Maybe one cure for the EH that can infect an assembly or a local church or a session is to retire some of those fantasies of creating a perfect structure or a church that is immune from all possible exposures. Sin will recur, and as long as we live in this world, we will need to adapt to our illnesses. That’s normal.
I know a man in another church who is capable of early-onset insanity. He can make himself crazy by excessive reading about certain illnesses; and soon he thinks he suffers from every malady he Googles. Recently he had a cold—albeit males can die from colds, contrary to those biased female-driven medical studies that do not realize how desperately we men may suffer from a common cold—and within 24 hours, his cold might have been kidney failure, or it might have been Lyme disease from a new ‘southern Appalachia tick,’ or it might have been nasal cancer or asthma, or it might have been a rare strain of bacteria contracted on a mission trip, or it might have been . . . Ah, that “it might have been” is one signature of hypochondria.
Recently we’ve discovered a new strain of imagining-the-worst and scaring-our-own-socks-off: it is Ecclesiastical Hypochondria (or EH, for the acronymically-inclined clinicians among us). This quickly-growing-stale malady often results when aging patients discuss things too much only with their peers and get out too seldom. These EH patients allow themselves to become paralyzed by the fears that our ecclesial community is neither perfect nor living up to all they might have envisioned. Then again, most patients have this dystopian realization when they hit about 40 years of age. Why, my friends who turn 40 can no longer run effortlessly, they are bogged down in the realities of family life, their bones start to creak, they lose their hair, and they’re simply not as virile as those younger athletes. This happens all the time.
Several of my ministerial friends have hit such milestones. And instead of accepting the realities of their age, some try to Rod Stewart themselves, pining to be “Forever Young.” Despite the jeans with holes in the knees, the incessant talk about the environment and ‘gospel DNA,’ and running commentary on the new songs by The Black Keys, if they’re not careful all they really discuss are geriatric concerns, such as how to comprehend medicare coverage, digestive regularity, if the government will run out of money, and how bad that new generation is.
This summer, we might all do a little better to hold a baby, build something out of wood, pray with a dying saint’s family, read a new book, go to a concert, or even rekindle our roots in a real, local church whose persistent imperfection is, alas, normal. Instead of reading all the WebMD sites or instead of crying “Crisis, Crisis” (at one recent meeting of denominational leaders, there were no less than 3 ‘Crises’ in a mere 4 hours—a likely sign of Hysterical EH [HEH]), and instead of arguing “it might have been…” our assemblies would perhaps be better off focusing on the treatable issues before us and seek to agree with God’s stated diagnoses on any given subject.
If there are symptoms of illness, by all means treat those. But seriously: Are we so sick? Or are we just aging? And maybe we’re not always gonna be the hipsters of the ecclesiorama.
An argument style that is beginning to be associated with senility is the one that imagines there is a crisis everywhere, or that a sniffle verily indicates a chronic illness, or that some normal ups-and-downs are anything but normal (note: another which may prompt a separate essay is “Youngerterianism,” the belief that we should let the children decide how to run things).
Fear-mongering and hand-fluttering shrieks about the Vast Blog-Wing Conspiracy seem to be the constant companions of Ecclesiastical Hypochondria. It can spread to ridiculous proportions if we only live in a quarantined environment. Maybe one cure for the EH that can infect an assembly or a local church or a session is to retire some of those fantasies of creating a perfect structure or a church that is immune from all possible exposures. Sin will recur, and as long as we live in this world, we will need to adapt to our illnesses. That’s normal.
Probably less preoccupation with one’s own small turf would be another antidote for the EH that can run rampant in convention centers in summer. Reinjecting ourselves with the largeness of the “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” vaccine does wonderful things for our ecosystem.
And the next time you hear “the sky is falling,” or “Crisis, Crisis, we’re all about to perish,” maybe just recognize those as the voices either of Dr. Chick N. Little or those with HEH. Just because entire political parties may thrive on creating the specter of crippling fear does not mean that sound-mindedness will reach the same diagnosis emotionally advocated by a practitioner who gins up a crisis to further his own interests or because of his myopia.
Synodical doctors can recognize this hypochondria for what it likely is: the fearful “might be” thoughts of a tired or aging patient who is not getting all things his way or the health he’d like. That’s about all it is. And, thankfully, we’ll survive that.
But most realists and most church members in normal parishes will not start radiating ourselves with clinical trials simply because of the tired, tiring, and tiresome claims of Ecclesiastical Hypchondria. We’ve actually seen that before.
“Take a few aspirins and get back to work,” the old family doc would say. God is in his heaven, and his kingdom is marching. If the gates of hell will not prevail against his church, why should we be so fearful? And who wants to be an old grump, who only talks about his unrealized visions or internal pains or “it might have been . . .” or “it might happen.”
We’re all aging and imperfect. And that’s par for the course—not a disaster that calls for radical surgery, which itself can cause other problems. Why, we might even wish to spend some more time on giving praise and good reports (say, budget surpluses even during ‘crisis’ years or improving protology). That also inoculates against the EH that might infect us.
David W. Hall, Sr. is a Teaching Elder in the PCA and serves as Pastor of the Midway Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Powder Springs, GA
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