Making Sense of the Growing Mental Health Crisis
Experts continue to point to a growing mental health crisis. Suicide is now the third leading cause of death among teens, and depression and anxiety seem to be the rule, rather than the exception. On the face of it, this is a pretty odd state of affairs: Broadly speaking, we’re more comfortable, connected, and healthy than ever. So what’s wrong with us? In this episode, Nathan and Cameron wrestle with that question.
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Nathan Rittenhouse: Hello and welcome to Thinking Out Loud. Thinking Out Loud is a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope. I'm your cohost Nathan Rittenhouse.
Cameron McAllister: And I'm your cohost, Cameron McAllister.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Cameron, we are about to do a Thinking Out Loud classic maneuver in which we tackle a topic that neither of us are really qualified to speak about, but it's the internet age and everybody's qualified to speak about everything, so here we go.
Cameron McAllister: Yep.
Nathan Rittenhouse: You have a background in English and I do in physics and that makes us the guys to talk about mental health.
Cameron McAllister: There you go. Why do we want to talk about mental health? It's not just that it's a growing area of concern. It's a growing area of, I mean, really urgent concern. We had a gentleman here not long ago who is helping us out with a youth event and he's speaking, and I'm going to keep him anonymous, but really, really gifted guy works in the field of psychology. You probably know who I'm talking about. And I had him in my office and he was ostensibly, he was there to ask me questions. And I thought, “this is ridiculous.” And then this man is very, very...So I just kept asking him questions.
Nathan Rittenhouse: There you go, flip the interview.
Cameron McAllister: Exactly. So one of my questions for him was, so we're hearing so much about this mental health epidemic, and of course one of the very serious ways that we see this is of course suicide and the rising...We hear so much about rising suicide rates, but we also know the tendency of a lot of headlines to try to function as clickbait and to ramp up the drama. And I asked him basically, "Is the drama being ramped up or is this really that bad?" And he said, "No, this really is that bad. This is an epidemic. We've never seen anything like this. And we're really struggling not only to help people, but to make sense of this and to really find feasible answers to it and to address it properly." But you zoom out and you think about how deeply odd this is from just a human perspective, because this is an era of just unprecedented convenience, wealth and affluence, connectedness.
Cameron McAllister: We are more connected than we've ever been, and yet we can bank on it whenever we do an event anywhere, if we're speaking and there are young people, we know that there's going to be a question about depression, suicide, anxiety. So if we're doing so darn well, then what the heck is wrong with us?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, and you see this come up in the overheard conversations of this person committed suicide, but have you seen the photos on their Instagram feed? Like man, they had a glamorous life. And so I think that's just a highlight-
Cameron McAllister: The highlights, the surreal nature. And of course-
Nathan Rittenhouse: And we talked about a little Anthony Bourdain.
Cameron McAllister: We did. Yes.
Nathan Rittenhouse: We're further down the path here and the trajectory is not changed.
Cameron McAllister: It has not changed. And Anthony Bourdain is a picture that, again, speaks right to what you were saying, a man with a life many people would covet wealth, fame, ability to travel. Yeah, just collect experience like it's nothing. So here's where I want to take this in a somewhat interesting directions. There's a book I've gotten my hands on that I think is really a wonderful, very helpful book. The way I've been describing it a little bit is it's a book on pastoring and I'm just going to go ahead and get a little barbed and say this. I'm describing this book as the antidote to all the other books on pastoring.
Cameron McAllister: So it's by a gentleman named Harold Senkbeil. S. E. N. K. B. E. I. L. Senkbeil. That's a glamorous name right there.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I wonder what his ancestors did.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. Well, so Harold Senkbeil is a Minnesota farm boy.
Nathan Rittenhouse: He's awesome. Okay.
Cameron McAllister: Yep. Yeah, yeah. You know where this is going. Nathan and I, whenever we see each other, it's kind of, let's get this over with. How are you doing? But what are you reading kind of deal. But, so Harold Senkbeil is a Minnesota farm boy, but he's been a pastor for over 40 years and people have been on his case for years and years to write a book about just basically the collected wisdom of his life of doing this long life of faithful care of souls. And that's the title of his book. It's called The Care of Souls, it's been put out by Lexham Press. I just can't stress how beautiful the addition is.
Cameron McAllister: I mean this Lexham really, they do a standup job and I'm not just saying that cause I have a book under contract with them, but they really do. I mean it's filled with artwork, hand-drawn artwork between the pages of life on a farm and then also life inside the church. And it's just, it's a beautiful book, which does it subject justice. But he says something really interesting and I think it runs the risk of sounding a little controversial to some of us. And he says it, he's very gentle. What he points out is he says, I am so grateful for mental health professionals and for therapists and psychiatrists and psychologists. However, he says this, and I know I'm aware we're not all pastors, but just bear with me here. He says, "As pastors, most of us, we're not therapists and we're not counselors. What we do is we focus mainly on the heart of the matter, which is every person's relationship with God."
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: So their circumstances are incredibly important and incredibly complicated and dealing with those circumstances does involve actual training. But at the heart of it, is really the relationship the person has with the living God. And he says, "As those who administer soul care." So that's pastors of course, but also Christians, those who want to reach others and help them because the linchpin of it all is whether they have a relationship with Christ in the first place. And if they do and if there's a lot of problems in their lives, the nature of that relationship and what's happening there. And I just think that takes it in a very interesting direction. One that that runs counter to so many of our tendencies.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Perhaps it's because, yes it does for sure. But here's what I'm thinking. Define mental health. Like when was the last time you talked to [inaudible 00:06:15]? Wow. That's a really mentally healthy person. We almost don't have a standard that we're shooting for. And so by saying that, what he's doing is giving a context in which a mind functions healthfully relationally, like there's a structural purpose to...It comes back to what it means to be human. What's the purpose of a human, sort of, in a lot of ways.
Cameron McAllister: Well, I think here's where we can complicate it. We can, I think we can clarify it from a biblical standpoint and I think we can complicate it from a cultural standpoint.
Nathan Rittenhouse: You first, I'll do the second one.
Cameron McAllister: All right, that sounds great. I love to complicate things. Well, or as they say nowadays, “problematize.” It's the very problematic.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I know I have a problem with that word.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah, yeah, of course you do. We equate happiness these days more or less, I think by, for the most part I think this would be a fairly uncontroversial statement. We equate happiness with feeling good.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Sure. I'll give you that.
Cameron McAllister: We think if we think of a person who is happy, who is a person who feels good, who has subjective satisfaction in their pursuits, they feel good.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yes.
Cameron McAllister: Well.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So I'll agree with that as a cultural vibe. Although the academic and sociological research would not-
Cameron McAllister: No, no, no, no. And in fact, common sense doesn't bear that out. But in our daily texture of our lives, our lived experience, a lot of us, that's my default. I often monitor, you know, we focus so much on how am I feeling and we're monitoring our mental state all the time. How do I feel? Why don't I feel good? I should feel good right now. And I think that's many people's default mental health picture, feeling good. We live in a fallen world where everybody will die, where relationships fall apart, where stuff doesn't go right, where you get up one day and the check engine light is on, on your car. When you have to clean out your gutters and you fall off the ladder. I mean, you name it. We live in a world where you're not going to feel good a lot of the time necessarily, and yet we somehow think that there is some life hack to feeling good all the time.
Cameron McAllister: So I think a significant amount of what we're dealing with mental health wise, and bear in mind, I'm not a professional, so just take it with a grain of salt, but has to do with false expectations and a deep disappointment that creeps in when we've been told everything pumps into your mind. It's just by sort of cultural osmosis, all of the songs we listen to all, I mean all this stuff that feeds into our heads that you should be feeling good all the time and when you're not feeling good, things are not right. And so I think that's a very flimsy and very false picture of wellbeing and happiness.
Nathan Rittenhouse: You know the thing where the pessimists, people who are pessimistic tend to have a slightly more realistic perception of reality.
Cameron McAllister: Right. Okay. Yes, I hear you. And we all have that friend. Maybe you're that person who says, "Hey, I'm not, I'm not a pessimist. I'm just a-"
Nathan Rittenhouse: Realist.
Cameron McAllister: "I'm just a realist, you know, I'm just calling it as I see it. I'm just being true to the facts." All right. I'm doing too much of the talking so after this-
Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm just goading you. I'm just poking you. Go.
Cameron McAllister: Well I've been thinking a lot in terms of the biblical category of life under the sun. I think it's very, very helpful. You know, it's always good to note that before the existentialist showed up and then the grunge movement happened in Seattle, everyone was talking about angst and the weight of existence and authenticity that Ecclesiastes beat them all to the punch. Well, so this contrasting picture of life from an eternal perspective or versus life under the heavens, or just life under the sun. Would you just limit your gaze to life under the sun when you just see the world as it actually is? This is, I want you to, I actually genuinely want this. So this is as thinking out loud as it gets.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yep.
Cameron McAllister: Let me test this out on you.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Okay.
Cameron McAllister: I think I said this actually the other day in our staff devotional, so I'm hoping this isn't too off the mark. I genuinely want to know if you agree. I think if we just see life under the sun, if we just see that, I think the proper conclusion to draw is that it's hopeless in the end. React.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So I would say yes given enough time, but due to social media, it doesn't take as long as it used to. So there used to be maybe a naive sense of youth where we thought this is going to be great. We're going to work ourselves out of this, we're all going to get together and the future looks great. But it seems to me that that window of optimism is radically truncated in our generation.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: But somewhere around like age 11.
Cameron McAllister: Wow.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. I haven't been thinking about that. I'm just-
Cameron McAllister: That's great. No, it's helpful. Yeah. So in some ways-
Nathan Rittenhouse: There's no you more youthful optimism.
Cameron McAllister: Right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Of-
Cameron McAllister: Yep. We can no longer sustain the illusion that we can figure this out.
Nathan Rittenhouse: There you go. So I'm agreeing with you, but saying we're not as good at it as we used to have in the sense of tricking ourselves.
Cameron McAllister: We were better at deflecting. Yeah, and I think so. My thought, and this will sound a little bit stark at first, but we can take this in a much more redemptive direction. And I think with no little work at all, because my view of the world, my worldview, everything is profoundly hopeful, but my thought has been for those who have invested everything in this world that their response, if it's a despairing response, whatever form it takes, is a realistic response. That in the sense they're getting in touch with one dimension of reality. They really are. I mean, and that's why non-Christians like Ernest Hemingway or Albert Kamoo can talk about this theme. Ernest Hemingway can write, The Sun Also Rises and give us these visions of this kind of restless, empty sort of hollow aspect to life. And it feels so deeply true in our bones because it is true. It's one aspect of existence that I think I like categorically calling it life under the sun, but I don't believe that life under the sun exhausts the story at all. So yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm thinking of conversations I've had with university students where they come in and like, Oh this and this and this and I'm just wondering about this and this and this and I stop them. They're like, "Oh." I knew exactly what that was like. I knew exactly what that means and they kind of look at you wide-eyed and expectantly and I'm like, "You're human."
Cameron McAllister: Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: It kind of catches them by surprise, but to normalize it a bit of saying and perhaps our wrestlings with these things seem unique to us because we don't publicly wrestle with these things, so that's not part of our conversation on Instagram. It's all the glamor side. Another thing just to, I think, I want to put a caveat in here is that there is a point in which we have to be clear that there still are wrestlings in, even within the seminary world in psychology of how much is chemical, how much is spiritual, our real physiological chemical imbalances that are a medical category when it comes to mental health. That's a real thing.
Cameron McAllister: 100%.
Nathan Rittenhouse: But I don't think that's what we're attempting to address here.
Cameron McAllister: No, no.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And it used to be that even when you looked at suicide, the percentage of people who committed suicide that had a diagnosed preexisting mental health concern, that was like 95% now you have suicide with no apparent...And so I think that's just to clarify the angle that we're speaking to more of when it doesn't seem like medically or life circumstance, there is something that we would have said from the past would be a precursor to-
Cameron McAllister: Yes. So in a sense we're sort of bracketing those very real psychological complications that are-
Nathan Rittenhouse: I'm not being flippant about that or dismissive, but that's a very real thing. And I think even within this room we would have things that we are, the room being two of us, things that we could share from that.
Cameron McAllister: 100%.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Anyways, back to it.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. And that's a very necessary caveat and I hope, yeah, so bear that in mind as we go forward here.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So here, let me throw you a story to you like this that I was talking to my grandfather recently who said, he's 87, but he said it's interesting to him too. He said when I, when I watched my dad in his eighties he was far more youthful than most kids now in their twenties.
Cameron McAllister: Oh man. Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Do you think that's...Is there room for that as an extended analysis or is that just one person's perspective of life?
Cameron McAllister: No, People...Back to your comment about the way social media is often put to use and the disillusionment that's kind of happened as a result. It does seem, you talked earlier about how many of these massive struggles that people had often later in life are now, we're finding them and 11 year olds. We're getting older faster, when it comes to our emotional lives because first of all I think we're being flooded with a level of experience that, this is one of the unique aspects of our day and age and that this, this moment, the 21st century we're getting flooded with a level of not just information but experience that, in the past, this played out a lot slower and I think, the slower pace contributed to emotional maturity and stability. Now you are getting decisions foisted on kids.
Cameron McAllister: You are getting information that...they're getting information that they are not in a place emotionally to handle yet. But like it or not, this is the pace of our world. And so I think that's making a lot of us, in a sense, where gray haired before by age 11 in some cases and that youthful aspect that characterizes people who are older but who have had a life of emotionally healthy habits and stability and they've cultivated those habits, they have proper patients, they have a proper perspective on pain. Pain is not always a terrible thing. Pain actually is very instructive. It can help us. Peter Kreeft, in some ways, I think his book Making Sense of Suffering is one of, it's a deceptively simple book that's actually quite sophisticated and he does this really well. He shows how pain, a mature perspective on pain. It plays actually a quite a vital role in life and Ravi has a pretty interesting example about the person who had the condition where they could feel no physical pain and the parents pray every day that she would feel physical pain because it plays a very important role in our survival.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So, just the story to make that point clear. I was talking and maybe I've shared this on the podcast before, I was talking to a physical therapist and he said, "You know who my favorite patients are for like hip replacements or joint replacements?" He's like, "Women over 75." He's like, "They are the greatest. He's like you get some 40-year-old like you used to be athlete with a knee replacement or hip replacement and their belly aching and they're in here for therapy for six weeks." And he's like, "You give me an 81-year-old woman with a hip replacement and in three days she's going to be up baking casseroles for her neighbors." It was just a funny...because we were talking about that, like is there a generational perspective of like yeah that hurts and was inconvenient, but we kind of expected it to be.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: How does that play into this?
Cameron McAllister: I don't know. Going back to the matter of managing expectations. There's a fun little phrase. But that clichéd phrase turns out to be true. Look if, here's where Christianity makes sense of life under the sun. Yes. Life into the sun is painful. Frequently against scripture, doesn't hide from that, but that's not all there is to the story. And if you have an eternal perspective, you know that we are awaiting the return of our King and a new heavens and a new earth. And so it helps put pain in perspective. Now again the cat…let's bring that caveat back. There are some forms of pain that are extraordinarily complex and extraordinarily severe. There's chronic physical pain and there are mental conditions.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Sure.
Cameron McAllister: That just that issue an unspeakable pain, so there are a lot of complicating factors. However, the Christian perspective on pain, as in serious evil and suffering pain, is that it's got an expiration date. It's not permanent. And also, it's to be expected. In this world we're told...In this world you will have trouble.
Nathan Rittenhouse: It is the problem that the gospel was the solution to.
Cameron McAllister: Yes. And so without-
Nathan Rittenhouse: So without recognizing it, the gospel makes no sense.
Cameron McAllister: Without recognizing that the gospel makes no sense. And again, we keep coming back to your phrase, which I think is so helpful. You can be saddened, but not surprised. So it's a world where not all of us will be diagnosed with terminal illnesses. Some of us will live long lives and maybe die peacefully in our sleep, but we're still, mortality, the shadow still hangs over all of us. So that sense of impermanence and also things going wrong. Just the general pain of life, the daily struggle of existence, of exhaustion, of things just not turning out well, financial struggles, all of that. It can be saddening and it can be maddening and it requires our resourcefulness, but again, if you're a person who recognizes that it's not permanent and also that you're dependent on the living God, I think where modern convenience complicates this is again is yeah, we can't deflect anymore.
Cameron McAllister: We see sort of depravity written, sort of screamed from the rooftops these days and amplified by all of our channels. But on the other hand, we have the illusion of control, which is stronger than ever because we have all these metrics, we have all these different ways of trying to measure our success. We count everything, our calories, we count our steps and we have tools for managing our relationships and personality tests. And yet in the end, we still can't solve the basic problem of stuff not going right and the pain that we feel.
Nathan Rittenhouse: What's that Thomas Hardy book that we didn't like?
Nathan Rittenhouse: The one about the guy's a sheep farmer and he made it, there's a new version of the movie like a year or two ago.
Cameron McAllister: The Thomas Hardy Story?
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: So let's just get...the Far from the Madding Crowd.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Far From the Madding Crowd. Yeah. So in there he has, can you remember the characters names? But he has a sheepdog who he's training and the sheep dog is very eager to figure out how to do it and one night chases the guy's entire flock of sheep off a cliff and kills them all.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And he, in the story, years ago and he shoots the dog and then there's this little throwaway line in there and says, and thus something like, “and thus the dog meets the same conclusion that many philosophers have when running their ideas to their logical conclusion.” Yes, sort of that idea of there's an ambition there but run to its logical...
Cameron McAllister: So on brand for Thomas Hardy.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Is pretty dark but, and I'm butchering it as a concept, but the idea is there of when we take cultural ideas and run them to our logical conclusions, I think we would say as Christians and trying to be in the thinking within the context of the American story too, that there are ideas that we're now running to their logical conclusions that are resulting in death.
Cameron McAllister: I think so. And I think one of the ideas, kind of at the heart of it, because I know many listeners are now going to think, "Oh, what ideas?" Well I think one, I've mentioned this before, was when John Paul Sartre was asked to summarize existentialist philosophy, he said, "Existence precedes essence." So his, the point being there that you don't have a soul, there's no innate sense of who you are. You have no stable identity, you're thrust violently, accidentally, absurdly into this world and on you is the burden of everything, your identity, creating your meaning, all of that. And philosophically it's a fairly incoherent idea. Culturally, it's been deeply internalized. And I can tell you, college student after college student, young person, and now younger as you said, young person after young person I talked to, that's their tacit philosophy. That's what they, I mean that's just what they assume. It's all up to me. I mean, in everything I got to, I have to figure out my gender. I have to figure out my identity. I have to figure out, you know how I fill this life with me. It's all on me. And that's a level of-
Nathan Rittenhouse: That's a heavy burden.
Cameron McAllister: It's a weight that you're never-
Nathan Rittenhouse: It's on me to make myself lovable.
Cameron McAllister: Right. And no person was ever meant to shoulder that burden and I think we're buckling under the weight of that. And so yes, there's, I mean, you just think about, you talk about, the sheep dog chasing the sheep off the cliff there.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah. All right. I want to say two things. One of them a statement and then one of them a difficult question for you.
Cameron McAllister: You have used them all up.
Nathan Rittenhouse: All right. We haven't reviewed any of John...Have we reviewed any of Jonathan Heidt's books?
Cameron McAllister: We have.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Which one did we do? Did we do The Righteous Mind?
Cameron McAllister: We did The Righteous.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So before The Righteous Mind, he wrote The Happiness Hypothesis. So Jonathan Heidt at UVA when he wrote this, but now at NYU, I believe.
Cameron McAllister: Right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Moral psychologist and I would say a bit of a rock star in the academic world.
Cameron McAllister: Pretty much.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And we did The Coddling of the American Mind, also that he wrote.
Cameron McAllister: We did. That's right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So we're two for three. Anyway, in The Happiness Hypothesis he's basically looking at the wisdom through a moral psychologist's lens of ancient religions and spends a lot of time in scripture. The conclusion to the book is actually in the [inaudible 00:24:01] chapter and he comes down to...So you have award-winning brilliant psychologist, author and his conclusion is basically that in order to have a happy life, you need to have meaningful work, have meaningful relationships with other people and have a meaningful relationship with something bigger than yourself. I thought, "Man, that is fascinating." Because you know where else we see that? Genesis, chapter two.
Cameron McAllister: Right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And so I'm not crediting him with writing the preamble to the Bible, but it's just fascinating that after thousands of years of human experience, research, PhDs, the conclusion of a moral psychologist would be like, "Look, in order to have a healthy, happy human life you need these three things that, as a Christian, you're like, "Ding, ding, ding, I've seen this before." That's there. We can all say, "Okay, great." That's a nice overlap of what we see scientifically in the world and what we understand from biblical truths.
Nathan Rittenhouse: That being said, how then do you encourage the person who says, "You know what, I am a Christian. I have made a profession of Christ. I understand these things intellectually. I think I have a grasp on this, but you know what, I still do wrestle with moments of fill in the blank."
Nathan Rittenhouse: What are some tips? What do we do with that, because I think that comes back to a more difficult category of soul care.
Cameron McAllister: It does.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Because the person is recognizing that they have a soul, that they want to be healthy.
Cameron McAllister: All right, I think this is really a question location. Where does soul care take place, classically?
Cameron McAllister: Soul care takes place in your local church and I remember so vividly being at a Q and A and a question about this very subject...How do I handle these terrible struggles and blah, blah. And I said, "All right, go to church and read your Bible." I basically said that in so many words and she said, "So you're just telling me to go to church and read my Bible?" The implication being that was a really bad, cheap, hollow answer. You should give me...I need some technique or methodology. There isn't one. In this sense, we've just talked about the failure of all the techniques, the life hacks, when it comes to fixing human nature.
Cameron McAllister: What you need...there's a reason you're commanded to go to church, to gather with other...
Nathan Rittenhouse: Don't forsake...
Cameron McAllister: Yes, don't forget the fellowship and gather with other believers and worship the living God, something greater than yourself in spirit and in truth.
Nathan Rittenhouse: And in community, relationships with other people.
Cameron McAllister: Yes. And in community and relationships with other people. And then what else do you get in church? You get two vital things, it's going to sound scary to Protestant ears when it shouldn't. You get the word of God and you get the sacraments. Look, you can't do it on your own. You're not made to do this on your own. You are made to do this in fellowship with the body of Christ and you do need soul care and you do need people in spiritual authority over you.
Cameron McAllister: Now, there's another caveat to bring in here. There are complications of course, because human beings are human beings and there's the fallen aspects of the world so there is spiritual abuse, we're not diminishing that and we're not setting those cases aside, but we are commanded to go to church and we're commanded to worship the lord together in spirit and truth and that's where you have those relationships, that's where you're held accountable. That's where you're built up, that's where you're filled. The picture that often, that John Calvin would give, for instance, was that you go to church, you are filled to the brim and then you go out into the world into whatever sphere you find yourself in, you are a faithful presence for the living God and you're a source of hope for others.
Cameron McAllister: But you need to be nourished as well. So apart from not forsaking the fellowship, also you've got to read your Bible. It's the living word. It's the primary means by which the living God communicates with you. We use the phrase often, God told me this, God told me that. The main place God tells you anything is the Bible and that's what we need to-
Nathan Rittenhouse: So there's a sense in which I think, as we mature as Christians, the B-I-B-L-E, that's the book for me. There's that kind of sense of read your Bible and it sounds a bit cliche, but I think part of what we're trying to do in this podcast is actually say, "Yea, it's cliche because you don't see how that maps on reality when you're a kid." But as you grow older, oh man, scripture starts to smack you between the eyes of how much it makes sense of the world.
Cameron McAllister: Do you remember that story about Karl Barth? Possibly Apocrypha. No, actually I think it's true where they said, "If you had to summarize all your theology in one sentence", and Karl Barth, for those of you who don't know, I think The Church Dogmatics runs in excess of 8000 pages, and it's not finished by the way. He died before he finished it. But he said, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
Nathan Rittenhouse: Yeah.
Cameron McAllister: The profound truth of scripture, it really does cut to the very heart of everything and it does describe reality. I just see it as symptomatic of our age that's so often...What I want is some special new book of philosophy, some new technique, some new…for me, being a nerd, it's almost like I'd rather read a new commentary or a new book on the Bible, than actually read the Bible itself. I'd rather read...or the other story of [inaudible 00:29:28] tells about the guys who see two doors. One is marked heaven, the other is marked lecture on heaven. Any of us would rather go to the lecture on heaven. That's me so often.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I remember one of my grandfathers once giving me a copy of Dallas Willard's Divine Conspiracy. It was a great book.
Cameron McAllister: Wonderful book.
Nathan Rittenhouse: He hands it to me and as I reached my hand out to take it, he pulled it back and he said, "This is to be read in addition to scripture." And then handed it back to me.
Cameron McAllister: There's you go. And Willard would have approved wholeheartedly.
Nathan Rittenhouse: He would have done...So maybe what we're saying here, though is that I think when it comes to mental health, that probably one of the things that is most damaging to it is that it isn't often shared well.
Cameron McAllister: Right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: People feel isolated and lonely because they think that they themselves are uniquely wrestling with it. And again, I'm going to come back to say, "Look at the Psalms. Look at the minor prophets and their lament. Look at Ecclesiastes and the honesty there of the wrestling and so I think that's one of the things that the church, when it's functioning properly, should be able to offer. The church, we're not going to out-compete the world on relevant wardrobes, music, coffee, whatever, but what we do, do well, when we're fellowshipping as a group of believers is provide a place where we can be truly known and truly loved, that we can wrestle with our existential doubts and ponderings and recognize that the New Testament is very honest about the types of burdens that we are meant to be able to bear and the types of burdens that we need a community to bear for us.
Cameron McAllister: Yeah. Right.
Nathan Rittenhouse: That's not a short, again, it's not a system. It's a posture of life together that God has given us as a grace. I think Bonhoeffer makes this clear, that Christian community is not a promise of God. It's a deep blessing if you have it. My goodness, jump in there and relish in it and favor that. This isn't a quick fix, by any stretch of imagination, but it isn't a situation that God hasn't foreseen.
Cameron McAllister: This is a long term fix and what we...We're in a world of short term solutions in desperate need of the long term solutions because long term solutions are the ones that take into account actual human development and the human soul.
Nathan Rittenhouse: I had this thought this week that one of the things that I appreciate about scripture is that there are things that are true about reality that take longer than my lifetime to prove.
Cameron McAllister: Oh.
Nathan Rittenhouse: So there are things about reality that take longer than my lifetime to prove and so I need the scripture and its expansive look at time and I need my local community and its expansive look at time in that community to help me see the local consequences of truth claims.
Cameron McAllister: Goodness, that would mean that we maybe need to stop fetishizing youth and maybe listen to older folks occasionally.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Some of that too, absolutely. But just wanted to throw that in there as a part of how we fit within time and also help with some of these things.
Cameron McAllister: I know this has been, as is usually the case, a rambling conversation, but that's... for some reason you keep tuning into that and that's what you come here to hear so and if you a person who knows someone with mental health issues or if you struggle with it yourself, I hope that as you've heard this you haven't heard any kind of anything that's dismissive or sounds callous and if you have, we're deeply apologetic about that. What we hope you've heard is something that enlarges the perspective a little bit and maybe shifts away from some of our worldly cultural categories to a more biblical conception of what it means to be a person and yeah, how we live life in this strange world with our limited span of time and how we, to use Paul's language, how we shoulder one another's burdens together in the church.
Nathan Rittenhouse: That can't be done with a podcast.
Cameron McAllister: It cannot be done with a podcast so I guess our big hope would be that if this isn't, and let me just, I know we're going a little bit longer hear, I've used this story in another podcast, but I think it has a bearing here because it's a personal challenge for me and take it from my own experience. For a long time I used the excuse over and over again with people that I don't belong to an official church because it's just so hard to find an authentic church. I would say this over and over again. Again, I don't want to sound dismissive, I know many of you have had terrible experiences with churches, painful splits, abuses and you name it. Yes, the human factor is real, however, for me, this became...I was trying to claim that this was principle and I was just so...My sensibilities were just so sincere, I was so ethically authentic that I just couldn't find a congregation that was theologically deep enough for me and holistic enough for me, but really what it was, I wasn't looking very carefully at all.
Cameron McAllister: I wasn't praying for a church. I wasn't prayerfully seeking one. I was looking for convenience and as soon as my wife came to me and said, "Look, we really...I expect you to really take charge here. This matters so deeply. Growing up, I was the one for a long time pushing our family. I can't do that again." The Lord really convicted me through those words. As soon as I started praying about finding a church, within a month we found our church that we're at and it's not a perfect church, but it's a healthy church and it's a wonderful place and it's filled with wonderful broken people, struggling together, bearing one another's burdens. We have a great dopey pastor. He's like Columbo, filled with compassion and knows the word, loves the word, is faithful. Visited, one of the first people to show up in the hospital after our daughter was born before we really even knew them that well.
Cameron McAllister: My point is here, don't coast along on excuses. Prayerfully, just ask the Lord to guide your search and he'll get you there. He will.
Nathan Rittenhouse: Well, thanks for spending time with us. You have been listening to Thinking Out Loud, a podcast where we think out loud about current events and Christian hope.
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