Posts Tagged ‘Faith & Church’

The church’s role in reforming health care

The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor

**** IN THE PHOTO: Dr. Scott Morris, a physician and United Methodist minister, is the founder of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., which provides affordable medical care for the working poor and homeless in the area.
A UMNS file photo courtesy of Church Health Center.

By Vicki Brown*
Sept. 3, 2009 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)

The church’s role in reforming health care begins at home, a family physician told United Methodist leaders.
Dr. Scott Morris, a United Methodist and founder of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., said the inability to deal with health and wholeness is one of the fundamental reasons the U.S. health-care system is broken.
For their part, churches need to do more than check blood pressure on Sunday and host health fairs, he told close to 80 new district superintendents and directors of connectional ministries.

“We need to explore what it means to have a healing ministry in our congregations and in our lives,” he said at a late August training event sponsored by the Council of Bishops, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the Board of Discipleship
In his talk to new church leaders, Morris said often in his practice a patient will come to him with a complaint about back pain or some other problem when what is wrong is a broken heart.

“You can’t MRI somebody’s spirit,” he said.

In addition to ministering to their spirit, Morris said church leaders have a responsibility to teach and model healthy behaviors.

United Methodist clergy are 20 percent heavier than the rest of the population, he said.

Church leaders were each given a pedometer and a booklet from the Church Health Center titled, “On the Move in Congregations: Walking with Jesus.” District superintendents should help the clergy in their areas, Morris said.

“You can help them lead a healthy life. You cannot have a healthy church if you don’t have healthy leadership,” Morris said. “We also hope you will be advocates for your church members to lead healthier lives.”

On the national level, one way the church can help in the debate over health care is to talk about end-of-life care, Morris said.

He noted that one-fourth of the Medicare budget is spent during the last six months of a person’s life. For many people, 80 percent of lifetime health expenses come in the last six months of life.

“The government can bring this up, but surely the church has something to say,” he said, noting that health-care providers view death as the enemy and believe it is optional. “We in the church believe death is a part of life. Isn’t helping people to die with dignity a role the church can play?”

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

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“To him be glory”


Ephesians 3:14-21
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)

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Regarding science: Never fear


If the believer’s faith in the Bible depends upon the Bible’s conformity to the norms of modern science, then that faith is very likely to be threatened, for the Bible is not a book of science and cannot, in light of modern science, be made to perform like one. Biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, and geology are only at odds with the Bible when the Bible is expected to speak with authority in the language of these topics, and its writings to confirm the discoveries and postulates of these sciences. If this test of science is applied to scripture, scripture will always fail.
Having said that, we have said really nothing at all, for scripture does not pretend to be science any more than science pretends to be scripture. The canons of one simply do not apply to the other, and neither is challenged or diminished by being simply what it is. . . . .
The Bible has nothing to fear from science, and science, with its sense of wonder and awe and infinity, has much to learn from the Bible. The believer need not be afraid.”
—- Peter J. Gomes, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart”

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What follows are excerpts from an interview with Barbara Brown Taylor by Becky Garrison, on Brown Taylor’s book, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith?

GARRISON: Who is the intended audience for Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith?
TAYLOR: Over the years, I have met a lot of people like myself—people who have grown up loving the church, who have been fed by the church, and who know they can never quit the church–but who have also come to the realization that loving the church and loving God are not the same thing.
Some of them have even discovered that serving the institutional church has diminished their capacity to serve God in the ways that give them life. These tend to be stubbornly loyal people—many of them clergy—who are convinced that putting this truth into words would amount to treachery. So they keep quiet, while the cracks in their souls widen. They learn how to live with the sense of being spiritual imposters even as they continue to serve the church. In many ways this is extremely admirable. As we have recently learned, Mother Teresa continued to serve both the poor of Calcutta and the sisters in her religious order while she suffered a sense of great separation from God. My book is for lesser souls like myself, who register that sense of separation as a danger signal and who set about amending their lives as best they can. In a sense, then, I wrote the book I needed to read when I left parish ministry—a book about how the love of God surpasses all institutional containers, and about how there are many, many ways to serve God, both within and beyond the local church. I wrote the book for people like me, even as I remain grateful for people whose experience is the opposite of mine.

GARRISON: How did God become real to you as you were playing around in black dirt?
TAYLOR: As I say in the book (Leaving Church), I had no concept of God while I was playing around in the black dirt of Kansas. What I sensed, instead, was my closeness to the basic elements of life—to earth, to dampness, to heat, to light—and because I had not learned to think of myself as separate from these things, I felt deep kinship with them. To put the word “God” on that experience later was to acknowledge that I had come close to what Paul Tillich called “the ground of all being.” I had experienced the one heart beating inside all living things. I discovered that I was not a discrete unit but a current in the divine sea. Or a clod of the divine dirt? Take your pick. Both are true.

GARRISON: What drew you to the Episcopal Church (a.k.a. the Frozen Chosen)?
TAYLOR: I was drawn to the Episcopal Church by the exquisiteness of the liturgy, which gave me a role to play in a drama much more ancient than myself. I was drawn by the Book of Common Prayer, which—significantly—was not a book of common doctrine or a book of common beliefs but a book of common practice.
I was drawn to the earth-loving aspects of Anglican Christianity, which has as many roots in the sacred groves and wells of the British Isles as in the caves and deserts of the Middle East. Above all, I was drawn to the community of people who were also drawn to these things. I recognized my kin in them, even if I did not know their names.

GARRISON: As you were being ordained to the priesthood, why did you say you were getting exactly what you wanted but you didn’t realize how much it would hurt?
TAYLOR: The person to be ordained kneels at the communion rail in front of the bishop. All the other priests come up out of the congregation to lay hands on the head of the newly ordained. Sometimes the ones in the back lean on the ones in the front, and they all lean on the person kneeling at the rail—which was what happened to be me. They all leaned on me, and I thought my neck would break. I also registered my unexpected distress as God’s little joke. There I was, feeling so special and privileged that I almost forgot I was signing up for a life of service. The neck pain was a helpful reminder that the yoke is not always easy, and the burden is not always light.

GARRISON: Why do you compare your time at Grace-Calvary as akin to living in a Flannery O’Connor novel?
TAYLOR: Like most rural southern towns, Clarkesville is a town full of characters, where the range of “normal” is much wider than it is in many cities. People don’t have therapists here; they have neighbors. They talk to their corn. They have twenty cats. They still drink moonshine and roll their own cigarettes. I say this fully aware that I am one of the characters.

GARRISON: Can you elaborate on what you meant by this reflection on your ministry that “as long as I fed them, I didn’t feel my hunger pains?”
TAYLOR: Most addicts could parse that reflection. One way to deal with your own pain is to use pain-killers. Another is to focus on other people’s pain. I chose the latter. Feeding other people was my way of avoiding my own hunger. As long as I focused on what was hurting them, I did not have to think about what was hurting me.

GARRISON: What went wrong between the church and you?
TAYLOR: Read my book! I think that something went right between the church and me. I think that when I resigned from parish ministry, I discovered the wideness of God’s mercy. I discovered that “church” means the whole of God’s family, and not just one particular group that meets for worship at 11:00 am at the corner of Wilson and Green Streets.
I discovered a whole slough of neighbors God has given me to love who will never darken the doorway of a church, but who are nonetheless eager to embrace the ways of peace and justice with me. I discovered a whole wide world of sorrow and jubilation that was unavailable to me while I was tending one particular flock of sheep.

GARRISON: What parts of the priesthood do you still keep and why?
TAYLOR: As best I am able, I still keep all my vows. I am diligent in the reading and study of the scriptures. I care for God’s family. I persevere in prayer. I offer all my labors to God. In the Episcopal Church, one is a priest forever. I would have to renounce my vows to stop being a priest. I have no plans to do that.

GARRISON: What is Sabbath sickness and how did you find a cure for this ailment?
TAYLOR: I devoted one whole chapter of my book to this. Sabbath sickness is what happens when you stop trying to earn God’s love for at least one whole day each week and consent simply to be loved for no good reason. The cure is to practice this every week, paying close attention to all your reasons why you do not deserve to be loved without reason.

GARRISON: How can church reach those whose lives are breaking down and they don’t feel welcome in a church setting?
TAYLOR: That’s what Christians are for—people of the Way—who are on that Way whether they are in church or not. The church can reach those whose lives are breaking down simply by forming Christians who know how to practice compassion, how to listen, how to withhold judgment, how to bake casseroles, how to look after other people’s children when those people are too confused or grief-stricken to do it themselves, how to give away their money and their time without expecting any direct return, how to be quiet with people in a noisy world, how to see God in the lost and the least, how to work for justice instead of just talking about it, how to make decisions that will benefit the widest number of people, how to swallow bitterness and choose peace, how to love God so much that they see God in every person they meet. Church is not a building. It is a community of people who know how to do these things and do them.

***** Becky Garrison’s books include The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail, Rising from the Ashes: Rethinking Church, and Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church: Eyewitness Accounts of How American Churches are Hijacking Jesus, Bagging the Beatitudes, and Worshipping the Almighty Dollar.

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Sister Adelaide.

Sister Adelaide.

This feel-good human interest story is from today’s Dallas Morning News:

By ROY APPLETON / The Dallas Morning News
She arrived in a place called Dallas as another summer was setting in. She was a stranger in a flat, hot land – uprooted from her native Colombia.
“They told me, ‘Get ready, you are going to Dallas.’ I asked where was that,” says Sister Adelaide Bocanegra, recalling the superiors who sent her into the world to help some old folks in some faraway home. “I said, ‘I don’t speak English.’ They said, ‘You will learn.’ ”
Half a century later, the physical, emotional and spiritual care of seniors continues at St. Joseph’s Residence in Oak Cliff.
And gently guiding the operation is the tireless, ever-present Sister Adelaide.
“They told me, ‘Three years and you come back.’ Now, here I am,” she says with a playful laugh.
She joined the Bethlemite Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1955, after visiting a school run by the order. The decision angered her brother and disturbed her father, but “I figured that’s where I needed to be. God was calling me.”
Two years later, at age 20, she took her religious vows. And when Dallas Bishop Thomas Gorman asked the Bethlemite order to run the Catholic diocese’s fledgling St. Joseph’s home, Sister Adelaide was among the first sent to serve.
“I’d never seen so many old people,” she says.

‘Every moment
is different’
Today, at age 72, she leads the way, one of six Bethlemite sisters at St. Joseph’s, the Colombia-based order’s only presence in the United States.
Cooks, housekeepers and attendants also work at the 45-room assisted-living residence on West Pembroke Avenue, where a private 200-square-foot room with shared bath costs a relatively affordable $1,250 a month, including meals.
Membership in the Roman Catholic Church isn’t required.
But a chapel enriched by three stained-glass windows provides worship opportunities for residents, their families, friends and neighborhood.
Religious statues, artifacts and a massive gold-leaved, mahogany cathedral replica have their places in the public spaces indoors, as do the televisions, exercise equipment, books and piano. “This is a very important place,” Sister Adelaide says of the three-chair beauty room. A patio, lush lawn and shade trees are lures out back.
“Every moment is different,” says Sister Adelaide, talking about her days that begin at 5:15 a.m. with an hour of prayer and meditation – days that unfold to perhaps cleaning, paperwork, talking with doctors, soothing residents. And listening to their stories, no matter the repetition. (“That’s so basic. Just to listen.”)
“She’s a tough cookie. She can handle anything that comes up,” says resident Edith Meinert, as Sister Adelaide walks by shaking her head, shaking off such praise.
Her days also involve Sherry, her aging black Lab. And they really never end because Sister Adelaide is always on call. Always will be, she says, until it’s time to stop.
“If you tried to follow her around for a day, you’d be exhausted,” says Bob Hohman, St. Joseph’s business manager. “She never sits down.”
The six sisters work 12 to 16 hours a day, receiving pay for their personal needs that amounts to about $2 per hour, Hohman says. Every three years, they get a monthlong vacation.
“Prayer is what keeps you going on,” says Sister Adelaide.

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Barbara Brown Taylor

Barbara Brown Taylor

Yes, Jitterbuggers, we’ll be honoring this prolific and insightful writer in the month of September and you’ll want to tell all your friends, acquaintances and loved ones to go to jitterbuggingforjesus.com to find interviews with, articles about and excerpts from her much-acclaimed books.
If you’re not acquainted with her, here’s an introduction from her web site:
Barbara Brown Taylor teaches religion at Piedmont College in rural northeast Georgia and is an adjunct professor of spirituality at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur. She is the author of twelve books, including An Altar in the World, published by HarperOne in February 2009. Her first memoir, Leaving Church, met with widespread critical acclaim, winning a 2006 Author of the Year award from the Georgia Writers Association. An at-large editor for The Christian Century and sometime commentator on Georgia Public Radio, Taylor lives on a working farm with her husband Ed and a yard full of animals.

An Altar in the World, HarperOne, 2009
Leaving Church, HarperSanFrancisco, 2006
The Seeds of Heaven, Westminster John Knox, 2004
Speaking of Sin, Cowley, 2000
The Luminous Web, Cowley, 2000
Home By Another Way, Cowley, 1999
When God is Silent, Cowley, 1998
Mixed Blessings, Cowley, 1998
God in Pain, Abingdon, 1998
Bread of Angels, Cowley, 1997
Gospel Medicine, Cowley, 1995
The Preaching Life, Cowley, 1993

Yale Divinity School, Master of Divinity, 1976
Emory University, Bachelor of Arts in Religion, 1973

Deacon, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, 1983
Priest, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta, 1984

Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degrees
Wake Forest University, 2006
The University of the South, 2005
Hastings University, 2005
Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, 2002
Colgate University, 2001
Virginia Theological Seminary, 2001
Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, 1997
Piedmont College, 1995

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When the mighty ones fall

The news about politicians, sports figures and other high-profile folks and their infidelities has become all too common.
It’s easy enough to condemn these public figures as cads and hypocrites and really turn up the heat on them with harsh judgment, especially if it’s a politician. The libs love to see a conservative fall, and the conservatives love to see the libs fall.
I don’t like to see anybody fall.
I actually felt sorry for Hillary and daughter Chelsea when Bill Clinton’s had has Monicagate. I couldn’t help but think of the family’s pain and public humiliation.
I actually feel sorry for the Republican governor of South Carolina’s family because of the enormous pain and public humiliation they are suffering still.
These things get into some really sticky areas–a famous coach gets a pass from fans because the coach is a winner in some cases. And when it’s a politician, the supporters on his or her side of the aisle will do all sorts of moral gymnastics to excuse the sinner’s adultery.
In addition, the late-night comedians and everybody pile on night after night.
We tend to become way too unforgiving and unmerciful–or way too merciful and forgiving in these matters, depending on whether it’s our Democrat or our Republican, our coach or our rival’s coach.
But it’s hard enough on spouses and children when these things come to light in the most obscure of families. For a spouse and children to have to endure the enormous public exposure and fallout would be almost unbearable, I would think.
That’s not to say that the adulterers–especially those who profess their religious faith at every turn from their public-office pulpits while carrying on affairs–should not be held up to the light of day and held to account. What I do want to say is that they and their families should be held in prayer and not bashed without mercy for political or any other ill-begotten reasons–not by Christians. We’re all broken, sin-sick people living in a broken world full of worldy temptations.
Anyway, here’s an interesting take on such “cheap shots” from Father Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox priest in Tennessee who blogs at a site called “Glory to God in all things”:

The news story is so common that the name can be left blank. ” N. confessed today that he has been unfaithful to his wife and children and let down his fans. ‘I want to say I’m sorry for what I’ve done and ask God’s forgiveness.’”
I do not believe that our nation is suffering a rash of infidelities. We are suffering a rash of cheap shots – easily made because the targets are too big to miss.

A Basketball Coach, a Senator, a Congressman, a News Anchor – these, and similar folk, are all people that our entertainment culture has “writ large.” The few minutes of fame afforded certain figures usually brings additional wealth and influence. Many of those around them are eager to use the cache of their presence for their own ends – sometimes the ends even seem good. Thus the commonplace headliner at a local evangelical church – the popular coach or the football star. It carries a not so hidden message: ‘Jesus is a winner.’

With every winning headline the target gets bigger. When human frailty reveals itself, the headlines that follow are bigger still. That a football coach goes to Church and believes in Jesus is not news. That he does drugs and chases women on the side – that’s news.

Hypocrisy sells.

The popular-figure-as-Christian-leader is an American myth. For years our history books were filled with mythic tales of the righteous founders of our nation. Not even ancient Israel had such righteous leaders. King David was a murdering adulterer. George Washington could not tell a lie. The disconnect between these two figures is the disconnect between the traditional Christian faith and the American Christian faith. Jesus is not an American and He did not found our country. He also did not coach at Notre Dame.

Being moral does not make you famous – and being famous has nothing to do with being moral.

I am not a believer in traditional morality – because I think it’s a modern invention. Conventional morality thinks in terms of a moral code well kept. Think Immanuel Kant as business leader. Proper Christian morality thinks of death and resurrection. Jesus did not die in order to make bad men good – He died to make dead men live. Immoral people act the way they do because within they are filled with death and corruption. There is something fundamentally broken about the human being – and we often find our lives to be a mass of contradictions.

The moral man, in this understanding, is the one who acknowledges his utter weakness before God. Christ told His disciples, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” Someone who believes this spends his life learning to depend not on himself but on the only Lord and Giver of Life.

In Alcoholics Anonymous, one of the 12 traditions teaches that anonymity is essential to the program. AA does not depend on famous spokesmen to sell its way of life. It wisely depends on men and women who successfully struggle for sobriety. What they do and who they are is of no consequence. All that matters is sobriety. Indeed a famous spokesman, returning to the bottle is just the kind of advertising they do not need.

The Christian faith is not helped by the endorsements of the rich and famous, the talented and successful. The resurrection does not need the testimony of dead men. For the Christian Church is a communion of dead men and women who cling to God because He alone gives life. We survive because we can share the good news of that life with each other. Anonymity is not a bad idea.

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