LEADING CAUSES OF LIFE by Gary Gunderson with Larry Pray is a dynamic approach to redefining and clarifying our life’s purpose, plans, and meaning through relationships that provide us connection, coherence, agency, blessing, and hope. It is NOT a ‘self-help’ book that is built on superficial optimism. Gunderson and Pray challenge our thinking as to how we are interconnected and that these significant relationships are both life ‘causing’ and life transforming.- – gary yarbrough;, chaplain, director of pastoral care; SBMC
Leading Causes of Life…. A Chaplain’s perspective:
Even though (or, perhaps, I should say, because) I spend most of my time within the walls of a hospital, I resonate with the energy and optimistic outlook of Gary Gunderson. “I want to talk about life, not death,” he writes. “Two-thirds of deaths before age 65 turn out to be preventable by fairly mundane social policies and pro-health personal decisions.” Did I say that I was optimistic? As I walk the hallways of the hospital and visit with patients, family members, and staff, I am daily reminded of my own mortality. For some, that may sound rather depressing; however, I have found it to be rather liberating. That is, I provide a ‘pastoral presence’ that acknowledges the awareness of “God’s” presence in the midst of suffering, illness, dying, and death.
I can only ‘be who I am’ and ‘do what I do’ in the context of providing pastoral care for others inasmuch as I, too, remain connected and anchored to the significant relationships in my own life. Consequently, I want ‘to talk about life’ not only in the hospital setting, but also beyond the walls of the hospital that reaches into the hearts, minds, and souls of those around us.
I believe that ‘connection heals.’ Gunderson describes the encounter between Larry Pray and Dr. David Wright, M.D. at the Church Health Center in Memphis. Of this encounter, Gunderson notes: “Patients who are connected survive medical setbacks that would shatter those who are isolated and lonely.” How many times have I heard from a chronically ill patient, “I couldn’t make it without my faith, family, and friends.” (Wholeness and well-being is more than the healing of the physical body).
I believe that ‘coherence’ can hold us together ‘in the face of the most difficult and horrible circumstances.” Gunderson states: “Simply put, coherence is a sense that life makes sense….” Similarly, Viktor Frankl wrote: “A literal translation of the term ‘Logotherapy’ is ‘therapy through meaning.’ Of course, it could also be translated as ‘healing through meaning.” May I be so presumptuous as to quote a verse of scripture from the gospel of John. Jesus said: “I am come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.” ‘Abundantly,’ here meaning, ‘a full and meaningful life regardless of one’s circumstances.’ Now, that’s living!
I believe that “agency is a generative force that inevitably leads to the matter of call. It gives traction to three questions, ‘What am I to do with my life?’, ‘What have I been called to do?’ and, “Am I doing it?” I’m an ‘agent for change.’ That’s why I’m proactive and intentional about reaching out to the community to promote faith and health. I am a resource person for a steering committee that seeks to establish a free health care clinic. Fortunately, to be an agent of change no one has to work alone. I work with other ‘agents of change,’ such as ‘We Care Ministries,’ ‘Congregational Health/Parish Nursing,’ ‘the Salvation Army,’ sponsoring a child in Zambia through ‘World Vision,’ ‘United Way,’ the ‘Shelby Baptist Ministerial Association,’ and ‘the CareNet Connection.’ (and, a litany of others). I am learning about other agencies of change and how they are promoting the health care of the non-insured. These agencies of change are all interconnected as they use the multitude of available resources. Gunderson writes: “Agency is the human capacity to do.” We’ve read and heard it said that ‘faith can move mountains.’ The apostle Paul wrote: “Now, these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” So, I have a question. If faith can move mountains, and love is greater than faith then what do you think our love for God and others can accomplish?! They both move us to action.
To be a leading cause of life, is to be a source of blessing and hope.
(Re)connecting to healthy, loving relationships with others and one’s self is important for everyone. I am reminded of my own mantra: healthy self-care isn’t selfish. This is one of the reasons that I am drawn to the concepts within Gunderson’s Leading Causes of Life.
Healthy self care isn’t selfish. Think about it. Most of us would identify with Gunderson’s introspective observation and subtle confession for writing this book, as we would perhaps admit our confession for reading it. “Who should read this book?” he asks…. Any author who thinks that they are writing for somebody else is simply out of touch. You’ll see throughout that I’m writing to satisfy my own curiosity about life: about how to be a parent, a friend, a neighbor, a Christian, an administrator; in short, a grown-up…. I am writing so that my own life can be about life. And I hope you’ll find this useful in yours, too.”
“So, when are you going to love and care for yourself, the way you’re doing for others?” I felt emotionally paralyzed. Shock. Pause. “Would you repeat that?” I asked. He repeated the question. Then I asked him to write it down for me. After a lightning speed mental self-analysis and reflection, I realized that I had arrived at a critical turning point. No, I didn’t turn into a self-indulgent egoist, but I knew that I had to become intentional about nurturing my core being. After all, I’m somebody, too! That was seven years ago. I must admit that I still struggle with the balance.
A couple of weeks ago, I returned from a seminar focusing on “faith and health.” While there, I did feel rather self-indulgent and privileged; taking time away from work to re-energize, think, reflect, and let the (re)creative juices flow. The seminar is like a spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical high; a mountain top experience, if you will allow me to say so. Since my return to the ‘real world,’ I have hit the proverbial brick wall. As a hospital chaplain, I returned to a tough on-call schedule in which I became the pastoral caregiver for five families who experienced the death of their loved ones. This past weekend, I was with three more families that faced the ‘leading causes of death’ rather than life. I remember a young man trying to console a woman who had received word that her thirty-nine year old daughter had just died. He said, “God just needs her more than you do now.” To which, she responded with utmost ire and defiance, “God sure is getting needy isn’t he?”
After all that, who cares about trying to write a blog about ‘the leading causes of life?’ The deep grief, doubts, fears, anger, disbelief, and anguish that I witnessed and felt with them, caused me to seek refuge and solace for my own body and soul. The ‘leading causes of life’ would eventually emerge again… in the relationships with which I have been blessed. It just takes time.
I guess that’s the reason “leading causes of life’ is timeless. When all is said (written) and done, it’s about God’s time and our time. The ‘common denominator’ of Gunderson’s key concepts of Connection, Coherence, Agency, Blessing, and ‘informed’ Hope is relationship(s). That is, our relationship with God, others, and self.
Go and live…..
About me: Now let me take a hike in the woods, spend time with the family, play the guitar, have some ‘quiet time,’ watch the sunrise/sunset, journal, play racquetball, watch a movie, or simply sit still…. I’ll catch up with you later…. I am an ordained United Methodist minister with the North Alabama Conference presently serving as Chaplain and Director of Pastoral Care at Shelby Baptist Medical Center which is part of the Baptist Health System; Birmingham, Alabama. I am a Board Certified Chaplain with the Association of Professional Chaplains and a Clinical Member of the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education. About family: Ramona and I have been married for five years. Together, we have four children and seven grandchildren – all girls. We also support a child and her family through World Vision. Pictured below are: (1) The Big Oak in Audubon Park, New Orleans – some call it the ‘Tree of Life.’ I wonder how many Hurricanes it has endured and now continues to provide shelter, shade and hope. September, 2007. (2) MTS Doctor of Ministry Candidates ‘around the globe’ at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Center. Faith and Health Seminar; January, 2008. (3) Family Fun playing Twister; December, 2007.
-Gary W. Yarbrough (February, 2008)
Notes, in order, but unnumbered due to blogger site restrictions.
Gary Gunderson, Leading Causes of Life (Memphis, TN: The Center of Excellence in Faith and Health; Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, 2006; p.13)
Ibid., p. 68
Ibid, p. 89
Viktor E. Frankl, The Unheard Cry for Meaning (New York, New York: Washington Square Press, 1978, p. 19)
Gunderson, Leading Causes, p.107
African-American Outreach Ministry: Rev. Albert Jones, Pres. and Coordinator; Mt. Olive Missionary Baptist Church; Wilton, AL
I Corinthians 13:13
Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 5:43,44; Matthew 22:34-40
Gunderson, Leading Causes of Life, p. 5
Memphis Theological Seminary, TN (Doctor of Ministry: Specializing in Faith and Health)