Monday, March 24, 2008

Thoughts and Prayers for the Week of March 24, 2008

by Butch Odom

Thought & Prayer for Monday, March 24, 2008

Welcome to the season of Easter, where we will remain until May. Easter is the most important time in the Christian year, but it is also the most mysterious. Since death has been overcome, since death has lost its sting, let’s consider embracing life and spend this week contemplating the Leading Causes of LifeTM, by Gary Gunderson with Larry Pray.

The lectionary passages for this week are numerous, and include: Jeremiah 31:1-6; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Colossians 3:1-4; Acts 10:34-43; John 20:1-18 and Matthew 28:1-10.

From John 20:1-2 – Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus’ loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they laid him.”

Leading Cause #1 - CONNECTION: As human beings we depend on our connectedness to family, friends and even coworkers. Imagine the sense of loss Jesus’ followers felt after the crucifixion. Now Mary finds the tomb empty, making her think initially that the final connection to Jesus, his grave, has been severed. Think of the significant connections in your life. Wouldn’t you agree that those connections are life-giving?

Creator God, you made us a people who thrive in healthy communities. Help us heal the disconnections in our lives so that we might live more fully. AMEN.

Thought & Prayer for Tuesday, March 25, 2008

From Acts 10:34-36 – Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all.”

Leading Cause #2 – COHERENCE: We strive for lives that have a sense of meaning and purpose. Imagine the coherence the disciples felt through their work with Jesus. Now imagine how that life-giving meaning was upset when Jesus was killed as a common criminal. Today, consider those people, those connections and those beliefs which bring the most meaning into your life.

Faithful God, for those people, those institutions, for all that brings rich, life-giving meaning into our lives, we thank you. AMEN.

Thought & Prayer for Wednesday, March 26, 2008

From Acts 10:36-38 – [Peter is still speaking.] “You know the message [God] sent the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ-he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”

Leading Cause #3 – AGENCY: “Just Do It” was the slogan of or the name of an organization that encouraged young people to do good…to act…to do something for the greater good that was within their power or skill set, even of something simple like planting a tree or picking up trash. Agency entails this ability to get things done. Can you begin to see how these Leading Causes of LifeTM tie together? The greater the sense of connection in our lives and the more coherence we feel, then the greater our ability to act effectively. Also, the more we act, the more meaning we could add to our lives and the more opportunities for connection we could have.

Gracious God, it is easy for us to think globally. Give us strength to ACT locally. AMEN.

Thought & Prayer for Thursday, March 27, 2008

From Psalm 118:1-2 – O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his steadfast love endures forever! Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Leading Cause #4 – BLESSING: “How are you doing today?” I asked Janice. “Fine and blessed,” was her reply. We give blessings to each other and we receive blessings from others. But blessing also occurs through the ages as we connect with our parents and their parents on through the years and with our children and our children’s children. Through blessing, we are connected to forever.

Steadfast God of the beginning, middle and end of time, stand by us in our now. Help us be a blessing to those around us, and may we be blessed today. AMEN.

Thought & Prayer for Friday, March 28, 2008

From Psalm 118:24 – This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

And from Matthew 28:5-8 – But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”

Leading Cause #5 – HOPE: The final of the Leading Causes of LifeTM is real, grounded hope. Such hope comes from the interaction of all the other causes discussed previously this week. How does one have hope in the midst of deep despair, for instance, if their life is not connection and coherence-filled? If one feels powerless to act and has no sense of blessing how can they experience hope? Today, take a moment to embrace that for which you hope most.

Steadfast God of hope, even in our despair, we know you are by our side. Help us be better instillers of hope in those around us. AMEN.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Clinical Improvement is Life, too

This week in a couple of our hospital leadership meetings we took a close and very encouraging look at some new work aimed at reducing the leading cause of death in our (and most everyones') facilities, sepsis. Although strokes and heart attacks are more familiar, sepsis kills more people. Sepsis, which is really blood poisoning, is one way the body shuts down naturally, so it can't be eliminated. But some sepsis is unnecessary and, if detected early can be beaten back. Indeed, in just one of our hospitals (Methodist North) we are now seeing 5 fewer sepsis deaths per month because of a carefully coordinated set of tools and practices. That's a lot of birthdays over a year.

When this was presented to managment, the story was all about the technology, which is not inappropriate because the early detection that is the key is driven by the dramatically new potentials our brand new fully eletronic medical record system have given us. When the vital signs are entered into the system (more and more this is done via monitoring devices that are directly wired into the system), the system screens for the pattern of early sepsis. Those symptoms may not be apparent to a nurse just standing next to the patient, but when that pattern is recognized by the system an email and text page is sent to the physician and response team so they can go intervene right away.

What I see is wires, but more precisely, wires allowing the leading causes of life to flourish. The whole response is highly social--its a team. And any time there are two or three in some relationship to each other, there will be life going on. In this case, the new level of connectedness, illuminates dramatic new levels of agency possible for the team. When you hear the team report on this powerful innovation, the voices vibrate with coherence -- this kind of life giving work is what they have organized their life around since they entered school. This is why they come to work and the source of their creative passion. It is the reason Dr. Joe Kettracide went into the odd and arcane stream of work known as medical information management. He's a physician who helped invent the technology of the electronic medical record and came to Methodist because he wanted to see one health system actually fulfill its promise. Those five birthdays a month ring every coherence bell in his body. But so it does for the nurses, the managers who figured out how to build the business case, the tech guy who plugged the computers together.

The word blessing pops up in this kind of conversation as something experienced not just by the patient, but by everyone involved. The successful innovation brings everyone into a living relationship in which they experience more life and deeper life.

The connection feeds the agency which resonates deeply with the coherence among the care team which creates a powerful sense of blessing. The result is a lot more life than we had going on. The new energy in the room was palpable. We were all more alive and capable of participating in more stuff like this. We found ourselves with more hope --riskable expectation-- that we had before. Methodist risked $100 million so far on these electronic tools, so that is not a small thing to think about.

Life was at work in this process, which can even flow across the wires, beepers, stainless steel and odd language of a hospital.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Jacqueline writes: Connection in Possum Trot

I read an article written by Erin Gieschen, “Small Town, Big Heart.” Gieschen’s account is of a miracle that takes place in a tiny rural community called Possum Trot. This tiny community adopted “seventy-two of the toughest kids in the foster care system” 1 forever changing the lives of the town and the children they saved. This is a story that bears out all five leading causes of life discussed in The Leading Causes of Life written by Dr. Gary Gunderson and Dr. Larry Pray (connection, agency, coherence, hope, and blessing). However, for the sake of time and space I will only discuss how Possum Trot practice connection.

The people of Possum Trot, Texas dared to hear and respond to the language of life (connection) bringing love and promise out of loss and hopelessness. This community of 300 people brought life out of death by rising to God’s call to “defend the fatherless,” by adopting seventy-two (72) of the most unwanted children in the Foster Care System in their county.

The story starts with the death of Donna Martin’s mother, Mrs. Cartwright who was a legend of love in the town. Donna, the wife of Bishop W. C. Martin, the pastor of the town’s church, Bennett Chapel was left “shattered, angry, and empty” when her mother died. For months, she lived in agony until she prayed for God to “heal her or let her die.” Gieschen writes, “God’s answer came straight at Donna’s heart with a clarity that caught her off guard. I hear you, she understood His Spirit to say. I’ve heard your pain and complaints. But I want you to think about all those children out there who don’t have what you had in a mother. I want you to give back to them. Foster and adopt.” 2

Donna responded to this call as if to answer Dr. Gunderson’s question: “For what are we perfectly adapted?” 3 This “first Lady” of a church and mother of a special needs child enlisted her sister to go with her to attend evening adoption classes that took 120 miles round-trip to attend. It seems that she understood the answer, “We are adapted for complex social relationships. We are adapted for connection relevant to the work of transforming the communities we love.” 4

Once the Bishop started driving the sisters to class, he too caught the vision and supported it from the pulpit. He began preaching this living model of adoption. “The only way man was able to get back to God was through adoption. It’s part of the plan of salvation…. Adoption isn’t a concept just handed down yesterday. It was a God-given thing to get all of us back to him.” 5 Soon the entire church/community rose to the call and “life came out of death.” This small town of 300 people, most of who earned less than $30,000.00 per year adopted 72 foster children. Was it a miracle? After all larger cities with more economic resources have not experienced the successes of this town. What makes Possum Trot different? It is their ability to recognize, initiate, manage, and respond to highly complex social relationships. 6 As Dr. Gunderson says, connection heals. 7 He says life’s cries are louder than the cries of death. We know what elements are missing in the equation to effect adequate change in life’s circumstances. However, the question is: what words, activities, and strategies are required for discovering life’s language? Dr. Gunderson submits that life’s basic language is seen in:

• “The connection through which life comes (even in one’s isolation)
• The coherence of God’s grace against the chaos of loss
• The sense of agency that is able to harness intelligence and energy
• Inherited and transcending blessings, and
• Hope ”8

The small town of Possum Trot chose life, creating possibilities, filling emptiness, weaving together broken pieces, and moving simplicity toward festival.” 9


1 “In Touch, Created to be Loved”, February 2008, Vol. 31 No. 2, 2008, Gieschen, Erin, “Small Town, Big Heart” pgs 12-16

2 Ibid., pg 13

3 Gunderson, Gary, Dr., Pray, Larry, Leading Causes of Life, The Center of Excellence in Faith and health Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, Memphis, TN, 2006, page., pg 71

4 Ibid., pg 71

5 “In Touch, Created to be Loved”, February 2008, Vol. 31 No. 2, 2008, Gieschen, Erin, “Small Town, Big Heart” pg, 15

6 Ibid., pg 64

7 Ibid., pg 67

8 Ibid., pg 3

9 Ibid., pg 46

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Gary Y writes: Leading Causes of Life…. A Chaplain’s perspective:

LEADING CAUSES OF LIFE by Gary Gunderson with Larry Pray is a dynamic approach to redefining and clarifying our life’s purpose, plans, and meaning through relationships that provide us connection, coherence, agency, blessing, and hope. It is NOT a ‘self-help’ book that is built on superficial optimism. Gunderson and Pray challenge our thinking as to how we are interconnected and that these significant relationships are both life ‘causing’ and life transforming.- - gary yarbrough;, chaplain, director of pastoral care; SBMC

Leading Causes of Life…. A Chaplain’s perspective:

Even though (or, perhaps, I should say, because) I spend most of my time within the walls of a hospital, I resonate with the energy and optimistic outlook of Gary Gunderson. “I want to talk about life, not death,” he writes. “Two-thirds of deaths before age 65 turn out to be preventable by fairly mundane social policies and pro-health personal decisions.” Did I say that I was optimistic? As I walk the hallways of the hospital and visit with patients, family members, and staff, I am daily reminded of my own mortality. For some, that may sound rather depressing; however, I have found it to be rather liberating. That is, I provide a ‘pastoral presence’ that acknowledges the awareness of “God’s” presence in the midst of suffering, illness, dying, and death.

I can only ‘be who I am’ and ‘do what I do’ in the context of providing pastoral care for others inasmuch as I, too, remain connected and anchored to the significant relationships in my own life. Consequently, I want ‘to talk about life’ not only in the hospital setting, but also beyond the walls of the hospital that reaches into the hearts, minds, and souls of those around us.

I believe that ‘connection heals.’ Gunderson describes the encounter between Larry Pray and Dr. David Wright, M.D. at the Church Health Center in Memphis. Of this encounter, Gunderson notes: “Patients who are connected survive medical setbacks that would shatter those who are isolated and lonely.” How many times have I heard from a chronically ill patient, “I couldn’t make it without my faith, family, and friends.” (Wholeness and well-being is more than the healing of the physical body).

I believe that ‘coherence’ can hold us together ‘in the face of the most difficult and horrible circumstances.” Gunderson states: “Simply put, coherence is a sense that life makes sense….” Similarly, Viktor Frankl wrote: “A literal translation of the term ‘Logotherapy’ is ‘therapy through meaning.’ Of course, it could also be translated as ‘healing through meaning.” May I be so presumptuous as to quote a verse of scripture from the gospel of John. Jesus said: “I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” ‘Abundantly,’ here meaning, ‘a full and meaningful life regardless of one’s circumstances.’ Now, that’s living!

I believe that “agency is a generative force that inevitably leads to the matter of call. It gives traction to three questions, ‘What am I to do with my life?’, ‘What have I been called to do?’ and, “Am I doing it?” I’m an ‘agent for change.’ That’s why I’m proactive and intentional about reaching out to the community to promote faith and health. I am a resource person for a steering committee that seeks to establish a free health care clinic. Fortunately, to be an agent of change no one has to work alone. I work with other ‘agents of change,’ such as ‘We Care Ministries,’ ‘Congregational Health/Parish Nursing,’ ‘the Salvation Army,’ sponsoring a child in Zambia through ‘World Vision,’ ‘United Way,’ the ‘Shelby Baptist Ministerial Association,’ and ‘the CareNet Connection.’ (and, a litany of others). I am learning about other agencies of change and how they are promoting the health care of the non-insured. These agencies of change are all interconnected as they use the multitude of available resources. Gunderson writes: “Agency is the human capacity to do.” We’ve read and heard it said that ‘faith can move mountains.’ The apostle Paul wrote: “Now, these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” So, I have a question. If faith can move mountains, and love is greater than faith then what do you think our love for God and others can accomplish?! They both move us to action.

To be a leading cause of life, is to be a source of blessing and hope.

(Re)connecting to healthy, loving relationships with others and one’s self is important for everyone. I am reminded of my own mantra: healthy self-care isn’t selfish. This is one of the reasons that I am drawn to the concepts within Gunderson’s Leading Causes of Life.

Healthy self care isn’t selfish. Think about it. Most of us would identify with Gunderson’s introspective observation and subtle confession for writing this book, as we would perhaps admit our confession for reading it. “Who should read this book?” he asks…. Any author who thinks that they are writing for somebody else is simply out of touch. You’ll see throughout that I’m writing to satisfy my own curiosity about life: about how to be a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a Christian, an administrator; in short, a grown-up…. I am writing so that my own life can be about life. And I hope you’ll find this useful in yours, too.”

“So, when are you going to love and care for yourself, the way you're doing for others?” I felt emotionally paralyzed. Shock. Pause. “Would you repeat that?” I asked. He repeated the question. Then I asked him to write it down for me. After a lightning speed mental self-analysis and reflection, I realized that I had arrived at a critical turning point. No, I didn’t turn into a self-indulgent egoist, but I knew that I had to become intentional about nurturing my core being. After all, I’m somebody, too! That was seven years ago. I must admit that I still struggle with the balance.

A couple of weeks ago, I returned from a seminar focusing on “faith and health.” While there, I did feel rather self-indulgent and privileged; taking time away from work to re-energize, think, reflect, and let the (re)creative juices flow. The seminar is like a spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical high; a mountain top experience, if you will allow me to say so. Since my return to the ‘real world,’ I have hit the proverbial brick wall. As a hospital chaplain, I returned to a tough on-call schedule in which I became the pastoral caregiver for five families who experienced the death of their loved ones. This past weekend, I was with three more families that faced the ‘leading causes of death’ rather than life. I remember a young man trying to console a woman who had received word that her thirty-nine year old daughter had just died. He said, “God just needs her more than you do now.” To which, she responded with utmost ire and defiance, “God sure is getting needy isn’t he?”

After all that, who cares about trying to write a blog about ‘the leading causes of life?’ The deep grief, doubts, fears, anger, disbelief, and anguish that I witnessed and felt with them, caused me to seek refuge and solace for my own body and soul. The ‘leading causes of life’ would eventually emerge again... in the relationships with which I have been blessed. It just takes time.

I guess that’s the reason “leading causes of life’ is timeless. When all is said (written) and done, it’s about God’s time and our time. The ‘common denominator’ of Gunderson’s key concepts of Connection, Coherence, Agency, Blessing, and ‘informed’ Hope is relationship(s). That is, our relationship with God, others, and self.

Go and live…..

About me: Now let me take a hike in the woods, spend time with the family, play the guitar, have some ‘quiet time,’ watch the sunrise/sunset, journal, play racquetball, watch a movie, or simply sit still…. I’ll catch up with you later…. I am an ordained United Methodist minister with the North Alabama Conference presently serving as Chaplain and Director of Pastoral Care at Shelby Baptist Medical Center which is part of the Baptist Health System; Birmingham, Alabama. I am a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains and a Clinical Member of the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education. About family: Ramona and I have been married for five years. Together, we have four children and seven grandchildren – all girls. We also support a child and her family through World Vision. Pictured below are: (1) The Big Oak in Audubon Park, New Orleans – some call it the ‘Tree of Life.’ I wonder how many Hurricanes it has endured and now continues to provide shelter, shade and hope. September, 2007. (2) MTS Doctor of Ministry Candidates ‘around the globe’ at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center. Faith and Health Seminar; January, 2008. (3) Family Fun playing Twister; December, 2007.
-Gary W. Yarbrough (February, 2008)

Notes, in order, but unnumbered due to blogger site restrictions.
Gary Gunderson, Leading Causes of Life (Memphis, TN: The Center of Excellence in Faith and Health; Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, 2006; p.13)
Ibid., p.67
Ibid., p. 68
Ibid, p. 89
Viktor E. Frankl, The Unheard Cry for Meaning (New York, New York: Washington Square Press, 1978, p. 19)
John 10:10
Gunderson, Leading Causes, p.107
African-American Outreach Ministry: Rev. Albert Jones, Pres. and Coordinator; Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church; Wilton, AL
Matthew 17:19-21
I Corinthians 13:13
Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 5:43,44; Matthew 22:34-40
Gunderson, Leading Causes of Life, p. 5
Memphis Theological Seminary, TN (Doctor of Ministry: Specializing in Faith and Health)

Other Recommended links:

Friday, February 8, 2008

Kevin writes: The Language of Life

In the 10th chapter of John, Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”. The narratives of the gospels also provide us with wonderful stories and pictures of how Jesus brought life into the world and how he gave that life away to others. These stories of a first century life written for a 2nd century audience have the texture of antiquity.

The scientific revolution of the modern world gave us the language of science. With the industrial revolution we needed more precise ways to communicate events. Poems worked great for the ancient Greeks and stories served the early Christians well, but moderns need statistical data and precise language.

When we talk about life, however, the language of the moderns struggles. Gunderson attempts to bridge the gap between the ancient language of life and the scientific language of the moderns in his book The Leading Causes of Life. One of the causes of life, according to Gunderson, is agency. Agency is the capacity to do, but as a cause of life, it is more than just capacity. Agency represents capacity within our most important relationships and within the story that defines us. Capacity-Leadership-Opportunity, according to the Congregational Health Ministry Survey conducted by the NCC, is the fire triangle within which congregational health ministries bloom (10).

Agency is one of the foremost areas where we can quickly begin to engage the public health, science language. I will demonstrate with quotes from two different scientific articles how quickly the language of life struggles when forced into the precision of scientific language. Two main areas where we struggle with this language engagement are the areas of grant writing and conducting of scientific studies. In their article, “Health Programs in Faith-Based Organizations: Are They Effective?”, DeHaven, et al. conduct a literature review to determine the effectiveness of faith based health programs. In order to quantify their findings, they defined church involvement: “Church involvement was coded as ‘faith placed’ if health professionals used the church to test an intervention and ‘faith based’ if the program was part of the church’s health ministry. Programs were coded as ‘collaborative’ if they combined faith-placed and faith-based features” (1031). In a book edited by David Satcher there is a chapter on “Faith Based Initiatives”. In this chapter Stryahorn shows that the “research fails to show that faith based social services provide long-term, holistic service delivery solutions, evidence exists that faith based organizations can provide short-term and effective health promoting activities and interventions” (, 495). Both of these articles use the same words, but are not always describing the same things. The language of agency gets parsed almost beyond recognition. How do we measure agency? Is it possible?

Trying to measure agency forces us to put the language of life into the quantifying language of science; however, this often reminds me the student in Dickens’ novel, Hard Times. In a chapter entitled, “The murdering of the Innocents,” the boy student defines a horse as a: “Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eye-teeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs, too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth”. The description is quantifiably correct, but doesn’t capture the essence of the creature that is a horse. The language gains clarity, but looses life.

As many of our post-modern thinkers have suggested, life is difficult to define in quantitative terms. Life is narrative. Because effectiveness has to be measured so that we can receive funding and analyze our own effectiveness we must continue to struggle with language. As people of faith we are people of story. Is there some way that we can find a different way to measure that doesn’t submit the language of life the parsing scalpel of science.

I am reminded of a poem by former poet laureate Billy Collins in which he describes people trying to “get at” the “meaning” of a poem. Collins claims that, as an artist:

“I want to water ski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on shore.

The more scientific people, however, treat the poem differently.

“But all that they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.
They began beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.”

When I read some of these attempts to measure the effectiveness of bringing life, I can’t help but believe we are somewhat like the meaning-hunters in Collin’s poem or the student in Hard Times. Instead of parsing life in such a way to make it scientifically measurable, perhaps we can find a way a new way to measure. In the movie, “Smoke”, the story is told about measuring smoke. The argument, among the characters of the movie is that nobody can measure. One character, however, quoting William Raleigh contends that you could measure smoke. To prove his theory, he began with a balance scale. On this scale he weighed his cigar. Then, he lit the cigar and smoked it. He carefully placed all of the ashes on the scale. When he had finished the cigar, he placed the butt on the side with the ashes. The difference between the weight of the original cigar and the weight of the ashes and butt, he concluded, was the weight of the smoke. Measuring life may be difficult, but it is not impossible. Can we find a better way to measure the effectiveness of our life giving efforts?


Joey writes: A Partnership between Public Health and the Faith Community?

After surfing the web for different examples of congregational health ministry connections between our congregations and public health, I was pleasantly surprised when coming across an encouraging article found on the Tennessee Department of Health official website of the state of Tennessee ( The article, published from the office of faith based health initiatives, entitled “A Partnership between Public Health and the Faith Community: Why?” encourages the reader to “educate your congregation on the importance of caring for themselves physically as well as spiritually and mentally.”

Based on the article, Tennessee has moved from 48th to 47th in state health rankings according to the United Health Foundation ( Statistics show that Tennessee has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country, and to no Tennessean’s surprise has a high number of people who smoke and suffer from heart disease, our biggest killer. Obesity was also listed as a serious lifestyle issue that has doubled since 1990.

Although the statistics were discouraging, the suggested connection between health and our congregations was encouraging. The article encourages us as Tennesseans to “help Tennessee become one of the healthiest states in the country” by educating our congregants on the importance of wholistic healthcare. The Tennessee Department of Health offers its website ( as a site for educational resources, as well as our local health departments the service of providing free educational materials on physical wholeness.

We are encouraged to consider these alarming health statistics of Tennesseans and to remember that each of these statistics represents a person who may have been a member of our own congregation before their untimely death. As a church family and congregation, we influence a wide variety of families within our communities. If we emphasize from the congregation the importance of improving our health, the article suggests, we can not only save lives but also help to improve the quality of life for Tennesseans.

A suggested five minute health message every week during our worship services or a short message placed strategically in church bulletins or newsletters will give information that can reach many people and can make a difference in the lifestyles of the readers.

I am so impressed that our state Department of Health is actually encouraging this on the official state website. Also on the same page are informational links on “How to Start and Grow A Health Ministry,” “Resources and Tools for Building a Health Ministry,” “About Faith Based Initiatives,” and “Health and Faith.” My only hope is that this intent of agency by the state is well publicized and acted upon by our congregations and those in charge of the health departments at the local level. Unfortunately, by ranking 47th in state health rankings, the assumption is that many are not yet getting the message.

One other website that was very impressive that was too good not to share, from was Beliefnet offers excellent features on religion, spiritually, faith, health, prayer, and the Bible wholistically. The sight is independent and not affiliated with any spiritual organization or movement. The health and healing link, was most impressive and demonstrated to be an excellent example of hope.


Myra writes: Epiphany

On Sunday, January 6th, I had an epiphany. For me, this epiphany was significant because it occurred on the day that we Christians celebrate Epiphany in the liturgical sense. Bear with me as I explain what you probably already know. The Greek word “epiphany” means “appearance” or “revelation.” The season of Epiphany follows the season of Christmastide, and it commemorates the revelation of God in the birth of Jesus Christ. For many Western Christians, we remember this day as the time the Magi followed the star to Bethlehem and brought gifts to the Holy Child. We think of the star as giving light, and for this reason, some people think of an epiphany as a moment of enlightenment…or a so-called “aha” experience.

That’s what my epiphany was… a moment when the light dawned on me about the importance of making connections. The weather was mild that night and the new moon surrendered its light to the fading stars in a wintry sky. After attending a party for chaplains and counselors at the Harbor of Health in downtown Memphis, my husband and I walked to our car, satiated from the good food and fellowship. We left the lights of the Mississippi River Bridge behind us as we drove east toward our home in Cordova.

Along the way we chatted about the food and the music, and we filled in any gaps of conversations that we might have missed. That was about the time when my husband of many years blew me away with these words.

“You know that stuff about networking with pastors to help congregations?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I replied, not expecting what he would say next.

“Well, we’re already doing it,” he said.

“Sure, I know…” and I launched into a overview about the existing congregational networks organized by the hospital.

“No,” he said. “What I mean is…I’m already doing it …in my classes with my students.”

What?” Now I was really confused, so I tried to clarify. “I know you teach students who want to be certified as substance abuse counselors.” Some background…my husband Jim is a licensed professional counselor who teaches substance abuse treatment methods and theory at a local community college. At one time, he was an EAP counselor like me, but now he has a part-time private practice and has been teaching at the college for about four years.

“Yes, but did you know that several of my students are bi-vocational ministers?” he reported. “They are taking these classes because there is such a need in their congregations for substance abuse treatment. They work in neighborhoods in Memphis where some of their members are addicted to drugs and alcohol, but because they have no health insurance coverage, they can’t afford treatment. Their members are seeking help from their first line of defense…their pastors. And the pastors are responding by forming free treatment programs in their churches.”

“Oh, my goodness,” I said. “Why didn’t you tell me this sooner?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “I just haven’t thought about it until tonight when we started talking about the importance of making connections in the community.”

“Well, one of the first connections we need to make is that we need to talk more about what really matters,” I observed. This was my first epiphany…that my husband and I need to talk more about what we do every day. But the second epiphany was even more significant. “Connection”, one of the “leading causes of life,” was happening right under our noses! What a revelation! We had just uncovered a way that connection heals communities. Here was another dot on the map of assets in our community.

Then another light turned on my head. Perhaps the most amazing part of the story was that connection was happening naturally and powerfully and incarnationally… without any formal intent to evangelize or recruit or even publicize. It was happening because God has called some bi-vocational ministers to bring healing to their congregations. And before that… God called people like Jim to teach what he knows with compassion and humor and purpose. Is it any real surprise that Jim served ten years as a local United Methodist pastor and twenty years as an addictions treatment counselor before he became a professor? If God is the One who calls and connects people and agencies and communities, then healing will inevitably come from it.

One more epiphany…there are more healing works to be done. What would happen if we were more intentional about connecting our assets? Now that we know what God can do, what will we do? The National Council of Churches USA recently publicized the Congregational Health Ministry Survey. The good news is that churches are involved in health ministries. The data shows that congregations care about the health of their members and the communities they live in. But the disparity between the total number of health education programs (24,072) and direct service programs (13,033) is glaring. Apparently congregations are better at educating people about problems than doing something about them.

Direct service programs are, according to the survey, “understood to mean provision of medical care provided directly to individuals, usually by someone specifically trained to do so”(p.6 of the report). A good example of a direct service program is a free substance abuse program led by a trained pastor of his/her congregation. We have to do more than just educate congregations about problems that already exist. We have to engage congregations in making commitments to provide or sponsor training for interested pastors and lay health ministers, especially in the areas of mental wellness and substance abuse. Direct service programs are not intended to take the place of hospitals or formal treatment programs, but they are intended in fill in the gaps of service where hurting people are seeking help from the healing connections in their lives.

We need more epiphanies. We need people turned on by the revelation of what God is already doing in our communities, and by how much more we could do if we could get better connected.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Eddie writes: Reflections on the Book, Leading Causes of Life

First let it be said that this book, “The Leading Causes of Life” speaks to just that, life. In society it is death that is most elevated. It is the negative aspects of society that we tend to dwell on most. Dr. Gunderson, in his book celebrates life in all its many facets. I believe we have to move to the thought pattern that Dr. Gunderson puts forth. I too had/have so often looked at our communities and seen so much negative feedback.

I thought of Proverbs 18:21 that says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue …” It is no wonder Dr. Gunderson’s book speaks to so many. There is life in the spoken word. There is life when we speak it into existence. There are many scriptures that speak to life. It was delightful to open the book and see the scriptures and quotes relating to life.

“If we can learn life’s language, we can see it, work with it and maybe even more deeply discover our own life in the process. To walk the streets these days you’d better understand Mike’s language or you’ll be living in a hopelessly naïve bubble. But if you can’t talk about TJ’s life you’re just as naïve about what’s going on around you.” Having been around the world a bit I thought of me as fairly learned. But when I read the above paragraph I wondered how naïve am I? How much of life have I missed out on, by not knowing or hearing life’s language? I think and hope to learn to listen to life’s language.

Upon the first viewing/reading of this book I somehow became very attached to the word hope. I grew up in a time and tradition of hope. The possibilities were often clouded by societal barriers. I felt this particular statement seemed to give me power, “Hope does not escape circumstance, it transcends it.” I think that this statement gave me power because it made me think of my past. A place that, as I stated before, was often hindered by societal barriers. But it was these barriers that caused me to have hope. I struggled and achieved a greater sense of accomplishment because of a hope of getting out of the environment. Then when I read the statement on page six, “…struggle, violence and brokenness that scatter hope like dry leaves.” I thought, wow, I remembered the early struggles of my own life. I must admit the statement almost made a cry come up out of the depths of my soul. I thought of so many young lives in this community that do not have hope. Perhaps they do not hear the language of life. I particularly liked the statement that hope is the theological lodestone that attracts the most profound of every generation of every faith. It feels great to know that hope has the power to cross the boundaries and barriers that we humans erect against it.

When I first heard of hope in reference to this book I did not think of hope as being informed. But as I looked more closely at it I found this to be a fact. The hope that was instilled in me as a youth was informed. The hope was expressed but there was always the expectation that I would succeed because there was a plan in place to get there. I would be the first in the family to go to college. Then I would be the first to go out into the world. Next I would help the others to get out. The base of all this was an education. Gunderson said it quite succinctly; optimism devoid of reality can bring us both denial and despair. Informed hope is life but too often we choose the uninformed magical thinking which does lead to sadness and ultimately to despair.

I wondered about a statement on page 140. “Humans tend to live out of their expectations, not just their histories. We anticipate, expect, weigh the likelihood and then act as if that is what is unfolding”. I wondered if this might not be what we interpret as faith. In the book of Hebrews 11:1 now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith like hope is an intangible thing. According to Gunderson, hope is a “riskable” expectation. Hope then act! This sounds like, faith without works, which is dead. This seems to link back to the earlier definition of informed faith.

As a hospice chaplain for a year and a half I saw examples of both informed and uninformed hope. There were cases where caregivers and family members would hope for a miraculous recovery for a family member. The result was the unprepared death of the patient. The family members often exhibited anger at God. In other cases I witnessed families who had a well informed hope that resulted in a smooth transition for the patient and family alike. I hope that I was able to relay this to some of my former patients. I would like to end this blog with a quote from the book. “The well-lived life is not delusional, but the opposite. It is one informed by a hope for those things that matter the most: the ones to whom one is connected the most. It is grounded in a sense of possible choices that could bend the curve toward life, especially the life that would endure beyond one’s own.”

As a fresh example of hope I submit the following news article. This project could present a tremendous amount of hope for countless Africans.

“A grant of almost $43 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will enable Heifer International to expand an anti-poverty program in Africa. The program is designed to reduce poverty among 1 million people living on rural dairy farms in three East African countries.

An important focus of the effort will be bringing more women into positions of responsibility, both on family farms and in regional chilling plants for the milk. The grant announced Friday is for parts of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, where 179,000 families are to receive assistance.”

For the entire article see the associated press dated January 25, 2008.