Saturday, July 22, 2017

A Methodology for the Journey

Work and Windows

Marks Story: I want to tell you about LeRoy and his 13-year-old son, Mark, who died of cancer thirty plus years ago. The son was quite a phenomenon. His mother was his main parakaleo, called one alongside, chaplain, and pastor. I supported her and the father. Mark drew pictures of his illness experience. Before the diagnosis his pictures of nature were tranquil. After the diagnosis of cancer all the creatures had claws and bared teeth. He drew all the stages of dying, if one can call them stages. (Dr. Kubler Ross on the stages of dying.) He called himself a "telephone pole" to reinforce his self awareness about communicating his experience. When I negotiated through his mother to get his pictures put on slides he gave permission with the addition, "I get the royalties." He died. And the missing picture was that of acceptance and peace that Dr. Kubler Ross talks about. His mother found it later at home done in pencil and hiding among other drawings. It showed a Russian rocket with a ray gun going over the earth and everything in its path was cracking up and falling to pieces, except the grave stone, with the letters RIP, Rest In Peace. He drew the descent/ascent transformation model. 

LeRoy’s Story: LeRoy said at the time of Mark's death, "I don't want my sons death to be in vain." LeRoy came to the Grief Recovery Group. Later he took the Befriender training. He worked with the Grief Recovery Group serving as coordinator with the group that experienced the loss of a child. He did that a number of years plus twice a year he gave the same talk -- each time with energy and meaning. The title of his presentation: "Work and Windows" -- two metaphors. Grief was pure work, energy draining, and aimless wandering. He drew a meandering line going all over the newsprint; down, up, alongside, down and up again, curving around. A person can not grieve all the time. Therefore, you have to take time out. And then he would put windows at different points along the line. He called them "window time" when you look out and see where you have been and what is happening. He would tell his own story and his experiences with the grief group. He shared various feelings and confusions he had known as well as what he learned in those essential "window" times. This was his hermeneutic diagram to interpret and provide meaning for his journey. 

LeRoy’s Gift: LeRoy is retired now and working with another support group. I said I would like to use the image of "Work and Windows" in my presentations for the Wayne Oates Institute on the healing power of stories. I'll dedicate it to Mark. His death has not been in vain. LeRoy gave permission and thanked me. You can move the "Work and Windows" method to any situation in life. Whatever is work requires a window time for reflection and review. Window time makes for remembering, a chance to make new connections, where opposites are reconciled, Sabbath time. The story is well received in the seminar and feed back affirms the story is being told in many different places. 

Window Time: As we stay with the story, and as we stay with relationships, the work of the staying (Parakaleo - called one alongside) brings new windows and new vistas for seeing (peregranatio - our journey with God). this is equally true in the management field, parish life, or any location for both learning and community building. The health effect is one of being healed and energized. The story effect is one of knowing you are both one and yet part of a larger story: The story of God with the community of humankind. 

Now we are into a methodology for the journey. Work and Windows is old stuff in new clothes. God created in six days with window time each day in the litany. God saw that it was good. God allows for remembering and recollecting. He rested on the seventh day. Sabbath time is a big window. 
I do not recommend the lone ranger approach nor is it healthy to keep our feelings and thoughts bottled up within. Then venting emotions as in dumping on another isn't very helpful either.  I want to promote Work and Windows as both actual and metaphorical for staying with our story wherever we are, for keeping our learning close to our day to day relationships (work), and for sharing our discoveries with each other as a practicing community (windows).

There are a number of ways of talking about the process told in the above story.  I have already give an explanation from the ancient story of fire and cow. The Hebrew letters in the word Shalom follow the same pattern. God must be trying to tell us something through different ways to make the same connection. We are not always quick to catch on. 

This is not unlike Jesus use of the Greek word sunesis in Mark 6. The word is translated understand. Understanding requires making connections. Understanding requires interpretation. God wants us to understand His Son, our nature and creation at the deepest levels for meaningful lives in service for others. And work and windows provides a methodology for the journey.

Marlin Whitmer, B.B.C. (Ret.)
Founder of the Befrienders and the Art of story metaphor listening.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Stress Research and Pig Nuts

Dr. Hans Selye’s (1907-1982) research and discovery gives witness to the present emerging future.

The medical professor in Prague examined Four patients in the amphitheater where all the students could observe. He came up with a different diagnosis for each patient. Selye’s observation generated a question, “What is going on in the human body that makes all four look sick.” I heard his words in a workshop in Davenport after he retired as a medical director in Montreal, Canada.

That question would haunt him. He couldn’t get it out of his mind. He went to his professor with the question. And in Selye’s own words from the workshop, the professor replied, “Selye, you want to get through medical school? Don’t ask questions like that.” The history I am sending from the web site, good as it is, has toned this down. His peers made the same reply as the professor.  Peers and professors were stuck in the past ways of practicing medicine. They were prisoners of their container. Selye was outside the box with a question that would require a rethinking in how our bodies and Faith work in unity. 

No doubt about it, the emerging future was present in the question.

I will continue with Selye’s workshop stories in his own words as I have retold them in my own workshops many times. Being a writer of verbatims I will say I have his comments verbatim.

The question was still on his mind 10 years later while doing research on hormones in Montreal, Canada.  The hormone research project was failing. And the next part is entirely absent from the web site story but in the workshop this was a turning point.  He was going to the slaughterhouse to pick up a bucket a pig nuts (gonads from castrated male pigs) for the research. He noticed the pig nuts were not all the same size. He asks, “What is going on to cause different sizes?” We have a new place and question in his emerging future and research into the adrenal pituitary glands.  

As a farm boy I could have told him since I was present to help my Dad hold pigs while being castrated. The runt of the liter would always have the small pig nuts.  On further exploration, Selye found all five glands shrunken because of the stress of not being able to get to the mothers milk and being pushed out by the other larger pigs. Here was a breakthrough for research on the stress response syndrome. Because on hearing a loud noise our body goes through an immediate reaction, clotting time increased, heart rate, and breathing different, a whole host of emotional impact. Most important, different stimuli can set off the same reaction. We have a non-specific response to stress where before researchers focused on the specific.

During Selye’s talk he covered eustress, a term which you don’t see mentioned very often. He worked 12 hours a day and was in a sense enlightened, encouraged, and motivated by his kind of good stress.

In his early book on stress, the last chapter, chapter 5 addresses the attitude of gratitude for the good effect on the pituitary adrenal gland and the production of ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone). 

The way to give ourselves a good day is with gratitude. Oprah has picked up on this. The mayo clinic's latest special healthcare bulletin has some of the same ideas with no reference to Selye. 

Selye is a challenge to science by showing us there is more to science then reductionism. His stress response syndrome talks about another kind of activity that the body experiences that can be referred to as non-specific and it turns out there is both a specific and non specific dimensions in how the body works.  
Selye’s research has set off a host of others. I will be commenting on some and telling about one research project where I was a participant. I am of the mind that story listening provides stress reduction as a health benefit. Pastoral Care has much to learn from his beginning insight as I will write about in the coming weeks. We are still learning, a eustress for me, where reflection on Scripture becomes a eustress.

The mind body connection and the discovery of stress

“The LegacyWith the knowledge of the G.A.S. and hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal system, it was all of a sudden possible to begin gauging the role of stress in our lives – which is precisely what Selye and a multitude of researchers have been doing for the last half century.”

Monday, July 17, 2017

The Present Emerging Future

Certain words inspire my practice along with an intention to be relational and to build community.

The Greek word meno (abide) in John’s Gospel best describes my understanding of the relational, “he in us and we in him.” (John 15:4)

Another foundational New Testament word is parakaleo, a called one alongside, from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's Gospel, “Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) The Greek word for comforted is a form of parakaleo, meaning a called one alongside.

I have already introduced peregrinatio, "to journey with God, not knowing where you are going, but you will find out when you get there." Now Otto Scharmer in his Theory U has an equivalent expression, "Leading from the future as it emerges."

I recently experienced where the future is now emerging. When I went to the Bettendorf Presbyterian Church the other day I didn't know what would emerge, my plan was to leave a page for the bulletin board as I had done at St.Paul Lutheran, inviting members to visit the blog.   .

An Invitation
Story Metaphor Listening Blog

 Listening reflections focus on the
listening model, scripture reflections,
history, and interesting stories.

The Rev. Canon Marlin Whitmer, M.Div., B.C.C.
Blog Author, Retired Hospital Chaplain,
Founder of the Befrienders, 1966,
Who Celebrate 50 years
at Genesis Hospital, Davenport, Iowa
and 43 years at Trinity Hospital, Rock Island, Ill

When still an active chaplain at St. Luke’s Hospital I knew a number of the clergy who served here at the Presbyterian Church, especially Gail Miller, his wife took the Befriender training. When I asked the secretary about posting the invite on the bulletin board she immediately suggested that I talk to the pastor. We had a good get acquainted visit and when I asked for posting he did much better by saying he would give each Deacon a copy. That was a breakthrough with a potential future. Especially as I now make plans to visit churches in the Quad Cities who have befrienders.

In this model the leader becomes a facilitator as the future emerges.

The examples from my own experience are numerous.

The future of the befriends 50 years ago emerged from the question, "How can we change the notion cart rule, “ Do not to talk to patients?” I think patients want to talk."

The future of the grief resource group ermerged from the observation that most of the stories patients shared contained some kind of loss or change.

The grief recovery group emerged as we became aware that hospital support for families ended with the death of a family member. Family members we had come to know over a period of time still needed care and support and follow up.  .

Our grief resource group emerged as a resource for the community through workshops for churches, lay people, and other professionals. Howard Clinebell was one who came here for two three day periods to help facilitate this.

More later. The point to all this: we were leading from the future as it emerged in our various relational ministries and centers for reflection.  The time for reflection was essential.

I will write the story of Dr. Hans Selye as the future of the stress response syndrome emerged from his various observations over ten plus years.

Otto Scharmer articulates the approach profoundly in his books Theory U and Presence. Here is a short introduction.

More on Otto Scharmers U Theory and the listening model later.

To be continued,

Marlin Whtimer, BCC

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mark Dyer and Hans Selye

What do Mark Dyer and Hans Selye have in common? That is what I am about to demonstrate as a way of explaining metaphorical patterns.

Metaphorical patterns are embedded in our stories as iambic pentameter is embedded in poetry written in that metre. The same for different hymns when the same words can be moved to sing different tunes. The tunes, though different, are in the same metre.

I did that with Simon and Garfunkal/s Sound of Silence. I found the pattern of the words were the same as Isaiah’s Song of the Vineyard. “My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill …” (Isaiah 5:1-7)

Back to Dyer and Selye.

First, the Mark Dyer story. Mark, a former Dominican priest, came to the Diocese of Iowa many years ago when he was with the Diocese of Massachusetts. He gave a talk on the four characteristics of Spirituality as part of a Second Mile Series. He told stories to get his message across. Two weeks later I was listening to Dr. Hans Selye, the father of strees research, where he was telling stories about his discovery of the stress response syndrome (SRS).

Amazingly, he told stories in a similar manner as Mark Dyer. They both used stories to get their message across. They are not presenting a rational argument point by point, they are story-tellers.

I had the good fortune of being invited to be part of a small luncheon group with Dr. Selye. I shared how I was struck by the similarity in his presentations and Mark Dyer’s, having a Dominican background. He said they were hid early teachers but I didn't think they had any influence on his life. Well that set off a more involved conversation with Dr.Selye including his offer to send me a prayer he had written. I accepted and he took my address. A few weeks later I receive the prayer in the mail and much to my surprise the Dominicans had influenced him in more ways than he could acknowledge. The prayer was in the form of a lament Psalm. I have his autographed copy. I am sure he heard the lament pattern in the chapel more than once at the Dominican school.

When Mark began his work with Virginia Theological Seminary, then as a retired Bishoop I sent the story to him and he sent a card back with one word, paragranatio.

I have this interest in Celtic Spirituality. Paragranatio means, “to journey with God, not knowing where you are going, but you will find out when you get there.” And the patterns will be in evidence at the same time.

To be continued,
Marlin Whitmer, BCC, ret.

Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and the art of story metaphor listening in 1975.

Monday, July 10, 2017

"Fire Makes Poets of us all."

Shakespeare said, “fire makes poets of us all.” This line was incorporated into the Befriender training as they prepared to listen to the stories of hospital patients. Patients often move familiar words and stories to talk about the unfamiliar. They become prose poets in the midst of fire, the threat of the unknown.

I have already told the story of the hospital patient from Sugar Creek township, Cedar County, where I grew up.  When I shared having a fiddle but the strings in the bow were worn out. (my father was a fiddle player at barn dances.) He said, “we all wear out.” “Wear out” was the poetic clue word, moving “wear out” from the bow to his situation. When I responded to his clue words with tell me more, he shared the anxieties (fire) about his hospital stay. 

A Befriender made a patient visit where the patient moved a childhood memory to name what she was experiencing in the pain and suffering of her cancer, now reaching a life threatening stage. During recess at this country school the girls were being chased by the boys on the playground. To escape they all ran into the out house. Soon the floor gave way and they fell into the shit. She said it took weeks to get rid of the smell.

In characteristic fashion of a lament psalm she did a turn around for the present, concluding, “I can still stand up.”

“Fire makes poets of us all.” If not prose poets, then story tellers.

Learning to pick up on the words and stories being moved in a conversation is a listening discipline needed for our time. We are a talking culture needing the balance of a listening culture. With the discipline of metaphorical listening we can respond differently as words, ideas and suggestions, even patterns, are moved in a metaphorical manner from the familiar to the unfamiliar.

I will continue exploring stress and stress stories as well as metaphors and patterns that emerge from these stories to illustrate.

To be continued,
Marlin Whitmer, BCC, ret.
Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and the art of story metaphor listening.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Chewing the Cud --- Holy Cow

I will have a number of blogs on the subject of stress management. Stay tuned.

This could also be called “fire and cow,” a term used by the ancients to describe their approach to stress management. Not knowing the word stress they used the word fire as we shall see. They also knew that going through a fire helped burn off the impurities leaving a more precious metal. From this metaphor they had a positive view of stress, not unlike the Chinese symbol for crisis made up of two characters, danger and opportunity.

When you are out in the country and you see cows, sheep, or goats say ruminants. When you see them on TV or in a magazine say ruminants. They give us the word ruminate (chewing the cud) and its relatives, meditate, reflect, ponder, etc. The words make pastoral conversations productive. Many people miss this when they come to conversations with the conclusion already formulated. Their conversational contribution becomes a pronouncement with no further thought. Ruminate provides the essential loop for making new connections and for feed back. Ruminate is practiced by Christ in the early verses of the Gospel of Luke, chapter 10.

These animals, called ruminants, have a stomach with more than one chamber allowing food to be chewed until digested. "Chewing the cud" is a necessary step in the process. In the formation of our words and meaning this visual source of "chewing the cud" took a metaphorical move to chewing on our life experiences for meaning and understanding.

For the ancients, cow became the antidote for fire in the expression "fire and cow." We do not normally associate the two together. Fire refers to stressors, tension, change, etc. We still have this reference to fire in a number of remarks, "hot under the collar," etc. You can make your own list. Cow offers a way to deal with the situation, "chew the cud." What are we to learn from this? What changes will we need to make? "Fire and cow" becomes a way of living with and resolving issues. Discernment and reconciliation is in the background.

Bruno Bittelheim used this approach as a survivor of a death camp in Germany. His book Surviving tells his story where periodically he would review and record what happened as a way of making sense out of his experience and the experience of others for the benefit of all.

Dr. Pennybaker has taken this one step further in his linguistic inquiry of those who keep a journal during a crisis or illness. Writing and keeping a journal has been shown to make a difference in the immune system and help protect us from infections. I will write about this in greater detail.

Many of the Scripture stories come out of crisis situations. They have been the source of “chewing the cud” for generations. The Jewish Midrash and our Christian commentaries and theology are outcomes.

The parables of Jesus came from ruminating on life experiences during his quiet time with God the Father. Their timeless truth and energy prompt our attention for doing the same.

A quick summary appears in the letters of the Hebrew word shalom. Using the four letters of the word you can see the meaning also.
"fire  ש  opens    ָׁל   the door   ו  to completeness/wholeness ם   ."

Let this reflection, born out of the history of seeing cows and other ruminants, and language itself, be our beginning and continued prompting for “chewing the cud.”

Marlin Whitmer, BCC
Retired hospital chaplain

meditate appears frequently in the Psalms, for example
psalm 1: 2 Their delight is in the law of the LORD, * and they meditate on his law day and night.
Psalm 119:15 I will meditate on your commandments * and give attention to your ways.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Jethro and stress management

The Book of Exodus, Chapter 18    Exodus 18 

We have an excellent example of stress management in Scripture, Exodus 18, where Jethro, father in law of Moses, comes with his wife and children who have been away while he led the Hebrew people out of Egypt. Jethro first listens to what Moses is going through as leader of the Hebrew people in the wilderness.  

 Then Moses told his father-in-law all that the Lord had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel's sake, all the hardship that had come upon them in the way, and how the Lord had delivered them. (Exodus 18:8, RSV)

the next day Jethro observes Moses at work and he comes to a conclusion.

17 Moses' father-in-law said to him, "What you are doing is not good.  18 You and the people with you will wear yourselves out, for the thing is too heavy for you; you are not able to perform it alone. (Exodus 18:17 RSV)

In our current language I say Jethro engages in stress management. He sees Moses headed toward “burn out.”  Both the hearing and the seeing followed by reflecting on what he heard and saw lead to counsel for reorganizing how the work will be done in the future.

What is most significant, Jethro begins first with a day of listening and next with a day of observing. 

He is very up front in sharing his conclusion afterwards. We could say he first uses his ears and eyes for data collecting. Then he is ready to make a suggestion. 

The people are divided into groups of ten and then hundreds.

The work of settling disputes will be shared with the people. Moses will get the more difficult cases. I like to read this Scripture account as the birth of lay ministry. Leadership becomes bottom up as much as of top down. Today we might say, the ministry of the whole church, ordained and lay together, mutual ministry.

His suggestion is in part top down but more accurately bottom up. The Jethro method allows for keeping the learning close to the practice. This approach relates to what I know as reflective listening and reflective learning.

In 1975 I made a hospital visit that turned out to be a bottom up change in how listening training was done with the Befrienders, story listeners, and later with health care professionals. Reflective listening and learning were employed.

Mr. Gebelstein was a teen age neighbor when my father was a fiddle player for barn dances out in Cedar County. I met him as a much older man having surgery at St. Luke’s hospital.  I arranged to tape record his early story and learn more about my father who died young. As we were recording he told me a friend came to see him advising “you have to stay with the boat.” I thought that strange since we had just read a portion of the Noah story in Chapel. Upon questioning he explained further, “you have to stay with the boat in order to survive.” Later I said I had a violin and the bow but the strings were worn out. He said, “O yes, we all wear out.” He was more interested in talking about survival than doing the tape. I became the chaplain like I was called to be and received a lesson in how a patient moves language metaphorically when he thinks he will not survive the surgery. The art of story metaphor listening was the outcome and it led to a whole new listening approach. I have the lesson on tape in case I forget. 

Like Jethro, I kept the learning close to the practice. 

Marlin Whitmer, BCC

retired hospital chaplain.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Small Talk

The topic of “small talk” came up during a workshop discussion on listening. We have the orientation metaphor of “small” before talk as if not very significant. Sometimes a metaphor hides the truth as well as reveals. I would like us to research “small talk.” 

Groups gather regularly and informally for small talk. Individuals can also do the same. With small talk we may miss another level of meaning by calling it “small talk.” It has been my experience that conversations are full of clues for indepth conversations. T. S. Eliot wrote a whole play based on this. It is called the “Cocktail Party.” 

Lets use John Nesbit’s approach to “small talk” and the “stories we are hearing.” He wrote Megatrends where he took the discipline used in military intelligence to chart the trends taking place in our country.

During WWII he read German newspapers to follow the changes in train schedules and the number of soldiers who had died or were missing. In this way he followed how the war was going for the Germans. After the war he started reading newspapers from five cities in the U. S. that he designated trend setters. As the content of the papers changed he charted what folks were both interested in and well as what was being reported. Newspapers have a limited space so the stories registered significance and changes.

Most of us speak 125 words a minute while 400-600 words move in our brain. Like the newspapers what we select to talk about reveals our interests, values, meaning, etc. Here in Iowa you can be sure the weather will come up in a conversation. Weather appears as small talk. However, weather can be the place where we find the clue to a deeper issue.

An example came from the debriefing time with a Befriender after a hospital visit. She said, “nothing significant happened in the conversation, referring to a farmer who said city folk have it all over farmers. They can plan ahead since their plans are not subject to the weather.” Since she did not know the medical diagnosis of the patient she was unaware he was telling her he would relate to his cancer as  a farmer relates to the weather.

Another time we used this same approach in forming a Grief Resource Group at St. Luke’s Hospital in January of 1975. Edith Meier and others concluded after reflecting on the kinds of stories they were hearing from patients, most shared some kind of grief. The stories ranged on a continuum from plans delayed to life threatening illness, with a common denominator, a loss of some kind. The outcome was a study of the grief process itself and the variety of settings that set off the process.

We gathered each Wednesday morning for an hour and a half, non professionals and professional health care providers together. One week we had a presenter and the next an open discussion. We continued through 1992. A variety of outcomes were born in the process including the first Hospice of Scott County.

“Small talk” may not be as small as we think. As a project and for re-search I suggest keeping a journal for a short summary of the stories you are hearing as well as the changes that occur, as small talk moves to larger topics.  You can follow up later with an opener, “can you tell me more about ... “ or “I’d like to know more about ...” Small talk can lead to deeper talk.

I remember the “small talk” in a pulmonary support group. I encouraged it when I had the sessions.. On this day it so happened there were four World War 11 vets. One said before we started that he had a terrible night. He could not sleep. He had sat up in a chair. He had a complaint list. The others did not seem to respond to his situation. They were treating it as small talk. As the conversation developed in the group they began to tell stories of their war experiences. Each one became funnier than the last. Laughter was frequent. My usual wrap up question, “What has this been like for you?” The man who began with complaints said, “I feel better.” I said, “I want you to explain that.” He could not explain the change. I was ready and we concluded with a deeper understanding of how stories impact us physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually.  

Small talk can be the beginning, be open to the deeper messages.

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