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“My Name is Legion” – Part 4

Clothed and in his right mind.

The power of Legion is the power of destruction and death.  Legion is powerful.  Legion is pervasive.  But the Biblical story does not end with demon possession but deliverance.

There is a power greater than the power of Legion.  There is a power greater than the power of Empire.  There is a power greater than the power of occupying forces of darkness.  The authority of Jesus and the presence of God’s kingdom result in wellbeing.

When we first met the tormented man, he was dis-integrated, dis-connected, dis-oriented, and dis-ordered.  At the end of the story, the man is found “clothed and in his right mind.”  Jesus (as representative of the liberating Peace of God) has reintegrated, reconnected, reoriented and reordered the man, having dispatched “Legion” (as representative of the oppressive Pax Romana) into the pigs and hurled them into the sea–an image that reminds us of the outcome for Pharaoh’s armies of oppression in Exodus.

The man is not doomed to endless suffering at the hands of “Legion.”  There is hope for those who are tormented and oppressed (and even possessed) by the outside forces of greed, hated, discrimination and dehumanization.  The power of Jesus and the Kingdom of heaven is the power of restoration and abundant life.  There IS power in the name of Jesus to break every chain of oppression and injustice.  There is power in the name of Jesus to truly live.

Tomorrow…Part 5 “Resistance is NOT Futile.”

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“My Name is Legion” – Part 3

“American ‘Legion'”

The story of “Legion” in the region of the Geresenes has been repeated again and again throughout history. Empires rise and expand. People are destroyed or controlled.

“Legion” is in the history of America too.  From the moment European explorers “discovered” the Americas, “Legion” followed.  Armed with the Doctrine of Discovery, the Americas were systematically colonized for the benefit of white Europeans.

Here in the U.S., we annually celebrate God’s provision and preservation of the Pilgrims in the face of a hostile environment, but not long after the first Thanksgiving in 1621, war broke out between colonists and the “savages” over the right to land.  Resistance was futile.  Over the next 200 years, native populations were systematically massacred.  Those who survived the genocide were removed from their land under the “Indian Removal Act” and resettled far from their homelands.  The Cherokee were marched from North Carolina and Georgia to Oklahoma in what became known as the “Trail of Tears.”  The Potawatomi were marched from Indiana to Kansas on the “Trail of Death.”  Once removed, Indians lands were resettled–given to white Europeans.  The colonization of America continued westward, resulting in the death or displacement of millions more people.

Like the man of Geresa, American Indians are the walking dead, possessed by “Legion” under a new name–“Manifest Destiny.”  The impact of the possession that began in 1622 continues.  Almost 400 years later, American Indians are among the poorest people in the United States.  They have the highest suicide rates and the highest substance abuse rates–indicators of mental illness and distress.

Strip people of their humanity, displace them, occupy them, control them physically and spiritually, and they will exhibit all the symptoms of mental and spiritual illness. According to a study by former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, ethnic and racial minorities “face a social and economic environment of inequality that includes greater exposure to racism, discrimination, violence and poverty…. And people in the lowest stratum of income…are two to three times more likely than those in the highest stratum to have a mental disorder.”

We see the same patterns of “possession” among Africans, who were stripped of their humanity, forcibly removed from their ancestral homes and brought to this country to be sold (possessed) as slaves.  Despite being freed 150 years ago, African Americans continue to suffer from the diaspora experience and continued discrimination.  African Americans are twice as likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia and have the highest rates of PTSD.  Forty percent of those experiencing homelessness are African American.

LGBTQ individuals regularly experience discrimination.  In at least 15 states, a person can be still be legally fired from their jobs because of sexual orientation.  This group of people has the highest rates of diagnosed anxiety disorders.

Women are most likely to experience sexual abuse and harassment.  They are also most likely to be diagnosed with depression.

Increasingly, we are watching as our children suffer mental disorders.  1 in 5 children lives in poverty.  Gun-related injuries are the 3rd leading cause of death in children under age 17!  It is estimated that 10% of children are traumatized by sexual abuse before the ages of 18, and 1 in 5 of those children will be abused before the age of 8.

And many of us have personally experienced the ongoing impact of colonial expansion in Puerto Rico.

The bottom line: Our society is toxic to wellbeing.  Poverty is demonic. Racial discrimination is demonic. Environmental destruction is demonic.  Violence is demonic. Abuse of power is demonic.  And the systems that create and maintain wealth inequality, racial superiority, violence and abuse are demonic. “Legion” lives among us and in us.  We need liberation from “Legion’s” death and destruction.

Tomorrow… Part 4.  “From Insanity to a Right Mind”

 

 

“My Name is Legion” – Part 2

“Legion Comes to Geresa”

Geresa was one of 10 cities on the east side of the sea of Galilee that were known as “Decapolis.”  When Rome initially took control of the region, the people resisted the colonial advancement.  Rome responded with brutal force–sending at least one large division of the Roman military, called a Legion, to squash the resistance.  Whole communities were murdered, some were sold into slavery or imprisoned, and others escaped with just their lives.  Rome then resettled the area, giving the land to soldiers as payment for their military service.

The land became the possession and was occupied by Legion; and in turn Legion took possession and occupied the people.  The Roman military was the visible presence of Roman occupation.  Legion was the enforcer of Roman “peace.”  Legion was the reminder that “resistance is futile.”

The crazy man from the graveyard was the victim of Rome, possessed and insane because of Roman colonialism.  Roman occupation, Roman imperialism and Roman oppression had been toxic to this man’s wellbeing.  Rome had stripped this man of his humanity, robbed him spiritually, and destroyed his mind.  And as a result, he became the walking dead.

This story sounds all too familiar.

Tomorrow… Part 3.  “Legion Comes to America”

“My name is Legion–for we are many.” – Part 1

We’ve all encountered crazy people.  They are the ones howling at the moon or swatting away invisible objects or having conversations with themselves.  They are the ones who hear voices and have hallucinations and are disconnected from reality.  And when we see ‘crazy’, we know what to do–cross to the other side of the street and pull our children a little closer to us because there is something “wrong with them.”

Jesus encountered ‘crazy’ too.  And no one seemed more crazy than the man Jesus and his disciples met upon arriving at the region of the Geresenes.  (See Mark 5:1-9)  This man is obviously deranged.  He is out of his mind.  He lives in a cemetery–completely isolated from the rest of the community and family.  He is out of control.  The community has tried to contain him, but he has broken free every chain and shackle they have used to bind him.  He is self-mutilating.  He is more like an animal than a man, howling in the night.  This man has experienced complete social, physical, mental and spiritual dis-integration. He’s insane.

What is the cause of his insanity?  Mark describes the man as possessed by an impure spirit.  He is under the control of an outside demonic influence.  But rather than avoid the man, Jesus engaged him and sought to help him.  In an uncharacteristic act, Jesus asked the man/impure spirit his name.  And the man/impure spirit identified himself as “Legion–for we are many.”

For many of us who have grown up with this story, we assume that this man had become possessed because of some deficiency in his moral character, some commitment of terrible sins, some omission in his spiritual practice, or worse–some active participation in the occult, opening himself to the Satanic world.  For most of us, Legion is simply a reference to the multiple demons possessing the man as a result of his own multiple acts of spiritual waywardness.

But for the people reading Mark’s gospel, the name “Legion” meant more than just a large number.  The name indicated the real source of the man’s madness.

Tomorrow… Part 2.  “Legion Arrives in Geresa”

Ephesians 3:16-19 (A Paraphrase of Paul’s prayer)

“O God, out of the storehouse of your abundant spiritual blessings, strengthen Your people. Fill our inner being with the power and presence of Your Spirit so our hearts may become a welcome place for Christ himself to reside. May Your love be the rich soil in which our lives are planted, take root, grow and bear fruit. May Your truth be the foundation upon which our lives are built up so that we will fully know and fully grasp that the love Christ has for us is greater and more true than anything we have previously experienced or could believe possible—a love infinitely long, infinitely wide, infinitely high, and infinitely deep that embraces us completely and heals our deepest hurts. God, may Your fullness flood through our entire being—down to the core of who we are—so we will be made holy and whole. Amen.”

Systemic Oppression and Mental Health – Part 3

Given the history of slavery, Jim Crow laws, lynching, police profiling, and government policies specifically excluding African Americans from access to basic human needs such as housing, it should be no surprise that African Americans are 20% more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population.

While African Americans suffer many of the same mental illnesses as the rest of the population such as depression and anxiety disorders, they often experience them at more severe levels.  In addition, African Americans are diagnosed with schizophrenia twice as often as non-Hispanic whites, and Black/African Americans of all ages are more likely to be victims of serious violent crime than are non-Hispanic whites, making them more likely to meet the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  A full 40% of people who are homeless are African American. 1

A likely cause for the high rates of mental disorders: The stress caused by discrimination because of race.  71% of African Americans report that they have experienced racial discrimination, and 23% say they experience some form of racial discrimination at least twice a week.  2

And studies show that even the anticipation of discrimination can raise stress levels.  Living in a heightened state of alertness constantly damages not only the brain but also the body.

1 Source

2 Source

 

Systemic Oppression and Mental Health – Part 2

LGBTQ individuals often experience marginalization, rejection, and harassment on a regular basis.  They often fear losing their jobs (in some States, you can be fired for being gay), being targeted for violence, or being denied basic human rights.  As a result, they are 3 times more likely than others to experience a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, self harm and suicide attempts.

LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight people.  At particular risk are those who have experienced rejection from their families after revealing their sexual orientation.  An estimated 20-30% of LGBTQ people abuse substances, compared to about 9% of the general population, and 25% of LGBT people abuse alcohol, compared to 5-10% of the general population.

Groups that are stigmatized are at greater risk of experiencing a mental disorder. Marginalization, rejection and harassment do not fulfill the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love heals.

Source

Systemic Oppression and Mental Health – Part 1

According to the World Health Organization, “Racism or discrimination towards a particular group in society, for example, raises that group’s exposure to social exclusion and economic adversity, thereby placing them at a higher risk of stress, anxiety and other common mental disorders.”

This is particularly evident among American Indian tribal groups. The long history of European colonialism and expansion throughout the United States includes forced removal from land, murder of entire communities, separation of children from their families, forced assimilation, and genocide of whole tribes.  American Indians are the most impoverished subgroup in the U.S.  And the unemployment rate is twice as high as the general population. The impact of past and present oppression can be seen in the mental health of indigenous people.

The suicide rate for American Indian males between the ages of 15-24 is 3 times the national average.  In a small study of adults in the Northwest U.S., 70% of those surveyed indicated that they had experienced a mental disorder in their lifetime and 30% were currently experiencing a disorder.  Substance abuse–often a presenting problem of mental distress– is epidemic among American Indians.

And while the U.S. government provides mental health support services on reservations, 4 in 5 American Indians do not live on the reservations and do not have access to those services.

A history of exclusion and discrimination can still be observed in the present.

 

Is living in the U.S. bad for your mental health?

According to multiple studies cited in Mental Health: Culture Race and Ethnicity, Mexican Americans born outside the United States have lower prevalence rates of lifetime disorders than Mexican Americans born in the United States.  25% of Mexican-born immigrants show signs of mental illness or substance abuse compared to 48% of U.S.-born Mexican Americans.

The studies suggest that there are social dynamics that contribute to mental illness and substance abuse.  Children of immigrants often face unique stresses while navigating a bilingual/bicultural world.  But Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. Surgeon General, has made the observation that ethnic and racial minorities “face a social and economic environment of inequality that includes greater exposure to racism, discrimination, violence and poverty. Living in poverty has the most measurable effect on the rates of mental illness. (our emphasis) People in the lowest stratum of income…are about two to three times more likely than those in the highest stratum to have a mental disorder.”

If we want to improve mental health, we must also address the social/economic environment in which we live.

 

 

Is it Just Adolescence or is it Mental Illness?

The adolescent years are crazy! Mood swings, emotional tirades (remember Katie Ka-boom?), hormonal surges, DRAMA.  Sometimes, adults look at the behavior and just chalk it up to being a normal teenager–a little crazy, but normal.  But in reality, 20% of teenagers (ages 12-17) have a diagnosable mental disorder–the rates for teenage depression are surging, and self-harm and suicide rates are rising.  Yet, only about 20% of those kids receive help.  In the words of Time magazine, “The kids are NOT alright.”

So, how can you tell the difference between “normal teenage angst ” and a more serious mental health issue? Here are some things that you may observe in a teen that will help to decipher the difference between mental illness and normal teenage behavior. Some concerning behaviors:

• Decrease in enjoyment and time spent with friends and family
• Significant decrease in school performance
• Strong resistance to attending school or absenteeism
• Problems with memory, attention or concentration
• Big changes in energy levels, eating or sleeping patterns
• Physical symptoms (stomach aches, headaches, backaches)
• Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, anxiety, crying often
• Frequent aggression, disobedience or lashing out verbally
• Excessive neglect of personal appearance or hygiene
• Substance abuse
• Dangerous or illegal thrill-seeking behaviour
• Is overly suspicious of others
• Sees or hears things that others do not

It’s important to remember that no one sign means that there is a problem. It’s important to examine the: nature, intensity, severity and duration of a problem. Source

16_Average-warning-signs3