Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Consecrating a hope, not just a space

On Monday and Tuesday we experienced a most remarkable flow of blessing as the Center of Excellence in Faith and Health was blessed, celebrated and consecrated. Bishop William Young leading in prayer, Dr. Ralph and Barbara Hamilton lending their support, Rev. Steve Miller blessing the hands of clergy (even me!).

Here are my comments; others to follow:

I must give a personal word of thanks to the many present who have made this space sacred by their creative gifts of every possible kind. And to the most remarkable staff of our division who do the daily work of caring, teaching, prayer and research--wrestling with ideas and data until they turn into smart program. I am an ordained guy from Atlanta who writes books. I would be easily ignored in a busy hospital, if were not for the sparkling quality of their work. That is the true credibility on which this Center rests.

When we started this journey several years ago, I imagined someone asking me “so, where’s the excellence?” I wanted to be able to say, “go look to the family and ask them. It should be present in their lives.” The families helped us get the design right along the way. The family care center is testimony to their guidance, especially the learning spaces so crucial to helping the families with knowledge when they need it. It is important to say that the space makes possible the participation of volunteers who come from our 329 covenant congregations. And the volunteers learn as they serve, enhancing the capacity of those congregations to be places of caring and healing far beyond our walls.

This is the virtuous circle which carries us: more partners, more aligning of strengths and more blending of intelligences. This enables us to do things together that no other hospital or community can aspire to do.

This special room is all about innovation, so let me say a word about that. A lot of what passes for innovation in healthcare is expensive bangles and beads. Innovation is about doing different things, not trying harder at old things.

Nothing could be more obviously needed or difficult to do than changing the relationship between the hospital and the community. This is social innovation, cheaper, but harder than plugging -- or unplugging -- another medical device. Any innovation, technical or social, rests on a blend of imagination, intelligence and evidence. The blender for the Memphis Model is the Innovation Studio at the heart of the Center of Excellence in Faith and Health right near the front door of Methodist University Hospital. This is where the 329 congregations are trained in the arts of connection and caring; here the real-time analysis of many forms of data, here technology connects us with experts working the same challenges in Cape Town, Tubingen, Oslo, or Vellore. This kind of innovation isn't free, but infinitely cheaper than doing the wrong thing or missing big opportunities to do the right thing.

And where is the faith? The whole story is faith: blending our faith-based hospital, with faith-based primary ministries like Church Health Center and Christ Community Health Services. But the true health system is the hundreds of congregations that surround our medical sites with caring, comfort and healing. These are the primary partners led by clergy who have already been generous with their intelligence and lending us their most precious gift, their trust.

Joycelyn Elders once said this kind of work is like dancing with a bear: you don’t sit down when you get tired, but when the bear gets tired. The bear is not tired. But together, we dare believe that we can bend the curve of brutal health data that maps the patterns of death in Memphis today.

So we today consecrate not just a space, but the hope the space serves. Every bit of carpet, fabric and art sings out the word of life, as does the light that washes the space. This is God’s imagination at work, I believe, imagining a community beloved and whole and healthy.

May God protect and empower us as we move.

- Posted on the journey

Saturday, February 12, 2011

"The Memphis Model" ("use what you got, baby")

Rev. Bobby Baker works for me. But I am just smart enough follow him. He has evoked the Congregational Health Network, now 314 strong, that is the most unusual part of what is coming to be known nationally as "the Memphis Model." This week we inaugurated the "innovation studio" in The Center of Excellence in Faith and Health by hosting a working delegation of leaders from federal health and human service agencies, including Mara Vanderslice, the acting director of the office on Faith Based and Neighborhood Initiatives. They wanted to understand how this very novel model of collaboration emerged where you would least expect it. So we played Memphis Minnie as the sound track: "use what you got, baby," she counseled.

It is, as Mara noted, a victory all by itself to see a covenantal relationship among hundreds of congregations working to advance the health of the community. But the Memphis model includes many other partners, especially Church Health Center, Christ Community Health Services, the county health system and other collaboratives (notably Healthy Memphis Common Table). We all have different (sometimes opposite!) ways of doing business and staying alive. We work in an environment of conflicting, even perverse, disincentives and weirdness. But in Memphis we do find a way to help each other express our best selves on most days.

We are known for mapping our assets as taught by the South Africans. They also taught us to focus on what we've got. As Steve DeGruchy said, "you can't build a community out of what it doesn't have." Still a work in progress held together by leaders trying to do the right thing, this work of aligning our assets is bending the curve. Or, maybe even more; perhaps the arc of history is bending toward justice, as Dr. King prophesied.

This is a time when the country needs models built for the real world of mud and muddle like Memphis. All of gathered this week with a deep sense of urgency as we work in a mean spirited political atmosphere where health reform is frayed and undermined even before it is barely under way. We need to move fast and bold.

Just days before I was in Miami at the annual governance meeting of Premier network of non-profit hospitals. The theme was all about "leading transformation through the power of collaboration." Premier is essentially a buying club for hospitals so that they can achieve bulk savings. But it has grown into a learning network of real significance. I attended an early morning briefing by Kirk Hanson about the ethics challenges of reform. Notably, it took Kirk nearly all his time to list the many wild drivers of change in hospital-land these days that are spinning off ethical issues like feathers flying from a truck load of chickens. But he barely got to the big ones, such as what hospitals really should be accountable in terms of creating healthy communities. And he didn't quite get to the fundamental uncertainties such as global economics. Oh, and climate change.

The name of this blog is "leading causes of life." It is about a simple ethic: if it looks like life, go that way; and if it looks like death, go the other way. And make sure you grab the hands of whoever is heading toward life, too.

I thought of Bill McKibben, in his stark book "Eaarth," about catastrophic climate change, but counseling us to not despair in the face of destabilizing realities. How to live? Come together acting in hope, intelligence and sacrifice beginning in your own neighborhood, city and region. Act like grown-ups, in other words, working with other grown-ups to create social levees adequate to the floods we face. The waters rise, drive and fly in the winds of change. So we turn to each other and do the right thing, whatever that means with whatever you have influence over or leadership for a huge hospital, a health clinic, a congregation or just your own home.

That's the Memphis Model. You can see it

- Posted on the journey