CHI Tour of the Tarheel State


The Clergy Health Initiative health screening staff took to the highways in April and May.  From the mountains to the coast and everywhere in between, they got to meet lots of Group 1 and Group 3 Spirited Life pastors, and they also had the chance to experience some of North Carolina’s finest treasures!   Below are a few examples from their adventures.  For more pictures, click here: Spring 2014 CHI Tarheel Tour Slideshow. 

Looks like fun!  Did you see your part of the state represented?

Doctor’s Orders: Laugh!


We’ve all heard the phrase, “Laughter is the best medicine,” but there really is research showing that humor and laughter can improve physical and emotional health.  Here are some of the ways that laughter is good for your health:

  • Relaxes the whole body and even leaves your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes (after a good, hearty laugh)
  • Strengthens the immune system
  • Triggers the release of endorphins, the feel-good hormone
  • Increases blood flow and can help protect your heart from cardiovascular disease
  • Decreases pain
  • Reduces anxiety and fear
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood- how can you feel anxious, angry or sad when you’re laughing?

Shared laughter is even more powerful than 1205px-Laughter_2_by_David_Shankbonelaughing alone.  It helps build strong and lasting bonds, and it can help heal resentments and disagreements as well as reduce tension in awkward moments.  Laughter also brings people together during painful and challenging situations.

Here are some tips for creating opportunities to laugh:

  • Keep a book of jokes or cartoons on your office shelf.
  • Pull up a funny movie or TV clip on YouTube.
  • Display pictures of you and your loved ones having fun.
  • Pick a screen saver and desktop background that make you smile.
  • Attend a laughter yoga class.
  • Play with a pet.
  • Do something silly with children.

How do you incorporate laughter into your day?

-Katie Huffman

Information from National Humor Month; Image by Frank Shankbone via Wikimedia Commons

Bracket Redemption


Lent Madness 2014

My interest in the NCAA basketball tournament has nosedived.  All of the ACC teams are eliminated — men and women — plus my brackets crashed and burned the first weekend. Thankfully, I have discovered a replacement pastime, which I hereby share with you.

Lent Madness was conceived by an Episcopal priest in Massachusetts. Lent Madness allows you to vote online for your favorites out of pairs of great Christian figures from history. The exercise is fun and educational: there are short profiles of each entrant, including many inspiring men and women with whom I was unfamiliar.

The competition continues through Easter. Even if, like me, you missed the beginning of the contest, you can still vote in the later rounds. Winners advance to the Saintly 16, the Elate 8, and the Faithful 4, in pursuit of ultimate glory, the Golden Halo.

Sadly for United Methodist fans, John Wesley and Charles Wesley faced off against each other in the opening round!  (Charles won, in a mild upset.)  Talk about your unfortunate seedings.  Complaints have been lodged with the Selection Committee.

nla.pic-an24433007-v-John James

Top image courtesy of Lent Madness.  Nuns Playing Basketball is from the National Library of Australia, shared via Flickr.


Fun Run


This past weekend I was invited to do a community race with a friend. As the weekend drew nearer, I was feeling pretty nervous about it. What if I didn’t finish? What if I was last? What if I didn’t get the time I wanted to? I had wanted to run a race for so long but had never found the courage to try it. So when the invitation came along, I knew I had no excuse. I said yes. I did it.

Surprisingly, I had so much fun! I didn’t care about my time. I didn’t wear a watch. I just moved my body as fast or as slow as I wanted to. I even smiled, flashing grins to bystanders. People were cheering for me. I had such a wonderful time.

My older friend, who had invited me to race, said one of her favorite parts about racing is that it it brings back memories. Sometimes during a race she remembers her childhood and what it felt like to swim, bike, and run as a little girl.

Exercise doesn’t have to be boring.  Remember when running felt more like this…


…and didn’t leave you feeling like this?


Somewhere along the way, most of us lose the sense of joy that comes from moving our bodies. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Here’s some inspiration if you want to re-insert a little fun into your exercise routine:

Let us know what YOU do to keep movement fun!

Kelli Sittser

(Top image by flickr user Pensiero, lower image by Anna Loverus, both via Creative Commons)

Lent is for Life



One of my colleagues brought this image to my attention recently, and it made me smile.  But it also made me think.  Because, while my first instinct is always to chuckle and nod in that, “oh-yes-I’m-so-wise-of-course-I-know-that!” sort of way, the truth is, I need reminders like this.  It is all too easy for me to fall into habits and do things without thinking.  Now, the question really is, what are the things I am doing without thinking?  Putting chocolate in my mouth mindlessly, barely even tasting it?  Passing the homeless man along side my car as I wait at the light after a trip to Target without even seeing him?  Glazing over as familiar scriptures are read during the Sundays of Lent?  There are GOOD things to do without thinking too: I automatically bend to comfort my daughter who has just hurt herself, even though we’re trying to get out the door.  I clear my place at the table and load plates into the dishwasher while carrying on a conversation.  Habits themselves are powerful, but I have to be careful to tend those habits in a mindful way.  And that, for me, is one of the gifts of Lent.   I need an annual season of reflection, and time to intentionally “lean in” to the reality of my need for God.  While it can easily just be about chocolate, if I let it, it will  disturb the still waters of my life and invite me to go below the surface.

If Lent is for Life, what realities about your life are you being invited into this year, as the season draws to a close?  What is this chapter in the story God is writing with your life?

Caren Swanson

image by flickr user LivingOS via Creative Commons

How we pay attention


I heard a fascinating story about attention on NPR last week. Apparently, when our minds are focused on one thing, we often miss something else that is very obvious, like a man in a gorilla suit, for example!

Researchers at Harvard, led by Trafton Drew, conducted a study in which they showed slides of lungs to radiologists, who are trained to find cancer nodules where most us wouldn’t see anything out of the ordinary. Inspired by the famous “Selective Attention Test” featuring a gorilla suit (see the video below!) the researchers planted an image of a man in a gorilla suit on some of the slides, and asked the researchers what they saw. 83% didn’t see the gorilla! From the NPR story:

This wasn’t because the eyes of the radiologists didn’t happen to fall on the large, angry gorilla. Instead, the problem was in the way their brains had framed what they were doing. They were looking for cancer nodules, not gorillas. “They look right at it, but because they’re not looking for a gorilla, they don’t see that it’s a gorilla,” Drew says.

There is a beauty in being so focused on a task that we don’t notice anything else around us. Psychologists call this “flow.” My daughter, working on an art project in her room, is a beautiful example of that. But there can also be a danger when we focus so much on one thing, particularly, as the NPR piece points out, when that is something we are trained to or expecting to see, that we are unable to notice anything else.

In other words, what we’re thinking about — what we’re focused on — filters the world around us so aggressively that it literally shapes what we see. So, Drew says, we need to think carefully about the instructions we give to professional searchers like radiologists or people looking for terrorist activity, because what we tell them to look for will in part determine what they see and don’t see.

Pastors are asked to pay attention to a great many things, often at the same time. What do you notice about yourself when you are trying to do a focused task, like write a sermon, versus when you are visiting with parishioners after church, which requires a totally different kind of attention? Are you better at one kind of focusing than another? Would you see a man in a gorilla suit if he wandered past your door?

–Caren Swanson

Image by Trafton Drew and Jeremy Wolfe, via NPR’s Shots blog


Let’s look at the world a little differently


My favorite Super Bowl XLVII commercial was the one in which retirement community members escape for a night on the town, boogy their way to dawn (including a stop at Taco Bell), and return home the next morning exhausted, tattooed, and mischievously happy.

I’ll have to keep thinking about how I can make a blog post out of that video.

But today, I wanted to highlight Coca-Cola’s contribution to the Super Bowl.

Lovely, right? I saw that video last summer (along with about 6 million other folks), but it has really stuck with me since it aired last Sunday night.

We’re currently immersed in winter workshops for our third group of Spirited Life participants, the purpose of which is to introduce clergy to the foundations, resources, and possibilities of Spirited Life. One of these foundations is the concept of positive psychology.

Positive psychology does not ask people to deny the brokenness or challenges of the world; instead, it espouses the value of training ourselves to purposefully look for the innately good and beautiful parts of life and Creation.

I think that Coca-Cola has given us a great picture of just that. From security cameras that were created to record the bad guys of the world, we’ve received a delightful and surprising gift.

Take a minute today to dwell on some of the unexpected gifts in your life.  And as the tagline suggests, “let’s look at the world a little differently.”

– Ellie Poole



Is there a nest in your hair?


As soon as I saw the title, it was impossible for me to pass up reading Dr. Mike Bechtle’s book, People Can’t Drive You Crazy if You Don’t Give Them the Keys. And I was not disappointed!

One the highlights for me is summed up in the following quote:

“You can’t stop a bird from landing on your head,
but you can keep it from building a nest in your hair.”

In other words, you cannot always prevent a negative thought from entering your mind, but you do have the ability to prevent that thought from taking root. I find this encouragement incredibly liberating because it acknowledges a struggle.  Negative thoughts inevitably arise. They cannot be completely avoided, no matter how hard we try. And yet, we have the ability to to combat them. Spiritual warfare, anyone?

I’m sure a few pastors have had to wrestle against thoughts like, ‘They think I am a bad leader!’ or ‘I wonder if they think I’m qualified for this?’ or ‘There is no way I’ll ever get this weight off!” or “Did God really call me for this?” Negative thoughts exist.

Behavior change is hard, and our society can be pretty unforgiving about our humanity, our propensity to try and fail. And try again and fail again. Rinse and repeat. But a lot of the challenge is in our heads. And we don’t need to let a nest form by dwelling on our failures.

Regardless of where you are in your pursuits of health and wellness, please consider encouragement from Philippians 4:8 that says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”

I would also like to offer a less theological, but nonetheless insightful perspective from a 3-year old named Jessica who takes a more proactive approach to positive thinking.

– Angela MacDonald
(Image courtesy of

Perspectives on New Year’s Resolutions


Happy New Year, folks!!!!

Next week begins the first FULL week of the new year. This is an important detail for those of us who have strategically delayed executing goals to maximize any final moments of vacation – i.e., to procrastinate. For clarity’s sake, you are not alone. My name is Angela, and I am a procrastinator.

But, as we hit the reset button on how we envision our healthier, wealthier, happier selves for 2013, I would like to offer some optional approaches. My most practical offering is Craig Ballyntyne’s book entitled How to Set Goals: Ultimate Goal Setting Guide to Having Your Best Year Ever.  This book is a very worthwhile 99-cent investment (via Kindle) — full of practical guidance in achieving goals around our “health, wealth, social self and personal enrichment.”

However, I’ve included additional perspectives/insights that you may find helpful, but mostly humorous. For instance…

…if you’re looking for MOTIVATION…

…if you find REALISM more helpful…

…perhaps an alternative form of BEHAVIOR CHANGE…

…or a more CLINICAL perspective…

……..or just a good old-fashioned prayer!

Remember, it’s all a matter of perspective.

– Angela M. MacDonald

(Images courtesy of;;; and



 “Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you; they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.” -Bernice Johnson Reagon

 Great, but what do you do when this happens?

Some things we can control and some things we can’t. What do we do with the things we can’t control? Hopefully, some humor can help.

What helps you deal with the lava flows in your life?

–Kelli Christianson