Fred Huber is the most humble man I have ever met.
He says that he wants to remain “uncomely”. And to this purpose, he lives somewhat like a monk. He would fast every Sabbath. He sleeps on the floor, with just his blanket for warmth. He wants to sincerely remain submissive to authority, whether that be the governmental authority, or an elder in the church. (I don’t really count as an “elder” because I’m just not old enough.) He speaks little, although a giggle at his thoughts would sometimes come forth without notice. I would pick him up for a church service and he sits in his seat in silence, unless I ask him to read a Scripture passage. Fred doesn’t say much at all, unless asked a direct question.
When Fred is asked a direct question, not many people actually understand his response. His answers seem esoteric, clouded in mystery. When someone wanted to transfer $140 dollars to his account, he hesitated and wondered if $70 would do. She balked at this, thinking that his answer was crazy—why would he want less money. I suggested to Fred that she put in $120—because, in Fred’s thinking, 7 and 12 are good biblical numbers, while 14 is an unknown number and thus suspicious.
Fred is very religious, in both the positive and the negative senses of the word. As a response to the biblical mandate, “Give to those who ask of you,” he provides something to everyone on the street who asks him for something—no matter whether they are a drug user or a woman with a child trapped in poverty. Usually this is a dollar or a bus ticket. For this purpose, whenever he takes money out of the bank, he always wants it in ones, no matter how large the sum. He keeps the Sabbath holy by not shopping from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset, nor taking public transportation, for which he would have to pay, nor would he cook.
Fred tries to get up before sunrise every morning (which goal he doesn’t always achieve) to read the Scripture, usually the Ten Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. He honors God by praising Him every morning, he honors his parents by asking others to pray for his family. He covets nothing, and even what he has—which he obtains by gifts he did not ask for—he gives away to those who live with him in his subsidized apartment complex.
Fred lives almost the perfect Christian life— meek, caring, visiting the sick, giving to those in need, obedient to the Scriptures, not greedy, lustful or hateful. Everyone loves Fred for his gentleness and inner peace.
Fred is diagnosed with schizophrenia.
He has some strange obsessions, it is true. When I am to pick him up two blocks away from his apartment, it takes him a half hour to walk there because he must walk through the neighborhood, spinning around at each corner of each intersection. Every time he closes, locks or unlocks a door, he must do so twice. As I mentioned above, he has a certain numerology he works with. And he limits his eating to grains, oils and juices that are found in the Bible. Although he hasn’t gone to pomegranates yet. Maybe I should mention that to him.
Fred does hear voices. These are voices of dead family members, such as his mother or grandmother. They talk with him and joke with him and command him and color his life. Sometimes he thinks God is speaking to him. Which perhaps He is. I don’t know. But not all the time.
The only time his mental illness is problematic is when his voices give him rules that he must abide by. On occasion, they would command him to remain in his apartment, separated from everyone in order to do a task—such as to go through old mail or old papers he has stacked in piles in his otherwise neat room. He would keep himself then from church, from shopping, from friends. When this happens, I need to remind him that whoever is commanding him to go through these papers has less authority than Scripture which tells us “not to forsake the gathering together.” Fred usually pays attention to Scripture, and returns to the church at the next meeting.
At one point, Fred’s illness reached a critical point. As it is always in his mind to not be dependent on anything the government provides for him, he stopped taking his medication. The voices then told him to send the social security checks he was receiving back. Not thinking clearly, he would tear a piece of the envelope and place the mail outside the door of his apartment. Soon his electricity was being threatened and the apartment managers were questioning him about his rent. He didn’t have much to say.
Fred also began having problems with eating. He preferred to fast on the Sabbath, as I said, but his fasts would become longer and more severe. He wouldn’t eat anything all weekend. Then he wouldn’t eat any protein. Soon, on weekdays, he would only nibble on bread and sip some water or grape juice. He was becoming visibly gaunt and pale.
In the midst of this, he received a thirty day notice at his apartment due to his lack of payment. He had no plans, no options except to live on the street. If that was the case, the social workers were planning on putting him in the hospital, where he would be forced to take drugs and separated from our community for months. So we took him into our house, which conveniently was located just a half mile away from his apartment.
Mind you, this isn’t the first time this type of crisis came on Fred. Since he was diagnosed with schizophrenia twenty years ago, he has been in the hospital for at least two months eighteen times. A typical year for Fred would be like this: Around May, he would stop taking his medication. By June, he would cut back on his eating and he would deeply concern those around him. His housing would be threatened. By July, he would be in the hospital, where they would ask him to take his medication. He would refuse. At this point, the hospital staff would call security, who, bringing about four men, would hold him down while the staff would inject him with the medication. After a few times of this, Fred would submit to the medication. In a couple months they would transfer him to a transitional medical facility. Then he would be under the authority of a court-appointed worker, who would find housing for him. He would live in the housing until the court commitment would run out. Then he would stop taking his medication and the whole cycle would begin again.
He lived like this for twenty years. He called this his “trial”. He felt that this was happening to him because of his experiments with sex and drugs while he was in his older teens. So he would constantly go over his past sins, some of which were forty years old, reminding himself of them, confessing them, begging for forgiveness. He would know he was forgiven if he could just stop going to the hospital, stop being forced to take medication, stop living out these compulsions. What he wants more than anything is to be given the freedom to live by his convictions. If that conviction is to stop eating altogether, he desperately wants that freedom. But the government is persecuting him, restricting him from doing what he feels he must.
When Fred came to live with us, we had a full house, so I gave him a bunk bed above where Ian was sleeping. Fred would set his significant papers on the bed, wrap himself in a blanket and sleep outside on the ground, sometimes in the rain. He stopped wearing his clothes and would occasionally stand in the midst of the house, naked. I told him that we had girls living in the house, so he had to remain covered. It took maybe three times of saying this to him, but he understood and kept a blanket wrapped around himself all the time as he mumbled prayers, spun around and wandered in and out of the house.
His social worker and psychiatrist came to visit Fred and I. They said that they appreciated what we were doing, but if Fred showed any serious medical issues, then they would put him into the hospital. I told them I understood. I just wanted to give Fred a chance to figure his own way through these issues. No one had done that before. They hesitated, but agreed. We would all keep an eye on him.
When Fred first came to us, he would eat some bread, drink water and occasionally take his medication. Soon, he was burying his medication out in the yard. He stopped eating altogether. And he stopped drinking water. We asked him to eat. And almost forced him to drink. We gave him water a number of times a day and watched him closely to see he drank. He would take water into his mouth and then spit it out as he could.
He began to stay up all night, mumbling, lying outside on the ground. A couple of us in the house would take turns watching over him, praying for him, doing quiet spiritual warfare in the name of Jesus. The stress on the household was becoming acute. Many people expressed their concern for Fred. One of Fred’s closest friends came to me in tears of rage and screamed at me in my face, wanting to know why I didn’t do more to help him.
I didn’t have much to say. I struggled, and still struggle with the battle between freedom and love. In my ministry I see many people commit suicide without intending to die. I see alcoholics become desperately sick, yet still drink. I see drug addicts OD again and again, yet they still take the hit of heroin. I see the mentally ill stop in the middle of a busy street right in front of traffic. I see diabetics gorge on sweets and breads.
What am I to do? I am not their parent, forcing them to do what is good for themselves, although they scream and lash out at me. I am not the hospital, having cops hold people down while enforcing an injection they do not want. I am not the government who has the right to commit people if they are in the place to harm themselves. And I don’t know I want that authority if it was given to me. Is it right to strip people’s freedom for their own good? Is it right to force them to live when they exist in a living hell? Is it right to violently force another to do that which I arrogantly insist upon is for their benefit? Can I know what is good for them better than they themselves?
I am just a pastor. The position of prophet is the most frustrating, weakest position of God. I am here to tell people that which they don’t want to hear, because it comes from God. But to follow God, to obey, is their own choice. If they’d rather commit suicide, even unknowingly, I cannot prevent them from that. I am helpless before the sovereignty of a human will. I am just a Mother Theresa for those slowly killing themselves. I can give them a place to die, all the while encouraging them to enact life.
I can see Fred’s urine, because he doesn’t flush the toilet. It is growing darker and has a sick smell. I know that he is dehydrating. I would know that anyway. For forty days he has stayed with us. He hasn’t eaten and his liquid intake has been almost nothing. Finally, weakened by his fast, he lays in the backyard for a full day and night, not getting up. His social worker comes to see him and he looks in his eyes. Fred’s blue eyes are dilated and almost crystallized, the blue of his iris strangely different, as if he were on a drug. They call the ambulance and take him to the hospital. At the hospital, they declare his kidneys to be in renal failure. They put him on an IV and force him to take psych meds. He is too weak to resist, so the security need not be called.
Today, Fred is placed under the authority of a permanent court worker. She makes sure that he always takes his medication, she receives his check and pays his bills. Fred still wants to reduce his medication, but his court worker has the final word on that. I pick him up for church, and we call each other throughout the week. But we don’t have the deep open conversations we used to.
Because last year, when he came to live with us, a year after his kidney failure, he stayed with us again. This time, though, when he stopped eating for a week and stopped drinking for a day, I took him to the hospital myself. He allowed me to do it, but he only agreed because otherwise the police would cuff him and force him to go. The hospital made us wait for four hours in the emergency waiting room. When they looked at his records, before speaking to him, they immediately put him on a hold, which gives them the authority to force him to take whatever treatment they wanted to give him.
When they determined that he had to take his psychiatric medications, I was there when the security people arrived, held down his struggling body, and the staff injected him with a needle.
Fred still participates in our community. He still serves in the church, cleaning up and reading Scriptures. But he will never share with me again his innermost thoughts. Or share what the voices in his head are telling him. Because I forced him to have his freedom restricted. I have become one of those who care for him, but in his eyes are just wrong-minded. For a moment, just a brief moment, I became an authority instead of just a prophet. I did it to save Fred’s life. I took the arrogant position of “knowing” what is right for someone else. I set aside the humility that Fred demonstrates in his life, the example he gives me. Did I do what was right? If, given the option, would I do it again? God alone knows and will judge me accordingly