I have really been struggling this past week after learning of the death of my former pastor and friend, Phil Lineberger. I think all of us who knew him have. Phil was, for the most part, a happy, go-lucky kind of guy when I knew him, when he was at our church in the 80’s. He baptized my husband and married us in the church after Sunday evening church because we’d only been married at city hall. After my husband was baptized, we wanted a church wedding, but it was not practical to have a regular church wedding. Phil was more than happy to do it for us. It meant everything to us. He meant so much to our family.He meant so much to so many families.
This particular death was difficult for many because, you see, Phil struggled with depression and took his own life. I don’t know how long he struggled with it, but I have been in the throes of depression myself and I know how devastating it can be. Phil stated depression had it’s own language in a eulogy for one of his pastor friends who also died at his own hand. It does have it’s own language and it is the language of “you are worthless, hopeless, helpless.” Those messages along with others we hear when we are depressed are devastating to the soul and our self esteem, our pleasure in doing things, in living is diminished to the point of exhaustion.
At first, I couldn’t imagine a pastor, a man of God, with God-light in his face, his eyes taking his own life. My question was “if a pastor has no hope, is there hope?” The answer is yes. There is still hope. Pastors, priests, rabbis, all of them are human above all. They are not immune from mental illness, depression. Mental illness doesn’t pick and choose who it touches. It doesn’t pass over one because they do this or that for a living. I am sad that Phil is gone from this earth, but he is not and will not be forgotten by those who love him, respect him . I am sad that he was caught in the evil arms of depression and that he could not wriggle free.
I am so sorry for Brenda, Becky, Amy and Kathy-the Linebergers and their families. No one should have to go through this. But instead of the blame game, we should say , “Above all, He was Human.
We love you Phil.