You may not have seen one of the ubiquitous Bernie Sanders’ memes on the internet. [Thinks] Is the remotely possible? Well, if not, let me explain. Bernie Sanders, who (given different circumstances) could have been President of the USA now, appeared at President Joe Biden’s Inauguration sitting on a folding chair with a thick coat and distinctive mittens. This instantly iconic image has now appeared in countless memes, one of my favourite is by the Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós on Instagram. He even came to our house!
Today is the third Monday in January, a day designated as Blue Monday, the most depressing day of the year in the northern hemisphere.
Unfortunately, this trivial label actually damages our understanding of mental health, just for the sake of a superficial piece of clickbait. Yes, I guess my title is itself clickbait, but if this article helps you to understand actual depression better it will have achieved its purpose.
We all know that in a normal year January can be a difficult month for our mental health (for a variety of reasons) and 2021 is not a normal year. So, even though the concept of Blue Monday appears to make sense, I feel we should reject it even more this year. The very real challenges we face this January make my premise even stronger this year, Blue Monday just isn’t real.
You’ll hear people say that it’s been worked out using a ‘scientific formula’. In fact, it first appeared as part of an advertising campaign for a holiday company, hardly the rigorous, evidence-based approach we might expect. Even the person whose name was on the original press release has since distanced himself from Blue Monday, admitting he was paid to help sell holidays. He now campaigns against Blue Monday.
Having said all that, the date continues to surface every January, and is increasingly linked to mental health and depression. In fact, it’s simply a day when we’re all supposed to feel a bit down, but even that is far-fetched if you give it some thought and view it through the lens of common sense.
A few years ago, the charity Mind attempted to dispel the myth that Blue Monday had anything to do with depression.
Depression is NOT something that happens one day and disappears the next, as if it has trivial ’causes’. Blue Monday is mumbo jumbo, pseudoscience that only serves to add to damaging preconceptions about depression and trivialises a serious illness that can be life-threatening. Depression has nothing to do with the third Monday in January.
The idea that depression is basically the same as feeling low is very pervasive within society, as if it’s ’caused’ by trivial things with the ‘cure’ a matter of ‘pulling yourself together’. Facile responses to depression, such as ‘cheer up’, merely reinforce the preconception it can easily be shaken off with determination and effort. This is not the case, depression is NOT the same as having a bad day.
Depression is way more than simply feeling a bit low, and this is what’s difficult for some people to grasp. It’s about guilt, feelings of worthlessness, lack of motivation, and a sense of emptiness, with simple tasks seemingly impossible to achieve. But there’s also the physical symptoms; headaches, aches and pains, lack of appetite, and sleep disturbances. On top of this can come insidious suicidal thoughts.
It’s an insult to think that the mental and physical complexity of depression can be encapsulated in a catchy named day. The negative things in everyday life that get us down are NOT the things that cause depression, it’s NOT something ‘catch’ from our circumstances. Yes, they can affect our mental health adversely, but they don’t cause depression. Depression can happen in good times.
The ‘why’ of depression is a complex and multi-faceted question. Please don’t trivialise it by falling for a gimmick, reject Blue Monday!
Finally, here’s a Blue Monday we mustn’t reject, enjoy! Click here.
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me
Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)
See also: Holocaust Memorial Day
Note: There are several variations of this poem, the above version is from here.
In the course of the last twenty four hours, armed supporters of Donald Trump have stormed the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. and forced a lockdown. Here are a selection of my thoughts on Facebook and Twitter:
Where are the Christian leaders condemning Donald Trump for the violent insurrection provoked by the immature ‘President’ throwing a tantrum since the election defeat?
American friends, I’m heartbroken for you right now. Love and peace, John.
After Joe Biden’s speech: This is what a president looks and sounds like, the last four years have been an aberration. It’s what presidents prior to 2016 have looked and sounded like, both Democrat and Republican.
Donald Trump is the antithesis of Christianity. My faith is about vulnerability, grace, love, and willing self-sacrifice. Demonstrated by Jesus. End of.
Trump holding a Bible as a political weapon offends me!
Don’t think it couldn’t happen in the UK. Guard democracy. Value truth and integrity. Preserve free speech. Protect impartial journalism. Don’t take our freedoms for granted.
Following a tweet by Donald Trump that was deleted by Twitter (he was later blocked) because it was an incitement to violence: Where to start? I am absolutely shocked to the core by this tweet, now rightfully deleted by Twitter. This is unconscionable language and an obscene abuse of the high office of president, and totally trashes his oath made before God. If you didn’t see it before today, I hope you can now. This is the final reveal of his true nature after four years of pernicious words and actions.
There are certain moments when you’re aware of history in the making, this is one of them.
The appalling events in America didn’t just happen in a vacuum, they have been four years in the making. Events made possible because the words and actions of a ‘president’ have largely gone unchallenged by those putting power before conscience. The ugly side of America has been deliberately and painfully exposed, tweet by tweet, speech by speech, action by action. True Democrats and Republicans must come together to rebuild and protect what has been systematically trashed.
Don’t tickle the egos of tyrants.
Beware UK politicians and political leaders who have said similar things to Donald Trump in the last few years. Protect democracy and a free press, value truth and integrity, guard our freedoms often gained through sacrifice. Words matter.
The UK has now fully left the EU, something I consider to be a huge act of nationalistic self-harm.
Sadly, the reality of what we’ve lost will only be fully demonstrated in the weeks, months and years ahead. But we are where we are, and we really are all in this together. I hope all Brits want what’s best for the UK (which, of course, may now break up) and we have to make it work. Remain voters are experiencing a palpable sense of loss and sadness, and this needs to be worked through.
‘Getting over’ this will inevitably take time before we can genuinely move forward, powerful human emotions are not easily dismissed by pressing an [ESC] key.
The campaign to rejoin the EU starts today!
Eddie Izzard (comedian/activist/marathon runner) has recently said that she’s more comfortable with she/her pronouns. She was applauded by viewers for requesting the use of ‘she’ and ‘her’ pronouns during a television appearance, confirming that she was ‘gender fluid’.
Taking to Twitter after the programme, fans praised her, shared positive messages of support, and thanked her for being a trailblazer.
It’s an area I need to understand better, and intend to do so as soon as possible. But, whatever our feelings on gender fluidity, at its heart there’s the issue of respect for others.
I’ve just finished this excellent book, a really life-affirming contribution to the often divisive LGBTQ+ discussion within Christianity.
Vicky Beeching began writing and singing songs for the church in her teens, and by her early thirties she was a household name in Christian music, singing in America’s largest megachurches and recording a string of albums. Her songs were used by congregations around the globe. But all this time she was fighting a debilitating inner battle, knowing she was gay. The conflict was real because the churches in which she sang and ministered generally opposed same-sex relationships and saw homosexuality as sinful.
She knew that being true to herself and coming out would cost her everything. Having faced a major health crisis (quite possibly stress-related), she decided to tell the world she was gay at the age of thirty-five.
The reaction was far greater than even she imagined. She lost her music career and livelihood, faced hatred and threats from traditionalists, suffered further illness from the stress, and had to rebuild her life almost from scratch. She was despised and rejected by those she’d shared Christian ministry with and called friends.
She lost so much, but was finally able to live from a place of wholeness, vulnerability, and authenticity. She found peace with herself and God.
Read this book with an open heart of unconditional love and be prepared to be challenged and changed.
The book concludes: Freed from shame and fear, we are finally able to live, and love, from a place of wholeness. We find peace. We become complete. We become people who are, at our deepest core, undivided.
Note: Vicky has now become a champion for others, fighting for LGBTQ+ equality in the church and in the corporate sector, and speaking up for mental health awareness. Her courageous work is creating change in the UK and the US as she urges people to celebrate diversity, live authentically, and become undivided.
You can find out more and support her work here.
The Crown is one of those television drama series that divides opinion, partly because of the range of views people have about the monarchy, but also because the script is largely speculation. Naomi and I have just finished watching Season 4 on Netflix.
The fourth season covers the time period between 1977 and 1990, is set during Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, and introduces Lady Diana Spencer and Prince William. Events depicted include the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer, their 1983 tour of Australia and New Zealand, the Falklands War, Michael Fagan’s break-in at Buckingham Palace, Lord Mountbatten’s funeral, the Princess of Wales’s appearance at the Barnardo’s Champion Children Awards, and Thatcher’s departure from office. Wikipedia.
Whatever your feelings about the monarchy or the drama itself, the series has been beautifully crafted with some great acting performances. Olivia Colman is wonderful as the Queen, Gillian Anderson portrays Margaret Thatcher brilliantly, and (especially in one episode) Helena Bonham Carter gives the performance of her life as Princess Margaret. For the full cast, see here. The magnificent theme music by Hans Zimmer is also worthy of mention.
It’s worth watching, but just remember it’s drama not history in the strictest sense, it’s only dramatising the thoughts we probably all have about the Royal Family. Monarchists will complain it’s making them look bad, others will argue that they’re doing a good job of this themselves, as this article in the The Guardian suggests.
Note: I’ve never been a Margaret Thatcher fan, so I especially enjoyed watching her downfall. Yes, very naughty of me!
Salvation Army Press Release (28 November 2020)…
WITH great sadness, The Salvation Army confirms that an attack upon the Lewono Lembantongoa Outpost, Indonesia, on Friday 27 November 2020 has claimed the lives of four members. A Salvation Army outpost is a locality in which Army work is carried out and where it is hoped a society or corps will eventually develop.
Lewono Lembantongoa is in a very rural area of Sigi Regency, Central Sulawesi, situated on the edge of the Indonesian rainforest. During the morning of 27 November, the community was subjected to a savage attack, during which The Salvation Army’s building was burned down along with six homes of members. Sadly, four members of the outpost were killed.
Major Erik Kape (Divisional Commander, East Palu) and colleague officers acted immediately to support the local leaders, coordinating with police and with government officials of the Sigi Regency and Central Sulawesi Province who are increasing protection for the villages in the area and investigating the incident.
In a press statement released across Indonesia, The Salvation Army invites all churches and religious associations – along with community members – to support each other vigilantly in these days, enhancing security through strong communication networks across the villages of the area.
Territorial Commander for Indonesia, Colonel Yusak Tampai, urges Salvationists in the region to ‘remain calm but alert and careful, spreading a strong message of hope and uniting in prayer to strengthen each other’. Throughout Indonesia on Sunday 29 November, Salvationists are called to observe a three-minute silence and to pray for grieving families and congregations, asking for God’s peace to be poured upon the region. Some will be gathered for public worship while others are confined to home due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Noting that The Salvation Army serves in 131 countries and that the world continues to convulse with disturbing levels of violence affecting many of its people, General Brian Peddle, international leader of The Salvation Army, denounces any such acts. ‘Throughout all aspects of Salvation Army ministry and influence we work for peace,’ he says.
‘We find the news from Lembantongoa greatly disturbing. Our hearts go out to our people who have been victims of evil, and to the families of those whose faith have caused such harm. I call upon all Salvationists to pray for each person who has been affected, for the continuing witness of our people, and for healing in the communities. I ask our global community to join us in this prayer, and believe that as peace finds its place, evil will be defeated.
‘As General, I assure our people in Indonesia of our deep love and prayers,’ he concludes.
Messages of support and unity have been received from Indonesian church leaders. The Communion of Churches in Indonesia is inviting Christian families in Indonesia to light a candle at the beginning of Advent this Sunday as a symbol of the continuing hope found in Christ. The Salvation Army is a significant church presence in Indonesia, with more than 60,000 members.
The Salvation Army in Indonesia values this unity from fellow Christians and greatly welcomes prayer support from Salvationists worldwide.
We all carry assumptions that inﬂuence how we think about every aspect of life and person we encounter. Unfortunately, some of them are likely to be wrong or unfair. Yet, I imagine life would be impossible if we didn’t make some basic assumptions to help us navigate our daily lives.
Something that’s very central to my Christian faith is how Jesus teaches us to question our assumptions, encouraging us to glimpse the world through the very eyes of God. Jesus’ teaching remains challenging because it calls into question many of our everyday assumptions, often turning our understanding on its head.
On Remembrance Sunday it’s easy to assume that Jesus and his followers represent a cosy religious inoffensiveness filled with sweetness and light, sentimental love and peace, whilst those involved with the military are people of violence who espouse hate and glory in violence.
Of course, we admire the dedication, professionalism and bravery of the men and women of our armed forces, but we can’t help thinking that their very existence is a consequence of human failure.
In an ideal world, we wouldn’t need armed forces, but the reality is we do, and there are times when when we realise that the the veneer of civilisation is very thin.
I feel uncomfortable with the amount spent on weapons, and the time and effort used to devise ‘better’ ways to kill and maim, especially through nuclear weapons. Surely our only possible reaction is that of sorrow and penitence.
Love isn’t simply being loveable and nice. Christian love, expressed most fully in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, is a determined commitment, the opposite of indifference rather than the opposite of hate. Also, we often see it in the most unlikely of places, again challenging our assumptions.
The old hymn Gentle Jesus, meek and mild is misleading I feel. Yes, he’s attractive and captivating, but I’m not sure about some of the other traditional pictures we might have about Jesus. He was brave and committed.
The Christian Gospel isn’t about liking people or being liked by them, it’s a total commitment that’s divine love in all its fullness.
We recognise true selfless, loving commitment when we see it. We long for that wisdom from above which, in the words of James, is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits. Love, which even in our fallen world, we sometimes glimpse in the most unlikely of places.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
On Remembrance Sunday, I want to remember and honour individual and personal examples of brave commitment and sacrifice in the lives of those tragically given or permanently changed by war, whilst also remembering the supreme love of God shown in Jesus. See also here.
They shall grow not old,
as we that are left grow old;
age shall not weary them,
nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
and in the morning,
we will remember them.