By Ken Walker-
Since it’s been several years since I wrote a story about Christian comedians, I had forgotten how funny it was, until I re-read it after seeing one of the interview subjects in person recently.
When I interviewed Chonda Pierce, she reeled off the one-liners that are her trademark, just as she did in concert. In fact, she makes so many cracks it was hard to keep up with the stories. I just knew she shared them.
Pierce is quick-witted, too, constantly bantering with people in the audience and making remarks about people who walked in late, how one contingent of women must have come from the same Sunday school class, and wondering why the married man had come to the show by himself.
Yet underlying her concert ran a tone of seriousness: Pierce’s struggle with depression that culminated in a stay in a psychiatric hospital five years ago. Since she has written about it and discussed it at length that night, I’m not divulging any deep, dark secrets.
Collapsing Under Pressure
When I talked with her, Pierce was candid about using anti-depressants, although her struggles obviously became more pronounced. Until the concert, though, I didn’t know all the details behind her collapse. Nor could many people withstand such pressure.
The most gut-wrenching details involved her father, a Nazarene pastor who struggled with schizophrenia and abused his daughters—physically, emotionally and sexually.
Occasionally the family would go for counseling or her father would get some medication. However, when word leaked out the next time the church voted on some issues, they voted them out. Her father finally deserted the family, leaving more damage in his wake.
Funny how a look back at the “good old days” can reveal some past habits that were more injurious to the church than helpful, including the hear no evil-see no evil-speak no evil stance of pretending Christians never have problems.
One time her father went on Lithium. Ironically, a church member who worked at the pharmacy where he got it told him that if he continued to use it she wouldn’t have any more faith in his preaching. Naturally, he stopped.
“That drug could have changed my life,” Pierce said.
It is testimony to her comedic skills that when she went into the story of her problems in the second half of the concert that Pierce continued cracking jokes about the situation.
She recalled sleeping constantly and having no desire to live. Finally, she told her daughter that she just wanted to go out in the backyard and jump into the river running by their house. When her husband found it, he said, “Honey, it’s winter and the water’s only two feet deep. You would just mess up your pajamas.”
However, she grew serious describing the first group session in the psychiatric unit. It included a pastor who tried to hang himself in the church basement but failed when the beam broke. And a 73-year-old former business owner who had been forced out of her company and desperately wanted to find another useful endeavor, only to hear this suggestion from a friend: “Why you don’t try scrapbooking?”
Pierce commented on how she felt like she was participating in church that night the way Jesus meant it: people openly discussing their problems and trying to find ways to cope.
Vulnerability is always a scary proposition, because you don’t know who will use your confession to deride and attack you. It is one reason I think we need more small groups in the church’s life, so people feel safe in airing their difficulties in a safe environment.
When people can find support in their time of need, they are more likely to stay connected with that group. So while there is nothing wrong with Sunday morning worship services, the more important element of a congregation’s life occurs at other times.