Jerusalem: Choosing the World

Prayers begin early in this part of the world, long before the sun makes it over the horizon. In the early light you can see it all, hillsides of ancient graves next to walls built over millennia to protect this or that ruling clique from another aspiring one, both indistinguishable in the dust of time. And in the background construction cranes ready for another day. And, of course, religious symbols vast and tiny mark every corner the eye could find.

One stream of Jewish tradition says that every year God has to choose to continue to create the world again. It is amazing that God continues to do so given how quarrelsome and unappreciative we humans are on most days. But God does keep on choosing to create and by doing so invites us to create, too.

The group of hospitals gathering today tend to think of ourselves as old institutions. We have lots of pictures on our walls of old medical technology and nurses dressed up in garb we now think of as quaint. We feel modern and wonder that we have endured 120 years or so. That’s longer than most of the tools of public health, although one could quibble that prevention preceded healing by millennia. It is a quibble among us moderns. Meanwhile, the dusty stones of these hills testifies that medicine, hospitals and most of our religious forms are very young. Most of the graves between the hotel and the Mosque and Temple across the history drenched ravine were filled without any medical professionals including executives making any difference at all.

For the vast portion of the journey of our religious tribes, the story has not had–or needed–us. Faith-based hospitals are a very recent fruit of God’s imagination at work in the world. This should give us a bit of humility, but perhaps even more usefully, a certain lightness in our deliberations. We are young and perhaps the world and God are just figuring out what we might be good for. Maybe the future does not depend on our laborious efforts at innovation at all. Maybe we are at more basic level where we need raw imagination, focusing on opening ourselves to be vessels, conduits, receivers and amplifiers–social media through which God’s imagination can work now and work next.

Perhaps we can hold ourselves, and especially our brief pasts, more lightly, with less anxiety and grasping. We can be, dare we say, somewhat playful, look at ourselves and our work with a beginners mind, a child like sense of wonder that we are here at all.

Process Theology (with capitals!) says that God stand with us at the boundary between now and the not yet, continually choosing the world from among many possibilities. We humans participate partly by choosing to giving privilege to some of those possibilities by our language, presence, attentiveness and of course where we put our money and time. And we also give privilege by what we hope and fear, what company we keep, who we listen to and what we count. The future is wild and ragged and uncertain; but it doesn’t just happen to us. We participate in choosing it.

Bill Foege, who has taught me so much by reversing so many obvious sayings called the question on one of the most common to scientists: where the simple mind says “I’ll believe it when I see it”, the creative mind of both science or faith notices that you can’s see something until you believe it is possible to be seen. Tentative believe opens eyes to possibility which can guide creaitive research, risk-taking initiative–innovation.

I was pondering all the stones and wondering how many layers of other civilizations’ stones lay beneath the ones I could see. I noticed a few feet away a young Muslim couple trying to balance their camera on one of the stones, setting the timer so they could both be in the picture. I dropped my weighty deliberations and offered to help, which they accepted with the same snapshot smiles I’ve shown in front of hundreds of tourist sites. I clicked and then we all stared into the little LCD on the back of the camera and declared it good.

Maybe that’s the point; to look around and notice who else is looking at the same past, present and future and help each other get it in focus.

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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2 Responses to Jerusalem: Choosing the World

  1. Jamey says:

    profound musings, absurd rambling, blogging from the center of the universe. Thanks for the food for the thought today Gary, I think I'm living a bit more in the present than I was before I read this. I don't know if I'll be able to snap a photo again without looking at the LCD and declaring, "It is good."

  2. Brad says:

    Powerful insights about the emerging nature and role of "faith" in a faith based hospital. You could apply the same observation to the role faith takes in a self-proclaimed faith based institution like, say, the United Methodist Church. God knows I have tried to practice the faith on too many ocassions without actually having any…Thnx Gary.

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