This week we celebrated International World Mental Health Day, and world homelessness day – the challenges of XR in London and yesterday Michael and I spent time supporting the choir with no name…
- Every year 1: 4 adults, along with 1: 10 children, will have a mental health issue.
- Shelter figures for homelessness in Liverpool 94 rough sleepers and 181 people homeless but living in temporary accommodation.
These conditions can profoundly affect literally millions of lives, affecting the capability of these individuals to make it through the day, to sustain relationships, and to maintain work.
The stigma attached to mental health causes a damaging, albeit ill-informed, attitude, making it more difficult for those affected to pursue help. According to UK estimates, only about one-fourth of those with mental health problems undergo ongoing treatment. By stark contrast, the vast majority of those affected with these problems are faced with a variety of issues, ranging from isolation to uncertainty on where to get help or information, to relying on the informal support of family, friends or colleagues. And we know that people with mental ill health are disproportionately represented in the prison population.
Peter recently shared a soundbite which read – “the idea that some lives matter less… is the root cause of all that is wrong with the world”.
There are two men who are often to be found on the vestry steps – John and Paul (not their real names), once they are given names they are people and not a statistic…
We can all find ourselves fitting into some type of descriptive box or being a statistic sometimes this description makes us powerful when our label identifies our strength (politician, doctor, lawyer) and sometimes it makes us victims when our label is used to identify our weakness (homeless, poor, disabled, leper, uncooperative crustie) sometimes it makes us sad, sometimes ill and sometimes determined to recover…to change to be different. The strength and motivation for change often comes from a
strong faith – it always comes from a passion. We have a very pertinent example of how this change can come about with the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations this week. We are not powerless, we are not alone.
Every year we go to the Greenbelt festival there is always an overall theme, last year it was Wit and Wisdom, in 2020 it will be ‘Wild at Heart’. In 2009 the theme was, “Standing in the Long Now” the festival is then usually an unpacking of what this theme means. In 2009 I purchased a book of pocket liturgies – entitled ‘Standing in the Long Now”, the phrase wascoined by the musician and thinker Brian Eno (Roxy Music – musician – solo albums).
We gather at this finite moment in an infinity of moments,
The beginning which we experience
Brings about many ends
The end facilitates a future
The start of a multiplicity of starts
The end in a lifetime of endings
Into our finitude we welcome the infinite,
That which is beyond time,
An infinite God,
A God beyond our finitude,
And yet the God who embraced our finitude
And into our finitude this morning we introduce the story of 10 people with Leprosy. Leprosy could be described as a chronic, progressive bacterial infection, another description could be Leprosy is a mildly infectious disease, 95% of people have a natural immunity however in areas where immunity is low due to poverty and deprivation and poverty leprosy can be endemic. The disease, causing sores and eventually nerve damage, if nerves are damaged people are not aware when they hurt themselves and so wounds are open to infection and this can lead to amputations and disability. Today across the world 200,000 people are diagnosed with leprosy every year. It is estimated that 3,000,000 people are living with disabilities caused through late diagnosis.
Information from the leprosy mission says that because of stigma and ignorance about the disease … people feel fear, shame, sadness and because people think it no longer exists sufferers may feel worthless and so hide themselves away. Hiding away means that they become isolated so that their human rights are not realised, and their mental and physical health suffer.
When I was a student nurse, I had lots of international colleagues – I can vividly recall a young woman who came to work at the hospital and who was diagnosed with leprosy and was told she could no longer continue her studies. Now you know that I am not a shrinking violet, I have always been vocal and was so angry that this colleague was not offered treatment and rehabilitation – rather she was to be isolated from her peers and sent home to her own country. I was always challenged and challenging to myself and others and made a great fuss – it made no difference – she was sent home anyway. It brought home to me that there was institutional discrimination and stigma as well as individual attitudes and opinions.
Today we read that 10 lepers came to Jesus for healing – these people are called lepers – not people with leprosy. They are people first and should not be identified by their diagnosis. This is a learning curve for us all we are people first – God does not define us by our labels, and neither should we. These people would have suffered all the pain and isolation mentioned above – in the past people with leprosy were treated as dirty and isolated into colonies, isolated both by their families and communities but also by their own choice – easier to be alone than to deal with the prejudice and shame of being around other people. No NHS or grand pharma then – we read of the treatment of the Lepers – they were shunned, spat on, discarded like so much rubbish. In our language we use the idiom – to be treated like a leper – recognising their shameful status.
These people would have been desperate, they came to Jesus asking for Mercy – and Jesus did not shun them – from a distance, we don’t read that he touched any of them at this point. He told them to go show themselves to the priest. The priest would be the person to identify if they were clean/clear of disease, on their way there a transformation happened, and they were declared clean. Shortly afterwards one of the cleansed/healed people returned to Jesus – the others all went off, distanced themselves from Jesus and from that community.
There is a lot of learning in this passage – especially as we focus on the impact of mental health and well-being. I thought that some words from Jean Vanier would help us to understand how we come to share in community when we are honest and show our vulnerability.
Jean Vanier founder of the L’Arche community – Life in community – Community and Growth – Beneath the Masks
When people enter community, especially from a place of loneliness in a big city or from a place of aggression or rejection, they find the warmth and the love exhilarating. This permits them to start lifting their masks and barriers to become vulnerable. They may enter into a time of communion and great joy.
But they too, as they lift their masks and become vulnerable, they can discover that community can be a terrible place, because it is a place of relationship; it is the revelation of our wounded emotions and of how painful it can be to live with others, especially some people. It is so much easier to live alone and just do things for each other when we feel like it.
And there is yet another challenge in this story of the 10 lepers as the one who returned was the one who was the foreigner, the Samaritan, the other, the one who because of his culture and race would have been despised by the Jewish people.
“Jesus asked the Samaritan where the other nine people were”. It seemed they had isolated themselves even from each other, the majority were neither willing nor able to take time to recognise the receipt of the mercy they asked for. The love of God through this man Jesus was only celebrated by the thanks and the gratitude of the minority – the outsider.
CS Lewis suggests that perhaps it is not so much recognizing or believing in God that is the problem but believing in a God who loves us.
As I get older, I feel a stronger and closer relationship to the spirit of God, I am continually challenged, and this challenge is often manifest in an internal struggle within myself. However, I have found that for me, being thankful now comes more easily, and it helps.
Our relationship with God as with each other is not passive, it is dynamic and living.
We should be challenged by the gospel – like our relationship with God the gospel is a dynamic tool that gives us the context and background to help us to understand the history, justice, love, grace and mercy of God.
Bishop John Pritchard has a passion for the person of Jesus, and he writes – “The impact of the presence of Jesus in a world of pain is the possibility of resurrection.”
We are all part of that resurrection.