Martin, Jesus, Floods and Cancer

Almost too much going on to write about. Martin died on Wednesday (my Mother’s birthday), Jesus arrested Thursday, tortured and killed Friday. And here he is back again on today!

Meanwhile, up from the mud comes Springtime in the South. Even the weeds are gorgeous. The  closer you look in any direction you’ll see life exploding into every possible place — some you’d think impossible. This little stretch of mud was under 10 feet of water a year ago, surging easily over the old levee built with shovels and desperate men in the 20’s and most of the way up the vast smooth one built with bulldozers afterward. Most of the mud in the picture came from Montana at some point and will end up in the Gulf a millennium of floods from now.

But in the meantime, here we are, with lives not much longer than those of the the insects playing the in sun. What are we to do with our handful of days?

Steven Whitman leads the Sinai Urban Health Institute in Chicago, which studies disparities in health so that people can figure out what to about them. He, and Drs. Orsi and Hurlbert, released an article last week in the journal Cancer Epidemiology that indicated that Memphis has the worst breast cancer mortality disparity among 24 other of the largest cities in the country. Memphians are never surprised to hear something bad about our city, but this one comes at a particularly awkward time. Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare, the West Clinic and the University of Tennessee are just months into a new partnership that is supposed to change the structure of cancer care in the region. The West Clinic has the preeminent Cancer physicians led by deeply missional individuals, an obvious fit for Methodist, which exists to advance the health of the whole community. The findings point out the highly inconvenient truth that the greatest disparity is not the incidence of cancer — who gets it; but how long people live with it. A “put up or shut up moment,” if ever there was one.

Cancer may be hard to prevent; but survival rates should be the same. All we have to do is make sure that everyone gets access to early screening and then all that quick comprehensive treatment offers today. Oh, and it would help if money and race did not affect whether people had reason to trust the  pathways to 21st century technology. But they do with the same certainty that the Mississippi is going to flood again. The issue is whether those that live along the pathways relevant to cancer respond with similar energy that the government shows about the river, on which it spendS billions with hardly a blink. They do, because no civilized people would allow the government to stand by and watch Cairo or Hattiesburg or New Orleans disappear as long as we have bulldozers and barges to stop it.

Cancer survival is actually a lot easier than the Mississippi. We have to get everybody aligned and acting in a trustworthy manner, so there is a seamless and transparent relationship between the informal caregivers in the neighborhoods and those with the appropriate medical technologies. We don’t need anything we don’t have. We have all the assets  and social bonds ready to be tied.

Dr. King would remind us to pay attention and tell the truth about the fears that divide us that only love is powerful enough to heal. I was driving across the city he died in 44 years ago, heard a train coming along side and sat stunned as I realized it was about a mile long of nothing but light brown military equipment. We are a people still at war, money, youth and fear bleeding from our veins every day, every day, every day. And do not know the things that make for peace.

It is 2012 and Martin would die again. Jesus would be arrested and ignored again. Both of them killed by social cancers of different kinds striking in patterns we must not deny.

Brad Thomas preached on Mark’s version of the resurrection this morning. This is the unfinished one, stopping with the disciples afraid and silent. “Every resurrection story is unfinished,” says the preacher. We are the rest of the story. And so it is yet to be seen what we do with Jesus and his awkward radicalizing truth now.

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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