Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Healthy Initiative of Value

The Healthiest State Initiative, announced here in Iowa by Governor Branstadt, hopes to rank Iowans as the healthiest in America.   This initiative is moving ahead with the “Start  Somewhere” kick-off walk that was held October 7 at various locations around the state.  Similar initiatives are in process around the country.

To get oriented, I looked at the initiative website, which states: “According to the 2010 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index®, Iowa is #19 in the nation when it comes to being physically, emotionally and mentally healthy. … It’s not just physical health, though that’s part of it. The World Health Organization tells us that health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or illness.”

The overall index for America has fluctuated around 66 out of 100 for the past four years with my state, Iowa, slightly above average at around 67 and the healthiest state, Hawaii at around 71.  It seems that a major change in approach is needed to raise the level of health.

I have been wondering where the program is that actually addresses health in all phases of life.  Health reform discussions centered on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act have focused on paying for the ever rising cost of insurance for sick care.  Although that is an important discussion, I’ve waited for the question to arise as to what health is and what it means to care for it.  Doesn’t that question need better answers before trying to make a difference in health reform?

The definition of health used in the initiative transcends the condition of absence of disease or illness to include emotional and mental health as well as physical.  In other words, it is looking beyond the body to include qualities of happiness, contentment, mental sharpness and emotional stability.  These are spiritual and mental qualities.  It makes sense to me.  How can we be considered healthy if we are not feeling whole? 

It is interesting to think of health as linked to our spiritual nature.  I associate spirituality with fundamental intelligence, inspiration, and vitality that reach toward the divine.  For me, spirituality is more than just another phase of health.   It is a starting point for well being.

By addressing spiritual needs, a health care approach can go all the way to the source of sustainable well being.  By also addressing mental and emotional needs, this expansive approach is one that I can feel good about.

I have studied the relationship between health and spirituality for years with useful outcomes such as no longer needing the eyeglasses I had worn for over 40 years.  Now, for the first time in my life, I have a driver’s license with no restriction.  No expense, ready access, healthy results.  For me, spiritual care has become my primary system of health care.

It appears that the Healthiest State Initiative intends to look beyond whether individuals have access to medical insurance toward identifying a range of factors that contribute to well being and improving engagement with them.  The intent of this initiative sounds like a useful direction to me, especially since it includes not only the physical body, but also the spiritual qualities of well being.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


On that Tuesday, 9/11/2001, I was one of many stranded business travelers away from home.  As the morning progressed it became clear that airports were closed for an indefinite time.  Not knowing what might happen next, I yearned to be with my family.  So did everyone else it seemed, and the uncertainty left travelers scrambling for alternatives to air transportation.  I was grateful to find the last rental car available at any of the local rental services for my ten hour drive home.  During the drive, I prayed and reflected on what I was hearing on the radio.

I wondered what could be so troubling to those involved that they were willing to take their own lives and kill other humans in order to damage or destroy the buildings into which they crashed the planes.  The buildings hit were prominent icons of American business, military and government, which indicated to me a deep anger at America.  Radio reports began to identify the perpetrators as Middle Eastern. 

Listening, I realized that I had little meaningful knowledge about the Arab world.  My general awareness of the language, customs and religious views of the region indicated a great difference from my middle class, white American experience.  I wondered too what Arab region people really understood about my world.  From my view the Arab and Western worlds seemed not only distant geographically, but largely unknown to each other.

To me, the 9/11 attack served as a wake up call to genuinely understand the people of the Arab world and their needs and desires as well as the message of the perpetrators.  I wanted to feel and understand our similarities in strong faith, love of family and common human values.

Once home, I found a copy of the Koran and studied portions of it.  I spoke more deeply than my usual business talk with my Pakistani and Iranian colleagues about our families.  I intentionally went to Middle Eastern restaurants to eat falafel, babba ganoush and tabbouleh.  These were no longer just exotic foods, but meals representative of regions and people becoming more visible to me.  Tiny steps, but helpful towards more understanding.

As I look around today, ten years after the event, I see signs of more than a passing curiosity of American and Middle Eastern people trying to understand each other beyond conditions brought about by war or military force.  In the USA there are forums such as inter-religious discussions that bring ideas around Islam, Christianity, and Judaism together for discovery and mutual understanding.  There are a growing number of Middle Eastern restaurants, and for better or worse some of the foods are becoming part of the American fast food nation.  Even controversial reports of banning the wearing of head scarves associated with the Islam faith signals that Americans are wrestling to find public solutions for previously hidden or invisible issues.  Though there are still great gaps of unknowing to overcome, the progress is worth recognizing.

Looking at military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, they now include humanitarian approaches that are changing the methods of military involvement.  We can also point to the Arab Spring as a movement out of oppression for some peoples toward a form of greater self-determination that they are working out. 

To me, the enemy is not a person or a group of people.  The enemy is ignorance, fear, hatred, jealousy, greed, apathy, or anything that suggests the absence of love.  As a Christian and practicing Christian Scientist, I think of the spirit of love and the expressions of real caring as examples of God in our midst.  These expressions transcend nationality or religious creeds though they may be practiced in a quite different way than I have experienced.  Violent or aggressive actions show where the absence of love appears and where love can fill a space.   

Nothing can justify the violence of 9/11.  And, it has become clear that those who perpetrated the aggression are not representative of their region.  However, the attack alerted me to the great gap in mutual understanding between the general populations of the West and the Middle East.  A gap that can be bridged through the transforming spirit of genuine brotherly love.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Safety in Prayer

This spring, the Missouri River on Iowa’s west boundary rose to flood levels and even now, more than a month later, the water is still so high that people in low areas remain evacuated to campsites and elsewhere.  Similar floods or high wind situations are all too common in Iowa.

In the face of news of such occurrences I have often felt helpless.  Should I travel to the region and help?  Should I send money?  What can I do?  At times in my feeling of helplessness, I have done nothing and turned my attention away.

Yet, I have found that there is something that I can do that lifts me out of a sense of helplessness and allows action that meets a need.

I pray.

Prayer may take me to sandbag or to open my dry house to those who have lost homes or to contribute in another way.  But, for me it does something much more.  It ties my understanding to a power beyond me or the pending circumstances and above the flooding water.  It says to me, “You don’t have to be subject to anything except God, divine Love.”

The thoughts in my prayer might go something like this. 

The only thing really going on is God, because God is the only real power.
God is all good.  It is impossible for a perfect, eternal, infinite God to be a source of destruction.  Destructive movement of water, air or ground is not the outcome of God. 
There is more to discern here. I can ask for the capacity to see the evidence of God.
My understanding that God is the one creator and is all powerful means that all that is real is within God’s control.  Real power is with God and not with the water or wind.

My prayer can embrace the statement in Jeremiah 23 that God fills heaven and earth.  No place is left for disaster.

If I look up, spiritward, I can at least find some comforting thoughts about the Iowa floods.  There was plenty warning that flooding may occur.  Preventive measures were taken.  People and their animal friends were moved out of harms way.  Help was present for those affected in the form of shelter and nourishment.  There was and still is actually a vibrant flurry of helpful activity that points to the Godlike quality of caring for our brothers and sisters.

Sure, I have seen firsthand the kind of destruction that can occur with abnormal weather, hurricanes, floods and tornados.  But, I do not attribute the destruction to God and I do not believe that these abnormal conditions are the end of the matter.

Any form of destruction must be the appearance of the absence of God, the result of fear that a power other than God, good, is in control.  Yet, if God is true and is all powerful, omnipotent, then my prayer can announce God to my consciousness.

You may ask what results such prayer has brought about.  First, it frees my thought about the situation to realize that God, or good, is present.  I am no longer responding in fear, but with a better sense of wisdom, knowing that as an individual human I can do little and that as a representative of God, my God-given dominion can make a positive difference in bringing the presence of God into the picture.  It can completely change the circumstance as illustrated by Christ Jesus as he stilled the storm in Matthew 8:24-27 and elseshere in the Bible.

Several years ago while I was at work about 30 miles from home, a number of funnel clouds were sighted in our area and a sudden pressure change across the area brought down trees, power lines and some buildings.  Before I left work, I took time to pray.  Electricity was out including to traffic lights.  Phone service was not available.  Roads including interstate highways were so blocked that policemen in two locations told me that I would not be able to get through to my home for hours and perhaps not until the next day.  Yet, I was able to calmly find a quite unusual route with helpful guidance along the way to find my home safe.  Two trees in our yard were down, but neither had touched the house, my family was safe and neighbors were already beginning to help clear the area.  Although much damage of trees and other houses resulted, no one in the area perished.

What was the effect of prayer?  Anxiety and fear vanished for me through prayer.  It also gave me the conviction that a safe route home was available.  It gave me strength to dive right in to the clean up.  I was very grateful to find family, neighbors and others safe.  I cannot say what else resulted from my prayer.  But I can say that I have been through two major floods in our city, tornadoes and hurricanes and have found not only safety, but improved circumstances following whatever damage had occurred.  I am grateful to God for being God.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Value Spiritual Health Care

On June 8 a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether to reverse a Florida judge’s overruling of the new health reform law designated the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).  Other challenges to the law are also moving through courts.

One of the great benefits of the PPACA is that it has generated useful and bountiful discussion about the many facets of what it means to care for health.  It causes me to question: what is health care and what would make it available to everyone?  Is it exclusively medical care?  And, does ensuring that everyone has medical insurance solve the health care problem?  There is more to it, as we are finding out.

The court challenges seem to acknowledge that individuals make different decisions about health care and have a right to that choice under the constitution.  Supporting that view, the Centers for Disease Control released in 2004 a comprehensive study concluding that a majority of the people in the USA apply complementary and alternative (CAM) health care methods for part or all of their care.  Although the methods disclosed include natural products, meditation, chiropractic care, yoga and others, the most prevalent by far is prayer. The study shows 43 percent of those living in the USA apply prayer for their own health.

These results suggest to me that many Americans have reason to believe that a spiritual source helps in time of need.  I am among those who apply prayer for health.  In fact, prayer is my primary form, and virtually my only form, of health care.  I have repeatedly found help through prayer for healing of physical ills as well as with other daily problems in financial matters and relationships.  Christian Science is my foundation for this help.

The wonderful thing about spiritual healing for me is that it supports my search to understand and trust what I find to be the real source of well being as it is bringing about physical healing. 

For example, one night as my wife and I were traveling with our four year old daughter in a remote area of a distant state, our daughter began to suffer from a food allergy to the extent that her features were severely distorted and she could not breathe.  There was no time to attempt to find medical care as she needed help immediately.  We stopped and prayed in the understanding of God’s truly caring presence.  As we prayed, she resumed regular breathing within a few minutes.  She was able to sleep well that night and was eager to attend her ice skating class the next morning as planned.  The experience confirmed the Bible statement that “God is a very present help in trouble.” (Psalms 46)  This healing and many others through prayer alone have confirmed my understanding that health is a quality of God that is found in God’s likeness.  The God I am speaking of is all powerful, all good, ever present, divine Love. 

This healing was readily available even though we were in a remote location.  There were no medical expenses and no place for medical insurance.  It was no burden on others.  It allowed me and my family to feel closer to our source of help.

In the Christian Science system of healing when personal care is needed there are professional Christian Science nurses and nursing facilities, which are fully non-medical.  They are carefully trained and experienced in bandaging a wound or helping a patient move about.  The patient pays for these services, as anyone might pay for similar services in a nursing home.  There are also Christian Science practitioners, professionals with a proven record of spiritual healing who help others through prayer-based care when requested.  In each case, the healing element is purely spiritual, relying only on what the Bible refers to as “Lord God omnipotent.” (Revelation 19)

When our health is at stake, we all want to know that care is available.  Health care professionals of all forms should be honored and valued for the care they provide.

From my experiences, I wish to honor God as the help I need for health, and not just as a complement or alternative to another form, but as the real, dependable, and available origin of that help.  Spiritual care as I know it is always available, inexpensive, responsive to individual needs, and not a burden on others.

The PPACA seems a useful vehicle towards understanding each others’ needs and desires for health care, regardless of how the law may develop.  Through continuing discussions towards progress with health care reform, I am hopeful that our laws acknowledge spiritual health care as the serious and effective form of care it has proven to be for those who apply it by choice and with healing results.  If 43 percent of Americans apply prayer for health care, it is something to pay attention to.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Religious practices in the law

On April 1, 2011, a revision to the Iowa Administrative Code by the State Board of Education removed an accommodation that had exempted high school students participating in interscholastic sports from a physical examination if the exam is in conflict with religious tenets or practices.  As the article in the Des Moines Register correctly states, this revision was not opposed by representatives of the Christian Science Church.  This is the case even though Christian Scientists were likely among the sponsors initiating the accommodation when it first went into law several decades ago.

The decision not to oppose the revision can be seen as an update in policy as is reasonable to keep stride with changes in societal norms and laws, but not a change in Christian Science.

As a Christian Scientist, I wish to be able to practice the spiritual health care I have found effective.  For me and others I know, that means more attention to spiritual understanding and less attention to the body.  However, I may also wish to play on sports teams with others.  Although it would not be my desire to have a physical exam for my own purposes, the results of the exam would indicate to teammates and athletic officials that I satisfy a measure of health set for participation.  Acceptance of the physical exam reduces the occasion to question my health status or fear it.

To me the practice of Christian Science is about discovering one’s fundamental, spiritual nature and demonstrating its effect in our lives.  It never means to place personal activities ahead of care for our neighbor.  Love for God and our neighbor is a foundation of the Science. 

The religious accommodation, in my view, was for the public as much as for those practicing spiritual health care in Christian Science.  It allowed the public to know that there are some who are practicing spiritual health care in their midst.  It also illustrates the diversity of health care approaches throughout the national population.  It says that state laws do accommodate responsible spiritual practices.

The Church does not tell a member whether to have a physical exam or not to have one.  That choice is always up to the individual.  The teachings of Christian Science provide the practical, spiritual rules that enable any individual to discover their spiritual nature in the likeness of God.  With these teachings as a foundation, the individual is equipped to make choices about life and how to live it.

Does it help our neighbor to reject an exam that would show the school and students that the participant is in good health?  In this case, it seems more caring today of the school and others to allow the exam that is required of teammates, and to continue to hold onto the good spiritual ideas.