Faith and Depression

From what I can figure, I’ve been dealing with clinical depression for about 35 years.

I started taking an anti-depressant for the first time in mid-October.

I’m taking an anti-depressant because of the faith I have in Christ and the hope I have in God’s work.

I know there’s some pushback from folks about doing something like that. So here’s why I’m doing it.

God doesn’t ask us to prove our faith by taking on additional challenges. God calls us to be free in the grace we’ve been given in Christ, to have hope in God’s promise of salvation, and to be obedient to the calling we have been given.  As Samuel told Saul, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

My calling is to help empower women and men for ministry, so that in the church and well outside the church, they express the fullness of the Spirit’s work, learning to deeply and broadly resonate the work of Christ wherever they go.

It is not my calling to prove my faith by adding then overcoming barriers that make life harder.  It is not my calling to prove my faith to others who make their relationship with Christ about competition, or evidence, or another ego-oriented comparision.

I am taking an anti-depressant precisely because I have faith, faith enough to “throw off everything that hinders” and to run with perseverance the race marked out for me.  Inasmuch as I see depression as itself my enemy or my cause, I’m weakened for what I can and should be doing.  Inasmuch as I see the bounty of Christ in providing a way forward for me now, to invite me to embrace what I can to better do what I should, I’m taking seriously the work of the Spirit in me.

My way is easy, my burden is light, Jesus says.  I’m not gaining any points with him by holding onto extra burdens and weights other people insist I carry.

I’m responsible to the Spirit.  So, over the years I’ve learned that is precisely faith that calls me to be proactive in addressing my failings and brokenness as I can.

That’s the quick version of why I’m taking an anti-depressant now. Here’s the longer version: Continue reading

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Aspiring rather than Expecting

Among the problems of social media is the confusion between an aspirational post (“this is a good example and encouragement to me”) versus an expectational post (“You other people need to do this”) The first is helpful and a sign of seeking growth, seeing the problem of self. The second is pedantic and sees the problem as other people.

We bring our own experiences and frustrations and challenges, and then generalize, thinking everyone is posting something for the same reasons we might post it.

The challenge is that history is filled with both moral expectational hypocrisy and ennobling moral aspirations. Without knowing a particular person’s story, it’s hard to know which is happening.

But that’s hard work. It’s much easier, thought significantly less transformative, to assert what we think others are doing, and why, then judge them for not living up to what we think they should do. We make it about ego-competition, and that always devolves into anger, division, frustration.

We should make it about love.

Which is me being aspirational. I want to social media differently than the world demands, neither giving into the dysfunction nor retreating altogether.

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Society and the Church after September 11

In late Summer 2001, I was 26 years old, and I was dealing with some wonderful ups and significant downs. I had traveled to Ireland in July, working at a center that sought religious reconciliation among youth.  I I was enrolled in one of my favorite classes during my Fuller MDiv years, “Faith and Human Development,” taught by James Loder (whose work I use extensively in my new book).

Meanwhile, I was getting more and more frustrated by church politics. In August, my car was stolen. By early September, I was deeply discouraged and depressed. My friend Peter did what only a really good friend would know to do, he invited me to go camping on a Channel Island and even paid my way. That was the balm I needed.  Then September 11th happened, and that was an even deeper wake-up call.

There’s much to be said, but what I’ve not seen too much about is how the church responded to this tragedy and wake-up call.  There was, of course, a lot of very appropriate mourning and commemoration over the years, but I wonder if the lessons of the aftermath have yet to be heard.

In December of 2001, I wrote a paper for my class on Mission to Modern and Post-Modern Society titled, “Society and the Church after September 11.” I re-read it again this morning after many years, and it got me thinking. Some of the issues I raise, I’ve recently addressed much more thoroughly in my new book Hope for the Oppressors, while other issues are still concerns I’m trying to work out as I continue in both church work and in the academy. So I thought I’d share it here (knowing it is not without its issues/weaknesses): 


Everyone has their own story.  What they were doing, who they were with, where they were when “they heard”.  I was getting coffee in the Fuller Seminary refectory.  As I walked in, a small crowd was gathered in the back of the room watching CNN.  While I poured some cream into my cup I overheard someone say that the Trade Centers had sustained major damage, the result of 2 planes flying into them.

Though I was only able to watch a few minutes of the coverage, it was very obvious how truly horrendous this event was.  I wandered down to my class, but ended up leaving early as the images and discussion left me rather incapable of any kind of other focus.  So I walked over to a friend’s nearby house.  There I found my friend, along with another friend who was sent home from work at JPL, watching the news.

Over the next two hours about six other people wandered in, their work also being closed down, not really planned, but simply because no one wanted to be alone.  So we watched the news, talked, and simply sat absorbing the unconscionable. This was unlike any other event in our lives.  What we had seen happen in the movies now was happening in reality.  A poignant moment came later in the day.  As night fell on the East Coast, the members of Congress gathered together for a press conference.  Seemingly spontaneously they, the leaders of our country, began to sing God Bless America.

The initial effect was to stir that cynicism that tends to dwell at some level in all of those in my generation, having grown up in baseless rhetoric and partisan politics (symbolized by the recent posturing during the Presidential crisis).  Politicians singing God Bless America?  They’re wanting votes.  This came up in our continuing commentary, but someone said, “This time though I think they really are sincere, they really are singing from their depths.”  Rhetoric was lost, sincerity was found.  The age of irony which had developed during the 1990s was if not over, certainly very wounded.

Although it is far too early to make any kind of definite statements, it may be worth looking at how the events of September 11, 2001 have impacted the culture in which we live, and thus how should the church respond and interact with this culture.  The goal of this brief paper is to look at basic underlying philosophies which were revealed or confirmed in the aftermath of this tragedy.

Having done this I will discuss how the church has responded, and how possibly the church should respond to this continuing crisis.  What was certain is that while the purposeful destruction was a surprise, it seems as though many cultural observers are just as surprised by our response and reactions, reactions which may in fact point to great areas of interest for those in the church to pursue.

In the light of this tragedy, insights have been revealed, I believe which show that the Christian witness has not been totally unsuccessful, though we may need to change how we understand this success, and understand new ways which would take advantage of the important cultural indicators.  The church must respond now by reexamining its own perspectives, by looking at its own faults and society’s qualities. Continue reading

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The problem of “a good heart”

Saul’s excuse to Samuel in 1 Samuel 15 was, “But I have a good heart.” He claimed his devotion to God was what excused his disobedience to his calling. Having “a good heart” is one of the chief ways we excuse our own and other people’s deep dysfunction. It’s the co-dependent mantra.
 
Claiming “a good heart” as a reason to keep someone around keeps abusers abusing and it keeps the abused excusing.
 
It’s not just a distracting excuse, it’s also not even true. Someone with a good heart is passionate about others and fulfills their obligations, showing their heart by what they do. They empower others, free others, not demand and constrict others for their own gain.
 
If they cause hurt, diminish others, always need excuses for not doing what they should, they don’t have good heart. They need healing and they need to removed from places of responsibility.
 
God doesn’t, as Samuel reminds us, want sacrifice. God seeks obedience, because the way of obedience is a way of transformation. Saul claimed a good heart, but he was disobedient to what he was called to do, leaving chaos all around, and God said to him, “No more.”
 
Heaven save me from just having a good heart. I want to be someone who loves and shares and gives in ways that empower the people around me.  I want to be obedient to what I’m called to do, in the big things and in the daily, little things that are really what shows what kind of heart I actually have .
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Hope for Freedom’s Ring

The Salvadoran theologian Ignacio Ellacuría writes, “The goal of liberation is full freedom, in which full and right relationships are possible, among people and between them and God.”[1] This emphasis on liberation as freedom was the core of Martin Luther King Jr.’s message, as expressed in his famous 1963 speech:

“And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!”[2]

Freedom, of course, is likewise a tricky proposition and an imprecise term. King defined freedom as composed of three elements.[3] First, freedom is “the capacity to deliberate or weigh alternatives.” Second, freedom “expresses itself in decision.” A decision makes a choice, cutting off an alternative for the preference of the chosen path. Third, freedom involves responsibility, the ability to respond to why a choice was made, and the responsibility to respond as no one else can speak for that free person. These elements shape a wonderful ideal of freedom. We like the idea of it, the pursuit of it for others, and we definitely like our experience of it. Freedom as a lived reality is much more complicated.


[1] Ignacio Ellacuría, Ignacio Ellacuría: Essays on History, Liberation, and Salvation, ed. Michael E. Lee (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 244.
[2] Martin Luther King, Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr., ed. James M. Washington (New York: HarperCollins, 1991), 220.
[3] See Martin Luther King, Jr. “The Ethical Demands for Integration,” in Testament of Hope, 119-120.

excerpt from Hope for the Oppressor: Discovering Freedom through Transformative Community.  Sadly, this book was given an academic textbook pricing. Ask your library to buy a copy for your us, request a review or an exam copy from Rowman & Littlefield, and let them know you’d like a paperback version at a reasonable cost.

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On the possibility of Liberating Oppressors through a $130 book (and a free look at the introduction)

What does it mean to liberate oppressors? What would this look like in practice? Why would we even want to do so?  In the introduction to Hope for the Oppressor I write about my goal and approach:

This book is an attempt to reboot the conversation, to enter into this longstanding discussion with a theme of hope, hope not only for changing contexts but hope for the oppressors themselves. It is a strange idea that the oppressors who already have privilege need hope, but that is exactly the problem we face. In his book on John Brown, W.E.B DuBois highlights the issue: “The price of repression is greater than the cost of liberty. The degradation of men costs something both to the degraded and those who degrade.”[1] Repressing others may provide privilege in societal sense, but not necessarily real freedom, and in indulging oppression, they are cut off from the possibilities of fullness and life that is promised in Christ, both now and in eternity. The cost is hope, trust, and community, which are the cornerstones of life .

I propose a model that can more adequately define the context of oppressing, diagnose the underlying motivations and inclinations, and provide a theological analysis that gives both a Christian perspective and response. In doing this, I hope to offer a way of liberation that leads to a new pattern of life in our society, reflecting the values of the kingdom of God, one that is the task of individuals and churches to live out in their particular communities. In light of this latter goal, we discover themes that illuminate how liberation is, or should be, universal, diverse, and unifying. In expressing this more thorough understanding of liberation from both directions, the church can pursue its mission as a truly catholic church, working to actualize this liberation everywhere, in diverse situations and environments, pointing toward the Spirit of renewal that is infinitely complex and working in every setting and person. Starting with each of us.

Read the whole introduction.

I had expected my book to cost about $40 or less. The publisher decided to price it at $130 because that is the model for academic books with very narrow themes. The market isn’t to people for those kinds of books, it’s to libraries, and certain kinds of academic libraries at that. Many international libraries can’t afford it, regular folks like you and me can’t afford it.

I didn’t set the price, and I don’t like the price. I think the price reflects the very concerns I address in my book. There is a publishing system and this system doesn’t care about me, it doesn’t care about you, it cares about perpetuating a model of business that relies on bloated budgets of Western academia and the load-crushed funding of the textbook market.

In dealing with a $130 dollar book that locks me out of buying let alone marketing my own book, it confronts me personally and professionally with the very problems I’m trying to address in the book.

That’s not to say there’s no justification for prices like these in some situations. Some books really are the sort that are limited to libraries. Very narrow themes within already small areas of discussions have a narrow set of scholars that probably could, and often do, fit into a single hotel conference room. This level of pricing helps those kinds of books get published, and uses the library system to get the book to their narrow markets.

That, however, doesn’t characterize my book. I suspect, and I don’t think I’m alone in this, that the theme of “oppressing” is rather wide in this world.  Like “as far as the eye can see in every direction” wide.

My book is an interdisciplinary attempt to address the wider issues of oppressing and how Christian theology in particular can respond to this deepening reality. I enter into discussions with sociology, psychology, church history, Biblical studies, as well as drawing from practical and systematic theologies.

Flyer discount LEX30AUTH19
To get discount, use code LEX30AUTH19

It is categorized as “liberation theology,” but I approach liberation theology from an entirely different theoretical foundation, that of systems theory. Meaning it offers something new to the field.

It’s educated in approach but not limited in scope to only be of interest to a small subset of scholars.  Indeed, Moltmann–one of the most important theologians of the last sixty years or more–notes in his foreword that I superbly carry on a task he has pursued throughout his career.

After six years of working on it, now I find myself stymied by the very people who were committed to helping this see the light of day.  I don’t blame them, or at least I don’t blame any particular people. I really liked my editors and I value the invitation they gave me in publishing it. Though I would have gone with someone else had I known the price they would set, I still have hope that this very challenge offers an opportunity for this book to do well.

I can’t do this alone, however.  The theme of this book is community and that liberating the oppressor takes a ‘bottom up’ community approach. I think it has a broad appeal and speaks into deep systemic problems with a unique perspective that bypasses much of the current entrenched political powers, and invites both conservatives and progressives into a new kind of conversation.

There has to be a better way.  I want to find this way.  I want to invite others to find this way. And in this book I get into how this might be done.

If you’re interested in this goal, and if you’re able to buy the book, here is the publisher’s book page.  Apparently they did not provide enough copies to Amazon, meaning they are entirely uninterested in people buying the book, but it is still possible from their site. Use LEX30AUTH19 for a 30% discount.

If you’re interested in this goal, but can’t afford the price, or can but also think others should be able to as well, ask Rowman & Littlefield to release a paperback version.  And in the meantime request any libraries you’re connected with to purchase the book. Yeah, it feeds into the dysfunctional system but with a message that argues for a better way.

If you’re an academic or have a public forum, ask for a review or exam copy to show there’s interest in the book.

If you have any more questions or want more information about it, let me know in the comments.

 


[1] W. E. B. Du Bois, John Brown, ed. David R. Roediger, new edition (New York: Modern Library, 2001), 4.

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It begins: Hope for the Oppressor (featuring a discount code)

Back in 2013 I started writing a book that focused on a liberation of the oppressors. The trek of writing this book has been accompanied by a heavy teaching load, without breaks, three different homes, and four different offices.

While that may have prevented a smooth or efficient process, each point offered its own insights.

Frustrations can often be a way God teaches. That doesn’t make them easier but does redeem the experiences.

The book is now published.  Hooray!

Though at a price ($130) that, frankly, shocks me, so I’m trying to navigate yet another frustration in the process.  That said, given the theme of the book I have hope even for Fortress Academic.

In the next while, knowing the price won’t get a lot of people “trying out” the book, I’m going to have a series of posts that highlight the key themes and moves I make. I know that academic books don’t often have a wide appeal, but I really do think this book reaches well beyond a narrow academic market and into the lives of so many of us. This is my way to get the discussion going even when the price frustrates readership.

Hope for the Oppressor deals with oppressing and oppressors, so anyone who deals with privilege or being overwhelmed by the privileges of others will find something to think about.

I do this in a way that intentionally moves away from the entrenched patterns of discussion that dominate our current dysfunctional political and social commentary.

I genuinely think this book would be interesting, even helpful, to those on very different sides of political discussions and offers an invitation to both sides to discover thorough liberation.

This book is categorized as “Liberation theology” and it is this goal of liberation that invites people to let go dysfunction and attempts to dominate, inviting everyone into a new pattern of life.

We need this. Academia needs this. Politics needs this. Law, Education, Entertainment needs this. Even, I have found, the publishing business needs this.

There’s a better way.  And that’s what I’m arguing for in this book.

Fortress Academic has offered a 30% discount if you buy from their website.
To get the discount, use code LEX30AUTH19 when ordering.

If you can’t afford it ( I can’t afford to buy it myself), please let those at the publisher know you’d like to see an affordable paperback release.  They’ve made the price impossible for individuals and even for many libraries outside North American and Europe, but a paperback would be priced to sell more broadly.

If you’re an academic or journalist, request a review copy or an exam copy.

Flyer discount LEX30AUTH19
To get discount, use code LEX30AUTH19
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Becoming human

“The real issue in our becoming fully human is not about us thinking big enough but rather it is an issue of us not being willing to think small enough. We fear insignificance by limiting our attention to those immediately around us, to take inclusive steps within the reach of our honest possibilities. It is easier to campaign for our favored national candidate than to reach out to our immediate neighbor. We want the grand transformation and lapse into an enervating despair when we fall short. We want to control others and fold them within our vision of life. We need freedom from this if we are to find our true self, if we are to be truly open to others, if we are to journey toward thorough liberation and come alongside others in this journey.”

Hope for the Oppressor, p242

(note that while the book is expensive, you can encourage your library to get a copy and also contact Fortress Press to encourage them to release a cheaper paperback version)

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Hope for the Oppressor

4 years ago I signed the contract.

The book, Hope for the Oppressor: Discovering Freedom Through Transformative Community is finally coming out on August 15.

I know, the price is high. When I signed the contract, I didn’t expect the selling price to be so high. I don’t think Fortress was pricing books like that then, and they control the price.

I know many can’t afford it or have better uses for their money. Two things: One, contact Fortress and let them know you’d like a paperback version: https://www.fortresspress.com/contact-us

If you’re faculty somewhere, request an exam copy. Let them know interested in the book and let them know the price is a barrier to adopting it.

Second, message me at patrickoden@fuller.edu and I can provide a big discount for those who are interested in reading the book. I want people to get a hold of this because I really do believe this offers a unique and empowering approach for our era.

That’s exactly where the hope I’m talking about comes into my own response to discouragement. When those in charge make decisions that interfere or even undermine our goals, we can get caught in despair. We can see blockages as permanent walls. We can even take it personally.

The way of hope, however, isn’t a trust in things as they currently are or trusting that things are going to continue to be frustrating. We have a resurrection hope. That’s hope that God brings life out of death, hope out of frustrations, peace out of chaos.

Even though I’m disappointed by the price Fortress set, the theologian of hope himself, Jurgen Moltmann, had this to say at the end of his foreword: “I am grateful to Patrick Oden: He picked up an idea of mine and carried it out in his own way splendidly.”

He has more hope for me than even Fortress does, and when it comes down to it, the hope that Moltmann has offered me keeps me excited about the book.

We are called to be people of this hope, who live out this hope in every part of our lives and resonate this hope to others.

We are invited to live in inviting ways, living in real freedom in which peace reaches into the depths of our being and forms communities that empower others to be who they truly are.

I have hope that God is doing a good work even when there’s a lot of frustrations around that seem to suggest all my efforts are bogged down or dismissed. I have hope that God is able to make a way for me, my family, my community, that celebrates open doors and awakened possibilities.

I have hope that God will lead us through this wilderness and bring peace. Even though I’m disappointed by the

That’s the hope which calls me to avoid frenzy, avoid diminishing others, avoid getting caught in jealousies or chaotic ambitions. That’s the hope that calls me to seek the best for others, to use my time to empower others, to seek stillness, peace, joy, patience, the whole fruit of the Spirit. That’s the hope that takes shape in community and calls me to share my gifts with others who are sharing theirs.

That’s the hope for the oppressors. Let freedom ring.

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Ordained

In 1980 I was baptized at San Dimas Wesleyan Church by pastor George Jenewein. His signature is on my baptism certificate.

A very tiny bit more than 39 years later, I was ordained in The Wesleyan Church, and the signature on my pocket ordination certificate and one of the signatures on my official ordination certificate is Tim Kirkes, the current pastor of San Dimas Wesleyan Church (now called Hilltop Church), who is serving as the Pacific Southwest District of The Wesleyan Church.

I’ve done a lot of wandering in life, lived in a lot of different places, been a part of a lot of different communities. It’s been decades of not really knowing what the next year or even the next month would have in store.

That makes this recent realization all the more powerful for me. A journey that has gone many different places yet ties together my earliest statement of faith with my current calling.

I don’t have any profound interpretation other than it made me feel rooted in a way I rarely do and gives me even more hope that the journey is not in vain.

I look forward to the continued chapters.

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