In their book, The Leading Causes of Life: Five Fundamentals to Change the Way You Live Your Life, Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray, argue that our culture is obsessed with death.
Gunderson and Pray both work within the Methodist hospital system in Memphis, helping healthcare providers seek a more holistic approach to care. The title of their book might suggest a kind of gushy “self-help” approach, but it is anything but.
Their premise is simple: too often in our approach to challenges, suffering, and trauma, we we focus on death and work backward. Instead we should focus on life and work forward. For instance, for centuries, western medicine has be rooted in the identifying and treating of disease, yet in recent times the focus has shifted toward creating an environment for health. “Life,” they insist, “has a language. If we are to find ourselves on this violent, troubled planet, we just learn the language of life. Then we can tune our ears to it, so that we can choose life instead of death.”
The language of life centers on five words: connection, coherence, agency, blessing and hope.
There’s much more to say about this, but their words on “connection” are powerful and speak to a temptation for churches I noted last week, which is to turn so inward that we forget we’re part of a vibrant eco-system of congregations and the brothers and sisters (friends!) who inhabit them.
“Human life is caused by connectedness,” they write, “The more connected we are, the more generative, adaptive, and complex our life is likely to be.”
Experience and scripture both agree that human life is meant to be lived in communion with other humans and all of creation. And yet, experience and scripture also agree there is something within us that fights against these things.
As I mentioned before, western thought—and western Christianity—has tended to compartmentalize the different elements of life. There is public and private, church and society, physical health and spiritual health. Yet we’re coming to realize what scripture has argued all along, which is that creation is defined by its connectedness, what the biblical writers call Shalom. We often translate this Hebrew word as “peace,” and it is that. But a better understanding might be “right relationship,” all things working together in harmony and concert as they should.
The writers tell a powerful story about AIDS research being conducted in the South African nation of Lesotho. American researchers were working with local doctors and graduate students to assess the relationship between faith and health in these small, rural communities, so they might address these communal bonds that infectious diseases work against.
Yet they soon realized their approach was flawed. In Lesotho, there are not separate words for faith and health; these concepts are inherently connected. Instead, they have a single word, Bophelo, which means something close to “wholeness”—perhaps even, Shalom.
The depth of this understanding became clear when they began to interview villagers about these things. When they asked them what their “religious health resources” were, perhaps expecting something like prayer or diet, the people responded by saying, “the mountains.”
In Lesotho, the mountains are the source of water, and symbols of stability, safety, and beauty. Of course they are religious health resources.
The said, “the rivers,” which serve as the roads that connect villages, families, and friends. Of course these would be religious health resources.
The point was clear: the villagers were grateful for whatever medicine the western doctors could bring, but it would have to work in concert with all of it: the mountains, the rivers, the people—all of it.
I wonder how we would answer this question? What are our religious health resources? Are they practices in which we engage by ourselves or in community, or is there something deeper going on?
It’s no accident that the Christian life has always been lived in community. Congregations have always been and remain the primary context in which we live out our faith.
And yet how might we understand our congregation as part of a larger web of connection, not just in the wider Christian world, but in our own community--even our own spot of creation?
More to come on Sunday…