Charleston Tragedy: Race, Religion, & Mental Illness

The tragedy in Charleston, SC this week was horrific. Regardless of who the shooter was, what his background was, what color his skin was….he was a disgusting individual. Notice I didn’t say sick. A sickness can be cured, it is something that one recognizes and treats in order to get better. This young man was not sick. He was deranged and cruel.  There is no sugar-coat for that type of person.

I have read an article and seen one news story so far that has tried to analyze his mental state and it appears these sources are leaning towards the “mental illness” card. To that I say, STOP IT! Working with those on a daily basis who are suffering from mental illness, substance abuse, and life trauma, I’ve seen someone who is sick and ill. If I’m being honest I can even say that there are some who come seeking “help” for their illness who, after assessing their circumstance, are really just cruel and malicious like this boy. These are the ones who give the mentally ill a bad rep.

For this young man  to walk into a “Black” church (more on that in a minute), where he was definitely out of place, and for him to still be accepted and welcomed to join them at the table. For him to sit there for an HOUR and listen and participate in discussion surrounding Christ….and then to say he wanted to kill Black people and open fire on these innocent people….that is not mentally ill. That is mean. Call it what it is. We have to stop allowing these types of people to hide behind a label. A label that millions of people actually deserve, and for those who do suffer, the stigma is increasingly negative. This guy is the reason why.

As humans we are really bad about judging others. It’s a part of our sinful nature, and it’s never going away. But it can be controlled. The only way for this to truly happen is to get to know others of opposing cultures. However, sometimes this makes things worse because the stereotypes are true. We all have to stop living out the stereotypes and learn to become our own person. If we don’t want to be perceived a certain way, we have to stop acting that way! Otherwise, when people meet us, they will only be let down to know that we are “just like everybody else”.

Another way to stop enhancing the stereotypes is to educate ourselves on what the perpetuating force is for the judgement and alienation. I saw a discussion online between two individuals were multiple studies were cited. One stated that those who had more ethic names were shown to be less productive on the job. Also, young black males were shown to be least productive on the job. Therefore, many find it okay for employers to base their decision of hiring on such studies. If two individuals have the same qualifications and research shows that the young black male with the ethnic name will STATISTICALLY not do as well, they probably won’t be the one hired. Which from an employer standpoint, makes sense. But from a life standpoint, it doesn’t allow those males to beat the stereotype and prove the research wrong. There are two sides to every coin.

So what can we do about it?

I say, assimilate. Don’t give up your home culture or cultural identity completely. But when you are in public in the United States, make sure you are able to fit in relatively easily. Culture is very important, but so is a good job and having the means to be able to provide for a family.

Many parents don’t think about this the day they give birth to a beautiful girl. They want people to know their child is unique and special, so they come up with a name that is hard to pronounce and not phonetically correct. Down the road, this could ultimately be a disservice to the child. After all, most people who become of very high importance have names that are easy to pronounce and easily recognizable. Do you want your child to be the President one day? Give them a name people can say and will remember. Even if your child doesn’t become President….it would be nice to be able to remember the name of the car mechanic as well. In the society we live in, especially those of us in the South, so much of our collective culture relies of being able to greet individuals with a smile and by name. Think about that next time you want your child to have a special name.

The same premise applies to those who learn English as a second language. Bilingual and multilingual individuals are extremely valuable in our country. It would be ideal if every business establishment was able to employ at least one multilingual person. That way more people can be reached! Because odds are, if you can’t talk or communicate with the person, not much business will get done. However, many individuals where I live who are bilingual don’t even utilize it. I’m not sure if they don’t think they are valuable or there is a market for them, or if they just want to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Either way, these individuals could educate themselves and capitalize on their value to our country.

Third, parents must have responsibility for the way others perceive their children. People are judged not just by their names, but on the way they talk and dress. Children begin to develop language skills at a very young age, even prior to entering school. Parents and caregivers are their primary source of education on language skills. If parents are not educated on the proper way to pronounce words, read, or speak…their children won’t be either. Some say that their way of talking is just an accent. However I think the accent is not the problem, it’s the ignorance on how to actually speak, or the laziness not to care to learn or carry out what they know. This not only perpetuates the stereotypes but sets the children up for failure as well. An accent is the way words are said, the sound of a long A or short O. However, leaving letters off the word or changing the letter within the word is not an accent. This is a learned behavior that becomes a choice once who learns the alternate way. Children who learn to say “axe” instead of “ask” go into Kindergarten at a disadvantage. It makes them the target of bullying if their classroom primarily consists of those who say it properly. It makes it a lot more difficult for them to learn to read and write. Because children are taught to sound things out. And they will sound them out and spell words the way they say them. That’s just a fact.

When I was in middle school, we were forced to wear uniforms beginning in the 7th grade. I’m not 100% sure of the reasoning but I can guess two things…1. To keep children from focusing on name brands and alienating children who could not or chose not to afford such things and 2. To keep children from wearing suggestive or vulgar clothing. This trend has trickled all the way down to Elementary School now, but stops in high school and children are again allowed to wear whatever they choose, within reason. I know there are many children who become involved in adult activity how are “good” kids, however, it’s safe to say the majority of kids who become gang members or teen moms didn’t begin their behavior overnight. It all starts when children believe they are older than their age. They want to dress, act, and talk as if they are the age they wish to be. Therefore, parents who think clothes are just a fashion statement are SADLY mistaken. Teens today are already developing more quickly than in past generations. A fourteen year old today looks nothing like I did, that’s for sure. And if this girl wears a low cut V neck shirt, or a tight or short skirt…she definitely doesn’t look fourteen. What parents must remember is that you are in control of what your children wear! If you don’t want your daughter to be perceived as a slut, don’t buy her clothes that resemble a street walker. That’s common sense.

What does this have to do with the tragedy in Charleston? Children, regardless of race or religion, are a product of their environment. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

Teach your child what is right and good. Help educate them and nurture their creativity and independence. Ensure that YOU as a parent have done everything in your power to make sure they will be a fully-functioning and productive citizen once they are an adult.

The Least of These

This afternoon I have my first interview for my internship placement. This internship is in marriage and family therapy and counseling. Throughout my studies the past couple years I have come to appreciate those in the mental health field.

It’s not easy being a therapist. It’s not just the fact that people come into your office hoping to unload their problems, which is heavy. It’s not just that you hear stories that make you cry, which is sad. The hardest part is not even watching someone struggle, but who is unwilling to admit that they need help. Those things are hard. Perhaps the hardest part of therapy is learning to overcome your flesh and learn to value each individual.

This has been especially hard for me, but I am confident in saying that I have grown immensely in that area. Passing judgement is a sin, but sin is human’s nature since the Fall. Learning to silence that voice of my flesh is so hard.

However, in order for me to go into the business of soul care and hurt healing, I had to learn to do this. It’s an imperative skill. But that didn’t make it much easier.

In the coming months and years I will find myself sitting across from addicts, rapists, abusers, homeless, and mentally ill. I will see people of all races, nationalities, and religions. I will be surrounded by those who I believe have poor hygiene, misplaced priorities, self-pity, and little motivation to move from the place where they are. I will see people who I think “got what they asked for” or that due to their choices, are right where they want to be in life. I will see people every single day who come to me for help, but aren’t willing to help themselves. Yet I have to control my urge to judge this person and assume that I know their circumstance. Many times we find ourselves comparing our life story to those around us. That’s unfair. Not everyone grew up in a Caucasian, two parent home in the upper-middle-class tax bracket where there were no signs of abuse and neglect. In a home where both parents loved them unconditionally and put their child’s needs before their own. No, that wasn’t everyone’s story. In fact, that was very few people’s story…and oftentimes even those who share my story, end up on a completely different path.

In the very beginning of the Bible it tells us that God created man in his image and with his own likeness (Genesis 1:27). Stop and ponder that for a minute. It doesn’t say only I was made in his image or only my pastor was made in his image. We all were! That makes the human race the most precious creation. Each individual, no matter their ailments or life history, was created in the image of the Almighty God. That means that we each have immeasurable value. I have to train myself to see this value in each person that I encounter. Whether in my career or in the grocery store. This simple revelation will change the entire way that you view others.

Jesus said in Matthew 25, “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me. Whenever you did this for any of my people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for me.

Wow! That is powerful. Do you have any idea what this means? Those who I mentioned as being hard to sit across the table from are JESUS! Each and every one of them is Jesus. And if I help them, it is the same as if I am helping my sweet Lord.

Though I will never be able to repay Jesus for what he did on the cross for me, and I will never be as perfect or blameless as him, I can serve Him but serving others. Being covered by Him in the eyes of Our Father, I can represent Him through my works here on Earth. I can do as he did when he was here. I can do for the least of these.

To go a step further, we are told in Luke 6, “Lend without expecting to be paid back. Then you will get a great reward, and you will be the true children of God in heaven. He is good even to people who are unthankful and cruel. Have pity on others, just as your Father has pity on you.”

Today I take one of my first steps in pursuing my calling. Pray for me. That I will treat every human as Jesus himself and see the immense value of each life.

Reverend Billy Graham has said, “Just as pastors are called to lead the flock, if you are a child of God, you too are called to your vocation.”

Amen.