Mennonite Health JournalArticles on the intersection of faith and health
Walking “Together” for Healthy Communities
from Mennonite Health Journal, Vol. 17, No. 1 – February 2015
“Instinctively we know that the joy of life comes from the ways in which we live together and that the pain of life comes from the many ways we fail to do that well,” observes Henri Nouwen.1
I grew up in a rural/suburban setting. A recent mid-winter trip to Boston reminded me that city life experiences drain me significantly. My lack of trust and anxious need for a sense of control may contribute to this unease. There are too many people suffering and too many others that are calloused and cruel. There is too much corruption matched with too much resignation. There is too much filth and too little care for one another and our surroundings.
The human condition is too stark for me to remain amiable and optimistic. I want to embrace adverse realities with the intention of improving them, but my ability to do so shrinks. When I attempt to rationalize, my body quickly enters a state of disgust, malaise, anxiety, stress, and shock. I am left worn out with the desire to run away or curl up in a corner. I yearn to return to the small niche of existence where I feel I am making a difference, where I can take small manageable steps to accomplish positive change, and where I am able to embrace more of my surroundings.
In the “Cherish the Natural Order” section of Living More with Less, Bethany Spicher Schonberg asks us to consider the question, “How many chickens can you cherish?”2 For me, this correlates to questions like these: With how many homeless people do I have the energy to empathize? With how many mentally unstable obnoxious bus neighbors can I be present? For how many traveling to-go suppers am I grateful? Answers to questions like these might indicate the extent to which I yield to a Christ-like hospitality that is able to bring life and healing into a broken world rather than anxiously reaching my own self-sufficient saturation point.
Sociologists predict that civilization will continue to urbanize and diversify. Tony McMichael, environmentalist and global health scholar, suggests, “Humankind has entered an accelerated and expanded phase of globalization. The scale, intensity and connectivity of human activity, and associated demographic, social, economic and environmental ‘global changes,’ are exerting increasing influences on human population well-being, health and survival.”3
Amidst these complex developments, urban food movements now include vertical herbal gardens to serve as walls and miniature insect farms to supply protein. I think I can adopt baby greens and cricket cookies. I’m less sure about discerning my capacity and willingness to cherish more difficult neighbors.
Bethany Spicher Schonberg encourages us to contemplate, “How many tremors does your life send down the shimmering strands of earth’s web, and how many can you bear to trace?”2 Part of our experience of Lent could be to consider these unpleasant and often overwhelming realities. Yet in the midst of our Lenten experience, we can allow ourselves to celebrate the Sabbath that is offered–even to this pressing topic of the dismemberment of God’s creation. We can acknowledge, in Walter Brueggemann’s perspective, that God’s people are not subjects of a command economy. Instead, we live in “an economy of neighborliness,” “opting for and aligning with the God of rest” who “is not anxious about the full functioning of creation” since it “does not depend on endless work.”4
As we consider joining conversations about climate change and human health at the MHF Annual Gathering 2015, let us remember that a Sovereign God leads us into faithful stewardship and discipleship alongside those we seek to serve and that which we seek to tend:
“…So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are
but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
and the stars that blaze
in our bones,
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
-Blessing the Dust, A Blessing for Ash Wednesday by Jan Richardson5
- Nouwen H. 1992. Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World. Becoming the Beloved: Broken. Crossroad Publishing Company. New York, NY.
- Spicher Schonberg B. 2010. Living More With Less 30th Anniversary Edition: Cherishing the Natural Order: How Many Chickens Can You Cherish? Herald Press. Scottdale, PA.
- McMichael A. 2014. Climate Change and Global Health: Chapter 2. CAB International. Boston, MA.
- Brueggemann W. 2014. Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now: Sabbath and the First Commandment. Westminister John Knox Press. Louisville, KY.
- Richardson J. 2013. Blessing the Dust: A Blessing for Ash Wednesday. The Painted Prayerbook. Accessed on 2/27/2015: http://paintedprayerbook.com/2013/02/08/ash-wednesday-blessing-the-dust/
About the author
Lyubov Slashcheva, DDS graduated in 2016 from Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) School of Dentistry in Richmond, Virginia. After completing her undergraduate studies at Eastern Mennonite University in 2011, she interned with the Luke Society in Honduras and Peru for four months in a public health service role. She was a National Health Service Corps Scholar and has engaged in research and service opportunities pertaining to Latino, geriatric and special needs populations. She has received numerous honors for her research and service endeavors and during her student years held leadership positions on the VCU campus, including the Christian Medical and Dental Associations chapter. In the spring of 2016, she moved to Iowa City, Iowa where she is in residency and doing postgraduate training in dental public health. She has also been active in leading worship/ music/ children’s education in her local congregation, and is a committed cyclist for commuting. She enjoys playing the flute, reading, and learning about different cultures. She anticipates four years of public health practice in an underserved setting following her studies.