Dissociative disorder is defined as a “disruption or breakdown of memory, awareness, identity or perception.” It’s a common occurrence among war veterans, physical and sexual abuse victims, those growing up in family systems broken by deep addictions, and among victims of religious/spiritual abuse. The pain and trauma of the past or even the present is simply too much, so the person dissociates, meaning he or she moves into a different space, a safer space, by denying the painful realities of the present moment. By denying reality, pretending there is no pain, and getting lost in some form of alternate reality, we find a fantasy land which is in the short run less painful. But when the Disneyland we’ve created closes, we’re forced to face our pain again. Eventually, if we hope to live the sort of full life Jesus promised, we’ll need to face to truth of our pain, both personal and collective. Whether we do that, and how we do that, are perhaps two of the most important issues many of us will every face in our lives.
All of this, though, sounds very personal, a sort of clarion call to get therapy. Maybe, but recently I’m struck by the reality that there’s a broader collective application of this dissociative tendency and our collective need to face reality. Yvon Chouinard, founder of the Patagonia company (standard issue clothing at the church I lead) recently wrote, “I’m not optimistic at all. I’m a total pessimist. I’ve been around long enough, traveled around enough, and been around a lot of smart people to know that we’re losing. In every single category, we’re losing.”
Wow Yvon. Way to ruin my day. I want to get up in the morning, hop in my car and drive my 1.2 miles to work, put in my time contributing to the industrial machine that’s drawing down the earth’s resources, drive home, eat my food that was raised in the industrial agriculture machinery that’s stripping the precious topsoil from land and laced with growth hormones and pesticides. I’ll watch a little something on TV, endure a few ads reminding me either of my inadequacy if I’m prone to insecurity, or that the reality of my economic well being is predicated on other people buying crap they don’t need. Then I’ll fall asleep and wake up the next morning with an injection of caffeine and do it all again. I don’t want to be reminded of species extinction, or the fact that human trafficking and the oppression of women are at an all time high in the history of the world, or of the harsh realities in South Sudan and Syria, Ukraine and the oceans of pain on the streets less than two miles from my house – so I focus on my upcoming world cup brackets and Stanley Cup if I swing towards sport, or a new band if I don’t. After all, I’m not part of the problem. I pay my taxes. Vote. Stay sober. Read my Bible and go to church. Eventually the world will see the wisdom of the free market (or the socialist “single payer” solution if I think that way) and things will turn around. They always do.
I can live that way, but this is dissociative; a massive form of self-denial. With respect to things always turning around, the reality is that they “always don’t”, at least of the history of empires is any indication. Jeremiah’s mourning in the 6th century BC was not only over society’s condition; it was over the massive, intentional, and collective denial of society’s condition. If we take our cue from Alcoholics Annonymous we’ll recall the first condition of transformation is the admission that things aren’t just bad – they’re beyond fixing in the resources of our own strength. If it’s Bible you want (and I hope you do) the same thing is declared all over the place. The starting point of healing and transformation is staring the harshness of naked reality in the face.
At some point, it happens; it hits us hard. We can see that though the system might be working for us, it isn’t working. It isn’t sustainable. It’s isn’t life giving. It isn’t whole. We see it, it hits us, and we’re filled with both grief and a longing for things to be other than they are for our world. When we really see with clarity, and are willing to sit in the reality of what we see, we mourn. When we mourn and lament, we open the door to even clearer ways of seeing and then, of living. We re prioritize. We confess. We take a step towards wholeness; and then another; and then the steps become a journey; and the journey has a real joy in it, because it’s rooted in the truth and the truth, as painful and dark as it might be, will set you free.
There’s more. Those who are willing, like the prophets of old, to look beyond the superficial categories of personal well being and forgo the temporary anesthetics of culture long enough to feel the pain will become part of God’s grand and joy filled solution, and this will happen for three reasons:
I. Because we’ll think collectively
Our hyper individualized society makes it easy to dissociate ourselves from the sins of our parents, but we do this to our shame. When Israel returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls of the city, the dedication included a lengthy confession of the sins of the parents. This isn’t a blame game. It’s an acknowledgement that we’re shaped by our culture, by our family, or nation, or geography, and that there are scars because of it. Our insistence that all’s well, that Adam Smith is wiser than Chief Seattle, that our internment camps were necessary, and that racism is behind us are all just a massive forms of denial.
We’re terrified of becoming negative, depressing people, but the reality is that my willingness to own every piece of the story that has shaped me lays a foundation for redemption and my own transformation that would be impossible as long as I cling to denial.
II. Because we’ll make wiser choices
Seeing, owning, and naming the disastrous consequences of consumerism, nuclear proliferation, industrial agriculture, unrestricted free markets, commitment free sex, unrestricted access to abortion, will, if we allow ourselves to really see, change the way we live. It’s in the wake of this kind of mourning that take bold steps towards simplification, or hospitality, or eating less fast food, or maybe even making a bold vocational change. I’ve no illusions that these simple choices will change the overwhelming systemic problems. But I do believe that creatively imagining a better world, as we’re wired to do, and equipped to do by the teachings of Jesus, Paul, and the prophets (see Micah 6:8 here) will move us into a more joy filled, life giving, and peaceful existence, making us part of God’s solution.
III. Because we’ll say Maranatha and mean it.
We who follow Christ have a grand hope and that has to do with the promise of his coming reign. Just as the prophets are saturated with the bad news in an attempt to shake us awake, they’re equally overflowing with hope, as they envision all tools of war melted down, and an end to suffering, injustice, environmental degradation, and disease. This kind of cosmic transformation won’t happen because I bring my own shopping bag to Trader Joe’s, even if I go there on my bike. Still, every chance I might have to live as a sign that there’s a different kingdom than the prevailing kingdom of consumerism and trivialities will testify to the hope I carry in Christ.
All of it begins, though, with an acknowledgement that all’s not right. So maybe join me in praying this Anishinabe prayer:
Grandfather; look at our brokenness. We know that in all creation only the human family has strayed from the Sacred Way. We know that we are the one who are divided and we are the ones who must come together to walk in the Sacred Way. Grandfather, Sacred One, teach us love, compassion, and honor, that we may heal the earth, and heal each other. Amen
to which I’d only add: Marantha! Come quickly Jesus!