Monday, March 9, 2009

Speaking of Faith

I'm an ENFJ. As such, by nature and nurture, I intuitively and emotionally seek out solutions in group settings with other people to solve problems and do what I can to make the world a better place. I know that many people think that the Myers Briggs Personality Type Indicator is subjective and over-used. That perspective may be true but I buy into my type nonetheless.

One of the ways that I seek to reduce stress in my life and in the church is attempt to find practical solutions to real-world and spiritual problems. I was thinking about what is going on in the world this past Saturday morning as I was driving to the grocery store for some milk, muffins, and coffee beans. Solving the world's problems sometimes gets in the way of keeping the refrigerator stocked. I turned on the radio to discover that one of my favorite programs, Speaking of Faith was on the air. Krista Tippett and her producers put together a program entitled Repossessing Virtue.

Their pursuit with this program, series actually is to confront core questions of what matters to us and what sustains us. They contacted a number of experts from a variety of religious, economic, and professional disciplines to collect these persons' perspectives on the present-day economic, moral, and spiritual crises people are confronting. I found one speaker's thoughts particularly compelling. Esther Sternberg, M.D works for the National Institutes of Health and is an expert on subjects including the mind-body connection, 'stress and illness', and spirituality, love, and health. She is also the daughter of a Nazi Concentration Camp survivor.

Dr. Sternberg points out that we are experiencing similiar levels of stress to our reactions to what took place on September 11, 2001. People are tremendously afraid of what the future holds. However, there is an interesting distinction between what is going on today and what took place more than seven years ago. People initially bonded together with one another. Back then, nationalism, pride for country and for the American way of life along with a need to seek security from one another led U.S. citizens to reach out to one another. At least they did so for the first few weeks following the events of 9-11 before striving to find ways to return to "normal" lives. These days, foreclosures, unemployment, and the reality of almost worthless 401-K accounts are causing people to feel high levels of shame, grief, and uncontrollabilty. People are responding by isolating themselves rather than reaching out to one another. Lack of sleep, worrying, and anxiety along with associated feelings of depression and stigma cause people not to cope in groups as they do in times of communal strife but to socially isolate themselves. "Hunkering down" just amplifies the problems. (Sternberg, Dec. 2008).

I invite you to listen to Dr. Sternberg's comments here. One solution she offers is that people can seek solutions by gaining control over aspects of the situation that we can respond to rather than giving up. Seeking help from people that we trust is a good idea along with taking control over parts of our lives that we do have influence over. Altruism and social ties are also great ways to counter stress.
(Sternberg, Dec. 2008)

Where does The Church's role in all of this align with Dr. Sternberg's thoughts. Well, trusting in Christ along with the reassurance that God offers each of us gifts and talents to care for ourselves and our families seems to authentic to Jesus' message. Remembering to Love God, Love Neighbor, as we love ourselves is the central set of Christian commandments. Striving to live and be authentic in all three aspects of this teaching should provide some sense of wellness during times of uncertainity and lonliness.

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