Jerusalem 1

A week from now a group of hospital and faith people will gather on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem to begin an intense dialogue about the future of faith based healthcare organizations. This is a conversation that has been going on since the end of World War Two when church groups in Europe and the US had to figure out what to do with the mission hospitals they had accumulated during the time in which evangelism and colonial expansion were the same thing. The best guess is that we actually have more faith-linked hospitals today than 60 years ago and many of them have grown to extraordinary scale, complexity and technical sophistication. I’m thinking of the Christian Medical College in Vellore, but I work in a pretty obvious one in Memphis, too. In a world of extraordinary demands for compassion and justice, should faith groups keep such huge resources committed to hospitals? If we should keep them, in what way are they distinctive–faithful–enough to claim them as leaven in the social loaf?

For the next couple weeks I’ll be blogging regularly about this event for two reasons. First, it is pretty historic (THAT Mount of Olives!). And, more personally, I need your help because I am giving the closing keynote….on innovation. Giving a speech on innovation on a hill marinated in history is a curious task all by itself. There is so much past in the present that there would hardly seem to be any room for the future. However, there is no lack of novelty and change today at any scale in any town in any country. The whole world and all its certainties seems fluid and turbulent. Many of those changes happen to us, not because they are chosen by us. How do we choose our innovations, focus our creativity on relationships that matter most; that are most distinctively reflective of our faith?

So I need some help from you thinking with me about how we choose the world–that’s what we do when participate in creative work. I’ll be posting fragments of the speech I’m thinking about and will hope you will help it become better, more useful, more innovative. In effect, you’ll be helping give it (and if you do, I’ll acknowledge you on the “credits” slide in what will inevitably be a powerpoint).

This reflects my first and most basic hunch, which is that innovation emerges from within relationships. The more unlikely, diverse and scattered the relationships, the more likely the innovation. This has certainly been my personal experience, notably with the religious health assets work and the wildly generative stew of Memphis. The social media that links us at this moment in which your eyes are playing over my words brings our minds within range of each other. We can create. Or not. We can tease novelty out of the present. Nathan Wolfe is a virologist who has risen to such fame as to have gotten on the Colbert Report this week (which is nothing compared to being my daughter’s fiancĂ©, but still a big deal) says that we humans can learn from viruses about how they create novelty that allows them to adapt, change and thrive. Viruses are generous with their very essence; where two or more gather, there will soon be a new virus blended from the essence of the the others. They are social innovators.

So, too, are religious movements, especially those that consciously open themselves to the essence of others’ pain, suffering, hope and highest aspiration–such as institutions of health and healing that live in troubled parts of the the world like East Jerusalem and Memphis.

So, will you help us as we begin to move toward Jerusalem? I’d love a story about how you found a new way forward through an unlikely relationship with a colleague, friend or patient. How did this novelty turn into an innovation that changed your work in some way? (If you’ve got a picture to help the story, extra points!).

Thanks, in advance, for a bit of your essence.

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Professor, Faith and the Health of the Public, Wake Forest University School of Divinity. NC Certified Beekeeper Author, Leading Causes of Life, Deeply Woven Roots, Boundary Leaders, Religion and the Heath of the Public, Speak Life and God and the People. God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. Secretary Stakeholder Health. Founder, Leading Causes of Life Initiative

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