January 7, 2016

Notes from the President -- For the New Year

January 2016

Let me start with a disclaimer. Richard Hart It is always risky to put forward lofty goals for an institution, as you provide fodder for the critics who like to point out your shortcomings. Having said that, I think it is critically important for both individuals and institutions to own their desires for the future - where they want to go. Institutions can't do that collectively unless they are willing to publicly state those aspirations. It is the stuff on which reputations hang. So here they are for the New Year: Three big ones for Loma Linda.

Moral Beacon

In today's world, there are more and more questions about motives, hidden strategies, and basically what is the right thing to do in various circumstances. It may have to do with business decisions, personnel issues, investment opportunities, partnerships, or a myriad of other questions that confront each of us. It seems that many times these questions are answered in the context of what's in it for us, who will know, and does it make any difference? The foundational issue of right and wrong is often left out of the discussion. It seems we have entered a time where moral absolutes are no longer valued or considered important.

LighthouseI would like to claim a moral high ground for Loma Linda. To publicly state that we try our best to make decisions for the right reasons, no matter the political cost. We pray for wisdom to discern these paths, which are not always easy to determine.

The words I often hear at the end of difficult discussions are, “This is the right thing to do” and that sentiment carries the day. Our decisions get critiqued and certainly criticized. Often we cannot even share all the reasons why a decision went a certain way. Perceptions vary on every issue. But we are committed to using our core values to set the parameters for all decisions. Whether the world is watching or not, we want to be comfortable with what we have done.

Refusing to believe that our environment inoculates us from the potential for going astray we are warned by this thought from C.S. Lewis in his book Screwtape Letters,

“The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices.”

Kind of sobering for those of us in those offices!

We want to share this sense of moral commitment with our graduates as well. As they study and observe on our campus, what have they learned? What impact have we had on their decision making for the rest of their lives? We are not so naïve as to think we can permanently imprint a set of values on every mind, but we do hope we have established a standard, a moral compass, that they can refer to in their personal lives and decisions. Because they – you – are the ones who really establish and maintain Loma Linda's reputation. It sits on the shoulders of our 45,000 alumni who carry out their daily duties in so many places and activities. We each face our own set of issues and critical decisions to make. My hope is that we may be collectively known as a group of people who “stand for the right, though the heavens fall.”

Wholeness Mentor

There is plenty of talk today about wellness, the commitment to live healthy and productive lives. Many of these principles are ones that Loma Linda has championed for decades and we are pleased the world is catching on and adopting them. But I believe that Loma Linda is really about wholeness, which is more than just wellness. While this new term is being discussed and adopted by some, I am not sure most have its full understanding yet.

Loma Linda uses it to apply both to how we care for patients – whole person care – as well as how we live our personal lives. It reaches both internally and externally, both vertically and horizontally. Our committee on campus has come up with a new definition for wholeness that I like: “Loved by God, Growing in Health, Living with Purpose in Community.” Not bad for a succinct definition of what life is all about. This portrays us all as children of a personal God who is interested and invested in our lives. It includes our own growth throughout our lives, and shows that ultimately this is demonstrated by connecting with our communities. The old phrase of “physical, mental, social and spiritual” is enveloped in this understanding.

Now - how well do we do this, both personally and institutionally? I don't want to reveal the hours some of us work, a measure we often apply. But I would suggest that even long hours done for the right reasons and with a common purpose is not as stressful as self-service. There is a certain satisfaction and calmness that comes with a collective commitment to doing good.

Loma Linda University HealthAt Loma Linda, this is usually done in a cosmic sense, a sense that it is God's will, His biddings, that we are working towards. That clearly changes the equation, adding a collective sense of camaraderie, of doing something beyond ourselves, something bigger than any of us. When all is said and done, it gives a sense of relief that the results are now in His hands. We have done our best and the rest is God's. God doesn't call us to success, He calls us to commitment – the outcome is up to Him.

Is this carried on by our alumni and friends? Well, the Adventist Health Studies certainly suggest that both longevity and productivity are more than just a vegetarian diet and avoiding harmful substances. They have tried to identify and measure other variables – church attendance, social connections, etc. and they all seem to contribute something.

I am convinced it is the balance of it all, the sense that I am a child of God, living with purpose and direction in my life, that soothes the vessels, calms the heart, and rejuvenates the muscles and organs. May we learn more effectively how to share that message with others so they may enjoy what we have in abundance. May we not lose our appreciation for this special gift that keeps on giving.

Spiritual Exemplar

Now for the toughest one of all, spirituality. We often separate spirituality from religion, as if they are distinct from each other. Yet they are inextricably linked, as it is very difficult for any of us to divorce ourselves entirely from the learnings of our youth. Though spirituality builds on religion, it somehow seems to be more than any denominational set of beliefs. It strikes at the very soul of man, the fundamental understanding of who we are in a cosmic sense.

Dove stained glassThe obvious question is, can an institution develop, encourage, even instill spirituality where it may not naturally exist? Or, if we attempt to do so, have we finally crossed a line that no university should follow, too invasive to be entrusted to a group of mere mortals? I don't know the answer to that for sure, but I do believe that encouraging a deep sense of spirituality is such a fundamental part of a healthy and successful life that we cannot ignore the question.

Paul Krauss, a retired executive from a major US company and former proton patient said it well in thanking Lynn Martell, one of our senior leaders, for hosting hundreds of patients for Christmas dinner at their home over the past 16 years.

“Lynn, in this world few things are unique, but Christmas at the Martell's is not only unique but an iconic statement of Loma Linda / Adventist beliefs and caring. If only the global world would join your journey. We have never discussed religion, but I put everything to the Jesus test. Would Jesus spend His time debating transubstantiation, predestination, antinomian and Arminian thought, or would He be out helping the lepers and the poor? I think I know the answer. Of course many religious communities add value to their communicants, both spiritual and social, but I believe you all, whatever your theology, conspicuously walk the talk. That is the bottom line. Happy New Year. PK”

Unfortunately, we are now living in a world where the major religions seem to be clashing once again. While many preach peace, religion is being used to polarize people from all sides. As a “faith-based” university, Loma Linda would rightfully be expected to have an opinion, a position on such issues.

While we are avowedly Christian, Loma Linda is a Seventh-day Adventist institution. Seventh-day Adventists have a 123 year heritage of vigorously defending religious freedom, no matter one's belief. This history allows Loma Linda to be a safe-haven, a Switzerland for those with a diversity of beliefs, while at the same time proclaiming and living our own. People from the world's religions come to us feeling a sense of security and acceptance that should make us all proud.

This is what God has called His people to represent to the world throughout the ages - the faith of those who completely follow the true God. It represents a level of spirituality few attain or towards which few aspire. But it surely must be what Enoch and Moses and others experienced when “they walked with God.” Is this even possible today? Can it be modeled and encouraged?

These are tough questions, and I certainly don't want to claim expertise in this area. We struggle like all others, albeit with a certain sense of purpose and commitment to this deep spirituality. While this can be pursued privately, on one's own, I suspect it is best developed in communion with others. It certainly transcends denominationalism, as important as that may be. I am sure it requires a constant yearning, a recognition and desire for something better. May this New Year give us all a measured sense of this kind of spirituality.

A Moral Beacon, a Wholeness Mentor, and a Spiritual Exemplar. Tall orders for any organization or person. Yet I hope Loma Linda will stay committed to do what it can to achieve these lofty goals. The world expects this from us, and we need to rise to the challenge. Please pray for us on this journey.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Hart signature

Richard Hart, MD, DrPH
Loma Linda University Health

Office of the President, Loma Linda University, Loma Linda, CA 92350

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