Low Back Pain Explained


Clearly, I’ve been in the car too much lately because I’ve come across another NPR nugget to share.  This story features a primary care physician who “prescribed” a YouTube video for a patient complaining of low back pain.  The video is from Dr. Mike Evans, famous for his whiteboard drawings about many different health topics (and featured on this blog before).

Dr. Evans begins the video by saying that low back pain is extremely common; in fact, it is one of the top 2 reasons why people go to the doctor, and it accounts for 40% of all missed work days.  He goes on to describe a variety of low back pain conditions and ultimately suggests how you can create a “Back Resilience Plan” to prevent recurrence.  Summed up in three words, Dr. Evans’ conclusion is that in most cases, “Movement is Medicine.”  Check the video out here:

In the NPR story, the patient who viewed this video at her doctor’s recommendation returned to the office for her next appointment with a success story of her own.

-Katie Huffman

Click here for another post from The Connection on improving low back pain.

Embrace the Shake


In this inspiring TED talk, multimedia artist, Phil Hansen, describes how a physical limitation actually helped him become a better artist.  He uses his personal story to encourage us to look to our own limitations as a source of creativity.

Click on the image below for the 10-minute long video.

Phil HansenFor other TED talks to “kickstart your creativity,” click here.

 -Katie Huffman

Image courtesy of YouTube


The Happiness Advantage


Shawn Achor, a leading researcher in the field of positive psychology, spent more than a decade at Harvard University trying to figure out what makes people happy.  He outlines his findings in a TEDx talk (click on the image below).  His 12-minute talk, which is among the top 20 most viewed TED talks, is worth watching, as Achor is a captivating and funny presenter.  However, if you don’t have time to watch the whole piece, tune in at about the 10-minute mark and you’ll catch his practical tips for becoming a more positive person (or you can keep reading for a summary).

shawn achor_edschipul

In Western society, we think that working harder leads to more success and that, in turn, should result in greater happiness.  But Achor says that 90% of your long-term happiness is predicted by the way your brain processes the world and that you can train your brain to become more positive.  He calls this the “happiness advantage,” and he has found that when you’re operating in this mode, your intelligence, creativity, and energy levels all rise, not to mention your productivity and success!

Achor offers the following 5 tips for training your brain to be more positive, and he says that after 21 consecutive days of these practices, you’ll notice a difference:

  • 3 gratitudes (write down 3 things you’re grateful for that day)
  • Journaling (write about 1 positive experience from the last 24 hours)
  • Exercise
  • Meditation
  • Random acts of kindness (as simple as sending 1 email of appreciation/gratitude every day)

While Achor focuses on work success and productivity, it seems that this brain training could have a farther-reaching impact into other areas of life.  What do you think?

-Katie Huffman

Image by Flickr user Ed Schipul, via CC

“Is there anything quite like a campfire?”


“In the kingdom of God, there are no outsiders…”

So says the leader of Rend Collective Experiment in this explanation and sample of their 2013 worship album recorded on a beach around a campfire.

“Jesus wants to set the church on fire, so the world can warm themselves around us and find light and safety.”

I am especially struck with this message of hopefulness stemming from a part of the world where the church has experienced a deep rift of brokenness. I’ve found myself encouraged and inspired by the spurring on in this video in particular and hope you, too, might be blessed by it:

The Campfire Story

The full album is available on Amazon and iTunes, both re-imagining old songs and offering new ones.

– Ellie Poole


Establishing Who Is Right


We all have “others” in our lives — those people who somehow are so different from us, or see the world so differently than we see it, that it becomes difficult for us to really be open to learning from them. Sometimes it even becomes difficult to simply have an honest and heartfelt conversation with them. This especially hurts when a person like this is a family member. And what about the Family of God? These kind of disagreements NEVER arise in the Body of Christ, right?!?

As United Methodist pastors across the state of NC prepare to travel for Annual Conference, it is a good opportunity to remind ourselves of the importance of finding common ground, even with the “others.” This week, The Work of the People, a Christian video company, put out a short clip of an interview with the wise author and preacher, Barbara Brown Taylor, talking about just this subject. In the clip she asks,

What if instead of wanting them to be better people and be made more in the image of God as I understand God, what would it be like to change the subject and try to find something that person and I could meet on?

She goes on to say, “I like to find something with the other that brings us both to tears.” What would our conversations look like if they started from a place of commonality instead of difference? How might we be changed by these conversations?


Take a look at this 2 1/2 minute video, and watch how she explores these and other questions about “establishing who is right.” And know that we are praying for and with you all for God’s voice to be heard in conversations at Annual Conference.

–Caren Swanson


Music for the soul


2290444953-1Like the needle on my record player (yes, I still listen to records — I inherited a great collection of 60’s and 70’s LPs from my parents!) sometimes I get stuck in a groove, and I need a little nudge to get me going again.

This morning I had just such a nudge.

My music-savvy brother-in-law alerted me to the fact that the music of Josh Garrels, one of his favorite artists, is being given away for free on the website Noisetrade.  I’m unfamiliar with his music, but people have compared him to other artists I enjoy, like Iron & Wine and Ray LaMontagne, and I’ve heard that he brings a refreshingly Christian perspective to his songwriting that adds depth and substance to his funky tunes. A reviewer for Christianity Today (who gave his newest album 5 stars) called him a “freak-folk singer-songwriter.” I have no idea what that means, but it sounds awesome!

I figure you can’t go wrong with free music, though you can make a donation for it if you’d like. All of the donations he collects this week  benefit the work of World Relief in Congo. Here’s a note from the website:

From March 14 to March 28, all 5 of Josh Garrels’ most current albums will be available for free, exclusively on Noisetrade. This free catalog of music is given as a gift, but 100% of the tips received for any and all of the 5 albums will be given to World Relief and their courageous work in Congo. Congo is currently the most unstable, violent, and impoverished country in the world, with thousands displaced due to warring factions and a majority of the women suffering from gender based violence. Please consider leaving a tip, and in so doing, becoming a partner in the work for restoration in Congo. Thanks.

To learn more about the crisis in Congo visit the World Relief website.

This felt like such a gift to me on this rainy and gray Durham morning — sometimes music is the perfect balm for a weary soul.  If you are moved by music, check out this great opportunity to nourish your soul and to contribute to good work being done in the world at the same time.

–Caren Swanson

Jesus calls us


Lovely words and sounds for a Monday:

“Jesus Calls Us” by Cecil Alexander

(Listen here)

Jesus calls us over the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless sea;
Day by day His sweet voice soundeth,
Saying, “Christian, follow Me!”

As of old the apostles heard it
By the Galilean lake,
Turned from home and toil and kindred,
Leaving all for Jesus’ sake.

Jesus calls us from the worship
Of the vain world’s golden store,
From each idol that would keep us,
Saying, “Christian, love Me more!”

In our joys and in our sorrows,
Days of toil and hours of ease,
Still He calls, in cares and pleasures,
“Christian, love Me more than these!”

Jesus calls us! By Thy mercies,
Savior may we hear Thy call,
Give our hearts to Thine obedience,
Serve and love Thee best of all.

-Ellie Poole

image by flickr user christoph.schrey 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



Spirited Life video


We’re excited to introduce our new Spirited Life video, featuring pastors Eldrick Davis, Alexis Coleman, and Bob Kretzu.

Each of them was kind enough to let us spend a day with them and learn about their life in ministry and their experience in Spirited Life.  Their stories vary widely — they’ve tackled grief, stress, questions of vocational call, and weight loss (as of last July, Eldrick had lost 101 pounds(!), sustained in part by the support of his congregation.)  Their stories are both real and representative of many we’ve heard throughout Spirited Life, and we’re thankful they were willing to share them so openly.

Please share the video and help us spread the word about Spirited Life.

Kate Rugani