Grace and Peace to you in the name of Jesus,
So often, we learn from physicians the practices in our lives that are death producing. Smoking can damage our airways causing lung disease, eating too much sugar enlarges our waste line which can lead to heart problems, eating too much salt can increase our blood pressure which if gone unchecked can lead to a stroke. Dr. Gary Gunderson, over the course of his career became frustrated with so much of his conversations with his patients relating to death that he set out to research the leading causes not of death, but of life.
In his book, The Leading Causes of Life, he reveals that: connection, coherence, agency, generativity, and hope are some of the common factors that lead to life. Connection, he names is a sense of knowing others and being known in return. Coherence, he explains as a deep gut level feeling that things somehow make sense. We might find sense of the world through our faith tradition, art, or even poetry. Agency, is our ability to make choices that move us forward in our lives. Generativity, is our awareness of being a part of something greater than ourselves, a concern for that which extends to the generations that will carry on in years to come. Hope, he names as the “easiest and best documented cause…It is the future and possibilities you see clearly enough that you can take risks to make it happen.”
Researchers are finding that loneliness is more harmful to health than smoking even. According to University of Chicago social neuroscientist John Cacioppo, the effects of social isolation or rejection are as real as thirst, hunger, or pain. “For a social species, to be on the edge of the social perimeter is to be in a dangerous position,” says Cacioppo. In the Christian faith, there is no longer an edge of the social perimeter, there is no hierarchy of human value. To think that circling people into community, something as simple as that, is a thing that gives connection–life even. This is something for us to consider in our one on one relationships and on a larger scale.
The days and nights have been cold and wet this past week. So many in this city live huddled under partial shelter on the streets. While one could argue they are not circled into community, sometimes those on the street have a better understanding of community among themselves. Yet, they are held as low on a scale of hierarchy in our greater understanding of community, walked by quickly, gazes not held, and words left hanging in the air. Contained within each huddled person we know is gift, for those on the street are a part of the human family.
Each of us during one time in our life or another have known what it has felt like to be ostracized. We can imagine then what it might feel like to live each day of our lives walking down the streets, but for all intents and purposes unseen. There is a woman who walks the streets who was given a jacket one day. She told me the jacket was too light, so she traded it for some alcohol to help her to stay warm. She helped me to think differently about the bartering that goes on, I wondered whether I would last one night huddled next to her on the street? There is a resiliency and strength one must actually have to survive on the streets.
Keep your eyes open in your relationships this week. Look for the moments when you might be intentionally or unintentionally casting someone out. Consider spending time on Sunday afternoons at the Service Dining Rooms here in the city as our community provides a meal for many who live on the street. Reflect with others about these leading causes of life: connection, cohesion, agency, generativity, and hope, what they might mean in your own life and in the life of the different spaces that are your community.
With you on the journey,