police Department in our thoughts and prayers. They’re all going through something that no one should ever go through.

Why I’m Against the Mississippi Personhood Amendment

Yes, you read that title correctly. Now, before you go on a tirade and start calling me a Godless, baby killing son of a biscuit eater, allow me to tell you why I’m against Amendment 26.

The amendment as it is written is extremely vague. Granted a lot of it is open to interpretation and that is unfortunate. The way it’s written, birth control could be banned. In-vitro fertilization could be banned. Have a miscarriage? Some overzealous DA could cite the law as a means to charge the mother with some sort of crime.

Probably the most striking thing to me is that the group who’s pushing this idiocy outright says that a mother who is raped or conceives a child as the result of incest should be forced to carry the baby to term.

Don’t believe me? Check this out:

Personhood will prevent a baby conceived through rape or incest from being executed for the crime. Women who have borne a child conceived in rape testify that the baby is a blessing rather than a continuation of the assault, and placing the child for adoption remains an option. (source)

I was appalled when I read that. I don’t agree with abortion as a means of birth control. I hate abortion for such purposes. However, to tell a woman that she must carry a rapist’s baby is just as cruel as the hideous crime of rape itself.

I also resent this group does not identify itself. Who is Personhood Mississippi? No one really knows. If you look at their website (which you can see here), there is no information about their leadership, their office or anything else that may identify them. My guess is because it doesn’t exist. Personhood Mississippi appears to be an offshoot of Personhood USA. To me it sounds like outside people are coming into Mississippi and trying to influence our state constitution. I don’t know about you but that disturbs me.

In short this law is flawed and should not be allowed to pass as-is. But being a Mississippian, I know that the vast majority of my fellow Mississippians are going to vote yes. Most of them have no idea what the amendment actually says or what it covers, they only know it will “ban abortion.” It might be that their pastor told them to vote yes on amendment 26 or they’ll go to Hell (my take on politics from the pulpit  is a whole other rant). Most people will not even bother to look at what this amendment says and just take the word of whomever told them to vote for it. Blindly voting is one of the most idiotic things someone can do.

It should also be realized that this campaign is a waste of time. Anyone with half a brain knows that this will be challenged in the Supreme Court and that it will not stand.


9/11: Ten Years Later

It’s time I revived this blog. And what more appropriate way to revive it than to talk about one of the days I’ll never forget.


I’ll never forget any event of this day. From the moment I awoke to hear the news on the radio that something happened at the Twin Towers, to turning on the TV just in time to see the second plane hit, to seeing the panic around town of people who were fearing the worst at the gas pump, to crying while I was on the air that night and to going home and crying as I went to sleep. To say that 9/11 was a rotten for day – let alone anyone else – would be like saying a Mississippi Summer is just a tad warm.

9/11/01 sucked.

And now ten years have passed and as I look at where we’ve come from since that fateful day, I see progress. We came together as a nation that day in a way that had not been seen since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. A lot of that has gone away since, though, and we need to put aside out differences and concentrate on what’s really important. Our politicians need to stop playing the “mine’s bigger” game and do what’s right our country (who am I kidding? This will never happen). We also need to take care of the survivors of the attack – first responders and civilians – who suffer ill effects to this day. Bottom line: We have got to learn from the past and move forward.

I’ll be working a paramedic shift this 9/11 but I will remember my brothers and sisters in EMS, fire, law enforcement and the many others who perished that day. I will remember those who ran in to try and rescue them. I will remember how I and those around me felt that way and what we all experienced.

I will remember.


Letter To the Editor: Barbour’s Crusade against the Choctaws

(I emailed this to the editors of various newspapers in Mississippi in response to Governor Haley Barbour’s fight against the Choctaws’ plans to build a gaming facility on tribal land located in Jones County, Mississippi)

To the Editor:

Governor Haley Barbour’s crusade against the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians’ proposed Jones County “slot parlor” as he likes to call it has been well documented in the media.  One angle that the media has not taken that I would like to know about is what the Governor’s true intentions are.  I don’t think he has the interests of the environment or local and state infrastructure in mind.

What the Governor seems to forget is that the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is a sovereign, federally recognized Native American tribe.  As such, the way they conduct their affairs is none of the State of Mississippi’s business.  Governor Barbour asked Attorney General Jim Hood to find some legal means to stop the plans of the M.B.C.I., however Mr. Hood and his staff concluded that there is none.  Even with all of these matters factored in, Governor Barbour is continuing his plan to file suit against the tribe in an attempt to stop their gaming development.  Something smells rotten and I don’t mean the oil spilled in the Gulf of Mexico.

While I, as a mere citizen who is not part of the political machine, am in no position to make any outright accusation, I believe there are some dirty deeds being dealt by the casinos on the coast, the Mississippi River casinos and the Governor.  A recent blurb in the New York Post (“Bet on Gov. Barbour,” July 12, 2010) indicates that gaming mogul Steve Wynn (whose gaming company has operations on the Mississippi River) is encouraging Governor Barbour to campaign for the Republican nomination for President.  All of this seems mighty coincidental to me.

Mississippi is last in almost every quality of life statistic that is surveyed.  We have high unemployment, an education system that needs major improvement and we are dealing with the aftermath of the gulf oil spill, yet the Governor has the audacity to mount a fight against the Choctaws when he has no right to?  I implore the Mississippi Ethics Commission to launch an investigation of the Governor and his dealings with the gaming industry and also possible abuse of his gubernatorial power.

Jonathan Tullos

Stonewall, Mississippi

The End of an Era

Wow. I had no idea that Casey Kasem was about to sign off for the last time. I can remember hearing him on WJDQ (Q101)/Meridian, MS when I was a kid and thinking it was the coolest thing ever. What memories do you have of the real American Top 40? (thank to Rob McKenzie – I stole this from his blog).


“We began the weekend of July 4, 1970, and after 39 years this will be our final countdown,” Kasem said matter-of-factly on his “American Top 20” radio show over the weekend.

And so, with no hoopla and hardly any advance notice, the 77-year-old broadcasting legend counted down the hits one last time, quietly pulling the plug on a weekly ritual for his legion of loyal listeners.

It is, in many ways, the end of an era

Kasem was the last of the big-time DJs, a legacy that includes Alan Freed and Wolfman Jack, personalities who brought music to Americans when radio was king.

“Casey Kasem … Dick Clark … I really felt like these guys were a part of my family. You get this connection when you’re listening to them or when you’re watching them,” said Ryan Seacrest, who took the mic as host of Kasem’s signature “American Top 40” show five years ago. Kasem continued to host two spinoffs, “American Top 20” and “American Top 10.”

Kasem pioneered the countdown format on radio. He always included biographical details, little tidbits mainly, about the musicians. And there were those long-distance dedications, thousands of them, through the years.

Kasem also has voiced over countless commercials and given life to so many cartoon characters, most famously as the voice of Scooby-Doo’s faithful sidekick, Shaggy.

But it was his work as the king of countdowns that brought him a star, in 1981, on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame and entry, in 1992, into the Radio Hall of Fame.

Jeannie Kasem said her husband ended “American Top 20” and “American Top 10,” both of which counted down adult contemporary music hits, because he wanted time to pursue other projects, including possibly writing a memoir.

Radical changes in the radio business also were a factor, associates said. Adult contemporary music charts no longer change much from week to week, in part because stations that play such music have adopted smaller and smaller playlists. That brought a degree of monotony to Kasem’s countdowns in recent years.

“I think it was probably a gradual process. Charts are changing, stations are changing, the networks are changing, radio itself is changing, and I think, you know, the pendulum swings back and forth,” Jeannie Kasem said.” You just have to be willing to jump ship and try something new.”

Kasem’s voice will not disappear from the airwaves entirely. Weekly rebroadcasts of his Top 40 programs from the 1970s and 1980s will air on more than 200 stations.

Kasem let the world know he was getting out of the countdown business through a brief, mostly overlooked, news release a few days ago.

“Hosting various versions of my countdown program has kept me extremely busy, and I loved every minute of it. However, this decision will free up time I need to focus on myriad other projects,” he said in the release. “The 70’s and 80’s versions of “American Top 40″ have experienced phenomenal station and audience growth over the last year and I’m sure they will continue to be successful.”

He has declined requests for interviews about his decision.

“He’s never been big on goodbyes or hellos,” his wife explained in an interview in their home in Holmby Hills, Calif. “He lets his work speak for himself.”

Kasem’s first No. 1 was “Mama Told Me Not to Come” by Three Dog Night. His last: “Second Chance,” by Shinedown.

The music changed, but Kasem never did.

“I’m Casey Kasem,” he said in his final sign-off. “Now, one more time, the words I’ve ended my show with since 1970: Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars.”