Friday, September 9, 2011

Clergy Suicides

Kopp Disclosure
(John 3:19-21)



Charlie was my age now when I met him only two weeks after being ordained.

It was my first parochial meeting of clergy.who lived/ministered in the same neck of the woods in Pennsylvania's Dutch Country near Lancaster.

It was also my first break from the romantic notion of pastoral ministry as equipping the saints for gospeling as everybody gets along in, through, and for Jesus.

I couldn't believe my eyes as I saw this really big manly man of a pastor break down in tears: "I can't take it anymore. I left last night's session meeting, came home after everyone was asleep, walked past the dog and up the stairs to my bedroom, threw out my arms, and cried, 'Take me now, Jesus; 'cause I'm tired of being hated for trying to get church people to act like they believe in You.'"

That happened about ten minutes after rookie me introduced myself to the veterans with bursts of excitement about finally beginning my ministry as a pastor.

While I saw what became of my home pastor after years of people talking behind his back and undermining just about every one of his Christlike efforts, meaning I kinda knew what He was getting me into, things really change moments after picking up the Rev as target more than title. It's kinda like what some women/men say happens the day after walking down the nuptial aisle.

The only way to stay in pastoral ministry is to be called into it before you start.

Yeah, I know that sounds silly; but when you consider the stats of those who've dropped out before cashing in any pension credits...

Anyway, Charlie helped me to make sense of Philippians 1:20-26.

Yeah, that kinda explains how I feel about it/Him.


___ was a good friend of mine in seminary; though he once got me into trouble in chapel by asking Paul and me to stand with him as he said something nice about Angela Davis.

I also got into trouble with him after picking him for my basketball team and then saying after our first practice, "Yo, ___, what's up with this? I thought you were a good basketball player. You stink!" He said, "See, it's the same with all you crackers! Just because I'm black and tall, you think I'm supposed to be Julius Erving or something!"

We became really close.

It happens when you're transparent, vulnerable, and willing to work through stuff; instead of pretending you're better than you are which is why so many people in the church have a hard time getting along. Too much posing purity and perfection when the truth is everybody is messed up in some way. Hello! That's why He came in Jesus to save us from our incapability of qualifying for His best and ultimate graces on our own. Duh! I'm always amazed by people who are amazed at the never-ending examples of everyone's need for Jesus to save us because we can't do it ourselves. Whoa! Some folks really, really, really need some reality therapy.

Well, he called late one night from ___ while I was in Clark, New Jersey about five years after ordination: "I can't do it anymore. I feel like snakes are in my head. I'm not black enough for blacks and not white enough for whites. People keep saying what they don't like about me. They keep asking why I became a pastor if I don't know what I'm doing. I feel like snakes are in my head. I gotta get those snakes out of my head."

He hung up after we read Psalm 62 together.

I heard he committed suicide not long after that.

I was really, really, really troubled about that until Tony explained years later, "I've had this vision of God greeting people who've committed suicide at the gates of heaven: 'I know it was too tough for you down there. It was almost too tough for me. Welcome home!'"

Psalm 62.

Sooner or later.


I've never thought about committing suicide; despite what people say about me for not wearing a helmet when I ride my mule.

Don't get me wrong.

I've been paid to be abused like most of today's clergy.

God knows people like to transfer their angers at Him and about most other things to us.

Lots of therapists give punching bags to patients.

God gave clergy to...

But, nah, I've never considered suicide; except, maybe, when it hit me that I really had no chance with Susan Sarandon and, uh, I had to admit Joel, Rick, and just about anybody else who has ever written a book will always outsell books by me by, uh, oh, sigh, geez, about a gazillion to 1.

That last one really put me over the edge. Dang, I mean, holy macaroni, if what I write is that inferior to what they write, then I must really ___.

It's good to know God defines me.

You too.

That's good to remember when the unwitting and willing accomplices of Satan belittle, beat, bruise, batter, and butcher us.

While God and the Godly elevate, encourage, and embrace, there are enough bad guys/girls in our world to make us question our worth and even right to life that...

Well, that's why too many pull the plug and...

Truth is I'm blessed by an increasingly tight relationship with Him and buoyed by the love of His in/by my family, covenant brothers, church, and...

That reminds me of something said by a secular shrink in an executive workshop that a high steeple church made me attend because I was handlin' it in the pulpit but not so well in sucking up to people who feel entitled to have guys like me suck up to 'em: "The best way to convince people not to commit suicide is to convince them that they are loved by somebody. Love is the best life preserver."

Which gets me back to God who has proved beyond any doubt in Jesus that we are loved and gets me back to Psalm 62.


Here's the point.

If Jesus is in your heart, you hang around until He decides it's time to hang out with Him in heaven.

It's Philippians 1:20-26 as a preface to the ultimate reality for everyone who is tight with Jesus: 2 Timothy 4:6-8.


He said, "I came that you may have life and..."



Here's the deal.

Whether you live or die, it's always the best with Jesus.

This life is so good with Jesus.

Life after life with Jesus is, uh, heavenly.

So decide to let Him decide.


Of course, not everybody chooses Jesus.

They usually end up as features in those depressing songs about...

That's why I must admit I just don't understand people who reject Him.

It's so suicidal.


Blessings and Love!


dennistheeremite said...

You have said a bunch of things really well here, and I know that those who read this will find opportunities to spread it around. Especially the vision of Jesus welcoming the suicides; but also the issue of calling when a church experience seems to break one's self of calling and even one's sense of reality and sanity. I can give what you said a special blessing because I have coped with depression since elementary school, had a calling to the ministry when I was 12 that I tried very hard to ignore, and was very nearly detroyed in my first pastorate. The Lord alone is my rock and my salvation.

Dr. Robert R. Kopp said...

The Lord alone!

Amen, brother!

J said...

Bob, I am sorry about your good friend. The day JFK was assassinated I was a freshman at K.U. All classes were canceled. A very good friend I had met in those early weeks of school said, "What's there to do? Let's go downtown to the bookstore." There he saw the book, Why I am not a Christian, by Bertrand Russell and showed it to me. I said nothing. We went back to campus, played cards till dinner, grieved over JFK, and went to dinner. I heard he played cards till after midnight. I never saw him again. He tried to hang himself from the pipes in his room and failed, falling to the fl oor and dying of a cerebral hemorrhage. What should have been my witness? He wasn't despondent!
A year an a half before that we moved from Michigan to Kansas where my father was a patient at Menninger's for depression where the session had sent him immediately upon learning of his condition. In four months he was ready to return. Despite over 300 parishioner letters of encouragement and eagerness to have him back, the session voted to terminate him -- probably due to the stigma of mental illness then and now. When his psychiatrist read him the rejection letter with a blood pressure cuff on because he always had high blood pressure and all mail was screened at Menninger's, my father's systolic blood pressure went to 300, terrifying the psychiatrist. It could have been fatal, of course. Some elders on session may have secretly hoped as much, but he became nearly a poster child for the psychiatrists se nding other patients to hear him preach due to his complete recovery from depression. I wouldn't be married to Melanie if it had not been for the hard times. All things do work together for good for those who love the Lord.
During that hospitalization he was often asked if he ever thought of suicide. He had been asked that one too many times when he answered, "No. I was bought at too high a price by my Lord Jesus Christ." He was never asked that question again.
A study was done of unsuccessful suicide attempts a few years back and it was found that a high percentage of them entertained and attempted suicide in only five minutes before the actual act. That's how fast Satan tempts us. Philippians 4 tells us to think upon whatever is pure, noble, good, virtuous ... By inference, not on the bad. We must seek His strength immediately in prayer in our weakness and a sk Him to infuse us with thoughts of those qualities. The world says that's Pollyanna, and the world is going to hell.
Finally, Billy Graham was asked his opinion of suicide. He didn't know what to say other than the few suicides in the Bible were by people who were not right with the Lord. It may be that we are not right with the Lord when not following Philippians 4. The fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience ... So if the fruits are not there, invite the Holy Spirit in and see what happens! (en)joy!

D said...

When my marriage broke up, I confided to my pastor that I was blessed and cursed by having Jesus. Blessed to know that He loves me and that I was never alone. Cursed to know that suicide was no longer an option -- because despite the awful pain, Was adopted into HIS FAMILY and my life was no longer my own to make such a decision. HE was going to be in charge and the arrogance of suicide was not in HIS plan for me.

Not having my wife next to me in church was impossibly painful. I insisted on saving that space for her in absentia -- refusing to give it up to anyone for any reason. Then came the day I realized that Jesus was always beside me because He was the third person in the marriage -- and HE would always be by my side. It was an epiphany moment.

Be blessed, Bob, knowing there are those who love you in this world and the next -- but only One who has loved you for all of time.

Ella Jane said...

Bob, Love is the life preserver. So very true. Life can be cruel, people can be vicious, but Jesus...oh Thank God for Jesus! He gives us Abundant Life.

Dr. Robert R. Kopp said...

Amen, sister!

NLCC OM Blog! said...

Twenty-six years in the guild and I can absolutely ratify your comments on those Satan sends to shatter us. On the other hand, were it not for the angels God sends who love us beyond our merits we could not do this work. The Lord alone is indeed our rock, but often the Lord works through people. Even me. THANK YOU FOR YOUR HONESTY.