Sin and Liberation

Didn’t expect that title did you?liberating structures

There is something about Good Friday coming in the same week as a day-long medical center budget meeting that turns my mind toward sin; and then, just when you least expect it, toward liberation.

Tom Peterson of Thunderheadworks turned me onto the book The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless in his brilliant blog about social change ( ). The book is the fruit of years of work by a way smart group of social change-makers focused on making meetings and events smart and liberating. You may have noticed that most organizational meetings are not very liberating indeed, usually deadly.

Human gatherings can be powerful if built on their 10 basic principles and then artfully crafted with some of their 33 tools. It is easier and more natural than it sounds, because we are built for liberation. We use these tools in many of our FaithHealth trainings and retreats. We will use them in the Stakeholder Health Chawumba event in July ( ). We are looking forward to one of the masters of the craft, Arvind Singhal, being with us next month to teach us in person.

The ten principles of Liberating Structures in the book The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures by Henri Lipmanowicz and Keith McCandless.

The point of all this is not better meetings but a whole new world.

As soon as I read the principles I recognized what I experienced in Memphis through Bobby Baker, Chris Bounds and the hundreds of practical geniuses on that tough ground.  The Memphis Model wasn’t just liberating meetings; it was a web of liberating relationships built over time in structures held together by trust. As Bobby would say, real work, not show.

The liberating relational structures of Memphis,–and now North Carolina–aren’t happy accidents. They are built on purpose for the purpose of setting people free from the bondage of what are usually called “social determinants” by healthcare professionals. Things like poverty and broken families are bad enough, but are especially insidious when experts believe they are  so powerful that they determine lives. Left to drift, the patterns and privileges of race, wealth, education and law will replicate overtime with the predictability of gravity. However, social factors do not determine the future if a community builds liberating structures strong enough to bend Dr King’s “arc of history” toward  justice. Humans can stand up on two legs and walk—even run and jump. But we have to choose to do so. And we can invest our time and resources to new relational architecture, but we have to choose to do so.

Do I even need to point out that budgets usually give in to organizational gravity? How often do you see a liberating budget? (Please don’t mention this column to anyone remotely linked with Wake Forest until after my Division budget closes in a few weeks.)

This gets us to sin, specifically the “deadly sins” of the health industry . Catherine Panter-Brick and Mark Eggerman of Yale University and Mark Tomlinson of Stellenbosch University have just published a bold piece in Global Health Action sure to generate a storm of uncomfortableness by looking at the field of global health through the lens of sin and virtue language. They are looking at global health, but every syllable pertains to the healthcare organizations in the United States that usually don’t think of ourselves as part of the world. The authors are tough: “Structurally, global health has broken faith with its core ethical mandate of addressing the root causes of poor health outcomes, falling prey to four main temptations—coveting silo gains, lusting for technical solutions, leaving broad promises largely unfulfilled, and boasting of narrow successes. These are capital sins in the sense that they engender serious misdeeds and careless misdemeanors, and necessitate a change of heart.” Sin does not get the last word, for there are cardinal virtues, too: “A sharper focus on values and dispositions—aligned with the cardinal virtues of justice, courage, prudence and restraint—is needed to transform global health action.”( )

Tough streets loaded with assets.The opposite of sin is liberation, which needs the human structures so that the waters might roll down into the parched lands as every prophet for several millennia has envisioned. Earlier this week some of our FaithHealth staff borrowed a church bus and road the tougher streets of Winston-Salem where our data indicated many of our “charity care” patients lived (those are Leland Webb’s ears). Even those of us who are strangers to these neighborhoods could see what is missing that determines so much suffering. We expected that. We were more surprised that once you get out and look,  it is actually not hard to see the abundance of assets scattered in the very same neighborhoods.

The scattering of good works has not managed to achieve justice, of course. It is never wrong to give a bag of food or box of meds to someone in need. But surely, it is sinful to be proud of the narrow services that merely ameliorate suffering when so much more is possible—Panter-Brick’s uncomfortable point.

With some some humility (another virtue!) we can imagine liberating relationships that are not there, yet, but could be, if we applied art, discipline and time to bringing the possibilities to life.

Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church, a vital health asset co-led by Rev Charolette Leach, one of our CPE residents at the Medical Center. It sits only blocks from apartments considered to be the epicenter of hopelessness.

Could we imagine new structures, pathways and patterns that would amplify freedom and responsibility? Of course, we can. We just have to choose to do so.

It is impossible to think about sin and liberation this week and not notice that the whole point of Easter is that life breaks out where you least expect it; where you had given up all hope. Spoiler alert: he is alive and we are free. Why are you still satisfied poking around in the tomb among the dead?

About garygunderson

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