It’s enough to make you crazy
The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the brokenhearted… And saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalms 34:7-8)
Maybe it’s just me, but should we be concerned we might lose our minds in trying to keep up with the increasing nonsense of our cultural story? By that I mean, the pace of change in this brave new world in which we now live. It’s becoming something akin to living in Bedlam.
Bedlam. Now, there’s a word that’s become somewhat out of vogue these days.
Indeed, now that I think about it, the phrase “out of vogue” is rarely heard much anymore either. You see what I mean? For people of my generation—baby boomers—it’s starting to seem like standing at a railway station and imagining the inbound train either isn’t stopping, or the platform is moving backwards.
The question becomes, “Should we be on the train?”
The more I ponder it, why would I be thinking about trains? Who takes the train anymore? Well, actually, people have to in France now, where there is a new law forbidding short commuter flights. It was determined that air travel would lead to global warming—now referred to as climate change, because of carbon emission fears. All we can say is, the French better be thankful train travel doesn’t produce any carbon emissions.
Speaking of bedlam, (and we were) the word is defined as “a state of uproar and confusion: a place, scene, or state of uproar and confusion, or Bedlam: the proper name for an asylum for the mentally ill.”
The mentally ill will always be a part of any society or culture. How we treat or ignore them is a signal of how healthy the rest of us are.
Like a lot of obsolete words, bedlam has an interesting story. It became a metonymy for pandemonium, coined from a once famous mental hospital in London, originally called Bethlem. (A shortened form of Bethlehem?) The British have an amazing penchant (which is French for preference) for creating slang from words they first corrupt. It gets even crazier when Americans pick it up and have no idea why. For example: “needing to use the loo,” which owes its British popularity for a slightly less crude way to refer to the toilet. The word “loo” is actually derived from the French phrase “guardez l’eau,” which translates as “watch out for the water.” Some will also say it’s a disrespectful slur on Napoleon, who met his defeat at… Waterloo.
Bethlem was an asylum once considered the finest hospital of its kind in the world in the eighteenth century. Almost from the start, Bethlem was considered more than a mental asylum. “It was a landmark in the City of London, right by Bishopsgate, and it was also one of the very first to specialize in [caring for] people who were called ‘mad’ or ‘lunatic.’ It becomes this proverbial, archetypal home of madness,” writes Amanda Ruggeri for the BBC.com in 2013.
The mad and lunatic among us is and always has been a thorny issue. It’s not made any easier given the concomitant madness of the culture we “normal” people must now inhabit. It’s all too common an experience of seeing increasing numbers of homeless and the derelict, begging at intersections and the freeway offramp. Such people have become a feature of any large city—and some not so large. To compound the problem, many people who are considered mentally ill or deficient, often turn to crime. For the backstory for why this is so, we must go back more than fifty years to the Kennedy administration.
On Oct. 31, 1963, President John F. Kennedy (JFK) signed a bill meant to free many thousands of Americans with mental illnesses from life in institutions. It envisioned building 1,500 outpatient mental health centers to offer them community-based care instead. The bill would be the last piece of legislation Kennedy would ever sign; he was assassinated three weeks later. For me, I can’t help but see some irony in that. It was believed that JFK was likely motivated by the plight of his sister, Rosemary.
In her early young adult years, Rosemary Kennedy (pictured) experienced seizures and violent mood swings. In response to these issues, her father arranged a prefrontal lobotomy for her in 1941 when she was 23 years of age. The procedure left her permanently incapacitated and rendered her unable to speak intelligibly. JFK deeply resented what happened to her, and was skeptical of the mental health community the rest of his life. The mental health centers he envisioned were never fully completed and less than half were even built. While some state hospitals still exist in this country, the system is far from functional. Places like Bedlam are now museums.
The Deseret News once reported, “The three largest mental health providers in the nation today are jails: Cook County in Illinois, Los Angeles County, and Rikers Island in New York.”
This state of affairs is a stunning irony in America today. With nowhere else to go, the mentally ill must usually fend for themselves. Because they represent a large part of illicit drug use, they create a continuous cycle of victimhood and victimization. Studies show that frequent drug use contributes to poor mental health and comorbidities. They become a burden on local communities who, out of common grace, attempt to offer shelter for them in bad weather or emergencies.
When I began by implicitly asking the question if we should be trying to keep up with all the insanity in our world today, I think the question merits a guarded response. Because we spend so much time “in the weeds” with too many issues; political, cultural, social, and so much more, we may find ourselves feeling overwhelmed. When that happens, I believe we must step back, regain our composure, and through prayer and meditation, ask our Lord what He would lead us to do in bringing some measure of sanity to a world gone completely mad.
- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. (2 Corinthians: 3-5 ESV)