Social Enterprise

Most people have heard of social enterprises: companies that use their commercial success for the common good by supporting humanitarian projects rather than maximizing profits. One-for-one social enterprises give something to someone in need for every item bought: shoes, glasses, toothbrushes, even gluten-free muffins.

SE Globe

Some old friends of mine are launching a social enterprise in a sector where they are glaringly absent: the pharmaceutical industry. Here’s how it works. The for-profit company—One World Pharmaceuticals (OWP)—makes medications for people living with epilepsy. A significant portion of profits from U.S. sales will go to helping epilepsy patients in the developing world through the R.O.W. (Rest Of World) Foundation.

“We need Big Pharma to research and develop lifesaving drugs,” says Scott Boyer, Founder and President of OWP. “But they’re profit-driven companies and most of their products are only available in the wealthiest countries. These drugs aren’t typically marketed in the rest of the world, referred to in Big Pharma as R.O.W.”

This symbiotic business relationship is unusual in that the ROW Foundation is the majority-owner of OWP. The Foundation will insure that the bulk of company profits go to needy patients in under-resourced areas. Did you catch the difference with this social enterprise? The not-for-profit foundation is the dog, not the tail.

One World, One Standard.

More than 50 million people suffer with epilepsy. More than 40 million of these people live in under-resourced areas of the world. And more than 30 million of them don’t have access to basic treatment or effective medications.

“The global inequity in care of those with epilepsy is eye-opening and heart-wrenching,” says Scott. “The knowledge and medicines already exist to bring hope and a brighter future to millions. Addressing this disparity and injustice is why we started OWP and the ROW Foundation.”

“My sister-in-law, a niece and a nephew all wrestled with the disorder,” says Paul Regan, Administrator of ROW. “I’ve seen the life-changing difference the right medications and treatment can make and I desperately want everyone with epilepsy to have the same chance for a better future. Epilepsy is a global problem that deserves a global solution. We aim to be part of that solution.”

What a lofty goal to aim for. What are you aiming at?

The Curse of Happiness

Happiness can be a bane to serious writers. Take me for instance. During my battles with cancer and bouts of loneliness following Susan’s death, I wrote daily and posted a few times a week. I shared my jumbled thoughts and raw emotions with the world. I published four books in 2013.

Today I’m in good health for someone my age (62, but parts of me are in their 80’s). I can dance, run, swim, play tennis, mountain climb, hang-glide and skydive as much as I used to.

I no longer sleep alone, or in my son’s basement. I’m remarried to a wonderful woman who makes me so thankful to be alive. We met at the dance studio and still go there twice a week, plus cut a rug somewhere on weekends. We’re even doing a swing number in a showcase later this month.

I get to see my kids and play with most of my grandkids regularly. Cindy and I have a dozen of the critters in various colors, shapes and sizes.

My soul still wanders out near the edges of faith but I’m more reserved in sharing what I see. Lots of loose ends and frayed threads I’m afraid. But I also sense the solid reality of which our maps are sketchy outlines. Some day that reality will be our direct experience and we won’t fight over cartography anymore.

As a result of my many blessings, blog posts are way down. Facebook and twitter comments have plummeted lower than gas prices. I’m on track to publish one new book in 2015, a rhyming tale in the style of Lizzy the Leatherback.

I’m not complaining, nor coasting. I take nothing for granted and expect life to cycle around to darker times in due course. But for now I’m enjoying the ride on this tandem bike.


Like a kettle off the burner, I don’t have much to spout off about.

Filtered or Unfiltered?

These are still the two basic options in cigarettes, as well as pipes, honey, olive oil—and books.

I saw “unfiltered” in a review of my book We Will Be Landing Shortly. I like how Clark Bunch used the word:

If you enjoy an unfiltered look directly into someone’s thought process then this book is for you. If you are looking to have your faith bolstered or strengthened, I would recommend something else. Chicken Soup for the Soul this is not.

I know about filtering content for a conservative audience. Once, during my brief stint as editor of Interest magazine, I was asked to airbrush a cigarette from between the fingers of C. S. Lewis in a cover photo as it might offend some of our readers. To my shame, I did it.


Not anymore. Filters are important. I don’t spew everything that’s on my mind, but there’s a place for being candid, raw, unfinished, agitated, conflicted, befuddled, dyspeptic even. Thinking out loud in print makes a book more of a conversation than a sermon, more of a dialogue than a soliloquy. It can encourage what I call Pilgrim’s Process.

Daniel Zemek, friend and fellow bibliophile, catches what I’m after:

For me, one of the characteristics of a good writer is the ability to take some of the thoughts that are floating around in my head (but are there in vagueness and obscured by cobwebs of preconditions) and articulate them in such a way as to give me an “Ah-Ha!” moment.

The same words are just as likely to cause an “Uh-Oh!” moment, so readers beware. But don’t be so cautious as never to venture off level ground.

“The slippery slope of questioning assumptions and dogmas
doesn’t only run downward;
it’s also the route to higher vistas
and breathtaking panoramas.”
—Mike Hamel

Top Reads of 2014

Each year I recommend a handful of books that have made an impression on me. Here are my Top 5 from 2014:

The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt

Being Mortal, Atul Gawande

The History of Christian Theology, Phillip Cary

The Presence of the Past, Rupert Sheldrake

In the Plex, Steven Levy

What makes a book noteworthy is that it changes how we think, usually through new information or a fresh perspective. Such a work makes it impossible to see the world as we used to.

Our brains can shrink with age and our minds constrict, which leads to a hardening of the categories. Great books serve as a mental and spiritual angioplasty; the ideas they insert into our thinking are stents that increase the flow of knowledge, imagination, creativity and humility.

Speaking of books, here are five I’d like to write that would probably cause aneurysms:

The Epiphenomenal God: Shadow Or Substance? 

100 Things To Do Before Getting Alzheimer’s: Stuff Worth Doing Even Though You Won’t Remember It (And Stuff To Do Because You Won’t!) 

The Holey Bible: Seeing Scripture As Divine And Human, Inspired But Not Inerrant 

The Teacher Who Beats Her Students And Gets Away With It! The Shocking Truth About Ms. Experience 

Why There Will Be Sex In Heaven But Not Marriage: Implications Of A Resurrection Body

Pre-orders anyone?

More Than Mortal

My wife Susan passed away three years ago today. She died suddenly while I was being treated for my third cancer. I’m still here and she’s not. Go figure.

Why are we mortal—subject to decay, decrepitude and death? In a word, physics.

Flesh and bone are accountable to universal principles like the second law of thermodynamics. Matter and energy can’t be destroyed but neither can they hold the same patterns forever. Everything physical is finite, from planets to people.

But I believe we’re more than mortal, more than the sum of our parts. I believe we’re also spiritual beings with an immaterial self not answerable to physics. That’s why “we struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone.”

Physics and biology and accident ultimately have their way in our lives. But the point is that we are not helpless either. Courage is the strength to recognize both realities. We have room to act, to shape our stories, though as time goes on it is within narrower and narrower confines. —Atul Gawande

We also have room to hope that death is like the neck of an hourglass, opening into a vast reality not visible from this side.


A Massacre

The psalmist said, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful,” (Psalm 139:14). But ask a physician and he’ll tell you the aging process is anything but wonderful.

Although the processes can be slowed— diet and physical activity can make a difference— they cannot be stopped. Our functional lung capacity decreases. Our bowels slow down. Our glands stop functioning. Even our brains shrink: … The earliest portions to shrink are generally the frontal lobes, which govern judgment and planning, and the hippocampus, where memory is organized. … By age eighty-five, working memory and judgment are sufficiently impaired that 40 percent of us have textbook dementia.—Dr. Atul Gawande

If we’re so well designed—and we are—why do we wind down so ignominiously? Why must our latter years be so fraught with frailty and failure?

The betrayals of body and mind that threaten to erase our character and memory remain among our most awful tortures. The battle of being mortal is the battle to maintain the integrity of one’s life—to avoid becoming so diminished or dissipated or subjugated that who you are becomes disconnected from who you were or who you want to be.—Dr. Atul Gawande

I watch this diminution happening to loved ones and it breaks my heart. I hate the indignities of old age. With Dylan Thomas I, “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

The Bible insists this decrepitude is our fault, not God’s. Biology blames the cycles and seasons of nature. I’ve changed my thinking as to the cause of our decline and demise. At the same time I’ve clarified the hope to which I cling in the face of the inevitable.

More on this in another post.

“Old age is not a battle.
Old age is a massacre.”
—Philip Roth