EPISODE 239: A Disease I Do Not Have the Courage to Name

This Christmas cast is about communication between people, and God. Moreover, it’s about the cost of poor communication, which can be suicide, let alone habitual alienation. And the rich advantage of good communication, which can be the difference between life and death, let alone satisfaction and personal happiness.

Recently, Tullian Tchividjian spoke at a ‘Broken Christmas’ service in Living Faith Lutheran Brethren Church at Cape Coral, FL. He spoke brilliantly, soberly, gravely, touchingly, humorously at points, and as affectingly as Mary and I have ever heard him speak.

To introduce Tullian, I took an illustration from William Inge’s 1970 novel entitled My Son Is a Splendid Driver.

In that novel, the author, a man in his mid-40s, is visiting his aging mother and father in the small Kansas town where they live and where he grew up. Uncharacteristically, his mother does not meet him at the station — My Son takes place during the Great Depression — but only his father.

When the author arrives home, his mother is there, but looking thin and very worn. She informs her son, “Your father has given me a disease that I do not have the courage to name.”

What has happened is that his mother has been given what we today call an STD by her husband, who, like her, is in his mid-60s, and who contracted the disease from a prostitute during a business trip.

The mother is completely collapsed and ashamed. Her son reflects as follows: “Mother had stopped going to church. ‘ Church isn’t the place to go with your troubles. Church is just a place to go when you’re feeling good and have a new hat to wear.’

“There was a little bitterness in what she said, but there was also truth. Our minister would have been the last person in the world she could have talked to, to have lifted the curse she felt upon her and saved her from feeling damned. She would have embarrassed the man into speechlessness had she gone to him with her story…

“Most of our morality, I was beginning to think, was based on a refusal to recognize sin. Our entire religious heritage, it seemed to me, was one of refusal to deal with it.”

William Inge’s thoughts are so germane. How many people do you and I know who have “dropped out” of Christianity because of their feeling that the church is judging them in some way? Your friend may feel judged by conservative or evangelical Christians. But I may feel judged by liberal or progressive Christians. Judgment “swings both ways” (Herman Hermits, 1966). It swings all ways!

Tullian focused some on suicide, in his talk. He reminded us that almost everybody contemplates suicide at some point, even if only for a minute. (“Did It in a Minute”, Hall and Oates, 1981) And the people that actually do take their own lives are usually people who have felt unable to confide their real thoughts and feelings to ANYONE, and for quite some time. You can become habituated, in other words, to suppressing yourself. And the long-term result of that?: POOF!

Listen to this cast in the light of your desire — very natural — to express yourself to somebody. Ultimately, your desire to express yourself, to God. The key is empathy. Tullian has it. I hope I have it, at least a little. And I know that the Burning Babe (Robert Southwell) has it, also. LOL at Christmas, PZ