Fred Smith is a Harvard-SMU-Emory PhD and United Methodist preacher. He grew up tough in Oakland playing football. When he and I were walking around Jack London Square Thursday night after a nerve-fraying couple of days, we went looking for some music at the jazz venue just a hundred yards from the water. Up we walked, me in REI garb and blue jean uniform and Fred dressed as Fred. We glanced at the ticket booth and saw Warren G, who we thought, without really thinking very hard, was….Kenny G. In we went, found ourselves seated way in the back looking like two poorly constumed narcs in a room of about 400 …. self-medicating socially complex consumers.
Warren and Kenny did not come from the same G family, nor do they share any musical dna. At all. Soon I realized that Warren wasn’t going to pull out Kenny’s jass flute thing. The wildly appreciative audience knew every syllable of every profane lyric and not-hard to discern hand motions with a rain of language probably not heard outside the Oakland Raiders huddle in a losing game. He couldn’t make it halfway through a sentence or musical phrase without a MFGDSht!??!??!?@#$%@@@@!!!MFGDSht kind of cadence. The audience, including the four young oriental women in the table in front of us and the two Indian couples next to us rocked and danced and shouted along. . I would show you a picture, but it just didn’t seem like a time to whip out my iphone and capture the moment.
I had the impression that Warren wasn’t really the bad ass MFGDsht dude he let on. I’m a Baptist and I know role play when I see it. The whole thing reminded me of one of those mind-numbing praise music servicesthat I witness in the small town Baptist meetings I find myself in from time to time. Warren used MFGDsht sort of like some Christians use Jesus, more as a sound to mark the beat and help everyone now they are in the right show—the one they know the words to.
We all sing songs that, as we age and gain life experience, may not be quite as authentic as they once were.
Warren is 43 years old now and probably has a couple daughters. He wants wants a new song. Being from Oakland, he thought his home town adulating fans would like to hear his newest song. They did not. That’s the main point of his new song, which is exactly why his old fans didn’t like it. It was like they turned the fire sprinklers on.
Most of us do not like it when our cultural, religious or intellectual idols sing new songs because it suggests that we may should consider singing something new, too.
The next day I went down to LA with the Association of Professional Chaplains, a more honorable group I cannot imagine. It was a KennyG kind of crowd until the dozens of newly certified chaplains received their certificates marking the end of years of their grueling and sometimes gruesome process. Board Certified Chaplains complete three years of seminary, been ordained and then begun 1,600 hours of intensive and invasive reflective practice in a hospital before going through rigorous and, again, invasive review of written and personal interviews. So at the end of the process they do not want to lie prostrate before the bishop on the cathedral stone. Nope. It is more like WarrenG,;“chaplains gone wild” as one APC organizer names it. A conga line whooping, shouting, yes even sort of dancing.
The Conga line marked an ending; where does it go next? Rev. Valerie R. Storms laid out with devastatingly clarity that the line leads away from all that has been the chaplains’ norm into a new world. Chaplains, because of the radical changes in their medical world context AND in their religious world context need a new song.
What is the kind of learning and knowing that helps us find the new tune when we can’t just pick up the beat from our elders?
We need Barney Fife research. We know about Barney because he and Andy lived in Mayberry, modeled after Mt. Airy just about 30 minutes north of Winston-Salem.
You can recognize Barney Fife data it because it offers up proof of the value of the old ways. It honors the crackling exoskeleton left hanging on the tree long after the living body of the insect has found new form and life. Barney found meaning, purpose and value by showing compliance to an extrinsic standard of behavior. He did the right thing by complying, and was scandalized when that right thing failed to be useful in real life. Hospitals need real help in finding their way to a new song, so are unimpressed and dissmisive of proof of mere compliance to their old life even when they pretend to honor it.
Anxious guilds and technology providers invest in research designed to prove their value in terms of the current business model. Of course, they do; the new business model doesn’t exist, yet. But that’s the one that actually matters most. That’s where the conga line is going.
Andy is comfortable with the complex messy pathos of humanity. He always looked for the truth and thus often found it in inconvenient places and unlikely people. Sometimes the truth didn’t make him look good, but he never blinked and made the choices that helped people do the next right thing. In technical research terms, Andy did “formative evaluation” which is designed to evaluate as the process lives, not after its finished and done. It fits what Tom Peters (via Tom Peterson) calls the “permament beta” we live in. The more fluid the situation and creative the process the more you need Andy and the less you need Barney.
A hint at what might be worth knowing comes from the very latest Institute of Medicine roundtable on accelerating the movement to health and health equity. With bold humility it looks at past social movements—many religious—in seek of wisdom to guide the movement we all know we need to seize the opportunity 21st century science and policy opens up. They are looking for a new song, indeed : ><http://click.newsletters.nas.edu/?qs=0303e74e5f82782dc8ae27ef1e77b6dcc341581cc00a5d2976e414ffa228bb3db9b9a4653daf7745>.
Our work in North Carolina is about adapting the long legacy of faith and health to a new place and time. We know we are singing a new song and we are tuning all of our tools and techniques to it. We are using a wide array of learning tools and methods to give us as much short-cycle feedback as possible. We are stopping to look carefully at each cohort of a hundred patients we are seeing in our various lines of work; dialysis, Supporters of Health, FaithHealthNC in Lexington. We are beginning the always surprising process of participatory mapping of community health assets using the African model (now on its 7th iteration). We are doing deep data dives into the full patient populations from 2012 using two radically different analytical models. We are driving and walking the neighborhoods where we know our most vulnerable patients live. We are talking one-on-one to dozens of clergy and the care teams in their congregations. We are allowing all this to form us, not prove us.
The Chawumba event in Winston-Salem July 25-28 is a time for us to find an authentic song for our work and time. We want one that can disrupt our complicity to the old world so far from our hopes. Who knows what song will find voice?
(If you want to be part of Chawumba, it’s not to late to register. Go to StakeholderHealth.org. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org)