Tuesday, May 30, 2017

"Bottoms Up"

“Bottoms Up”

The story begins in this way, I was driving down the road, Bobbie was in the passenger seat when she burst out, “Bottoms up!” We laughed. We both knew. Wounds heal from the bottom up. This was the first time we could laugh about an experience that was not laughable. “Bottoms up” became a metaphor to move to many different places where changes take place from the bottom up.

Wounds heal from the bottom up. I now know. I have seen this with my own eyes. I watched a sizable abdominal wound heal from the bottom up. Bobbie had an incision biopsy wound to determine her kind of cancer in 2004. The wound took eight months to heal, from April to November. I was the wound dresser for seven months after training from the Visiting Nurse. I started with high anxiety. Certification to be a chaplain had not included this. Bobbie’s earlier infection in the wound site made me doubly worried that it could happen again. We both persevered. In the middle of November the wound closed, healing from the bottom up, just in time for our Thanksgiving trip to California. We were doubly thankful.

Aha! We lived grass roots health care. We are all on the front lines of the health care delivery system. All health issues from prevention to chronic conditions are out in the community. The change from acute illness to chronic illness dominating makes this truth, which was always there, more apparent.

In the language of Bobbie, “bottoms up” and inside out will be the way many changes take place in health care and society at large with what ever wound we have. Perhaps changes are more lasting and remembered from the bottom up and the inside out. Our chronic conditions and our social and economic ills are intertwined as we move to be a mutual benefit, mobilizing for the common good and healthy communities. We are all called to be wound dressers in our respective locations wherever we are and whatever we are doing.

My adventure in learning about wounds had an earlier beginning with our oldest son’s science project. He was seeing how natural remedies as lemon juice, sugar, garlic, honey, etc., slowed the growth of bacteria. A pathologist at the hospital provided some assistance allowing Michael to test these everyday items with various bacteria in the petri dish. A book for background reading was on the History of the Wound. The two sets of cells for healing were explained. One set fights the infection caused by bacteria and the other set helps the wound knit leaving a scar. The name for the second cells, “connective tissue.” I like the metaphor since connect is one of our deep metaphors.

Catharsis is the name for the cleansing action in the psychological wound. As a person names the pain in a personal grief the cleansing takes place. Energy is needed for this work. When healing takes places and less energy is needed to express the pain, a person has more energy to invest in other life activities. Thus you have renewal called decatharsis. The grief literature rightly starts with catharsis but seems to write less about decatharsis. What do I do with my life now? When you read individual stories one usually finds a purpose for living returns, renewed energy, even a new mission in life. As people heal they make new connections for living. Bobbie found her creative juices in all kinds of crafts.

The Spiritual wound brings us to confession, repentance, on the one hand and Absolution, forgiveness, and transformation on the other. Or as in the Lament Psalms there is the complaint, protest, and through the process a coming to a new place. WE give voice to our pain for renewal. Our Faith and worshipping communities, a soul friend, a spiritual director, a confessor, a midwife, are names for those who assist in the process.

To be continued,

Marlin Whitmer, retired hospital chaplain

Founder of the Befrienders (1966), called ones alongside for the recovery of community to change the culture “one story at a time” as story listeners.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Connecting the Dots

Before Steve Jobs gave his famous “Connecting the Dots” talk at Stanford University the Befrienders and the Pastoral Care team at St. Luke’s Hospital were using the term.

It came about in this way.

The Befriender Model was set within a Three-fold action for relationships to move to a deeper level of understanding. As in Steve Jobs' talk, the dots were not all that connected when we began. I found instructions for the dots in the pages of the Bible.  They appeared to me in the 10th chapter of Luke where Jesus sends out the 70. They began with a briefing, then the mission, and upon returning, debriefing. I decided this would be our model.

Our briefing began in chapel with shortened Morning Prayer, the readings from the Daily Office for that day were discussed, and prayer followed.  Patient visiting assignments were handed out at the end and the visitation mission began. Upon their return later in the morning the Befriender wrote up a short report of the visit. The report was used for their debriefing with one of the chaplains before leaving the hospital. 

In the beginning we called the three fold action “trialoguing” for the three separate conversations. Then came the revelation as parts of the stories began to connect. As Jobs says, it is in looking back that you begin to see how they connect. A Befriender looking back said she preferred “connecting the dots” to “Trialoguing.” We changed.

Often the connection involves resistance somewhere. In the beginning a number of Befrienders resisted chapel, they came to visit. They changed when they found a connection between the Scripture story, the patient’s story, and their story.

Often there was resistance within the Scripture stories, and words like stubborn and stiff neck would be heard.

There was often an Aha! when the three fold revealed a new insight during the debriefing.

When the befriender gave the patient summary report they would often say, “not much happened in the visit.” That was a challenge for me. One time the report said, “Farmers have it all over city folk who work inside. They know on a given day what they will do. The farmer has to be aware of the weather. He can’t plan in the same way.”  The surprise came when I told the Befriender, “since you didn’t know his diagnosis you wouldn’t know he told you how he was going to live with his illness. Just like he lives with the unpredictable weather.”

I could tell many more stories and I will at different times as this blog continues. More importantly, I hope you have your own stories for connecting the dots. It is part of doing “reflective listening” or what I like to call “reflective practice.”

Give your self time to reflect back and see how the thread of purpose and meaning appears in new and different ways.

It is my belief the Advocate, the Holy Spirit alongside, paraclyte, is a Presence with us on our journey, aiding connecting before we understand. The Greek word susnesis often translated understand, can also be translated connect. We are continually connecting in new and different ways.

Marlin Whitmer


Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Wild Things Continued

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Within the 338 words of the story we have the line, “let the rumpus begin.”  Max has a dream after being sent to bed without his supper for being wild himself.  In his dream he sails to an island where he tames the Wild Things, becoming their king.  They have a rumpus. Finding himself lonely afterwards he sails back home. There he finds his warm supper waiting.

Within the story we have the universal wounded healer pattern, descent/ascent, found in trillions of stories, more than we can count.  The healing of our various wounds are lived out, acted out, and present as a universal in the Eucharistic liturgy my brother affirms after being reminded in the story of the Wild Things. The pattern in the liturgy is one of descent/ascent.

 My brother Ron wrote:

“I have many favorite lines in Sendak’s Where the Wild Things are. But, it is the ending that I am especially fond of, “sailing back over many a day and many a night, he returns to his room, and there is his supper, and it is still warm.” 

It’s the Eucharist!  Really? 

The book as a whole can be read as a Eucharistic fragment. Here’s how I would begin to make the case: The Eucharist is a liturgy. It is literally a “public work.” It takes place in all kinds of ways and in all times and places. 

David Ford wrote an article in the Scottish Journal of Theology in 1995 titled “What happens in the Eucharist?” Ford was seeking “new ways to discuss the Eucharist.”

He argues that “in theology the question usually lead into discussing real presence, eucharistic sacrifice, valid ministry and so on” but there is an alternate approach which he describes as “actual practice” (Ford, 1995: 359) or “the Eucharistic habitus.” This depends not so much on reasoned positions in relation to the Eucharist but on “the non-verbal character of much practical knowledge.” (Ford, 1995: 360).  Habitus he defines as “habitual ways of being and behaving, with a repertoire of predispositions, tendencies, propensities and inclinations, all shaped by structures and representations” (Ford, 1995: 361)

What if children’s literature were to become a place, a habitus, for the practice of Eucharistic theology? What do you suppose it might look like? Sendak has given us a glimpse from within the world of a child's imagination.”  

Ron Whitmer, 5/22/2017

I think childrens liturature can follow the same pattern of the Eucharist.  Start with the opening prayer to the Eucharist known as the Collect for Purity (cleansing), “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.” This is the descent phase of the wound, the cleansing, clearing out what would cause infection, confession, that allows another set of cells, connecting tissue, to begin. We move to a new place as “the inspiration of the Holy Spirit” enables new connections in love and service.

I will connect with he hospital story in the last blog. Here the love expressed in the warm meal, comes for the hospitalized boy after he expresses his anger as a patient, punching holes in the paper, giving expression to his pain, cleansing, and then finding a peace, a new healing, a restful response in sleep made possible by the presence of the Befriender (His parakaleo/paraclyte, a called one alongside).

A Fragment as my brother would say,
Marlin Whitmer

 Ron is also a retired Episcopal Priest.

Where the Wild Things Are - YouTube

Oct 27, 2007 - Uploaded by John Kelin
Children's book read aloud." WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE "more stories at Storytime Castle channel ...

Monday, May 22, 2017

Where the Wild Things Are

A Befriender story from pediatrics.

You win some, you lose some, but at all times you stand your ground. I don’t know where the Child Development Person is now but the Befrienders are still a part of the Spiritual Care Ministry at both Genesis and Trinity Hospitals in the Quad Cities. Early in the Befriender hospital visiting we sent Befrienders to pediatrics where they read to children. One Befriender, a former teacher, was especially good at picking a book that spoke to the child. On this day she picked Where the Wild Things Are since the referral from the nurse came with the message, “(the child’s name) is restless and having difficulty sleeping.”

The child welcomed the Befriender and the reading. When she finished reading Where the Wild Things Are the child asked for some paper and a pencil. He began poking holes in the paper until the paper was full of holes. Then he laid back down in bed and fell asleep. I heard the story during debriefing Befrienders before they left to go home at noon.

Unfortunately the Social Work manager decided a Child Development Person should be on pediatrics instead of the Befrienders.  We were asked to leave. I did call for a conference to discuss the matter knowing the Social Worker was a social friend of the administrator. We lost out. Hospital politics are a reality. 

Over the long haul the Befrienders won out for story listening with patients. We celebrated our 50th year last year.

I haven’t heard anything abut Child Development on pediatrics. Then as a retired chaplain I have no great desire to know other than to find out if Befrienders are back visiting children in pediatrics.

Sendak has a knack for communicating with children and the hospital was our proving grounds.

This email resource was from my brother Ron via the New York Times is timely.

“I've always been a fan of Sendak, especially Where the Wild Things Are. All our kids read it to their kids.”

To be continued,

Marlin Whitmer, Ret. Hospital Chaplain, BCC

Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 at St. Luke’s Hospital, Davenport, Iowa

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Updating the Jonah Story

The Book of Jonah is a very short book in the Hebrew Bible, only 4 chapters. The four chapters contain a story of moving from death to life in the life of Jonah and the city of Ninavah. Jesus updates the story under the title of “The Sign of Jonah.”

More important, John’s Gospel begins with “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” I take that to mean the Word through words continues to dwell in the flesh of our unique daily stories.

I have a story.

As a hospital chaplain many years ago I had the privilege of seeing the story of Jonah and Jesus relived with a patient. A man after open-heart surgery is non compliant with the recovery procedures. He is staying in bed not wanting to move. His wife is feeding him instead of him feeding himself. He is headed in the direction of becoming a cardiac cripple.

The nurses on the cardiac step down unit sent me a referral to visit. The visit begins in a relaxed manner. We are getting acquainted. He is open and friendly. Then he begins complaining about various things including the food. Not eating is not like him. He has always been an eater. Now his appetite is gone. Hunger has vanished. Discovering himself to be complaining he says, "I don't know why I am complaining to you." I say, "You can complain about anything you want." I gave him permission as wide as the barn door and he runs with it.. "Why is there so much pain in the world anyway?" "You must have had a lot of pain?" says I, going with his lead. "I didn't know there was so much pain. When I woke up from the surgery I was one ball of pain. And the only word that came to my mind was Jonah." Now there is an interesting remark. I have only heard a story like his one time in all my years as a chaplain.   Every story has some unique aspect.

I am on the track of an Aha! He has given me the clue word to explore. “What do you know about Jonah?” He gives me a Sunday School answer with fish, swallowed, etc.  I ask if I can tell him something about Jonah. Permission granted. “Jonah is the symbol of coming back to life. Jesus uses the expression, ‘Sign of Jonah’. It has reference to death and resurrection.”  His eyes are wide open now and he is attentive. He has been to the burning bush. Only this time the call to new life came in the words "a ball of pain" and the word "Jonah." We have a few more words in our conversation and I conclude with a blessing.

Later in the day I pass the nursing station and they want to know what we talked about. I said, "Jonah." They were not interested in following up on that. They tell me that after I left he decided to get up and start walking. He started feeding himself. A friend of his wife told me the next day the wife was appreciative of my stopping by. Since he had a Church with several Pastors I did not stop in again. I had been the called one alongside for the Word to do the work of healing and reconciling.  My work was to move on the other territories equally renewed by the Word and the metaphorical dynamics of the Holy Spirit.

Marlin Whtimer,
Retired Chaplain
Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and the art of story metaphor listening.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Seeing metaphors

After reflecting on what Mr. Giebelstien was teaching me about metaphors, and rereading Susan Langer’s chapter in “Philosophy in a New Key” ( 1947) where she writes about metaphors, read in 1952, I set out to change the Befriender listening model to the art of story metaphor listening. The metaphors would provide the clues for feeling and meaning in the patient’s story.

The Sports page in the daily newspaper became my resource. I was a reader of the Sports page and now I could see the metaphors more plainly myself. I am continually entertained.

On Tuesday, 5/9/2017, the Quad City Times had an article about the baseball team at Blackhawk College. They have good “chemistry.” My first year of college was filled with courses to become a chemical engineer. I don’t think taking up baseball would be considered a chemistry course.

The next day the headlines of an article cautioned about pushing the “panic button” because of the Chicago Cubs poor start.

My way of teaching the Befriender model of listening starts with “seeing.” The first session in their training after the orientation was on metaphors. I sent folks home to check out the sports page for metaphors.

Women often said, "My husband won't know how to handle that." My response, “tell him you're studying metaphors.” You can ask others to join in the exercise to start the discipline. The sad reality is that most people have no clue about how metaphors function in our everyday language and yet they use them all the time.

I gave people a definition of metaphor. From the Greek, meta – new, and phor – place. We move a familiar word to a new place to explain the unfamiliar. After winning the pennant last year the Cubs are in the new place losing game after game. The writer cautions about pushing the "panic button."

Simile and analogy are forms of metaphor. And a few years later in the training as my learning increased I added to the definition with root and orientation metaphors.

The next training session with the Befrienders I would start with their findings in the Sport paage and hand out more pages for more practice.

Initially they would circle the metaphors. Later circle the root metaphors and put a rectangle around the orientation metaphors. They found many more orientation metaphors, the same is true in conversation when you learn to hear them.

The orientation metaphor “resistance” was part of the language container I had to deal with. I now accept this as a given initial issue. I expect “resistance” to appear in some way on this blog.

One lady came back to class saying, "I couldn't find any metaphors.  I asked my grandson to help and he could not find any either. This is too difficult." I said thanks for the metaphor. She was puzzled. "Difficult" is an "orientation" metaphor. You can move difficult to a lot of different places. Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions. Root metaphors are nouns, pronouns, and often direct objects.

One year a gentleman started from ground zero in identifying metaphors and their meaning. As his story was told I learned he was a very talented electrical engineer who had written professional papers. He was more educated than most of us. At the end of the session he said they were the key to communication. He had been using metaphors for years without knowing it. It is as if metaphors work more on the unconscious level.

Seeing metaphors is the first task for seeing deeper levels of meaning. 

From seeing them you can move to hearing them.   

change the metaphor you change your story
change the story you change your future

The writers of the Psalms are masters at this, especially the laments.

To be continued,

Marlin Whitmer

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Kicked Out Of The Container.

I want to share a story from the days when I visited patients before and after surgery. This will be a continuation of the container metaphor, one of the  deep/great metaphors explained in the book Metaphoria by Gerald Zaltman and Lindsay Zaltman.  
Shortened hospital stays changed how surgery is done, with many coming to the hospital the morning of surgery. Back in 1975 I made pastoral visits the day before surgery. On this day, never to be forgotten, I met an elderly man, Mr. Giebelstien, from Sugar Creek Township, Cedar County, Iowa. That was where I grew up on a third generation family farm my first 8 ½ years. I lost my concentration in staying with his medical story when I heard he knew my Dad as a young man playing the fiddle for barn dances. My father had died 18 years before. I was anxious to learn more about my father and my story source was now in front of me. I negotiated to return after surgery and tape record our conversation. He agreed. I offered my blessings and left, anticipating my return to learn more about my father.
My return visit with Mr Giebelstien turned out to be more than I anticipated. Being older, he knew about the farm families where I grew up. Farms were named after the families who lived there. There was the Hinkhouse place, Kaisers, Laucamp, Schroeder, etc., and then more than one Whitmer farm and family.  He again attested to knowing my father as a young man when he played the fiddle for barn dances. I said, “The violin I have may not be the exact one, but the strings on the bow are worn out.” He said, "Oh yes, we all wear out."
Then he told of his friend visiting before surgery and saying, "You have to stay with the boat." I found this amusing since we read a portion of the Noah story in the chapel before my visit. I asked, "You have to stay with the boat? Cedar County doesn't have any large body of water. There isn't any ocean or sea out there." He said, "You have to stay with the boat in order to survive." Helped by his friend he moved the Noah story to himself. It is one thing to move "worn out" but now we have "stay with the boat to survive?" The container boat was a kind of reassurance, perhaps the unnamed source called Faith.
I decided to drop my agenda, the tape recorder was already running, and go with what was happening as he moved my words and others to explain his situation. He confided that he didn't think he would survive the surgery. There's a real flood. There is vulnerability. There is the “fire that makes poets of us all” as Shakespeare said.
He said my presence before surgery had been a comfort. And the words of his friend, “stay with the boat,” had stayed with him. Now he was alive when he didn't think he was going to be. What does he do? The recording session turned into a pastoral visit. Instead of the stories of my father I was experiencing first hand how metaphors work in story listening and pastoral care for health care. The communication process became the greater gift. My father was innovative having patented an automatic calf feeder for young calves whose mother refused to feed them. Now innovation came in seeing metaphors move both feelings and meaning in a story.  A new insight in how language functions had been recorded. As I replayed the tape more than once I was being kicked out of the container of active listening and into a journey with story metaphor listening. Renewed life was generated in both of us.
Earlier stories illustrate that my unconscious knew this and responded accordingly, now a new awareness was dawning in my consciousness for greater understanding and wisdom in how language works.
Making Connections with “Philosophy in a New Key”
The recorded visit opened the door for understanding story and language in a more profound way. Aha! Even more amazing, I had this vague feeling that I had connected with this insight in my past. I went to a book on my shelf and found Philosophy in a New Key by Susan Langer. She had a chapter on language with a page I had marked and sentences underlined 23 years before, my senior year in college as a philosophy major.
My semester at Hamline University, St. Paul, MN, 1952, allowed for an independent study with Alfred North Whitehead as my major focus. Susan Langer was a student of Whitehead when he taught at Harvard. Whitehead began as a mathematician in England before coming to philosophy through the development of symbolic logic. Langer picks up on the symbolic, moving the symbolic to all forms of human communication including language. The philosophical issue involved is known as “epistemology” where the question of how we know becomes central. For Langer our knowing is built into us by nature, we are symbolic beings. As the Book of Genesis says we were created to make images being created in the Image of God.
More surprising, I had turned the corner of the page plus underlined her significant sentences about metaphor. The seed germinated slowly, waiting to be remembered at some point in time. A future harvest was about to be reaped in the way words and expressions move to a new context for meaning in that context. Also, I had been kicked out of the container of active listening only to be renewed in the journey with the art of story metaphor listening. You can’t put new wine in old wineskins so a new listening model was in process. Whitehead would like the word process since that was sometimes used as a name for his philosophy.
She gives examples in her book. Rereading pages 112-116 provides a refreshing reminder of what I was to discover in everyday conversations in a hospital setting. The fire of a stressful situation makes poets of us all as we move words from one place to another for meaning. Metaphor is the way language functions in communication. Aristotle knew this thousands of years before when he said, “Find the metaphor.”
What caught my eye in 1952 for my first reading of Langer was her interest in meaning. “Langer's philosophy explored the human mind's continuous process of meaning-making through the power of “seeing” one thing in terms of another.” (Wikipedia).
Marlin Whitmer, BCC
Founder of the Befrienders, story listeners at Genesis and Trinity Hospitals.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What life on the margins can teach us.

“Off the page” How the Holy Spirit works?
I am amazed these two paragraphs from “The Ministry of the Whole Church” written in the spring of 1955 continue to influence approaching age 93. Writing the paper set the course. Granted the words have been modified but the direction remains. Now I would add the words “intention” or “intentional” or “intend” or “tend.” Tendare in Latin means to care. Pastoral Care is nurtured by these words and I was nurtured by the givenness of doing the paper as part of my seminary experience. The words covering 68 years became intentional.
This paper is not a conscious attempt to correlate three years of theological education. I thought about such an endeavor. I came to the same conclusion as Doc in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, “I want to take every thing I have seen and thought and learned and reduce them and relate them and refine them until I have something of meaning, something of use, and I can’t seem to do it.” This paper is an attempt at a perspective or an agenda for beginning the ministry with the vision of the ministry of the total parish. I say it is an attempt, for it is merely an experimental beginning. I hold to the validity of the endeavor, but I do not hold with any great validity the conclusions reached in this endeavor. The paper is Baptismal in character, “more is begun than complete.” Nor is the conclusion that it will come off in a few months. This is the beginning of thinking about a perspective for ministry; the perspective will be changing as it is in dialogue with the actual situation and the will of God.
In mechanical drawing every perspective has a point at which all the lines converge. Likewise in the perspective of the ministry of the whole parish, all the lines converge on our Christian Faith: the revelations of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. Such a perspective has a paradoxical nature. One aspect of this paradox is that it may be only the clergyman who is explicitly aware of this perspective of the total ministry of the parish, and yet this perspective does not depend entirely upon him. This perspective is the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the people in the community. God is the center of the perspective: Judging, purifying, and guiding the work through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Such a relationship is a dialogue between God and his people. The clergyman is a prayerful listener who helps people see the meetings of God and man. (Opening paragraphs to “The Ministry of the Whole Church.”)
The vantage point in a three dimensional drawing is always off the page. Eleven years into the ministry, and my second full year as a certified hospital chaplain of the College of Chaplains, the mechanical drawing perspective became a conscious way of working. And Mavareen’s request to do something about the Auxiliary rule, “do not speak to patients when you take the notions cart around” was off the page. In other words, “Don’t get into a conversation with a patient. Sell the candy bar and leave.” Her saying that patients want to talk reminded me of the Scripture verse “out of Egypt have I called my son” because “off the page” and “out of Egypt” became the words  describing our way of working, the words for the way we listened.
Beginning with the Befrienders, we added the Grief Resource Group when we determined most patients were sharing some kind of grief story with the Befrienders. In our discussion we discerned the need for a Grief Recovery Group. To bring everyone on board we sponsored community workshops. Then a Befriender, on vacation, visited St. Christopher’s Hospice in London. Upon returning she observed we had all the elements of hospice except the medical part. We invited doctors to the Resource group and Hospice of Scott County came into being. To grow continuity in care between Churches and Hospital, the Umbrella for Caring with lay visitors from the churches began. More recently, I can report the Grief Recovery Group of Genesis Hospital is expanding. The CEO’s own experience with the loss of a child is making a difference.
My revised paper would now read, instead of “The ministry of the Whole Church,” “The Ministry of the Whole Community.”  
An article from the Harvard Business Review intrigued me, “How to Build a Culture of Originality.” The approach seems to be of the same mindset as working “off the page.” Still working “off the page” I am happy to report people are joining me in the latest “intentional” effort. We have a Healthy Reads book discussion group where a former Befriender said, “My niece gave me a book on Being Mortal.” That became our first discussion book. It led to a panel discussion at St. John Vianney and a presentation to the parish nurses at Genesis for CEU credits. We are now reading Dietrick Bonhoefer’s The Cost of Discipleship. Come join us.
Enjoy the Harvard Business Review article from their internet web site. Learn how to grow your Aha’s!

Marlin, BCC
Founder of the Befrienders, now celebrating 50 years of discoveries and story listening.

I look forward to reading your comments. Just click on comments to receive a box to write your comments. To be continued.