Is it Unspiritual to be Depressed? (CFP, 2022)

It's an amazing privilege to not only be able to read this book in print, but to have known the author Paul Ritchie as much as to nearly be able to hear him say everything in it, and to know that this book is something real. I say that to disclose that I'm not a neutral coming to this book review, but I hope you'll trust me on it!

‘Is it Unspiritual to be Depressed?’ is an ideal short read (90ish pages) on the topic, perfect for both someone who is depressed or wrestling with mental health issues, but also for those who wish to know how to live alongside those who do. The author is a Baptist pastor in Limerick (Ireland) who fits both of these descriptions.

Eight short chapters await the reader, which I robbed myself by reading in one sitting in just over an hour this evening. There is a feast of things to meditate upon in those chapters, but all very simply put. In fact that was one of the great notable features of the book. It was not only the chapters which were short yet rich, supportive and very practical. Even the way Paul told real stories of those around him, and often his own struggles in life, was in a very simple, down-to-earth kind of way, which anyone could pick up and read, even with poor concentration.

Despite this, from knowing many of those he quotes, there is considerable research, and decades of medical, psychological, pastoral and theological wisdom which will have been poured into the book from various people. But you wouldn’t have guessed it from its readability – more from how the author tackles the topic in hand, responds to questions and places emphasis on certain things.

Every word and story is born out of real life experience, and the messy reality is helpfully present in the book. This authenticity was one of the powerful things about the book, that made me think more of the good news and of Jesus, as I saw His grace in action in the life of Paul and those he spoke of. Paul reminds us of some of the glorious realities of the good news in ways that are not cringeworthy, and seem very relevant to many dark places where our minds and hearts can go.

In a world where huge percentages of people do struggle with mental health and will continue to do so, Paul’s realism to prepare Christians to live with these challenges is a welcome refreshment amongst other spiritual responses which can try and suggest that depression will necessarily go away if you truly know Jesus (or similar).

Please do get yourself (and a friend or your church) a copy of this book from the publisher (GB), from an Irish bookshop like Teach Solas or if you really must, from the dark underworld for your Kindle. And if you feel up to it, why not even start a conversation with someone else about this, or simply confess our struggles to each other as we do life together? Thanks Paul for leading us in this so well.

Girlfriends, travel, housing and winks across the dancefloor

So since moving to Cork I’ve had about 13 housemates.  Unlucky?  Having lived with me, I think they all probably thought they were, yes.  Moving in to the house, I remember being asked whether I wanted to move in to the spare room, or switch to the big ensuite room.  For a little extra cost, I fancied a room longterm that I could make my own, so opted for the big one.  So far, so good.

  1. The chap who left the small room, went off to get married.
  2. The following chap to step into that small room was a graduate entry medic.  At the end of our year together, he left, to get married (he wasn’t engaged before being in that room).
  3. The guy who replaced him was another graduate entry medic (yes, I’ve had free health service, even in Ireland), who, you guessed it, left after six months to live with his newly married wife.
  4. For one year after that, an Iranian researcher who, during his time living here, found the love of his life and then left to marry her and live elsewhere.
  5. After that came a Brazilian friend who had nervously started going out with a girl.  I went to his wedding a few months ago.
  6. And finally??  An Irishman now living in that room, has indeed completed the current tally and is about to get married this summer.

Assuming I would want to get married, it could be that this is a divine rebuke for my selfish and materialistic grab for the large room, when I could have given others it.  And in a highly superstitious Irish culture, perhaps many may chuckle and read into it exactly that.

I chuckle but don’t.  Coincidence, I reckon.

But then one night I’m travelling from Waterford to Limerick around dusk.  Three quarters of the way there I stop to pull over a hitchhiker by a farm in a rural village.  Flowing ginger beard and a waft of ginger hair, he looks like a proper Irish stereotype, around studenty age.  His first question determines where I’m going and his second is:

“What is a Christian?”

Slightly stunned at such a question, given there is nothing in my car to suggest I would know, and given that everyone in Ireland reckons they’re Christian so doesn’t ask, I stumbled to ask him why he asked that.  “You’ve a northern accent.  You must know.  I mean protestant and catholic and all that.  Y’know?”

But as I was sure he’d met many a northerner before, I persisted.  “But what raises the question?”

Turns out he’d been travelling round the world a year and had ended up in Hawaii.  So beautiful was the experience with the community they’d met there, he decided to stay on and get to know them.  Time was running out but he wanted what they had!  So they said to him “look, we run this summer volunteer thing in Haiti this year – you should go and find us there.  Go home and raise funds and we’ll see you out there!”

And so he had done.  His family thought he’d met a cult.  “I know they said they were Christians, but that can mean anything from those born-agains to cults” they said.  “Stay clear of it”.  And so it got him thinking, “what is a Christian?”.  And so he asked the next person who he met, who happened to be me driving along.  4 minutes later and we’d reached his brother’s house and he jumped out.  All that we’d established was that the group were Youth With A Mission, that he should trust them and go, and that in the meantime he should read his Bible to see what produces this genuine faith, unlike all he’d met before.  With that, he walked off into the dark, slamming the car door behind, after briefly asking my name.

Coincidence?

To stereotype:

  • The atheist would presumably say yes, that anyone could have driven along that road.
  • The agnostic may want to remain curious but ask us to treat both cases the same.
  • The conservative (perhaps cessationist) would declare it to be the providence of God using promised means (humans).
  • And the more charismatically inclined may lean towards declaring it something more spiritual.

Perhaps I can answer some other time, but here are some questions it raises for me:

  • For those sceptical: what are the chances of these happening?  My suggestion is that the latter is far more unlikely (the former occurs as males of my age in conservative cultures tend to all pair off and get married), given how few evangelical Christians are in rural Ireland.  Maybe add into it, the fact that tens of these coincidences seem to happen regularly to me, it makes it harder to explain, but not impossible, perhaps!
  • For those keen to call it a God thing: if we are to call the latter an act of God (using human means), would we call the awful things that happen in this world also a carefully planned act of God, or is He not in control of those?  Perhaps on a basic level: this may help.  But I’m not convinced there’s any easy, neat answers, philosophically and theologically (though I may come back to this).

In the meantime for the Christian I found Kevin De Young’s book a bargain and worth reading.  And for those more sceptical still, why not ask (the-potentially-imaginary-being-in-the-sky) him to reveal himself to you?  Or start by looking where he promises to do so?  Right here: Uncover: see for yourself.  I don’t trust on any of those coincidence-like experiences to tell me about God primarily.  That’d be like depending on winks across a crowded dancefloor to tell you whether a girl actually likes you or not.  It sometimes thrills my heart and gives me butterflies.  But ultimately, I’d wanna know…like, for real.
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