Living against the grain of fear


(Methodist Healthcare celebrated our “Living Awards” this past Thursday evening with quite a big show at the Peabody Hotel with nearly 500 important people attending, all in the name of faith and health. The highlight of the evening was the honors given to the Church Health Center and Dr. Bob Waller. Here are the comments I gave earlier in the evening.)

Faith and Health at Methodist healthcare embeds an ambitious strategy of aligning a strong faith-based hospital with equally strong community assets–historically, the Church Health Center and more recently, Christ Community Health Services–all surrounded by and connected to a cloud of hundreds of congregations (362 as of this morning) all focused on justice and mercy at community scale. That’s quite a sentence, but it is exactly what is happening. The only way these powerful assets come into alignment is through the shared vision and blended intelligence of those in leadership roles within all those organizations, many of whom are laypeople serious about their faith and deeply committed to the vitality of the city they love. This room if full of people like that which is why you sense such deep power moving in and through us.

Methodist Hospital is a pretty good hospital hungry to be great. While US News says we are the best in Memphis, we are tantalized and on many days humbled by what remains before us. The region we serve continues to face profound –some less hopeful than us even say intractable—health challenges driven by long patterns of gross inequity and poverty. And, as Faulkner said, the problem with history is that it is not in the past. You can see the past in our emergency rooms every day if you understand anything about the health problems of the people we serve. This is to say that our eyes are wide open to the reality of our challenges.We do not blink and will not turn away. We believe we are called to be the hospital—and health partner—that our region needs. We think we can indeed be great not just in the eyes of some national magazine, but in the hearts and minds of those who need us most.

It is easy to be confused about what is happening at the Living Awards, especially if we think we are here to honor these remarkable people for what they have done in the past. They have all received plenty of awards for that and do not need ours to add to the bookshelf. Tonight is about the future and the possibilities these lives inspire us to envision. We are looking not at, but through these lives, “as through a glass darkly” in the words of the Apostle Paul. What we are looking for is inspiration. What if? What if? What if, these exemplary physicians were the norm? What could they lead us to be? What if Dr. Waller was not such a solitary model of statesmanlike vision? What if there were a thousand of him, too many to pick out which one to honor? What if the extraordinary creative engine of compassion, the Church Health Center, was typical of faith-based programs, instead of unique?

In time of great fear and uncertainty, the world wonders where the grown-ups have gone. The credit rating agencies are really downgrading the maturity of the leaders we have chosen and thus, quite directly, us. The rating agencies, like everybody, aren’t looking for geniuses, but grown-ups. In this time, nothing is more important than to look at real lives who inspire us with the confidence that maybe we, too, could be the people and organizations our city needs.

Tonight, look not to the past. Join me in looking toward the future. Perhaps we can move from “what if” to why not: why not us, why not now.

Why not?


– 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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