Good Hatch Trouble

Tuesday marks the sixth year a highly interdisciplinary group has gathered to honor and reflect on the ever-new intellectual witness of Dr. John Hatch.

John Hatch Lecture Series, Register HERE!

My role is frame the occasion, which is supposed to be the opposite of giving a sermon, or worse a lecture. But Dr. Hatch leads a quietly radical life not unlike the good troublesome life of Reverend John Lewis, so I am speaking about Hatch Trouble.

I’m claiming a triple exemption as reverend, writer and academic. Which is to say that I haven’t cleared the comments with our corporate communications office. If one has not risked one’s job, the words are probably not worth speaking or listening to.

I was once asked by a suspicious Board member where this FaithHealth thing came from. I had not expected the question over breakfast, so I said, “Jesus?” And pointed out that Jesus got it from Micah and, for that matter, Genesis. The modern movement began when germs were discovered in the late 1800’s. And the great missionary hospitals around the world–including our own happy to be part of Atrium Health but still often called The Baptist.

Then in Chicago Granger Westerberg invented Faith Community Nursing about the same time Dr. Jack Geiger and Dr. John Hatch invented the first of now more than 1,400 Community Health Centers.

The movement of faithhealth has long had a awkwardly close relationship with the power of biomedical institutions and technology. My paycheck has a hospital logo on it, as have many thousands of missionary doctors and nurses. But I fear we have been too successful at integration into the biomedical institutions and not radical enough about the science of healthy human life. Dr. James Bruckner’s wrote a book by that title. A scholar of the Jewish scriptures, he notes many ways the science and ancient witness is an inconvenient truth: that life and health do not stay within the billable containers of healthcare. When the World Health Organization commissioned us to understand and then map the religious health assets relevant to HIV/AIDS in southern Africa, the villagers taught us that we can’t connect what is impossible to separate. We learned the word “Bophelo,” which we awkwardly translate into FaithHealth—no separation, one word.

The FaithHealth movement was fundamental in creating the mission of the World Health Organization–health for all, which echoes in the mission of Atrium Health, too. The Christian Medical Commission and the writings of Carl and Daniel Taylor laid down the intellectual framework which ended up captured by the clinicians and sidelining the liberators. Today, you can find this true taproot in the pedagogy of Future Generations University up in Franklin, WV, which systematically plants seeds of liberation that can grow to scale as sustained health.

We’re especially interested in the social side of the innovation, the one John Hatch learned with the men, women and children picking cotton in Mississippi. He had picked cotton in Kentucky but humbled himself to learn again from and with those on the other side of the sidewalk from the clinic.

But to call it the “social” side is to fall into the intellectual ditch of “social determinants” which conveniently but fatally strip out the psychological and spiritual dynamics that are woven into the social. This is not just impolite, but egregious intellectual malpractice.

Tepid social determinants tempt us to just do mercy with little titrate bits of social stuff, increasingly dispensed by computer algorithms. Yikes!

If they are social at all, the witness of Dr. John Hatch-—and in this year’s series Chief Health Equity Officer Victor Armstrong—the intelligence found on the other side of the sidewalk from the clinic pulls us toward trouble. Good trouble, the work of liberation in what are usually called underserved neighborhoods are under liberated.

Equity, the opposite of disparity, is not just having computers spit out the same pile of stuff. Equity is power and liberation, not just after-you-have-the-condition treatment.

John Hatch 101. Why the white Mississippi legislators tried to prevent the community health center from opening at all.

And why it did anyway, in the parsonage of a nearby church.

And why Dr. Geiger justified buying land and a tractor as part of the prescription against the travesty of malnutrition on the richest soil on the planet.

It is now common to tweak our hospital computers to keep track of social factors of our patients at the same moment insurance companies are hiring many community health workers. This is happening across the country, just as only weeks ago North Carolina inaugurated our state association of community health workers. This is very positive but could be captured by more powerful interests. Platoons of low-wage, but no power, community health workers do not honor this intellectual taproot. Not unless they own their work, share in the gain their work achieves in better outcomes and lower costs. They set people free; literally release the captives.

“Do you want to be healed?” asked Jesus at the pool? “Do you want to be healed,” asked Dr Hatch on the Delta and here at the end of Carolina clay roads. Do the work—community work—that liberates, not just titrates bits of help.

There are those who want religion protected, removed off to the side where it is safe and can chat among itself about whatever. Some claim faith institutions should receive special dispensation even removed from the basics of quarantine law, taking us back before germ theory entirely. Some would use religious freedom as a weapon to undermine the rule of civilized law that allow us to protect ourselves. The Supreme Court, made up of justices who have not picked cotton anywhere, needs to be healed. It is rare for the fullness of faith to be expressed at social scale without a working relationship with the public assets of good government. Nowhere is this more vivid than in the work of many community health centers.

You won’t hear about the privilege of faith today, not standing in the light of Dr. John Hatch. You’ll hear and be invited to listen to the voice already within you calling us to trouble, hatch trouble, good trouble. How to give ourselves away, not accumulate privileges.

When Covid came home two years ago, we all went to time out. I found myself writing, of all things, a book of prayers. When the Reverend John Lewis passed on July last year I went to my knees. On this occasion, that’s probably where we should all be.

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Amicus Prayer

Painting by Lisa Lumb

Public health and faith are on the side. When they grow distant, demagogues delight and virus clap their little hands. Good people die.

This week a man who gave his life to others every day as an EMS driver lost his life because he wasn’t vaccinated. No religion opposes vaccination, so he didn’t die because of a particular creed; rather from a mutant heresy that grew like an invasive species in the space public health and religious ethics. Some of that space was part of postmodern drift; some grew from weirdly displaced anger and some was cynically provoked. A good man died for no reason.

Normal religious practice created most of the local health departments in the US. If you go and look in the minutes of their founding meeting, you’ll see they opened in prayer with clergy on their Board. Today in Norway a very secular government funds deacons and deaconesses who practice proactive community health by tending to the neighbors with an intelligence and spirit with deep roots in the norms of Norwegian life. They are funded out of the health budget. In the US we are now seeing a rapid emergence of “community health workers” projected out of a more simplistic biomedical model with a bit of “social” sprinkled on top. But most CHW’s are just like their Norwegian peers at the intersection of public health and the religious virtues of kindness and empathy.

You could see this if you had attended even the first 30 minutes of the first meeting of the North Carolina Community Health Worker Association this past week as two Enrique Catana and June Britt, electrified the audience/congregation with their witness to the brilliance of community health work and in the process, high FaithHealth art. It is one word because in normal community there is no space between the two facets of humanity. Normal.

Thousands of public health people and practitioners will gather in Denver (virtually) to advance their science, practice and, yes, spirit. Some will gather to worship in an artful mingling of the prayers of many faiths, this year in lament for those lost to COVID. These are especially painful prayers as this profession knows how preventable so many of those deaths were.

You can pray with us and even light a candle by Zoom (details below).

This isn’t something created out of COVID emergency. It’s normal. The faith caucus has quietly been convening for about a quarter century since Dr. Cass Evans and Dr David Satcher lent their support as presidents of the APHA. Maybe we should have been less quiet.

Just before the prayers, a group of public health lawyers will be talking in another Zoom about how to counter the groups cynically using “religious freedom” as a tool to undermine the basic legal foundations of public health. The Supreme Court seems to be fishing for these aberrant cases that will leave more bodies left behind. So some people of faith are preparing “amicus briefs” to advise the highest courts in the land against falling for this most deadly failure of logic, history and faith.

I wonder if the Justices of the Supreme Court would join the interfaith worship and offer up an amicus prayer for saints of public health, those who love the whole:

God who loves every little bit of every little thing of the ragged gaggle called public,

Light our way with what both You and science see as sacred, blessed, honorable, worthy of praise and sacrifice. Thank You for the amazing array of practices, behaviors, choices that lead to life; that protect, enhance, extend and spread its blessings widely across the people.

Stop us from holding on to ourselves anything that You intend for “all.” We see that You are not done because we can see science is not done. Every day You reveal new possibilities worth doing together, as we can see how your science is a friend of humans and shows how much mercy and justice is possible.

Never let your public health servants stop talking about facts, analytics, determinants, vectors, patterns and predictors. Nurture their crazy love for the people—the public. Feed our hope for better, more and broader health. Even when those with smaller hopes take our money, put us in the dumpy offices, and cut our staff. Even when those afraid of your vision treat us badly. Do not let us quit. Keep us in our lovers quarrel with the public.

Protect us from those who have lost their love for the public. Release them to them less consequential work not played for life and death stakes. Move them someplace they will not endanger the people.

Do not make us proud of our righteousness but give us delight in being part of your messy, disappointing, ever-muddling humans called “the public.” Thank You for placing us in just the right work at just the right time.

Never let us speak out of pride; love first, last, and in between, especially in public, especially with the public, the people You so love.


The prayer is from God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening, available here.

Join the Interfaith Celebration by Zoom

Sunday October 24 at 5-6:30 p.m Mountain Time

Meeting ID: 485 508 5889 Passcode: aLbq1a 

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Mundane miracle

It was such a mundane miracle that nobody thought to take a picture: a handful of straw by a 2” cottonwood sapling at the bottom of a dry arroyo. Hope in shades of brown.

I didn’t take a proper photo, either. My ipad scrawl, instead,

The straw had not randomly blown against the sapling. Larry McEvoy thought hard enough to place the straw precisely to protect its young roots from the hot afternoon sun. The dirt took years more thought and a lot more sweat. The arroyo had once been a creek until a bulldozer turned it a county road that quickly degraded into an impassable rocky sluice. The other five square miles was variations on the same short-term idiocy. Larry and Ankie bought the broken ranch a quarter century ago with young sons. Who else could look at it and imagine Elk sipping out of the creeks that used to be there. They brought in their healing bulldozer wielded like a scalpel to build check-dams in the arroyo to catch enough run-off silt. Cottonwood became imaginable, plantable and now worth protecting against the summer blaze. Here stands a sapling, someday a tree that will protect the creek yet to come.

TC and I don’t live on a ranch, but think the five square miles of lost children of Winston-Salem with streets like dry ravines with little soil for young roots. But they once grew healthy children and can again if some grown-ups would see them like Larry saw the Cottonwood. Some see the run-off from COVID recovery funds as a chance to do the right thing. So it might happen.

Kids don’t grow any quicker than Cottonwood. They need vaccinations, books, safe places to study and oatmeal just as saplings a handful of straw against the sun. Kids need grown-ups to pay taxes to pay teachers and businesses to pay a living wage to their parents.

Tears for what is lost. And a few decades of thoughtful sweat.

Last night we had dinner with two grown-ups who still have tears for the children: Ray Chamberlain was the UMC Bishop of Virginia, now the cook, and Martha, an author who has played many roles around the world. They were celebrating God And the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. Martha’s favorite prayer: For Children Old Too Soon:

God on the run, of parents who ran to safety when the soldiers came. Fled the garage as the shepherds left. Crossed the desert wastes to give your life a chance.

Your mother without a husband,

your father without a story, refugees against an empire.

You knew early and at every step along the way how fragile and fraught the journey without help.

You must weep for others even less likely to find one.

Be with the children on their own.

They listen in the silence for the next blow to fall. Listen for the cold weight of anger from one supposed to protect, they wait for the punch on the way. Listen for the scurry of the vermin and the scatter in the dark. Listen for the parent who is working instead of tending. Listen to the names of shame and stigma. Listen for someone to say their name in kindness.

They are watching for a crack and the slight light. Watch the flow of the day and what comes next. Watch for kind eyes and an open hand. Watch for something to eat and drink. Watch for a safe place to wash.

Child God, the human one, bring us to the children on their own. May we listen and watch for them. You know their lives; teach us as would be with them. Each child a savior of us all.

Give us eyes to see the child old too soon. And eyes for pattern of the ten, hundred, thousand and million as clear as one child’s cry. Strengthen our hearts and sharpen our eyes to see the utterly predictable processes and places bereft of justice, even the shreds of mercy.

How do You stand it, God? What holds back your wrath and vengeance on all of us who care so little?

Tear away the hiding place from the ugly shadow of our lazy charity, of kindness held small. Give us no mercy and make us fear justice.

As a child, come to us and wake us up.


God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening, published by Stakeholder Press. Available on Amazon here.

Larry McEvoy’s book, Epidemic Leadership: How to Lead Infectiously in the Era of Big Problems, is here.

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Praying for trouble

Last weekend I stood on stones laid by the First People two thousand years ago on a bluff in what is now called Montana. Larry and Anki McEvoy are the current human owners of these five square miles. They have placed most of it into a conservation reserve so that it might again welcome Elk and humans who wish to live with them. I was there as one of a dozen of the Stakeholder Health tribe, under Larry’s teaching about Epidemic Leadership. We were still dizzy from the COVID years, but looking for a way to give our lives away to something that might be worthy of the miracles our little planet offers up every day and to every generation. The only way to participate in such wonder is to give it away, of course.

I thought of of the Reverend Congressman John Lewis and the prayer he inspired in me as I reflected on his life. It’s better said than read. You can hear it by clicking on the picture of my by our beehives above.

Good Trouble

God of anger, fire, trouble and cry,

Kindle us, your willing embers of the world that needs a cleansing fire. We are yours to risk, eager for fresh air beyond the safe spaces. We love your street, and concrete grit. We love the stride and the heft of things worth doing, unafraid of conflict.

Let us not hold your energy lightly, unexamined and unwashed of pride. Let us not waste your hope by tethering it to our short-ranging vision. Let us not waste voice and language by limiting it to our cleverness.

Tune our ears to those hardest to hear, the ones we find annoying and inconvenient. Especially help us hear the ones that embarrass our proper friends, just as You bothered them with tax collectors, working women and the rich. You were rejected by family, nearly thrown off a cliff by neighbors. Complicate our sense of connection and draw us into the tangled humanity You have made so wonderfully and inconveniently complex.

And then, after we sense the breadth of your impossibly wide family, let us speak with simplicity of mercy and justice in kindhearted firmness.

Protect us last. Put our bodies in the way of those who would harm the poor and despised; let the bruises intended for the weak fall on us; let the venom aimed at the despised be ours. Spend us as You have spent yourself.

We know in resistance we find release; in giving, all gain. For life finds a way where we let it flow through us into lives parched for mercy, aching for justice, despairing of peace. May our young be brave. Our families raising up new prophets as our old ones take the risks reserved for those who have lived enough to give it all away.

Make our lives a protest against the lie that You have not created enough food, space and freedom to go around for all your children. We deny with generous lives the lie that You failed to design a world that might work for us all. May our kind lives protest the lie that we must narrow our hope to only those who pray like us, look like us and talk like us. May our lack of anxiety protest the bitter penury that shrinks your mercy into a fist.

Surely it is your voice that speaks of a time when your promises will be realized, the weapons laid down, the rich with the poor eating together, lamb and honeybee, Baptist and Buddhist, Anglican and Atheist quiet in wonder at how great Thou art, how blessed we are.

May it be.


The prayer is from God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening, published by Stakeholder Press. Available on Amazon here.

Larry McEvoy’s book, Epidemic Leadership: How to Lead Infectiously in the Era of Big Problems, is here.

Thank you to Dora Barilla, Larry and Anki McEvoy, Arvind Singhal, Bobby Milstein, Colleen Flynn, Anna Creegan, Kevin Barnett, Teresa Cutts, Monte Roulier, Terry Williams, Rick Rawson, Lauran Hardin and Tom Peterson, for the experience.

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Daughters to Sisters

Gary Gunderson text / Cagn Cochrane, Illustrations

Any father with daughters spends a lot of time in prayer. I thought about this yesterday on Kathryn’s birthday, which found me at September Morn Lake high in the Beartooth Wilderness. In the 21st century once the child has managed to make it to 5 years old, they will probably live another 8 or 9 decades. This means that most of the lives of parents and children is spent with both as “adults” (not to overstate the maturity of either). Daughters become sisters. Personally, I like that a lot.

This prayer is from God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. You can find it on Stakeholder Health ( or Amazon here.

Thank You God who never ceases to generate new life from shared love, new love from shared life, never wasted, always creating and
recreating. Thank You for life woven from broken threads that a lesser
god would waste.

Thank You for daughters and sons as they become sisters and brothers of their parents, teaching and tending us, as they once received. What a delight to be held by those who love us. Our daughters and sons teach us so.

Thank You for weaving in ways we could not know to hope.

A hundred, thousand, million eddies in the current that deserve names and
celebrations. Every one adding, rising up and laying down, old selves fallen away for the new. As surely as the river flows You draw us, too, shaping the channel for those who come later. Teaching and releasing until gradually we are eye to eye. Then loved into memory, a story beyond us, as sons and daughters become memories themselves.

Thank You for weaving in ways we could not know to hope.

Give us pause to wonder. One parent and one daughter, one son and one brother are as galaxies in motion. Entire fields of relationship, dancing as waves in the dark. You raise us to raise each other over and again.

Thank You for weaving in ways we could know to hope.

Give us the grace to release and shed the past. Just enough grace for the day we are in with those we are with. Just enough vision of the life flowing through and among us. Thank You for making us so woven in ways we could know to hope. Amen

This prayer is from God and the People: Prayers for a Newer New Awakening. You can find it on Stakeholder Health ( or Amazon here.

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Prayers for those in silence

Cagn Cochrane

The vast majority of my writing is hopeful, almost annoyingly so. In these COVID months I have found myself more tuned to the varieties of lament that are so appropriate. So many lost and delayed journeys, so much interrupted and lost. Even without the melting of Greenland, humiliation of lost wars despite trillions of dollars and countless thousands of lives. Viral death and weirding of democracy. Lament comes a bit easier these days, even for me. Makes me aware of so many who live in that shadow for private grief and struggles known only by a few. The book is about prayers for a newer new awakening, but not born of happy talk. You can buy the book on Amazon here.

Weeping God of sorrows,
Come tenderly to those who know sadness in these days,
The aching grey hours before dawn, when you wept for the city. And the heart-bound vacancy at noon.
The loneliness of overheard laughter,
The touch observed, meant for someone else.

Words ring false as tin, Color off in light aslant. How can I keep on singing In this strange land?

Hold me now and gather me close.
Even now my heart beats.
Even now, my blood moves in my veins.
Even now, my muscles ripple for weight to lift and work to do. Even now, draw me toward those even more alone.

God of sorrow, testify that pain is life unfinished yet,
That unresolved sadness may yet focus on what is not yet done, witness to what might be birth.
Come my father, mother, sister, brother, friend.
Come close now.

This book is available on, the home of Stakeholder Press. And, of course, on Amazon here. If you buy on Amazon, be sure to leave a decent review. It really helps. All profits from the book go to Stakeholder Health, to support this most amazing web of hopeful change-makers. They’re the answer to prayers already prayed.

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Praying for a new new

I can’t imagine you’ve noticed amid the various pandemics and meltdowns but I have not been on social media very much. I have been typing and to the surprise of some of my friends, typing prayers—enough to form a decent book. Maybe my best, actually, published by Stakeholder Press, my favorite community of thought and practice. You can find it on Amazon here. And I’ll be posting some of the prayers here, of course. Here’s a taste:

“Teach us to pray,” they asked Jesus, expecting instructions. He disappointed and annoyed, as usual. But two thousand years later almost anyone attending a funeral can mumble along with the handful of phrases he offered. We have also heard it in religious places by proper people with sonorous voices, so we miss it’s radical simplicity. He spoke Aramaic in which the prayer was stark, with no temple polish at all. This is what he said, paraphrased from Matthew 6:7-13 (God save me):

“Mother, father, sister, brother and friend, Who makes everything sacred, and all life possible,

we ask only enough for today.

Release the burdens of yesterday as we release the debts of those we have burdened.

Protect us from distraction and anything that is not of life. May it be.”

That’s it.
That’s all he said.
Doesn’t seem like quite enough.

It wasn’t his only prayer, of course. Most were even shorter. “Forgive them, they know not what they do.” And, “take this cup from me.” Sometimes he just wept for what the city did not know.

He prayed most eloquently with his life, as spiritual people do, full of healing and groaning and weaving. The life resonated with intimate knowing of those he met on dusty paths and marble palaces. He told easily remembered, vivid stories that tended to mock the powerful and gave hope to those they thought beneath them.

He healed so many people in so many unauthorized ways that it drove those in politics and religious power to kill him. What kind of healing gets one killed? It starts with a simple, honest, humbling presence before the ultimate; prayer without the presence or performance. There grows an ember of something more disruptive than our schemes, programs and gizmos. That kind of prayer opens space for clarity that untethers and propels. Who knows what happens next?

Praying is not the highest expression of spirit, just as writing is not the highest expression of thinking. Doing is where we integrate muscle and mind, sweat and spirit. But there is honor in word and voice as long as both serve; a cup of cold water or a visiting somebody in jail or the “good trouble” that gets one in jail.

You’ll notice that I capitalize God and You, when I turn toward the ultimate. I’m showing respect, but do not presume chumminess. I know a 14 billion year continuing explosive phenomenon is not a buddy.

But the spirit breathing through it seems closer to a “You” than an “it.” This book is not the one exploring the cosmological theology that difference implies. I’d like to read that book, but am not attempting to write it here. These are spiritual sketches, not hard- core systematic theology. I think it best to pray first.

Maybe we can pray together, you and me. I don’t mean by you reading my words.
I hope they trigger your own Spirit to find language from your life and labor. Maybe songs or
images. The pages that follow have some of my prayers. Because I am careful with words, some of them look like poems, laid out on paper that you can scan with your eyes. Voice would be much better; you could hear their tentative offering, my uncertainty seeking faith. They are sketches in spirit, which is why they are accompanied by sketches in pen by my friend Cagn Cochrane.

Better prayers are offered in sweat, not words. Spirit woven of broken threads into something new and useful for the world. That kind of doing is a kind of thinking, sometimes even a kind of praying where words come long after. You’ll find traces of that in these prayers typed and edited, but shared work would be better.

I hope we’ll get to pray that way someday.

May that be.
May we become part of what is trying to become.
Protect us from distraction from anything that is not of life.

That’s what I’m praying for.

Any profits from the book go to Stakeholder Health. You can buy the book on or on Amazon here. If you purchase on Amazon, please leave a decent review to lay down breadcrumbs for others to find the book. (Thanks!)

So many to thank, which I’ve done in the actual book, but have to acknowledge Cagn Cochrane for the illustrations, Jim Cochrane for design and edits. Tom and HK for making it happen. Stakeholder friends and Wake Forest colleagues. And, of course, TC, for pretty much everything. Oh, and Jesus (prayers, after all!).

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Beauty wherever you look. Oklahoma.

As we look to DC this weekend, it would be good to breathe in and out a few times. And in doing so, pull a bit of the anxiety out of the civic breath. It’s a good time to appreciate the likelihood that the expected storm of angry violence will pass unremarkably like many winter storms do. There are, of course, entire media channels whose livelihood depends on keeping us anxious about storms of various kinds. Let them whip up somebody else. The couple thousand aged-out men (and occasional fading women) with fantasies of overthrowing our government will dissipate now that the US Army has shown up. Let them go back to wherever they came from. Let them chatter among themselves, all couple thousand of them.

The violent ones are tiny fraction of the 74,221,744 (the total voting minus two thousand) who supported our sitting President. Some are mad, some afraid, a large fraction confused, and probably half already gone back to worrying about the kids and dog next door. The 81,283,485 who voted more like me also scatter across the spectrum of elation, but all have also mostly gone back to worrying about the kids and dogs next door. Image both spectrums as one, and I’m pretty sure that the largest glump in middle have anxieties and hopes with very little to do with anything near any capitol. This is good. Democracy doesn’t work well by exaggerating the emotional implications of every twist and turn. There’s a reason bureaucrats are boring; government work is supposed to be boring, clunking along without the rest of us worrying about it.

From time to time, though, it’s not boring. Whatever you think about the election, everyone should pause to lament those dead from a tiny virus that has killed more we lost to the Third Reich. Almost everyone knows a family that has lost a member; I sure do. Focus there. And then focus on getting everyone vaccinated and the deeply bruised institutions back on their feet: the churches, schools and restaurants.

Don’t give any breathe to anyone who wants to talk about anything else, especially if it makes you angry at somebody who has not actually hurt you. If you hear that coming, walk away and find someone ready for actual human words. Don’t argue, instruct, or magnify; for God’s sake, don’t retweet or reply all.

Now is the time for grown-ups, bringing non-anxiety and non-judgement. Counsellors get paid a good hourly wage to do that, but if you’re old enough to read a blog, you’re probably capable of giving away some non-anxiety for free. That’s much more valuable than your reprocessed opinion.

It’s possible that tens of thousands of armed goobers will swarm our streets like killer bees. But probably not. I’m confident the US Army and cops can sort that out. The rest of us should figure out how to share our tiny blue planet with people who do not vote like we think they should.

Pause. Quiet. Listen.

Do it again.

Notice that days have more light. If you look closely, you’ll notice the early buds are getting ready for Spring.

Camellia bloom in the winter. Good thinking, God.

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Noticing 2020(b)

As you’re noticed, 2020 is not gone. It won’t be till we get everyone vaccinated against COVID, the Unelected One and his angry gullibles. All will pass, but not because December did. 2020(b)

The Solstice was real—shortest daylight of the year. Already a solid 8 minutes more light, with another 10 minutes by Inauguration Day. Ignore the calendar. Watch the light. (Chart here).

Kevin Barnett has goaded me into any number of life-threatening experiences on the trail. A couple years ago when we thought NC Medicaid “transformation” was happening, we flew him out to give us some clues how to transform the transformation. Turned out we were two years early, but we took advantage of his coming to go hike. Mt Sterling marks the near edge of the Great Smokies only a few hours by car and another twenty by boot, so off we went.

We were surprised as the the early spring trail crossed streams wide and fast. Eventually we thought we saw the crest so we pushed up and on. As often happens in life, we had mistaken the false summit for the true peak still hundreds of feet and several miles up the trail. Nearly out of water, we trudged heads down, hardly noticing the broad ranks of hills below. There was no water at the campsite. But we noticed a diminutive faded sign guiding us a half mile down the other side of the crest, where we found a trickle oozing through the moss. It was beautiful. That night storms, stretched our stakes and fabric to the max; bladder, too as, filled of clean mountain water, I got drenched when I had to pee. The next day was all downhill as we noticed all sorts of flowers and birds missed amid the sweat coming up.

You have to notice what’s going on in reality. Don’t take human signs seriously. Things like calendars. Even elections, which can mark the fork in the trail but don’t move the mountain.

Just after Christmas (a day chosen by a long-dead Roman politician) I was part of a conversation about “measuring.” Four Leading Causes of Life Fellows: Paul Laurienti (a no kidding brain scientist), Jim Cochrane (who has been walking from apartheid for decades), Teresa Cutts (ranked researcher who never met a academic measure she trusted) and me (I got a 92% on my NC State beekeeper exam). We wanted to go closer to reality and living, and knew that measurement often makes us dumber about that. Many of us with jobs feel pressure to measure things to prove this or that in order to earn tinsel for our professional tree. Measures are not without value, but outcomes, deliverables and other false summits can get you lost if you don’t pay attention to the ground you are walking.

So we found ourselves talking about a “discipline of noticing” that would honor and refine the “practices of noticing” …life.

We only got far enough in the conversation to clarify what we wanted. You might want to be part of finding our way.

How do we know where we are and what time it is? Look to the sunrise.

How do we know the weather? Look to the sky.

How do we know who to trust? Beware the vipers and those that live on their waste online.

In short, notice the fruits that run from the Spirit of Life. These are qualities that by scientific definition can’t be measured like quantities.

But we can notice qualities systematically. And we can help each other practice noticing so we are living in the real world.

Jim recorded the Zoom. It would be a good January 6th present to yourself to notice it. Here.

In the meantime, we work toward Spring. On the day that was supposed to be New, I built new hive boxes for my thousands of bee girls.

My bee mentor, David Link, noticed that one of my hives was small. So small that the big one started to rob it and maybe too small to stay warm through the winter. He loaned me smaller boxes. Then I drove the girls in my Mini over to Linwood’s yard and wrapped them in Styrofoam to give them a chance. As of yesterday, they were still flying. Glad David helped me notice.

I am building new frames of clear pine with finger joints so tight I need a mallet; brass screws and glue, because the bees are thinking more than one honey harvest as they have been since before we humans noticed and painted them on cave walls.

These are hard days for bees and democrats (small d). In damp 35-degree wind they huddle close and protect the next generation. They don’t crap in their capitol. When it’s warm enough go poop away from the home. On the way, they stop by the nearby Camellia to bring back some pollen and nectar. Who knew it would be blooming? They help each other notice. And so Spring comes.

Camilla are a bee girls best friend as they bloom in the Winter.

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Illustration by Zach Stewart

Jeff Bezos and the very temporary president are proud of not being each other. But in some terrible ways they are pretty much the same. For progressives and the the non-progressives, it might help to see that. Like an object too bright and obvious to stare at, you have to look to the side and see how their most banal decisions destroy things crucial to the lives of you, me and our children.

You probably haven’t heard of the Liesbeek or Canning rivers, both unremarkable streams unless it rains really hard. One wanders off the slopes of Table Mountain and drains an unremarkable handful of miles later into the Atlantic just above the Cape of Good Hope. The Canning flows north off the Brooks Range and marks the western boundary of the Alaska National Wilderness Reserve before spreading into a wide delta at the Arctic. Both have the unfortunate fate of flowing over land that Mr Bezos and Trump would like to upgrade, from pristine to something more economic. Trump’s rushing to sell off the rights to drill before he returns to civilian life. The Canning seems like a good place to look for oil to fuel all the trucks. Mr Bezos wants to run out of the distribution center he wants built on the banks of the Liesbeek.  (details here)

Of course, neither of the men have ever heard of either river. But people they employ to please them have and are not likely to suggest the slightest inconvenience to their whims or wishes.

The ancient Caribou herd by the Canning will die making way for that oil. If they could vote, Mr. Trump would have lost Alaska’s electoral votes along with all the others he’s still gobsmacked about. And if the ancestors of the Khoi who hold that Liesbeek sacred had credit cards, they would certainly be cancelling their Amazon Prime accounts. This isn’t a rational battle about high stakes or about economically essential pillars of the global economy, or even their family businesses. This isn’t even as sophisticated as weighing the trade-offs of solar, wind and nuclear so they can claim to be “green.” This isn’t weighing anything at all for any reason at all, actually. It’s lazy, not mean; banal carelessness. This happens when the people who serve people like Bezos and Trump think nobody who matters is looking. And in the minds of those who think they can do anything, who else matters?

Illustration by Zach Stewart

I’ve rafted the Canning, seen some of its caribou, Musk Ox and Grizzly. And I’ve seen rusting oil barrels left from before President Carter protected it 40 years ago (another reason to love my old boss). I suspect that nobody really wants the oil up there anymore so it will probably flow on, just as the caribou seem likely to outlive we foolish humans. The Liesbeek is another matter because it flows among the city neighborhoods of Cape Town where Amazon is busy. I know about it first because Craig Stewart brought the Liesbeek river into the heart of our book on Generative Leadership: Releasing Life in a Turbulent World. An environmental biologist and pastor, Craig helped the river teach us about how life is contained and then released in the most amazing ways. The Liesbeek had basically been turned, in days when this was the de rigueur thing to do, into a canalized concrete pipe to stop flooding. In recent years “friends of the Liesbeek” wanted the natural river back which seemed like making an egg out of an omelet. But they discovered that life will find its own life with even a tiny bit of help. The riverine biologists artfully and thoughtfully blew just a few holes into the bottom of the concrete. The life in the flow in the soil beneath the river leaped at the chance. Over some seasons, the river found itself becoming a river again and the life that depends on a river is returning.

Until Amazon felt the need for a distribution center in Cape Town and partnered with a developer to do so on a crucial and historically important wetland. Doesn’t sound much like Mr Bezos’ public claim to support climate action, does it? The local wise ones of South Africa are trying again to poke some holes in the concrete channels that protect Mr Bezos from inconvenient implications of actions taken to please him. Even a brief glance would tell him how entirely unnecessary and destructive this bit of permanent decision-making would be. When camping on the Canning, we were careful to not poop within a couple hundred feet of the river. Leave no trace even when quite inconvenient! Concrete crap is way worse.

Everything is connected. The water of the Canning and Liesbeek mingle over time in the great salt sea that wraps us all and, indeed, flows through our veins. We humans are connected, too, and are capable of mattering. The Leading Causes of Life Fellows in South Africa alerted the scattered Fellows elsewhere, which is why I’m typing this. I knew about the Canning only because another LCL Fellow, Kevin Barnett, invited me into his raft. Yet another LCL Fellow, Laura Chanchien Parajón gave her life to AMOS, which is literally hip deep in the destruction underway in Nicaragua and Honduras from two hurricanes in two weeks—unthinkable and unprecedented. Nobody’s fault, of course. But sometimes you can see the outcome from an endless chain of unreflecting and lazy decisions.

Don’t lament. And be done with the metaphors:

  1. If you are an Amazon Prime member, send a note to the customer complaint desk. Cite the website and this blog. Ask for a response and note that you are considering cancelling your membership.
  2. Leslie London, an LCL Fellow, is managing a petition drive. Sign it here.
  3. Contact your senator, Blue, Red or Purple. Ask them to ask on your behalf why there is such urgency to sell the leases in the Alaskan Wilderness. You know why, but make them say it.
  4. Send money to AMOS, the ministry that will be slogging through the Nicaraguan mud from now until we get the planet back in equilibrium. They need money now. Give Here.
Illustration by Zach Stewart

Finally, go walk by the no-big-deal stream you love. You don’t take the time to save things you don’t love, so nurture your love. TC and I love to walk along Salem Creek which has spots the Cherokee would recognize as well as places where people like Bezos have paved right up to the banks. Nurture your love and hope. Battles like these are won all the time and are only hopeless when the people who know better give up without working up a sweat. That’s what matters. That’s who matters.

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