Honeybee Way

Some of the wayfinding women of Stakeholder Health as we met at Salem College in Winston-Salem Thursday and Friday: Heidi, TC, Dora, Amy, Anya, Somava, Shelly, Lauran, Anna. Women have learned how to do that at Salem for 250 years.

Honeybees are the most successful species of the most recent thirty million years. The honeybee in the fossil record is essentially the same as you can find on your nearest batch of clover. Humans, inexplicably proud of our brief ten thousand years, should pause in wonder. We are doing poorly as a species, unlikely to see more than a few generations. Ironically, is common to read stories on the human internet about the demise of the honeybee! These stories are based on the widespread collapse of commercial hive operations, which often ship hundreds, even thousands, of hives on trucks to pollinate vast almond orchards. The bees die by the billions as disease spreads easily in the unnaturally weakened hives, especially from the dreaded varroa mite—the “destructor.”

Dr. Thomas Seeley notes that in nature, hives are usually dispersed two or three per square mile and seem to be rapidly adapting the behavior to resist the mite. Smart money would be on the honeybee to outlive humans by another several million years.

So perhaps we should pause and ask what we might learn from the bees about ourselves. Bees are highly evolved with every body part honed to perfection. My favorite is the middle leg joint which has a little notch through which the bee pulls the antennae to clean them when they become clogged with pollen. My knees barely permit tennis.

It is not the body parts that teach us; we are stuck with two legs and no wings. In any case, you can’t build a strategy on what we do not have. What do we have?

The main distinctive of the honeybee is not its body, but the wonderous social structure of the hive. The hive—the same 3-pound weight as a human brain—is social, intelligent and highly adaptive. It makes complex decisions, including where and when to send out the mother and half the workers create a whole new hive. For 30 million years in a row they have made that decision with stunning success. Its most experienced foragers switch from looking for the daily nectar to become scouts or, I like to think, wayfinders. They find the way, help the hive decide and then literally lead them. They couldn’t find our home; we need our own wayfinders.

What do we two-leggers have to work with as we face a tougher challenge– finding a new way to live on the one and only planet we will ever have. Despite the fantasies of a handful of delusional narcissists with so much money they can’t think straight, we can’t go anywhere. Mars? No honeybee would think about it for a nano second.

Honeybees have a vast advantage in that their social life emerges from a shared purpose every single bee will give their life for. Just this afternoon I noticed as a bumble bee found its way into my backyard Warre’ hive, which has an observation window that allowed me to watch her being chased by a guard bee a tenth its size. Humans, cursed with social media can no longer distinguish common threats, easily distracted by individualized fantasies and fears. Bees never take their eye off their common future.

Wayfinders! Dr Kimberly Dawn Wisdom receives the first Stakeholder Health Dr. Ruth Temple Award from Dr. Dora Barilla as Dr. Jerry Winslow watches from Loma Linda University (Dr. Temple’s alma mater). All of them brilliant, brave with eyes on the future of us all.

Humans do have Spirit, which some think gives us the capacity for wisdom, social imagination and common courage when facing a true discontinuity as we are now. No hardwired species would have a chance. We still do because we have Spirit, which gives us the subsidiary capacities for lamenting the lost beauties and then deep accountability for making the choices that lead to life. We can do that and have in other times of radical challenge. It is not enough to be homo sapiens, or even as we like to claim homo sapiens sapiens ( the species that knows it knows). Our only hope is to claim our capacity as homo sapiens sanctus-the Spirited species. That one might be capable of metanoia—the Great Turning so obviously required.

A tiny step in the Great Turning happens these next two Wednesdays as some wayfinders gather on Zoom for a workshop based on a book under construction. I’m delighted to be doing this with Threshold Retreat and Farms, itself a worthy harbinger of the possible. We’ll also gather in July at the farm for some in person mingling with the honeybees. We’ll help each other be a little less afraid of our wonderful world and a bit more clear about how we might live with it—especially the magnificent honeybees.

Register here. The $75 goes entirely to Threshold Retreat and Farms, of course. I’ll even sweeten the offer by making sure that anyone who registers gets a pound of the wonderful single hive vintage honey from Warthog From Hell Honey—made by fierce southern Italian bees on our porch. If the registration keeps you away, let me know and we’ll find a way, of course.

In humans even drones can help! Arvind, Rick, Ed and Terry lend energy as we met in the Innovation Quarter .
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Honeybee Spirit

I was going to write about Buffalo but then Uvalde happened which I was going to write about and then the NRA with Senator Cancun and the Former Guy happened. I just don’t have any words for the cultural/political dumpster fire. I’m in no mood to pile on to the 19 officers who had no idea what to do. I am curious about how in such a tiny town and such a blazingly screwed up kid, no pastor or youth minister had any idea either. I appreciated President Biden not giving a formal speech. Time to shut up and make something happen as there are a lot of towns like Uvalde. I’m shutting up about it, too.

—-

Honeybees have a perspective on life we could learn a lot from. They have a fossil record, not a Facebook timeline. They are focused on doing the next right thing and doing it right (paraphrasing Seth Greer’s great song). That makes them lock in on the next generation, which causes them to bring the center of the hive up to 95 degrees in late winter when it is freezing out so the Mother can start laying the eggs that will become the workers and foragers the hive will need when the Maple begins blossoming in early March.

This season I got a nucleus hive in place just before the bloom from John Lineberger, who is also a high end race car machinist. Racing bees! And, indeed, they took off and haven’t stopped even for a pit stop, piling in the honey.

We’ll have 5 gallons bottled available at the Threshold Retreat and Farms booth at Cobblestone Market Saturday just down the street from where the bees call home. This honey is a single hive vintage, sort of like the single vineyard vintages offered at the high end Round Pond Winery where Kathryn and Fernando work. Their Bovet Cab runs just under $150 a bottle. Our honey, which is technically healthier, will be $12.

This vintage will be bottled as Warthog From Hell Honey, honoring the fierce southern women bees who produced it. TC—untamable herself—suggested the name, thinking of Holly Hunter in Raising Arizona—“give me that baby you warthog from hell!” Mothers of every species are fearless on behalf of their kids. The Uvalde cops had to handcuff a mom; the bees would have approved of the mom and wondered about the drones.

Next month we’ll bottle another 15-20 gallons in a mélange from hives in Old Salem, Hispanic Waughtown, Buena Vista, Clemmons and Yadkin. The friends who work with those hives have sharply different perspectives on nearly everything except bees, but we help each other find our way. Despite politics and theology, if I needed something at 3 am at the very end of my rope and hope, I’d call one of them—probably the one I disagree with the most. That honey will be bottled under the name Honeybee Spirit, honoring exactly that.

Honeybee Spirit is also the name of the workshop I’m doing through Threshold Retreat and Farms next month. We’ll explore what we can learn about human spirit in the presence of bees. We can’t learn from the bees, since they would not deign to teach anyone without wings, antennae and only two feet. They know our species is still primitive, barely emerged from larvae stage. They trace to the wasps, before breaking off 30 million years ago to gather nectar in highly social hives that would give up their lives for each other. We’re more like the wasps, I regret to say—meat eating with limited social skills.

To learn from the bees, one has to slow down and attend. Pay close attention to what they are actually doing. I have a Warre’ hive in the back of our house. It uses a different design than the one my racing bees are growing to ridiculous scale. The Warre’, designed by a French priest to be more like the tree cavities bees prefer, has a Plexiglas window that allows me to watch the sisters build comb, tend to the larvae and even see some chewing their way out of their cell to start working. After three weeks inside the dark house, the bees become foragers, navigating by the light and position of the sun to scour in about a two or three mile radius. They invite us to look as carefully at our neighborhood, noticing what is bloom and where the best pollen is, also the rotted wood piles with the medicinal mycelium.

The bodies of the bees are perfectly evolved to read the reality of their environment and then thrive with what is offered. Every little body part is perfectly adapted. Fred Smith once asked me for what are we humans perfectly adapted? We can’t fly or even run fast; not very acute eyesight—none at all in the ultraviolet ranges bees favor. We can smell ok, but nothing like the acuity that allows bees to find subtle blossoms at distance. We can reason when we choose to, but often choose not to. We can invent entirely new things and then make them be; but often choose the most ancient and crude ways—handguns.

And then we have Spirit. I would not go so far as to say humans are the only sentient creature with Spirit. I’d be surprised if dolphin do not. Golden Retrievers, in my experience, do. And surely in some way we can’t grasp, the hive. But for what do humans’ Spirit perfectly adapt us? Africans understand that every human has spirit energy. Kant believed every human has that and creative freedom, that makes it possible for us to invent entirely new social forms, not just the iPhone and AK-15. We are obviously not going to make it another few generations if we don’t pick up the pace on growing up.

It seems likely that we humans will be known only by one of the thinnest layers in the archeological record, facing away before we barely got going. But maybe not. Maybe our capacity for Spirit might allow us to change into something more wise, generative and resilient.

I’m working on a book about all this by the same name, Honeybee Spirit. Should be ready to take wing later in the year. If you sign up for the workshop, I’ll share a working draft of the book with you. And a bottle of Honeybee Spirit honey, too. The workshop is whatever we make of it; the honey is what the honeybees have made and I can assure you, it is for the ages.

Phillip, Mellisa, James, Annie, Clay, Kelly and Linwood spinning the honey from the racing bees.
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Adults, flunking

“We will live together, or not at all. We will build hope and wholeness, or watch our children grow small, surrounded by ineffective barriers against their fears. We know that acts of compassion, nobility, faithful caring for the earth and her people are all we can do. It was once thought that acts of virtue, conservation and care were only of personal consequence. But surely it is the most fundamental adult responsibility to build and nurture systems that carry our hopes forward. (Faith&Health, The Carter Center 2001).

White Dove. Jimmy Carter, 2012

On national bee day (May 20) twenty leaders from Atrium Health met at The Carter Center to see how we might align our efforts to “To improve health, elevate hope and advance healing – for all.” This is a very large organization—some 70,000 people—serving 400 miles of rough Southern country. If the FTC allows, the circle of care will grow to include even rougher neighborhoods in Chicago and Milwaukee as we combine with Advocate-Aurora. Most of the people work inside traditional hospitals and clinics, but increasingly both science and mission draw us over the sidewalk and into the neighborhoods where elevating hope is like pushing a glacier uphill. Despite superabundant healing science and technology to see disease at the molecular level, the fundamental drivers of ill health remain mired in ugly patterns of race and poverty, often in the very same census tracts for many decades.

Adults are flunking adulthood; our children are growing smaller.

Many of my best thoughts were born at The Carter when the oak trees were smaller. The very first major project of The Carter Center was called “Closing the Gap” which asked, “how much of the current burden of premature mortality could be prevented based on what we already know.” Turns out the answer is about two-thirds. Who can act on what we know? Formal healthcare and public health are only a small part of the answer. The knowledge must come alive in the hundreds of thousands of non-profits, businesses and….faith networks. My Atrium Health collegues and I have made reducing live expectancy gap by 2030 our top level goal, so I am back face to face with the same great and still unsolved opportunity that started me in FaithHealth, still difficult for much the same reasons. The ideas that grew out of The Carter Center soil, with major help from our partners at Advocate 30 years ago, included the basic ones we are still working with today: strengths of congregations, boundary leadership, leading causes of life, religious health assets and now the prayers of the people. These ideas were like bridges across troubled water.

One idea we had at The Carter Center was “not even one,” the name from Dr. Fred Smith. Simple public health logic matched with fierce faith that refused to look past even one gun death of a child. We thought adults could be organized at the level of their town to investigate where they—the adults—had missed a chance to prevent each young persons’ gun death. It would take a lot of adults talking to each other.

The oak trees are now much larger and I find myself less hopeful than at any point in my life, sobered by war and melting planet and, most of all disabling political vitriol. So it was good to be at The Carter Center where preposterous things are made practical through tenacious and smart work: eliminating polio and guinea worm. Elections in places they are obviously impossible: Zambia, Liberia, Ghana (where I helped once). Again, diligent and non-naïve preparation, training of thousands of volunteer poll-watchers. Work in the service of noble values. Tenacious. Qualities that national Bee Day brings to view.

Yascha Mounk writes in The Atlantic about the doom spiral of “pernicious polarization”—when a society becomes fearful of its fellow-citizens, expecting ill-will and hurtful actions unprotected by law or norms that can interrupt the most ordinary days, say shopping in a neighborhood grocery story. The research indicates that the spiral is only broken by a cataclysm. You’d think losing one million people to a pandemic would do it, but it seems to have only accelerated the polarization.

Who is crazier, the shooter of children or millions of adults who allow themselves to be radically polarized?

Nobody at The Carter Center has ever been naïve about religion as both an asset and profound barrier to boundary-crossing labor. There was a time when religion itself was the agent of polarization, but that seems quaint now, replaced by raw political anger untethered by any traditional norms or rules. Our children grow small. Some are shot.

On National Bee Day, I wondered, “how do the bees avoid our kind of doom spiral?

Thomas Seeley is an impeccable researcher and professor at Cornell who has written graceful books about how bees make decisions. He has focused on the most profound risky decision of all, which is when a hive splits, sends out the current mother/queen with about half of all the workers to form a new hive. In “Honeybee Democracy” he describes in mesmerizing detail how the oldest members of the hive switch from seeking flowers to scouting for a new homesites and weigh the options. If they choose one too small, they won’t have enough honey to make it through the winter; too big and will be too cold to survive. There are six life-death criteria. The bees get it right more than 90% of the time. They have for 30 million years.

We face no less perilous a passage in finding our way toward a new political, healthcare system, economic and, yes, faith systems even as the natural systems writhe, shudder and buck. We can’t get it wrong. Seeley says there are five clues from the honeybees. The scout bees tell the truth about the many alternatives over 40 square miles. The process takes whatever it takes, maybe an hour, maybe three days. No leader warps the process. No bee lies to another.

Bees use their pin-sized brains collaboratively to scout for the alternatives and compare them to make a choice. (p100) It helps that the idea about “good enough cavity” is hardwired into those little brains. And, as in many things bee, there seems to be no detectible pride at the individual bee level. They share, then release, their individual perspective so the truth comes clear. Not shooting grandmothers and children is hardwired into even human brains. So we at least what not to do. Bill Foege, who led The Carter Center and led the field of public health to embrace gun violence as a disease once said that it is easy to have a brilliant idea; think of the dumbest thing possible and do the opposite. How do we choose the opposite?

There is no future when leaders warp our ability to talk to each other. Nothing works, choices become random and disconnected from reality. We cannot see each other or our children. We are absolutely certain to perish.

Humans do have Spirit to work with, which seems like a slim reed on which to lean. Since we have little hardwiring to move us toward common purpose, we can only hope Spirit is stronger than venal stupidity. We do have a few mature humans, so we know it is possible. But it seems like a slim hope amid the manipulated deluge of divisiveness.

The oaks at The Carter Center grow a little each year. About 15 years ago the Carters planted a small grove of American Chestnut hybrids selected from among the tiny handful that have not succumbed to the blight that wiped out millions. Real science. Tough hope. Carter—then 80 years old–knew he would not see if the experiment “worked” to again blanket the Appalachians. None of us can know any more about the seeds we are planting with our lives.

He is 95 and the trees are still growing. Listen to the man: “I have one life and one chance to make it count for something… My faith demands that I do whatever I can, wherever I am, whenever I can, for as long as I can with whatever I have to try to make a difference.”

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Strong

I rocked back in my chair as Becky brought the prayer to life in her voice. I actually heard my own prayer as if for the first time. We had gathered on a gorgeous Connecticut afternoon at Round Hill UCC using my book God and the People as a magnet. A dozen of us had convened to talk about “prayer as if for the first time.” Although mostly life-long church folks, everyone was more than a bit curious and wary of this talking to God thing. Becky read my prayer, “between clarities,” which in her voice was like opening a Springtime window: “Ever unfolding one, We live between clarities about the most important things. It makes it hard to pray. We are not clear if You invented us to have some to talk to or if we invented you for the same reason.”

That’s not something that would happen with a bowling team. Probably not many of the ten million “nonprofit organizations” in the world, either. Congregations are different social beasts. Their DNA holds distinctive strengths to find, form and express Spirit. Staggering out of COVID amid a European war, with dozens of other countries including our own simmering at the civil boiling point… we need prayer. Not religious chatter. No abstractions. Certainly not just about certainties. Prayer as honest dialogue, listening more than talking. Together.

Congregations have eight strengths which have long held my interest and kept hope alive in my life. I wrote about this nearly a quarter century ago at The Carter Center in Deeply Woven Roots, still in print and used in multiple seminaries. I name the eras of my life by the names of the congregations that held me: Milford Mill, Knollwood, Oakhurst, St John’s and Green Street. I usually sat near the door with friends outside wondering what I was doing within; and those inside wondering why I was not further in. My best thoughts grew here as doubts matured into commitments that have endured woven like threads into fabric.

Ed, Shannon, TC and Gary in the sanctuary of Round Hill Community Church

The idea that congregations have strengths is surprising to some (especially clergy!). On this side of COVID we are remembering that we have more than Zoom and social media to work with. We have things that bring humans together, woven like roots too hold us up and find nurture. We—together—have strengths. And those strengths are adequate to the vast challenges of our melting contentious planet.

These eight strengths have been tested for nearly a quarter century in many communities and congregations of many varieties and traditions. They are there for hard work, built for heavy lifting of entire neighborhoods. The National Academies of Sciences Roundtable on Population Health used this model to help grasp the role of faith-based health assets in communities. The logic of strengths is the taproot of the Memphis Model, which is about congregations, not the hospital. The strengths are the foundation of the large scale faithhealth ground game growing in the Carolinas. They are the positive power of the social determinants.

The strengths of congregations mainly function on the other side of the sidewalk from the hospital. This is why the FaithHealth Division of Atrium Wake Forest Baptist Health is part of the population health group, not solely in the clinical hospital group. We have superb chaplains who are there in the radical crises of the hospital and the poignant times of transition. But most of the time, Spirit and the congregations that nurture and express Spirit flex their social strengths in the neighborhoods where life is happening. This is why the videos based on those strengths are on the FaithHealth.org website that drives our broad “ground game” improving health.

A quarter century after discovering the framework of the eight strengths and writing Deeply Woven Roots, we’ve put up a short set of videos to help you discover your strengths and your roots. The videos are edited so you can take in the logic, or focus on each strength that seems most relevant. Prayers strengthen Spirit; the strengths give the Spirit form, sinew, muscle.

Round Hill Community Church on strong Greenwich Connecticut rock

My experience has mostly been among those trying to follow the Way of Jesus, but it turns out that the strengths are present in any temple, mosque or ashram. They are, I think, the way God has made us strong when we are humble enough to gather as we understand ourselves in the presence of the Ultimate.

We—together—are strong enough. Let me know how your strengths are expressing in the neighborhoods you love. Drop me a note at gary.gunderson@gmail.com

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Baby trouble

Lost Lake, Beartooth Wilderness in Montana

Four days after the solstice, you are more likely to catch COVID than Jesus. If you do catch Jesus on Christmas, it will probably be asymptomatic. The theological antibodies will be gone by Easter, which is the main point anyway.

Don’t blame Jesus, his parents or Paul for the confusion. None of them cared about the birth stories (Rex god via Emperor Constantine), or Santa (Coca Cola) or the tree (Teutonic tribes) or run-amok accumulation (Jeff Bezos and Sam Walton). Mary’s baby trouble would have shaken all of them—and should, us.

Very little of the Jesus story in Luke is fit for children. Ask Elizabeth: “brought down monarchs..humble lifted..rich sent empty away.” Ask Herod, who responded rationally by killing all the boys under two years of age. Or ask why John Lewis responded by taking on people like Herod and getting arrested forty times seeking Jesus’ “beloved community.” Or why a variant of the Jesus virus a century ago caused thousands of adults to gather in hundreds of church basements to invent things called hospitals. Troublesome and costly adult behavior.

The children came to Jesus in spite of, not because of, their nervous parents. The adults knew he would heal seven days a week, if you dared the desperate crowds. Jesus never sought political or theocratic office. But the parents also knew his generous life scared the powerful, who would inevitably kill him and anyone standing nearby. The kids recognized love when they saw it and came anyway.

I wrote a book of prayers last year in which I tried to sort through all this for myself and others who disagree with our younger selves about some of the answers. We are repelled by religious claptrap but still compelled by the Jesus almost lost in the fog of Bezos and our latest COVID wave. Bill Davenhall–a man of no claptrap of any kind–thinks my book of prayers is about leadership. I’d say followership. It belongs in the adult section, not on tepid “spirituality” shelves. That makes me happy and then scared, which seems closer to what Luke was writing about. John Lewis arrested 40 times for disruptive justice-making; Gary zero. But later on in his life he spent more time in committee meetings just like me. He was fighting the same fight that got him hurt; not always true for me. Maybe this is the year I hear the grown-up story, too. I pray for that.

Here’s the prayer about Jesus and John Lewis: https://vimeo.com/658180695?embedded=true&source=video_title&owner=126298847

You can buy the book here with the money going to Stakeholder Health (on Amazon, ironically): https://www.amazon.com/God-People-Prayers-Newer-Awakening/dp/1732422249/ref=sr_1_1?dchild=1&qid=1631569138&refinements=p_27%3AGary+Gunderson&s=books&sr=1-1&text=Gary+Gunderson

These are trees Jesus probably would have liked better than the ones in Home Depot

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Good Hatch Trouble

Tuesday marks the sixth year a highly interdisciplinary group has gathered to honor and reflect on the ever-new intellectual witness of Dr. John Hatch.

John Hatch Lecture Series, Register HERE!

My role is frame the occasion, which is supposed to be the opposite of giving a sermon, or worse a lecture. But Dr. Hatch leads a quietly radical life not unlike the good troublesome life of Reverend John Lewis, so I am speaking about Hatch Trouble.

I’m claiming a triple exemption as reverend, writer and academic. Which is to say that I haven’t cleared the comments with our corporate communications office. If one has not risked one’s job, the words are probably not worth speaking or listening to.

I was once asked by a suspicious Board member where this FaithHealth thing came from. I had not expected the question over breakfast, so I said, “Jesus?” And pointed out that Jesus got it from Micah and, for that matter, Genesis. The modern movement began when germs were discovered in the late 1800’s. And the great missionary hospitals around the world–including our own happy to be part of Atrium Health but still often called The Baptist.

Then in Chicago Granger Westerberg invented Faith Community Nursing about the same time Dr. Jack Geiger and Dr. John Hatch invented the first of now more than 1,400 Community Health Centers.

The movement of faithhealth has long had a awkwardly close relationship with the power of biomedical institutions and technology. My paycheck has a hospital logo on it, as have many thousands of missionary doctors and nurses. But I fear we have been too successful at integration into the biomedical institutions and not radical enough about the science of healthy human life. Dr. James Bruckner’s wrote a book by that title. A scholar of the Jewish scriptures, he notes many ways the science and ancient witness is an inconvenient truth: that life and health do not stay within the billable containers of healthcare. When the World Health Organization commissioned us to understand and then map the religious health assets relevant to HIV/AIDS in southern Africa, the villagers taught us that we can’t connect what is impossible to separate. We learned the word “Bophelo,” which we awkwardly translate into FaithHealth—no separation, one word.

The FaithHealth movement was fundamental in creating the mission of the World Health Organization–health for all, which echoes in the mission of Atrium Health, too. The Christian Medical Commission and the writings of Carl and Daniel Taylor laid down the intellectual framework which ended up captured by the clinicians and sidelining the liberators. Today, you can find this true taproot in the pedagogy of Future Generations University up in Franklin, WV, which systematically plants seeds of liberation that can grow to scale as sustained health.

We’re especially interested in the social side of the innovation, the one John Hatch learned with the men, women and children picking cotton in Mississippi. He had picked cotton in Kentucky but humbled himself to learn again from and with those on the other side of the sidewalk from the clinic.

But to call it the “social” side is to fall into the intellectual ditch of “social determinants” which conveniently but fatally strip out the psychological and spiritual dynamics that are woven into the social. This is not just impolite, but egregious intellectual malpractice.

Tepid social determinants tempt us to just do mercy with little titrate bits of social stuff, increasingly dispensed by computer algorithms. Yikes!

If they are social at all, the witness of Dr. John Hatch-—and in this year’s series Chief Health Equity Officer Victor Armstrong—the intelligence found on the other side of the sidewalk from the clinic pulls us toward trouble. Good trouble, the work of liberation in what are usually called underserved neighborhoods are under liberated.

Equity, the opposite of disparity, is not just having computers spit out the same pile of stuff. Equity is power and liberation, not just after-you-have-the-condition treatment.

John Hatch 101. Why the white Mississippi legislators tried to prevent the community health center from opening at all.

And why it did anyway, in the parsonage of a nearby church.

And why Dr. Geiger justified buying land and a tractor as part of the prescription against the travesty of malnutrition on the richest soil on the planet.

It is now common to tweak our hospital computers to keep track of social factors of our patients at the same moment insurance companies are hiring many community health workers. This is happening across the country, just as only weeks ago North Carolina inaugurated our state association of community health workers. This is very positive but could be captured by more powerful interests. Platoons of low-wage, but no power, community health workers do not honor this intellectual taproot. Not unless they own their work, share in the gain their work achieves in better outcomes and lower costs. They set people free; literally release the captives.

“Do you want to be healed?” asked Jesus at the pool? “Do you want to be healed,” asked Dr Hatch on the Delta and here at the end of Carolina clay roads. Do the work—community work—that liberates, not just titrates bits of help.

There are those who want religion protected, removed off to the side where it is safe and can chat among itself about whatever. Some claim faith institutions should receive special dispensation even removed from the basics of quarantine law, taking us back before germ theory entirely. Some would use religious freedom as a weapon to undermine the rule of civilized law that allow us to protect ourselves. The Supreme Court, made up of justices who have not picked cotton anywhere, needs to be healed. It is rare for the fullness of faith to be expressed at social scale without a working relationship with the public assets of good government. Nowhere is this more vivid than in the work of many community health centers.

You won’t hear about the privilege of faith today, not standing in the light of Dr. John Hatch. You’ll hear and be invited to listen to the voice already within you calling us to trouble, hatch trouble, good trouble. How to give ourselves away, not accumulate privileges.

When Covid came home two years ago, we all went to time out. I found myself writing, of all things, a book of prayers. When the Reverend John Lewis passed on July last year I went to my knees. On this occasion, that’s probably where we should all be.

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Amicus Prayer

Painting by Lisa Lumb

Public health and faith are on the side. When they grow distant, demagogues delight and virus clap their little hands. Good people die.

This week a man who gave his life to others every day as an EMS driver lost his life because he wasn’t vaccinated. No religion opposes vaccination, so he didn’t die because of a particular creed; rather from a mutant heresy that grew like an invasive species in the space public health and religious ethics. Some of that space was part of postmodern drift; some grew from weirdly displaced anger and some was cynically provoked. A good man died for no reason.

Normal religious practice created most of the local health departments in the US. If you go and look in the minutes of their founding meeting, you’ll see they opened in prayer with clergy on their Board. Today in Norway a very secular government funds deacons and deaconesses who practice proactive community health by tending to the neighbors with an intelligence and spirit with deep roots in the norms of Norwegian life. They are funded out of the health budget. In the US we are now seeing a rapid emergence of “community health workers” projected out of a more simplistic biomedical model with a bit of “social” sprinkled on top. But most CHW’s are just like their Norwegian peers at the intersection of public health and the religious virtues of kindness and empathy.

You could see this if you had attended even the first 30 minutes of the first meeting of the North Carolina Community Health Worker Association this past week as two Enrique Catana and June Britt, electrified the audience/congregation with their witness to the brilliance of community health work and in the process, high FaithHealth art. It is one word because in normal community there is no space between the two facets of humanity. Normal.

Thousands of public health people and practitioners will gather in Denver (virtually) to advance their science, practice and, yes, spirit. Some will gather to worship in an artful mingling of the prayers of many faiths, this year in lament for those lost to COVID. These are especially painful prayers as this profession knows how preventable so many of those deaths were.

You can pray with us and even light a candle by Zoom (details below).

This isn’t something created out of COVID emergency. It’s normal. The faith caucus has quietly been convening for about a quarter century since Dr. Cass Evans and Dr David Satcher lent their support as presidents of the APHA. Maybe we should have been less quiet.

Just before the prayers, a group of public health lawyers will be talking in another Zoom about how to counter the groups cynically using “religious freedom” as a tool to undermine the basic legal foundations of public health. The Supreme Court seems to be fishing for these aberrant cases that will leave more bodies left behind. So some people of faith are preparing “amicus briefs” to advise the highest courts in the land against falling for this most deadly failure of logic, history and faith.

I wonder if the Justices of the Supreme Court would join the interfaith worship and offer up an amicus prayer for saints of public health, those who love the whole:

God who loves every little bit of every little thing of the ragged gaggle called public,

Light our way with what both You and science see as sacred, blessed, honorable, worthy of praise and sacrifice. Thank You for the amazing array of practices, behaviors, choices that lead to life; that protect, enhance, extend and spread its blessings widely across the people.

Stop us from holding on to ourselves anything that You intend for “all.” We see that You are not done because we can see science is not done. Every day You reveal new possibilities worth doing together, as we can see how your science is a friend of humans and shows how much mercy and justice is possible.

Never let your public health servants stop talking about facts, analytics, determinants, vectors, patterns and predictors. Nurture their crazy love for the people—the public. Feed our hope for better, more and broader health. Even when those with smaller hopes take our money, put us in the dumpy offices, and cut our staff. Even when those afraid of your vision treat us badly. Do not let us quit. Keep us in our lovers quarrel with the public.

Protect us from those who have lost their love for the public. Release them to them less consequential work not played for life and death stakes. Move them someplace they will not endanger the people.

Do not make us proud of our righteousness but give us delight in being part of your messy, disappointing, ever-muddling humans called “the public.” Thank You for placing us in just the right work at just the right time.

Never let us speak out of pride; love first, last, and in between, especially in public, especially with the public, the people You so love.

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The prayer is from God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening, available here.

Join the Interfaith Celebration by Zoom

Sunday October 24 at 5-6:30 p.m Mountain Time

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/4855085889?pwd=SUF3OC9JUXFkN3dNV2hqZEl6d3NVUT09

Meeting ID: 485 508 5889 Passcode: aLbq1a 

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Mundane miracle

It was such a mundane miracle that nobody thought to take a picture: a handful of straw by a 2” cottonwood sapling at the bottom of a dry arroyo. Hope in shades of brown.

I didn’t take a proper photo, either. My ipad scrawl, instead,

The straw had not randomly blown against the sapling. Larry McEvoy thought hard enough to place the straw precisely to protect its young roots from the hot afternoon sun. The dirt took years more thought and a lot more sweat. The arroyo had once been a creek until a bulldozer turned it a county road that quickly degraded into an impassable rocky sluice. The other five square miles was variations on the same short-term idiocy. Larry and Ankie bought the broken ranch a quarter century ago with young sons. Who else could look at it and imagine Elk sipping out of the creeks that used to be there. They brought in their healing bulldozer wielded like a scalpel to build check-dams in the arroyo to catch enough run-off silt. Cottonwood became imaginable, plantable and now worth protecting against the summer blaze. Here stands a sapling, someday a tree that will protect the creek yet to come.

TC and I don’t live on a ranch, but think the five square miles of lost children of Winston-Salem with streets like dry ravines with little soil for young roots. But they once grew healthy children and can again if some grown-ups would see them like Larry saw the Cottonwood. Some see the run-off from COVID recovery funds as a chance to do the right thing. So it might happen.

Kids don’t grow any quicker than Cottonwood. They need vaccinations, books, safe places to study and oatmeal just as saplings a handful of straw against the sun. Kids need grown-ups to pay taxes to pay teachers and businesses to pay a living wage to their parents.

Tears for what is lost. And a few decades of thoughtful sweat.

Last night we had dinner with two grown-ups who still have tears for the children: Ray Chamberlain was the UMC Bishop of Virginia, now the cook, and Martha, an author who has played many roles around the world. They were celebrating God And the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. Martha’s favorite prayer: For Children Old Too Soon:

God on the run, of parents who ran to safety when the soldiers came. Fled the garage as the shepherds left. Crossed the desert wastes to give your life a chance.

Your mother without a husband,

your father without a story, refugees against an empire.

You knew early and at every step along the way how fragile and fraught the journey without help.

You must weep for others even less likely to find one.

Be with the children on their own.

They listen in the silence for the next blow to fall. Listen for the cold weight of anger from one supposed to protect, they wait for the punch on the way. Listen for the scurry of the vermin and the scatter in the dark. Listen for the parent who is working instead of tending. Listen to the names of shame and stigma. Listen for someone to say their name in kindness.

They are watching for a crack and the slight light. Watch the flow of the day and what comes next. Watch for kind eyes and an open hand. Watch for something to eat and drink. Watch for a safe place to wash.

Child God, the human one, bring us to the children on their own. May we listen and watch for them. You know their lives; teach us as would be with them. Each child a savior of us all.

Give us eyes to see the child old too soon. And eyes for pattern of the ten, hundred, thousand and million as clear as one child’s cry. Strengthen our hearts and sharpen our eyes to see the utterly predictable processes and places bereft of justice, even the shreds of mercy.

How do You stand it, God? What holds back your wrath and vengeance on all of us who care so little?

Tear away the hiding place from the ugly shadow of our lazy charity, of kindness held small. Give us no mercy and make us fear justice.

As a child, come to us and wake us up.

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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.

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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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