This woman with the bright eyes on the front row is Dr. Marion Jacobs, the Dean of the School of Health Sciences of the University of Cape Town. We were pausing for the photo op after discussing the signing of the memorandum of collaboration between the public health and family medicine department (The Department head, Leslie London is next to her) and Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare’s center of Excellence in Faith and Health. This gives the African Religious Health Assets Programme a strong new home and Memphis a strong partner.
The intellectual work involves the complex and nuanced relationship between medical science institutions and the even-more complex dynamics of community. The heart of the Memphis work is intentionally changing that relationship with new pathways of trust so that people can move to where they need help at the right time. South Africans know a very great deal about historic patterns of race and poverty and thus have a rich emerging body of thought and practice about building systems of health. We both live every day amid the aching irony of the blinding evolutionary speed of medical technology and the inexplicably slow changes that matter most to most peoples’ journey through life. We work together, chewing on data, developing practice smart enough to make a difference at a scale that matters. (other smart and smiling people include from the right Dr. Jill Oliver, me, Dr. Lucy Gilson, Dr. Jim Cochrane, Dr. Teresa Cutts, Almost-Dr. Sepetla Molapo and Dr. Liz Thomas).
And what is also happening is the emergence of what Ian McCallum describes as a “mind field” in his new book, Ecological Intelligence. Across the miles we think alike and also hope alike. “It is therefore, more than anything, an attitude: one that is open to choosing the hard path, the one that E O Wilson calls the path of ‘volitional evolution.’ This is the difficult path of those who have decided to do something about their heredity and their fate and who are committed to playing their part faithfully.” (p.152)
This sounds somber, but the smiles are frequent in this kind of choosing. We laugh more than sigh; say “ah ha!” more than “oh no!” And in the process the data gets clarified, the theory smarter, the practices more effective.
This is Dr. Liz Thomas a longterm core leader of ARHAP thinking hard (she does that a lot). The drawing behind her is, believe it or not, a kind of map for the complex mind fields of faith and health that now span hundreds of partners scattered around the world.
Thinking is a kind of doing. And doing is a kind of thinking. If we are going to bend the curve of the gross and deadly patterns of disease and injury, we are going to need to think and do a lot; and choose partners that are built for high seas and the long walk toward freedom.