The Moral Compass

Where does your moral compass point?

It is a good question you may have never considered. If you think it points to general goodness then you have not thought enough about where your moral drive goes or the compass is broken. Personally, my moral compass points toward justice. Other people may have their goal to be equality, freedom, prosperity, or any other good goal. My studies and experience demonstrate that different people have a different moral goals in life. Teaching and temperament go into how a person responds morally to situations.

Consider the apparent injustice happening in Ferguson, Missouri. Where does the injustice lie. Is it the killing of an unarmed young black man? Is it the persecution of the police department? My son and I discussed the issue philosophically during breakfast the other day. Up to that point, we heard only one narrative in the situation. This story was reported by the media based on the testimony of people who claimed to be eye witnesses to the tragedy. My son was talking about the soon to revelation of the officer who shot and killed Michael Brown. I gave my son a word of caution about narratives. A true moral distinction cannot be drawn until at least one more narrative could be heard. The authorities would give their narrative of “findings and conclusions” soon. It would be at that point a moral judgment could be made.

All too often moral conclusions are drawn with too little and sometimes embellished evidence. People often do this based on how they view the society in which they live. If I assume that America’s history of race, racism, and slavery are at work in any case of white on black crime, then my response will only be based on the narrative that agrees with this viewpoint. If I assume that young black males are more likely to commit violent crimes, then I will assume the correct narrative agrees with this point of view. Moral conclusions based on such assumptions often end in immoral results. Injustice will prevail if prejudices are given free rein on how a situation is viewed.

What has been happening in Ferguson is violence based on assumptions about the criminality of police officers and young black men. Platitudes by opportunists do not help communities deal with anger and justice-seeking. President Obama called for healing for the community. Authorities both civil and moral usually do this. But, they often call for it too early. Justice is necessary before healing can begin. Such premature wishing for forgiveness in these cases have nothing to do with healing. They are rather calls for order. Yet, the slogan is true “Justice delayed is justice denied.”

The onus in these cases between authorities and citizens rests on the authorities. We assume the police forces are being trained to act as professional representatives of their departments to the citizenry. Militarization of police forces can only result in the mindset that citizens become enemies of the state. This is not the point of “peace officers.” Citizens are not educated about what to do when confronted by the police. So then justice necessarily requires authorities to be accountable for their actions regarding their citizens.

Ultimately Justice is the reigning in of vengeance between individuals. Lex talonis (eye for and eye, tooth for tooth, life for life) allows responses to injustices to be measured. Life for an eye or a wound is simply unjust unless one wishes to have a reign of terror over one’s neighbors thereby destroying all good and any hopes for universal fellowship within the community.

Community healing can only take place once justice as been obtained. I believe we will never have any sense of perfect justice. Yet, I believe granting justice allows for bitterness and a desire for the destruction of others to be reduced so that the calls for healing and forgiveness can be truly heeded.

Confession of a Depressed Pastor

First, let me say this. I take my medicine every day.

I sat through a clergy meeting one time where the topic of discussion was “how to improve preaching.” I leaned over to one of my colleagues and said, “I know one way. Go on antidepressants.” I was surprised when my friend turned to me and said, “Amen to that.” He was taking them too.

I wonder what the statistics on active members of the clergy in all faith taking prescribed medicine for depression. I bet they are not as high as they should be. We have a stressful job. People bring us their issues in more ways than one. Clergy tend to be creative people who do not have enough outlets or time for our creativity. So I would guess that many of us are taking some form of therapy for depression. I also know that there are many who need help and do not get it. The fishbowl of clergy living negatively impacts a person reaching out for help. So clergy may self-medicate with online pornography, illegal drugs, illicit sex, or over indulging in food and/or alcohol.

I have times when people in the church cannot believe that I take medicine for depression. “You seem so happy and extroverted.” And so I am. But, I have times when the Churchill’s black dog is chasing me; and I feel (as one friend says) I am wearing underwear made by MilkBone. The medicine keeps the downward spiral from happening. And yet, I still contemplate taking my own life a couple of times every year. The cycle is always there. The medicine takes off the edge. And I am less grouchy and argumentative with those I care most about.

Clergy members who suffer with some form of depression feel an exceptional pinch to fake it. After all, we are told to “turn our troubles over to God.” We sing about “how the Lord can lift us up” if we turn to him. I like prayers and songs. I hate how they make me feel some times. Many clergy feel the trap between “my church members will want another pastoral leader if they know” and “maybe I should put an end to it all.” Fake it or die trying. Depressed clergy can self-destruct in other ways too. There must be ways we can realize how important it is to get professional help.

I suggest we first admit our health is about us. It is not the stress of the job or family life. These are situations to which we are reacting. Depression is a medical problem that needs treatment. It is not a spiritual issue or the divine presence saying it is time to move on. Take care of your mental health by getting help in doing it.

Secondly, get all the information you want. Many people are afraid of antidepressants because they have bad information regarding “links” between some of the drugs and suicide. Ask a medical professional about those risks. Do not ask Google

Thirdly, I suggest before taking serious actions or making major statements that a time of reflective questioning be taken. Am I considering this because of the illness? It may be that brain chemicals are distorting your view of what it happening.

Do not be surprised when beginning a therapy causes mood swings, sleepiness, insomnia,or any other symptom. Like medicine for hypertension it takes time to work through to the proper balance. You will get there.

Clergy who suffer from depression can become the most compassionate pastoral leaders if they get the help they need. Church leaders and members need to know that a person suffering from this mental illness needs all they help he or she can get to integrate into the community of faith.