Visiting Dr. Rich and Pro-Social Investment
On Friday a group of six us from Broadway visited Dr. John Rich in Philadelphia. My mind is overflowing after the discussion. It was wonderful -- from beginning to end. My attention had been drawn to Dr. Rich from some conversations with friends who have won the McArthur Genius Grant Awards. They thought it would be a good idea to talk with Dr. Rich. They described his work to me several years ago - as work that began when he was in Boston in Med School. This young doctor, who is African-American, found himself face to face with a lot of young African-American men coming through the emergency room at the hospital he was working at in Boston - stabbed, shot and in other ways damaged by violence. A very short version of this story is that he hired them. He hired them to be community health advocates for something he called "the health cru." I loved that. It seemed to blend well with our theology that saw the answers as residing in the very places that others saw only emptiness and pain. As a Christian I believe that emptiness and pain are not the last word. And Dr. Rich put flesh on those bones by his actions.
Last fall a few of us gathered around our telephone lines at Broadway to have a conference call with Dr. Rich. Near the end of that conversation he invited us to continue to the conversation in person. Chad, at Broadway, began to pull together a group of us to visit. That visit happened this past Friday, the 25th. I wanted to take a few friends and listen to what Dr. Rich was thinking - his innovative approach, his looking at the people who crossed his paths as brothers and sisters, his creativity, and insight - being around people like that is always inspiring to me and I hoped it would be to others. So De'Amon, Terri, Orlando, Chad, Tamara and I set off on Thursday to begin our trek.
What I had not expected was that the focus of the conversation with Dr. Rich would be on healing. I don't think I had ever had a conversation with a physician that focused on healing. It was beautiful! He talked about the ways in which, in listening to the young men who came before him, he began to notice some things - for example he began to notice that these young men had experienced constant trauma - many of them from quite young - and that they had a very good ability to describe the experience and the experiences they were having. As I listened to Dr. Rich I thought about how much this made them "healers" to others around - if we could find ways to build on on term that Dr. Tamara Leech - one of our companions on this trip - described as "pro-social investment." It was Dr. Leech's attempt to describe the positive aspects of life in communities that others often look down on. Our friend, Orlando, who is on this trip (and who I've written about in this blog before) - is constantly engaging in "pro-social investment" by engaging the young people in our community around the music that he loves to make - WITH the young people. They make music together - solve the world's problems - talk, tell stories, laugh and challenge one another. How does one multiply that? At least in part we multiply that, I believe - by celebrating it.
What would that look like? We have invited Orlando to share his story in the Lesson for the Contemporary Church during worship at Broadway - and he has done that. But this is a very, very, very small step. How do we make what he is doing more visible - than it is right now? How do we hold it up so that all around our neighborhood see it - and some inspired to do such a thing themselves - that they care about? How do we celebrate it in a way that draws the attention of others around the city? I've been thinking about that. I've got a potential opening to engage the editorial leadership of the newspaper to invite them to see things a little differently (not giving away their old perspective - but picking up the new). Maybe this would be a way that it would be known more widely. But I wonder if this isn't me looking for the "easy way" - by outsourcing the work to the newspaper. I wonder if I could engage United Methodists (and others) from around our city - in helping spread the word. I don't know.
Friday began with breakfast with an old seminary professor of mine - Harold Dean Trulear the III. I was most grateful to see him again after all these years. He had graduated with a PhD from Morehouse in his early 20's - and was only three years older than me when I started seminary as a twenty-three year old. Both he and Dr. Rich have grown up in the Church, Dean has started congregations and worked in congregations and both - painfully so, to both me and them, talked about how unhelpful the Church is to them and to the people they work with in the streets. I actually agreed, wincing, along the way, with their analysis (offered separately - as we did not see them together).
This leads me to my final little section of this blog entry. I am constantly frustrated by reading the blogs of people I know and respect within the Christian community and in particular, the United Methodist community. What frustrates me is that I love the writing styles and color with which they write...but it seems to me that they write of so little that is - I don't know - let's say "real" for lack of a better term.
What do I mean by that? I have done an unofficial count over the last two months of the 10 bloggers I read most often (who post fairly regularly) and I can tell you that the overwhelmingly the social issue that they write about - and that their readers most respond to - is sexuality. Now, I believe sexuality, is an important issue - but many, if not most, of these folks - are giving it time like the Bible talks about this issue more than any other. If you took out the references in the Bible to poverty - the Bible would look like swiss cheese. If you took out the references to sexuality - you would hardly notice and would cover large swaths of the Bible between references - in some cases 100's of pages. It would be hard to cover 10 pages of the Bible without reference to the poor. Now all the references to sexuality wouldn't distress me so much - but I just wonder - where in the hell do people find all that time to look into that and never write, or at least in any sort of close proportionate way, to the issues that are killing so many of our young people, to the ways in which so many of our sisters and brothers are living and dying - with people only seeing them as empty vessels who need to be fixed and not as beloved children of God with lots to offer.
How come there are so many more discussions about the every day life and death struggles of people in secular blogs - than there are in these United Methodist blogs? I can't figure it out. It makes me crazy. Because I know many of the people writing these blogs. They are wonderful folks. Wonderful. Thoughtful. But so much of their energy is taken up with the issues that the craziest people around us want us to take time with - I think this must feel the same in every age. But it makes me crazy nonetheless.