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Ecumenical partners brought healing after Khmer Rouge’s ‘hell on earth’


A worker cultivates rice on a collective farm in 1980s Cambodia. Photo by Larry Hollon.

A worker cultivates rice on a collective farm in 1980s Cambodia. Photo by Larry Hollon.

Today is the 36th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge in Kampuchea, known more commonly today as Cambodia.

Shortly after the fall, and after Vietnam occupied Cambodia, I went to the country to produce a film on reconstruction. Cuban hydrologists and Polish veterinarians went into Cambodia under an ecumenical partnership brokered by ecumenical leaders including Paul McCleary, head of Church World Service.

The people were still reeling from the trauma. It’s estimated that up to one-quarter of the population died in the genocide. Led by Pol Pot, the revolutionaries attempted to create an agrarian, collectivist society.

Instead, they created hell on earth.

The killing fields

At first dissidents were killed. But the attacks enlarged to include the educated and even those who wore glasses because they might be intellectuals. Teachers, lawyers and professors risked identification as part of the anti-revolutionary elite.

Under coercion, neighbors, family members and even children reported on those presumed guilty of anti-revolutionary acts or thoughts. Families were divided. People were uprooted and forced to labor in collectives. Mass murders were common.

This was the time of the killing fields.

The country’s infrastructure was dismantled. Telephone lines were torn down. The electric grid was destroyed. Modern technologies were counter to the idealized rural society the revolutionaries envisioned.

The teams put in place by the ecumenical coalition helped to restore the national cattle herd and reconstruct destroyed canals in the Mekong Delta. The canals irrigated rice paddies, which were the basic food source for the region.

U.S. carpet bombing during the war with Vietnam had caused massive destruction to the countryside. The Khmer Rouge made it worse.

Mass graves

The 1978 invasion by Vietnam had freed the country of Pol Pot but added to the damage. But for the Vietnamese administrators, Cambodia was a non-functioning country, driven backward into pre-modern status.

Land mines, laid during the war with Vietnam, were still in the ground, causing injuries and death. A grim census was underway exhuming bodies from mass graves.

Tensions between the occupiers and the Khmer were subtle but strong. Trust was broken. Hatred for the U.S. government was mitigated only by a more intense hatred for the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot.

We traveled the country, under a curfew and tight regulation. We went to killing fields. In one particularly disturbing visit, we watched a worker exhume skulls and other bones. The odor of decay made the scene all the more horrific.

At a city hospital in the south, a modern stainless steel sterilizer for medical equipment sat upended on three rocks. Now it served as a boiling pot above a wood fire in a former operating room.

The building was a skeleton of its former self.

Sensitive work

The work of the ecumenical coalition was controversial at the time. Healing after the war between Vietnam and the U.S. was still in the future. But the ecumenical team was doing pure humanitarian work. It was the work of reconciliation and healing.

As in all wars, the suffering is not limited to the combatants. Those caught between the guns bear a tragic burden as well. This was especially true of the Cambodian people.

To enter Cambodia we had to pass through Vietnam. Vietnamese officials were suspicious of our film crew, but the Vietnamese people were hospitable and gracious.

The Cambodians were fearful we would make a misstep and cause problems for them with the Vietnamese occupiers.

U.S. authorities had sanctions against both countries. They required special approval for licenses and visas. And they confiscated and held my film for a brief time upon our return.

Eventually, however, the State Department purchased copies to place in libraries around the world as an example of the humanitarianism of the U.S.

Vision for a different world

Imagine how different the region is now. Cambodia is recovering from near-Stone Age conditions that prevailed only 36 years ago.

Vietnam is becoming an economic success story.

Thailand, despite disruptive political divisions, is a strong economic power and a tourist destination.

And Laos continues its reconstruction.

On this anniversary, I’m grateful for the courage of the ecumenical partners who carried out this humanitarian work of reconciliation and healing. I’m especially grateful for leaders who had the vision, perseverance and commitment to see the world differently, through a lens of compassion and reconciliation, and to carry out the vision.

Responding to worst Ebola outbreak in history

In Sierra Leone, Phileas Jusu receives an  Ebola text message from Bishop John K. Yambasu using mobile technology. The message addresses both health and spiritual needs. (The entire message reads as follows: "This message is from United Methodist Communications on behalf of Bishop John K. Yambasu. Please save this number as UMC Alerts to identify future messages. As we struggle with Ebola, I pray that faith – not fear – will be our response. This is not the time for blame or denial. It is a time to respond in love.") Photo courtesy of Phileas Jusu

In Sierra Leone, Phileas Jusu receives an Ebola text message on behalf of Bishop John K. Yambasu using mobile technology. The message, sent by United Methodist Communications, addresses both health and spiritual needs. Photo courtesy of Phileas Jusu.

The cross-border Ebola epidemic continues to spread and claim lives. The World Health Organization said this morning that the death toll could reach 20,000, and the virus is reported to have surfaced outside Nigeria’s capital city.

A doctor in Port Harcourt, the center of international oil shipping from Nigeria, died of the virus. This means the virus was not contained in Lagos, the capital, as had been thought. It also raises concerns about containment in a region with international workers in the oil industry.

Another strain of the virus, unconnected to the West Africa outbreak, has surfaced in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Nigeria has closed its schools until October, and countries neighboring the affected nations have been advised to step up surveillance. Air France has joined the international carriers that have temporarily stopped service to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, complicating the challenge of getting supplies and health workers into the region.

In addition to the challenge of getting disinfectants, cleaning supplies, gloves, masks and related medical tools into the region, the mistrust of public health services and government announcements continues to contribute to the misinformation and disbelief that only exacerbates the spread of the virus.

United Methodist Communications is sending two text messages a day to networks of local contacts in Sierra Leone and Liberia with content approved by health officials. And the organization is inviting bishops and church leaders in other African nations to join in this information effort as they deem it necessary.

The messages can be read on conventional mobile phones, which the majority of Africans use. They are cost-free for the recipient, so they don’t add a financial burden to end-users. The messages are sent under the approval and sponsorship of bishops in the affected countries in the belief that local trusted leaders are more likely to be heard.

In addition to text messages, UMCom is exploring an audio message system to provide information to people who cannot read. It’s clear that communication serves a fundamental need in this crisis, and it’s essential to employ as many communication tools and strategies as possible to help get the contagion under control.


The Foundation for United Methodist Communications has established an emergency communications fund. With your help, we can provide communications support in the event of a crisis or disaster. Donate here.

Free flow of information is critical in crisis

An educational poster about the dangers of the Ebola virus hangs in the community center at the Jaiama Bongor Chiefdom, outside Bo, Sierra Leone. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

An educational poster about the dangers of the Ebola virus hangs in the community center at the Jaiama Bongor Chiefdom, outside Bo, Sierra Leone. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

“Fear has gripped the nation.” With those words, the Rev. George Wilson of Liberia summed up the state of his country and described the cost of not allowing information to flow freely in a time of crisis.

Rev. Wilson, who is coordinating The United Methodist Church’s response to the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, said in a conference call that fear is preventing people from taking proper steps in dealing with the deadly virus.

His report was discouraging but motivating at the same time. Speaking with United Methodist Communications staff, he confirmed that hospitals are closing as workers voluntarily abandon their workplaces, and Liberians are self-medicating diseases such as malaria because they’re too afraid to go to hospitals.

An op-ed in the New York Times by journalist Wade C. L. Williams about his experience covering the Ebola crisis in Liberia for Front Page Africa is revealing, especially because the emergency has spiraled out of control.

Williams recounted his difficulty early on gaining access to important places and people to tell the story. He was blocked by government officials.

Considering his report and listening to Rev. Wilson, I recalled a telephone call on June 7 from a member of a United Methodist Communications team in Sierra Leone. The team, including a writer from United Methodist News Service, a unit of UMCom, had discovered that Ebola was present near the site of a net distribution conducted by Imagine No Malaria.

Even then, a physician on the ground warned an outbreak was imminent. The virus had already spread from Guinea to Sierra Leone. But the story had not yet been told. “Should we tell it?”  asked the UMCom staffer.

On the face of it, the answer seems clear. Of course we should tell the world.

But, as reporter Williams documents, such situations are rarely so simple. In Liberia, health ministry officials told reporters they should avoid travel to the affected area because they could spread the virus further. But the virus is not airborne and requires physical contact with the body or body fluids of an infected person, or ingesting bush food such as bats, monkeys or similar wild meat carrying the virus.

The government ministry sought to contain coverage as it released incomplete and misleading information. Rumors and misinformation can create panic. The results, as we now know, are fearsome and tragic.

Obstacles to communicating

It’s been my experience that telling stories in situations of conflict and tragedies such as this crisis can be far more complex and convoluted than what appears on the surface.

Government officials and local workers, for different reasons, may not want to reveal details of an incipient crisis. Despite their heroic efforts, health workers trying to contain this virus lack essential resources to isolate and treat affected patients. This can put them in a bad light. At ground level, workers who talk too much can lose their jobs. At a higher level, officials don’t want to look ineffectual to their supervisors. At the national level, leaders don’t want to appear unable to manage events like this.

A crisis like Ebola can harm business, affect tourism, influence investors and destabilize governments. Of course, officials consider the obvious human suffering and grief that results, but weighing all these factors takes time, and in emergencies time is critical.

In the early stages of an event like this, telling the story comes down to negotiating with, around and through obstacles to get the word out. This is true for local journalists as well as those from outside the country.

As expatriates connected with the church, we’re always aware that we are in a country as guests of the host government and our actions can affect relationships between the government and the church in multiple ways. The ability to assist with effective health care, humanitarian aid and other significant missional efforts depends on good working relationships.

Five realizations

In the case of Sierra Leone, health officials were eager to get the story to the world and we reported quickly. All Africa News Service released a story two days before United Methodist News Service and that helped our reporting.

On June 9, Kathy Gilbert of United Methodist News Service provided a strong first-hand account of the situation in Kenema, the epicenter of the crisis in Sierra Leone. United Methodist Bishop John K. Yambasu issued an urgent call for help on June 25, and we continued to report on the situation.

Many days later, other news services began to report. And days after that, it became clear a regional crisis had mushroomed into a global hazard. The World Health Organization declared an international public health emergency Aug. 8.

By then, however, the virus had spread and an epidemic was at hand.

From this, I hope we are coming to realize:

  1. in an interconnected world, the free flow of accurate information is essential to global well-being and even to survival of life itself;
  1. the infrastructure necessary to carry information to an informed public is an instrument for the public good, and not only for commercial and entertainment uses;
  1. that infrastructure must be built out so that everyone has access to information as a basic human right;
  1. the church should advocate for this infrastructure and help to create it;
  1. the church has a role to play to ensure that stories are told. In this case, it is the story of people in a remote, under-served and overlooked place facing a public health crisis that, unchecked, has become a global health emergency.

I’ll address that in my next post.


The Foundation for United Methodist Communications has established an emergency communications fund. With your help, we can provide communications support in the event of a crisis or disaster. Donate here.


USAID and ZunZuneo

Screen Shot 2014-04-08 at 1.48.04 PMThe news that the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) surreptitiously sponsored a text messaging service in Cuba created a storm of criticism last week when the service stopped and the secret sponsor was revealed. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said it was “dumb, dumb, dumb.”

It was also duplicitous and damaging, if not dangerous to others attempting to deliver humanitarian services.

Those who provide humanitarian aid, such as nongovernmental aid organizations – including those of religious groups – meticulously maintain a nonpartisan stance within the countries where they work. This is especially important where partisan conflict is rife and where governments are suspicious of such aid being used for partisan purposes. These agencies are compromised when they are viewed as extensions of U.S. foreign policy.

Humanitarian agencies cannot operate in a country without consent of the host government. Such duplicity adds to the perception that they are agents of external forces.

This cuts both ways, of course. Where governments are not popular and rule by coercion and force, the humanitarian organizations must also be seen as  functioning independently. It’s often a delicate dance.

This nonpartisan stance can be a matter of life and death. If  humanitarian workers in conflicted settings are viewed as agents of partisan agendas, their lives can be put at risk. Examples of kidnappings and murder of aid workers underscore this risk.

Beyond this life-and-death reality, the ZunZuneo texting service, as the Cuban SMS service was known, proved to be unsustainable. Sustainability is a key outcome of successful development, but perhaps ZunZuneo failed because development wasn’t the driving mission. The technology was implemented for other reasons.

In other difficult social situations, open-source texting services have been put to use in local contexts, and with adequate training and support, they have achieved much greater success at a much lower cost. These were implemented by small nonprofit organizations operating on shoestring budgets. Perhaps there’s a lesson here.

USAID has been an effective partner for humanitarian and nonprofit organizations, including The United Methodist Church, in different parts of the world. Let’s hope this episode is an anomaly and that USAID will make the adjustments needed to ensure that its mission and work are not compromised again.

College Debt and the Search for Financial Freedom

I am concerned that the debate by politicians about student loans is actually distracting us from the critical need for financial aid for deserving young people who lack the resources and experience to achieve higher education. The debate focuses on the mechanics of loans, interest rates and what types of educational enterprises should be eligible to offer loans, while it minimizes the need for loans for deserving persons.

Thinking about this takes me back to my own college days and my struggle to survive financially, and it highlights why, for some, financial aid is critically important.

My family made no provisions for me to go to college, much less seminary. If you are the first generation of your family to go to college, no one in the family has any idea what it takes to pay for tuition, fees, room and board, books and other living expenses.

To get to college in the first place, I worked summers at all kinds of jobs. I’ve hauled trash, mowed weeds on the roadside, been a lifeguard.  When I got to college, I sold subscriptions door to door to make ends meet. These jobs did not provide a reliable source of income.

Church aid makes difference

In those days, I was hungry a lot of the time. I gave up my meal ticket in college because I couldn’t afford it.

If I went home on the weekends, I would bring back whatever food I could, but in those days before there were dorm refrigerators, I would buy a bag of cinnamon rolls and try to make them last all week, allowing myself only one in the morning and one at night.

8.19.13infographic-design_1After my freshman year at a private university, I had to transfer to a less expensive public university. I took an appointment as a supply pastor and commuted 50 to 60 miles a day so I could live in the parsonage and save on room and board.  I’d leave at 4 a.m. and wouldn’t get back home until 10 p.m. And later, when I attended seminary, I took a position as a student intern with a paid salary.

But the critical difference came in the form of United Methodist student loans and scholarships that helped my wife and me to get by. A United Methodist student loan was the most affordable loan I could get, and it filled in the gap between the individual scholarships I received and the income I was able to earn.

That loan made it possible for me to get an education. The term of the loan was long enough and the interest rate low enough that the payments were manageable on a pastor’s income after graduation.

Education must be affordable

The United Methodist Church has a long history of helping students reduce college debt through scholarships and low-interest loans.  In fact, the 146-year-old United Methodist Student Loan Fund is the oldest student loan fund in the United States.

In a sense, this track record is a prophetic public witness to the need for accessible financial aid for deserving but resource-limited persons. The scholarship and loans were vitally important to me, and I’m deeply grateful that I was able to get them. They made all the difference for me, but the church can’t do this alone.

In the current debate about financial aid and student debt, my hope is that we can find ways to make higher education affordable for all, especially for young people who lack resources and whose families lack the experience of higher education and its costs.


Security of Appointment in Effect Says Fitzgerald Reist

Update: United Methodist News Service has posted a more complete article reporting on this situation here:

For readers of this blog who are not United Methodist, this will seem a puzzling post. For United Methodist Clergy it will raise great interest.

Apparently, it is the judgment of The Rev. Fitzgerald Reist, Secretary of General Conference, the governing body of The United Methodist Church, that an action eliminating security of appointment for clergy did not receive the appropriate support through plenary vote at the 2012 General Conference.

This letter from Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar of Greater New Jersey is circulating on the Internet advising of this opinion. United Methodist News Service is pursuing the story and will be posting as soon as accurate information can be confirmed.

My posting does not indicate that I am qualified to interpret the legislation as it was presumed to have been voted at General Conference nor that I am in a position to interpret the Book of Disciplne. I am making the information available as it was made available to me.



A 2012 Reading List

After I commented on a reading list distributed by “Q”, some readers of this blog asked for my list. I’ve been slow to respond. But here is a list of the dozen books I intend to read in the course of this year.

That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back, Thomas L. Friedman and Michael Mandelaum. I’ve almost completed this book. Friedman and Mandelbaum write about four challenges that confront the United States–globalization, the revolution in information technology, chronic deficits and excessive energy consumption—through a lens of U.S. power, influence and ideals.

To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World, James Davison Hunter. I’m close to finishing this book also. Davison calls on Christian faith communities to de-couple public witness from political engagement and to practice “faithful presence” for the common good. The latter includes non-partisan, non-ideological expressions and actions for the common good. He bases his case on a theology of the Creation that calls Christians to be responsible to follow the teachings of Jesus to acknowledge the reign of God, be a servant people, act with compassion for all and invite all into the kingdom of God.

Commonwealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet, Jeffrey D. Sachs. The book was released four years ago, but I’m just getting to it. Dr. Sachs, the leading voice behind he Millennium Development Goals, proposes a new economic paradigm that is globally inclusive, cooperative, environmentally aware and science based because we are running up against the realities of a crowded planet.

The Triumph of Christianity, Rodney Stark. There’s a new (to me) strain of thought that says early Christianity spread with the cooperation of elites in the institutions of the day, and without this cooperation, the Christian movement might never have achieved the success it has attained. This case says Christian ideas and acceptance needed more than grassroots movements and populist coalitions. The followers of Jesus also needed influence in the institutions that shape culture in order to survive and grow.

Pathologies of Power, Paul Farmer. This, too, is an older book that’s been on my shelf for quite a long time. Dr. Farmer is an advocate for a definition of comprehensive human rights that includes, among others, food, shelter and health. Dr. Farmer is a tireless advocate for those who live without these basic necessities and who lack the voice to advocate strongly for them.

The End of Poverty, Jeffrey D. Sachs. Another of Dr. Sachs’ important works. As the world moves ever so slowly toward raising standards of living in developing nations, it appears that ending the most debilitating effects of poverty is no longer considered a pipe dream. Dr. Sachs, more than any other economist I’ve read, makes this case most clearly and reasonably.

Life, Keith Richards. A gift from my daughter, I’ll do my best to work through this biography of the guitarist and founding member of the Rolling Stones.

The Worst Hard Time, Timothy Egan. The Dust Bowl and the Great Depression plunged both maternal and paternal sides of my extended family into poverty and pushed them off the land. One grandfather kept life and limb together as a sharecropper, and another lost his farm, and his heart, when he had to move to town and work laying sidewalks through the Civilian Conservation Corps. I have a lifelong fascination with how the people of that era kept their families together (or lost cohesiveness) and made it though this most difficult economic period. It also reminds me that history does, indeed, repeat itself–perhaps not in every detail, but in wider sweeps of human behavior.

The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx. Another oldie, but one I’m interested in because the reviews praise Proulx’s ability to write lean, clean prose, a talent I can only wish for.

A Guitar and a Pen, edited by Robert Hicks. This collection of stories by Nashville songwriters is a departure from their storytelling form of music to narrative. The songwriters of Nashville are the poets of popular culture, and I admire their ability to tell a story about life in all its sadness, strength, joy and humor in three minutes. This is fun, light, pleasurable reading.

There you have it. I’ll no doubt be reading beyond these books, but these will take priority.



Open leaders have open meetings

When Bishop Warner Brown said at the United Methodist Council of Bishops meeting yesterday that bishops need a “safe place” to discuss issues they are uncertain about, he was raising the dilemma many leaders of public organizations face in this new world of horizontal communications. Public discussion is often beyond our control. And that is unsettling, sometimes leads to inaccurate attribution and puts the speaker on the defensive unfairly.

Bishop Brown pointedly looked at the journalists in the room and said he could not speak tentatively or test new thoughts in their presence, for these very reasons. That’s the dilemma.

He wasn’t helped, however, by the first response of Fred Miller, the consultant who is advising the Interim Operations Team about how to re-organize the general church. Miller was advising the bishops about how to become a “leadership group.”

He outlined a strategy that at times sounded manipulative and concealing. Miller told the bishops to present their most inconsequential and boring material in such an exhaustive way the press would get bored and leave the room, and then the bishops could get to the meaty subjects they really want to discuss. He said this is his advice to boards of public organizations.

In a wide-ranging conversation that included a call to honesty and open leadership, courage and perseverance, this wasn’t the only bad advice Miller gave the bishops. He also told them one way to deal with conflict is to escalate the complexity of the issue so that the opponents get confused and the issue so muddled that the original disagreement gets resolved in the fog.

Not exactly a prescription for open leadership in the 21st century.

Miller did seem to comprehend the dark chasm he had stepped into with regard to journalism and much later expressed support for the fourth estate. He told the bishops the best way to deal with Bishop Brown’s concern was to be transparent and put everything on the web for all to see. Then, he said, it’s possible to assess such things as metrics, by looking at trends and avoid referring to the personal failures of individuals, or discussing opinions. This fact-based approach de-personalizes the discussion and  gives data for discussing disputes, he said.

This is a more healthy way to assess much that we care about in the church. What was not spoken in this discussion is the fact that the Council is allowed to operate under its own rules of procedure with regard to the open meetings provision of Paragraph 271 of the Book of Discipline, the book of church law by which all church entities operate – though it is expected “to live by the spirit” of the paragraph.

The council has the option to go into executive session pretty much at will, and it uses it often. The day following this exchange, for example, the council spent the day in executive session.

Why closed meetings?

Sometimes, it’s not clear why this leadership group chooses to meet behind closed doors. When they launched the very important “In Defense of Creation” study, instead of streaming their discussion on the web as a way of showing why creation care is a crucial faith concern and how they were struggling with it, they went into executive session. They missed an opportunity to share with the whole church how they connect theology and faithful practice to protecting the Creation.

Even as a journalist, I’m sympathetic to the need for leaders to have a way to discuss nettlesome matters they must deal with. We need the ability to think out loud without being locked into positions that we raise in a speculative way. We don’t want to be misquoted or held to some position that we don’t really support merely because we asked a question about it. And that happens.

But it happens whether the journalists are in the room or not. It happens when people gossip. It happens when leaders speak to staff and staff read between the lines and make assumptions. It happens when we make a jocular comment in a hallway conversation that ends up on Twitter as a more definitive statement than we could have imagined. It’s the horizontal communications world we live in.

Leaders in a public organization lead public lives. At United Methodist Communications, we offer training to episcopal leaders and others about dealing with the media. We offer resources for creating social media strategies. We offer crisis communications management training. We offer support for strategic communications planning. Few bishops take us up on these offers.

Changing the climate

The current climate in which we live is a climate that starts with skepticism. We’ve been worked over by institutions that had harmful agendas. We’ve seen 20-plus years of mismanagement of sexual abuse cases by the Roman Catholic Church, and religious figures from many backgrounds fall to the same private practices they publicly condemn. We’ve seen politicians lie, business leaders abuse trust, and our public institutions and corporations abandon the people who depend upon them. Trust is broken.

Sunshine is the best antidote. Honesty is still the best policy. We’re all human. We’re all anxious and afraid. We all need a safe place. A community of trust that allows us to be human will be based on openness, honesty and accountability.

And we desperately want leaders to take us there – leaders with open hearts, open minds and open doors.

Renewing the Church: The Leading Causes of Life or the Tsunami of Death?

My favorite phrase is “the leading causes of life.” It was conceived by Gary Gunderson and Larry Pray, and I’ve written about it several times. Gary is Senior V.P. for Health and Welfare and Director of the Center for Excellence in Faith and Health of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis.  Larry is a pastor in the United Church of Christ and Senior Pastoral Scholar for Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare. They co-authored the book, Leading Causes of Life.

Their phrase endures, for me.

But another phrase is making the rounds in conversations in the denomination in which I labor: the “Death Tsunami.” It’s intended to describe the impending demographic change that will happen over the next several years as older members pass away.

It’s meant to be prophetic. Behind it is the thought that if these older members are not replaced with a younger group the days of the denomination itself are numbered.


I’ve been bouncing these two phrases around in my head, asking which excites me, gets my creative juices flowing, makes me want to get involved in making things better?

Guess which one does it for me?

I know the death phrase is meant to attract attention to a real problem. But it frames the future in such an inexorable way I just can’t get a handle on how to respond to it. As Gunderson and Pray write, “If death defines our efforts, then it will win every time.”

Hearing this, I want to start singing Joe Diffie’s country music song, “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox (If I die).” That’s about all the energy I can get for this framing of our collective future.

On the other hand, I can get energized about looking for the leading causes of life. It makes me want to search out those places and people who are creating, causing change, moving forward. It’s energizing to seek out what gives us life, makes it purposeful, gives it meaning. We are on a journey toward life.

For too long the mainline denominations have wallowed in their narrative of death. They’ve come to believe it, and they’ve allowed others to confirm it. Well, I don’t.

I believe we belong to each other and to God. This is the essence of our connection. In my denomination this means that the local church, annual conference and general church have the capacity to do more together than any of us can do alone. This gives us the capacity to transform the world for the better if we claim it and live it.

And that leads us to what Gunderson and Pray call coherence. Coherence is that web of blessing that defines our roles as human beings. It calls us beyond ourselves to become involved with others. It gives us life, they write. We are not alone and all about ourselves. We’re in this together.

In a world of rampant narcissism, the Christian faith calls us to become servants to those most vulnerable, in need and without voice. How counter-cultural is that?

And that call leads us out of helplessness and despair to agency. We can change and create change. We are not the inevitable victims of the tsunami of death. We are the agents who can bring, with God’s help, new life, new meaning, new purpose and hope to the dry, arid places that seem without the refreshing waters of renewal and healing.

And when we act in this way–moving toward life and toward others–we are blessed and we become a blessing. We sense that we are accountable to those who have come before, those who will follow and those with whom we share the invigorating journey called life.

So, like Joe Diffie, “I wanna go to heaven but I don’t wanna go tonight.” And “I ain’t afraid of dying, it’s the thought of being dead” that perplexes me. So I’m not giving in to the tsunami of death talk.

Instead, I’m looking for life through connection, coherence, agency and blessing, and I see these at work in the stories of this denomination everyday.

Let’s seek the leading causes of life.


"The Final Great Awakening – An Endtime Revival".: The Circuit Rider vs The Televangelist

“The Final Great Awakening – An Endtime Revival”.: The Circuit Rider vs The Televangelist

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