There are nights when I come away from a Thursday night at Newtown Mission gushing of the beauty of the community there, singing the praises of the God who draws everyone together, and feeling grateful for the way He feeds people through the ministry there – both physically and spiritually. These nights are those that I often write about in words that attempt to express the way my heart soars when in this place that feels more comfortable to me than anywhere else.
Tonight, I cannot gush about the comfort of a community of the broken, because my mind is too full of tension. It is too full of the mess that arose in a simple doorway conversation. It is too full of questions without answers.
I stood in the familiar doorway of the church, leaning back against the concrete and chatting with a client about the weather. Yes, the weather. He told me about the weather in Malta and the rain in Spain and the temperature of South Africa compared to Australia, explaining that he’s fascinated by it. He hates chess, though. He hates chess with a passion.
The conversation was simple and easy, and listening to someone talk about chess and adding my own comments occasionally is easy enough. It’s a safe place to be.
But suddenly the conversation turned and I found myself pressing a little further into the doorway, and glancing to my sides to see if there was anyone nearby to rescue me from the sudden topic change.
“I hate all forms of self-defence. I hate it. If no one learned how to defend themselves, no one would attack them. No one. People can’t learn self-defence and expect not to be attacked!” he proclaimed.
The words continued and I nodded politely, uttering an occasional ‘okay’ for good measure, but I wanted to give more, so I asked him, “What about women who learn self-defence so that they can protect themselves if someone attacks them?”
“If they didn’t learn self-defence, no one would attack them.” he told me. “That’s just fact! It’s just fact, you know. And anyone who denies it is mindless.”
“People who think any sports with violence in ’em, should be thrown in prison and tortured!” he declared boldly. “It’s just fact. Just fact, you know.”
“Violence to fix violence?”
“It’s the only way. It’s about motivations. To get the violence out of them you’ve gotta use violence, and that means it’d be right.” he explained, as if I couldn’t possibly refute such logic.
I was uncomfortable at this point, my hands in my pockets and my eyes struggling to stay level with his. My anxiety showed, but this conversation offered me no polite way out.
“Psychiatry is an enemy of the church. It’s the churches number one enemy. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mindless. And I wont be part of any church with any soul in it who thinks otherwise. The church doesn’t speak out against it enough! Mental illness is a lie. It doesn’t exist. It’s just made up. Too many people believe they’ve got ‘depression’ when it’s just life, you know?”
My expression gave away my incredulity at this point, my mind turning around and around with possible ways to question this approach without being written off as a mindless apostate.
“Anyone on medication,” he continued, “needs to be thrown out of the church!”
I excused myself then, claiming a desperate need to go to the toilet and hoping my awkward shifting back and forth for the last twenty minutes could be misconstrued as a full bladder rather than a frantic mind.
“People always say that!” he called. “They don’t want to hear the truth. They can’t believe the truth.”
He kept speaking, but I was out of hearing range by then, taking shelter in the kitchen with mindless banter and taste tests of dessert.
Some nights, I’m shaken by the reality that the brokenness in this world is beyond what I can fix. I can’t gently guide someone to an understanding of the gospel. I can’t engage well with someone whose beliefs are so different to my own. I can’t bring myself to tell the man who believes that mental illness is a lie that a diagnosis of depression and the subsequent medication brought freedom from the clouds that ruled me.
I desperately want to be able to do that. But I cannot. There’s no sweet ending tonight. There’s no simple solution. I walked home with gelato in hand, jumping in puddles along the way, remembering that the God who sends this rain is the one who controls the universe, and when I am lost for words, He is still enough. He is still in control.
Even on these nights.