Tag Archives: social ministry

On how, and why, whole sectors of modern work were birthed from the heart and mind of the Christian church

Been very busy over the past few years, and a bad blogger – not posting much at all.

Among other pieces I’ve posted elsewhere but forgotten to link here at the Grateful To the Dead blog is this one, featured at The Public Discourse blog – run by the Witherspoon Institute at Princeton. The piece is a fairly brief meditation on what the Incarnation has meant in Western culture. It contains some ideas that I first published in the Medieval Wisdom book, and that I’m looking forward to extending in my next book. That book will most likely explore how entire sectors of human work that foster and support the material and social dimensions of human flourishing emerged ex corde ecclesia – from the heart of the church (and informed by the mind of the church!):

Christianity is so much more solid, and real, and human, than the “spiritual, but not religious” imitations of today. Christian faith touches every aspect of our lives—material, social, cultural. It does so because our God was born as a human baby in a stable and nurtured by a teenaged girl named Mary.

. . .

Out of a desire to imitate Christ’s compassion for those suffering from bodily illness, they poured the work of their hearts into a new institution called the hospital, succored (especially) the poor sick, and so birthed not only modern medicine but also our whole non-profit sector.

Out of fidelity to Christ’s command to “love God with their minds,” they poured the work of their minds into a new institution called the university, and so laid the foundation for the scientific revolution.

And out of aching devotion to the beauty of God’s holiness, imaged forth in Christ, they poured their imaginations and craft and labor into the glorious, soaring beauty of the Gothic cathedrals, and so nurtured and fostered artists in all media from then to now.

Healthcare. Education. Culture. To us, who labor in every kind and corner of modern human work, medieval incarnational faith speaks a “word in season.” It tells us:

Our bodies matter.

Our minds matter.

Our relationships matter.

Our work matters.

How can John Wesley help us find social forms geared to human flourishing?

wesleyAs I mentioned in a previous post, back in April of this year (2013) I spoke twice at an event centered around a new book by Indiana Wesleyan University Provost David Wright, How God Makes the World A Better Place: A Wesleyan Primer on Faith, Work, and Economic TransformationI was invited to introduce a couple of the meetings at the conference with some remarks tied to David’s work and to Wesley’s thinking on work and economics.

This is what I said at a lunch event with a roomful of SPU professors:

“How God Makes the World a Better Place: Wesleyan Contributions to a Social Framework for Human Flourishing”


First, I want us to understand the service that David has done to the church by opening the conversation on Wesley and economics in this little primer.

When I first knew that I’d be here today with you to think together about this topic, I contacted the smartest scholar of Wesley and things Wesleyan that I know: Randy Maddox, who is now at my alma mater, Duke University. “Randy,” I said, “A group is getting together in your old stomping grounds in April to talk about what Wesley can teach us about work and economics. Can you point me to some sources on that?”

Now I had full expectation that Randy would set me in a good direction. After all, this was the man who decades ago, in a chance conversation on an airplane, basically gave me an entire starting bibliography for my dissertation on the American Wesleyan holiness movement.

Instead, Randy said: “That’s great. So glad you’ll be talking about this. But this is a seriously understudied area. Almost nobody has written about this. There just aren’t that many sources I can point you toward.” Shocking! One of the world’s leading experts on Wesley not only couldn’t tell me much about this topic, but he couldn’t even point me to scholarly sources on it. That’s when I knew I had my work cut out for me. Continue reading

How did hospitals begin to change from monastic to “secular”?

Reading Guenter Risse’s account, in Mending Bodies, Saving Souls, of how hospitals were pioneered and operated for many centuries by monks, I began to wonder–how and why did this situation change? How did we get from monastic hospitals to the huge, shiny, bureaucratic and largely secular institutions that loom on today’s medical landscape? Here is the beginning (but only the beginning) of the answer to my question:

“[In the 11th century,] Benedictine monasteries throughout Europe ceased to play their hitherto prominent roles in the provision of social welfare and medical care. For almost 1,000 years, almshouses and hospitals had been organized and run in accordance with highly successful monastic models of prayer and work. Now, in the face of rapid population growth and urbanization, these establishments became inadequate purveyors of traditional charitable assistance. An increasingly urban economy based on commerce that demanded markets, contracts, and currency loans rapidly became the instrument and measure of work. Continue reading

What did medieval hospitals look like?

Continuing my reading of Guenter Risse’s Mending Bodies, Saving Souls, I encounter the following vivid description of the look, feel, administration, and theological underpinnings of those first medieval hospitals. This was not some blip in the history of medicine, but rather the way hospitals were run for many centuries from their medieval inception:

“Until the time of Purchard’s rule at St. Gall [monastery in Switzerland: Purchard was abbot from 958 to 971], hospitals in the West had been mostly small shelters established mainly for the homeless poor and travelers, including pilgrims. Some were located in cities, attached to a bishop’s palace; others operated near major roads, on mountain passes, or in monasteries alongside infirmaries restricted for sick monks. Hospitals comprised a lodging hall with 12 – 15 beds, an attached kitchen, and a chapel. Dormitories featured suspended mattresses filled with straw, pillows, bed sheets, and blankets. The large beds held two or three inmates.” (106) Continue reading

What is redemption, really? The late, great NBA basketball player Manute Bol

I hunkered down by the TV last night and watched the Minnesota Timberwolves seemingly klutz their way through another draft. Dunno how all that’s going to work out, but I’ll be in my seat at the Target Center to watch it unfold for a few games next season (I share a season ticket with friends).

Meanwhile, it only takes an article like the recent one in the Wall Street Journal about the late Manute Bol to remind me how much more important are the things of God than the trinkets of NBA drafts and NBA seasons. What a man Bol was. Check it out.