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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Cleaning out the closets

Closets need fresh air

That's the trouble with closets.

Closets are almost always small, closed off, interior rooms that have no access to fresh air or light. They get stale and messy and they are always filled with dark corners and, in fact, the closet itself is generally dark unless there is an artificial source of light that is turned on. Most of us know our way around our own closets so well that we can stumble around in the dim light and find our shirts, the checked one, and shoes, the stinky ones. Closets need exposure.

My gay and lesbian friends talk about coming out of the closet. Hurray!

My issue is a bit different. It is a different closet and a different set of issues. But then, not altogether different, I guess.

My closet needs some fresh air, natural light. My closet needs me to get out of it, too.

My closet is shame.

It is shame from a terrible experience that happened to me that seems to be nobody else's concern, that is, not beyond my faithfully wonderful family.

My closet is PTSD. I am not a war veteran. I don't get pages in the New York Times or coverage in Newsweek. I remember when the first war vets were being diagnosed with PTSD and I was so very glad they were getting the public attention and care they deserved. Now it seems the pages are filled with stories -- as there should be -- of PTSD suffering and war veterans.

But nobody writes about me. Not that I am a narcissist. That is not the point anyway. The point is to have a fellowship of suffering, a community of folks who see the world as you do, who freak out when you do, who cower in their closets of shame like you do. Community. Solidarity.

Clergy. Clergy who have been battered and beaten. That is my community. And nobody writes about us. We are the church's dirty little secret. That we happen. That terrible stuff happens to us. No one wants to know. Any articles written about us are sanitized beyond the point of our recognizing ourselves and what happened to us.

There is power in community. But nobody knows -- or has said -- how many ELCA clergy are disabled due to PTSD, depression, battering. We don't know one another. And, frankly, we are so shuttered in our own silos of depression and mistrust that we are not the ones who are most likely to reach out and find one another.

Well, this is a start. A modest proposal. If you trust me, let me know. We will continue to live without recognition, respect for our struggles, concern for our condition until we ourselves ask for it, maybe even demand it. No one, no bishop is going to come looking for us. We are their worst nightmares. In some cases, they are ours. But we need to find a way to clean out our own closets of shame and depression, of shell-shock and shattered trust.

And the way to do it is the way the military has begun its work with veterans: by drawing the victims together.

Can we do that? We can.

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