Together 5-31-11

A few weeks ago I participated in my annual spring ritual, running in the 25 kilometer 5th 3rd River Bank Run.  Around mile 4 who should I run into but Ken Nash, our teaching pastor at Cornerstone Church.  Ken and I were planning to run at about the same pace, but it’s a big race, and I wasn’t sure we’d connect.  When I caught up to Ken, I tapped him on the shoulder and said, “Better kick it in, kid.”  When Ken put it into high gear and left me in the dust a few miles later, he was polite but could well have said, “What’s the problem, Grandma?  Can’t keep up the pace?”

I tried to keep Ken in my sight over the next 6 miles.  By mile 12, Ken’s legs were cramping, and he slowed down just enough so that I caught up to him.  I said, “Ken, how about we run together for the last 3½ miles?  We can help and encourage each other to make it to the finish line, the kid and the grandma.”  So that’s what we did. 

In the midst of our huffing and puffing, we bantered back and forth a bit during those last few agonizing miles.  At one point Ken said, “Laurie, it’s really tough to keep on going, isn’t it?  I’m so glad we’re sticking together.”  I replied, “Ken, if only our pastors and churches could learn how to run with perseverance the race that is set before them and do it together, think of the churches that would wake up from their slumber, the love of Jesus Christ that we could share, the disciples we could make, and the world that we could transform into the kingdom of God.  We’re all in this together.”  Lost in the possibilities, the kid and the grandma made it to the finish line together

Together.”  I seem to be hearing that word over and over.  We’ve all been inspired and humbled by the faith and determination of the people of Joplin, Missouri, who are recovering from the deadliest tornado in the U.S. in 61 years.  “We’re all in this together” is a common refrain.  Churches are flinging wide their doors to offer shelter, food, and assistance.  Those fortunate enough to have avoided the tornado’s swath are sorting through debris with their neighbors, searching for missing people, or inviting homeless families to stay with them.  I saw an interview with children in Joplin whose homes were not destroyed, and they said things like, “We’re not leaving.  This is a great town.  We’re the lucky ones, so we have to help those who don’t have a house.  We have to help kids and grandmas who are hurt.”  

We’re all in this togetherMore than 700 people in the Grand Rapids business community heard Governor Rick Snyder speak on April 11 about his plans to revive Michigan’s economy.  Admittedly, Snyder’s budget proposals have been controversial.  However, his words of encouragement to the audience rang true for everyone, “It’s time for all of us to step up.”  Snyder asked attendees, from kids to grandmas, to help the state by being “positive, forward-thinking, and inclusive… we’re all in this together, and we will decide our fate.”

We’re all in this togetherI had lunch recently with a friend whom I don’t see very often.  As we chatted about our children, jobs, and the state of our world he said, “We’re all in this together, aren’t we?  Do you think our children have learned this?  Is the next generation just out for themselves, or do they really understand that we are a global community, that everything we do affects kids and grandmas around the world?  The world is changing, and we have to learn to share what we have.” 

We’re all in this togetherKent County, Michigan, is creating a new school, Kent Innovation High School, which will have 115 9th graders from all 20 county public school districts.  Kent Innovation High School has been cited as a model of cooperation and best practices, and principal Kym Kimber says of the students, “They’ll be researching, solving problems and working together creatively – and having those abilities will make them successful at whatever they do in their lives.”  

We’re all in this together.  Yesterday we celebrated Memorial Day, which is a time to remember and honor the men and women in our armed forces who sacrificed their lives to ensure the freedom of all human beings.  At the heart of our military lies the conviction that soldiers are responsible for and to each other.  They always have each other’s back and stick together; no one is ever left behind.  As we sang in church on Sunday, “O beautiful for heroes proved in liberating strife, who more than self their country loved, and mercy more than life!  America!  America!  May God thy gold refine, till all success be nobleness, and every gain divine.”

We’re all in this togetherEric Mulanda, the student body president of our United Methodist Africa University, is visiting West Michigan for 3 weeks.  Eric, who is from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is the first one in his family to graduate from high school.  He could only study at Africa University because of a generous and visionary United Methodist in the United States (maybe a grandma) who provided a scholarship for him (the kid).  But Eric could not even cross the border into Zimbabwe to matriculate at AU until his father, a cleaner and cook, sacrificed an entire year’s wages ($540) for Eric to purchase a passport. 

We’re all in this togetherTime and again faithful friends and church members from kids to grandmas rally around families who have experienced tragic loss.  They provide child care, cook food, take care of errands, and simply sit with those who grieve, making visible the love of God and the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

We’re all in this togetherOur West Michigan Annual Conference begins tomorrow.  We will have a full and rich 4 days together, kids and grandmas.  We will laugh and cry together.  We will dream, debate, and engage in holy conversation together.  We will be inspired and encouraged to develop creative and transformative ministries together with the poor.  We will gain energy and momentum as we cooperate, share resources, and offer our best gifts to God, one another, and the very least of God’s children. 

A few days after the River Bank Run I was at a Board of Pensions and Health Benefits meeting where we discussed the state of our clergy Wellness Program.  The West Michigan Conference has been self-insured for almost 2 years now, which literally means, “We’re all in this together.”    

When we as clergy don’t take care of ourselves and become ill, if we have major surgery, or if we suffer from chronic diseases, the money we expend on health care doesn’t come from Blue Cross Blue Shield, Priority Health, or “somewhere.”  It comes directly from churches that provide the bulk of the premium and from the clergy themselves, who also pay a portion of their insurance.  The healthier we are, the less health care we need, and the more we all benefit.    

I was disappointed to learn at the meeting that less than 30% of clergy and families who are enrolled in our health insurance program are participating in the accompanying Wellness program.  In addition, participation dropped 31% between 2009 and 2010.  Our use of prescription drugs is twice that of the general population and currently averages $82,000 a month.  We are much more obese than the general population, and we seem to be resistant to using the 3 month mail-in prescription service, which may save us only $10-$20 per prescription but may save our health care program several hundred dollars.  If every person in our health care plan lost just 5 pounds, kid or grandma, our premiums would go down substantially, and our churches would have more financial resources for ministry. 

Clearly, the incentives that we have offered to clergy for taking a few minutes to get a health risk screening assessment, fill out a questionnaire, and participate in a follow-up coaching phone call are not working, so we are going to up the ante.  In 2012 each participating clergy will receive a rebate on their health care premium of from $420 to $700.  In addition, churches whose pastor participates in the Wellness program will receive a check for $500.

Where will this incentive money come from?  If we can prevent just one major illness over the course of a year because of the Wellness program, we’ll cover that cost.  We want to provide our clergy with the very best health care plan possible, but along with the privilege of having health care comes the responsibility to care for ourselves as best we can.  Whether we’re kids or grandmas, the choices we make affect us all. 

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it;
if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.
Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” 
I Cor. 12:26-27

I’m so glad that Ken and I ran together to the finish line, the kid and the grandma.  Of course, like all kids, Ken had to take a nap that afternoon in order to be ready to preach on Saturday night.  And, like a grandma, I took a hot bath.  Then I visited a clergyperson who was in the hospital and spent the rest of the day making the rounds at a graduation party, a retirement party, and a wedding and reception.

Ken and I are doing all we can to stay healthy at the same time as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation the world.  Why?  Because we’re all in this together


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