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By Gary Gunderson

One thing clarified Tuesday; we have get out from behind our screens and go talk to some humans. And not in large groups with microphones and PowerPoints.

We have to go, see, and listen where the life of the community is trying to break through, and how grown-ups can look at each other and figure out what to do.

The See2See Road Trip begins Saturday in San Diego ending 3,200 miles, later in Wilmington. Sponsored by Stakeholder Health, the Winnebago will be a rolling kitchen table, stopping to talk with people working in those improbable collaborations that are happening in nearly every city in the United States. We will be listening to how hospitals are finding their way across their sidewalks into partnerships with public health, social agencies and communities of spirit.

This last one—Spirit—is especially curious. Exit polls say that evangelicals resonated powerfully to the fears about immigrants. But we know that nearly any serious community-wide engagement with the poor and stigmatized includes exactly those folks. Where is there mercy without Spirit, where courage or imagination? But how does that happen?

The right time

This road trip may be the best or worst idea of my life. But I know it is at exactly the right time.

The elections didn’t settle much, but it established that the Affordable Care Act is the law—and a very popular one. Even those that voted to repeal it dozens of time soaked in vitriol pretended to protect it. So now it can be refined by Congress to fulfill its promise. While hospitals are relieved by policy certainty, they will be challenged to move even more quickly and deeply into the world of shared risk for large portions of the community. Public Health—also relieved—will find itself in ever-more complex partnerships at the state and county level. This happens mostly at the county level where health and public health are created and sustained. That is best understood across a table than in a big DC meeting.

The human story is one of people finding their way across wilderness, finding how to live with those they find there and create a new future. When the people of Israel were blown by the wild winds of empire to live in the strange land of Babylon, their prophet told them to leave their fantasies behind and focus on their new reality. They didn’t choose their neighbors and weren’t at all sure of their own people. Maybe you can relate! But they were where they were. Now what? So the prophet gave them some basic clues:

5  Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 

6  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.

7  Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

This is what humans do in strange times: they figure out how to heal the streets and neighborhoods they love, where people have names, history and hopes.

What can we learn?

These 3,200 miles are not entirely random. They start in San Diego because of the American Public Health Association and the annual meeting of the 100 Million Healthier Lives movement, both really large and sprawling networks which involve many Stakeholder Health partners.

Even before we get out of the county, we stop at the home of Heather Wood Ion and her very local group of people working on food issues. We’ll have some food ourselves and learn about nurturing roots in local ground. This is one of the house meetings happening all across the nation organized by 100 Million Lives movement, small enough to talk; designed to listen.

Three thousand miles later we’ll have the same kind of conversation with friends in Wilmington, NC, where their ground is still wet from two hurricanes, now facing years of shared labor. What can we learn about being the people our communities need in their days of crisis, and in their decades of long slow shared labor?

Capturing the story

We’re not doing a video or writing a book. But we will listen carefully enough to capture the story.

Dr. Jim Cochrane has ears for life.  After many years in the South African struggles to give democracy and decency a chance, he now coordinates the Leading Causes of Life Initiative. We won’t be listening for the list of particular deficiencies and problems along the way. We are very curious about how life is finding its way, especially how generative leaders are helping it happen.

Dr. Teresa Cutts—TC—is a recovering psychologist, a gifted researcher and intellectual as practical as the Mississippi dirt she grew up on. She looks past whoever is chattering at the microphone (including me) to focus on the quiet ones at the back of the room who do the work generously and tenaciously. She wants to listen to those who never look away from the poor and won’t give up on mercy.

Others will join us along the way. We’ll spend a few days in Dallas with the gathering of the Stakeholder Health Advisory Council at Baylor Scott White. We’ll spend a day in our little home city of Winston-Salem. We’ll meet many geniuses, but only one official one, Rev. Dr. William Barber, who will keynote the lecture held in honor of Dr. John Hatch at Shaw University in Raleigh the the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

If you’re on the road, we’ll stop and have some coffee and listen to you, too. If you can’t, but want to catch the first draft of learning in real time, we’ll be tweeting (#leadingcausesoflife and #stakehealth) blogging and doing some podcasts all along the way.

Come along!

Follow the Road Trip HERE!