It has been quite the week here at this old house. The election is finally over but the work has just begun. Reading about families not spending the holidays together because of differences of opinion on who should have been president is painful. Seeing a rise in bullying and racist graffiti is disheartening. Having conversations about people who are frightened to be in this country, even as they are here legally, is discouraging.

We are in an ideological civil war, not unlike the war of the 1860s that tore the north and south apart. Obviously, some people are still fighting that battle! What are we to do?

Many good articles and commentaries have been written in the last few days sharing ways to be kind, live lovingly and bravely, wearing a safety pin as a sign to minorities and the disenfranchised that you are a safe person for them to be with, and more. I will let their words stand on their own.

I want to focus on the failure of the Church in this nation. Fr. Richard Rohr. among others, has been a prophetic voice in this regard, pointing out that too much of what passes for religion is simply a “frosting” on top of our egos that then don’t need to be confronted and changed. Basically, I would say that we are living the lives we would have lived anyway whether we call ourselves practicing Christians or not. We have done all we can to inoculate ourselves from the transformational call of the Gospel and we have seen the fruits of that in this election cycle. When you have Christian leaders siding with racism, bigotry, xenophobia, misogyny, and power at all costs, one has to ask where the Gospel of Jesus Christ went in making us new creations in Christ!

I believe that the desire, while good intentioned, to make church “easy” and “seeker friendly” has come back to bite us. While we may be filling our pews and running lots of good social programs from what amounts to a “community center under the guise of faith community,” we are not making disciples of Jesus. We are making hundreds of members and few intentional disciples to live the incarnated life of Jesus today. We are scared to death to take the words of Jesus seriously and so we have taken the broad path of political power and cultural paradigm as a booby prize.

Few of us want to sign on the dotted line of guaranteed persecution. We don’t want our kids to be different so we let them play sports and miss corporate worship or go to that birthday party so they aren’t the only left out. We don’t want to come across as “fanatic” or “self-righteous.” Therefore, we are easy push-overs for those who believe the corporate model is the model of the modern Church. We forget that the early Church had no political power, no clout, and yet, they stood the known world on its ear! The path that Jesus calls us to really is a narrow one and we are too used to (false) safety and security, with a good insurance policy to cover “boo-boos.”Image result for free stock photo christian vs secular

These are tough words but the Church must become a prophetic voice in the wilderness of our society. It must stop living by Mall Time and begin living the Church Year calendar. (Why should anyone take seriously the birth of Jesus Christ when our churches look and sound just like the mall does and on its timing for when the “holiday season” begins?) We Christ-followers must be salt and light in a decaying culture and not a “great group of friendly folks who won’t demand too much from you.”

I lay much of the nastiness that tried to pass as a democratic election at the feet of North American Christian churches. We have shown people in this country and the world that as the Body of Christ, we are willing to do whatever it takes to “stay on top” instead of working from the bottom, as Jesus did.

This is a clarion call for change! Who is with me?

This is the final week of our look at the characteristics of the Blue Zone, those areas of the world where a higher percentage of people live well into their 100s. We have been using the information found in Dan Buettner’s book of the same name. He studied communities in Sardinia, Italy; Nicoy, Costa Rica; Loma Linda, California; Okinawa, Japan, and Icarla, Greece.

Did you know, you could sometime be living in a Blue Zone? Cedar Falls, Iowa became a Blue Zones Project community in 2014. The Blue Zone Project expects the changes a community makes to receive this designation to be permanent and so all Blue Zone designated communities must be periodically re-certified. Image result for free stock photo healthy community

Getting the initial certification takes about three to five years. Things like increased bike and pedestrian safety, expanding volunteer opportunities, enhancing employee well-being in the work-place, getting kids to school safely, and improving access to fresh healthy foods are some of the tasks on the list. After the book came out, Mr. Buettner assembled a team that visits interested communities and talks them through the process necessary to follow the twenty different policies that will ultimately make the community “a healthier, safer place to live.”  There are more than two dozen communities across the USA that have either become certified Blue Zone Project communities or are in the process of becoming one. Like anything else in life, if we want something, we will do the work necessary to make it happen!

https://communities.bluezonesproject.com/ gives all the details on how your community can do this as well as more information about each of the characteristics we have been discussing over the past several weeks.

What in your community would need to change to meet some of these Blue Zone project requirements? And if your community isn’t ready for this, could you become a “Blue Zone” household? I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this series.

Today, we look at the final characteristic of centenarians in the five Blue Zones of the world as identified by Dan Buettner in his book by the same title: the importance of being a part of a religious community. According to the research Mr. Buettner did, it doesn’t make a difference which brand of religion you pick but he found that those who belonged to a faith community were “more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, have a positive sense of well-being and [were] able to relinquish the stresses of everyday life to a higher power.”

Buettner says that if you are not already part of a faith community, find one! Ask family and friends for suggestions of where to go and try it for at least eight weeks. I would add that not all faith communities produce good results but don’t give up. There are many life-giving fellowships out there. Buettner also suggests that if you are already in a faith community, get more involved! I liked his suggestion to join the choir, if you aren’t already in it as one way to get more involved. Image result for free photo of people worshipping

Here at this old house, we are heavily involved in a faith community and I can tell you that, while it is far from perfect, I love those people and the message I get there each week. I can’t imagine my life without it.

There is a big movement today to be “spiritual not religious.” Joining a church is way out of fashion in the Western world. It isn’t seen as “relevant.” Yet, ancient faith practices can ground us and give us a foundation from which to innovate in our lives and societies.

Also, when our spirituality is a purely individual activity, without any accompanying accountability associated with it, it doesn’t contribute to our overall well-being, as the Blue Zone research showed. Like several of the other Blue Zone characteristics we have talked about over these past weeks that involved being involved with other people and issues, being part of a religious organization and attending it regularly can contribute to a  longer life. The Blue Zone stresses that isolation at any level is not healthy.

So take the plunge! Do a Google search of houses of worship in your area. Pick one, maybe with the help of suggestions from others, and go. Who knows: you may find a deeper meaning to your life through it, no matter how long you live.

It is fire weather here at this old house: very dry, warm, and windy. I hope everyone takes the fire and outdoor smoking ban seriously!

This is a fine example of our next characteristic of Blue Zone areas: the need to relieve stress. We have been going through the various steps discovered by Dan Buettner in his research of the five regions of the world where people live well into their 100s, in both senses of the word “well.” To review, we have looked at keeping moving throughout each day, eating until you are 80% full and so cutting calories, adding more vegetables to each day’s diet, drinking a glass of red wine daily, making family a priority, and surrounding yourself with those who share your values.

Today, we are reminded that there is scientific evidence that stress causes inflammation in the body and, over a lifetime, that inflammation may promote age-related diseases. (Sugar, to which our society is addicted, also causes inflammation in the body and I am sure that in years to come we will view sugar’s negative effects in the same way we today understand tobacco’s negative effects on the body.) Mr. Buettner, in his Blue Zone book, reminds us that slowing the pace of our lives down can help with this stress-induced inflammation but a slower pace of life can also help us achieve the other steps we have talked about so far.Image result for free photo sleeping

Getting enough sleep is certainly a part of this stress reduction. (Too much sleep is as bad as too little, studies are beginning to show, so as we age, it is important that we have that regular movement in each day. Spending our last days in a chair, dozing, is not the goal of a Blue Zone lifestyle!)

Limiting screen time is also key to reducing stress, especially if you are part of the election cycle madness currently happening in the USA. The TV, phone, Internet: all have been shown to disrupt sleep patterns when used too much too late in the day. An Internet search will provide guidelines and suggestions on an appropriate use of technology, especially before bedtime.

Two other stress reducing tips are the “holy pause” and “welcoming prayer.” Christine Valters Paintner talks about the ancient idea of Holy Pause in which one stops after finishing one task and “takes a breath” before moving onto the next item on the to-do list.  This brief pause can give us a chance to reflect on what we have just done and to consider what we must do next.

Welcoming Prayer is a way to embrace a feeling as it first becomes apparent and then deal with it before it takes over the driver’s seat of our thoughts and emotions. The example Cynthia Bourgeault gives in her book, “Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening,” is to say “Welcome Fear” or “Welcome Anger.”  We would not say “Welcome, Cancer,” for example but we would welcome the feeling of fear that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Then, by sitting with that feeling in meditation and prayer, we are able to “defang” it, with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that the feeling doesn’t determine our responses and consume our every waking moment. This can help us process the stress and avoid accumulated inflammation and its long-term consequences.

So as I sit here in an old wooden house, aware of the growing drought and listening to the wind blow, I can welcome my nervousness and sit with it, processing it in a way that puts the proper perspective on it all. It will certainly help me sleep better tonight!

Here at this old house, we are in the midst of a series of reflections on Dan Buettner’s nine lifestyle principles as discussed in his book, The Blue Zones. These zones are areas of the world with the highest percentage of people living well into their 100s. So far, we have looked at moving naturally as much as possible throughout our day, eating until only 80% full, adding more vegetables into each meal, drinking a glass of red wine a day, making family a priority, and surrounding ourselves with those who share our values.

Today, we look at the need for each of us to have a purpose, a long-term vision of life and our goals within it. It is the answer to the question: why do I get up in the morning? Who or what needs me today? What do I hope to accomplish or learn? Who do I want to interact with or help? What is the bigger meaning of why I am on earth?

Those in the Blue Zones of the world tend to know the answer to those questions. If you don’t, make a list of things that you enjoy and/or are passionate about, people you care for and want to be there for, and causes you give time and money to. Reflect on that list and your role in your family, neighborhood, faith community, and larger society. What do you offer that no one else can? A sense of history? A vision for what can be? An ability to organize? An ability to encourage or serve or rally as needed? If you are not sure, ask a friend to help you clarify your gifts and talents.

You don’t have to have a high-powered job to be “important.” You are important because you are here, and, as a Christian, I would add because God created you to fill a niche that no one else can fill. You have a role to play even if it feels that no one views you as “useful” any more. It just may take a bit of time to discover what that role is now, especially if you are older and no longer have your usefulness and purpose defined by work or family status.Image result for free stock photo list of life goals

Maybe there is a story or poem or drama script or a piece of music inside of you waiting to be written down and shared. Maybe there are children who live near you who are floundering and need another adult in their life to help them find their life’s path. Maybe there is an animal counting on you for love and care. Perhaps there are people in care facilities or your faith community who need someone to reach out to them.

None of us is useless while we are still alive! If nothing else, we can pray for the needs of the world and there are plenty of those to keep someone going a long time. So while you are caring for your body, care for your soul by connecting with someone or something that can help you get out of bed each day. The world needs you!

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