When I first met Chris Morris at a convention, he struck me as a kind, funny guy with a passion for people. The more I’ve gotten to know him online, the greater this passion has shown. So, when I learned that he struggles with mental illness, as so many Christians do, I was shocked.
You’d never know it unless you talked to him. About it.
So when I learned he was assembling a collection of true stories by people suffering from mental illness and the impact the church has had on these people, I knew I wanted to read it. Chris has insight that many don’t. He has the compassion to speak boldly for those who need a voice, while lovingly to those who need to understand.
I also wanted my eldest daughter to read it.
As the wife of a husband afflicted by mental illness, I knew she would have a more educated opinion of what Whispers in the Pews shares and the helpfulness quotient contained within. So, I asked her to read it. She devoured it. I saw her sharing quotes on Facebook and Instagram.
When it came time to write this review, instead of writing it myself, I asked her to do it. If you know Challice from her Sodbuster Living blog or YouTube channel, this is her take on Whispers in the Pews.
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Listen to the Whispers and You’ll Hear the Pain
In Challice’s words:
In Whispers in the Pews, Chris Morris collects the voices of several individuals who have gone through some kind of mental illness and explores how the church responded to them.
Depression comes in various forms, from PTSD, to PPD, to clinical depression, bipolar disorder, and much more. For centuries, the church has been considered a haven; yet for many, dealing with these mental illnesses is a secret that must not be spoken of.
Chris Morris endeavors to enlighten the church by using the stories of several individuals and their varying circumstances and giving them a voice that will help the church as a whole, know how to offer Biblical help and support.
One of the best lines in this book that I think really brings home the idea of separating illness with spiritual weakness says,
I can’t treat my soul with medication. That’s Jesus’s work. But I can treat my body with it, and thankfully, that makes a difference for me.”
Many within the church take the Pharisaical approach of nailing down Scripture while forgetting the person who needs the gentleness and compassion that Jesus gave many of the sick.
These essays from various voices are not always the easiest to read. You will hear raw, but clean, details of verbal abuse, rape, PTSD, from the spouses’ perspectives, and more. Some are straightforward in their writing, while others have found a way to share beauty in the ashes.
Chris Morris even included an experience he had when he admitted himself into a mental hospital.
Whispers in the Pews is one book that I would hand out to anyone. I want the word to get out, and I want there to be a change. This isn’t just happening in the church, but everywhere. People wear a mask of perfection. The church should be where we can be raw and real and still be welcomed as members of Christ’s body! That is what Chris Morris tried to do when he assembled the stories in Whispers in the Pews.
As a spouse of someone who has dealt with severe clinical depression, it was encouraging to read that we are not alone and have something tangible to wave in the air and say, “YES! People, this is what I’ve been trying to say!”
I wept with some of the writers, as one living in a similar situation and knowing what they have gone through and remembering some of our own battles. But I think this book is not just to enlighten others and help the church realize where it needs to change. It’s for those of us who feel alone at times as we battle this. We may not have depression ourselves, but it still affects our families. Reading this book was like getting a cup of coffee with a friend and being able to say, “me, too.”
Whispers in the Pews in on tour with Celebrate Lit.
About the Book
Book: Whispers in the Pews
Author: Chris Morris
Genre: Mental illness & Spirituality
Release Date: November 9, 2018
Mental Illness is real. Will the Church get real?
This book is a collection of essays from various authors: men and women, pastors and congregants, counselors and nurses, parents and children. All have a unique view of how mental health conditions affect people, and how the church has responded to these circumstances. Whispers in the Pews tackles how the mentally ill have been, and still are, treated in the church at large by sharing stories.
This is not fundamentally a teaching book, but a book of moments and lives, knitted together by the common theme of mental health. No sermons will be included, though lessons learned from difficulties and their foundations in Scripture are encouraged.
This collection will expand your vision, and your heart, about what the church does well for the mentally ill, and where we can improve.
About the Author
Chris Morris writes about the juxtaposition of faith and unresolved pain, those moments where we feel like God should show up, but He doesn’t His writing focuses on bring hope, encouragement, and practical steps to those disappointments, we we don’t get stuck.
He is familiar with the confusion and pain of a life interrupted by an illness. He’s had seizures of one kind or another for his entire life. Some days, he loses hours of his day. Other times, the steel trap that used to be his mind…leaks like a sieve.
His daughter is epileptic and has had over 5000 seizures in her life. She is also a high-functioning autistic, with increasing frustration as she begins to realize she is not like her peers.
Every day, he is reminded in some way that his family will never be normal.
But he won’t give in, he won’t give up. He won’t let the pain and aggravation, the injuries and difficulties that are part of his normal keep him from living a full life. At least, most days that’s true. His heart is to show his readers how to do the same.
More from Chris
Mental illness isn’t going away any time soon, as statistics say more than one in four people are diagnosed with a mental illness in the United States. And yet, the church at large has had a mixed response to mental illnesses. The church should be the one place where people are accepted as they are, no matter the details. Jesus accepted everyone who came across his path—adulterers, tax collectors, fishermen, critics. It didn’t matter. As His footprint upon the earth, the church should be the same.
Even with, or perhaps especially with, mental health conditions, the instinct should be to lean into kindness and love. The local church body should gather around, provide a place of safety and transparency, upholding those who are not well in their midst.
And this is exactly what happens, sometimes.
There are pastors who are actively looking to normalize mental health conditions by mentioning depression alongside diabetes as an illness that can be overcome.
But for every pastor looking to build a healthy understanding of mental illnesses, there is a pastor lumping depression in with pornography, equating anxiety with faithlessness, telling their congregation to avoid medicine for treatment, or otherwise refusing to recognize the complexity of mental illnesses.
Definitely there are spiritual disciplines that can help those suffering from depression, but often it’s not enough. And yes, talking with a pastor or a counselor can certainly provide some relief for anxiety, but that’s not always the path forward either. Sometimes medicine is the answer or at least part of the answer. And sometimes, there is no answer. Sometimes, trauma has left an indelible mark upon a person that cannot be overcome.
How can anyone tell the young man who is battling depression because of his abusive upbringing with a violent alcoholic father that a little more Bible reading and some memorization of a few verses will make the nightmares go away? No, that’s not how it works.
That’s not to insinuate every mental health condition comes from trauma.
But even when the root isn’t trauma, there is still complexity involved. Some come from chemical imbalances…and no, that’s not a cop-out. This is why antidepressants ease the burden for many suffering from severe depression because these medications work to balance out various neurotransmitters. This is why some diagnosed as bipolar are able to find rest from the highs and lows with lithium because a lithium imbalance was the problem in the first place.
Unfortunately, these truths are not always appreciated or understood in the church at large. No, many pastors paint with broad strokes, equating any mental illness with immaturity in the faith. It’s uncomfortable at best, and fear-inducing at worst, to tell a pastor that he’s wrong. Especially when it’s hard to nail down why it is that he’s wrong.
Because of this discomfort, many choose to put on a happy shiny Christian mask and act like they’re not hurting. It’s more painful to confront church leadership and answer all the accusations and questions.
Even more disheartening than putting a mask on, many with mental illnesses choose to step away from the church altogether. They’ve been hurt too often, and too consistently, to have any space left in their hearts for trust. So they hang tight to a belief in Jesus, but walk away from the church because it hurts too much. Some of the voices you’ll read in this book have walked away from church for this very reason.
We can do better as the church. We must do better.
This reality is why I’ve gathered almost two dozen voices to share their stories. It’s only in listening—truly listening with every fiber of our being—to story after story of mental illness that we are able to see just how different every person is, even when the diagnosis is the same.
Mental illness isn’t a simple diagnosis, under any circumstances. It’s not like a fractured shoulder blade, where the path to healing is clear. With a shoulder, the bone needs to be set, the shoulder needs to be immobilized, and healing will take place. If there’s a complex fracture, then surgery might be necessary. But, the basic path is the same. This is never true with mental health conditions. Too often the church has treated those with mental illnesses as though there is a straightforward path toward healthier living, and that’s been painful to bear.
Whispers in the Pews has been written because I am convinced that it is fundamentally stories that will change the allowances for bad theology and inconsiderate (or worse) treatment of people. By hearing the pain and the victories that others have experienced in the church, my hope is that there will be room for a new way to approach mental health—one that sees the person before the health condition.
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A Reader’s Brain, October 20
Rev. Rebecca Wtites: Read, Write, Pray, October 21
Inklings and notions , October 22
Artistic Nobody, October 23
Inspired by fiction, October 23
To celebrate his tour, Chris is giving away the grand prize of a $50 Amazon gift card and a copy of the book!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.