Inland See

This is the walnut in the corner of our lot now that the wild vine is dropping out of the tree.

Most of the rot is fallen, dead three years ago, but still entangled in the young walnut. I was thinking of planting a walnut on our place on the Ridge so Charles and Asa (our grandkids) could climb in when I was gone. Instead, I found one almost entirely buried in wild grape, quickly cut at the root. I googled and learned it was dangerous to tear out the invasive vine; better to let it rot in place to fall out in a few years. I’ve nudged it a bit, but it’s almost clear. Next season the Walnut will have the sun to itself. You can do the civic metaphor work by yourself; as this has been a good week for watching civic in action.

A year ago we drove a Winnebago from San Diego to Wilmington on behalf of Stakeholder Health and 100 Million Healthier Lives, following a hunch that everything we were hoping for is already happening. We should turn our attention from trying to start things, to the more grown-up humble work of nurturing the life breaking out in all the communities you’d least expect it: East San Diego, San Bernardino, El Paso, Lubbock, Memphis, The Delta, Wilmington and of course our little town of Winston-Salem. It turns out that, even in our hard-hearted times–maybe because of them–people in every town large enough to imagine a Starbucks is hard at work finding their local way to give the next generation a chance. They aren’t waiting for the hospital or university to notice, although sometimes they are involved. And they aren’t waiting for national foundations or networks to notice and help (although they are glad to take it). The human experiment would have never made it out of Africa if it had to wait for hospitals and foundations to be invented. Many of us feel as if we are in a more fraught point in the Experiment of Life,  what with the apparent collapse of the capacity of humans to talk to each other, much less the soon-to-be-missing ice caps. But maybe even now, we are finding our way community by community.

This week we’ll be on Road Trip mode again, this time in a Mini Cooper . We’ll be traveling just below what the First People called the Inland Sea. Huntington, West Virginia, on the Ohio River (from the Iroquois word, “O-Y-O,” meaning “the great river“). Cleveland on the banks of the sea, then across to Dayton, Indianapolis and Bloomington before turning South to Nashville and home to Winston-Salem.  This was land once covered by dense forests, then farms, then factories and now seeking another way. This is land that knows about violation and desecration; seasons of birth and rebirth, too.

Wild grape vine takes years to rot and fall from the tree once it has been cut at the root.

Perhaps we don’t need to plant any big noble trees like I wanted to on the Ridge, but discover the life needed a shot at the sunlight. There’s a lot of it to see.

Although the Winnebago was an environmental catastrophe, the other rules of the Road Trip proved worthy: no powerpoints or microphones, no meeting in a hospital or hotel, never more than 20 people. Listen and dialogue like grown-ups used to do. Last year we road the week after the bitter midterm elections, and were surprised at how little people spoke of national anything, much less politics. Everywhere we found unlikely people crossing supposedly toxic boundaries working on long term goals, not just short term “wins” (as the consultants often advise). Grown-ups at work!

Our ears are tuned to how people in really tough towns are finding alignment built for long term generative goals. Not just preventing this or that troubling phenomenon (opioids being the one currently best funded), but serious about the multiple aspects anything serious must engage. It really doesn’t matter which thread one follows into the web of possibilities. But it does matter to look beyond the local urgent fears to imagine the future. We are listening for how that happens and how it might be sustained.

We work for hospitals, of course, so we have friends among them on this hopeful lap around the sea. We know that hospitals often suck the air, money and attention out of broader civic alignments. But not always. We’re listening for appropriate behavior, the kind humble adults display when they are thinking of their legacy. 

Two weeks ago fifty organizations gathered in Washington about a mile from where the TV cameras are focused now. This alliance points to what is possible once we get democracy functional again. The WINS alliance began as an effort to agree on metrics and indicators pointing beyond our obsession with disease toward wellness. Following one humble-spirited grown up pediatrician, Dr. Soma Stout, the network is staying together for the harder and somewhat endless labor of actually moving the movement. We’ll be surprised if we don’t hear echoes of this turn to wellness, or what we’d call Leading Causes of Life in these tough towns. Here’s a great one-pager: well being trust https://wellbeingtrust.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/WIN-Network-One-Pager-1.pdf 

On the Inland See Road Trip we’ll listen for onething that was surprisingly omitted from the WINS list of hopeful energy: Spirit. It doesn’t help to strip out the natural language of spirit for heavy social lifting: lament, repentance, metanoia, grace, mercy, shalom. Too much DC-chatter. I suspect we’ll hear more powerful language on the road.

Years ago before I actually knew much, I wrote my best book, Deeply Woven Roots, about the strengths of congregations for the health of the community. A bit to my surprise, this is continuing to find itself relevance, cited by the National Academies of Science and, I hear, an upcoming article in JAMA. Toward the end, I wrote about brokenness: “breaking ground is not the name of a ceremony that launches a building, but the place itself. This is where we come to break, to be broken open. Indeed, it is the reason we come,, for through being broken we are made whole. Nothing new happens without breaking the old. This is the pervasive truth of eggs and omelets, wine and wineskins, seeds and gardens, birth and being born again, repentance and forgiveness.”

If you’re along this journey path, don’t hesitate to let us know. Might be tight in the MIni Cooper! But we might be able to share some coffee and dialogue along the way.

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 Inland See

  1. Thank you! You offer hope amid our brokenness!

  2. Steve Sunderland says:

    Glad to see you are on the road, again. Please tell me when you are in Dayton or thinking about coming to Cincinnati. I’d like to bring you up to date on how we have grown as the Cancer Justice Network to include exams for cancer, dental problems and vision problems. We have done this with the help of many churches, senior centers, and community groups. You can reach me at 513.919.2538 or steve.c.sunderland@icloud.com

    In peace,

    Steve

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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