Grown ups and government


Last thursday a handful of us from Memphis met with about 20 leaders and staff of the government in the conference room of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The Hubert Humphrey Building is one of the remarkably ugly in the whole city, except for the gorgeous quote from …. Hubert Humphrey right inside the front door: “the moral test of Government is how that Government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

It takes a real grown up to do that kind of work and the folks here do the nitty grit labor involved 24/7/365 year after year after year. Not easy for DC these days is wall to wall weird and mean. This may be why a way of thinking about community health born in Memphis makes more sense than you might think. Nobody in Memphis is EVER surprised by the weird and mean. And we don’t need or expect the course of human events to be pretty and clean. We just keep trying to focus on what we actually have to work with and then try to connect the moving parts as best we can.


That might sound a bit casual, but it is not. It does take the patient, tenacious grown-up labor of paying attention to what is possible and then trying to do it. And just what is possible? That is constantly coming in to view by working on what you already know is possible. The path is made by walking, not alone, but with a broad cast of others trying to act out of their best selves. It is not pretty on most days, but it is real.

Rev. Dr. Cynthia Davis is one of our exemplar pastors who spoke about what happens at the congregation level. It was so inspiring that it sounded almost magical. It isn’t magic at all, of course. Enormous hours invested in building the strengths of spirit, mind and body called the Church so that when somebody needs some part of it, it can be the channel for God’s love to flow toward healing, if healing is possible at all.

Bill Foege said that “tenacity doesn’t always work. But it is the only thing that works.”

We were meeting Thursday literally next door to the “situation room” where HHS people were tuned in like lasers to the fragile and horrific events taking place in Japan. Filled with all the apparatus you’d expect in a high-tech nerve center, the human beings were tuning to what was possible to do amid a situation that was impossible to expect. And they were doing it as best they could, (for which we should be grateful enough to pay our taxes without acting like spoiled four year olds all the time.).


On most days our work is dramatically undramatic. Jimmy Carter once called it “the mundane revolution.” Doing what might help one thing after another 24/7/365 year after year.

– Posted on the journey

About garygunderson

Vice President, Faith Health, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, NC. Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders and Religion and the Heath of the Public. Secretary, Stakeholder Health (Health Systems Learning Group).
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