The Season of Harvest

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The following post was written by Rev. Ed Moore.

My nephew Ned became an Eagle Scout toward the end of summer, and most of the family gathered in a United Methodist Church in Pennsylvania to witness the award, support Ned and, of course, celebrate. Though Ned didn’t expect a gift, I presented him with a family artifact I’d curated for many years: the Lou Stanley Memorial Compass.

Lou Stanley was a classic West Virginian who lived near our home when I was growing up and occasionally worked for my father. Right out of central casting, Lou rolled his own smokes, wore a Freddy Krueger hat years before anyone heard of Freddy, drove a ’37 Chevy pickup (“Put a ’39 rear end in it,” he once allowed), confessed to having run moonshine “back in the 30”s,” dealt in guns to earn some extra income, was hygienically indifferent, and spoke what even then was a vanishing Appalachian dialect. But Lou was a kindly soul, and one day presented me with a U.S. Army Corps of compassEngineers compass dating from World War I. Solid brass it was, with a thick lens, engravings attesting to its provenance, and a beautifully etched dial that spun freely – when unlocked – and unfailingly pointed true north. I kept that compass safe and secure for years, long after Lou had driven the ’37 up to the pearly gates and flicked some home rolled ashes at St. Peter’s kiosk (Peter probably let him pass after exacting a promise he’d dunk himself seven times in the river of the water of life).

Who better, I reasoned, to curate the Stanley Compass for the next few decades than Ned, an Eagle Scout, and rising millennial Moore? So now the artifact belongs to him, and it has fallen to my brother Will, his dad, to convey the oral tradition of Lou Stanley in all its colorful, multisensory, detail. This will require many evenings by the fireside and, for Ned, an expanded appreciation for the Appalachian Mythical Tradition. I’ve no doubt Ned and Will are both up to the challenge.

I confess to some mixed feelings as I parted with the compass: I had come to think of it as my own, a piece of property belonging to me. But then I remembered that my life this side of the vale is impermanent and that, like Aaron’s staff (see Numbers 17), the Stanley Compass had the power to reinforce critical, tribal memories. Ned will understand his dad, three uncles, and his own West Virginia lineage better after Will answers the question, “Father, why is this compass different from all other compasses?” Each time Ned watches its dial spin to true north, he’ll recall whence he came.

Serving in what United Methodists call Extension Ministry (more tribal stuff, different tribe) for the past six years has honed my understanding of this important aspect of The Calling: the privilege of sharing what’s been learned in the journey. My spiritual attic is filled with things analogous to the Stanley Memorial Compass, many of them stored away as sacred reminders of lessons hard – or joyfully – learned in the thirty-five years since I was ordained Elder. It has been a privilege to sort through these as I’ve worked with the Clergy Health Initiative at Duke, dusting off the more significant among them and bequeathing them to pastors with whom I’ve served these last six years.

If we think of life’s journey as a succession of seasons, then retirement might be the season of harvest, when we take stock of what we’ve stored up across the years, sort out the more grace-ful artifacts, then give them away. We won’t have lost them – I can still recite the Lou Stanley narrative easily – but will have, in the act of giving, enriched the recipients’ lives by trusting them to curate the gifts. Isn’t this what we experienced years ago in baptism? In ordination or licensing by the church? Every time we stood behind a pulpit or the Lord’s Table? As we were trusted, so now we trust others . . . just as Mary Magdalene, entrusted with seeing the risen Lord, gave away that Good News as soon as she could. That’s church, thanks be to God.

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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.

 

Receiving the Gift

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snowy sunriseOn December 1, 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote from prison to his young fiancée:

“I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas. The very fact that outward circumstance precludes our making provision for it will show whether we can be content with what is truly essential. I used to be very fond of thinking up and buying presents, but now that we have nothing to give, the gift God gave us in the birth of Christ will seem all the more glorious … The poorer our quarters, the more clearly we perceive that our hearts should be Christ’s home on earth.”  – as recorded in Bonhoeffer’s God is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas

It is striking how Bonhoeffer reminds us what Advent is for. He allows the Holy Spirit to prepare his heart for the birth of Christ. His posture is one of receiving and welcoming. How blessed it is to receive, maybe even more so, than to give. “I think we’re going to have an exceptionally good Christmas,” Bonhoeffer writes. In spite of his own unjust imprisonment, the losses of good friends to war, separation from those he loved, and dealing with evil all around him, Bonhoeffer believed it would not just be an endurable Christmas, but an exceptional one.

In a 1978 Christmas Eve homily, Arch Bishop Oscar Romero preached a similar message:

“No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor.  The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need even of God — for them there will be no Christmas.  Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit there can be no abundance of God.”

May you have an exceptional Christmas!

-Kelli Sittser

Photo by Flickr user Rachel Kramer, via CC

A Life of Prayer

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Spirited Life has been a holistic health program, and we have tried to offer a broad framework within which participants can define health for themselves. This wellness wheel wellness wheel image color(seen at right) while comprehensive in its characterization of health, is also limiting because it keeps these parts of our lives in separate, neat and tidy little circles. I don’t know about you, but for me, that’s not quite how life works. So, how do we reconcile a life in Christ when our days are filled with grocery shopping, meetings, charge conference papers, and if we’re lucky, a trip to the gym?

A couple of years ago, while preparing for a Spirited Life workshop, we came across this article by Rev. Sam Portaro, an Episcopal priest and faculty member at CREDO.  In the article, Rev. Portaro expands the definition of prayer. He suggests that by reframing what it means to have a prayer life, we can move from a daily ritual of spiritual practices to living a life of prayer where we are in constant and holy relationship with the Lord, even in our mundane activities. In some respects, Rev. Portaro is offering us a way to integrate the compartments of our lives.

Click here to read Rev. Portaro’s article, “Practicing a Life of Prayer,” which originally appeared in William S. Craddock’s All Shall Be Well: An Approach to Wellness.

Time and Values

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time flies“The bad news is time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot.” ― Michael Altshuler
“You gotta make it a priority to make your priorities a priority.” ― Richie Norton

Talking about time management can quickly result in a stream of cliché quotes or quips that we all know.  We hear them and feel fully capable of putting them into action tomorrow or some time later.  But it can be really interesting and helpful to think about what we value in our life and how that may or may not be reflected in our daily activities.

Typically, our problem with most anything related to time management, organization, or following a schedule does not have much to do with lack of resources. Instead, it’s usually a matter of figuring out *how* to do something that will result in a healthy behavior.

Outlined below is an exercise that may help you think about your daily routines in a different way.

Step 1: Think back to a recent “typical” workday.  Once you identify that day, create a daily log using this Daily Schedule & Activities Log.  Be specific and write details of how each hour of the day was spent.

Step 2: Consider your personal values.  What are those traits, qualities, or beliefs that you find most important and worthwhile?  Use this Values Wordle to help you select the three words that reflect your top values.  (Don’t agonize over this part).

Step 3: With your values in mind, go back to your daily log and make notes on how your time spent through a typical day does or does not align with your top values.

Now, looking at your values and daily log, reflect on these questions.

  • Where was your time spent?
  • How are your values reflected in your day’s activities?
  • How does your sample day fit into your idea of being well and living a healthy life?

As Alan Lakein says, “Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.”  To me, this quote is saying that the future holds ‘my values lived’ and if they are truly my values, I’ll figure out how those things can be worked into my life or how I can shift some of the other ways I spend my time.

-Katie Huffman, Angela MacDonald, and Amanda Wallace

Image by Flickr user Robert Couse-Baker, via CC

“Secrets” to Behavior Change

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If I’ve learned anything while working at the Clergy Health Initiative, it’s that changing health behaviors is HARD! Whether you’re attempting to lose weight, increase physical activity, Walking Shoesor manage a chronic disease, there truly is no silver bullet or magic wand. The ticket to your success will not only look different from that of every other person, but it may even feel like your own personal science experiment. Sometimes it takes trying this or that strategy before landing on the right one or the right combination of strategies that leads to progress.

So, while we can’t recommend the golden set of health rules, there do seem to be some universal concepts that work, which you can personalize for your own situation and goals. The 9 tips below are summarized from this article in The Washington Post:

  1. Readiness  Not your spouse, doctor, or friend, but YOU, have to be the one to recognize a behavior that needs improvement, and then you have to be ready to get to work.
  2. Assess  Whether it’s through technology or old-fashioned pen and paper, keep track of your habits for a few days. Write down descriptions of your meals, exercising, or sleep patterns to see the reality of your situation.
  3. Be selective  Choose behaviors that will impact your life in a meaningful way so that you are motivated to follow through with the required changes.
  4. Use SMART goals  Create specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-specific goals.
  5. Track your progress  This will help you recognize progress, trends, and can serve as accountability.
  6. Evaluate  Think of this change process as an experiment and be willing to look for other strategies if you’re not seeing success within a desired time period.
  7. Success  Break up your goals into small, actionable behaviors. For example, rather than just saying you want to lose weight, break that up into small steps. One step might be taking fruit to work every day as a snack. You will feel good when you are successful in meeting this smaller goal, and that will likely lead to future changes.
  8. Practice  Stick with what works and slowly add in other small changes. For example, once you’ve gotten into the habit of having fruit for a snack every day, keep doing that and add another small change. Maybe you could replace your sweet tea at lunch with water.
  9. Support  Find someone in your life who can applaud you in your successes and who can help you stay on track when the going gets tough.  Or, seek out professional support, such as a dietician or fitness trainer.

Remember, health changes are not easy, nor are they one-size-fits-all. Do what works for you!

-Katie Huffman

The Big Silence Retreat

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sacred-heart-1910You are invited to experience big spaces of solitude and silence in community for the purpose of tending the inner fire of your soul.  Hosted by Centenary UMC (Winston-Salem) and Davidson UMC, this 4-day mostly silent retreat will be grounded in the modern classic The Way of the Heart by Henri Nouwen.  As a participant, you will embark on a spiritual path consisting of the three stepping stones of solitude, silence, and prayer.  You will also leave with empowering resources for your continued journey into the heart of Christ.

RETREAT LOCATION: St. Francis Springs Prayer Center, Stoneville, NC

DATES: January 25-28, 2015

COST: $445

RETREAT LEADERS: Rev. Jonathan Brake, Rev. Dianne Lawhorn, Ann Starrette

Space is still available for this retreat.  Click here for more information and to register.

Painting by Odilon Redon, 1910; image courtesy of wikiart.org

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!