Children Who Hurt Themselves

Credit: Penny Mathews

Credit: Penny Mathews

Recently I read an article in the Austin American Statesman. The front page headline was quite disturbing: “Austin schools tally 1,000 students who intentionally hurt themselves.”

Here’s a portion of the article: “When Lizzie was in seventh grade, she would use a mechanical pencil to cut her arms and ankles under her desk. Her teachers never noticed. She would do it to make herself feel numb when she was anxious or when her emotions overwhelmed her. It became an addiction that Lizzie, now a high school student, is still fighting.”

“Health officials say self-injury – cutting, hitting, burning, bruising or otherwise hurting oneself to relieve stress or anxiety – frequently stems from underlying emotional or psychiatric problems, such as bipolar disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder. It is an often misunderstood problem that is more widespread than parents might think.”

The Austin school district last year began tracking when students tell counselors or teachers that they are cutting or hurting themselves, and it has tallied nearly 1,000 such reports so far. “When I got those numbers, I was alarmed,” said a crisis counseling coordinator at the district who started the program. “For many years, we’ve known it is high, but the last two or three years we started paying more attention to it.”

The article goes on to describe self-injury as something teenagers and preteens have seen their friends and classmates doing, and some try it, not realizing that it can become addictive or that it can be a precursor to suicide. The body reacts to the injuries by releasing serotonin, dopamine and endorphins. Self-injury can become addictive as the body builds tolerance.

In the Austin instance, school officials are working to prevent self-injury in schools, rewriting the crisis handbook to include a protocol for dealing with self-injury. They provide staff development with counselors and are creating a DVD aimed at middle school students to teach them what to do if they or their friends are hurting themselves.

One school official said: “Self-injury is one thing a lot of people aren’t aware of. What surprises me time and time again is how well the kids hide it. Our kids are good at masking – their grades look great and they’re still involved in clubs and look happy, but they’re doing this.”

Once adults do find out, though, they need to be sure to treat it like it is: an unhealthy coping mechanism. “There a lot of things people do that are unhealthy, and this is just one of them. It’s not like you’re crazy for cutting … you just learned a way to cope that’s not healthy.”

My thoughts are simple. In addition to providing appropriate professional assistance, parents, grandparents, pastors and teachers can help immensely by affirming in young people a sense of individual self-worth as children of God. His love, forgiveness and acceptance have great power!

Alcohol!

Beer 1Country and western singer Brad Paisley sings a song titled Alcohol. Here are some of the lyrics:

I can make anybody pretty, I can make you believe any lie; I can make you pick a fight with somebody twice your size. I’ve been known to cause a few breakups and I’ve been known to cause a few births. I can make you new friends or get you fired from your work.

I got blamed at your wedding reception for your best man’s embarrassing speech, and also for those naked pictures of you at the beach. I’ve influenced kings and world leaders; I helped Hemingway write like he did. And I`ll bet you a drink or two that I can make you put that lampshade on your head.

I got you in trouble in high school, and college, now that was a ball. You had some of the best times you’ll never remember with me! Alcohol! Alcohol!

Although I often listen to C&W music, that song is far from one of my favorites. Perhaps that’s because during my ministerial career I’ve seen havoc wreaked by and horrible results come from misuse and abuse of alcoholic beverages.

A headline from this past Sunday’s Austin American Statesman puts an exclamation mark on this topic. The article is titled Does Austin have a drinking problem? It was no doubt at least partially prompted by a drunken driving episode late last Thursday night in downtown Austin. Attempting to evade a police officer’s flashing lights, the driver plowed into a crowd of people, killing three innocent bystanders and inflicting serious injury upon a score of others.

This tragedy occurred during South by Southwest, a huge event bringing tens of thousands of people to Austin every year. Much good is received by those who attend the helpful parts of SXSW. While a significant percentage of attendees are not from Austin, lots of booze is consumed that week, adding to our community’s growing reputation as a city with a drinking problem.

To that point, the Statesman article states, in part: “In the five-county Austin metro area, almost $5 billion worth of alcohol was sold at bars and restaurants in the past 10 years … which doesn’t include sales at liquor or grocery stores. Statistics clearly show that no city in Texas spends more per capita for drinks than Austin.”

While the Psalmist praises God for bringing forth “wine to gladden the heart of man” (Ps. 104:15), the author of Proverbs adds: “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (Prov. 20:1)

What’s the bottom line? “Do not get drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit … making music to the Lord in your heart.” (Eph. 5:18-19)

As some alcoholic beverage advertisements advise: “Drink responsibly!” Had the driver late last Thursday night in Austin heeded that counsel, the lives of innocent people would not have been ended. And his life would not have taken the irreversibly wrong turn it has taken as a result.

A Clergy Dominated Church?

Clergy 1Monday’s Austin American Statesman provided coverage of Pope Francis’ speech to some three million attendees at World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro. He is reported to have addressed a gathering of the region’s bishops, telling them to “look out for their flocks and put an end to the ‘clerical’ culture that places priests on pedestals – often with what Francis called the ‘sinful complicity’ of lay Catholics who hold the clergy in such high esteem.”

That’s very interesting and, frankly, not surprising. It sounds a lot like the direction the LCMS seems to be heading these days with respect to clergy/lay relationships. Clergy dominance was particularly evident at last week’s Synod convention, even more so than in the past. In worship services, on the podium and at microphones, black shirts and white collars were abundant.

That in itself is not at all problematic. I often wore clerical attire for official church business, and still do, especially when robed for preaching and leadership in other worship roles.

But the trend toward a clergy dominated culture in the church is also currently manifested in the exclusion of laity from consideration for positions of significant leadership in our church body. That includes, for example, university presidents, significant missionary supervisors, and other leadership positions at the national level.

Furthermore, there’s a discernible aloofness and even pharisaical demeanor exhibited by some pastors, obvious during worship services and in pastoral ministry functions as well. Intentionally or unintentionally, this telegraphs a “holier than thou” attitude in both work and worship.

While this could simply be an unintended byproduct of deep and sincere piety, I don’t believe it enhances the pastoral office or represents its true nature. Pastors are called to serve, not to be served. Pastors are called to lead evangelically and collaboratively, not to dominate or domineer.

So the clergy culture referenced by Pope Francis is not the sole possession of our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ. We have some of that stuff in our own Lutheran midst.

What’s the bottom line? Some seem intent on moving us toward a clergy dominated church. I believe that’s not helpful and tends to dishonor the priesthood of all believers.

All of us, lay and clergy alike, do well to remember that not all who build up the body of Christ are ordained clergy: “He (Christ) gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph. 4:11-12)

May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you always!