Souls in the Hands of a Tender God -- Again

A month's worth of travel + new medication = time for a rerun.

This one has something to do with my NAMI Convention reporting.  It's a book report on Souls in the Hands of a Tender God.  I met the author, Craig Rennebohm at the Convention's presentation on FaithNet. 

First we pause for a word about FaithNet:

NAMI FaithNet is a network composed of members and friends of NAMI. It was established for the purposes of (1) facilitating the development within the faith community of a non-threatening, supportive environment for those with mental illness and their families, (2) pointing out the value of one’s spirituality in the recovery process from mental illness and the need for spiritual strength for those who are caretakers, (3) educating clergy and faith communities concerning mental illness and (4) encouraging advocacy of the faith community to bring about hope and help for all who are affected by mental illness.

NAMI FaithNet is not a religious  network but rather an outreach to all religious organizations.  It has had significant success in doing so because all the major religions have the basic tenets of giving care and showing compassion to those in need.

Next year's NAMI Convention will be in Seattle, Craig's homebase.  He set himself a goal of enrolling 132 congregations in FaithNet as part of bringing NAMI there.

One bit of feedback to Craig, if he's reading:  Congregations have a particular skill set that would be very useful at a NAMI Convention -- ushers and greeters.  Just a thought...

Meanwhile, with a few images added, from January 6, 2010 --
Souls in The Hands of a Tender God

Rush Limbaugh says that he experienced the world's best health care in the United States of America, and it does not need fixing.  I am glad for Rush that he was staying at a resort near a world class hospital for coronary care last month.  I imagine he has insurance to pay for the hotel-like accommodations, the angiogram and several other tests that failed to find the cause of his chest pains.

Given his public platform and his wide influence on American opinion and public policy, I wish Rush would expand his experience of health care in the United States of America.  He could shadow Craig Rennebohm for a few days to find out how health care works for other people.  Craig is the pastor of Pilgrim Church (UCC) in Seattle and, as part of their ministry, "companions" persons who are homeless and mentally ill.  With David Paul, Craig describes their quite different experiences in Souls in the Hands of a Tender God: Stories of the Search for Home and Healing on the Streets.

One Nation, Two Health Care Systems

The emergency personnel got Rush to the emergency room like snap!

That's not what happened to Sterling

Over months Craig built the trust of this man who camped in the church courtyard, surrounding himself with trash to protect himself from the evil spirits.  Finally, when the trash included highly combustible materials, Craig convinced him to go to the hospital.  Winter was coming.  The mental health professionals (MHPs) who showed up said they couldn't take Sterling in, because he was a voluntary patient.  They only picked up involuntary patients.  Sterling accused Craig of betraying him and fled the scene.  Craig couldn't find him until a month later, when he read of a homeless John Doe who died of exposure.

Rush was examined for days, still hospitalized, after they already knew he was not having a heart attack and not in immanent danger.

That's not what happened to Shelly

Shelly was seven months pregnant, with bronchitis and in a state of euphoria and grandiosity.  Craig brought her to the ER.  But she wasn't a good faith voluntary patient.  They believed she would check herself out so she could go accomplish her mission.  She didn't qualify for involuntary admission, because she wasn't a danger to herself or others.  What about her baby?  What about her bronchitis?  Bring her back when she develops pneumonia.

Karl Is A Vet

Karl's story is the clearest example of how health care in the United States of America is not working just fine.  Karl is a vet.  He was arrested for resisting arrest for vagrancy.  He just remembers being attacked, and later that the people in prison were poisoning him.  He was transferred to the hospital for two years, then back to jail to be released, no money, no meds, nothing but the clothes on his back.

Craig had been alerted.  He was a total stranger when he met Karl at the jail that morning and took him to breakfast.  Karl couldn't compute the question, White or whole wheat?

They continued to a clinic, where Karl couldn't understand or fill out the two-page form.  Since he wasn't in immediate danger, they sent him to the Department of Social and Health Services to apply for SSI.  Craig helped him with the six-page form there.  The social worker discovered he once received benefits.  So he had to get a statement from Social Security.

Social Security noticed Karl was receiving veterans benefits.  Next stop, the Veteran's Administration.  But the counselor there said they were a PTSD program and didn't take walk-ins.  He sent them a mile away to the Federal Building.  His file was in another state, so they had to get it transferred.

Meanwhile, the file was on computer, and said he was getting 50 cents a month, which was going to the hospital. (They could look up the information, but couldn't give him a copy until the file was received in a few days.)  Craig said, He's homeless and needs medication right now.  So he was sent to the VA hospital, then to the outpatient clinic in the bowels of the hospital.  Several kind strangers helped Craig find the way.

To get help at the outpatient clinic, Karl had to be admitted through ER, where they determined his illness was not service-related.  The waiting list for outpatient treatment was six months, and he might not get in, because he had been hospitalized only once.  The social worker suggested they try the clinic where they had started the day.  By now it was 6:30 and the clinic was closed.  They covered miles that day.  Karl spent the night in a homeless shelter, still not able to remember Craig's name.

That's where I will end the saga, though it is still several days from completion.  Small wonder that 83% of psychiatrists want a national health insurance plan, a higher proportion than any other specialty.  So many of their patients are homeless.

At Least I Have Insurance
And I thought I was having a hard time.  I have boatloads of people to help, support and advocate for me.  My salary is continued while I fill out applications.  I have a roof over my head and continued health insurance.

Most of all I have Helen, who asked me all the repetitive questions over several days, monitored my capacity, and terminated the work each day, usually after twenty minutes when I was getting overwhelmed.  My phone has been set to mute the disability company whose questions put me over the edge.  She screens my messages.  This process turned me into a pill-popping wreck last fall, and though my memory is not what it used to be, I do know my helper's name.

Rush, the system works well for you.  But not for the rest of us who live in the United States of America.

A Different Way

I commend to your reading Souls in the Hands of a Tender God by Craig Rennebohm with David Paul.  Craig uses his stories to help us see the face of Christ in these abandoned ones, and to frame his theology of God and what it means to be a human being in the sight of God.

We cannot make the journey alone.  None of us.  We are made for life together, made for community.  Those of us blessed with health and wealth may be tempted to forget that.  We may want to believe that we are self-made and assume that we have succeeded through our individual merits alone...  Illness - and especially mental illness - confronts us with the unavoidable truth of our frailty and finitude.  Illness underscores our fundamental dependence on the love and help of others...


Craig describes the work that his community is doing, "companioning" people who are mentally ill.  Companionship can be described in terms of four practices: offering hospitality, walking side by side, listening, and accompaniment.  Let's consider these in detail...

And he tells the astounding story of a very different kind of system in Gheel, Belgium.  I will tell you about The Miracle of Gheel next week.  There is a different way to do this.

photo of Rennebaum from
photo of toast by Ranier Zenz and used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License
Logo of the USAServices program, a program to help other government agencies with online communication, managed by the General Services Administration is in the public domain
etching of Sysiphus by Max Klinger, 1914, in public domain
book jacket from
 woodcut of Road to Emmaus by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld in public domain


  1. Rush Limbaugh doesn't have health insurance! He is self pay.

  2. Cash, that MUCH cash really is a different health care system.

  3. Rush Limbaugh pays full price at the hospital; insurance companies have contracts that allow them to pay much lower prices. Why the two-tiered system? The price should be the same no matter who is paying.

  4. Since Rush pays more, he can ask for more. I suspect an insurance company might have questioned some of his charges.

    Meanwhile in reality, it's not two-tiered; it's three. Rush's experience is a tiny minority of US health care. He got whatever he wanted because price was no object. The second tier varies widely, but is mostly about negotiations between providers and insurers about what will be provided and what will be reimbursed. Then the third tier -- and I have lived this terrifying reality. If you don't have insurance because you can't afford it, you get charged Rush's prices. So then you go to the "no-health-care" system.


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