Sunday, May 20, 2012

Book! Book! Book!

How can the world need another book?

The question occurred to Jim Cochrane and I many times over the last four years as we have subjected friends, vulnerable students, bosses, family and work colleagues to all the collateral damage that a book creates.

In a time when every possible answer  to every possible question can be found instantly on your phone, why bother writing paragraphs, chapters and then struggling to order them into a book with hundreds of footnotes from hundreds of sources?

But.....when you need a whole new paradigm, it takes a book. And that is what we do need amid the broad clutter of practices, vast array of institutional assets, extraordinary flow of finance, high drama over policy and, finally, the human pathos of illness, the humans delights of health that all of us journey.

Although rich enough in stories to be useable by most reading adults, this book is unabashedly about theory--why the ones we have are failed and why a new one will help us transform the world. That's what theories do and we really need one now.

It is good when good thing happen, even when we don't know why. So when something "works" in a hospital, HIV Aids clinic, church or public health program, we are happy. But if you want it to happen again, you have to have an idea of what you did right. And to know that, you need to know why it was right and how it relates to other things that work, too. You need a theory.

The goose that lays the golden egg of practices, technologies, choices and policies that transform community is good theory. Not everyone thinks we have time for theory. This is why the most powerful theories are the ones you don't know you have. When a Chief Finance Officer says "let's be realistic" he is acting out of a theory (although most would hate the thought). Thus Jim and I spend some time taking apart the old paradigms, going back to the history of faith and health to find the repressed threads of coherence we need to reweave.

But most of our time is invested in stretching widely around a body of ideas that have taken hold in the bitter struggles with HIV in Africa and intractable poverty on the Delta. These ideas are already illuminating the way forward on their own, but wrapped in a more adequate paradigm, the ensemble promises far more. So we revisit the ideas of healthworlds, religious health assets, leading causes of life, strengths of congregations, boundary leadership and the global political economic context of our work. Hence all the footnotes! It is a bold, maybe foolish, intellectual presumption that we could do it. It wasn't easy for the publisher, Palgrave, to find anyone in the whole world willing to review such breadth. Someone will surely do this better eventually, but we've given our best to the work as is.

The theoretical work has been tested constantly against the realistic demands of our daily efforts to build the network of congregations in Memphis and then the craft of evaluation and analysis of the outcomes. Likewise, in Africa where any intellectual work is immediately tested in that most severe climate.

Over the next few weeks I'll be doing blogs on most of the chapters and suggesting some ways this could be useful even for you. The book is available most everywhere, including Amazon: ( ). Some of those reading this blog are over 30, so may enjoy the ebook with its larger type when it is available in a coupe weeks.

Jim and I did our best to blend our thought well, but we draw from a rich community. So we dedicated the book:

In memory of Steve
 and in gratitude to the many warm friends and colleagues
with whom we have journeyed along the way
from the Interfaith Health Program,
the African Religious Health Religious Health Assets Programme
and the Center of Excellence for Faith and Health

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A prayer for graduates (especially my own)

Among its many thoughtful traditions, Millsaps College finds a way to include the ordained parents of graduating seniors into the graduation events, which gave me the most wonderful gift--the opportunity to pray for all the graduates during baccalaureate--but especially for my daughter Kathryn, the only classics major in the 2012 class.

God of every grace,
In the beginning you had an idea, an image a word and that word was life. We pause for worship to give time for wonder in these days of completion that allows a beginning. Give these young lives—and ours, too—eyes for life. Let it explode in this beginning with all of your graceful energy.

This is only one ending and one beginning of many in these bright lives. Some will be chosen in joy; others washed in grief; some quick lightening; most found through diligent passage like these four years. Some will emerge only in forty or more.

Tonight we yearn—and pray—for memory, 
but not the kind that holds them frozen as they are.

Give them memory on which they can stand
Create boldly,
Give generously
Until there lives are given entirely
And return into the sea of your infinite hope.

Burn and fire this memory in their hearts;
Write it on their minds.

We think this is your idea for life,
So we pray with expanding gratitude
For their
And our

Kathryn is a perfect liberal arts product from one of the most remarkable faith-based college traditions in the nation. She knows who she is and whose she is and why both matter.  This is startling in a time when celebrity is nearly synonymous with dumb and public with mean. Extraordinary. The whole world claps its hands in delight, but especially Karen, Lauren and me.