Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Innovation Invocation

Every quarter the top 500 leaders of Methodist Healthcare gather to see how we are doing and where we are going. We call this the "quarterly business review," but it is really a mission review. Today we gathered in 8 locations linked by video broadcast from the Innovation Studio in the Center of Excellence. We were sobered by the stunning images of the wrecked hospital in Joplin, so I opened with the following prayer.

God of every past, you have drawn 10,000 of us together from Arkansas and Mississippi and every part of Memphis, but also Pakistan, Scotland, India, Africa and every part of the United States. What a wondrous thing you have woven from so many different pasts!

We see the shattered hospital in Joplin and ache at what people just like us are struggling with at this very minute. Give them strength beyond their own strength to do their labor. We cannot know what the day will ask of us. But whether we are asked for courage or quiet diligence, we thank you for bringing us into others' lives as agents of your healing.

God of what comes next, give us the spirit of curiosity about you have not yet revealed, not yet done. As we are accountable to the past, let us be accountable to the future, too. So we offer up our best without pride as the seed of something better. Revealing God, honor our earnest search for innovation so that your love and justice might flow into the lives of the patients and families and neighbors you have given us to serve. Break down our fear, break loose our imagination and break through our satisfaction with "good enough." Fulfill Ezekiel's prayer that you replace a heart of stone, with a heart of flesh. And now tune our hearts to each other as we listen for the common heartbeat of a common mission.

We know you are already saying yes, even as we offer up our prayers. So with confidence we say Amen.

- Posted on the journey

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

God's Economy

There are no weeds in the economy of God. There are, however, a lot of things we don't know how to work with. So, fifty of us met in Simsbury, Connecticut (which has this week nearly as much water falling from the sky as Memphis). We were "converged" by Criterion Ventures, led by Joy Anderson, one of the most creative people in whole world (top 100, according to Fast Company Magazine). In her presence, everybody gets about ten notches more creative, too.

Patrick Duggan helped us move to understand the "church as an economic being" with some asking, "where is the cash stuffed away in all the nooks and crannies of denominational structure?" Others asked baldly, "what is the value proposition of the local church?" Others, also practically, "how do we find a workable business model for seminaries," and "how do we find and form the next generation of leaders who can lead these spiritual/economic beings?" Andy McCarrol and I came curious about whether there were new models that might help us expand our Memphis congregational health strategies to scale.

There is no shortage of anxiety in the church today, but I share little of it. Church structures are certain to dramatically shed structure and form like our auto companies have done in humbling fashion. But humility is appropriate after decades of serving as the complicit center for a culture that is among the most wasteful in the history of the species. Does anybody think the church deserve a reward for our performance any more than Chrysler?

So we'll have fewer full time "learned" clergy, a lot fewer seminaries and way less gothic boxes on corners. No big loss to the Kingdom of God. The astonishing thing is that we (I am an ordained part of it) have billions of dollars of liquid and material assets that are fungible enough to realign in service of what God might have in mind next.

We still have thousands of people laying their life on the line through churches doing all sorts of useful things. Some are young and crackling smart like Tom Daniel of Atlanta, or Tim Soerens of the Parish Collective in Seattle, Dan Senter of California and Cynthia Rasmussen in Rochester. How much more talent does God need?

And there are plenty of the "older young"--people in the 50's-70's who have seasoned talent and staying power: Jim Bennett of Church of the Savior, Steve Monti in North Carolina, and on and on. And some way smart veteran denominational mechanics: Phyllis Anderson, Greg Black of the UCC, Woody Bedell, who knows all there is to know about clergy health. How much talent does God need?

So too at the root. Last Thursday I witnessed the miracle of another class graduating from our CHN training, filled with power and encouraged by the practical knowledge. Every seven weeks another 60 or 100 goes through another flight of learning. How much talent does God need to get going?

There is startling number of faithful people who know how money works, and how to get it into the service of real change. The Investors' Circle, Village Capital, Praxis, Imago Dei Fund, OikoCredit, Equilibrium Capital Group, e3bank--and the whole wild ecology of others found at SOCAP. How much money does God need?

This morning I walked through the drizzle to an abandoned field behind the hotel. Some pine trees were quietly starting over in their busy and awkward way. And down at the root of what I thought were just weeds are gorgeous little red flowers. How much beauty do we need?

When we release our fears just a second, we notice assets and human capacities sufficient not just for the day, but for all that may be required of us. If God has enough (which seems to be the case) perhaps we do, too.

Surely, we have at least enough to take the next right steps on the path. What we could use more of is clarity of vision. That deserves some prayer, discernment, deep dialogue and, maybe even silence. What exactly do we need to do next?

The question has an edge when we know we have enough to start.

- Posted on the journey

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Quiet, massive. The Mississippi

The Mississippi flows across the land and carves it path this way and that. The picture is from Reelfoot museum, mapping in different colors the many different courses across the years.For the last hundred years or so it has been contained within earthworks that among the largest humanly constructions on the planet. For the most part they look like they will hold the river in once again, except the lowest-lying neighborhoods where the poor live. There are a lot of poor in Memphis, so this is not a small number who will lose--once again--everything.

What is surprising to me--and might be surprising to those reading from a distance about the raging river and it wrath-- is that massive flow is actually quiet. It is hard to imagine tens of millions of gallons of muddy water moving in silence. It boils and rolls, carrying trees and clutter from upriver. But it doesn't seem wrathful, or particularly emotional.

It just does what rivers do, dangerous only to humans who take it personally and fail to respect its ways.

- Posted on the journey

Monday, May 2, 2011

Be a whirlwind of love

It is still raining out my window as it is up and down the Mississippi. There is justified awe and fear of the power of that great river, which channels the flow from 31 states. A very great deal of that brown water goes past beneath the Memphis bluffs and it is rising to levels not seen since 1937. One of my sunday school class members told yesterday of that great flood which covered much of eastern Arkansas. He was 17 at the time and remembers his high school closing so that it could be converted to emergency shelter for people driven off their land by the water.

On saturday I road in a fundraising bike ride for diabetes (the tour de cure). The 35 mile route wound from riverfront splendour though industrial grit and then in neighborhoods on the edge. Their homes were financially "under water" with lots of foreclosure signs block after block. And now non-metaphorical water rising up the walls of the mobile homes in the bottoms, heading for the streets nearby. Humans are vulnerable people, needing each other to make it in ways and means that we don't expect.

The radio and TV shows know they can draw a crowd with bombast and mean-spirited silliness about individual responsibility replacing government. But in real life where it rains, floods and ever now now and then swirls with F5 tornado force, it takes all kinds of responsiblity--personal, social, faithful and government.

Collins Dillard is an artist of abnormal sense and sensitivity. The picture is a poster he did for our little United Methodist Church, St. John's, to tell us how to send money where it will help somebody immediately and efficiently. The United Methodist Committee On Relief (UMCOR) has a stellar record moving fast and smart with compassion and competence. Just google UMCOR Advance 30021326. Send money. And prayers of gratitude that we are made to connect.

The other pictures are of a kind of sculpture Collins did that went along with the poster. The bent wire spirals up out of a stone toward a heart. We were encouraged to come, pray, place a paper heart at the base signalling the prayer and the intention to help.

Do it.


(Thank you Collins, for quietly reminding us that art gives us the coherence to find our toward each other.)