On Connecting Science-Backed Keys to Well Being and the IMMB of Community of Christ
Organizations like the Greater Good Science Center (GGSC) at UC Berkeley have brought attention to research on positive mental health and several keys to well-being: Compassion, Gratitude, Mindfulness, Diversity, Awe, Social Connection, Happiness, Forgiveness, Bridging Differences, Empathy, Altruism and Purpose. Their website is filled with practical resources and links to the scientific research that suggest their effectiveness and soundness rooted in psychological and other forms of scientific research.
Looking at these keys to well-being from the unique perspective of a Christian and member of the Community of Christ, a medium-sized progressive Christian denomination, I can see how these factors directly connect to the identity, mission, message and beliefs (IMMB) of the Community of Christ.
Compassion is seen as a key to well being by the GGSC. Community of Christ believes that a key part of Christ’s Mission is to “Abolish Poverty, End Suffering.” Indeed, Christians view of deity as profoundly compassionate. This view helps form the spiritual identity and mission of Christians to “be the hands and feet of Jesus” and incarnate these compassionate ministries within our congregations and communities.
Gratitude clearly relates to the concept of Grace and Generosity which is an “enduring principle” of the Community of Christ. We understand generosity as a response of gratitude deeply rooted in our faith and trust in God’s ultimate grace. Gratitude and thankfulness is a pervasive element of Christian worship, prayer life and thought and an important element of a Disciples Generous Response in the Community of Christ.
Mindfulness as presently defined and understood by society has been considered a relatively recent introduction. In fact, Mindfulness was first introduced into health psychology at the Massachusetts Medical Center in the late 1970s by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Of course, the term mindfulness comes from Buddhist tradition. Keeping our mind in the present moment, remaining detached and non-judgmental leads to mindfulness. From a Christian perspective, Christ embodies Shalom. Jesus taught followers to pray non-judgmentally. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” And this was accompanied by teachings to pray in a way that our thoughts were not drawn away to negative or destructive ideas: “Suffer us not to be led into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” In preparing for ministry, Jesus is said to have spent 40 days in the wilderness in prayer and resisting temptation. Hebrew and Christian scriptures have long included calls to meditation and prayer. In this sense, many Christians who have been unfamiliar with meditation practices in the past are learning to embrace mindfulness and being fully present. “Contemplative Christianity” as taught by Fr. Thomas Keating and others is a type of Christian mindfulness. An increased attention and focus in Community of Christ and Christianity in general on mindfulness will help provide pathways for members and friends to greater positive mental health. One can easily see how mindfulness and the Community of Christ enduring principle and mission initiative of “Pursuit of Peace” are related as well.
Diversity is clearly embraced in the Community of Christ enduring principle “unity in diversity.” This is reflected in worldwide and local diversity teams, principles of inclusion, and even in the ways we embrace dissent through “principles of faithful disagreement.”
Awe is reflected in the very notion of Christian worship. People also experience awe in relation to nature. Community of Christ emphasizes the “Sacredness of Nature” in its enduring principles. One can see that the deep-rooted traditions of Christian mysticism and the current central emphasis on spiritual formation in Community of Christ are both well-positioned to help individual members in pursuit of awe as a key to well-being.
Happiness is reflected in the Community of Christ Mission Statement that “We proclaim Jesus Christ and promote communities of joy, hope, love, and peace.” Joy or happiness is a long standing reflection of the “good news” of the gospel.
Forgiveness is a central Christian teaching traced directly to the statements and teachings of Jesus. It is a regarded as a basic belief in Community of Christ.
Bridging Differences is an essential action of a Christian committed to sharing Christ’s peace. Community of Christ has the word PEACE at the center of the church seal. Isaiah’s vision of the peaceable kingdom is portrayed with a lion, lamb and child in that seal. Bridging differences across political, racial and all other artificial forms of division is an essential element of being in Community of Christ.
Social Connection is understood intuitively in our name “Community” of Christ. Christians have for centuries practiced table fellowship and emphasized fraternity that extends beyond one’s own genetic family. Earlier in our history, we would often whimsically refer to ourselves as “Chatter Day Saints” and declare “potluck” as one of the Sacraments. For decades, the church has emphasized that you could walk into a church anywhere and not be a stranger. In addition, Christianity is well known as a proselytizing tradition. While the approaches this has inspired can often be criticized, they clearly do emphasize social connection. In Community of Christ, there is an emphasis on being invitational and the first of the five Community of Christ mission initiatives is “Invite People to Christ.” This social connection is also seen in the fifth of the mission initiatives to “Experience Congregations in Mission.”
Empathy is essential in both the Christian love ethic and the Community of Christ enduring principle expressed as “Worth of All Persons.” Our hymns, our teachings and our worship are imbued with empathy.
Altruism goes beyond empathy (feeling for another) to actually doing something for another. Charity is a core Christian value and is reflected in the Community of Christ mission initiative to “Abolish Poverty, End Suffering” as well as the enduring principle “Grace and Generosity.”
Purpose is found for Christians in Jesus teachings on the Kingdom of God. “It is not a destination but rather a journey and a practice.” In Community of Christ the purposeful pursuit of the Kingdom of God or Zion as a present experience and hoped-for future reality has long been taught. Community of Christ, like other Christian denominations, is a spiritual home in which persons find purpose and meaning for their lives.
To be clear, I am not aware of any scientific studies of Community of Christ practice specifically. But a review of the existing research would seem to indicate a healthy alignment between Community of Christ practices and the science behind happiness and well-being. While the terminology differs and the concepts often overlap, there does not seem to be any substantial dissonance between the scientific findings and they even seem to endorse centuries of Christian practice and Community of Christ IMMB.