Wednesday, November 1, 2017

The Parable of the Sower


I am starting my reflection with the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 13. In this chapter Jesus tells the parable of the sower. He begins by saying, "behold."
Some English translation say listen but it is behold in my Greek. Then he tells the parable and at the end he says, “those who have ears to hear listen.”

If we look at the Gospel of Mark in the fourth chapter we will find the same parable.  This time the word listen appears at the beginning and behold follows in the Greek. Most interesting, the ending line is the same in both accounts where we have those who have ears to hear, listen. In the Greek the words hear and listen are more pronounced. Because you have akouw side-by-side with different endings which gives a huge emphasis to how we are to Pay attention. More than pay attention, since Greek verbs are action oriented we are being called "to do" with listening. The verb form signifying action is in the present imperative tense meaning the action is continuous, continuous in the present. That is what we are "to do."

how are we to apply this parable. we are to hear the parable over and over again continuously.  The parable as a metaphor can be moved to new places continuously in the present (meta: new and phor: place) with our daily changing context. The parable becomes a way of contemplating who we are in the present. Examining ourselves in terms of how we respond to the good seed. A way to mark what in being produced from the good soil. I am a gardener and I know I can improve my soil.

The disciples ask for Jesus to explain the parable. There is more. The explanation reinforces the mobility of the parable as metaphor.

I do confess that not all Greek copies of the Matthew 13 have the same Greek words side by side. I am going with the edition of side by side for the emphasis created. 

 To be continued.

Marlin Whitmer

Mourning Discoveries.


A reflection on the passage from Deuteronomy 34: 1-12, the last days in the life of Moses, his death, burial, and the mourning of the Hebrew people. They gave themselves thirty days to mourn, “and then the period of mourning for Moses was ended.”  I had to smile at that point. Being a facilitator for a grief recovery group for 17 years and then listening to stories of the loss of a loved one, including my own, I know the cultural norm for mourning is still four weeks after the death. The first surge of new people to the recovery group would be around four weeks and the dominate reason, people think we should be over our grief by now. They still had pain and not many wanted to listen to the same story being retold. Exodus doesn’t go into detail but it does mark the time allowed. There is a greater understanding in the Jewish tradition where they have a service eleven months after the death. That would be more realistic.

In the coffee hour after the Sunday service I shared my reflection on the Deuteronomy passage with a couple people about the month given to mourning. That is still the way it is, four weeks. The two people I shared this with are folks who also have lost a loved one, one recently. She acknowledged the insight readily and the man agreed as well. We know. We have been there with the timing. And how fortunate to be able to share this Aha! with a couple people who are in the know.

In my own situation in 2011, after Bobbie’s death, I made our lake home a retreat center. It was quiet and peaceful. Many of Bobbie’s activities were in evidence in the house: her clothes, her quilts, her paintings, her decorated gourds, her miniatures, her recipes, etc. She was gone but she was still there in many ways.

Over the next six years now, I would gradually change what was there. Many of her things have been given away and put to use.  I am still doing that. More recently I had an appraiser look at the property as I think about selling in a year or two. The drive back and forth to the lake is something I will have to say, enough. My driving a car will be over one of these days. I have to watch my driving habits as it is.

Even more apparent for change was my bid on a offer at the Figge Art Center. A lady helps people with declutter and getting the house ready for sale. She came out and had one big suggestion. Simplify, get rid of things to make the house look larger. I had made a start but now her specifics are on my schedule. I have removed the furniture in some rooms and moved others around. I have more to do in that category. 

During the last year of Bobbie’s life we had moved to an apartment in Davenport to be near the medical treatments and hospice. After her death I had to close the apartment and move the furniture back to the lake. There were chores and decisions to make regarding the change. I don’t think I had much of a garden that year. There is a lot I don’t remember. How I kept up the yard that year? Maybe Matthew was a big help.

What I especially remember during that first year of loss was receiving an inner message, maybe after the fourth month. Read the Book of Genesis starting with the story of Abraham. I did. Abraham must have started his new journey with some sense of loss, change, transition. He left the familiar for the unfamiliar. There is no mention of his inner feelings at this point. He responds to God’s promise and call as I responded to reading the account. No questions asked. Then I had an additional inspiration. Get a group together at Church to read the Genesis account. A number in the group had also experienced the loss of a loved one. We gave each other mutual support.

During our reading and discussion there were some pronounced Aha’s. The family stories beginning with Abraham are stories of transformation. Where a person begins is not how they end up. And there is no going back. Huge transitions are made in their covenant relationship with the God who is calling them into being his people. The transitions in my own life began to have a new context in Scripture in a more personal way. Reviewing the lives of the folks in Genesis became a time to review my own life. Those in the group shared a similar experience. We were getting to know each other on a deeper level at the same time. 

The next big Aha! The whole of the Hebrew Scripture was finalized during the time of their exile and captivity in Babylon. The reordering of the stories was part of the grief experience of the Hebrew people. During their mourning time a creative surge emerged. We began to see the power and impact of grief was the context of God's presence as they retold their stories along with the emergence of a three-fold way of life: Scripture stories, synagogue, and Sabbath. All three connected for the continuing of the community of the people of God.

Marlin Whitmer
Retired hospital chaplain
Founder of the Befrienders and the art of story metaphor listening.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Coming of age: Resting the horses at the fence row

Plowing corn with a team of horse at age 13, and the beginning of reflective listening/learning.

I will never forget the summer of 1943. I grew up in a number of ways during my 13th year. Plowing corn with a team of horses for the first time stands out as a major transition story in my life. I count it as such in my memory. This an adult activity. I was entering the manhood world of farming back then. Before it was gathering eggs, feeding the horses, leading a horse for the hay fork, being a water boy for threshers, etc.,but now I was out in the field for a day’s work. I was also paid a small sum.

I was being taught by my father who was a few rows away with a cultivator and a team of horses. The cultivator was a work in itself. You sat in the seat with your feet in sturips to set the depth of the blades and help guide the cultivator. You held on to the handles to guide the blades also, one for the left hand and one for the right. Getting rid of the weeds in the center of the corn rows was the object. And above all, being sure not to get into the corn row and root out a hill of corn.

Back than the corn planters would check in the corn so you could row in both directions, north south or east west. Now they plant the seeds very close together in rows and they till more with pesticides. The number of bushels of corn is much higher now for a number of reasons.

When we would plow up and back, stopping at the fence row, my father would share his views about people, life, and the world. I don’t remember the specifics but I do remember his way of continually thinking about something. I credit him with introducing me to the importance of reflecting on our life situations.  I gave this memory a metaphorical name, “resting the houses at the fence row,” and moved the practice to many different places.

When my father later became chronically depressed over the loss of the family farm the reflecting continued but in a more repetitive manner without the freshness and variety of his younger years. The reflections displayed more anger at the same time. But the early benefit had already been adopted in my practice even though it became a lost cause for him.

When I became involved in Clinical Pastoral Education I found reflection was built into the learning methodology.  I readily grasped the importance of this discipline.  And I realized this wasn’t a discipline everyone adopted as a way of life.  Just like having a time for prayer there was the time to come apart to reflect. The mind became the playground for emerging possibilities. Or the same good could be done on one to one over a coffee cup, or in a small discussion group. There is a whole discipline of reflective learning and reflective listening.

The Befriender training and the pastoral care department incorporated the practice which led to a number of innovative pastoral programs.

A more humorous outcome of the expression came about in this way. During a cardiac rehab session there was a farmer who was a typical type A. He was old enough to have plowed corn with a team of horses. I asked him, “Did you ever rest the horses at the fence row?” He said, “No. I always had another team waiting there.” The horses had the rest and he kept jumping from one plow to another. Would a more reflective life have benefited his heart? And was he about the change now? I can’t say he did.

Marlin Whitmer
Founder of the Befrienders, story metaphor listeners in a hospital setting, who were identified as making a difference in the quality of life in the community.

Transformative dimensions of adult learning. - ‎Mezirow - Cited by 8894
Transformative learning: Theory to practice - ‎Mezirow - Cited by 3082

Reflective Learning Theories. ... Schon studied Dewey and his theories very carefully, and he believed in two types of reflection: Reflection-on-action, which is an unconscious event that deals with the knowledge we use to solve problems and carry out actions. Reflection-in-action, which occurs as the action is happening.

Second language listening: Theory and practice - ‎Flowerdew - Cited by 585

Reflective listening is a communication strategy involving two key steps: seeking to understand a speaker's idea, then offering the idea back to the speaker, to confirm the idea has been understood correctly.