Suicide & Social-media

The potential harm of the viral sharing of “Genie, you’re free.”

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On the evening of Monday, August 11, 2014, as fans around the world began to grieve Robin Williams’ tragic and unexpected death, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (better known, as the people behind the Oscars) sent out what may be the iconic social media image of Williams’ death.

More than 322,000 people (and counting) have shared the tweet, which means that, per some analytics sites, as many as 71 million people have probably seen it.

So what’s the big deal? Isn’t it just a sweet, heart-felt sentiment offered in a time of tragedy? Well, no… It actually violates very well-established public health standards for how we should talk about suicide.

Most people who saw and shared the tweet may not have thought for a second that it crossed any kind of line, but even if it doesn’t it comes very close to it. Suicide should never be presented as an option. Because in doing so, no matter how innocently, it is an avenue for potential contagion.

Please, don’t be too quick to roll your eyes, exit this page, and write me off as some kind of paranoid over-reactor. There exists an extremely sad and well-documented phenomenon, known as “copycat suicide,” in which media coverage or publicity around one death encourages other vulnerable people to commit suicide in the same way. Somewhat similar to how we see copycat crimes and mass-murders. Adolescents are most at risk of some form of suicide contagion; in recent years, groups like American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) have also become particularly attentive to the role the Internet plays in romanticizing notorious or high-profile deaths, something it has long asked both the news and entertainment industries to avoid.

Even Robin Williams told The Guardian during an interview back in 2010 that, “Well, you just try and keep it in perspective; you have to remember the best and the worst. In America, they really do mythologize people when they die.”

The high potential for television/online reports, tweets, photos, videos, blogs, articles, and stories to go viral makes it all the more vital that the coverage of a suicide follow the prevention industry safety recommendations (or at the very least a link and contact info for seeking help).

In the hours since @TheAcademy tweet went viral, some people have become aware that it does not, in fact, follow the established safety recommendations. The image shows the starry sky from Disney’s Aladdin, and the written implication that suicide is somehow a liberating option… this presents suicide in much too celebratory a light.

However, now that just about all media is so social, and anyone can go viral, it’s more difficult to educate influencers on those issues. The ASFP has issued a response to the unsafe reporting of this tragic news. (It is unclear who at the Academy actually sent the tweet, and the Academy has yet to respond to any requests for further comment as far as I know.) In whatever the case though, some advice for organizations and individuals talking about Williams’ death online that would be wise to consider: Be sure to acknowledge that suicide has underlying issues – such as depression… and those issues can be addressed.

The focus of any current media attention should of course be on Robin Williams’ incredible life, and all the good he contributed to this world while he was here. We should enjoy the nostalgic remembrance of all the laughter he gave us over the years through his movies and shows. We should become more aware about the crippling pain that is depression and how to help. If you don’t know what is depression like, well you’re not missing out on anything, because it’s kind of like drowning. Except you can see everyone else around you breathing. We should be careful though, not to celebrate or glorify how he died in any way.

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^ Whether you think I’m way off base with all of this or not, maybe this scene would have been a more responsible tribute to the great man, father, and friend we’ve lost.

Or perhaps instead of Aladdin’s words, we can better remember Robin Williams’ last lines (after the credits) as the Genie from the Aladdin movie: “You have been a fabulous audience! Tell you what, you’re the best audience in the whole world. Take care of yourselves! Good night, Alice! Good night, Agrabah! Adios, amigos!”

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If you are in crisis, call: 1-800-273- 8255 (TALK)

We honestly care about you, take a moment and call: 888-667-5947

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Websites:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Biblical Counseling Suicide Prevention

Christian Suicide Prevention
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Recommended article: Suicide & Mental Health

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Diverse Unity

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If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of disunity in a church, you know how upsetting it can be. Most of us do not enjoy conflict in general, so the thought of conflict within the body of believers can feel even more uncomfortable. However, conflict always inevitably happens, just as it does in any committed relationship. Christians are exhorted to be known by their unity even in the midst of great diversity, but does that mean we never raise any concerns? How can we know if an issue we have deep conviction over is worth fighting for? Is there ever a time to break unity with our church family for the sake of integrity?

Every member of the body of believers possesses a set of beliefs that can be divided into three categories: essentials, convictions, and preferences. Understanding how these all relate to unity can help us know whether to speak up or to remain silent, whether to break fellowship or to simply agree to disagree and stay put.

Essentials, Convictions, and Preferences

An essential is any truth which, if denied or misrepresented, nullifies the gospel. Examples of essentials would be belief in the deity of Christ, the Trinity, the virgin birth, or the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Essentials do not require a seminary degree to understand. They are plainly revealed in Scripture and accessible to believers of all maturity levels. Essentials are what you find in the historic creeds of the church. They define orthodox belief.

A conviction is any deeply held belief which, if believed in error will not nullify the gospel, but can harm spiritual growth. Examples of convictions would be views on baptism, the role of women in the church, eschatology, or the functioning of the charismatic gifts. Some convictions are more deeply held than others, depending on the church, and unlike essentials, not all convictions must carry the same weight. Some convictions, if held in error, have greater potential to harm than others. Disagreements surrounding convictions usually have to do with how we interpret Scripture.

A preference is something I care about, but that is a matter of personal choice. I can readily acknowledge that there is more than one possible right answer while still feeling strongly that my answer is the best one. Examples of preferences would be whether I prefer contemporary worship or traditional worship, casual dress or dressy clothes, smoke machines or stained glass. Disagreements surrounding preferences usually have to do with how we apply Scripture.

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

So, how can we judge whether an issue merits division? Think in these terms:

Essentials are worth dying for.
Convictions are worth debating.
Preferences are worth discussing.

Unity must be broken if an essential is compromised or denied. If your church suddenly decides that Jesus is merely a man and not also God, you need to pack your bags.

Unity may be broken if a conviction is violated but must not necessarily be. It could be possible, for example, to remain a faithful member of a congregation that affirms believer’s baptism while still holding to belief in infant baptism.

Unity should not be broken if a preference is not shared. To leave your church because you dislike the worship style (assuming the worship style is not anything sacrilegious) or disagree with its ministry model is to hold in light esteem the beauty of having shared essentials and convictions. This doesn’t mean that preferences are unimportant. They are. And we should be able to dialogue about them with charity. They just aren’t deal-breakers.

Stay If at All Possible

Unfortunately, we often sacrifice unity on the carelessly fickle altar of our preferences. Far too many churches have split over trivial things like whether God loves the organ more than the electric guitar, over what the pastor wears during the service, and even over the color of new carpet. That kind of immaturity is always incredibly sad.

The book of Acts celebrates unity, and it stands as an exhortation to the Church throughout the ages to work hard to prize it. Never has such a diverse assembly of believers been reconciled to one another as in the days of the early church. Acts records the uniting of Jew and Gentile under one God, and the debates and discussions necessary to join these two groups as members of one body. It details the differences in ministry philosophy between Peter and Paul, two men united in the goal of spreading the gospel but divided as to how it should be done. Acts shows us that the tension of the interplay of essentials, convictions, and preferences is a natural part of church life, and that unity is worth fighting for. But unity does not mean unanimity.

To be a member of a body of believers who all affirm every essential and many of your convictions will be a truly rare gift. We need not require that every conviction be held in unity, and we should not require that any preference be held in unity. Just as a marriage is more likely to be easy and enjoyable when a couple shares the same convictions and preferences, so is church membership. It isn’t wrong to long for that kind of harmony, but it is wrong to break or withhold relationship over the lack of it. As with all relationships, our list of preferences should receive due consideration before we commit but far less consideration after.

The way we express our concerns matters, too. Just as no spouse benefits from being nagged or attacked about a conviction or preference by the other spouse, no church benefits from a constant nagging or attacking member. Far better for the member to hold a respectful ‘debate’ or dialogue with someone in leadership than to complain publicly or privately to other members of the body. One approach demonstrates a love of unity. The other does not.

As we each soberly evaluate our essentials, convictions, and preferences, we are well served to remember the watchword of the Lutheran theologian, Meledenius: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” May we meditate then on Jesus; and the beauty of a church seeking unity in diversity, whose crowning virtue is love.

Recommended article: Walk in Unity

One Thing You Lack

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The Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-30)

Sermon Audio Link

Passage:

And a ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery, Do not murder, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'” And he said, “All these I have kept from my youth.” When Jesus heard this, He said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” But when he heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich. Jesus, seeing that he had become sad, said, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” But He said, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” And Peter said, “See, we have left our homes and followed You.” And He said to them, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” – Luke 18:18-30 (ESV)

Sermon Audio Link

Sermon Notes:

• The Question

How does one obtain eternal life?

• The Rich, Young Ruler

Calls Jesus “Good Teacher” in a manner of flattery, as there is not one example in the entire Talmud of a rabbi being addressed this way; addressed with an attribute possessed only by God. Jesus doesn’t correct him by saying He is not good, but rather that only God is good and invites the young man to reflect on his own words. Have you ever heard someone say something and thought they should take a moment to think about what they just said, and maybe the answer they are looking for already resides in the very words they spoke?

His question carries the assumption that salvation or eternal life must be earned and that something in addition to the work he was currently doing was required.

• One thing you lack…

But is it really just one thing, or three?

It sounds like three things: 1) sell what you possess, 2) give it to the poor, 3) follow me. How are these three (commands/demands) requests really one?

The young ruler claims that he has kept all the commands Jesus mentions since his youth, but Jesus only mentions the commandments dealing with our fellow neighbors, not those that deal directly with God. He uses His request to expose what the young man lacks, and how he desperately fails to measure up to the law. The very first of the commandments is to have no other God before the one true God of Israel… Jesus shows how money is sitting in the place of God in this young man’s heart, and it deeply grieves him when asked to depart with it.

These demands may be summed up like this: “Your attachment to your possessions needs to be replaced by an attachment to Me.” It’s as though the man stood there with his hands full of money, and Jesus said, “You lack one thing; reach out and take my hands.” To do this the man must open his fingers and let the money fall. The “one thing” he needs is not what falls out of his hands, but what he takes into his hands.

The poor are always the beneficiaries when this transaction happens — when a person treasures Jesus above money. That’s why Jesus mentions the poor. We are all spiritually poor without Christ. But the main focus is what is happening between this man and Jesus. Jesus does not merely expose the closed-handedness of the young ruler, He alludes to the truth that if the young man rightly understood who Jesus was, if he knew the good character of God, he would cry out for mercy, not complacently seek reward. All the fitness God requires is for you to feel your need of Him…

• God loves to give good gifts.

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Illustration — “Delighting in our cat, Winston”

Kathryn and I do not have children (at least not yet), but we do have a young cat. Even in the caring for this small animal, as two imperfect people, we delight in providing good things for him. We love giving him wet food, treats, new toys of any kind, letting him sleep in our bed and snuggle with us. We truly enjoy giving him good things, and watching him respond with excitement and joy.

The Father enjoys delighting in His children by giving them good gifts… but how does one receive something when their hands are full? Often times our hands are full of idols, unready to receive God’s love. And we mistakenly think that idols are just bad things, but that is almost never the case. The greater the good, the more likely we are to expect that it can satisfy our deepest needs and hopes. Anything can serve as a counterfeit god, especially the very best things in life.

“… I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak… We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis

• The One Thing

Jesus tells the rich young ruler, He tells all of us: You lack one thing. You lack Me. Stop treasuring money and start treasuring Me. You want to inherit eternal life? You want truth? You want to enter the kingdom of heaven? You want to be justified? You want to be righteous before God? Only by your attachment to Me will you inherit eternal life, be saved, find truth, enter the kingdom, be justified, and have any real meaning to your life. If you would be perfect — which is the only way into God’s kingdom — follow Me. Be connected to Me. Depend on all that I am for you.

There is no “go and do likewise” command present here in the discussion. Jesus isn’t asking this of everyone He talks with; He doesn’t tell everyone everywhere to give away everything they have. That is not the point here. Jesus uses a humorous illustration to explain how difficult it is for those who appear materially blessed to have God first in their heart; Jesus doesn’t say that anybody who has material blessings cannot be saved.

If you gain the whole universe, and have not Jesus, you are infinitely impoverished compared to the one who doesn’t just have the treasure, but is the Treasure. If you are bankrupt and indebted beyond your ability to ever reimburse that whom you owe, the option to just do a little more seems rather silly, doesn’t it? “One thing you still lack. . . . Me!”

• Disordered Love & Trust

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Illustration — “The pain of the illusion of loss”

Winston’s need for what appeared to be torture in order to heal… the rich young ruler’s need to let go of his idol of wealth in order to see God as what he truly needs.

While Christianity was able to agree with pagan writers that inordinate attachment to earthly goods can lead to unnecessary pain and grief, it also taught and teaches that the answer to this was not to love things less, but to love God more than anything else. To rightly reorder your love. Jesus even tells people that they should hate their family in a hyperbolical (extreme, purposefully exaggerated) comparison. You should love God so much, that other relationships look like hate by comparison, but actually, if you love God that much, you cannot help but pour out your love for all of His creation.

How weird would it be if I enjoyed my wife’s material possessions more than I loved and interacted with her? Wouldn’t it seem odd if I was faced with a decision to choose our TV or our marriage, and I chose the TV? That would look like a pretty dumb decision and quite a dysfunctional relationship, would it not?

The disciples (viewing this through their cultural lens), ask who then can be saved?! Jesus makes is clear no man can save himself, it is impossible. But God saves. As long as we think we are not that bad, the idea of grace will never change us. Only when our greatest love is God, a love that we cannot lose even in death, can we face all things with peace. Grief and sorrow is not to be eliminated, but seasoned and supported with love and hope.

“God is not only more demanding than people care to think, but also more generous than they have dared to hope.”

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• So, what are you holding onto?

There is nothing wrong with being wealthy, it is not inherently evil to be considered financially rich. But Christ called this young man to give up his wealth in order to follow Him, exposing that he valued cash above Christ. Today we see two VERY controversial issues constantly talked about in the media: homosexuality and a women’s right to “reproductive freedom.” For some, those are two hot topics they are not willing to let go of. For others, it may be literally anything… Whatever materials, family, pets, rights, liberties, etc. that we possess, we were created not to view the created as ultimate. Does that make sense? We are valuing created things above the Creator Himself when we see things merely as our own, to do whatever we wish with our possessions. Jesus is showing us here that we should consider it all worthless compared to Him.

So try to take some time to search your heart for what things you may be holding onto or valuing more than a relationship with God. I pray that we don’t make the common mistake of thinking extensively about someone we know who should really hear this message, and consider these words ourselves… because just like me, without Jesus: You lack.