Saturday, August 27, 2011

All of us praying for all of us

Two gatherings in two days, both shaped by prayer. The top 500 or so leaders of Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare meet every quarter to look at mission-critical information. On Wednesday our time was built around Jim Conway, the remarkable long term leader of Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston (which I'll blog about another day). We always open with a invocation sometimes by me and more frequently by one of the chaplains in our division. Many think of the invocation sort of like the flashing lights telling you the real meeting is about to happen. This time the prayer flashed and illuminated the whole place as Rev. Steve Miller seized the full authority of his ordination which is multiplied by many years of integrity and prayed:

O Lord our God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
As we gather this morning, we do so asking You to remind us of the calling and purpose You have placed upon our lives.

So remind us once again that there is no “Good to Great”, without a moral foundation, that we have no future direction, without a current guiding principle. Remind us that the “Power Of One” lives and resonates within each of us.

Remind us that our work is not only the care for the broken and diseased body, but to soothe the chaotic and fearful soul, and quiet the disrupted spirit anticipating a surgery or procedure.
Help us to genuinely care for Your people. Grant us the empathy to walk with them, hand in hand, and navigate this institution we call Methodist LeBonheur Healthcare.

Remind us that with all of our advances in medical technology, pharmacology, surgical procedures, state of the art equipment, our bedside nursing and even our status as a teaching hospital, that we will never achieve our fullest potential to heal, our greatest medical outcomes, or outstanding patient satisfaction, without compassionate care to our patients, families, and onto each other.

Lest we forget, remind us that when the patient is sick, the whole family is sick, remind us that we are the visitors in their lives, that’s why we wear the name badges, they already know one another. We are strangers giving them diagnosis they don’t understand, prescriptions, they can’t pronounce, and sometimes prognosis they can’t comprehend. We are the visitors, not them.

So change us Lord. Change our perceptions, and remind us that one day disease can overtake our bodies, that we will age and be in need of care, that we will be the patients, the one waiting with baited breath for a word from our physician, we will be the one waiting for a nurse to bring medicationfor our pain, we will be the one waiting for results from our x-ray and labs, We will be the one praying for transparency and honesty from staff, so that we can make difficult decisions for ourselves and members of our family.

Change us because we might find ourselves in an institution where our status as a healthcare worker won’t provide us any special professional privilege, our knowledge of medicine and the human body won’t entitle us to any special treatment, our hospital ID won’t grant us any special access. Change us we pray.

Now help us Lord to always do the right thing, no matter what the cost. Live out our lives individually and collectively without regret, having treated every patient, every family member, every visitor, and every co-worker the way we want to be treated with dignity and respect, with neighborly compassion and care, for we are but the servants of the Most High God. Amen.

When he finished the room had been reduced to stunned silence knowing that something holy had happened to us all.

Later the next evening, a couple dozen gathered in the Innovation Studio of the Center of Excellence to talk, pray and break the Ramadan fast at the invitation of me and Dr. Alim Khandekar, one of our long time surgeons. He and the other Muslim physicians has last eaten about 5am, worked all day, broken for prayers, then joined us to talk about how spirituality guides their healing work. One of them did the call to prayer about 8pm and we ate. And we did talk intensely about our various pathways that have brought us into healing work, how it shaped our presence with those who are ill and dying. We talked about how the Muslim physician from Pakistan has learned how to pray with the Memphis protestant at the most sacred moment in their journey. And we talked about how we can come alongside each other on the next steps of our walk of faith and healing.

Prayer. What a mystery it is that we are made to imagine that short-lived, shorter tempered humans can find our way to the boundary of the holy and speak appropriately, even, dare I say it, usefully? It is as unlikely as finding a planet made of diamond. That also happened on Thursday, the third most astonishing thing of the two days. (

Apparently God can make pretty much anything God choses to imagine. So
what if all of us prayed for all of us? We would never know which prayers worked. And perhaps they all would.

- Posted on the journey

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Living against the grain of fear

(Methodist Healthcare celebrated our "Living Awards" this past Thursday evening with quite a big show at the Peabody Hotel with nearly 500 important people attending, all in the name of faith and health. The highlight of the evening was the honors given to the Church Health Center and Dr. Bob Waller. Here are the comments I gave earlier in the evening.)

Faith and Health at Methodist healthcare embeds an ambitious strategy of aligning a strong faith-based hospital with equally strong community assets--historically, the Church Health Center and more recently, Christ Community Health Services--all surrounded by and connected to a cloud of hundreds of congregations (362 as of this morning) all focused on justice and mercy at community scale. That’s quite a sentence, but it is exactly what is happening. The only way these powerful assets come into alignment is through the shared vision and blended intelligence of those in leadership roles within all those organizations, many of whom are laypeople serious about their faith and deeply committed to the vitality of the city they love. This room if full of people like that which is why you sense such deep power moving in and through us.

Methodist Hospital is a pretty good hospital hungry to be great. While US News says we are the best in Memphis, we are tantalized and on many days humbled by what remains before us. The region we serve continues to face profound –some less hopeful than us even say intractable—health challenges driven by long patterns of gross inequity and poverty. And, as Faulkner said, the problem with history is that it is not in the past. You can see the past in our emergency rooms every day if you understand anything about the health problems of the people we serve. This is to say that our eyes are wide open to the reality of our challenges.We do not blink and will not turn away. We believe we are called to be the hospital—and health partner—that our region needs. We think we can indeed be great not just in the eyes of some national magazine, but in the hearts and minds of those who need us most.

It is easy to be confused about what is happening at the Living Awards, especially if we think we are here to honor these remarkable people for what they have done in the past. They have all received plenty of awards for that and do not need ours to add to the bookshelf. Tonight is about the future and the possibilities these lives inspire us to envision. We are looking not at, but through these lives, “as through a glass darkly” in the words of the Apostle Paul. What we are looking for is inspiration. What if? What if? What if, these exemplary physicians were the norm? What could they lead us to be? What if Dr. Waller was not such a solitary model of statesmanlike vision? What if there were a thousand of him, too many to pick out which one to honor? What if the extraordinary creative engine of compassion, the Church Health Center, was typical of faith-based programs, instead of unique?

In time of great fear and uncertainty, the world wonders where the grown-ups have gone. The credit rating agencies are really downgrading the maturity of the leaders we have chosen and thus, quite directly, us. The rating agencies, like everybody, aren’t looking for geniuses, but grown-ups. In this time, nothing is more important than to look at real lives who inspire us with the confidence that maybe we, too, could be the people and organizations our city needs.

Tonight, look not to the past. Join me in looking toward the future. Perhaps we can move from “what if” to why not: why not us, why not now.

Why not?

- Posted on the journey