Olds, D. B. (2008). In the shadow side of hope: charisma and mutuality in the pastoral care of men with tendencies toward affective disturbance. Pastoral Psychology, 56 (6): 593-608.

copyright Springer Science+Business Media, LLC

DOI 10.1007/s11089-008-0145-y

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Pastoral Psychology, 56 (6): 593-608

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In the Shadow Side of Hope:

Charisma and Mutuality in the Pastoral Care of Men with Tendencies toward Affective Disturbance[1]

Douglas B. Olds[2]

Abstract This paper explores dialectical relationships between affective mental disturbance and religious development in men. It then proposes a form of pastoral engagement—the mutual encounter—with men so afflicted. In care giving, the pastor may draw on his or her own charismatic endowment to solicit the recognition of the same within the care seeker, all the while respecting a man’s attenuating psychosocial need for communicative boundaries and privacy. Both pastor and care seeker may engage the care process as a mutual, continuing, and dialogic quest for authentic Christian relationship, charisma, and selfhood where each serves as “guide” and “messenger.”

Keywords Boisen, Dialectic, Mood, Mutuality


You who live in the shelter of the Most High,

who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

will say to the LORD, "My refuge and my fortress;

my God, in whom I trust." (Psalm 91.1-2 NRSV)

Since Anton Boisen initiated his pioneering work with inpatients in mental hospitals almost ninety years ago, links between mental illness and religious experience have been sought. Psychological interpretations of Christian mystics may lead to, for example, the assertion that Teresa of Avila was manic/bipolar. From the biographies and writings of mystics such as John of the Cross and from melancholiacs like Kierkegaard and Wiesel (see Frost, 1992; May, 2004; Havens and Ghaemi, 2005, p. 138), there may be a relationship between mood disorientation, affective crises, and later reawakening to the possibilities and joys of life. This reawakening may seem a profound psychological respite that is in many cases best described as religious (Greider, 2002). As such, religious feeling may display a dialectical character.

This paper explores a mode of discontinuous moods that men may display as they struggle to attain Christian maturity, a mode that, through God’s grace, may endow its sufferers with experiential insight and charisma to be applied to the care of fellow Christians. While it is not my contention that all mood disruptions have spiritual elements (see the broad typology in Speelman, 2006, p. 307), men who suffer destabilizing moods may be helped by a ministry of empathy, sharing of vulnerability, and charismatic expression. At its most effective, this ministry may provide an arena where mutuality in the contemplation of social failure, feelings of diminishment, and metaphysical confusion isrespectfully explored.

It is also not my intention in this exploration to slight women’s suffering or religious experience. Teresa’s wisdom in the realm of mystical suffering and renewal is profound: "to reach something good,” Teresa believes “it is very useful to have gone astray, and thus acquire experience." This displays a reflective and religious personality with much to teach people today regarding the relationship between virtuosic living and charisma. Moreover, what I propose has applicability to psycho-spiritual phenomena in women. Yet the pastoral care of men is relatively attenuated in the liberal and mainline churches reflecting the manifold belittlement of men who are in the process of becoming Christians. There is a stigma for men with mood disorders within the church as within society in general, multiplied by the stigma associated with Christian maturation, a stigma resulting from culturally influential psychotherapeutic reductionism as well as resulting from theological and sociological assessments regarding charismatic religiosity. It is for this reason that this paper suggests a facultative reorientation of pastoral care of affectively distressed men from a reciprocal model that moves quickly to the sharing of feelings toward that of a caregiver/care seeker relationship that seeks to slowly and mutually encounter charisma: the salvific, virtuosic, mysterious and Absolute manifest in the other.

Psychiatry and church

Thus says the LORD,

Though they are at full strength and many,

they will be cut off and pass away.

Though I have afflicted [humiliated] you,

I will afflict [humiliate] you no more.

And now I will break off his yoke from you

and snap the bonds that bind you." (Nahum 1:12-13, NRSV [Hobbins’ (2007) substitute gloss in brackets]).

Certain varieties of religious growth may be abrupt and emotionally disorienting. The deconstruction and reconstruction by God of a person’s character and orientation toward community requires the sheltering of dignity, especially for men whose sense of status will be transformed by God from the false consciousness of personal exaltation to that of eschatological consciousness that relies on < xml="true" ns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags" prefix="st1" namespace="">Providence. Because it contradicts the “bootstrap” myth of secular masculinity, this process of repentant “starting over” can be almost as painful for some people to observe as it is to experience, especially for those American demographic groups where power relations are stereotyped in suppressed expressions of intimacy and vulnerability (Ferraro and Kelley-Moore, 2000, pp. 221-2; contrast the Latino experience in Montilla and Medina, 2006, pp. 93-8).

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Lk 18: 16-17 NIV)

In the Euro-centric cultural context, the existence of abrupt episodes of painful disorientation followed by tearful release as reported by both mystics and religious melancholiacs makes a person undergoing such especially vulnerable to criticisms such as Sigmund Freud’s. Freud asserted that religious persons are infantilized. They sought, he proposed, a false comfort and consolation against ananke, the necessity for constant struggle that characterizes reality. This comfort and protection were established for Christians by the illusory protection of a powerful father-figure god (Bingaman, 2003). Freud, according to Bingaman (2003), is a spokesperson for the secular culture that would denigrate those seeking Christian maturity. Whereas repentance might seem to those who have undertaken it the signal and valiant act of adult individuation, whereby one expresses remorse for one’s failings and undertakes a commitment to change for the good (shalom) of community and family, Freud makes “non-negotiable” his conviction that individuation may not adopt a protecting, consoling ontology or Providence (Bingaman, 2003, p. 14).

Moreover, male converts to Christianity historically suffered from “status ambiguity,” having personal expectations derived from their family of origin for a certain status that was not forthcoming from the social world in which they found themselves (Meeks, 1983, pp. 78ff). Women had discovered in the early church an experimental egalitarian community, while men seem to have sought out the church when their social expectations did not match their social rank. Meeks (1983) concludes that men who converted to Christianity had not found the niche in society to which their birth or profession entitled them in that context, thus they hoped to find in the egalitarian company of the nascent church a new way of being human. Inasmuch as they associate religiosity with femininity, contemporary culture insidiously may denigrate men’s search for masculine wholeness through the church (Lieu, 1998, p. 7).

It appears, then, that a man has three social choices if he is struggling with problematic adaptations of selfhood: silence/withdrawal; the therapist, whereby the man struggles to control and frame his story for the response of a specialist responsible to the state; or the eschatological family of grace, where the man ideally is welcomed unconditionally, without cost or need to demonstrate superior functioning in life’s daily tasks. In the second case, an adult male may feel the need to control and frame his life’s story before a member of the therapeutic elite (Knight et al., 2005), reinforcing his tendency to be less than fully forthcoming (Ryan and Kumar, 2005). Males will often engage in tactical lies to frame their history (Culbertson, 1994), transferring blame away from themselves for their disappointments and failures in life (Boisen, 1936). Thus, by temperament and milieu, the psychiatric practitioner or pastoral care giver logically takes a skeptical approach to the care seeker’s personal story. This skepticism may be warranted in certain cases:

[Our] study has found that significant gender differences in the communication of such [religious] narratives do arise in certain specific areas. The majority of men used adventurous metaphors, while the majority of women used peaceful metaphors to describe their conversion experiences. It was also found that the majority of men focused on themselves as the central character while most women focused on someone else. And, men described themselves as clever whereas women described themselves as foolish in their narrative (Knight et al., 2005, p. 113).

Because of skepticism built into the foundations of psychiatry by Freud and others, religious ideation may become especially suspect as pathology. Metaphysical fancies and fears expressed by the distressed care seeker may be subject to taboo. These taboos may be all the more insidious as contemporary elites and neighborhoods act in concert to define the expression of certain metaphysical ideations as prima facie cause for coercing segregation of respondents from community. Another, more chilling manifestation of taboo against those who insist upon or involuntarily abide in a metaphysically non-normal inner world is to report these persons to the courts or to state social worker agencies, threatening the person’s family life with intensive and prolonged scrutiny by the state. The presumption, which may not be scientifically established, is that the articulation of particular metaphysical themes and fears is correlated with externally directed violence. In such cases, the church has further rationale to provide complements that mediate between psychiatry, the state, and the care seeker who is non-violent.

Pastoral tasks for mental illness: part I

In Boisen’s (1945/1992) famous phrase, a minister’s task is to “stud[y]…the living documents…as the primary sources for understanding human nature.” These “living theological documents” are the basis for empirical conclusions regarding religious experience of the ordinary person. In Hiltner’s (1992, p. 139) assessment, Boisen’s concern with and promotion of the ordinary “living documents” is Boisen’s “theological heritage.” Boisen lays the groundwork for a reverent encounter with mental suffering.

Pastoral practice as currently constituted attempts at least six things with such a person:

1) to help the care seeker look at his situation with some theological realism that might provoke him to some new insight or resolve;

2) to generate impressions about the care seeker’s situation that might reveal additional, unappreciated stressors or (mal)adaptations;

3) to allow the care seeker to frame the problem as completely and with as much insight as he will;

4) to sustain the care seeker as he endures ongoing suffering (Fairchild, 1980, p. 61);

5) to engage in a dialogue of guidance to help the sufferer evaluate cognitive or emotional confusion; and

6) to reconcile relationships with God and others that may have fractured during illness.

For males, especially, there are two clusters of obstacles to this process identified by Culbertson (1994). First is the tendency of men toward self-deception--to lie about the causes and the depth and nature of their failures, including the attribution of blame to others (Boisen, 1936, p. 52ff; see also Capps, 2002, p. 23). Second is the propensity of men to guard their privacy. While Capps (2002, pp. 23; 44-52; cf. Carlin, 2006) bases his analysis of prototypical “male melancholia” on the failure of the mother, Boisen (1936, pp. 153-6) is adamant that the impulse by men with mood disorders to blame others for their failings signals a poor prognosis, both psychically and institutionally. This impulse characterizes the male melancholiac’s relative inability to forgive (Ryan and Kumar, 2005). Assessing the male care seeker’s identified sources for his failures and feuds becomes a useful pastoral task.

Because stigma for mood disorders is rife within the church as within society in general and is compounded by stigma associated with male Christian growth and development, the man’s need for privacy and for dissembling is heightened as he struggles to control and frame his story for the response of a state-licensed specialist. Thus, for each practice of pastoral care of these men there is an optimum balance between reciprocity and the mutual biding of time for respectful dignity and the reduction of interpersonal distance to occur. Reciprocity characterizes certain exchanges of communication and care (Neuger, 2001, pp. 233ff; Montilla and Medina, 2006, p. 21). Because of the (melancholic) man’s need for communicative boundaries, there is an optimum to the practice of reciprocity in pastoral care. Whether they are conscious of it or not, caregivers may use their own personal experience to empathize quickly and explicitly with the anxieties and traumas of the person sitting opposite. Yet, sensitivity is called for since “[t]hat [experience] is not merely cognitive, nor is the sharing merely verbal” (Fairchild, 1980, p. 48). To a lesser degree, then, a pastoral care practitioner may allow for the conversation to develop more slowly and with less reciprocity, promoting an arena for the charismatic endowments of pastor and care seeker to come to mutual expression. Degrees of reciprocity versus mutuality as the preferred style of interaction may manifest by gender (see the implications of Cooper-White, 2004, p. 165; Ferraro and Kelley-Moore, 2000; Lehman, 1994, p. 6).[3]

Displacement from eschatological masculinity

Hear my prayer, O Lord;

let my cry come to you.

Do not hide your face from me

in the day of my distress.

Incline your ear to me;

answer me speedily in the day when I call. (Psalm 102: 1-2 NRSV)

As I use the term in this paper, “displacement” is dialectical, a partial separation of self-with-God from self-without-God, a negation of one member of a dialectical pair that gives the member a relative absence and freedom from the other for a time. As an example of dialectical phenomena, C.G. Jung wrote, “[s]uffering is not an illness, but a normal counterpole to happiness” (quoted in Fairchild, 1980, p. 24). Displacement is a discontinuity in the perceived experience of reality that sorts out what was formerly believed to be true from what is to take precedence in the person’s worldview. My theory is that after displacement resolves, the former way of perceiving reality is recognized by the man to be false, while the reconstructed perspective focuses allegiance toward a newly understood world and on the relationships that self that will find therein. That prospect may be liberating or deadening to the outlook and worldview of the person undergoing crisis.

My term, “displacement from the eschatological self,” describes the disturbed stage that in certain cases follows intentional acts of personal repentance: “a radical change in the concept of self” (Boisen, 1960, p. 202). This displacement mirrors Luther’s experience (Begalke, 1982) of the phenomenology of Aufhebung (English: “sublation;” suspension), “Hegel’s technical term for a negation that, far from consigning what is negated to the null class, proves to be ultimately a self-negation, absorbing itself and its complement in a unifying, ultimately self-reflective process” (Dahlstrom, 2002, p. 4; see also Lavine, 1988). In other words, one aspect or dimension of the spirit is suspended for a time, giving free reign to the now dominant single member. When the dialectical system is restored, the individual undergoes a process of reflection to determine value in what was gained and what was lost during the suspension process.

As the mystic Eckhart and theologians such as Rahner, Barth, and Pannenberg have attempted to demonstrate, God’s action involves the negation of experience that is then adapted by the self to separate out what is from God from that which from “not-God.” Furthermore, when Jewish kabbalists speculated about zimsum, they identified God’s displacement of God’s own essence through concentration and contraction that serves to withdraw God whence God was previously (self-emptying), creating a (partially) null space wherein what is not-God gains freedom to develop novel traits (Moltmann, 1985, pp. 86-90). By these displacement experiences, a new creation is experienced and sin and guilt identified, accepted, and forgiven. The multiplicity of these negation experiences followed by release weaves assurance of grace with an intellectual confidence in metaphysical theism, the double ingredients of faith as trust. Self-emptying thus may be a process whereby God challenges and allows the repentant human a novel venue for self-assertion. This challenging space devoid of God may be the very mechanism of the new birth, the method by which God creates novel eschatological traits in God’s creature.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich;

he brings low, he also exalts.

He raises up the poor from the dust;

he lifts the needy from the ash heap. (1Sam 2: 7-8a NRSV)

Psychosis and adaptation

The progenitor of the Clinical Pastoral Education movement, Boisen himself was a sufferer of multiple episodes of acute mood disruption with psychotic features (see North and Clements 1992). As a clinician, Boisen (1936, esp. p. 56) was thereafter especially inclined to discern positive and restorative power in the psychiatric patient’s ability and willingness to accept personal failings as well as to put an end to self-deception through the casting of blame onto others. Only such self-acceptance, painful as it is, can lead to the kind of “breakthrough” that brings about authentic spiritual growth and personal maturity. As Boisen (1936) explores, certain spiritual crises that mimic or manifest clinical psychiatric illness may be part of the conversion process. Based on my own experiences and on reading of Boisen and classical mystics, breakthroughs of this type may be multiple in number and sequential. Adapting Capps’ (2002) categories as sequential phenomena in both religious onset and as loci for possible distortion, I suggest that the theological maturity of men suffering mood disorders may be assessed along a spectrum of religious honor, hope and humor. Unfortunately, religious growth may stall temporarily at any point within such a progression (as in the examples of Knight, et al., 2005). Certain care seekers may display a pattern of halted growth interrupted by acute periods of mood instability followed by renewed intensity for life and growth.

Displacement from normatively agreed upon reality, as Boisen so profoundly grasped, may be adaptive toward the eschatological self that is emerging in persons suffering severe mental illness. As Boisen (1936, p. 54; see also Fairchild, 1980, p. 21) discovered, these crisis experiences of mental trauma and despair “make or break” the emergent eschatological self; they are perilous attempts by the self at re-adaptation from the self-centered to the God-centered world, from allegiances that exalt the self to allegiances in a higher sense (Hiltner, 1992, pp. 139-40). Boisen describes these episodes of re-organization and re-adaptation of the structure of selfhood as manifesting “nature’s healing power” (Boisen, 1936, p. 53).

As inadequate methods of coping that act as barriers to maturation become challenged by events in a person’s life (Boisen, 1936, p. 46), first anxiety and then crisis from built-up anxiety may develop. Crisis in the mood-disordered person--extreme anxiety, to the point of panic (Boisen, 1936, p. 54)--has the potential to shatter a person’s confidence as cognitive and emotional networks respond "to assimilate hitherto unassimilated masses of life experience” (Boisen, 1936, p. 54). The stages of maturation that may trigger crisis in the person include adolescence, marriage, birth of children, aging, bereavement, and the approach of death (Boisen, 1955, pp. 42-3; see also Gould, 1978). Frustration by external factors in the achievement of stability in the value centers of one’s life (i.e. divorce, career, and other failures) may also spur crisis (Boisen, 1955, pp. 43-4).

Anxiety, self-blame, and a sense of personal failure and guilt diminish perspective on accumulating personal problems. Yet as the mind impels toward psychosis, wherein the majority sensory and cognitive input are reflected back upon the self, self-awareness goes into overdrive. In the case of psychosis, it is as if within every event in consciousness looms some hidden danger for the self. Psychosis thus appears to be “narcissistic” because of the obsessive concern with the self’s flourishing. However, this “quickening” may be a redeployment of the cognitive and emotional apparatus to the solving of problems that heretofore have prevented the eschatological self from emerging. Cognitive and emotional nervous systems seem to accelerate their processing of stimuli in order to bring them to bear upon that which has stunted the growth of personality. As such, the ego is imperiled and struggles to adapt to a world that suddenly seems fraught with danger from every corner because the erstwhile epistemological adaptation to reality has been recognized by the conscious self to be false.

The eschatological self, that is, the personality that emerges after reflecting upon religious experiences, readapts to reality after crisis by sequences of changed behavior and religious release that, in Anton Boisen’s analysis, “make or break”: either hope or despair triumphs in a sufferer. At the point of crisis, a resolution toward either prolonged despair maintaining focus on the mortal self (see, e.g. Havens and Ghaemi, 2005) or a reorganization of personality with a higher center of allegiance than the self is attained. Boisen described this latter achievement of the personality as a religious resolution (Boisen, 1955, pp. 3-4; 67-69). The religious resolution is dependent "upon the presence or absence of an acceptable nucleus of purpose around which the new self can be formed” (Boisen, 1936, p. 56).

The conclusion follows that religion is not an “escape from reality.” On the contrary it represents an attempt to deal with those loyalties and values which [sic] are regarded as ultimate. Where it does figure in a delusional reconstruction it tends to produce an interpretation of the life situation which is [relatively] socially acceptable….Religion…is an attempt to raise one’s values to the level of the cosmic or universal and to establish and maintain right relationship with those to whom one looks for response and approval, those whose composite impress is represented in the idea of God (Boisen, 1936, p. 53).

Developmental stages that host displacement

Displacement from the eschatological self, then, is a set life events in which what one is becoming is separated from the mal-adaptations of the personality that one is leaving behind. The disorientation of displacement can be profoundly painful, or it may be exhilarating (May, 2004, p. 88). For many, this displacement--and the maturation of awareness toward becoming more Christ-like--may happen gradually or intermittently. In persons with affective mental illness, this growth and preparation for eschatological selfhood might occur kinematically, punctuating homeostatic “ruts” during one or more developmental stages of

· age-appropriate, self-centered immaturity

· problematic individuation

· disordered, eroticized stasis and ambiguous social status

· the “dark night of the senses”

· experience of prevenient grace

· ineffective repentance: voluntary reorganization of trivial habits

· involuntary reorganization: “dark night of the soul” that “makes or breaks”

· partial yet progressive authentic repentance, piety, honor, hopefulness, comic assurance.

Increasingly dualist epistemological mal-adaptations may mark these homeostatic stages. This dualism might simply reflect an “us-against-them, winners/losers” epiphenomenon of the secular culture’s prevalent social Darwinism, though in some crises dualism may mutate, promoting occult psycho-spiritual manifestations. Dualism, traditionally the Christian heresy, leads to anxiety and then to crisis. Some may apprehend dualist spirituality mystically. May (2004, p. 142) speaks of John of the Cross’s description of the “the three spirits of the night.” These are a spirit of fornication, a spirit of blasphemy, and a spirit of confusion. When one of these spirits gains purchase in the personality, the intrinsic spark of God--the imago Dei—may dispense with the shadow through displacement. That part of the self that is eschatologically selected by God triumphs through weakness, vanquishing the shadow spirit, relegating into marginality the part of the self that once may have identified with, promoted, or taken pride in the shadow side. The aftermath of the displacement may thus have the character of loss and be associated with depression.

The challenge and process of spiritual negation, suspension, and reconciliation may appear in triadic guise. The persons of the Trinity may be displaced from the self in stages, giving the illusory, temporary appearance of dualism in the sequential negation of the Persons of the Trinity. Metaphysical dualism then becomes replaced by a partial eschatological frame of reference. The dualist experience may be a mirage resulting from the Trinitarian displacement; as God’s self-emptying becomes replenished with a renewed experience of the Person of the Trinity (Cf., Eph. 1. 23), the human individual begins another stage of maturation by apprehending the interior distinction between the goodness that results from self-with-God versus the negative image of Godless self-assertion and self-exaltation.

Schematically, then, the pre-convert bears the image of God within, but that image is stained by sin, self-assertion, and lack of worshipful vocation. Through prevenient grace, the person experiences the constancy of God’s goodness and seeks to know more about that God. After a period of time, which may be years, the eschatological self begins further to take shape through the sequential displacement of the triadic image of God. The individual substances of the Trinity episodically withdraw and resurrect which encompasses periods of disorienting mental suffering, later refilling the maturing Christian with an image of the Trinity that the self is now able to distinguish from its creaturely bias. These mystical experiences sort out that which is Absolute from that which is perishing. Understanding, reliance, and acceptance of the redeeming God takes firm root as the self discerns the distinction within personality between that which is self-stained egotism and that which is self-giving Trinitarian Godhead.

In a first case of displacement, Christ the perfect worker of perfect righteousness dies within. Upon the renewal and resurrection of the Christ-consciousness, the man is released from the crisis of His absence. Yet only a portion of the Trinitarian mystery is apprehended—only a portion of a man’s understanding of moral progress and responsibility has been attained. More episodes of crisis may loom. At the displacement from the eschatological self of the Spirit of God, despair reigns. The experience is that of Christ upon the Cross. With the return of the newly apprehended Holy Spirit, the hopefulness of the eschatological self begins to operate. Finally, with the withdrawal of the First Person of the Trinity, we feel as Christ in Hell, with a complete loss of control and loss of the sense of personal agency (Boisen, 1936, pp. 32-4; 168-70). At that time, the cosmos that the self inhabits seems to fragment--not the self, which feebly hangs on, but the surroundings upon which the man trusted that he controlled through comprehension.

This confusion is as if God has given autonomy to the creature, but that God reserves the sovereign right to control God’s creation regardless of and unconstrained by the creature in question. The creature then learns upon the restoration of the Creator Father image within this cosmos that he can trust this God. God adopts the male subject as son (2 Cor. 6:18). At this point, the man has learned to affirm his unity with and his difference from the Absolute. He has learned to distinguish the conceptual difference between himself and God, which allows for authentic mutuality and relationship between distinct partners—which is not to say equals. “Without this distinction it is impossible to know that one is describing anything other than the content of one’s [own] experiences, which in fact can never be divine in a Christian doctrine of God” (Molnar, 1985, p. 228). With this distinction in comprehension, the eschatological self is then ready to mature into an appreciation of Providence and God’s sovereignty, an epistemological reconciliation that has a renewed appreciation for irony. While a sense of tragedy remains in this fallen world, the outlook of such a man is simultaneously both more optimistic and more realistic.

Finally, it is probable that in the best cases, this process of displacement and conversion—dynamic, mystical, terrifying, sobering, chastening, convicting, and enlightening--may be positively correlated with charismatic gifts and reconciling messages for use in the church. Conversion through displacement from the emergent, eschatological self may be the dynamic crucible of charisma--an establishment of traits and abilities for service to the eschatological community of God.

Pastoral task II: mutuality

Sanity in itself is not an end in life. The end of life is to solve important problems and to contribute in some way to human welfare, and if there is even a chance that such an end could best be accomplished by going through Hell for a while, no man worthy of the name would hesitate for an instant (Boisen, 1960, p. 132).

Gracious pastoral care may be envisioned as a loving encounter where the charism (spiritual gift) of mutuality of respect and guidance is expressed. On the one side of the exchange, the pastor’s presence, experience, and attending skills are manifest, and on the other, the “displaced” care seeker’s emerging recognition and actualization of his or her own spiritual gifts, sense of call or message, and eschatological personality. Thus, in distinction with Foucault’s characterization of the surveillant and disciplinary functions of the “therapeutic gaze” (Foucault, 1994, ch. 7), the pastoral domain of hospitality must encounter, shelter, and cherish emergent religious feelings and assertions expressed by the care seeker. Care seekers may come knocking to discuss murky and disturbing metaphysical issues that our culture has defined as psychotic but were regarded at the far range of normalcy in other times and in other places (for a report of such phenomena in current times, see Griffin, 1997).

In this arena, the pastor must be self-aware of his proclamatory role as the Suffering Servant of God (see Isaiah 40, esp. vv. 2 and 9): he or she is an official called to model on earth Christ’s loving gaze upon and proclaim the gospel message to those whom He died to save. As Dueck and Parsons (2007, p. 271) write, “In a highly secularized, individualized, objectivized culture, a therapy which recognizes the sacred, which models how to view the Other as transcendent, and which does not presume to know, is a gift to the client.” A man may come to the pastoral care giver in order to discover what a right relationship with God looks and feels like—in the process looking to the caregiver for responsiveness and approval. In this sense, working with the displaced spiritual sufferer (who in some cases may be psychotic) would be a task that necessitates the pastor to closely monitor and modulate his or her counter-transferent “gaze” in order to maintain a path for the care seeker to gain confidence in the reconciling promise of God’s community. In such a case, the pastor would attend to receiving, enduring, and perhaps recruiting his or her flock to bear the burdens (Gal. 6: 2; Romans 12; Heb. 13: 3; 2 Cor. 1:4) of people suffering mental illness.

If the Christian growth process is incomplete, a man may have trouble admitting his level of vulnerability to another person whose spiritual experiences in any case he would not be privy to, especially when he is seeking approval and reconciliation for failed relationships, including with God. This is where the charismatic exchange can play a significant role as shelter, as therapeutic community (Montilla and Medina, 2006, pp. 43ff.) for forgiveness, as host to the incomplete and bewildering personality of conversion, and finally as an arena for recognition and development of spiritual gifts (Montilla and Medina, 2006, pp. 26-7).

Dialectic suffering and release: perspective for mainline churches

What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost. (Mt. 18:12-14, NIV)

The newly converted, recently displaced adult contends with feelings of vulnerability and psychic diminishment when rescued like a “little one.” Traditional males especially would be most sensitive to Freud’s critique. The mainline liberal church, relatively emptied of males, requires a model of dignified pastoral encounter that respects those men who have taken the difficult step to take responsibility for and work toward the eschatological self through the draining discipline of repentance. This discipline at times may feel like a soldier’s struggle, and churches may alternately reach out to men by offering a stratified religiosity of the marching Christian soldier or an egalitarian and peace-driven metaphor of the shepherded sheep. Failing to offer the vulnerable male convert a valorized alternative to “muscular” evangelical church models (Kirkeley, 1996; Muessa, 1996) of which Promise Keepers is an example diminishes the diversity of our mainline churches. It may be tragic for the liberal church to apply its warranted battle against patriarchal structures in a manner that tactically diminishes the value of Christian masculinity, the manifestation of which is part of the glory of God’s restorative grace.

Those of us with spiritual questions during our depression are routinely shuttled to psychiatric practitioners who may take the position that “religiosity” is itself a phenomenon of pathology, explained by a “weak ego structure” (Boisen 1960, p. 202). Since immature religiosity may take on metaphysical ideations clinically defined as psychotic, the medical therapeutic model (see Havens and Ghaemi, 2005, p. 145) extends to the sufferer a limited set of programs including warehousing, discipline, monitoring, and incompletely understood chemical treatments. Into this situation, a pastoral care giver who has his or her own experience of displacement and conversion may be especially prepared for a supportive chaplaincy in the care of the mentally ill. To restate, the charismatic convert may have especially productive gifts and tools to apply to the accelerating epidemic of mental illness and psychotic mood disorders that characterize our toxic cultures (Cf. Fairchild, 1980, p. 48).

Millennium America has synthesized social Darwinism with sexualized transference and Christian manifest destiny. This synthesis is breaking down culturally and within individuals who hold to this unstable worldview. Ad hoc appeals to common valences in cognitive/moral symbols, when epistemically incommensurable and fragmented, exemplify Hegel’s “Unhappy Consciousness,” an epochal and personal double bind characterized by despair and profound longing (Lavine, 1988, pp. 228-9). It is from the depths of this breakdown within the individual that the charismatic messenger may carry news and prophetic insight regarding evangelistic and mission opportunities for the church. To carry out this function, the messenger must be able to discern what is of God, what is from personal experience, and what is not of God in his or her own personality in order to diagnose social and psychological mal-adaptations.

Because of this, it takes time and displacement for the man’s simultaneous adherence to “unhappy” dialectical epistemologies to be deconstructed and for a truer epistemology to be reconstructed by grace--for the man’s sense of status to be changed from a false consciousness of personal exaltation to the truer consciousness that relies on Providence. Yet, as the Christian maturation process remains incomplete in this life, a man may remain troubled to admit his experience and feelings of vulnerability and doubt to another whose spiritual experiences he may not know. Thus, care giving as encounter includes a gracious attitude of treating the care seeker with dignity, not probing too deeply nor too quickly into a person’s pain or sense of distance from God. A pastor can selectively use the time getting to know a man in a Christian context by learning about the external aspects of his life (which, in a care seeking relationship, would emerge eventually), allowing the spiritual and emotional sharing to develop as mutual closeness and positive respect later takes effect.

A Reformed pastor during this exchange needs to keep the implication of sovereign grace in mind. What God begins, God will finish (Heb. 13: 21). Emerging Christian experience therefore is no less valuable to the church than that of an experienced pastor. Such a pastor must recognize that the care seeker’s story and gifts are God’s message and part of Christ’s journey. In such a way, the Spirit may be sending the sufferer to announce a message of encounter or challenge to the church and to the pastor. It follows that the pastor must be willing to engage in a mutual exploration of issues raised by the mental anguish, even if taboo violating, that the care seeker presents (1Th. 5:11, 14).

A faulty encounter between male care seeker and pastor--not properly respecting the woundedness and the tentativeness in each--can impede interchange. In the displacement experience, the man may have “encountered” his baleful demonic side. That encounter may be both taboo to discuss and disorienting to man’s sense of reality. The man likely has incompletely adapted to his new epistemological understanding of his surroundings, which includes the Christian minister. The pastor may find an encounter with such a person disorienting in its own right, as the care seeker’s experience speaks of a stranger’s reality rather than that to which the pastor has been accustomed. Yet, because all children of God must navigate some of these shadowy, displaced terrains (Job 5: 6-7; 14:1), the care seeker may be as much a guide (Cf. James 5:10) to murky regions as the pastor is a messenger to the care seeker as he seeks his place in church life.

Suggesting the dynamic Christology of Karl Rahner, the care giving relationship with such men may be one of intersecting hospitalities, a wavering congruence between descending and ascending moments in the Christian pilgrimage—between the dynamism of experience and the Absolute ground of being. After reading “the living theological text” of charisma, the pastor may adapt for his or her own shepherd’s tasks the reconnaissance gathered in by the care seeker. A negative encounter in the living theological documents can be positively countered by the pastor’s proclamation of the Gospel message, and the insight from this mutual exploration can further build the pastor’s shepherding skills.

Thus, the care seeker acts as mystic guide to the perplexing and the temporal, bringing a contextualized message of the sublime restorative experience--all for the potential use of the church. At the same time, the pastor serves as a guide to the care seeker for his (re-)entry into ecclesiastical communities and for the application of his charismatic gifts developed [dynamically (Rambo, 1982, p. 96)] along his painful sojourn. This care giving process is not at its foundation based primarily on reciprocity; rather, it is based on mutual encounter, harmonic (counter-) transference and the gradual, coordinate reduction of distance between persons. Indeed, as suggested earlier, the care giver and the care seeker and their gifts are "interchangeable" in the eyes of God. While the care giver has experience with relevant skills, the encounter that the impartial God has ordained in the pastoral care relationship opens each party to the impulses and the woundedness of the other (Berry, 1985, p. 60). The care seeker has a healer within himself just as the caregiver has a wounded seeker within. Neither party should be repressed. Ideally, each wounded healer can use the pastoral care process as a safe place to practice growing closer to another human, because, after they have grown closer to God, any other practice counters the Gospel therapy of neighbor love and forgiveness.

Conclusion and recommendations

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,

is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families,

he leads forth the prisoners with singing. (Ps 68:5b-6 NIV)

Despite the culture of silence that surrounds it, the pandemic of mental illness has infiltrated the mainline church no less than so-called charismatic churches and the surrounding secular society. Yet, the charismatic churches may have more pastoral resources to bring to bear on the problem by virtue of accepting and welcoming pastoral and congregant charismatic experience and expression. The charismatic churches accept as resources the charismatic experience per se, according with Paul’s instruction that all Christian believers are endowed with charismata (see 1 Cor. 12. 7; 1 Cor. 7. 7; see also 1 Peter 4.10) for it is the life experience under the active grace of God that shapes the spiritual gifts. It happens that these churches may tend toward a conservative political pole.

Rather than placing these experiences under suspicion, pastors may engage and deploy charisma to guide the affectively displaced man into a community of relief, praise, and structure. So what might the mainline church hold forth for the depressed liberal--especially one who is male? Will he find welcome in a liberal church that is at the forefront of the mounting critique of patriarchy (Robert 2006)? At a mainline church that doubts the charismatic special gifts? Is it time to nuance the rhetoric of these critiques for the sake of those especially vulnerable males who are converting, through personal and culture-role repentance, toward their eschatological self, for the betterment and shalom of community? Until these churches consciously and conscientiously celebrate, uphold, and preach eschatological masculinity, the incomplete (as we all are) Christian male may turn to the conservative churches for an institutionally more valorized masculine image.

As can be discerned from the pericope of the rescued sheep, the newly converted especially must contend with feelings of vulnerability and psychic diminishment. Males with the most recent, closest identification with traditional sex roles would thus be most sensitive to Freud’s critique. It strikes me that the mainline liberal church, relatively emptied of adult males, requires pastoral graciousness to extend a dignified welcome to mentally suffering men, else they lose them to a more stratified denominations. In a gracious pastoral environment of respect and tentativeness, allowing a suitable time for confidences to build, reciprocity may build upon mutuality as the man begins to trust the marvelous message and experience of God’s restorative grace.

It seems that for pastoral care giving of men with mental illness to progress from its impasse, the mainline Pastor must promote the public virtues of eschatological masculinity. To this end, I offer brief suggestions:

1. The culture of shame and silence surrounding mental illness must be transformed and light must shine upon and within it, with leadership from the pulpit. Mental illness may instead be a spiritual opportunity if not the very mechanism for God’s entry into a person’s life. Our culture tends to demonize suffering, going so far as to characterize any suffering as “evil.” Unless one is prepared to confront the metaphysics of the demonic in care giving and from the pulpit, the use of the language of “evil” for (mental) suffering is counterproductive. It tends to promote taboo considerations of “spiritual possession” when the mind and the spirit are identified, intimidating the man with dualistic ideations from seeking care. If mental suffering is indeed a form of a possession by “evil,” the topic or discussion of mental illness cannot remain taboo in the church. Pastors should not allow both this theodicy and this silence to continue.

2. Regarding charismatic experiences, the mainline church’s pneumatology is attenuated. The 19th Century mainline churches institutionalized no small amount of doubt regarding so-called “counterfeit miracles” of the charismatic experience. Reflecting this bias, the mainline church engages in debates over cessation of the charismatic gifts and experiences. Despite scriptural references to dreams and visions in the last days, anti-charismatic exegesis stakes a claim that the last days have ceased. This paper has considered the spectacular and mystical episodes of God’s grace in the pilgrim journeying from a stunted exile in self-exaltation rather than the second-generation Christian brought up in a healthy home who was directed from birth outside him- or herself toward mission. As Rambo (1993, p. 61) points out, the dynamics of conversion reflect and portray the dominant tendencies of individuals. These tendencies may modulate as the eschatological self matures--as the cognitive dynamics of intellectual, affective, spiritual, experiential, and social endowments are integrated and wholeness begins to take effect in the self. It follows that neither the charismatic convert experienced with the spectacular release from psycho-spiritual bondage to false adaptations of personality nor the lifelong Christian experienced with the customary and quiet missionary love of God has an irreplaceable or privileged role in the church. Each believer has theological insights to share (Speelman, 2006, p. 304).

3. What is eschatological masculinity? By way of preliminary sketch, recognizing the danger of essentialism or stereotype, I might tentatively characterize it as gifted, active, serving, full of the Pauline virtues of love, joy, hope, faith, productive, problem solving, victorious, commissioned, communicative, pro-parenthood, and reverent with a sense of humor. Yet incompletely realized on this earth, Christian masculinity is vulnerable, grieving, limited, and ironic, subject to suffering, passive without being aggressive, tactically defeated without losing hope of vindication,. It is relational and empathetic, feeling the failure that dog all those who have been graced with the vision of a better world and a better age. Christian life thus integrated between the now and the not-yet produces, among other traits, child-like confidence in God (Mt. 6:25-34) and an allegiance to God’s glory (Mt. 5:16).

4. It is time for Christian leaders of both sexes to valorize the bravery of men who want to change themselves for the sake of bettering conditions within their families and their communities—who wish to repent to bring in a personal shalom that reflects and expands inward and outward. This repentance becomes a struggle to suppress the demons that rule in the pre-convert—pride, violence, lust, self-idolization, and oppression of the weak. Those who undertake repentance should receive our admiration and respect regardless of the bewildering testimonies of internal pain and suffering they have undergone.

5. It follows that there is a supportive role for eschatological womanhood to play in the contemplation, actualization, and maturation of eschatological manhood. Female church leaders must lead their congregations to new appreciation for God’s virtues exemplified in each sex, broken as we remain.

6. Taking seriously Boisen’s theological analysis of personality deconstructed and reconstructed, it should prove useful for the church to provide a forum to small groups featuring men and their stories of failure, religious breakthrough and victory.

Christian masculine maturity is partially realized eschatological masculinity. As such, it may appear absurd to outsiders, fragmented to insiders, yet it is the only state encompassing reconciliation, healing, and joy available to us in this broken and fallen world. The struggle for Christian masculinity may reflect what Alice Miller (1981) calls “the drama of the gifted child.” Glimpsing the Gospel’s eschatological promise and absurdly striving to achieve a parcel of heaven, the person is tragically frozen in an inner state of supposed self-creation, unable to do more than dream of a world in which his or her decrees determine the future. However, when another world comes as a promise—with Christ as King--we may weep tears of profound and poignant joy that are intense and private, yet are the wondrous herald of the universal infilling of God. This infilling is not the end of anguish and despair in this life as the waves of the Spirit give rise to shadow as they pass on. For some, the infilling of the Spirit is a violent gush while for others a gentle stream. The care giving task attends to the shadow side while proclaiming the Gospel sparkle. This paper hopes that the dialectical view of the struggle for and joy of Christian peace and maturity leads to the insight that we all are mutually involved in these trajectories, none more valuable than another in the sight of the Creator Parent.


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[1] The “shadow side of hope” is a phrase taken from Gunton (2003, p. 173).

[2] D. B. Olds

San Francisco Theological Seminary

105 Seminary Road

San Anselmo, CA 94960

[3]Mutuality presumes an ethical community that is equal in God’s sight, while reciprocity presumes ethical distinctiveness with pooled gifts (charismata) applied for an expedient objective. Reciprocity is concerned with who acts, and when. The therapeutic model based on reciprocity presumes that the self is autonomous and constituted as its own judge, while mutuality presumes ethical equality before God. In a mutuality model of pastoral care, there is no a priori reason that the ethos of the caregiver should take precedence over the pathos of the care seeker.