God’s Work. Our Hands: “On the Steps of Augustana”

Posted: May 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

Here is a reprinted article our pastor wrote in our church’s weekly newsletter. (When reading this, it will be easier to understand knowing our church campus has two worship areas. The historic Augustana Chapel and the main Immanuel Sanctuary. Also that early service is in Augustana and late service is in Immanuel. Finally, that at the time we have late service in Immanuel, Grace Anglican has service in Augustana.) I am proud to be a member of such a great church that accepts ALL for who they are and for what they can teach us. Our church is part of an either bigger movement that accepts all, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America–God’s Work. Our Hands.

On the Steps of Augustana–reprinted from “In The Loop”, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Boise, Idaho. September 18, 2009.

You might have noticed our new friend, Ron, who sits on the steps of Augustana during most days and nights. Ron has been attending our Centering Prayer Small Group on Tuesdays and Grace Anglican services on Sundays and Thursdays. Those of us in Centering Prayer know Ron as a sweet, considerate, and loving person who also suffers from paranoid schizophrenia. We would like to tell you about him and ask for your patience while his social worker attempts to get him into a safe place.

Ron apparently attended Talbot Seminary and Biola University in La Mirada, CA in his earlier years. He is very knowledgeable of church etiquette and the Bible. He strongly believes that the central (and only important) message of the Gospels is to treat each individual with love and “never harm anyone”. He instructs us on the definition of agape each week. He has a great appreciation for starry nights, squirrels, birds, and all living things (including very small ones that live in the grass and on which we should avoid stepping!). He is intelligent, clever, and funny and has an uncanny ability to put words together in new ways. He knows a lot about cars and likes good music. When he is talking with us, he is calm and pleasant. When he is alone, he sometimes bursts into yelling matches with the voices in his head. You might also find him giving animated sermons, usually on the meaning of love.

Ron’s paranoid schizophrenia includes a delusion that he is God or the biological son of God. He believes that God (whom he often calls Daddy or Syrach) is coming to get him in a few days to take him home to his planet where they will live together. In the meantime, an evil mafia is out to get him. Augustana is particularly important to Ron because he believes that it is his Father’s house (literally) and the stones protect him from evil voices that mask his Father’s. Although some nights are filled with those voices, others are filled with long talks with his Father about how wonderful life will be when we are all together again. Victims of paranoia are usually suspicious of people, doctors, medicine, rules, and institutions, and they often have safety systems, like Augustana’s special stones or Ron’s ever-present hood, used for protection.

Schizophrenia has been linked to an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. It has a strong genetic component (i.e., it runs in families) and usually manifests in the late teens or twenties. Antipsychotic medications can greatly reduce the symptoms, but most patients do not remain on medication permanently, especially those without a stable family environment. As a result, schizophrenics often end up homeless, and a large proportion of our homeless are schizophrenics. Treatment is a combination of medication and some form of therapy or oversight to deal with the remaining symptoms and increase chances of staying on the medication.

Ron has spent time at the Boise Rescue Mission, Interfaith Sanctuary, and the Corpus Christi day-shelter. He has complicated reasons (which are rooted in his paranoia) for why he can’t or won’t return. We ask for the congregation’s patience so that Ron’s social worker can move him forward in the least traumatic manner to best improve his long-term health. The Church Council is closely monitoring the situation. The odds of a perfectly happy ending are not great. It is possible that we can do nothing for him but be his friends. We are encouraging him to accept the generous offer of the Boise Rescue Mission before cold weather.

In the meantime, feel free to say hello. One of us is often with him on Sundays and we can introduce you. Like everyone else, Ron likes to be approached with respect and understanding. He likes eye contact and handshakes, to be told that he is an interesting, entertaining, and loving person, and the sense that you have all the time in the world. However, unlike most of us, Ron forms an immediate opinion about whether someone is on the good or bad side of his personal cosmic battle. We can’t figure out why he views some perfectly friendly and compassionate people as the enemy. If this happens to you, please don’t be offended. It has nothing to do with you or your intentions. He may turn his back to ignore you. If you are asking him to do something he doesn’t want to do, he may resort to yelling and vivid descriptions of what God does to bad people. This is his illness speaking and you can’t reason with it. It is best to back away and give him space. Perhaps a member of Grace Anglican, or Cami, or one of us can help.

Ron rarely accepts food or other assistance. He prefers to get his food from St. John’s Food Bank and day-old items placed outside by the Boise Co-op. Neither drugs nor alcohol are part of his life. He worked most of his life until about 7 years ago. He tells us how much he appreciates our friendship. We’ve been blessed by his humor, compassion, and love of life. As we part for the day, he is quick with “God bless you” and “I love you guys”. We love him, too.


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