Praying for trouble

Last weekend I stood on stones laid by the First People two thousand years ago on a bluff in what is now called Montana. Larry and Anki McEvoy are the current human owners of these five square miles. They have placed most of it into a conservation reserve so that it might again welcome Elk and humans who wish to live with them. I was there as one of a dozen of the Stakeholder Health tribe, under Larry’s teaching about Epidemic Leadership. We were still dizzy from the COVID years, but looking for a way to give our lives away to something that might be worthy of the miracles our little planet offers up every day and to every generation. The only way to participate in such wonder is to give it away, of course.

I thought of of the Reverend Congressman John Lewis and the prayer he inspired in me as I reflected on his life. It’s better said than read. You can hear it by clicking on the picture of my by our beehives above.

Good Trouble

God of anger, fire, trouble and cry,

Kindle us, your willing embers of the world that needs a cleansing fire. We are yours to risk, eager for fresh air beyond the safe spaces. We love your street, and concrete grit. We love the stride and the heft of things worth doing, unafraid of conflict.

Let us not hold your energy lightly, unexamined and unwashed of pride. Let us not waste your hope by tethering it to our short-ranging vision. Let us not waste voice and language by limiting it to our cleverness.

Tune our ears to those hardest to hear, the ones we find annoying and inconvenient. Especially help us hear the ones that embarrass our proper friends, just as You bothered them with tax collectors, working women and the rich. You were rejected by family, nearly thrown off a cliff by neighbors. Complicate our sense of connection and draw us into the tangled humanity You have made so wonderfully and inconveniently complex.

And then, after we sense the breadth of your impossibly wide family, let us speak with simplicity of mercy and justice in kindhearted firmness.

Protect us last. Put our bodies in the way of those who would harm the poor and despised; let the bruises intended for the weak fall on us; let the venom aimed at the despised be ours. Spend us as You have spent yourself.

We know in resistance we find release; in giving, all gain. For life finds a way where we let it flow through us into lives parched for mercy, aching for justice, despairing of peace. May our young be brave. Our families raising up new prophets as our old ones take the risks reserved for those who have lived enough to give it all away.

Make our lives a protest against the lie that You have not created enough food, space and freedom to go around for all your children. We deny with generous lives the lie that You failed to design a world that might work for us all. May our kind lives protest the lie that we must narrow our hope to only those who pray like us, look like us and talk like us. May our lack of anxiety protest the bitter penury that shrinks your mercy into a fist.

Surely it is your voice that speaks of a time when your promises will be realized, the weapons laid down, the rich with the poor eating together, lamb and honeybee, Baptist and Buddhist, Anglican and Atheist quiet in wonder at how great Thou art, how blessed we are.

May it be.

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The prayer is from God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening, published by Stakeholder Press. Available on Amazon here.

Larry McEvoy’s book, Epidemic Leadership: How to Lead Infectiously in the Era of Big Problems, is here.

Thank you to Dora Barilla, Larry and Anki McEvoy, Arvind Singhal, Bobby Milstein, Colleen Flynn, Anna Creegan, Kevin Barnett, Teresa Cutts, Monte Roulier, Terry Williams, Rick Rawson, Lauran Hardin and Tom Peterson, for the experience.

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Daughters to Sisters

Gary Gunderson text / Cagn Cochrane, Illustrations

Any father with daughters spends a lot of time in prayer. I thought about this yesterday on Kathryn’s birthday, which found me at September Morn Lake high in the Beartooth Wilderness. In the 21st century once the child has managed to make it to 5 years old, they will probably live another 8 or 9 decades. This means that most of the lives of parents and children is spent with both as “adults” (not to overstate the maturity of either). Daughters become sisters. Personally, I like that a lot.

This prayer is from God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. You can find it on Stakeholder Health (stakeholderhealth.org) or Amazon here.

Thank You God who never ceases to generate new life from shared love, new love from shared life, never wasted, always creating and
recreating. Thank You for life woven from broken threads that a lesser
god would waste.

Thank You for daughters and sons as they become sisters and brothers of their parents, teaching and tending us, as they once received. What a delight to be held by those who love us. Our daughters and sons teach us so.

Thank You for weaving in ways we could not know to hope.

A hundred, thousand, million eddies in the current that deserve names and
celebrations. Every one adding, rising up and laying down, old selves fallen away for the new. As surely as the river flows You draw us, too, shaping the channel for those who come later. Teaching and releasing until gradually we are eye to eye. Then loved into memory, a story beyond us, as sons and daughters become memories themselves.

Thank You for weaving in ways we could not know to hope.

Give us pause to wonder. One parent and one daughter, one son and one brother are as galaxies in motion. Entire fields of relationship, dancing as waves in the dark. You raise us to raise each other over and again.

Thank You for weaving in ways we could know to hope.

Give us the grace to release and shed the past. Just enough grace for the day we are in with those we are with. Just enough vision of the life flowing through and among us. Thank You for making us so woven in ways we could know to hope. Amen

This prayer is from God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. You can find it on Stakeholder Health (stakeholderhealth.org) or Amazon here.

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Prayers for those in silence

Cagn Cochrane

The vast majority of my writing is hopeful, almost annoyingly so. In these COVID months I have found myself more tuned to the varieties of lament that are so appropriate. So many lost and delayed journeys, so much interrupted and lost. Even without the melting of Greenland, humiliation of lost wars despite trillions of dollars and countless thousands of lives. Viral death and weirding of democracy. Lament comes a bit easier these days, even for me. Makes me aware of so many who live in that shadow for private grief and struggles known only by a few. The book is about prayers for a newer new awakening, but not born of happy talk. You can buy the book on Amazon here.

Weeping God of sorrows,
Come tenderly to those who know sadness in these days,
The aching grey hours before dawn, when you wept for the city. And the heart-bound vacancy at noon.
The loneliness of overheard laughter,
The touch observed, meant for someone else.

Words ring false as tin, Color off in light aslant. How can I keep on singing In this strange land?

Hold me now and gather me close.
Even now my heart beats.
Even now, my blood moves in my veins.
Even now, my muscles ripple for weight to lift and work to do. Even now, draw me toward those even more alone.

God of sorrow, testify that pain is life unfinished yet,
That unresolved sadness may yet focus on what is not yet done, witness to what might be birth.
Come my father, mother, sister, brother, friend.
Come close now.

This book is available on Stakeholderhealth.org, the home of Stakeholder Press. And, of course, on Amazon here. If you buy on Amazon, be sure to leave a decent review. It really helps. All profits from the book go to Stakeholder Health, to support this most amazing web of hopeful change-makers. They’re the answer to prayers already prayed.

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Praying for a new new

I can’t imagine you’ve noticed amid the various pandemics and meltdowns but I have not been on social media very much. I have been typing and to the surprise of some of my friends, typing prayers—enough to form a decent book. Maybe my best, actually, published by Stakeholder Press, my favorite community of thought and practice. You can find it on Amazon here. And I’ll be posting some of the prayers here, of course. Here’s a taste:

“Teach us to pray,” they asked Jesus, expecting instructions. He disappointed and annoyed, as usual. But two thousand years later almost anyone attending a funeral can mumble along with the handful of phrases he offered. We have also heard it in religious places by proper people with sonorous voices, so we miss it’s radical simplicity. He spoke Aramaic in which the prayer was stark, with no temple polish at all. This is what he said, paraphrased from Matthew 6:7-13 (God save me):

“Mother, father, sister, brother and friend, Who makes everything sacred, and all life possible,

we ask only enough for today.

Release the burdens of yesterday as we release the debts of those we have burdened.

Protect us from distraction and anything that is not of life. May it be.”

That’s it.
That’s all he said.
Doesn’t seem like quite enough.

It wasn’t his only prayer, of course. Most were even shorter. “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” And, “take this cup from me.” Sometimes he just wept for what the city did not know.

He prayed most eloquently with his life, as spiritual people do, full of healing and groaning and weaving. The life resonated with intimate knowing of those he met on dusty paths and marble palaces. He told easily remembered, vivid stories that tended to mock the powerful and gave hope to those they thought beneath them.

He healed so many people in so many unauthorized ways that it drove those in politics and religious power to kill him. What kind of healing gets one killed? It starts with a simple, honest, humbling presence before the ultimate; prayer without the presence or performance. There grows an ember of something more disruptive than our schemes, programs and gizmos. That kind of prayer opens space for clarity that untethers and propels. Who knows what happens next?

Praying is not the highest expression of spirit, just as writing is not the highest expression of thinking. Doing is where we integrate muscle and mind, sweat and spirit. But there is honor in word and voice as long as both serve; a cup of cold water or a visiting somebody in jail or the “good trouble” that gets one in jail.

You’ll notice that I capitalize God and You, when I turn toward the ultimate. I’m showing respect, but do not presume chumminess. I know a 14 billion year continuing explosive phenomenon is not a buddy.

But the spirit breathing through it seems closer to a “You” than an “it.” This book is not the one exploring the cosmological theology that difference implies. I’d like to read that book, but am not attempting to write it here. These are spiritual sketches, not hard- core systematic theology. I think it best to pray first.

Maybe we can pray together, you and me. I don’t mean by you reading my words.
I hope they trigger your own Spirit to find language from your life and labor. Maybe songs or
images. The pages that follow have some of my prayers. Because I am careful with words, some of them look like poems, laid out on paper that you can scan with your eyes. Voice would be much better; you could hear their tentative offering, my uncertainty seeking faith. They are sketches in spirit, which is why they are accompanied by sketches in pen by my friend Cagn Cochrane.

Better prayers are offered in sweat, not words. Spirit woven of broken threads into something new and useful for the world. That kind of doing is a kind of thinking, sometimes even a kind of praying where words come long after. You’ll find traces of that in these prayers typed and edited, but shared work would be better.

I hope we’ll get to pray that way someday.

May that be.
May we become part of what is trying to become.
Protect us from distraction from anything that is not of life.

That’s what I’m praying for.


Any profits from the book go to Stakeholder Health. You can buy the book on stakeholderhealth.org or on Amazon here. If you purchase on Amazon, please leave a decent review to lay down breadcrumbs for others to find the book. (Thanks!)

So many to thank, which I’ve done in the actual book, but have to acknowledge Cagn Cochrane for the illustrations, Jim Cochrane for design and edits. Tom and HK for making it happen. Stakeholder friends and Wake Forest colleagues. And, of course, TC, for pretty much everything. Oh, and Jesus (prayers, after all!).

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Pause

Beauty wherever you look. Oklahoma.

As we look to DC this weekend, it would be good to breathe in and out a few times. And in doing so, pull a bit of the anxiety out of the civic breath. It’s a good time to appreciate the likelihood that the expected storm of angry violence will pass unremarkably like many winter storms do. There are, of course, entire media channels whose livelihood depends on keeping us anxious about storms of various kinds. Let them whip up somebody else. The couple thousand aged-out men (and occasional fading women) with fantasies of overthrowing our government will dissipate now that the US Army has shown up. Let them go back to wherever they came from. Let them chatter among themselves, all couple thousand of them.

The violent ones are tiny fraction of the 74,221,744 (the total voting minus two thousand) who supported our sitting President. Some are mad, some afraid, a large fraction confused, and probably half already gone back to worrying about the kids and dog next door. The 81,283,485 who voted more like me also scatter across the spectrum of elation, but all have also mostly gone back to worrying about the kids and dogs next door. Image both spectrums as one, and I’m pretty sure that the largest glump in middle have anxieties and hopes with very little to do with anything near any capitol. This is good. Democracy doesn’t work well by exaggerating the emotional implications of every twist and turn. There’s a reason bureaucrats are boring; government work is supposed to be boring, clunking along without the rest of us worrying about it.

From time to time, though, it’s not boring. Whatever you think about the election, everyone should pause to lament those dead from a tiny virus that has killed more we lost to the Third Reich. Almost everyone knows a family that has lost a member; I sure do. Focus there. And then focus on getting everyone vaccinated and the deeply bruised institutions back on their feet: the churches, schools and restaurants.

Don’t give any breathe to anyone who wants to talk about anything else, especially if it makes you angry at somebody who has not actually hurt you. If you hear that coming, walk away and find someone ready for actual human words. Don’t argue, instruct, or magnify; for God’s sake, don’t retweet or reply all.

Now is the time for grown-ups, bringing non-anxiety and non-judgement. Counsellors get paid a good hourly wage to do that, but if you’re old enough to read a blog, you’re probably capable of giving away some non-anxiety for free. That’s much more valuable than your reprocessed opinion.

It’s possible that tens of thousands of armed goobers will swarm our streets like killer bees. But probably not. I’m confident the US Army and cops can sort that out. The rest of us should figure out how to share our tiny blue planet with people who do not vote like we think they should.

Pause. Quiet. Listen.

Do it again.

Notice that days have more light. If you look closely, you’ll notice the early buds are getting ready for Spring.

Camellia bloom in the winter. Good thinking, God.

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Noticing 2020(b)

As you’re noticed, 2020 is not gone. It won’t be till we get everyone vaccinated against COVID, the Unelected One and his angry gullibles. All will pass, but not because December did. 2020(b)

The Solstice was real—shortest daylight of the year. Already a solid 8 minutes more light, with another 10 minutes by Inauguration Day. Ignore the calendar. Watch the light. (Chart here).

Kevin Barnett has goaded me into any number of life-threatening experiences on the trail. A couple years ago when we thought NC Medicaid “transformation” was happening, we flew him out to give us some clues how to transform the transformation. Turned out we were two years early, but we took advantage of his coming to go hike. Mt Sterling marks the near edge of the Great Smokies only a few hours by car and another twenty by boot, so off we went.

We were surprised as the the early spring trail crossed streams wide and fast. Eventually we thought we saw the crest so we pushed up and on. As often happens in life, we had mistaken the false summit for the true peak still hundreds of feet and several miles up the trail. Nearly out of water, we trudged heads down, hardly noticing the broad ranks of hills below. There was no water at the campsite. But we noticed a diminutive faded sign guiding us a half mile down the other side of the crest, where we found a trickle oozing through the moss. It was beautiful. That night storms, stretched our stakes and fabric to the max; bladder, too as, filled of clean mountain water, I got drenched when I had to pee. The next day was all downhill as we noticed all sorts of flowers and birds missed amid the sweat coming up.

You have to notice what’s going on in reality. Don’t take human signs seriously. Things like calendars. Even elections, which can mark the fork in the trail but don’t move the mountain.

Just after Christmas (a day chosen by a long-dead Roman politician) I was part of a conversation about “measuring.” Four Leading Causes of Life Fellows: Paul Laurienti (a no kidding brain scientist), Jim Cochrane (who has been walking from apartheid for decades), Teresa Cutts (ranked researcher who never met a academic measure she trusted) and me (I got a 92% on my NC State beekeeper exam). We wanted to go closer to reality and living, and knew that measurement often makes us dumber about that. Many of us with jobs feel pressure to measure things to prove this or that in order to earn tinsel for our professional tree. Measures are not without value, but outcomes, deliverables and other false summits can get you lost if you don’t pay attention to the ground you are walking.

So we found ourselves talking about a “discipline of noticing” that would honor and refine the “practices of noticing” …life.

We only got far enough in the conversation to clarify what we wanted. You might want to be part of finding our way.

How do we know where we are and what time it is? Look to the sunrise.

How do we know the weather? Look to the sky.

How do we know who to trust? Beware the vipers and those that live on their waste online.

In short, notice the fruits that run from the Spirit of Life. These are qualities that by scientific definition can’t be measured like quantities.

But we can notice qualities systematically. And we can help each other practice noticing so we are living in the real world.

Jim recorded the Zoom. It would be a good January 6th present to yourself to notice it. Here.

In the meantime, we work toward Spring. On the day that was supposed to be New, I built new hive boxes for my thousands of bee girls.

My bee mentor, David Link, noticed that one of my hives was small. So small that the big one started to rob it and maybe too small to stay warm through the winter. He loaned me smaller boxes. Then I drove the girls in my Mini over to Linwood’s yard and wrapped them in Styrofoam to give them a chance. As of yesterday, they were still flying. Glad David helped me notice.

I am building new frames of clear pine with finger joints so tight I need a mallet; brass screws and glue, because the bees are thinking more than one honey harvest as they have been since before we humans noticed and painted them on cave walls.

These are hard days for bees and democrats (small d). In damp 35-degree wind they huddle close and protect the next generation. They don’t crap in their capitol. When it’s warm enough go poop away from the home. On the way, they stop by the nearby Camellia to bring back some pollen and nectar. Who knew it would be blooming? They help each other notice. And so Spring comes.

Camilla are a bee girls best friend as they bloom in the Winter.

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Flow

Illustration by Zach Stewart

Jeff Bezos and the very temporary president are proud of not being each other. But in some terrible ways they are pretty much the same. For progressives and the the non-progressives, it might help to see that. Like an object too bright and obvious to stare at, you have to look to the side and see how their most banal decisions destroy things crucial to the lives of you, me and our children.

You probably haven’t heard of the Liesbeek or Canning rivers, both unremarkable streams unless it rains really hard. One wanders off the slopes of Table Mountain and drains an unremarkable handful of miles later into the Atlantic just above the Cape of Good Hope. The Canning flows north off the Brooks Range and marks the western boundary of the Alaska National Wilderness Reserve before spreading into a wide delta at the Arctic. Both have the unfortunate fate of flowing over land that Mr Bezos and Trump would like to upgrade, from pristine to something more economic. Trump’s rushing to sell off the rights to drill before he returns to civilian life. The Canning seems like a good place to look for oil to fuel all the trucks. Mr Bezos wants to run out of the distribution center he wants built on the banks of the Liesbeek.  (details here)

Of course, neither of the men have ever heard of either river. But people they employ to please them have and are not likely to suggest the slightest inconvenience to their whims or wishes.

The ancient Caribou herd by the Canning will die making way for that oil. If they could vote, Mr. Trump would have lost Alaska’s electoral votes along with all the others he’s still gobsmacked about. And if the ancestors of the Khoi who hold that Liesbeek sacred had credit cards, they would certainly be cancelling their Amazon Prime accounts. This isn’t a rational battle about high stakes or about economically essential pillars of the global economy, or even their family businesses. This isn’t even as sophisticated as weighing the trade-offs of solar, wind and nuclear so they can claim to be “green.” This isn’t weighing anything at all for any reason at all, actually. It’s lazy, not mean; banal carelessness. This happens when the people who serve people like Bezos and Trump think nobody who matters is looking. And in the minds of those who think they can do anything, who else matters?

Illustration by Zach Stewart

I’ve rafted the Canning, seen some of its caribou, Musk Ox and Grizzly. And I’ve seen rusting oil barrels left from before President Carter protected it 40 years ago (another reason to love my old boss). I suspect that nobody really wants the oil up there anymore so it will probably flow on, just as the caribou seem likely to outlive we foolish humans. The Liesbeek is another matter because it flows among the city neighborhoods of Cape Town where Amazon is busy. I know about it first because Craig Stewart brought the Liesbeek river into the heart of our book on Generative Leadership: Releasing Life in a Turbulent World. An environmental biologist and pastor, Craig helped the river teach us about how life is contained and then released in the most amazing ways. The Liesbeek had basically been turned, in days when this was the de rigueur thing to do, into a canalized concrete pipe to stop flooding. In recent years “friends of the Liesbeek” wanted the natural river back which seemed like making an egg out of an omelet. But they discovered that life will find its own life with even a tiny bit of help. The riverine biologists artfully and thoughtfully blew just a few holes into the bottom of the concrete. The life in the flow in the soil beneath the river leaped at the chance. Over some seasons, the river found itself becoming a river again and the life that depends on a river is returning.

Until Amazon felt the need for a distribution center in Cape Town and partnered with a developer to do so on a crucial and historically important wetland. Doesn’t sound much like Mr Bezos’ public claim to support climate action, does it? The local wise ones of South Africa are trying again to poke some holes in the concrete channels that protect Mr Bezos from inconvenient implications of actions taken to please him. Even a brief glance would tell him how entirely unnecessary and destructive this bit of permanent decision-making would be. When camping on the Canning, we were careful to not poop within a couple hundred feet of the river. Leave no trace even when quite inconvenient! Concrete crap is way worse.

Everything is connected. The water of the Canning and Liesbeek mingle over time in the great salt sea that wraps us all and, indeed, flows through our veins. We humans are connected, too, and are capable of mattering. The Leading Causes of Life Fellows in South Africa alerted the scattered Fellows elsewhere, which is why I’m typing this. I knew about the Canning only because another LCL Fellow, Kevin Barnett, invited me into his raft. Yet another LCL Fellow, Laura Chanchien Parajón gave her life to AMOS, which is literally hip deep in the destruction underway in Nicaragua and Honduras from two hurricanes in two weeks—unthinkable and unprecedented. Nobody’s fault, of course. But sometimes you can see the outcome from an endless chain of unreflecting and lazy decisions.

Don’t lament. And be done with the metaphors:

  1. If you are an Amazon Prime member, send a note to the customer complaint desk. Cite the website and this blog. Ask for a response and note that you are considering cancelling your membership.
  2. Leslie London, an LCL Fellow, is managing a petition drive. Sign it here.
  3. Contact your senator, Blue, Red or Purple. Ask them to ask on your behalf why there is such urgency to sell the leases in the Alaskan Wilderness. You know why, but make them say it.
  4. Send money to AMOS, the ministry that will be slogging through the Nicaraguan mud from now until we get the planet back in equilibrium. They need money now. Give Here.
Illustration by Zach Stewart

Finally, go walk by the no-big-deal stream you love. You don’t take the time to save things you don’t love, so nurture your love. TC and I love to walk along Salem Creek which has spots the Cherokee would recognize as well as places where people like Bezos have paved right up to the banks. Nurture your love and hope. Battles like these are won all the time and are only hopeless when the people who know better give up without working up a sweat. That’s what matters. That’s who matters.

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Babylon the morning after

Nevada storms against the fires on the way to see my grandsons in August.

I had not planned on needing a blog about the 10% chance that my people would not win the election. My people might still eke it out, but not the triumphal thumping we wanted. So, while there are many hundreds of thousands of votes to count with the “winner” in the balance, it is not too early to say a few things out loud.

We’re not hearing something. I’m involuntarily humbled enough to know at least that.

Those of us in public health and medicine have failed in profound ways at our most basic task of warning the people about threats and what they needed to do. I certainly thought that a quarter million dead Americans would have been heard more than they were. Perhaps we were out-shouted. But still we failed, allowing the virus to be considered unpreventable, acceptable and inevitable. Bill Foege has called this “slaughter” aiming at CDC leader Redfield. But it’s not just him with blood on his hands. We’re all splattered.

It turns out that it is possible in our highly connected world to still disconnect the dots and shout down the virus, drowning polar bears and a category 4 November hurricane. And it possible to miss how other people connect other dots. Both are deadly.

If the NYT doesn’t join Nate Silver in infamy with its predictive “needles” and my guy pulls it out, we’ll still find ourselves in unintelligible and ungovernable Babylon. The story goes that rich and powerful Babylon was divided and collapsed when it’s people could not understand the multiplicity of languages. They couldn’t hear each other. The anxieties and projected fears did the rest. They had invented some of the first codes of law, dazzling gardens and military end economic dominion.The ruins are 53 miles from Bagdad today. Could easily be us.

The States now Divided should focus on making sense of what the people that don’t understand our tongue are saying.

That’s the last thing I and we want to be relevant to, but probably am individually and as a member of many boundary-crossing networks, identities and roles. I wrote a book some years ago about “boundary leaders”—those who are drawn to the in-between spaces where things are broken, shifting, fluid and uncertain. I started thinking about all that in the failed state of Sierra Leone, curious about who beside myself were drawn to that beautiful mess of a place. Boundary Leaders tend to have more in common with other odd boundary leaders than their family, discipline, faith and jobs of origin. They—we—are often viewed with curiosity, if not active wariness, because we are at home in the in between. Sometimes we don’t even want to be there ourselves.

In times when the in between seems filled with shards, traps and flawed ideas, Boundary Leaders play a crucial systems role by creating with their—our—bodies thin filaments of connections. In the physical body, fibroblasts do that. In the social body it falls to us. I would rather be a brain cell or retina, maybe a fast twitch muscle that have earned Roger Federer so many accolades.

Boundary leaders have friends who embarrass most of their friends. They talk to people—and even like people—most of their friends find impossible. These thin, odd, fragile filaments of relationship create the possibility for the large social body to hear itself. That’s not what I’d want my –our—role to be. But that’s what we—I—need to be.

My day job is leading a group of people who live like this across the many boundaries in between faith, health, public health and and and and. We are Buddhist and Baptist, deeply enmeshed in the networks of undocumented and First Responders, left behind mountain people and those on the streets that are used to generations of isms. We are highly connected, but the opposite of powerful.

Yesterday morning Stephan and I spent 3 hours at the precinct in just this kind of difficult role with a retired military officer who had humbled himself to the role of handing out literature to people who didn’t want it. Stephan and I are pretty big deal executives, too; there because we cared so much about the opposite candidates from Alex. It was prickly and awkward, but when someone in a wheelchair showed up to vote, Alex helped them to the back door while I went and alerted the poll officers to open it up. If had fallen down, he would have helped me up, too. I can’t imagine agreeing on anything else.

We did leave exchanging business cards and tentatively agreed to set up a red/blue softball game. Might be in the Spring when the fevers have broken. I don’t really want to play. But probably should.

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Next?

What if the 90% probability of a new president happens? The dust will settle and shouting die down. At some point even the lawyers will weary of their billable futile toil.

What then a week from now?

And the decade after that?

First, go remake friends with someone you disagreed with. Buy lunch. Talk about kids.

Then find something to do to care for the world God so loves and for the city and county that pretty much everyone who lives there loves, too.

There is too much broken to figure out what to fix first. Don’t try. You won’t care about my lengthy footnotes about the Canning River and honeybees and smoke coming in my grandsons’ window. You have such a list, too. We can’t fix it all.

What do?

We can follow the lead of the infinitely generative capacities of life. If there is a seed wanting soil, plant it. There are many seeds already in the soil, so water them. There are children already here, so feed, love and teach them. All of them. Sunlight already streaming, so capture it.

In every negative phenomenon at every scale there are positive clues that point the way. This is the startling data-driven testimony of the Positive Deviance tribe led by Arvind Singhal:

Look in the data you lament.

Focus on the positive deviation. It’s there.

Focus then on the behavior driving the deviation. It’s there, too.

Figure out how to spread the deviation.

The spread of the positive follows the ways of life. Jonas Salk thought that life spreads exactly as do virus, by learning and adapting to what reality makes possible. Try, fail, try, fail, try, fail. Adapt and try again until we find the way. Tenacity doesn’t always work, as Bill Foege once said. But he continued, “it’s the only thing that works.”

The search for the positive deviation spreads quicker if you have a light to guide you. That’s what a theory is—it helps us see where to look in the data and then what tools to build. A good theory for these broken open days is Leading Causes of Life. How probable is it that the Positive Deviance tribe would converge with the Leading Causes of Life tribe? About 90%.

What happens when tribes meet? They share songs, stories and technology. And, if not amid a pandemic, a lot of beer and dance. Then they create new songs, stories and tools. You can see that happening here on a series of collaborative YouTube channel called “flip to life.” Here are the first four, with many to come:

(If you haven’t voted, this is a good playlist to listen while you’re in line.)

All the members of these tribes are members of many other tribes. The connectional tissue is crucial to life. In our human bodies the fibroblasts are the most common kind of cell, literally everywhere in and around every organ. They are nearly my favorite, acting all the time, but especially in trauma and injury. They rush to the point of pain and create new connectional tissue—collagen—perfectly suited to the exact needs and opportunities there. I’ve been thinking of them a lot lately for that is exactly what we need in every family, neighborhood, city, county, state, nation and ecosystem. I wrote a longer piece about you can get here.

And that is exactly what we have to work with—already there, already healing waiting for us to lend ourselves to the task. Bobby Milstein calls for thousands of Stewards to heal the nation and find our way forward to all that science, faith and democracy make possible.

A congregation of fibroblast cells doing what they do together. (Image from sciencephoto.com)

That’s who we are.

That’s what we do. Next week. And the next ten years.

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Spirit of the People

A candidate for the NC State senate prayed in front of the crowd in red hats when Mr. Trump came to the Winston-Salem airport a few weeks ago. This week she is running blood curdling attack ads against a member of a local church, running against her, Terri LeGrand. Terri is a friend of mine, visited with the local ministerial association, but is careful to not make a big show of her faith. Her website reads like Francis of Assisi, all about caring for the kids, planet and the vulnerable. Every time I see her attacked on TV, we send her a little more money (you can do that here).

In years past, the Democrats effectively gave religion away to the Republicans, hardly lifting a keystroke even though there are likely more religious Democrats than all Republicans combined. There are more democrats and, being Americans, most are religious. They’re just less likely to weaponize it. Some denominations, such as the African Methodist Episcopal, are 92% Democrat. Those that claim “nothing in particular” are 49% Democrat, just a smidgen more than Catholics. Southern Baptists are still 26% Democrat, even though about 80% voted for Mr. Trump in the last election. (Pew Religious Landscape Study, 2014)

This year a number of groups are actively working to elect Mr. Biden, including 1,600 faith leaders organized by Vote Common Good. Rev. Doug Padgitt brings their bright orange bus with Faith, Hope and Love in 3-foot letters through Winston-Salem Tuesday. Their original goal was to tip 5% of evangelical voters from Trump to Biden, which has already happened in the polls, now currently showing 11% support. Doug is not a subtle guy; the map on the side of the bus shows the swing states  where this kind of political love is relevant, including North Carolina.

A Baptist, Doug travels with a band playing songs about mercy, justice and walking humbly. It would annoy the Pharisees and, I think, make Jesus tap his foot. (Listen here.) God so loved the people—the polis.  Act that way,–no mean-spirited attacks on other Christians. But don’t be surprised when the weaponized Christians come after you anyway. Ask Terri and Doug.

The best and worst things a democracy does are powered by the winds of the Spirit. Presbyterian pastors wrote books justifying slavery at the very moment that other Christians were running the underground railroad. In South Africa the worst Apartheid laws has Christian titles, just as Archbishop Tutu embodied its downfall. Go humbly into politics, don’t assign God a political label. Save one’s boldness for works of mercy, justice and love.

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