Friday, May 9, 2014

Things That Make for Health

ISAIAH Forum on Community Health
First Presbyterian Church, Moorhead, MN
May 6, 2014

Why are we here today?
Some framing comments by Bishop Larry Wohlrabe, NW MN Synod ELCA

Three foundational words
·       “God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them;  male and female he created them.”   Genesis 1:27
·       “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  (John 10:10)
·       “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life.”  (Nicene Creed)

We are here today because we believe that God who made all things and all people, in the redemptive love of Jesus Christ and the resurrecting power of the Holy Spirit, is making all things new.   This is God’s great work in time and space.  Because God has caught us up in this new creation—we say to ourselves:  “Well, what are we waiting for?   What’s keeping us from living now (and helping others live now) on the basis of our hope for the New Creation God is bringing to us from God’s gracious future?”

We are here today to bring to the world a comprehensive, wide-angle, faith-based perspective
In the ELCA Social Statement, Caring for Health:  Our Shared Endeavor (passed overwhelmingly at the 2003 CWA of the ELCA in Milwaukee) we have this cogent introductory paragraph:

“Health is central to our well-being, vital to relationships, and helps us live out our vocations in family, work, and community. Caring for one’s own health is a matter of human necessity and good stewardship. Caring for the health of others expresses both love for our neighbor and responsibility for a just society. As a personal and social responsibility, health care is a shared endeavor.”

Breaking this paragraph down into its component parts:
·       Enjoying health—moving from suffering to wholeness—makes everything we are and do betterWe know that some diseases, like malaria and diabetes, are especially troubling because they magnify every other ill that afflicts those who suffer from them.  Conversely, good health enhances everything else in life!
·       Taking responsibility for our own health and wholeness is a profound act of stewardship—caring for one of God’s greatest gifts to us, our selves/bodies/minds/spirits.
·       Caring for our neighbor’s health is a powerful, concrete way of “loving our neighbor” to the core of their being.
·       Realizing that as we seek to multiply good health individualism gets us nowhere—we regard overcoming suffering, working toward greater health, as a shared endeavor….and we resist all efforts to “atomize” this.

We are here today because people of faith bring unique gifts to this work of alleviating suffering, diminishing shame, restoring wholeness
  1. An encompassing theological perspective that takes seriously our created dignity, our limitations/finitude/mortality, and the sobering reality of sin—sin in each one of us and sin in all of us together.
  2.  A Triune understanding of what makes for wholeness and the abundant life—as flowing from God’s creating, redeeming and sustaining power in the world.
  3.  A sense of personal responsibility, as befits our dignity as creatures made in God’s image and entrusted with the care of all God’s gifts, which is balanced by a deep appreciation for the communal, relational nature of human life.
  4.  Rich, multi-faceted, holistic ministries of the Church that enlist prayer, worship, visitation, education, social ministry (including provision of a whole network of SMOs) and public advocacy in service to the goals of reducing suffering, overcoming shame and healing the world and its peoples.

We are here today because we are awakening to the power of “public advocacy”
Three “chestnuts:”
·       John Perkins:  “Give someone a fish and they’ll eat for a day, but teach them to fish and they’ll eat for the rest of their life…The problem is that nobody is asking who owns the pond.”
·       Dietrich Bonhoeffer:  “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, but we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”
·       Dr. Martin Luther King:  “We are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside…but one day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed.  True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar.  It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved.  We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved.”

One final thought that has come to me in just the last few days:   One of the reasons why people of faith have been cautious to speak out in the public arena is that we’ve allowed ourselves to become sidetracked by questions about authorization and representation.  (“Who authorized me to advocate on behalf of a living wage for all?”   “When I speak--especially as an identified faith leader--whom do I purport to represent?”)    Critics of faith-based public advocacy often leverage these questions into SILENCING our public voice….shifting attention to questions of process (who authorizes? who is represented?) and away from the CONTENT being conveyed by our public voices.  It’s time for us to grow bolder in speaking out because what we have to say is a valid, perhaps even decisive contribution to a richer public conversation about the things that alleviate suffering and enhance wholeness in our world.

Lawrence R. Wohlrabe
Bishop, Northwestern Minnesota Synod ELCA
Synod Website:

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