Gomorrah 2018

Between overdosing on CNN while spending time in Las Vegas and New Orleans, I found myself googling …. Gomorrah. Maybe you can relate.

The story in the 18th chapter of Genesis is about how many righteous people a city needs before God from closing down the whole show. It’s not 51 or anywhere near a majority! Abraham negotiated God down to 10 but that turned out to be eight too many. The mob shows up to violate the house–led by a dude that makes me think of a certain senator from Kentucky—and the story turns ugly and weird. In Vegas style, the dad offers up his daughters to protect the reputation of a guy. That reminds me of a certain Senator from West Virginia; hard to read with four daughters in our fold. Gomorrah burned, although it is unclear exactly who sinned doing what when. Some say “strange sex,” others blame the violence to vulnerable strangers.  Those sins focus on the Kentucky mob.  Jesus, alluding to the story a thousand years later (Matthew 10:14) did not He knew mobs and expected them to act like mobs. He pointed to the failure of the righteous few to protect the strangers from the mobs. Where the heck were they when Gomorrah teetered on the brink?

It is hard to import Jesus’ words directly into the USA of 2018; likely to make us stupid about both. Jesus didn’t know anything about representative democracy as it has devolved 21 centuries after he retold what was already an ancient story about mobs, sin and the vulnerable. I’m sure he would do very poorly as a candidate in our weirded out system. But on this Sunday after the last week’s smoking mess, I am less inclined to blame the mob than I am those of us who have failed to tend to the norms and values of our culture for the past decades. If the city burns, it’s on us.

Gomorrah is us; timeless because it is about the complicity of people like me who who are merely kind. Every city in human history has had mean and vile mobs who would have their way with vulnerable travelers, happy to violate every institutional norm in the process. The question is whether there is anyone else. The city will die the forces of humanity stop at polite kindness instead of stepping forward to be fiercely protective of the vulnerable.

In the wilds of downtown Las Vegas or the tameness of Winston-Salem, cities perish when good people don’t put themselves in the way of the mob. Apparently, it would only have taken 10 in Gomorrah. Winston-Salem might need several dozen, Las Vegas more. But not 51.

We have enough.

In Las Vegas there are plenty stepping forward, some famous and rich like the founder of Zappos who has invested a third of billion dollars to build a new future in the city. The Sisters of Dignity Health never quit, finding hopeless elders living in the storm drains and the women discarded by the hotel trade. You can meet others in PublicUS, the coolest coffee shop east of San Francisco.

Note that much of the weird religious energy around the Court was about abortion. Four daughters makes me want to protect their rights, so I diverge from those who otherwise look a lot like me (white, older, male, Baptist). We are together around other important issues; no reason for Donald Jr’s thuggish call for war. The NC Baptists who helped push through our new Justice did so holding their nose against the scent of he and his dad. Baptists are deeply involved in the clean-up from Hurricane Florence and never say no to any chance to help the poor. Of course, not! It may be possible to build dialogue with many conservative Christians about resisting the hard-hearted drive of the rich against the widows, orphans and strangers. A certain Senator from Kentucky may have less broad support than he thinks, if we focus on the very broad coalition possible for the poor.

I’m sure we’ll see this coast to coast in our See2See Road Trip. The route, running from San Diego to Wilmington is full of people putting their life on the line for mercy, justice and simply equity. And not in the abstract, but in the communities they live in; the places they call home. If you live along the route, I hope you’ll hold a house meeting, joining Stakeholder Health and 100 Million Healthier Lives in rising up and claiming our role as healers.

Even ten houses would be enough.

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Hurricanes

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Winston-Salem as the storms of Florence came near.

Things move fast and urgently in an operating room early on a Monday. The churn of events and flood of people in the hallways are wondering why the nurses are standing holding hands right there in the surgery suite. A dozen family members are hoping for comforting words while a dozen feet away across a couple of gurneys, eight surgical nurses have no words at all, struggling to process the loss of one of their colleagues, apparently shot down dead by her husband right there in front of the kids. Feels like a hole in the eye of the circle with enough emotion to swirl a hundred miles out and around. Hurricane, indeed.

Florence ground slowly from the coast across the sandy flats up and through the rolling Piedmont and is now picking up speed on Interstate 81 like a northbound trucker. The winds could have been a lot worse. But this was a post-modern storm following no pattern at all, inexorably overflowing norms, breaking rules and making entire communities uninhabitable.

Hurricanes are about as big a show as nature puts on. What could be bigger? It turns out that jet streams and oceans are; even a tiny twitch in the speed or warmth of either one and you get the deadly meandering of storms like Florence. When the driving currents collapse, the flood isn’t far behind. So why would a hurricane behave in such an odd and deadly manner? Why would a democracy just forget to bother to follow its own rules anymore, chasing its own inevitable slow collapse? Why would we just forget to try to stem the tide of guns, now so over our heads that any pissed-off husband can just blow away the one they probably still loved? Surgery can’t stitch together what’s broken in this world. Hurricanes, all.

What to do?

Don’t look away.

Don’t look for the answer on a screen.

What can a nurse do as their own heart is breaking for a friend they loved? Form a circle, hold hands and feel the blood and spirit pumping. Let a few tears out, have a chaplain murmur a prayer. And then go scrub in to help someone else.

Last week before the deluge, TC and I went by the Forsyth County Democratic Party headquarters where Eric Ellison gave us our street assignment and over the next two hours knocked on 96 actual American doors. Being 2018 we only met 7 humans. One of them had become a citizen after immigrating from Spain two decades ago. Another grew up in the neighborhood 50 years back. We asked our fellow citizens to remember to vote, now in less than 55 days. A few thought they might want to volunteer, too, so we’ll follow up on that.  Heading to higher ground door by door.

Anyone with a brain bigger than a 22 caliber slug knows it’s probably too late to stop global warming, the collapse of democracy or gun violence. All the data tell us so. But what parent, brother, or daughter would not try? What sentient mammal would not at least stir and try to get their kids to higher ground?

Our hospital has one of the worst parking lots built since the model T rolled out of Detroit. Dark, low ceilings and always oddly damp. The other day I was hurrying to my car and almost knocked down a woman standing in the middle of a lane looking this way and that, glancing down at the paper in her hand. I asked if she needed help and I thought I saw tears of gratitude. The real problem was that her eyes were dilated and she couldn’t even see the paper in her hand, much less her grey Toyota in the grey parking lot. I could help. In spite of my ordination, she trusted me enough to let me do something and we ended up circling six floors in my Mini Cooper, both squinting until we found the car. Probably wasn’t a great idea to let her drive away!

If you look up from the screen in your hand for a bit, you’ll notice people around you, doing this or that, going about their lives. You can’t know if their house is under water, their best friend dead or scared to go home. You probably don’t even know those things about people you work and walk beside every day. You have to make eye contact.

Last Spring my daughter Lauren, now a mom, watched with us all on live TV as Parkland high school students fled from their building, learning shortly that 17 of their friends were dead inside. She writes plays,“so instead of closing my eyes and thinking back to being a junior and watching the news in horror curing my AP US History class and thinking those poor mothers and please god someone do something about this… I posted a query on Facebook asking for help with this play in the wake of this new violence.” Her friend and fellow theatre activist Christina Wallace reached out immediately, read Natural Shocks, and said “Let’s do this.”

Lauren contradicted Hamlet; “the play is not the thing. You are. Your community, your company, yourself. Any play is just the metal that attracts the lightning. We are the lightning – actor, artistic team, audience, community. We are the undeniable force of nature that will light up this darkness and change it forever.”

More than two hundred theaters of every sort and size did the play, including the very best performance in our own Green Street United Methodist by the brilliant Mellissa Jones. Next month a full production of the play will open in New York, keeping the movement going.

That’s how it works. Most of us are not famous. But when the hurricane hits, we move and don’t quit, not when people we love are in high water.

On November 10th the See2See Road Trip will begin making eye contact with about 3,300 miles of people beginning in San Diego with the 100 Million Healthier Lives annual meeting and then the American Public Health Association with our Public Health Law friends. That afternoon we’ll grab a bite at our friend Heather’s home up the coast, then winding through friends and strangers in San Bernardino, Phoenix, Tucson and El Paso where Dr. Arvind Singhal is teaching his band of positive deviates (seriously, check out his book). Then over to Abilene and Lubbock before landing with the friends at Baylor and Parkland in Dallas. Over to Floyd with the astonishing Redeemed Christian Church ….. and over to Little Rock, a hugely creative node in what’s coming next. Memphis, down to the Delta for a nod to the very first community health clinic and activist Fannie Lou Hammer, over to Chattanooga, Cherokee, Hickory and Winston-Salem. Raleigh for William Barber, John Hatch at Shaw University. We’ll ending our discovery where the surge from Florence met the flooding of the Pamlico Sound in little Washington.

We’ll make eye contact with people finding the way to heal their communities. That’s what movements do: they make eye contact, grab hands and move. That’s how the P2P movement is springing up everywhere, ditto Stakeholder Health.

You could just get on the web and watch famous people saying really smart things about it all. These days nothing is quite so urgent as to look at another human and ask about how they are hoping to heal, themselves and the ones they love. For that matter, why are you still reading this? Go talk to somebody, put your hand in theirs and go find somebody who needs you both.

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Life works

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Kevin Fonzo, Co-Founder of Edible Education Experience and Chef Instructor gently fillets a red snapper for a room of hungry Adventists. I don’t think Jesus did this for the disciples, but he would definitely recognize the sacred nature of the hospitality. (www.edibleed.org)

Many who read my new book like the last four pages best. There I visit the story of the last breakfast, when Jesus cooked fish for his remnant. So much better than those little wafers and grape juice! That simple act is so touching that it shows up in all four gospels, which tells you something about what people need to hear. I find myself ending sermons and speeches with it, too, for these are hard-hearted times, and we need to eat in peace.

So let me get this out of the way: Sarah Huckabee is welcome for lunch at Senor Bravo’s right up the street anytime. I’ll pop for the guacamole and Pacifico. Maybe we can talk about why a pastor’s daughter says such mean and misleading things pretty much every day. I’ll apologize to her for adding any fuel to our cultural dumpster fire. Surely, we can do better. I ate at a Cracker Barrel this week as a gesture. The fish was pretty good.

But then we will have to get back to work. God knows that the world needs us to be working for life, with life about life. Now. Most of the other 200 pages of Speak Life: Crafting Mercy In a Hard-Hearted Time are about that. First, you have to understand the logic of the leading causes of life. That helps us get beyond just fixing something something, which is good, but not the same as generating life. It takes a living system to do that.

That’s what the work is about and what the book is about. It’s a craft, not magic.

IMG_0504Four Basic Social Forms

Generative agents (that’s you) need to work with four basic generative social forms: projects, committees, limited domain collaborations, and poeisis. The first two—projects and committees—are familiar to you, if you’ve made it through kindergarten and into institutional life. The third “limited domain collaboration,” is a more complex and open level of collaboration. Poeisis is a sustained highly generative relationship. You’ve probably experienced this without having language to describe it. It takes a whole chapter by itself.

Generative agents need all four forms—and we need to know which is most appropriate for each challenge or opportunity.

All of these forms are social. You can’t be generative all by yourself. There is no life in internal qualities that do not express themselves in social relationships with other human beings. The most mundane project—laying sidewalks comes to mind—has social dynamics. If you don’t pave the places where people want to walk, your sidewalk project will be silly at best. All human work has technical aspects, too. Not even Dr. King could create magic when the microphone didn’t work or the lunches didn’t show up.

Work is not high or low; it is generative or degenerative.

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Larry Pray, who wrote Leading Causes of Life with me, serves fish dinner to TC in 2015. Oh my.

The surest way to do degenerative work is to avoid thinking or talking about life, to treat the labor as merely mechanical or technical. It is important to ask the question: Does the action my project or committee is contemplating add to the fear, friction or disconnection of the social web it may affect? Sometimes it may be impossible to avoid these things. There are many complications in community and institutional life that inevitably involve some friction. But we don’t need to fear. Fear always degenerates social trust and exacerbates social distance. Nobody with a microphone, pen or pulpit should generate fear. “Love casts out fear,” said John writing to one of those snarly and quarrelsome young churches of the Jesus movement (1 John 4:18). Ditto DC.

Most of life work involves casting fear out and crafting mercy in.

 

Don’t disdain the “lower forms” especially those that demand listening and collaborating with people with whom you do not entirely agree, with whom you do not need to entirely agree in order to jointly serve life. Politics is almost entirely in that space  I call “limited domain collaboration.” Politics does not demand poeisis. That is the wrong social form which imports expectations of unity that cripple the actual work of political life. Politics is not higher or lower, just different work. But it is still accountable for nurturing the life of the common life upon which all life depends.

I’d note that the white evangelicals have settled for a limited domain politics of a very limited domain indeed, pretty much abandoning any semblance of character, moral or consistency, purely to score some victories in what they have always seen as a culture war. Meanwhile, my dems savage each other for not agreeing on every jot and tittle. We need a limited domain, but a lot more domain than getting supreme court justices named while shredding every thing else of common good.

We can do better–all of us. I actually think most Christians know this–all of us. But we need to talk about it over some fish.

If you want to do this kind of craft, you might need to read more of the book. You can get it on Amazon here. Or…..you can get a signed copy by donating $50 to the Shalom Project of Green Street United Methodist Church. You donate through this link; I’ll have your email and send you the book. Shalom!

Technically, the Shalom Project is not a “project” in my definition—it is another kind of Limited Domain Collaboration that involves many, many people who pray and probably vote differently. It gets shalom into the lives of many diferent people in the form of free healthcare, food and the stuff they need to live. It’s worth $50 (consider the book as free).

Here’s a chart of the four social forms:

  Project Committee Limited Domain Collaboration Poeisis
  Highly Technical Normal Work New Work High Relationship
Relationality Listen to take others into account, but just to work with as few as necessary hands on the plough. Structure of power, but shared deliberation reflecting diverse interests. Negotiated, fluid, uncertain, flat. Assumes partial investment that might expand. High Trust Relationship; all in, often more than family, organization or professional  identity.
Precondition for Generative Dynamic Enough trust and humility for the project to be useful and adapted. Enough trust to convene and sustain dialogue to reach a decision. Safe for vulnerability of association without presumption of full alliance. Much greater shared language and logic. Goals far in the future.
Technical Focus Do the work well. Good stewardship of time and money. Decide and act on evidence to balance interests. Give clear permission or clarify the lines. Craft new goals, bend and blend to do new things. Align assets beyond mere control, use life logic. Protect the generative dynamic. Be smart and brave. Serve life of all, not just the core.
Biggest Danger  “Good work” is instrumental, not generative. Invasive, distracting wasteful. Unequal risk. Or unequal tolerance of risk. No courage so no action. Too broad a domain stunts meaningful collaboration. Too narrow isn’t worth the time. Becomes a club or support group instead of action for the world.

 

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Low Country marshes of South Carolina where the baby fish are born,

 

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Shalom on Ice

iceberg-404966_1920There’s a lot of ice in my life right now. Even without the homeland people doing ice-hearted things in our name. The ice I’m thinking about is of the Arctic kind. Kevin Barnett baited me into going with him to float the Canning River  the Brooks Range to the Arctic Ocean–next week. Could be bears and mosquitos and wolves, too. And…..ice.

The day I get back from the Tundra Kelly Carpenter has talked me into more ice to help raise money for the Shalom Project of Green Street United Methodist Church (click on it to go directly to the donation page). A great deal of that work focuses on exactly the people you-know-who is demonizing–the same folks who are building our little city every day with kindness and skill. These are people you want to help–especially now.

The funding gimmick is that I have to sit on….ice…..until people donate $1,500 in my name. No bears, mosquitos or wolves. But serious ice. I could be sitting there until hell and my yonder parts freeze over.

Help!

img_0893Here’s how: I have written a pretty good new book—Speak Life: Crafting Mercy in a Hard Hearted Time. Emerging from the rich learning of Stakeholder Health, the book explores how we can lead lives that nurture the lives of the people and neighborhoods we love. It’s won’t tell you this or that trick that makes shalom happen without breaking a sweat. The opposite, in fact: how do we live lives year after year after decade marked by generosity and kindness, mercy and justice.

Shalom, in short.

I will mail a personalized signed copy of my new book to the first 100 people who give $50 to the Shalom Project. Click right here to go to the donations page: Shalom Project. I’ll even include a picture me…. signing your book….. while sitting on the ice. That there is a collector’s item.

And the money goes to….Shalom. You would think it would take more than $50 to create Shalom. It may, but this is a good start.

Melania JacketIf you are opposed to Shalom, leaves you could take $35 and  buy your a of Melania’s jacket that she wore to her husband’s child internment camps. This would still leave you $15 to buy a copy of my book from Amazon, which I’m fine with. But even if you buy her jacket, she won’t sign it for you! The jacket says right on the back that she doesn’t care and doesn’t expect you to.

Talk about ice.

I think you care. A lot. Now.

So that’s the deal: $50 bucks gets you a signed book and a little seed of Shalom. That’s crafting mercy in a hard-hearted time. If I had any idea it could get this cold, I would have changed the title to Speak Life: Crafting Mercy in an Ice-Hearted Time.

Let’s melt it.

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Speak Life

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Oh, it’s available on Amazon for $15. Here.

I wish I was handing you this in person in a decent restaurant with a bit more ceremony involved. But I didn’t want to wait to get my new book in your hands.

Speak Life: Crafting Mercy in a Hard-Hearted Time, is written for you, who have given your life to advance the health and well-being of the places and neighbors you love. Like you, most of the people captured by such a movement persist year after year for decades sustained by shared spirit, intelligence and sweat. I hope this new book will deepen and strengthen your energy for that movement.

Speak Life is being released in Orlando June 20th at the Distinguished Lecture Series sponsored by Florida Hospitals, one of our Stakeholder Health partners. Most of the speakers and all of the audience are distinguished by their people and places they care about and the Spirit that carries them. If you’re anywhere nearby, please come (You can register here.)

If you’ve read my other stuff, you’ll recognize echoes of Boundary Leaders and the earlier Deeply Woven Roots. And of course, Leading Causes of Life and the Fellows Jim Cochrane leads. Speak Life is a more radical take on both leadership and Spirit. I’m quite sure you’ve experienced the same dramatic move yourself in these hard-hearted times.

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Thank god for critical readers, editors, fact-checkers and proof-readers! Ray Tetz’s amazing team led by Alberto Valenzuelea and Becky De Oliveriera and our home team, especially Tom Peterson, Jim Cochrane, Maria Parries and, of course, TC. 

Speak Life is published by Stakeholder Press and all the profits go to Stakeholder Health. This is a learning group tracing back ten years to the tough streets of Memphis, Detroit, San Bernardino, Bithlo and several times at the White House (back a couple of years). Speak Life is, in a sense, a radical view of the life of leaders that undergirds our earlier book, “Insights from New Systems of Health.” Nearly all of those practices demand grit and courage to cross over many lines of discipline and institutional politics.

The learning is accelerating: we will be releasing a third in the Fall that is more technical exploration of how the Leading Causes helps us understand how to organize and set priorities for our work in community. And then we really do put the pedal down in November in a bold “See2See Road Trip” traveling from San Diego to Raleigh: the move in movement.

Jerry Winslow, the Chair of the Stakeholder Health Advisory Group, writes in the forward: “From one perspective, the movement might appear to be merely the sharing of smart approaches to what is now called population health. But a more careful look, with focused attention to the spirit of the work, reveals something deeper and more lasting. It is life-giving joy in the hard work of the journey toward social justice. The real fuel for this movement is the conviction that together we can build communities in which every person counts, where no one is left out, and no one suffers needlessly because of institutionalized unfairness. To speak life, then, is to adopt the ways of life so that every person is celebrated by a community that genuinely cares.”

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Rev. Larry Pray, the prophetic genius of Big Timber. He taught me that life has a language, which he is still speaking in his hardest of all days.

I want you to see Speak Life in the light of all of that highly collaborative learning. Writing is about the least impressive—undistinguished—thing you can do with a large number of hours. It is typing, often with a lot of silence between the clicks. When I slowed down, I thought of all the astonishing people who were generally not typing, but lending their lives to the urgency of mercy and justice. I tried to see what matters most through those many eyes.

I’m like one of the nameless grey neurons way back behind the eyeballs trying to connect the signals those many eyes are seeing. I’m not qualified to do very much useful most days, but I am privileged to work among wide extended webs of those who know what to do in the middle of the night standing with the First Responders at a suicide with weeping parents, who build a school for young women in the fire and dust of Kabul, who do surgery, administration, therapy, research and discovery into the mysteries of molecules and neighborhoods. Some of those agents are named Big Dog (the benevolent gang leader in 38109 of Memphis) and R. Ernest Cohen, the Jewish Integrative Medicine Chiropractor who runs a free clinic in Wilkesboro so frugal it borrows its Wifi signal from the tattoo parlor next door. Richard Joyner with his anointed prophetic tractor, the weekly amazements of Oakhurst and Green Street and so many more. You can get a sense of this in the new article about Soma Stout 100 Million Lives, which NewsWeek is smart enough to cover, too.

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Taize France, early on the morning when Jim Cochrane, TC, Masana, Shingai and I spoke life.

Through this collective eye we can see life, tenacious and fiercely protective of its most tender edges.

And together we find the words to Speak Life.

I hope you like the book. Oh, it’s available on Amazon for $15. Here.

Gary

 

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Oak too small to bother

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Wildacres Retreat Center 3,300 feet in the Blue Ridge under shelter of young oaks left from the clear-cutting a century ago.

Less than a hair, the spider’s thread arched from one heavy oak spar to the branch below catching a glint of light through the shifting fog. Too small to bother when the hills were clear cut and still young as oaks go.  Arching a hundred feet and years above the steep ridge of Wildacres Retreat Center in North Carolina, it shelters writers weaving their craft—and spiders, too.

Dense green now, only a century ago every tree on every knob here was cut to brush. It was a time when the worst swaggered and trash-talked the weakest, bankers laughed about stealing and the children worked the mills. Governor’s mansions and senator’s hallways were safe for the mean, vile and stupid.

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Thomas Dixon Jr, a fellow Wake Forest alumni who lent his busy life to the opposite of everything I do. Fortunately, I’m still at it (he died in 1946).

In the early 1900’s, a brilliant Wake Forest graduate named Thomas Dixon, Jr. spun off novels and screenplays as quick as he could type, including one that shifted culture right off the rails: “The Birth of a Nation.” To a soundtrack with the Ride of the Valkyries, the Klan defended White Christian culture, imperiled by racial dilution the government was too timid to do. Dixon and a swarm of collaborators made millions on the film, some of which was invested on Pompey’s Knob in North Carolina, to create a haven for the white thinking class.

Dixon’s whole proud and tottering mess collapsed in the Crash of 29. He defaulted on his $190,000 loan (about $2.7 million today). The bank that loaned him the money for the mean scheme went down, too, so eventually the note ended up in Texas where it was put up for auction. A Jewish radiator company owner visited the mountain after attending an interfaith event in Charlotte, then put in the only bid of $6,500. The Texas bank approved the sale after the judge’s clerk visited the property on a day when the high mountain fog turned the view grey and cold—which I.D. Blumenthal always considered a direct miracle of God. After the horrors of World War Two, Blumenthal and his wife dedicated the 1,400 acres to building bridges across lines of faith, race and class in 1946, the year Dixon died. Nearly 8 decades after Dixon’s short-lived dream dissolved, they are buried next to the auditorium where the patient work goes on beyond them.

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Pompey’s Knob when Dixon’s tribe controlled the heights.

Last week SUN Magazine held its annual writer’s conference here at Wildacres. The SUN is everything Dixon hated, entirely given to the humble labor of lending accurate words to the wild ways of humankind, the way we love and weep, the ways we hurt and disregard, how we touch and how we see; our skin and body politic, too. Begun in a what-the-hell kind of moment 45 years ago by Sy Safransky who still edits and writes. The tribe of SUN is still only 70,000 readers, which is less than a spider’s filament in today’s harsh media clear cut. Too small with which to bother.

The old pictures of Dixon’s time show a hill clear-cut to knee-high brush and stumps as ugly as any Klan rally. Only a century later, the oaks and hickory that were too small to bother amid the clear-cutting are teenagers, barely 80 feet high. Yet even while only a couple of feet in girth, they stretch strong limbs out and high above those gathered beneath, working at the modest labor of crafting the language and ideas close to the bone and real as dirt. About half of the writers gathered under the trees were people you’d have very  little chance of having heard of. They are lawyers, teachers and no small number of people working in health and education. People who cared about other people and could not stop trying to capture that astonishing fire in accurate image and voice. Sy Safransky started the SUN 45 years ago. Now 73, he is wry and chastened. He read a piece about blue pills, three marriages and two divorces and reflected on he days he thought that Bush was as bad as it could get. The other four faculty were exquisitely transparent and talented, generously protecting lesser writers like a spider her young.

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Wildacres Retreat Center today, in “Little Switzerland,” NC

Most of the SUN writer and reader tribe gathered beneath the young oaks were lawyers and social types, trying to learn how to describe the human way. It is hard to tell the truth about birth, death, sex, mothers bad and sisters lost, longings and hopes that people have along the way of life. We were told to focus on the detail: “go small to go big.”

It is not easy to write one true sentence. Stop tweeting and chattering and try it; just one sentence. It seems so little and surely not in time. You’ll feel the oaks begin to rise.

And with every un-reflected adjective, you’ll feel them fall, a bit of poison at the root. It’s hard to trace all the damage of a bad idea in talented hands. But I’d be amazed if Dixon hadn’t spread some of his venom into the gentle parlors of Winston-Salem, where the powers of industry ended up investing their tobacco wealth into experiments on eugenics, sterilizing “feeble-minded” poor men and women. Other Wake Forest intelligentsia chimed in with scientific not just  literary footnotes. Although it wasn’t focused just on women of color, the legacy of that health system complicity now results in a pattern of dramatic under-utilization of prenatal care.  The problem isn’t ignorance, but accurate memory.  Decades later, the aftershocks of those ugly practices kill another generation as mothers continue to fear getting prenatal care from the hospital that sterilized their aunts. One can almost hear the clicking of Dixon’s typewriter with each needless death.

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Spiders only live a couple years, but they invest every minute in the next generation. Maybe you can see the web there among the branches.

Twenty six letters and a handful of years. That’s all we have to work with in our short lives where we try to raise a few children and do the best we can as neighbors and citizens. We may be in a time as ours, when venal idiots run unbridled. We are tempted to rant louder, or curl up and whine.

There is nothing more important and hopeful than telling the truth and doing real work in a time of such untethered artifice. Blumenthal built radiators, so he had $6,500 to buy a mountain, when all the fancy pants finance boys fell apart. I don’t know anything about radiators, but I know the grain and scent of cherry, walnut and maple. And I can type, giving myself to the slender narrative thread bending in the fog, catching the light, giving the young a chance to have their time.

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Spalted maple from Adam’s Davie County farm. Real. (Others at Druiddelight.com)

 

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Geniverse

Shaw University Students

Shaw University students in 1913 preparing to make the world happen. Still are.

In the beginning was an idea; “I’ll give it all away,” said God. And so, from that first micro-nano of time until this latest Carolina Spring, we’ve been part of an explosive, incomprehensive generosity. God could have done it more like we’d do it: try out life on just a small little solar system with less than a dozen planets; maybe just a few kinds of people who all look just alike. We’d have stopped evolution with the golden retrievers just to keep things polite and tame. Not the God of this place! Life scattered everywhere!

The scale and energy of the giving is entirely beyond measure, but since it is happening even on our little planet out on the edge of smallish garden-sized galaxy, it is not beyond our sight.

I wonder why we don’t notice it more?

And in this hard-hearted time, I wonder why we fall for the scarcity scam nearly every time. Every little despot and predictable tyrant says the same dumb thing: “There’s not enough to go around! We must huddle together against………them! If there isn’t a ‘them,’ they just shout louder hoping we won’t notice that the them-of-the-month looks just like part of us. The immigrants! (Except for a relative handful of First People every damn one of us immigrated here.) ‘They’re poor!’” (Says rich people who haven’t broken a sweat in three generations.)

Meanwhile everything keeps expanding in a riot of new varieties of generosity.  No matter how tightly the rich hold on, the rest of the planet seems to be inclined to kindness. You’d think we’d notice.

Maybe it would help if we renamed the whole thing from universe (it is most certainly NOT uniform) to geniverse. The whole thing is generative, from the first. Just look and see.

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Jeremy Moseley, Director of FaithHealth Community Engagement with co-learners.

You don’t have to be an astrophysicist to see generosity breaking out everywhere, constantly. This week started with another couple dozen of people at our “Learning Forum.” This is a kind of practical potlatch in which we at Wake Forest Baptist provide the pot and brilliant folks from Texas, West Virginia, New Jersey, Virginia and both Carolinas share the ingredients of their version of FaithHealth. None of them are the same; but you can see the common thread—organized generosity. We call it “proactive mercy” here and are bold enough to show the data that indicate that pretty much the only way you can expect the cost of charity care to go down is to be more proactive and smart at giving things away (so people don’t wait to go to the emergency room)(duh).

This is so obvious that it shouldn’t even qualify as smart. But in a hard-hearted time, simple generosity passes for bold brilliance. I suspect the same principle would work in pretty much the same way on any of the billion billion planets God keeps flinging so shamelessly into the darkness. Just because it is obvious, that doesn’t mean it happens without some group of humans making it happen in their particular part of the galaxy, such as Waco, downtown Dallas or Huntington. You still have to organize your work around the principle of proactive mercy and then do that work well.

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One of the FaithHealth Gaston volunteers volunteering to take a picture of the other volunteers. There is no end to the generativity!

A couple days later, we were at Caromont Healthcare in Gaston County, a bit east of Charlotte. This is tough working class country where lots of people have callouses and no small sense of trauma from all the missing mills. It was a volunteer breakfast celebrating the arts, crafts –and outcomes—of one of the most well-organized community-based tapestries of generous care anywhere in the nation. It’s called FaithHealthGaston, but the names that mattered most were those of the heroes and heroines. One volunteer wept as he shared the story of a woman trying to cook by the light of the tiny light in her microwave. What kind of a man would not weep—and then fix kitchen lights?

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Kevin Best, a Carolina classic craftsman who never quits.

Kevin Best is a NC Classic; a skilled craftsman, sharing “Did you notice the pavilion over by the Lutheran Church?  That was the last job I worked on before I fell ill.”  He’s fallen on times that would leave my spirit crumpled and bitter. But the volunteers connected him –and crafted those connections well—so that he’s now on disability, getting his meds, giving him a chance to be alive in the lives of his grandchildren.  A story the the universe likes to see.

Volunteers are not gullible or too dumb to know about money. They know the secret that god shared from the first moment of creation: life cannot be held, much less bought or sold–it lives as it is given, it lives by way of giving away. The mystery, if there is one, is that there is always more to give, the miserly fear of scarcity is utterly and always mocked by the economy of God that creates quicker than we can give. the right side up universe created by a god who loves surprise who mocks the darkness with the light of grace. give it away, god says, and I will replenish; give it away and there will always be more, give it away and you will find it.

What you see in Gastonia is that if you want a healing organization in the heart of a city and region that so desperately needs healing, hope, wholeness, you need to find a way to be in covenant, in partnership closer that words and longer than one life who know that secret — give it away for free. This is not a new idea that only occurred after the Fall, after the bullets and whip and the shackle. No. From the very first, god’s first and last idea and again this and every morning, is that life is for free and will not run out. So give it away.

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Refuge Ministries brings the praise in Davis Chapel.

The next morning Connectors from other such communities gathered in the jewell-like Davis Chapel of Baptist hospital for worship, not lecture or instruction. The Refuge Mission from Surry County brought the music of praise, while Rev. Dr. Anthony Jones managed to squeeze Baptist fire and thunder into a hospital-sized serving of the story of the woman healed by the touch of Jesus rags (he was too poor for anything else, Anthony noted).

The universe said amen. Of course, it did.

Saturday was the most remarkable bubbling stew of hope where hope has been served up for 153 years on the campus at Shaw University. Shaw was built to raise up prophetic pastors of power to let justice roll and intelligence to lay out the plumbing. Every generation has had to catch fire again, find it’s courage and speak truth first to each other and then to the ever-hostile powers of the world around. Shaw sits a short stroll from where the NC Legislature meets; as dumb and mean-spirited a gaggle on any planet within many light years.

Shaw is never surprised by the mean and the dumb. But it is surprised at how hard it is to channel some of the super abundance in the world into the cash reserves of this, the very first of the great Black colleges in the South, the very first four-year medical school anywhere (Harvard copied it in a few years). If the world built for expansive generosity, why is it so hard to find money? It turns out that the hard part is remembering what the money is for; not the bricks or the stuff it buys. There is no gap in listing what. The key is the why it matters.

Once you remember the why, you still have to do the work of communicating it in clean, sharp language. You have to get everybody’s name spelled correctly on the mailing lists. You have to hire somebody to plug in the computer and make a decent brochure. But your work is all illuminated by the why; and it helps if that why is aligned with the universe—the geniverse.

Saturday night we were blessed as guests of the astonishing Isasi family at a thundering gala for  SECCA in Winston-Salem, held in the old Hanes family mansion. Once a pillar of the old Southern way, on this night, it was a festival celebrating Cuban art and culture—and what it has meant to the new southern reality. Jose Isasi has been in Winston-Salem for 43 years, now joined by his three sisters. The feast was no regular fried chicken; no, it was Isasi family recipes! He’s the publisher of Que Pasa, the Spanish Language newspaper published in the major cities of North Carolina, a large part of the reason our hospital has been drawn so deeply into the life, work and future of the Hispanic community.

In the geniverse, the energy and all that matters will always find its way toward what wants to happen next. That’s why they are called generations. The one and only key is to align one’s work—all of it, every bit—with the logic of the ever-creating, ever generous Spirit. When you look like that because you are like that, everything flows, just as it does in other billions of billions of planets like ours. That’s how it works.

It hard to remember that when the mean and the dumb are thumping their hollow chests with the teeny weeny little hearts. Let them preen; they are already being left behind as the rest of the generous planet goes on weaving a stronger and more vital “us”  out of all the broken threads.

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