Childhood’s Faith

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The following post was written by Rev. Ed Moore.

Last summer Mary and I moved from Burlington, NC, where we’d lived for six years, to Harrisonburg, VA, so she could begin her new position as Dean of the School of Business Shenandoah Valleyat James Madison University. This was something of a homecoming for me, since I grew up in the Shenandoah Valley.

In one of those ironies life occasionally tosses at us, I learned that our new home would be only a mile or so from Massanetta Springs, a retreat center owned by the Presbyterian Church USA, where I’d attended summer camp for a number of years in my childhood (we EUB’s – Evangelical United Brethren – leased the space for a couple of weeks each summer and remained immune to predestination). Now I drive through Massanetta several times a week, after an absence of many years.

I’ve had some of the experiences one commonly does when revisiting a place from childhood. The old hotel at Massanetta looks smaller than I remember it; trees newly-planted when I attended church camp are now mature; the hillside where most of the cabins are located appears steeper; the swimming pool less challenging. Memories formed in childhood and early adolescence had clearly been filtered by the mind, a common occurrence.

Not long ago I pulled into a parking lot at Massanetta and watched a group of kids playing basketball (boys and girls together; the EUB saints of old would have been mortified). As I watched, an unexpected feeling surfaced, a yearning at once deep and troubling. I found myself wishing for the faith I’d had when I was a kid at church camp, the enchanted faith that easily believes timeless truths abound in the Bible; that the parting of the Red Sea really happened; that there is an upward trajectory to the human story that will one day culminate in John’s vision of the New Jerusalem; that the tribal doctrines of my denomination (EUB’s again) came straight from the mouth of God; and that the basic goodness of people and noble institutions could simply be assumed. I longed for the faith which began to erode with my friends’ coming home in coffins from Viet Nam, with classes in intellectual history and biblical criticism in college and seminary and (true confessions) with my early experiences in the pastoral ministry. Elizabeth Barrett Browning felt, I think, a similar longing when she recalled her “childhood’s faith” and “lost saints.”[i]

Advent will soon begin, wisely set by our ancestors to commence in the darkest part of the year. There’s more than just metaphor in this. We need to be reminded that the enchanted faith of childhood must yield to the world of adults with its complexities, ambiguities, flawed heroes and ethical dilemmas. The baby soon to be born in Bethlehem literally incarnates this Truth for us, in his own journey from the manger to Pilate’s judgment hall. I wonder if Jesus ever longed for his lost angels, who rocked the heavens when he was born, then opted out of the Passion.

Those called to preach the Good News this Advent and Christmas enjoy the great privilege of proclaiming a faith that does not deny the power of darkness, but, instead, meets it head on when it appears most potent, and claims there is, indeed, a Light that begins with Mary’s labor pains and cannot be put out, all the might of Rome – and the world’s sin – notwithstanding. Perhaps it’s mere resurgent enchantment that makes me wonder if even Pontius Pilate dwells in that light at last.

[i] Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnet 43. “How Do I Love Thee?” is the popular title.

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Rev. Moore is the Director of Educational Programs for the Clergy Health Initiative and an ordained elder in the Baltimore-Washington Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Photo by Flickr user Richard Bonnett, via CC

Holy Friendships

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The support (or lack thereof) we get from our friends and family plays a huge role in our overall health and well-being. Clergy Health’s research shows a correlation between feeling socially isolated and a greater incidence of depression. A 2011 worldwide study found that friends and family are one of the biggest influences on health; nearly half of respondents reported that their social circles had the most impact on their lifestyle choices.

There are so many types of relationships that can produce protective benefits for our mental and physical health, and I imagine that they look different for every person. But I was recently introduced to a type of friendship that I think might resonate with clergy in particular—holy friendships. In an article for Faith & Leadership, Duke Divinity School’s Greg Jones describes holy friends as those who “challenge the sins we have come to love, affirm the gifts we are afraid to claim and help us dream dreams we otherwise would not dream.”

I love that part about “challenging the sins we have come to love.” In my own life, I have plenty of friends who are on my team all the time. But the relationships that I value most are those where my women tea bookloved ones know me and my values enough to challenge me when I veer from the course. Yes, this might produce some unpleasant conversations, but ultimately, these people make me stronger. They hold me accountable, and yet they appreciate my strengths and are able to help me dream dreams I wouldn’t dare reach for otherwise.

And what about those times where we want to make a significant change in our lives—starting a new ministry, pursuing a lifelong passion, getting our health back on track? Jones encourages, “Change is hard, but when others illumine hidden potential in our lives, and offer ongoing support as we lean into that potential, we discover hope, and are empowered to embody it.”

Discovering hope through holy friendships by Greg Jones (Faith & Leadership June 2012)

Cultivating Institutions that nurture holy friendships by Greg Jones with Kelly Gilmer (Faith & Leadership August 2012)

-Katie Huffman

The Science of Self-Talk

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Young Girl Playing By HerselfBack several months ago, we did a blog post on the power of self-talk and shared some tips for how to do it “well.”  Why does self-talk work?  Is it just that having your own internal cheerleader boosts your confidence and improves your mood?  Well, preliminary research into the brain science suggests that self-talk actually affects how you view yourself and therefore can impact your feelings AND behaviors.

In October, NPR’s Morning Edition aired a story on the science of self-talk.  They described a 2013 study where women who had been diagnosed with anorexia were asked to walk through a doorway; to do so, the women turned sideways and squeezed through even when there was physically plenty of space.  These women’s brains portrayed an unrealistic representation of their actual bodies.

So, in therapy, the approach for treating these women might be to get at their internal dialogue- to remove ‘negative or pejorative terms’ from their self-talk.  According to the NPR report, “The underlying notion is that it’s not enough for a patient to lose physical weight — or gain it, as some women need to — if she doesn’t also change the way her body looks in her mind’s eye.”

Dr. Branch Coslett, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, plans to study how people with poor body image get such an unrealistic impression of their physical bodies.  Preliminarily, Dr. Coslett thinks that “self-talk probably does shape the physiology of perception, given that other sensory perceptions — the intensity of pain, for example, or whether a certain taste is pleasing or foul, or even what we see — can be strongly influenced by opinions, assumptions, cultural biases and blind spots.”  So, self-talk is kind of like brain “remodeling.”

The most effective self-talk?  The kind where you think and talk about yourself in third person.  Use your own name to offer advice and to give a pep talk.  It’s all because of that phenomenon where we tend to be kinder to other people than we are to ourselves.  Click here for more tips on effective self-talk.

Click to hear or read the NPR story “Why Saying is Believing- The Science of Self-Talk.”

-Katie Huffman

Strength for the Journey

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At our closing workshops for Spirited Life Group 3 participants this fall, we have had the honor of hearing from Rev. Sam Portaro. Rev. Portaro is a retired Episcopal priest and a faculty member at CREDO, a wellness initiative of the Episcopal Church, where he conducts seminars and offers spiritual direction to participants.

Rev. Portaro alerted us to a fantastic (and free!) resource available through CREDO that we wanted to pass along to you. In this resource, called Strength for the Journey: A Guide to Spiritual Practices, author Renee Miller discusses 20 spiritual practices, some of which are quite familiar and some that are a bit more unexpected.  CREDO describes the book this way:

“Stretching the boundaries of traditional practice, Miller’s reflections focus mindful attention on the spiritual dimension of life’s common activities, from walking and studying to moviegoing, writing, and using the computer. Her voice alone establishes a cadence of calmness necessary to transcend the seeming randomness of our hectic lives and become aware of God’s presence in all the activities of our day.”pier into soundOne neat feature of this resource is that it is available in a variety of forms:

We hope you’ll take a look!

Looking at Life through Agreeable Hours

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Do you have a daily ritual or even a chore that you’ve turned into a fun routine? For me, it’s my morning cup of coffee. Monday through Friday, I wait until I get to my desk to have hands-holding-mug-main_article_newcoffee. By the time I take my first sip, I’ve been up for almost three hours, and I’ve already put in a lot of miles- folding laundry, emptying the dishwasher, preparing lunches, and getting my toddler up, dressed, and out the door. I’m usually the second person to arrive at the office, so the coffee is hot and fresh. But that’s not even the best part about being an early bird.  It’s that quiet solitude of the office with my hands wrapped around a warm cup of coffee while I check email and get my thoughts together for the day. I truly crave this daily half-hour of quiet time.

Finding those agreeable hours… is central to making our days into something in which we not only live, but enjoy living. Whether it’s tea or laundry or dishes or some other ceremony of daily life, the hours become agreeable not on their own, but through our designs. - Casey N. Cep, writer

Click here to read more of what Cep has to say about forming routines.

Post inspired by “How we form our routines.” Pacific Standard Magazine. October 22, 2014.

Photo from Beautyheaven.com, via CC

Breast Cancer Awareness

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pink ribbonAll the NFL teams are wearing pink! That’s because October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Sponsored by the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc, this month-long annual campaign aims to raise awareness about the disease.

One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. This no doubt means that someone you know has been or will be affected by the disease. While October may be the designated month for breast cancer awareness, you can get involved any time of the year!

  1. Create a plan: The best way to fight breast cancer is for women to have a plan to detect the disease early (when breast cancer is found early, the 5-year survival rate is 98%).   The NBCF recommends monthly breast self-exams, annual clinical breast exams and mammograms, and healthy lifestyle habits. They have even created an app that helps you keep track of everything! Encourage the women in your life to create their plan today.
  2. Learn more: The NBCF has created an online guide, Beyond the Shock, a resource for women and their families to learn more about the disease. This site includes some inspiring questions, question and answer forums, and explanatory videos, among other resources.
  3. Donate: Donate to NBCF or hold a fundraiser to raise money. Proceeds go toward providing mammograms for women in need.

Susan G. Komen is another well-known organization that focuses on breast cancer through education, research, and resources.

-Katie Huffman

Health Tips from John Wesley

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United Methodists are indebted to John Wesley for his habits of study and discipline that enabled him to create the writings and teachings that became our denominational traditions.  What may be less well known is that Wesley was also fascinated by the Primitive Physickhuman body; he conducted many an experiment on himself, eventually leading to his development of over 800 remedies for 300 unique ailments, which he recorded in his volume, Primitive Physick.

I’m not as willing to commit to Wesley’s medical recommendations as I am to the denomination he founded. After all, he did suggest rubbing the head with onions and honey to cure baldness and snorting vinegar to reverse a bout of lethargy. Nevertheless, Wesley offered some sound advice about specific areas of health, and in fact, was ahead of his time on certain points. Below are a few of his more helpful tips:

  • “Water is the wholesomest of all drinks; quickens the appetite, and strengthens the digestion most.”
  • “A due degree of exercise is indispensably necessary to health and long life.”
  • “Those who read or write much should learn to do it standing; otherwise it will impair their health.”
  • For coughs, “make a hole through a lemon and fill it with honey. Roast it, and catch the juice. Take a tea-spoonful of this frequently.”
  • Go to bed at 9pm and get up between 4am and 5am

Whether or not you follow John Wesley’s advice on how to cure your next headache, I think it’s important to remember the essence of his teachings on health: that “wholeness is the well-working of the body” and that balancing all areas of health is a spiritual process.

Below is a list of sources used for this post; they also offer additional information on Wesley’s views on health:

-Katie Huffman

Image from NeuroWhoa! blog via CC

Update: Pedaling to Stop Traffic

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The following post, written by Mark Andrews, is an update to the article he shared with The Connection in April, where he previewed his cross-country bike trip.  Rev. Andrews is a Spirited Life Group 3 participant and pastor at St. Luke’s UMC in Hickory.

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What a summer! On June 1, my wife, Denise, and I embarked on our journey across the country, me on my yellow, triple-crankset, Schwinn bicycle and Denise in our car, driving as my support along the way. We began at the waterfront in Edenton, North Carolina and ended at Sunset Bay State Park in Charleston, Oregon. The purpose of my expedition was mainly to take some time away from the parish, to refresh my spirit while pursuing one of my bucket-list items, but I also used this trip to raise funds and awareness regarding United Methodist Women’s efforts to stop human trafficking. While I fell short of my $40,000 goal, there has nonetheless been over $16,000 raised thus far — no small change!

Upon first getting permission for my leave, I was filled with giddy delight, but as the day for departure approached, I began feeling anxious about what I had gotten myself into. Was I physically up to the challenge? What if I failed? What would I say to my congregation? I began to worry about the challenge to which I had committed Denise and myself.

I started off the trip the way I do most projects, trying to get it all finished as quickly as possible. After the first two days of riding almost 190 miles, we arrived in Durham, North Carolina at our daughter’s home, physically and emotionally exhausted from trying to do too much. Lovingly fed and refreshed, I resumed the journey at a more moderate pace the rest of the way.

There were some more long-mileage days, but I averaged about 65 miles, or 100 kilometers, a day — fewer in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, more on the flats of the Kansas plains. But each mile brought “signs and wonders” at the beauty of the United States and the marvels of creation. Traveling on back roads and through small towns granted me a perspective on this country that one misses when driving on interstate highways. Never having traveled extensively, every day was an adventure, as I discovered Mark in mountainswhat was around each curve in the road, or exulted in the vistas just over every mountain and hill.

Denise and I learned to trust in the providence of God for safety, weather, food and lodging. My bicycle had no mechanical problems. I never even had to change a tire! We found a place to sleep every night, whether in a city park in a tent, in a church fellowship hall made available through the hospitality of its people, and a few hotels. There were a few dangerous and anxious moments in the journey, but all of them were overcome by God’s mercies.

What I enjoyed the most was the simplicity of each day. A recent book detailing Paul Howard’s epic bike ride is entitled, Eat, Sleep, Ride. That title pretty well summarizes the gracious gift this experience was for me. What seems so out of reach these days is at the same time what we need most — Sabbath, solitude, silence and simplicity. These were all characteristics of my time of renewal. I hope to incorporate what I learned this summer into my daily life and my weekly observance of Sabbath-keeping. And I’m still pedaling when I can.

-Rev. Mark Andrews

Photo taken by Denise Andrews in the mountains of Montana

A Spoonful of Sugar…Not So Nice After All

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Sugar has many aliases and, according to Prevention magazine, precisely 57 different names. Nowadays, sugar is ubiquitous and permeates much of our food supply, even in places you might least expect, like ketchup and barbecue sauce.

So where did sugar originate? Sugar cane was initially grown about 10,000Sugar Table years ago on the island of New Guinea where people picked and ate it raw. By AD 500, sugar was powdered in India and used as a treatment for various ailments, but sugar refinement was a covert process that eventually spread to Persia. The Arabs were the first to turn sugar production into an industry after Arab armies conquered Persia and marched away with sugar’s potent secrets.

By the time cane sugar reached the West (roughly 600 years ago), it was classified as a spice and purchased by European royalty, the only ones with the means to pay the exorbitant prices. Two hundred years later, slave labor on sugar cane plantations made it possible for the working class to buy sugar. The Industrial Revolution made sugar accessible to everyone and manufacturers now refine raw sugar into the white crystals available in our grocery stores.

How much sugar do we really consume? Below are some astounding statistics and, just to provide some context, one 12-ounce can of Coke has 10 teaspoons of sugar:

  • In 1822, Americans consumed approximately 1.8 teaspoons per day
  • By 2012, each American consumed 30.6 teaspoons per day, which equates to almost 3 ½ cans of soda
  • As of 2012, the average American child consumed a whopping 32 teaspoons per day, or almost 3/4 of a cup

Why do we want sugar? Essentially, sugar in the bloodstream “stimulates the same pleasure centers of the brain that respond to heroin and cocaine… In this sense, it is literally an addictive drug.” (National Geographic)

Several prominent scientists suspected that sugar might cause diabetes as early as the 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1972 that John Yudkin, a British physiologist and nutritionist, proclaimed the evils of sugar in a book entitled Pure, White and Deadly, which was written to send the message that overconsumption of sugar was leading to many diseases, including heart disease, liver disease, and some cancers. The book was based on a series of studies during the 1960s showing that high amounts of dietary sugar resulted in increased amounts of fat and insulin in blood, raising the riSugar Picsk for heart disease and diabetes. However, Yudkin’s message was overshadowed by Ancel Keys (click here to read the recent saturated fat blog for more on Keys) and other scientists who preached the theory that saturated fats caused heart disease and obesity.

Richard Johnson, MD, a nephrologist the University of Colorado in Denver, says that “every time I study an illness and trace a path to the first cause, I find my way back to sugar.” Dr. Robert Lustig, a pediatrician and endocrinologist at the University of California at San Francisco, has proclaimed that the “food industry has contaminated the food supply with added sugar” that has become a poison.

- Holly Hough, PhD

References: Prevention; Forbes; Mind Body Nutrition; National Geographic; The New York Times (February, 2014); The New York Times (April, 2011); Mother Jones; The Huffington Post

Image by Uwe Hermann, via CC

Click to read Holly’s post, Saturated Fats: Friend or Foe?

A Time for Renewal, Part III

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This is the third in a special series on renewal leave by guest blogger Rev. Dianne Lawhorn.  Read the first and second installments.

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Guidelines for selecting helping professionals during a renewal leave:

Spiritual Direction- This form of support is helpful if your need is to work on your relationship with God. If you are feeling the desire for a more rich spiritual experience, a spiritual director can provide guidance in developing practices that will help you connect with God at a deeper level. A spiritual director can also help you to notice where God is at work in your life and discern what response might be called for. A Spiritual Director can provide a prayerful, companioning presence for this time in your life.

Counseling- This form of support is helpful if your need is for healing. If you recognize disappointment, disillusionment, or despair in your life, a counselor can help. Counseling is useful in uncovering what’s going on with you emotionally so that you might seek the healing you need. A counselor can also help you cope with situations and relationships that are causing you discomfort, allowing you to recognize and honor what you are feeling.

Coaching- This form of support is helpful if your need is to make an assessment of your current situation and to develop a plan of action for moving forward. Coaches can help you assess your strengths, growth edges, and vital needs. They can help you discover new possibilities for creating the life that you want. They are equipped to assist you with your plan for development and can provide accountability as you move forward.

A final step might be to think about how you want to continue in ministry. It would be good to think about what aspects of this leave time you can incorporate into your regular life. Deciding what rhythms you will keep from this valuable time away will be essential to sustaining the renewal you’ve experienced. It is important to think about how you are going to create space in your life to nurture that which contributes to your health and well-being.

Hopefully, your renewal leave will uncover some areas where you would like to pursue a greater degree of health. It’s important to remember that in order for us to become healthier, we must embrace a new way of being and a new way of doing ministry that small groupis life-giving to us. We must then walk forward into this new way, having been equipped with tools for a better way of doing life and ministry.

We all need accountability to make change a reality in our lives. Maybe it’s time to think about how you can create that accountability for yourself. Do you need to connect with a spiritual friend or ministry colleague on a regular basis to help you implement this new way of life? Perhaps you could create a support group of others who join together in sustaining this important life change?  Hopefully, this support will sustain you for years to come, making life-long transformational ministry a reality!

Dianne

Dianne Lawhorn is the Minister of Spiritual Formation for the Lydia Group which is a resource for spiritual wholeness offering formational teaching, retreat leadership, and spiritual direction.