DSC00059It happens. We humans and our systems are what moves through us, defined mostly by how we handle the process, especially how the movement affects those around us. We eat, so we poop; we drink, so we pee. But at some point, not on the floor. My first grandson is learning all about this so he can begin attending preschool. Charlie is very smart with help from parents who he knows love him. It’s his passage to navigate so he’ll figure it out, go to school and then navigate the trillion other passages every human does for better or worse. He’ll help someone else potty train someday.

I was observing all this at the same time i noticed my elected officials learn about their errors in impulse control. A lot has moved through our collective body in recent months, much of it onto the floor. It reminds me less of Charlie’s honorable efforts and more like watching gorillas in the Atlanta zoo throwing excrement at each other to pass the time. That was disgusting, so dragged my young children away from the spectacle. But there was glass to keep the flying crap among the gorillas. We have no glass between us and these guys. So here we are, barely into the second week of the new year with crap all over you, me, our institutions, laws, internet, churches and kids.

We have age limits for elected offices so the most basic behaviors might sink in before someone’s unseated urges can splatter. We don’t count on that, so we also have laws. But laws don’t work very well, except for the most extreme cases (collusion, treason, bribery and sexual abuse of 14-year olds). Even then, laws are difficult, expensive and adversarial, so they can get in the way of groups designed to disagree but find a common course of action. In a sense, politics is more like our bowels than brain, processing all the mess and wonder of human community. We want them unafraid to talk frankly, though hopefully in private, about at all we need talked about at in our complex human systems and then do the best they can. Not everything legal is smart enough; not everything dumb, illegal. We live in the grey, or to follow the metaphor where you know it’s going, the brown.

It is amazing how little of human behavior is hard wired, automatically adapted to the circumstances. We have to learn almost everything and usually the hard way, by experience. Emilie, the cat who lives with Charlie and Asa, does not need potty training. She she realized the litter box was the plastic substitute for her instinctual place to safely hide her waste, it went quickly and involved no drama. Humans have a lot more kinds of a lot more dangerous kinds of crap. We leave plastic that will last for hundreds of year collecting in the oceans so thickly you can nearly walk the waves. Far more dangerously, we crap all sorts of things in the sky. And we crap in the water we need to drink. We are not hard wired to not do such suicidally stupid things. We act as if anything really dangerous is impossible; but it turns out that we can actually make Florida disappear.

DSC00050Humans depend almost entirely on collective discernment to find our way. We talk. For most of our short history, we did this with almost no words, rather like the gorillas or elephants, moving across the Savannah. We found our way out of Africa all the way to Patagonia without Congress. Might not have made it, if they had one. But they had to talk, for the consequences of bad decisions were ultimate for the group. Bad decisions now risk making all human life ultimately impossible. The cockroaches might make it; but not Charlie, Asa or their kids.

The very young have diapers so they don’t have to think very hard about consequences. Politicians think of lawyers that way; protective concealment after the impulsive deed. But in human systems there are no diapers, no concealment, only consequences.

So we have norms to guide us in managing what flows through. We use words. These are augmented by deeply rooted intuition about whether the other humans can be trusted to use their words in ways that are roughly fair and not deceptive cover for blunt power. We count even on those who are different and may even compete with us to use facts and line them up with logic. Then, together, we can go beyond whatever feels good in the moment and letting the crap fall wherever gravity takes it afterward. It’s not as precise as the law implies, but any three-year old learns this, or they can’t survive in pre-school. Almost any mammal our size is stronger and meaner. But we can talk.


The pendulum swings surely and utterly true.

Dr. Steve De Gruchy died way too young just short of seven years ago next month in one of his beloved South African rivers. He was a spirit at heart of the lively stream of thought about “religious health assets.” He would have been the star of the National Academies of Science workshop on that subject by the March 22nd. He called us to remember our mother tongue of public good and social justice. He spoke like a mother sometimes; he was the first scholar to use the word “shit” in an academic forum, appropriately reflecting on how to do theology in a time of cholera, the time in which we still live. His still-stunning paper is still ahead of us  and appropriate to our time of public potty training (here). Steve had some unprocessed crap in his own life, of course. He was, like all of us , wiser about others’ than his own. But, oh, how clearly he saw us. “There is only one stream of water. What passes through the bodies of humans passes through the bodies of animals, insects and plants, h flushes through our sanitation systems, flows through the rivers, seeps through wetlands, rises to the heavens to become clouds, and returns to nourish us and all living things. There is no life outside this cycle, and theology has to get real about it. Talking spirit without talking water is meaningless. It is the theological equivalent of the miasmic theory of disease.”

And there is only one public, the one in which we must find our way.

I’ve learned from Charlie that when the movement is trying to happen, deliberative thinking is not as helpful as you’d think. Clarity about consequences—what is going to happen…..next….matters more. Aim over here!

I’ve noticed that anxiety, especially about embarrassment, makes embarrassment more likely, whether it’s poop or tweet.

I’ve noticed that you only learn from those you trust; and even then it can be hard to hear. My grandson told my daughter, “mommy, you are not my hero!” But peristalsis– and elections or pitchforks–will out. Nothing stays in.  Everything comes out.

This seems to be the hardest thing for those not doing the pooping to understand, for we come to share in the anxiety, which is mostly about our embarrassment. This is certainly true in 2018 among Americans of voting age. Of course, the man is an embarrassment, of course he is moving through the system toward an indecorous end. Human systems—even those with lots of marble, helicopters and brass—are just ways of getting things in….and out.

Pretty much the only thing the “helpers” can do in the process is point toward the pot at the critical moment. And we must not forget to praise the one doing the pooping when they eventually do the right thing. I’m thinking of Congress here, which is missing more than hitting the pot these days. But should they accidentally do the right thing in coming days, make sure they get some positive feedback.

We’ll have years, probably decades cleaning our current crap up. But the most helpful thing to do is to lower the shaming, deflate the anxiety, assure the ones shouting loudest they are still part of the tribe. We need some grown-ups, not geniuses.

blocks and train

So many other things to do with our time once we master the arts of the potty.

Don’t forget that all of us were—and will again, should we live long enough—be the poopee. We’ve all strongly held irrationally wrong ideas at some point and lent our energy to movements later proven toxic. We’ve been timidly quiet when we should have spoken. We learn humility in same messy way we learn everything else. Humility is be the most dearly won lesson of all, paid by the pain of others who we hurt with our crap.

So skip the victory dance and help clean up.


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Spirit Gap

Rock gloves - soft sepia tint

Walnut planted just beneath Beatrice Stone, names after my mother, a geology major who would have loved the sculpted slope of the Blue Ridge. Thanks to Jim Cochrane for the edit on the photo.

This year I found myself reaching for language more medieval than modern; words like craven, vile, mendacious. I’m ending the year speaking of kindness. Having regressed toward meanness further than I thought possible, I’m hoping we ascend toward kindness.

Jonas Salk taught us that when the dysfunction of one era grows so profound, we must turn from fixing them, to preparing ourselves to live on the other side of the discontinuity. The dysfunctions take care of themselves in the way that we see happening in the mutual assured destruction of Roy Moore and the Mooch, not the mention the Discontinuity in Chief.

The picture is of a young walnut planted this week at our tiny place in Fancy Gap, an hour north of Winston-Salem where the Blue Ridge was pushed up by the collision with Africa a third of billion years ago. The stone ridge is a sharp and impassible discontinuity a third of a mile high, making it difficult for normal commerce to flow from Virginia to the Piedmont.  What you need in discontinuity is a way from here to there—you need a gap to head for. The fog catches in the crook of the mountains, so the natives, more honest than the settlers, called it foggy gap.

Ridge landscape view3

View south toward Winston-Salem from the ridge of Foggy Gap. Africa was one attached just off to the left.

Today you can blow up and over the interstate at 75 miles an hour, except when the fog catches, then you’ll be moving at 20 with eyes glued to the white lines. A couple miles east, you can still come up old US 52, once one of the most accident strewn highways in all the land. Down below it, you can still see the old rutted path the settlers carved out. They liked it so much they called it “fancy.” This kind of gap lets you rise 1,500 feet in the air.

We need to focus on finding the gap in our days and measuring our steps in light of where we are heading. Let the agents of chaos feed on themselves and their elaborate fears. Let us focus on what might come next, how we will find and then settle on the other side of the great discontinuity after this latest preposterous thing has hit with a thud and puff of dust.

Dr. Bill Foege once helped the Interfaith Health Program develop a “five gap theory of change” based on this mountain paradigm.

  • Knowledge. The first gap lies between things we know and what we use. Medicine still has an average 17 year gap between discovery and wide implementation. Justice can take centuries.
  • Values. The second gap occurs between commitments we already believe and their new relevance to the current possibilities. Jefferson had an ancient vision of a decentralized food and energy economy safe for democracy. We believed it; now it’s possible because of solar’s sudden and overwhelming cost-effectiveness.
  • Spread. This one lies between success in one community and broad application in others. This is usually different than the knowledge gap above, as the reasons for success are usually not even understood where it happened. (Nobody has replicated the Memphis Model, yet.)
  • Relationships. This one lies between people we know and those we could know, especially those we thought different and distant, now merely adjacent enough for coffee.
  • Time. The last gap is between our immediate needs—often framed by fear—and the needs of those who come later. Bill said that we need to be good ancestors, which is what I think of when my fingers are in the dirt of the walnut roots. Geologic things happen fast these days, entire continents melting and flooding. The First People asked about the seventh generation. Not many modern grandparents think of two, but Charlie and Asa are likely citizens of the 22nd century when the waters are predicted to already be high.

In radical discontinuity, change can happen at hyperkinetic speed. But change born of fear is rarely adaptive. Sustained change is carried on hopes of kindness and decency. That sounds exactly as delusional as a decentralized energy economy, which now seems merely a couple of decades from being the new normal.

IMG_0154Expect positive discontinuities. And then live into them. Let the dead past bury the dead past, said Jesus. He left to go find his followers while leaving an angel to give a clue to those coming to the grave, “Why are you looking for the Living among the dead?”

Doug McGaughey and Jim Cochrane are citizens of the possible, driving the foundation pilings deep into philosophical bedrock as only seasoned scholars can. They have just released a book of carefully crafted depth, The Human Spirit: Groundwork (available here in Ebook form from Sun Press). They discern that our radical discontinuity is born of fantastic thinking and nihilism that currently serves the agents of chaos so well. The untethered nature of our thought can only be helped by tethering it to something durable and worthy on the other side of discontinuity. I happen to know that the book arose out of a kind of called bluff. The National Research Council of South Africa had been listening to the work around religious health assets and finally asked if that theory could be applied to the unhinged violence among younger men in impossibly difficult townships in South Africa—and for comparison, Memphis. Right away, we knew the language of religion, faith, spirituality were gossamer and gauze; we needed something tougher and common. The answer was Spirit, forged from the philosophical iron of Kant and fire of African understanding that all humans have spirit capacity more like Energy than thought. Spirit turns out to be the rock on which we can build the new.

Workbench 1

It takes a lot of tools and a lot of mess to do things.

This week I was speaking to friends involved in the latest iteration of the long-held dream about communities of health, wellness, wholeness. These are ancient dreams that have captured and carried many of us when young and still hold us now that we are….seasoned. This is true of  people like Tyler Norris and me, back when we had lots of hair. Now we are grown-ups; he heads the big new Wellbeing Trust (wellbeingtrust.org) which is mobilizing even bigger foundations to converge on a dream of wellness-at-scale. Much of this is animated by the extraordinarily nuanced skill of Chris Paterson and his band of weavers at the Community Initiatives (communityinitiatives.org). They and other friends at the Rippel Foundation (“seeding innovations in health”) are testing out a model of 7 “conditions” on which such dreams might manifest.

We were talking amid the spiritual richness of the season, so starkly contrasting with the spiritual bankruptcy of the year, so it was impossible to miss missing condition: Spirit. We need none of the old cold religious plodding that gives the Saints such a bad name or the smarmy plastic kind Budweiser and Walmart peddle. But where do we expect the bold and vital to emerge, if not from the universal capacities of Spirit found in every human that ever makes a sacrifice for another? What puts things in motion?  Only a community of spirit imagines a way out of no way and refuses to let the ocean rise over their children’s hopes uncontested. And we are not lost; not at all. The positive discontinuity is everywhere, abounding, infiltrating, subverting the glacial despair, mocking the powerful in their tinseled hotels. Living forward, maybe even planting some trees whose roots will go deep into ancient stone raising up hardwood branches fit for life in the 25th century.

Gloves colour-on-bwPay attention to the gloves in the picture; the future lies in the dirt. Plant some long-lived trees. And go to your party precinct meeting for election day is coming soon (click here for the time and date countdown).

Some ask how this kind of slender, tender hope will scale fast enough. They want “everyone on the same page”, at the “table,” “in their lane”–coordinated. It is a favorite fantasy.

Movements of Spirit are always how things scale in complex human systems. This is how Wesley and his movement ended slavery, how Gandhi and his millions ended colonialism, how Tutu and his tens of millions ended apartheid. It’s how Colin Miller and his Twin City Harm Reduction Collective are driving the harm reduction campaign out of Green Street United Methodist in Winston-Salem.

Human scale means continents and intimacy enlivened with creative imagination carried on the Spirit.

It works.

It is the only thing that works.

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Song of a new humanity


Martin, Jesus, Floods and Cancer

Tanks roll through Memphis toward another war somewhere.

Before free shipping, seasonal tweets, bleats and burps, Mary sang.

His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
 He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1: 46ff)

She she saw that all the mean politics of her day was all done but the thud and dust. Ours, too. How could she keep from singing?

If you want to quibble, you might note that Mary and Joe had to run for their lives from one paranoid king only to see their kid killed by another who pandered to a religious mob. Still happens, technically.

IMG_0102 3

Aromatic cedar from Adam and Courtney’s Davie farm. It wants to become blocks and bowls!

Mary wasn’t singing about Herod’s fall, but something more amazing: all the proud fall, their parasitic enablers emptied. Hard to see this morning, with our .5% chuckling at the beach. But time moves quickly these highly connected days with nowhere for the despots to hide. Zuma, Putin, Trump, Mugabe, Duarte, Erogan; just waiting for the thud and dust. Some places still vote, even in these Polarized States. November 8th—315 days—won’t fulfill Mary’s song, but get us past Mr. Ryan and McConnell vacuity.


Herman Waetjen is a razor-sharp Biblical scholar with a heart un-hardened by eight decades of careful observation of the ways of power and money. He types like Mary sings:: “This is the world of the “old humanity” in which soul and body are divorced from each other. It is the world we were drawn into very soon after our birth, and we all continue to participate in it as we struggle with our own brokenness and alienation.  In the face of all these crises that are dividing our society, generating greater economic inequality, denying climate change and undermining our Constitution, we are reminded by the Apostle Paul that we are also participants in God’s New Humanity and, therefore, we are “life-giving spirits.”

IMG_0094 2

Astonishing beauty in the grain, just waiting to be released. I think Joseph probably made blocks for Jesus.

The old humanity is wobbling when they try to silence the most obvious things; when the scientists can’t say “evidence;” when the saints can’t speak of the poor. Out in the manger the shepherds, wise men, sheep and goats know the truth.

Even Forbes Magazine knows this, and they are sort of Pilot to Wall Street.  Judy Stone described the news as the “most disturbing of the week,” which is saying something. She states what should not need stating in 2018—that you can’t make any sense when you outlaw reason or say anything that might offend the dumb and wealthy. This is literally pitiful, as the one being silenced is the agency responsible for fighting germs. The only advantage humans have against disease is our ability to talk to each other, figure out reality and work collaboratively. There is no one dumber than somebody dumb on purpose.

Herman types another verse for Mary: “The New Humanity that Jesus inaugurated embraces the paradoxical duality of soul and body in order to enter into a personal wholeness of freedom and integrity and, in turn, to relate this wholeness to every human being in the world.  It is a journey that participates in the freedom of God and grows stage by stage to form us into life-giving spirits.  It is a journey into the unknown possibilities of the unique potentiality that is embodied in each of us, and it unfolds as we follow the three injunctions that Jesus issued to the crippled human being in the Greek text of John 5:8 “Keep on rising (being resurrected), take up your mattress, and keep on walking.”


IMG_0097 2

Ready for Charlie and Asa.

Like Mary, Herman’s gives away the punchline in the subtitle to his new book “Matthew’s Theology of Fulfillment, Its Universality and It’s Ethnicity (Bloomsbury): God’s New Israel as the Pioneer of God’s New Humanity.” (Order it here) He explains why it is so important to understand that Mary was a Jewish peasant singing in Aramaic, not Latin or Greek. The Roman elites believed in raw intimidating power, lining the highways with crosses to hold on to it. The Greeks trusted in the power of ideas and untethered mind. Both of them preferred Jesus as the Christ, competing up up and away. Neither could figure out what to do with Jesus, human among the poor, a young man worth killing for humming Mary’s tune.

The Jews knew about power and transcendence mostly because they lived under others’ power on occupied soil most of their existence. That’s why they argued with God. God argued back, annoyingly linking salvation to justice for the poor. The texts Jesus knew by heart were cries of lament and hope held fiercely against both pride and despair. Spirit, yes; of the ever-living and Just YHWH. Body, yes; of People as dust, sweat and soil made in the very image of the same YHWH. Not this; not that.  Against the claims of power and ungrounded soul, the baby that Herod hunted called himself “the human one.”


Charlie knows just what to do with cedar blocks.

Mary, Herman and Jesus weren’t making this stuff up from dreams, but the dirt and blood of time. There is an arrow from the first writings the Jews declared sacred toward a time when God’s justice will be fulfilled. Isaiah spoke in Jesus’ ear: “he shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor and decide with equity for the meek of the earth.” Neither Jesus or Mary would have been surprised that “equity” would be banned by a future Herod, along with “vulnerable” and “science.” Mary sang because she knew Jesus would know better.

That child—much less the man–is almost impossible to see through the tinsel of the glitterati who moved his birthday to accommodate an Emperor. Constantine would have loved Cyber Monday where you don’t even need any other humans at all, especially that utterly human Jew weaned on radical music:

My soul glorifies the Lord
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
     for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.

So what do you do while you wait for the latest group of insufferable glamorati to collapse? Go heal somebody, that’s what.


Chaplain Jay Foster opens the Christmas Eve service in Davis Chapel while Martha Basset prepares to sing the Magnificat.

Last night some of us gathered in hospital’s Davis Chapel to listen to the old texts and a version of Mary’s song sung by Martha Basset. Holy night and even holier day after.

This morning at 9:05 I opened the “safety huddle” with a dozen or so people from all across the medical center, as we do every single day. We come together charged in the arts and crafts of healing; all the arts and all the crafts: engineers, cooks, sweepers, surgeons and psychiatrists—even one of whatever I am. But mostly nurses mostly talking of care. We shared Moravian cookies while we went over the concerns, events and needs of the 613 people in beds. There was a long pause when we mentioned those who came in last night on suicide watch, who had lost the hope of another day.

Someday, saw Isiah, sang Mary, declared Jesus, walked Martin and, yes, stirs even us who taste and participate in the promised the new humanity. How can we keep from singing along?


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Charlie and Asa doing what kids do.

Things are seen in in the terrible intimacy of the ED every day that should not happen once in a thousand years. Except they happen in entire zip codes, too; the same damn ones for decades. This morning I presided over our hospital “safety huddle” where we report to each other about events, concerns and needs, often using abreviations and acronynms for highly technical and fraught things that happened; “peds abuse procotol” instead of whatever the true story would be in the life of a child hurt by whoever was supposed to protect her. Those break this grandfather’s heart (Charlie turned 3 yesterday).

Last week I was in Atlanta at the advocacy leadership table of the American Public Health Association—the health colleagues at the exact opposite end of the professional continuum from the two child abuse cases reported out in our hospital safety check-in today. Last week John Lewis opened the APHA with words both fierce and tender about justice and kindness as the zillionaires try to walk off with another trillion or two.

Big numbers and repetition can make us hard and dull; but they don’t have to. We live in such a hard-hearted time. Today the sharp edge of medicine was felt by a nurse who is also a mom with a high school son taking chemo. Later at Green Street church, we lifted Aaron up even as we were still wordlessly aching for Cole, our six-year-old who died only last Sunday. How can we can we keep our heart from closing down?


Cole Weaver’s friends decorated the church in his honor.

In my Christian tradition, we have Paul’s words on love, written to the contentious gaggle in Corinth. These are mostly wasted on romance when we need them in the bitter struggles to give hope a chance one patient and a neighborhood at a time.

“If I speak in the voice of powerful people or spirits but do not have loving kindness, I am only a distracting noise. If I have predictive data and interdisciplinary analytics that give me confidence to move mountains of poverty, but am not kind, I am nothing. If I proudly commit to radical levels of community benefit and take on huge obligations for the health of the public, but am not humbled by love, I do nothing.”

“The love that life needs is patient and kind. It does not envy others’ projects, it does not boast of our own skills, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of who got more. Loving kindness does not delight in anyone’s failure but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always finds a way.”

“Love never quits. Where we have predictions and projections, they will cease; where there are speeches, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”

“For we know in part and we predict in part, but when living complexity becomes visible, what is partial disappears. When we were young in our work we talked like beginners, and thought like beginners, reasoned like a students. When we became a grown-ups, we put the ways of childhood behind.”

For now we see only dimly as if looking through a smoky haze; then we shall see it all directly. Now we know a bit; then we may know fully, even as our own lives will be fully known.”

“For only these three remain in life: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

God, our simple prayer; keep us tender.


Kathryn (my kid) shows Charlie (Lauren’s kid) his cake that she crafted  . 

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Jesus’ Dumpster Fire

No need for a picture today.

It’s turning out roughly like we thought it would, this off-the-rails democracy meltdown. And it will get back on the rails as democracy does, with a muddling mixture of blood, anger and, eventually finding some grown-ups where you least expect them. The British long observed that you can count on the Americans to do the right thing…after we’ve exhausted every other possible alternative. I think we’re about ready to try the right thing.

Black young men have been tasting the blood for years, now joined by a young woman who could have been one of my daughters. They were raised to show up at events like that.

We’ll pick up the pace of democratic muddling after  the one selling those red hats has identified himself—once again—with the ones swinging the rods, doing the salutes and driving their junkers into crowds.

John Lewis has been dealing with those kinds of people longer than anyone in elected office. He had stayed away from the inauguration because of the obvious, the man is simply not a legitimate president and we should cease treating his as such. Sunday will drop Mr Trump below the thirties in the polls, but polls don’t vote.  It is up the republicans who own this dumpster fire.

The key to putting that fire out is the behavior of the eight out of ten evangelicals who supported his illegitimacy while knowing his obvious moral emptiness. They made a nose-holding calculation to take an an anti-abortion supreme court justice in exchange for an unknown dumpster full of political waste. Now they know what’s in the dumpster—nuclear war, a melting planet and Nazis goobers.

The abortion issue is pretty much the only one splitting evangelicals out of range of the broader political process.  While (having daughters) I disagree with them on this one, I understand their commitment to their position. And I can totally understand the way it links in their minds to sexuality without boundaries reinforced by a culture that is happy to sell anything from toilet paper to tires with the scent of sex.

Now that they have their Supreme Court Justice it is time for them to take responsibility for the rest of the ugliness in what is now seen as Jesus’ dumpster. It is encouraging that nearly every single one of the evangelical advisors to his Illegitimacy ran for the light and made extremely clear that Jesus wasn’t a Nazi. You’d think that might have come up before now, but it is a start. But good example of how much of a baby step it is is modeled by Johnnie Moore, a former senior vice president at Liberty University and also one of the President’s evangelical advisers, “White supremacism, racism, and anti-Semitism are bigotry and they are pure evil. I hate them, and I call upon all Americans to defy them with intentional acts of solidarity and love.” Good start.

And then he just can’t help himself: “The right remains too passive and the left remains too political when it comes to ethnic divisions in this country. One side underestimates the issue and the other side provokes further conflict. Both sides distrust each other. This must end if we are to find national healing.” Many sides, many sides, blah, blah, blah. Pilot washing his hands.

Marv Knox, a longtime Baptist progressive, did an oped in the Dallas Morning News in the Dallas paper today with paragraphs of powerful language decrying bigotry. But in the end, he hardly took a swing that mattered: “Now is the time for white Christians to contact their friends of color and friends of other faiths and express their love and solidarity, and then ask a simple, vital question: “How can I help you?” Really? That’s it?

This is work for other white protestants like me and Marv, not Blacks, agnostics or anyone with a rainbow. This is a white and male and Christian problem so white and male and Christians have to step up. There is a long tradition of us white protestant clergy babbling like Mr. T did on the golf course while bloody-minded men mutter on the church doorsteps. Lots of men have a choir robe and a white one, too.

Who needs robes with this president? Silence from the pulpit and you’ve got a bonfire.

White evangelicals must severe themselves from this moral meltdown or their Jesus will be toxic for three generations. They will have made the horrible calculation of the German Lutherans who let Jesus burn in the Nazi fires.

Jesus tends to rise again and again, so don’t worry about him.

But if you want any role in America for a protestant witness, this is the week to show it.

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Gathering before dawn


The cross we forgot to put up the week before Easter. Ooops.

It’s easy to forget really important things. This is especially so when handling thousands of life-and-death events and a couple billion dollars amid the melt-down of political process utterly devoid of grown-ups. Take my own institution, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. We remembered to put the 35-ton Moravian star on top of the building at Christmas. But…how to say this? We forgot to put up the cross this year during Lent. A former chaplain called, wondering if a policy decision had been made to secularize things; roll the bunnies and eggs, but hide Jesus, sort of like a Walmart TV add? Nope, we just forgot. When reminded, up went the cross in about an hour. Even when you forget, it’s easy to remember. It just takes a nudge.

The Reverend Doctor Susan Thistlethwaite, former president of the Chicago Theological Seminary said at The Carter Center that churches and hospitals should have to qualify in some way before they are allowed to put up a cross. It’s not a pom-pom that you wave to cheer on your religious team. It’s a signal that you remember that life is found by giving it away; that the most important possible thing cannot be bought at all, but is there for the receiving—grace, forgiveness, a second, third and fourth chance built into the very fabric of the universe by a loving God. And it’s a signal that while none of us can qualify as “righteous,” Dr. King said we can all be great, because we can all serve. Abundant life is found in giving it all away, especially to the stranger, widow, orphan, poor, voiceless and cast-out. Looks like an ER to me.

A hospital or church doesn’t show that by putting up a cross. This particularly weird symbol points away from religious symbolism entirely. The god of Israel hated that stuff, as most every god does. Amos stated the obvious; “you know what God requires; love mercy, do justice and walk humbly.” That will get you killed; ask Jesus. And it will bring you to life, too. That’s what we’re trying to remember.

What would that look like today if you happen to be a hospital born of a movement of confident grace and healing? And what would it look like if you were in a community with one of those institutions and thought it showed signs of remembering who it was?

On September 5th and 6th Stakeholder Health will convene at Howard University in Washington, DC to help faith-inspired healthcare and their faith-inspired community to remember and then imagine and then commit. Unlike a bazzilion DC conferences that are full of  whining and scheming, this one is about remembering how to give it all away. It is about how faith makes us bold and risky, not privileged and safe. Hence the name: Faith in Health: Reasons, Risks and Responsibilities.

Stakeholder Health has been thinking about this ever since the White House came to the tough streets of Memphis in a blizzard in 2011 and discovered hundreds of tough-minded congregations in covenant with a faith-inspired hospital called Methodist. An extraordinary learning journey ensued that led through several White House events and others around the country. What were we trying to learn? We wanted to know if it was possible—and then how—for these institutions to give themselves to the well-being and wholeness of their communities. This learning came to sharp focus last year in a book of many authors, “Insights from New Systems of Health.” It is not imaginary, but testimony of work already alive on the toughest streets. It’s all about resilience, and obvious but radical new ways of understanding money, and crazy smart ways of doing community health workers, leadership, relational technology, global perspectives and over and over and over—being deeply accountable to our mission. It feels like life pulsing. We talk about the Leading Causes of Life. Here you can look it up.

Those involved in the learning are pretty buzzed at all this. But we know that even very large institutions aren’t capable of achieving what is possible without a fundamentally new depth and breadth of partnership with the faith already alive on the ground. Many hospitals chatter on about population health as if it is something that can be done to a passive community, sort of like one might do liver surgery on an anaesthetised patient. We seek partnerships not out of etiquette, but utterly practical need. It’s the only way the possibilities become realities.


Shadi Qasem, MD, Pathology Wake Forest Baptist Health and Coordinator, J’ummah Services

It’s time to wake everyone up and ask what is possible at this late date, even while the planet melts and those in power seem drunk with violence and the tools of fear. This might be the place to note that politicians have always seemed to have a knack for taking religious traditions built for shalom and turning them blunt, dumb and mean. The easiest way to do that is to turn them against another faith which is even easier if one hasn’t actually met any real members of that group. It’s hard to be mean or frightened of someone in your day-care pool or that you’ve prayed with. Nobody expected this would be necessary in the 21st century, but it is now a fundamental competence of anyone in a leadership role in healthcare or public health to know how to engage faith and the structures of faith as partners in a broad health strategy.

The convening in September is not for everyone. Don’t come if you think faith is best left behind or that the best of faith is behind us. Don’t come if you think that your medical computers and machines can be programmed to create health without needing any grown-ups on the streets. Don’t come if you’re more interested in death than life. And don’t come if you think that your churches and mosques and temples have pretty much done all that your God had hoped you might be doing.

There won’t be any healthcare, political or religious glamoratti dropping their powerpoints onto a compliant audience. This is actual dialogue with grown-ups talking to each other about how to be deeply accountable for what matters most. We’ll open with worship and take some time to understand the extraordinary witness of gathering at Howard during the 150th year of its tenacious witness for mercy and justice. And then we’ll dive in with the lead authors of the Stakeholder Health book sharpening the implications of the collective learning so that the faith partners see how crucial they are to what is possible. And we’ll talk about how its not much easier for a congregation to be faithful than a hospital. We’ll pray together; sing like any movement does and hope for the Spirit to move us beyond ourselves. Lots of details to follow, of course. But you can register here now.

Moravian Brass

Moravians know that no movement survives without music. They could not imagine a gathering without brass.

I’m writing this the morning before Easter in the village of Salem where TC and I live. Tonight around midnight brass bands from Moravian congregations all over the city start walking the streets in their neighborhoods playing hymns, gradually moving toward Salem. They play all night even though not many people can hear through the modern sealed windows. Some probably think they are dreaming of hearing the old hymns and don’t even know some actual people are playing the music. Hardly anybody knows what it means. But in the dark the bands can hear each other; as they come closer they tease. One band will play a phrase and then stop. Another two thirds of a mile away will pick it up. It’s not organized, but there is no anxiety about getting it right; people have gotten it right enough for a couple hundred years. Meanwhile in the early dark of God’s Acre a congregation of people begin to gather; people of many persuasions intrigued by the constancy of the Moravians, some wondering about their own faith stirring. By dawn hundreds of brass ensembles have found their way, some straggling in right as the sun breaks over the ridge into the dogwoods and cypress of the graveyard. It is beautiful. More important than that; it rings true in a curiously non-creedal kind of way.

God's Acre in Old Salem.

You can see life whole by looking back on it, here in God’s Acre, Old Salem.

I hope we come in September like that, playing the songs of the new systems of health on our own streets first, echoing, then converging so that we might all learn to be great in service. The link to register is here.

The table is set by the Investing Partners of Stakeholder Health with some supplemental funding from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Henny Youngman once said of love something that is more true of faith: you can’t buy it; but it can cost you a great deal.

This gathering is free, but it might cost you a lot.

The whole point is how to give it all away.

Something to think about this particular weekend. Remember that.

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Crafting life together

fullsizerender-8It can all fall apart, this democracy thing. It’s not like gravity that makes rocks fall, even if you don’t believe in it. Democracy only lives in the mind and spirit and evaporates when we forget it. The belief that people can elect people who care enough to more or less do what they said they’d try to do rests on a fragile set of behaviors and values. For instance, that elected ones won’t lie and laugh at the same time. Basic stuff; it’s a low bar but one we have dropped below.

I was on a Delta flight to Denver Wednesday on my way to a meeting of the Stakeholder Health Advisory Council. Trapped in a middle seat between two suits who immediately turned the inflight video monitor on Fox News inches from my face. The guy on my left opened up a vast laptop with a powerpoint about the 10 things you need to know about illegal immigrants, including the “fact” that 79% of food stamps go to illegals. I’m pretty sure that in North Carolina half of food stamps go to Baptists, because half of everybody is a Baptist. I didn’t know how to begin the conversation, so I just turned on CNN. I’ll do better next time.

How do we craft a working democracy again; one where we can talk to each other? In a nation where hardly any of us came from here, you wouldn’t think that would be that hard. We are all a muddle, all some kind of mutt. My last name is Norwegian, but 15/16th is something else. Nobody is the same, even those that think we are. All the Evangelicals and Catholics turn out to have abortions and divorces at nearly the exact rates as the liberals, who are presumed to not be Evangelical or Catholic, even though many are. We are all just doing the best we can to be decent parents, brothers, sisters and citizens, the whole time we know we are not doing a very great job of any of those roles.


Loma Linda University’s San Bernadino Campus includes a community health clinic and a stunning gateway school for high school students to begin their journey into health professions.

In such a motley group, it is important to avoid letting someone else tell you who to be afraid of. This is especially important when by any rational basis you have never actually met one of the fearsome people. I’m thinking, of course, of the many Muslim physicians without whom our hospitals named Baptist would have to close. And the many, kind family-oriented Spanish-speaking men and women who have found refuge in our city, rebuilding the south side of town with an entrepreneurial earnestness. Why be afraid of them? I’m more afraid of the people trying to make me afraid.

Of course, others want me to be afraid of white small town Baptists, who did, admittedly, vote for our current White House occupant, which I find mystifying. In my actual experience, these folks are kind and generous to any request for mercy, willing to drop anything to go build a wheel-chair ramp for a total stranger. The rural churches are naïve about the ecumenical nature of opioids addiction, alcoholism or poverty. If I needed food, I’d head to a church, confident they’d help no matter how inconvenient.

Here in gentle Winston-Salem, we had some very ugly, but predictable, outbreaks of threats against the two Muslim Mosques where our doctors worship. We don’t know who did it; but I’m sure they’ve never met a Muslim. I’m certain that, if we asked the Baptist Men’s groups to turn off Fox News and head over to provide protection, they’d do it. If they brought their wives, everyone would quickly find pull out grandchild pictures and complain about the teenagers. The kids would play soccer together as they do at school.

Sometimes, all it takes is an invitation to do better. Many of those claimed as friends of the mean have simply not been invited by to do anything else than put a dumb red hat. Shame on us for not asking more.

Jerry Winslow  is the chair of the Stakeholder Health Advisory Council. He and I were together a couple of weeks ago at Loma Linda University Health’s institute for Health Policy and Leadership. Amid the heavy policy discussion we found some time to turn a gorgeous piece of maple burl and reclaim a piece of chestnut bowl I had managed to turn a hole in the bottom of. Jerry, the son of a German immigrant home builder, has been a master craftsman of wood for decades.


Jerry Winslow, teaching as always, this time at the lathe.

On Saturday Jerry took me over to the 1909 Gamble House, the epitome of “craftsman” architecture in Pasadena. It is a revelation in simplicity. Every single joint, lamp, door, handle, light, stair tread and attic beam was thought about and then crafted to express a perfect blend of form and function. The two architect brothers, Greene and Greene, were part of a vibrant global movement that saw in craftsmanship the hope for democracy, the possibility of a human culture. This was no small thing to believe amid the turn of the raw and violent century where industrial bigots had their way nearly unfettered. Something as modest as a well-crafted cottage might seem hopelessly irrelevant against the unstoppable tide of crass exploitation. But not if that cottage, or chair, or perfectly made lamp is an expression of integrity, consistent with a whole way of relationship to other people and the created order. What if such people outnumbers the mean crass ones? What if they—we—crafted a democracy?


Just a few of the billion perfectly crafted details designed into the Gamble House.

In fact, the craftsman movement was a strong signal about what mattered most, a thoughtfulness about how to live a well and worthy life. Frank Loyd Wright (a man of no small number of peccadillos) said of the movement: “Do not think that simplistic means something like the side of a barn, but something with a graceful sense of beauty in its utility from which discord and all that is meaningless has been eliminated. Do not imagine that repose means taking it easy for the safe forest, but rather because it is perfectly adjusted in relationship to the whole, in absolute poise, leaving nothing but a quiet satisfaction with its sense of completeness.” (Architecture and Machine, 1894).

It is time to craft democracy again with the same thoughtful attention to form and function as our earlier teachers lent to working with wood and home. Some of the old tools work fine, if sharpened again. Jerry still uses tools he acquired decades ago, now sharpened to a fraction of their original length. I just bought some 100-year old Sears Craftsman tools on EBay for $25. Old tools still work:  Precinct 601 met in the Single Brothers House of Old Salem where democracy has been argued for a couple centuries. We elected a new party precinct chair, Kate Hayden, who looks for all the world like Bernie’s granddaughter, but knows the craft of elections. First job is to get to know each other, have a party for the party, read some books and talk like humans who are capable of caring and thinking about what matters.

I have some very modern carbide tools, too. Likewise, we need to craft to the relational technologies like twitter that are too powerful to leave to the mean and desperate. This is how I think of 100 Million Healthier Lives, the unprecedented collaboration led by Dr. Soma Stout of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement. The craftsman movement has something of the same challenge to figure out what to do with industrial machines; but democracy is played for much higher stakes than any lathe. Respect the medium; watch the density and grain if on a lathe; watch the pattern of need if crafting public policy. If you don’t love the wood or the people, go do something else.

When there was much to fear in a culture gone to mere machinery, the craftsman movement trusted thoughtfulness and beauty from integrity and the life well-lived.  These democratic and communitarian values stayed alive in the culture expressing themselves later in the practical compassion of the Civilian Conservation Corps (which turned Jerry’s German immigrant father into a craftsman), Social Security, the policies favoring religious hospitals and non-profit health insurance. They crafted institutions that removed abject fear of penury from aging and made it possible to fight a skirmish, if not war, on poverty itself. Think of it as graceful joinery the Greene brothers would have liked.

IMG_4988 2

Jerry’s old tools fit for the craft. “Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside thoroughly used up, totally worn out and proclaiming, “wow! What a ride!”

Democracy can all fall apart; But it can also heal and find its heartbeat. I think that is what is happening.

The meanest bully by the beach that we find so shocking today is nothing compared to the raw and untethered industrial power a hundred years ago. We have seen worse bluster fail before well-crafted policies and institutions built by people no smarter than us who wanted their life to simply be good.

They even left some tools behind that just need to be sharpened, put to the grain by hands willing to learn. Find your party precinct meeting, show up and get ready for the next cycle of voting. Make an appointment with your congressman just to tell them what you care about. Take your state representative out for lunch with a couple friends. Volunteer for a church mission committee and go find somebody to help. Plant a couple hundred trees like my brother did at his Presbyterian Church along with some Muslims up the block. Go read a book to a kid. This is how you craft a community, a culture, a life.

Let’s do that.


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