Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor

Morgan Park

 Baptist Church

11024 S. Bell Avenue 

Chicago, IL 60643


Reflection January 15, 2017

Hopeful Sanity
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth

     The recent attack at the Florida airport, coupled with the endlessly publicized “hate” crime in our own city, has made me wonder once again about our collective sanity. This morning’s USA Today (Monday, January 9), highlights on its front page how mental health and addiction coverage might both be undermined by attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. It seems to me, as a pastor and as a licensed professional counselor, that our collective mental health is appearing more and more fragile.

     I also read today an article in the December 2 issue of The Week, titled “In Thrall to Adderall,” which was deeply disturbing on many levels. Adderall is an amphetamine – a profound and dangerous stimulant. Yet, as the article notes: “Adderall has become ubiquitous on college campuses. Black markets have sprung up at many, if not most, schools. In fact, according to a 2012 article, the off-label use of prescription stimulants had come to represent the second most common form of illicit drug use in college by 2004. Only marijuana was more popular.”

       What is happening to us? Is life too demanding, too disturbing, too debilitating, that we cannot easily hold onto our sanity in such a frenetic, merciless world? I worry for our children and our children’s children. Is life becoming too hard for too many of us? How do we maintain sanity in a world that seems not to cherish or – at least – not value sanity. Does madness await most of us?

     Now, please understand, I – as a Christian – live with hope. A Christian cannot be called a true Christian without hope. But hope can be hard to find. Christianity is not a call to a Pollyanna life nor is it a call to close one’s eyes to the insanities that beset us.

     We face real and serious problems at home and abroad. But one issue demanding our constant attention is the need to highlight individual and collective sanity.

     One form of insanity I see in our own neighborhood is the profoundly dangerous continuation of grade school football. Even after studies have shown how just one year of playing football damages an individual’s brain – often for life, this craziness continues. The younger the person is playing the football, the more likely the possibility of long-lasting brain damage.     

     As the well-known psychiatrist, Daniel Amen, writes in Healing the Hardware of the Soul: “After years of seeing these (brain) scans, I would not let my children hit soccer balls with their heads, play tackle football, or snowboard without a helmet ... Brain injuries, even ‘mild’ ones, matter more than most people think, including physicians …

     “Your brain is confined in a closed space. When you experience a blow to the head, there is no place for the brain to go, so it ends up slamming against the walls, ridges, and sharp bony edges of the skull, ripping small blood vessels, causing micro-hemorrhaging (bleeding) and small areas of scar tissue to form over time ... Psychiatric problems are common after traumatic brain injury, even when the injury is relatively mild.” Grade-school tackle-football is a dangerous game for our young to play!

     I often mention that we must travel this rocky road of life with others. To cut oneself off from others is also a form of insanity. As the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips points out in Going Sane: “The mad (the insane) lack a sense of community …” Yet it is not easy to discover a sense of community in our narcissistic, self-oriented world.

     We see this self-dynamic when it comes to attendance at church. The communal worship of the Almighty, the common prayer essential to every Christian, is no longer understood as having much, if any, value. Sunday mornings are given to athletic events and other projects. Anything and everything blocks so many of us from embracing weekly, communal worship as something of vital importance.

     Of course, our Catholic brothers and sisters feel compelled to attend either on Saturday or Sunday, lest they commit a mortal sin and spend the expanse of eternity in hell. That’s one way to get people to weekly worship! Perhaps we American Baptists should latch onto this time-honored tradition! 

     Yes, I jest! Yet I must state an important truth: if one does not go to church (excepting those who cannot go because of ill health or other legitimate reasons), one cannot easily claim to be a Christian. To believe one can be a Christian in isolation is another form of insanity.

     “Sanity is to the mind what health is to the body; the state in which one ought to be … The sane mind works properly ... What is at stake in sanity is whether we can be at home in the world.” (Phillips)

     Why do we not teach our young what it means to be sane? Why do we not preach in our churches about the value of sanity? Why does our media focus so much attention on insanity and so little attention on the value and virtue of sanity?

     “Sanity … is the capacity to bear frustration. The capacity to bear frustration, like religious faith, is the belief – without flight into bitterness or arrogance – that the good thing, the thing one wants, will come. This version of sanity is usually called hope.” (Phillips) We, Christians, are called again and again to be people of hope. May our God grant us hope in the year to come!