Eddie writes: Reflections on the Book, Leading Causes of Life

First let it be said that this book, “The Leading Causes of Life” speaks to just that, life. In society it is death that is most elevated. It is the negative aspects of society that we tend to dwell on most. Dr. Gunderson, in his book celebrates life in all its many facets. I believe we have to move to the thought pattern that Dr. Gunderson puts forth. I too had/have so often looked at our communities and seen so much negative feedback.

I thought of Proverbs 18:21 that says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue …” It is no wonder Dr. Gunderson’s book speaks to so many. There is life in the spoken word. There is life when we speak it into existence. There are many scriptures that speak to life. It was delightful to open the book and see the scriptures and quotes relating to life.

“If we can learn life’s language, we can see it, work with it and maybe even more deeply discover our own life in the process. To walk the streets these days you’d better understand Mike’s language or you’ll be living in a hopelessly naïve bubble. But if you can’t talk about TJ’s life you’re just as naïve about what’s going on around you.” Having been around the world a bit I thought of me as fairly learned. But when I read the above paragraph I wondered how naïve am I? How much of life have I missed out on, by not knowing or hearing life’s language? I think and hope to learn to listen to life’s language.

Upon the first viewing/reading of this book I somehow became very attached to the word hope. I grew up in a time and tradition of hope. The possibilities were often clouded by societal barriers. I felt this particular statement seemed to give me power, “Hope does not escape circumstance, it transcends it.” I think that this statement gave me power because it made me think of my past. A place that, as I stated before, was often hindered by societal barriers. But it was these barriers that caused me to have hope. I struggled and achieved a greater sense of accomplishment because of a hope of getting out of the environment. Then when I read the statement on page six, “…struggle, violence and brokenness that scatter hope like dry leaves.” I thought, wow, I remembered the early struggles of my own life. I must admit the statement almost made a cry come up out of the depths of my soul. I thought of so many young lives in this community that do not have hope. Perhaps they do not hear the language of life. I particularly liked the statement that hope is the theological lodestone that attracts the most profound of every generation of every faith. It feels great to know that hope has the power to cross the boundaries and barriers that we humans erect against it.

When I first heard of hope in reference to this book I did not think of hope as being informed. But as I looked more closely at it I found this to be a fact. The hope that was instilled in me as a youth was informed. The hope was expressed but there was always the expectation that I would succeed because there was a plan in place to get there. I would be the first in the family to go to college. Then I would be the first to go out into the world. Next I would help the others to get out. The base of all this was an education. Gunderson said it quite succinctly; optimism devoid of reality can bring us both denial and despair. Informed hope is life but too often we choose the uninformed magical thinking which does lead to sadness and ultimately to despair.

I wondered about a statement on page 140. “Humans tend to live out of their expectations, not just their histories. We anticipate, expect, weigh the likelihood and then act as if that is what is unfolding”. I wondered if this might not be what we interpret as faith. In the book of Hebrews 11:1 now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith like hope is an intangible thing. According to Gunderson, hope is a “riskable” expectation. Hope then act! This sounds like, faith without works, which is dead. This seems to link back to the earlier definition of informed faith.

As a hospice chaplain for a year and a half I saw examples of both informed and uninformed hope. There were cases where caregivers and family members would hope for a miraculous recovery for a family member. The result was the unprepared death of the patient. The family members often exhibited anger at God. In other cases I witnessed families who had a well informed hope that resulted in a smooth transition for the patient and family alike. I hope that I was able to relay this to some of my former patients. I would like to end this blog with a quote from the book. “The well-lived life is not delusional, but the opposite. It is one informed by a hope for those things that matter the most: the ones to whom one is connected the most. It is grounded in a sense of possible choices that could bend the curve toward life, especially the life that would endure beyond one’s own.”

As a fresh example of hope I submit the following news article. This project could present a tremendous amount of hope for countless Africans.

“A grant of almost $43 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will enable Heifer International to expand an anti-poverty program in Africa. The program is designed to reduce poverty among 1 million people living on rural dairy farms in three East African countries.

An important focus of the effort will be bringing more women into positions of responsibility, both on family farms and in regional chilling plants for the milk. The grant announced Friday is for parts of Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, where 179,000 families are to receive assistance.”

For the entire article see the associated press dated January 25, 2008.

Eddie

About garygunderson

Vice President, Faith Health, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders and Religion and the Heath of the Public. Secretary, Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group).
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