Post post truth

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Even lying in the brush, just barely cleared of the vines the old apple wood is like sculpture.

How is the post truth era coming work out for everybody? Turns out it doesn’t take long for truth to pop out when you least expect it like dandelions on an early spring lawn.

You Know Who has already passed his tipping point, although much damage remains to be experienced with the collapse of the trappings. Every goon in the wide world sees their opening, so a lot of young men and vulnerable women are going to suffer while he and his minor minions tweet, flay and golf in their bubble. He is his own parody, only believed by a shrinking portion of his sad and anxious core who are already starting to peel away in embarrassment. It is already past time to be afraid of him and his overmatched helpers.

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Rabbi Mark Cohn from Temple Emanuel helps bless the United Health Center facility. He explains that “anointing” in Hebrew means preparation for justice and mercy.

It is critical that we not amplify the damage of the collapse by reinforcing the false boundaries he has worked so hard to draw between citizens and humans who actually share real challenges. I am thinking of the many left behind towns in North Carolina filled with people who care about each other just as we occasionally have a chance to care for them in our medical settings. Most of the people in this part of the state voted for him, and not all with mixed feelings. Many are deeply frustrated and angry. But is a false boundary drawn between the vulnerable white, brown, blue and black. It is a false boundary drawn between Baptist, Catholic, the nones and the handful of Muslims in part of the world. It is a false boundary between those who speak Spanish and those who speak mountain.

Do not let your enemy tell you who your enemies are. Good advice for politics or bars. That’s what the rural poor whites fall for every damn time, as the rich manage to convince them to fear and then hate someone entirely irrelevant to their actual problems such as Blacks, Syrians or Mexicans or Baptists.

And be slow to follow the herd of your friends’ fears, too.

In real life our identity, interests, hopes and fears lie every which way across the lines supposed to divide us and contain us. This is why the communion table has no gate and no price.

This is why great drama is so disturbingly powerful; it helps us see the astonishing way that humanity is found across all the divides that benefit the rich and powerful. But what are words for in a time supposed to be beyond truth? They bring us back to truth by way of our humanity. I was talking about this with my daughter, Lauren, who happens to be the most produced living playwright in America these days (look it up). She should know.

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Set from the Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson staged at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts 

In her most recent play, The Book of Will, one of the Kings’ Men tries to comfort a fellow actor who has lost his wife. They find refuge on an empty stage, which in Lauren’s mind is as a holy sanctuary. “History walks here, love is lived here, Loss is met and wept for and understood and survived here and not the first time but every time. WE play love’s first look and life’s last here every day. And you will see yourself in it, or your fear, or your future before the play’s end. And you will test your heart against trouble and joy, and every time you’ll feel a flicker or a fountain of feeling that, yes, you are yet living.”

The truth draws us across false boundaries into common humanity. This is exactly why the powerful and privileged pour time and fabulous amounts of money into lies. The truth does make us free; free from false boundaries. When anyone tells you to hate someone, ask who would benefit?

This kind of radical truth sizzles and simmers with the energy of liberation—another reason the powerful fear it. It turns accurate science and deeply reflected true language into fire.

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Gradually the second life of the old wood emerges.

Earlier in the play a young woman explains to Ben Johnson why Shakespeare’s stories burned their way across lines of class and privilege: “A poet of the heart always beats a scholar. No highborn Latin rationalism can grip like a story of passion, of men and women alight with revenge or love or loss because we are animals at heart and isn’t that exciting. You wrote for professors, he wrote for people. And for good or ill, the later rule the world I live in.”

Roughly one and a half millennia before Mr. Shakespeare another traveling voice said with some passion, “” Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Philippians 4:8, NIV).

It is a time for true language in the pulpit or precinct, stage or screen, with keyboard or voice.

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Even while still on the lathe the grain leaps into view with just a bit of beeswax. 

Yesterday a small group gathered in the waiting room of the new United Health Center offices on Peters Creek Parkway not far from our home and even closer to the hospital. We gathered to anoint this federally qualified health center (FQHC) in the languages of those who see this as a sign that God hasn’t given up on the people in this funny little Piedmont town, so filled with poor and vulnerable people it literally doesn’t know what to do. An FQHC is about the only thing Republicans and Democrats like, although the structure dates to the earliest days of the Johnson era war on poverty. The first one actually started in a church in Mississippi by Drs John Hatch and Jack Geiger when the state legislature tried to block it from opening. Mercy is still a pretty radical idea that deserves anointing whenever it breaks
We closed in common voice, as we often do, “For God so loved the world that God sends us to live here. Never be afraid of who God loves. Never give up on who God loves. Now we go to heal and find our healing, to make peace and find our peace.”

Tell that story; don’t add to the dividing narrative.

 

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Assassinated Refugee

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Shadi Qasem, MD, Pathology Wake Forest Baptist Health and Coordinator, J’ummah Services

We gathered in chapel that often give refuge to the grieving, Davis Chapel of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. Today, we gathered to give each other the shelter of our shared prayers for peace, reconcilliation, simple decency in a time filled with vitriol. The worst behavior in public seems to be amplified and sanctified by those who use the same language we prayed in in accents of Arabic and southern english. We can’t be chasing vile tweets of the powerful with prayers, but then again, where else can we begin, but find our way into common space and life up prayers?

As a Vice President of an Academic Medical Center, I am glad to speak in and honor the language of the many faiths of my colleagues, patients and neighbors. Today I pray in my natural language, that of my birth–and second birth—and as a follower of the One with no home at all, Jesus.

Gracious God, who came to us on the run, to parents of no count hidden in a barn. The Holy Refugee, despised for befriending the despised, a worry to those in power and distraction to those who trust only the power of politics and violence. You never voted and nobody ever voted for you; but you showed us the way of radical kindness, healing and disruptive truth that led to a cross and then life continuing.

Guide our feet that we not run your race in vain.

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Prayers from the Buddhist Tradition offered by Lauren West-Livingston, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, MD/ PhD, 2022

Forgive us for we know not what we do…when we are complicit with the powers that mock your love. Forgive us for we know not what to do when all of those people in our government who wield those powers are varieties of Christians, claiming you as I do.

While we wait for wisdom about that, give us today the heart for brave kindness so that we will call by name friends the government would give no name and tell us to fear. Make us crazy with hope that the truth will make us all free find the minor courage to act with mercy and justice for all.

Break our hearts wide open today and every day so that your love might flow in and then through, reconciling your children across all the meaningless boundaries that are less than the only holy allegiance that saves and makes whole.

In the strong and gentle name of the assassinated and risen savior Jesus, I offer this prayer, Amen.

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Thanks for the fish

IMG_0537Sunday morning I found myself, an incurable optimist, preaching perched on the chasm of doom, 46 hours into a Trump presidency. Green Street United Methodist is the archetype of the raggedly dogged social action church. The kind that Newt things is dead, when, actually, it’s not even tired. But Sunday was still a tough sell for hope.

The first lectionary text for the day was better suited to the more triumphal congregations; it’s the one from Isaiah, about how the light is now shining out of deep darkness. I skipped that one, muttering. Here’s the thing; nothing in the scripture helps us much right now, if the subject is democratic process. We are way off the biblical map, since the canon closed 9 centuries before the Magna Carta, 13 before European convicts settled the Carolinas, 14 before the Moravians came down the Shenandoah to what is now precinct 601 in Forsyth County. It was 16 centuries before anyone but white men could vote in anything worthy of the name democracy. Jesus didn’t vote and nobody voted for him.

So there is no relevant political guidance to found, although I will point out that there is a lot in the Bible that the absolute rulers found comforting. Every king since Constantine had their very own Christian chapel and Christian chaplain. John Wesley isn’t a lot of help either. He thought his American followers were way off the rails with the democracy thing. He opposed the revolution, supported the King and scolded all of our founding fathers for their childish overreaching.

It’s only quite recently that it occurred to any theologian that people of faith could create a democratic government with qualities of mercy and justice. And they never would have imagined that once we had it, we would let it float away on a froth of nonsense. How has the brief American experiment come to this? Especially now amid a vast tide of rootless suffering on a melting planet. This is simply beyond the imagination of any of the biblical authors except maybe whacked out Ezekiel and the inscrutable dude who wrote Revelations.

I don’t know about you, but I’m attending the Democratic party precinct 601 meeting next month. I’m ashamed to say it will be my first meeting. Perhaps you have many such missed citizen opportunities, too. Quit missing them. Programs and policies laboriously put in place over decades are about to evaporate at the clumsy hands of people who know not much of anything, much less what their actions will do those with the least capacity to absorb one more blow, one more insult, live with one more burden. Put your phone down and show up.

The Bible doesn’t help us know how to fix democracy; but it does have a lot to say about how to live without having power and even more about not needing it.

You don’t need Ezekiel or the Revelations dude at a moment like this. Head for Jesus. Look at what he did right after his mentor John was arrested by Homeland Security. Herod didn’t need to tweet his move; everybody knew his appetites and paranoia; it was just a matter of time till he went after John like someone we know went after John Lewis. Jesus was part of John’s movement, so wasn’t surprised by the arrest. When Herod made his move, Jesus headed for the hills. Then in utter vulnerability he came back down, started forming and collecting his confoundingly unexpected movement. His was not like John’s, except in its radicality. Jesus’ radicality went much farther and in a different direction than your normal righteous protest. It was marked from the first by a ridiculous amount of healing and radical generosity that made no sense. It was almost as if Jesus was declaring an end to religion, not just offering a new flavor. This was confusing from the start and unsatisfying to revolutionaries and rulers ever since.

What did Jesus find in the wilderness? In the second half of my life, I find myself going to the wild places more and more. Two weeks after the election I was in the wilderness end of the Grand Canyon down a mile from the rim near the river. On the way back up, I learned a lot as we were caught in a winter storm.

As we picked our way up the trail, we heard stone move high above us, then bounce once, twice, three times and, after a long silence a swinging sword, a sharp crack more like a cannon far below. Even through the sleet and wind, the sound cut hard with menace even though we knew the Canyon wasn’t thinking about anything but gravity.

Nature and the fundamental drivers of large scale change do not care what humans think, feel or tweet. The Colorado plateau tilted up over millions of years, draining an ocean that cut like a saw through a billion years of rock in what by geologic standards was a relative handful of years. It carved a cathedral. But, I don’t even think the Canyon knows or cares about its own beauty.

Don’t worry about the Canyon. The climate deniers will be long gone before another few rocks fall; we will all be entirely unremembered before the river cuts another quarter inch from the basalt floor. This is the natural fact Jesus would have learned in the wilds east of Jerusalem.

img_0875I think Jesus went to the wild places to remember another natural fact more preposterous than all the canyons on earth; that amid all the harshness, fragility and loss, loving kindness survives. Humans care and care for each other, even as blood, race, wealth, politics, religion and ethnicity fall like nameless stone from the cliffs. The rocks fall, the kindness survives.

What could be more obvious than the fact that everyone who has ever lived died, felt pain and knew sorrow. We know it for ourselves and we know it for all those we love, too. Bitter resignation makes sense. But generation after generation, we find lovingkindness.

Life is fragile, short and harsh, THEREFORE be radical in your love.

My Mom died a few days short of 18 years ago. She was a practical person not given to symbol. I’m more of a romantic, so when she was near death, I took her hand and asked her if she had last words for me. She looked at me and said, “no, I think you’ve got it. You’ll remember what you need when the time comes.”

Today is a time for us to remember what Jesus told us. We need it now. Wayne Merritt, a Baptist drinking buddy who taught me Greek, said that Jesus’ message was that you will know the truth and the truth will make you odd.

Jesus came out of the wilderness and gave himself to healing —and never stopped, even for the Sabbath. He said that he would stop healing when his Parent did. How preposterous; how human, how holy; we don’t know whether to laugh at him or cry for how strange that is to us.

And what did he do beside healing pretty much everyone in sight? What does he tell his movement to do? He doesn’t give them a box of tricks to win anything at all, but a way to live; And what a crazy way! How happy are the humble, those who know sorrow, who claim nothing, who are starving for goodness. Here it shifts: How happy are the merciful (not desiring to show mercy, but doing it); and so too those who are actually sincere and those who do the work of peacemaking. And, here it gets even worse: happy are those who suffer persecution for the cause of goodness, especially when people tweet about you and make things up entirely. If you suffer for living a true life of radical generosity, how lucky you are!

This, Jesus says, is what salt is for, what a light is for, what we are for.

He keeps the radical pedal down, which must have been a shock to those just looking for some free medical care or to get some demons released. Jesus said that anger is as bad as murder! Anyone who calls someone a fool commits a serious crime and that anyone who says someone is lost is himself heading straight to the fire. Recently, I happen to frequently call a particular group lost fools, which makes me guilty of both of those. I wish Jesus would be more reasonable and supportive of our movement.

But he didn’t get more reasonable; he just keeps getting worse. Don’t tell people that God will guarantee your promise, no eye for an eye, no hitting back and if the cop makes you do one mile, give them another. And give to anybody who asks anything (I can tell you that’s dumb; that’s why I ended up in the pulpit!).

On and on, page after page, without a single tip about how to beat Herod, his deeply annoying glameroti and his horrible ever-grinning children. “Jesus…..is…..impossible,” every king and king-hater has said for two millennia.

“Comfort my people, for in the darkness we have a seen a great light.” But the light of Jesus is not the light we want. It is not a way out or a way over, but a way through; a way to live day by day, year by year, even generation after generation after generation, if we have to, waiting for the promises of god for mercy and justice to be realized. And what do we do while we wait for the big show? Go do mercy and some justice, that’s what. Jesus’ promise is that you and I can live this way, The Way, the only way which gives life a chance at all.

Come and be part of the end of all fear, especially the fear of all death and all that claims the power to kill. Come and give your body and mind to The Way that leads to life. Give yourself away, every bit and you will feel the life flow where once you held tight to your little fears and hopes. Give it away, every bit. Be part of the healing and don’t start big. Before you make a big holy show of it, think of your brother, sister, former spouse or left-behind friend; go make peace with them first. Come away from the anger and scheming. Quit bargaining and holding your minor gains as if they will last. Live this way now and you will find life flowing freely, abundant, overflowing beyond all measure at all.

You might point out that, technically, it didn’t work out so well for Jesus or those who bet their lives on his words. Herod won without a recount. Pilot, two clicks meaner; he won, too. Most kings do. But take a look at the end of Jesus story.

The story of the boats and fishers is so good that it show up in all four gospels in four different ways. John puts the story in the tender days after the assassination and scattering, when the fishermen went back to fishing for fish. Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, Zebedee’s sons and two other disciples were hiding at the lake north of Mt. Airy. Peter announced that he was going fishing and since nobody wanted to be left behind, they all tumbled in. They stayed out all night, and caught nothing. They headed back in, even more discouraged than when they started, except now hungry, too. Jesus watched from the beach across the early still mist and then called, “children, have you caught anything to eat?” (No, of course.) “Cast on the right side where its deeper and you’ll find some.” They netted so many they couldn’t haul them in. John reports that it was 153, which is like counting the beer bottles left on the lawn after beating Carolina. Peter, sure didn’t count the fish. Naked, he jumped out of the boat, pushing his way a hundred yards through waste-deep water to get to his beloved friend.

Jesus had started a charcoal fire going on the beach, expecting the haul, toasting some bread. “Bring me some of the fish; y’all need some breakfast.”

Listen to the tenderness of the one who calls us into a preposterous Way of generous vulnerability. This is a savior who knows we need to eat as much as we need hope; and that we need hope as much as we need breakfast.

Be as careful with each others’ hearts and spirits in these tender days as Jesus was that morning.

Jesus does not give us a way to beat the mean and violent, but neither it is a counsel to give way to the liars and schemers. He gives us The Way to not be like them. So do not let your fear draw you toward them or their way. They have no power over you and they have no power to stop you from living The Way of Life. Their castles are as froth on the waves. You are drawing from a deeper place, carried by a deeper current, that can cut through stone like the Colorado.

The healer is here among as we fish, and type and give away our lives in healing, or teaching or raising up the voice of hope through art or kindness. Give yourself to life-giving now, not later; save nothing back for a safer or smarter time. The Reign of God is at hand, says Jesus. I think he meant your very fingertips.

“Hey,” says Jesus, “do you want some fish?”

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Christmas Benediction

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A clearing in the Black Forest near Goettelfingen, Germany

Few countries know more about the dark side of the blend of Christianity, nationalism and strong-man politics than Germany. And few peoples have shown as generous a spirit as have the Germans in recent years regarding the horrors of the Syrian experience. As I think of our own troubling passage as a people, nation and faith, this word from Jim Cochrane seemed my best gift on Christmas.

Today, a year ago, a group of 30 or so Syrian refugees arrived quite suddenly, in the dark, to our little Black Forest village named Goettelfingen (one translation: home of little gods). We knew some people were coming but not who or even exactly when. Renate, as the local pastor, immediately jumped in to help them get into the unused B&B that was now to be their home. None of the Syrians spoke German, or French, one a tiny bit of English, but fortunately, a young man, Mohamed, also a refugee but in Germany for a while, came from a town some 20 miles away, and helped translate.
The next evening, tomorrow a year ago, as is the custom in Germany, Renate led the key Christmas eve service — far more important than Christmas Day, the one day you can be sure the place is jam packed. It is also the time for the children’s nativity play that they had been rehearsing over the past weeks. However one assesses it, it is a genuinely holy day, a day “set aside.”
Renate had invited the Syrians, thinking that they might find it helpful to get a feel of how Germans are culturally on a special occasion, a contribution to some kind of warmth and hospitality and an opening for some potential integration over time, in both directions. Knowing they were Muslims and in any case would understand very little, she did not expect them to come.
The church filled up, yes indeed, jam packed, kids in front of the tree near the altar, all dressed up for their play. The bells began to ring to signal the beginning of worship. Just then the woman who greeted people at the door rushed in to Renate: “They are COMING! What are we going to do? Where will they fit?”
Out of the dark down the one significant road came the Syrians, the whole group, half of them children of various ages. Renate asked the stewards to clear a space in the front, got all children to sit on the floor, has some folks go upstairs to sit on the stairs or squeeze in, and the Syrians were all accommodated up front.
Later we learned that the Syrian children were particularly excited that one of the nativity play figures was “just like us” — Mary, with a shawl over her head.
Meanwhile the service continued. As it came to an end, Renate began the benediction, the prayer of well-being and release back “into the world.” She was barely into this final prayer when a cellphone rang — one of the Syrian guests has forgotten to switch one off and in embarrassment scrambled to shut it down. But enough had been heard. The phone was set for the final and fifth call to prayer for the day: “Allahu akbar!” it rang out into the middle of the Christian prayer. What a moment … it was stunning, it stopped everyone short. And it changed Goettelfingen forever whether all the inhabitants had recognized it or not.
That is the new world, and even if already part of the present, that is the future. There is nothing that can stop human beings from spreading, from having to encounter each other across many strangenesses or barriers, and from having willy-nilly to live up to the best of which we are capable in that regard. We have that capacity, and we know it, and we can live out of it. All those who are frightened by that thought or resist the apparent loss of some imagined “pure” or “originary” or “unadulterated” previous identity will have to come to terms with it no matter how much they may in the meanwhile hurt others in their fear or anger. And in that lies our hope and the task of helping everyone along.
And that story and thought, despite the negativities our this time and the pathologies that seem so strong, is what I want to share with you all in wishing each of you on behalf of the Leading Causes of Life Initiative Core Group a richly festive and enlivening season at the end of this year and a promising new year ahead.
jim

James R Cochrane
   Emeritus Professor (Religious Studies) &
   Senior Research Associate (School of Public Health & Family Medicine), University of Cape Town.
   Adjunct Professor (Dept of Social Sciences & Health Policy), Wake Forest School of Medicine, USA.

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The view from the sanctuary of the Lutheran church in Goettelfingen

 

 

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Natural Fact

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Hermit Creek, usually only 2 feet wide, cut its way through solid rock to the Colorado a mile below here.

The Canyon that John Wesley Powell called Grand was thought useless by the first Europeans who were looking for gold. Their Hopi guides did not dissuade them or show them the trails down through the impossible chasm, so it was left unvisited for two centuries until one-armed Powell came back. The Canyon didn’t care. It just went on emerging as it still is, now swarmed by millions of tourists from rim and helicopter, a few thousand who hike and a few who even sleep amid the unthinkably ancient rocks.

Kevin Barnett and I slipped away from a nearby meeting in Phoenix, raced to the rim and down the abandoned trail to Hermit’s Rapids on the western end of the Park. It was the only permit we could get after three tries and were warned by the rangers it was “aggressive.” The email noted that those who tried this one experienced a range of bad things, “sometimes even death.” REI doesn’t have a department for that but we thought ourselves within the range of fitness (and folly), so there we went. It was aggressive, although we should note that two dozen of the three we passed on the trail were….our age. And, we guessed, tough tofu eaters seeking refuge from the trumpian dystopia.

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November at the Hermit rapids.

It was on the way back up we learned about nature, beginning in the forty degree blowing morning mist trying to dig a hole in the shale sufficient to poop in. I am hoping that will be the most disagreeable poop of my life.

Nature doesn’t care what humans think, feel or spin. The Colorado plateau rose up, drained an ocean cut a river that still runs deep. The savage economy of water, wind and gravity cut and undercut, carving what to any human with any spirit at all is a cathedral to the endless creativity of time.

But the Canyon doesn’t care about that. It is still becoming.

The rain and wind picked up as we left the Tonto Trail back up the Hermit Rest trail. We left at dawn and slowly noticed the quickly moving clouds, but were surprised by the thunder and even more by the lightening on the plateau high above. Up a thousand feet the hail started and wind went sideways, totally defeating our nifty REI rain gear. The water ran red off the cliffs and coursed down the trail. We could see the creek that we had been able to step across the day before, now surging white and brown, wondering about the couple and their daughter we saw head down that way.

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Kevin Barnett, thought leader and hiking friend near the base.

The Canyon is vast but not wild. 12 miles up from where we had slept Horn creek runs radioactive from mining that stopped when I was four years old. It will be dangerous when my grandsons have grandsons. At the river we slept where an orchard had grown once. We knew that every cave, even the ones high on the cliffs hid birds twisted out of wild grass by people whose name we do not know for reasons we do not know; symbols of love or worship? So too it will be with us, our voice and pride.

We picked our way across a ravine where a landslide happened back when Jimmy Carter was elected, which isn’t that long ago geologically speaking. The shards are still sharp and gravel ready to move again, not quite at rest. Far above we could hear other rocks sliding and then, breaking like canon fire when they hit below. One the size of a piano hit a woman a year ago, but the Canyon is a big place so were more worried about the sleet and slippery rocks beneath our feet. We kept going, chewing energy bars and electrolyte things, which seemed to work.

We were strong enough to walk and too cold to stop, so for hours the Canyon taught us about the fragility of humans, our toys and ways. Five hours in the sun broke through, clouds still scudding past, but broken now. We could see the plateau above and, then, ridiculously beneath us in between the couple of miles over to the next butte, what should appear but a rainbow, the curve of which seemed to match the trail left above.

I wondered about the Canyon not caring. Perhaps I was projecting; but I knew that TC had sensed the danger and been praying. I took it as a blessing, but also a warning. Another thunder crack. Three minutes after reaching the rental car, a squall line of snow and sleet whipped across the plateau.

gg-canyon-rainbowx-copyWe were almost afraid to check CNN to find what had happened while we were happily remote. We turned the heater up high and headed back to the city, grateful, chastened; awed again. Don’t worry about the Canyon; it doesn’t care. Mr Trump and his deniers will be gone before another few rocks fall, entirely unremembered before the river cuts another inch from the basalt floor. Natural fact.

The other natural fact is more preposterous; that we care and care for each other. A few days after sleeping on Canyon rocks, I was privileged to be the executive on call in the hospital, spending the weekend with the security guys and nurses and docs pulling the holiday shifts. I like to slip in a prayer on Sundays:

Dear preposterous God,

What could be more obvious than the natural fact that everyone who has ever lived died, felt pain and knew sorrow. We know that, too. And we know that all those we love will learn this, too. So why, against all the force of natural fact, we find ourselves able to heal, to offer comfort with all pills and touch and technology we can conjure, every single day, all around the clock, year after year. Why does the healing never stop? Is this folly, delusion; or are we drawn to something about the world we come closest to when—in fellowship with others—we open ourselves to hope, healing and life? Jesus—a healer who never stopped, even for the Sabbath—said that he only stopped healing when his Parent did. How preposterous; how human, how holy; we don’t whether to laugh or cry. Either way, thank you for bringing us close to that natural mystery of human life.

Natural fact.

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There it is

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Looking to the sunrise from Fancy Gap, VA over toward the Sauratown Mountains.

President Obama was right; the sun did rise the day after the election. Since I am still reorienting to a seven-hour time zone shift from South Africa, I can tell you that it is about rise on Sunday, too.

Rev. Bill Torkell was one of the great souls who was a damaged man, but knew it, which made him more whole than most everyone. He had worked many jobs—including chaplain at Methodist in Memphis. He hurt enough people along the way to love clear-eyed and openly all of us. He would say, “There is is. There it is if you like it; there it is if you don’t; but there it is.”

So there it is. Seems pretty perilous to me, given that we’re down to hoping on Mike Pence and four Trump children to keep the nutters away from the red buttons on the dash board. There it is.

Garrison Keillor says it is a good time for us liberals to go for a walk around the block: “The government is in Republican hands. Let them deal with him. Democrats can spend four years raising heirloom tomatoes, meditating, reading Jane Austen, traveling around the country, tasting artisan beers, and let the Republicans build the wall and carry on the trade war with China and deport the undocumented and deal with opioids and we Democrats can go for a long brisk walk and smell the roses. (Her’s his article in SF Gate). In effect, there it is.

I suspect that Mr. Keillor is not quite as done as his morning-after comments suggest. And while Mr. Trump’s children are the ones crafting the transition, not me, Garrison, me and you are citizens, connected and responsible for doing what we can in the day that just dawned again. Bill Torkell would say “there it is,” then offer to help move the furniture after the divorce, craft your child’s funeral, get you a bag of food or into rehab. “There it is” was the first, not last step.

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Looking South from the Blue Ridge is always good perspective as the Sauratown Mountains preceded the Appalachians. Lots of sunrises.

Life gives us a clue where to look for the many next steps. The logic of the Leading Causes of Life is that we are alive, not just as individuals, but as complex human systems called villages and nations. Organizations (hospitals) and networks (political parties) and movements (100 Million Lives) are also alive. In a practical-as-dirt way, human systems find their life through their connections, through the sense of coherence, through their sense of being able to act, choose, move –agency. And we find our lives acting consciously through the web of generativity flowing from one generation to the next. Finally, life finds life in hope; not optimism, but the confidence that what matters most survives. Life finds a way. This has worked since we started painting on cave walls and is how it will work after the election.

You can analyze political and religious movements locally and globally through this lens and notice that the ones that thrive hit on all five causes. This also warns you that life is not safe without something else—a practical moral compass that always points to the life of the whole complex system, not just one’s tribe, team. And certainly not something as tiny as a self. The Nazi and Apartheid movement were tightly connected, highly coherent, manifested powerful agency with a sharp sense of history and clear hope. Yikes.

No human system lives apart; this is why apartheid was doomed, as is any movement defined by separation. Even when all you hope for is you and yours, it is folly to ignore, much less oppose, the larger systems in which you and yours find life. The logic of the Leading Causes of Life is always to understand the next larger system, as well as one’s own. The idea is to examine ones connections with active curiosity that enables accurate coherence.

img_4600“There it is,” refers to exactly that: making one’s practical moral choice in a clear-eyed understanding of the complex human systems in play. That includes the Chinese, Mexicans, Africans and billions of other fully alive humans, including several down the block who voted—incomprehensibly—for the other person this week.

You can’t vote to disconnect from the world or each other. The event of the election does ask us to look again at those connections for clues to life. What are we going to do with our connections with angry White people? What are angry white people going to do with their connections with angry Black people? What are both going to do with scared brown ones and the billion Indians and nearly billion Africans that didn’t make it into the headlines? Where’s the life in these connections?

The way to use the Leading Causes of Life is the opposite of the medical problem-oriented approach (what’s wrong or missing that we can fix or inject). Life grows from life and along its lines of strength. Ironically, the friction comes from connection; but also warmth and fire. We are very, very connected, even when those connections are deeply confusing, painful and uncomfortable. Ask any Black person if they are connected to white America. Ask any West Virginian if they are connected to the scientists driving the fracking or solar energy roller derby.

Look to the strengths—connections. Revisit your old framework of ideas about those connections to find your choices. Some of the Trump anger was simply cruel and toxic. But listen again to the rage of not being understood, the real vulnerability throbbing in rural, small town and left behind industries that are turning millworkers into Walmart greeters. Of course, these are all victims of the hand of larger systems; but some empathy might turn on some intelligence about what to do. “There it is” might at least offer up something as practical as helping to move the furniture. And it might offer a lot more, if we really took our connections seriously and thought together.

I’m not at the table in DC, but that’s not the only table that matters. Every Stakeholder Health hospital is deeply connected to hundreds of small town and rural communities, but we tend to peer at them through the tiny peephole of our emergency room and only when they are forced to come lacking any other connection to 21st century medicine. We are connected, but have brought little creative moral choices to those relationships. We haven’t even begun to think about it, not entirely unlike the way we tend to avoid the obvious thinking about the minority neighborhoods that tend to surround our urban academic medical centers.

Follow the connections home and then find the thread of coherence that might disclose some real choices.

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These ancient “witness stones” were covered over by vines beneath our place on the ridge. A witness I didn’t even know was there.

The name for that work is generation. Generation is what grown-ups are supposed to do. It’s not quite as fun-in-the-moment as procreation, but it has its pleasures.

Generation is also the way we work: with life, hoping and choosing, tending and protecting. Generation draws us to the broken places and wounded connections, but not in hopes of mere restoration. We look to the next sunrise, not the past. Generation is also amount of time it takes for the hope to mature. Decades of sunrises; one every day.

Life finds a way.

There it is.

If you’d like to be in connection with others thinking about the Leading Causes of Life, follow this link: leadingcausesoflife.org

 

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Ways and meaning

We met in Cape Town where life always finds a way improbably and impossibly amid the shards and horrors of what humans do to each other. The subject was generation. The Leading Causes of Life Fellows explored the work of grown-ups hoping our life could be about more than our own life; that we could give ourselves to  the phenomenon of generation. Not abstract or innocent, we know how power is held  and it protects institutions, sometimes violently and sometimes on our behalf. Such contradictions and complications. The way is found with others seeking life. That’s what we saw when we looked at our lives, some threads woven across decades.

Here’s a sort of poem I wrote as notes to myself before the African dawn thinking about that.

I thought we were talking about engaging communities of need and vulnerability. Now I am home in my home, my people torn, scarred and scared.  I am reading my notes again and they seem  useful in another place, here.

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On the old road over the pass to Paarl.

Question not

What first or

How,

but how with.

Living systems ask

and offer

Acknowledgement of

Contradiction

Disconnection.

And possibility.

 

Seek not first the things to fix.

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In Sutherland, the first big telescope in South Africa–only 1 meter. Still useful as old instruments can ask new questions.

 

How with?

 

Approach with humility

Earned by you and yours.

Be tender at the

Boundary.

Bruised,

Violated

Mind, skin and space.

 

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Massive cork tree at Schoenstatt. Out of Place, peculiar. Still growing.

Seek invitation,

Hope for membership.

 

First do no more harm.

You, invasive exotic

We, adaptive hybrid.

Maybe.

 

Your only possible

Improbable

Life.

Offer it.

Inconsequential and

Irrelevant

Perhaps.

Your stuff and power

Weighed in the savage

Economy of another.

But usually life finds life

Practical as dirt.

(Alive).

 

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Yellow Wood Tree, 400 or so, growing in place in the Company Gardens, Cape Town.

As for faith,

Have some.

Release.

As for hope,

Have some.

Wonder.

Fragilities

Less than love

Which lasts

the only way;

Offered,

consumed,

Whole.

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