Sunday, August 27, 2017

Spirituality and chronic disease


Chronic illness is a topic of great interest to me. I was a caregiver for my wife Bobbie who had four different cancers over a 21 year period before her death. The remission times didn't mean you were necessarily free of the disease since she reported to the oncologist and other physicians frequently. She became a diabetic following the first cancer. That qualified her for sure.

Chronic illness is out in the community. Figures some time ago from the American Hospital Association read that 65% of those over 65 had one or more chronic conditions. Hazleton in Minnesota says 85% if you count mental illness and addiction. Health care is out in the community. I like to say, we are all on the front lines of the health care delivery system. We generate health care every day in our everyday conversations in the way we listen. Improvement and more self awareness is needed regarding listening to the stories we hear.

I pulled this up from my archives. My brother forwarded this in 2009. In the weeks ahead I will say more about Otto Scharmer's book Presence. He has a listening model as I do, his is more comprehensive. My model is more focused as the art of story metaphor listening. I encourage people to focus on the metaphors they hear in the stories. And as the metaphor changes so does the story.

The article: 

This week, there was yet two more studies that support that faith can help with disease:

Two recent studies, led by Michael Yi, MD, associate professor of medicine, and Sian Cotton, PhD, research assistant professor in the department of family medicine, investigated how adolescents with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)—a condition characterized by chronic inflammation in the intestines—may use spirituality to cope with their illness.

These results were published in online versions of the Journal of Pediatrics and the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Spirituality is defined as one’s sense of meaning or purpose in life or one’s sense of connectedness to the sacred or divine.

       Note:  In Otto Scharmer’s terms as detailed in Chapter 8 of Presence, “sense of meaning and purpose” would be a level 3, and
       “connectedness” would be a level 4.  This is also similar tothe distinction Dante draws in his letter to his patron on how to read
       the Divine Comedy. "Sense of meaning and purpose" would the the allegorical level of interpretation, and "connectedness"
       would be the anagogical or transformational.  rdw
. . .

Teams led by Yi and Cotton collected data on socio-demographics, functional health status and psychosocial characteristics as well as spiritual well-being for 67 patients with IBD and 88 healthy adolescents between the ages of 11 and 19.

He adds that researchers also found that one of the most important predictors of poorer overall quality of life was having a poorer sense of spiritual well-being.

Cotton’s analysis of the same 155 adolescents focused on the relationships between levels of spiritual well-being and mental health outcomes in the adolescents with IBD as compared to their healthy peers.

Levels of spiritual well-being were similar between adolescents with IBD and healthy peers. In addition, higher levels of spiritual well-being were associated with fewer depressive symptoms and better emotional well-being.

 “However, even though both healthy adolescents and those with IBD had relatively high levels of spiritual well-being, the positive association between spiritual well-being and mental health outcomes was stronger in the adolescents with IBD as compared to their healthy peers,” Cotton says, noting that this indicates spiritual well-being may play a different role for teens with a chronic illness in terms of impacting their health or helping them cope. 

Read it all here. 

Posted by Chuck Blanchard on January 11, 2009 3:00 PM |

Marlin Whitmer

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

My Grief Journey with the Book of Genesis


I begin with context and juxtaposition . The context in which we live and work makes a difference in what we see, how we understand, and what we do. I call it, “on the street where you live.” 

Several small groups have been reflecting on the Book of Genesis stories of Abraham and Jacob, etc. These stories were compiled by Hebrew editors when in exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 597 BC. My brother and I call them the Compilers of the Torah in our Canon of Scripture. At the same time we are compilers of our personal literature, written and oral, as we reflect on the work they have done and the revelation of God in their work. In turn we find God in our lives in new and different ways.

Here is the connection. The compilers of the Torah were in deep grief as a result of their being deported to Babylon. They were in transition/transformation. Bobbie, my first wife, died on the 30th of July, 2011. I was in deep grief, in transition/transformation. Life will never be the same after being together 47 1/2 years. Life is different as new discoveries are made, and I now have a new connection with the Book of Genesis and the Compilers of the stories addressing their grief and transition. The work of Compiling gave them a new sense of identity as the People of God, renewing their Covenant relationship in Story, Synagogue, and Sabbath.

The destruction of Jerusalem led to the Book of Lamentations. Many of the lament Psalms reflect this event. One verse especially, "How can we sing our songs in a strange land." Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones and the question "Can these bones live?" raised the issue of survival. Survive they did, and more than survive, in both personal and corporate ways. Their words now speak to me.

The compiling of the stories of Genesis put together in the first five books of the Bible along with the whole Hebrew Scriptures provide numerous Aha's identifying the benefits from the way they fashioned the stories. Promise and a future hope became a repeated refrain. God would be with them. "I with" are the two Hebrew words. Faith then was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. 

Genesis means beginning in Hebrew. For the compilers of the stories it was a new beginning. They were being renewed. In turn they give me a new insight into the power and presence of God's Word in Scripture for the here and now for renewal.

The above addresses context. Now I will address juxtaposition. At the same time, to keep myself occupied, and to provide an outlet with people I have come to know at the Wayne Oates Institute, I became part of a distance learning seminar on Growing the Adult Brain. A book by that title of "The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain" was our discussion resource. Three weeks were not sufficient to cover all the book so I have been reading more since. There it was, "neurogenesis!" Research confirms you can grow brain cells. Imagination is a big part of growing brain cells.

We have this in our Scripture prayer, "to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest ..." And along with a regular exercise program making connections through metaphor and metonymy we can apparently make new connections in both the right and left side of the frontal lobe as well as bring changes in other parts of the brain. The research continues as we seek ways of having a healthy brain while aging.

My adventure as we reflect on the stories in Genesis, has a lot of potential for building community, growing brain cells, gaining a better understanding of Scripture for our Daily Lives, and living out our Baptism in mission and ministry.

This adventure in context and juxtaposition has moved beyond 2011 and 2012 to the blog in 2017. I give thanks to the Lord and grow brain cells at the same time!! As one of the Hebrew words for "bring you back" has shabat (sabbath) in the middle, the Sabbath for hearing the Word "brings us back" to what is basic and foundational. 

Marlin Whitmer

Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and the Art of Story Metaphor Listening in 1975

New insight. The word grief appears early in the book of Genesis, much to my surprise. But then I have said the compilers were in grief.

Genesis 6:6 has God grieving human behavior. Early we have a compassionate God. God suffers. God wants to right his creation beginning with human kind.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Navigating the word "moderation."

My guest today to help us navigate the word “moderation” is my brother Ron.

On Aug 15, 2017, Ronald Whitmer wrote:

David Brooks column in the New York Times appeals to the virtue of "modesty."
David Brooks AUG. 15, 2017.  

My brother wrote …..

My mind was immediately drawn to Plato and his reflection on "sophrosyne," literally "moderation." My Jowett, 4th edition, translation reads "The subject of the Charmides is temperance or "sophrosyne," a peculiarly Greek notion, which may be also rendered Moderation, Modesty, Discretion, Wisdom, without completely exhausting by all these terms the various associations of the word."

A quick search for "sophrosyne" found this web site:

I was struck near the end of this link that as goddess Sophrosyne when Pandora's box is opened she immediately flees to mount Olympus, leaving the world forever. Her flight is disastrously self-serving for it locates the practice of the virtues far removed from where they are most needed. Their practice is needed within the context of one's anxieties and fears, in the mix of the chaos and evil of a changing world.  

St. Paul's writings on prudence and endurance may draw upon Plato's word but his words and the virtues embodied shift radically the frame within which virtues are now to be lived. They are to be lived by "putting on the mind of Christ" and mindful of the Spirit flooding our hearts as a guide for the way that lies ahead.

We are gifted with an alternative. Not flight or denial but with the Word spoken from the beginning: "the Word (Meaning) is made flesh" and the abiding relational community of the Trinity is drawing us by love and friendship into the universe as a community of the whole.

Our virtues cannot be practiced by fleeing or denying them. The ego's narcissistic needs for safety and closure may attempt to feign their use apart from the world, but to do so, forecloses transcendence and the sacramental reality within which we reside. There is cause and good reason to consider putting on the mind of Christ and all the essential virtues and then to read again the temptation narratives and the invitation to take up your cross and follow me. We have this option detailing how we can live redemptive without giving in to anxiety and fear, "on earth as in heaven."

A fragment, "Alleluia!"


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Navigating the word religion.

Michael Ward has a mission similar to mine. And that mission is to help people gain a better understanding of the meaning of the word “religion.” 

Michael Ward writes: “Etymologically, it means rather something like tying back together —- re-ligion: re-ligament, re-ligaturing, finding the unifying reality behind disparate appearances, seeking oneness, integration, wholeness, a “theory of everything.” Religion in this sense is opposite of analysis from the Greek Analysis: loosening up. There is a place for analysis, of course, we do often need to loosen things up, pull things apart, dissect. But analysis serves synthesis, doesn’t it. It’s not an end in itself.” (from a talk at Hillsdale College, April 6, 2017}

I agree. In this sense we are all religious. We all have a religion in the way we connect with our realities. By the nature of this activity we all engaged in religion. Religion is alive and well as it has always been and in a continuing variety of ways. There is a history to religion.

One of my favorite stories comes from a beginning conversation with a man who came to my office to talk about his grief. His young granddaughter had died after battling cancer. He began by saying, “I am not the religious one in the family. I always had too many questions. My question, “What do the first five letters of question spell.” 


“That sounds like a very religious activity for connecting with meaning.” 

We then talked about his grief story.

More background to the word. It comes from a Latin word religio. Breaking the word down into two words we have re, which means again and again. We have words like re-play, re-do, re-work, re-vision, all beginning with re. Each means repeat again and again. Then we have the word ligio from which give us the word ligament. A ligament connects two entities. Religion therefore is the activity connecting and understanding larger portions of reality, bringing them together in a Single unity for meaning.

In the conversation with Bill Moyer, Bill Moyer talks about his interview with Joseph Campbell where he says people are concerned about meaning. Joseph Campbell counters with people want an experience of being alive. Either way great connections are involved.

The downhill slide to the word religion may have begun when people would ask, “what religion do you belong to?” The word then moved to name the institution church, even a building. To separate oneself was not to be religious or have a religion. Words do change in meaning but they can not deny their historical origins: Latin - religio

The befrienderforum blog will journey with making connections continuously, with words, life experience, Scripture, daily conversation, etc., wherever the dots connect. I will use Steve Jobs famous graduation talk at Stanford on “connecting the dots” as a metaphor and move it to numerous places.


Marlin Whitmer
Retired hospital chaplain
Founder of the Befrienders in 1966 and the Art of Story Metaphor Listening in 1975

Jun 14, 2005 - Video of Steve Jobs' Commencement address on June 12, 2005. I am honored to ... The first story is about connecting the dots. I dropped out of ...

Navigating with Abraham

The Quad City Times carried a lead story in their Celebrate Section on Thurs., Jan. 14, 1999 that is a Genesis 12 story. Genesis 12 begins the journey of Abraham when he is called by God to leave the city of Ur.

The Call of Abram
1The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”  (NIV)

I encourage your reading about Abraham starting with the 12th chapter of Genesis. I will be reflecting on the Genesis story of Abraham and others more than once in these blogs. 

The headlines in the QCTimes read "Strangers in a friendly land." The stories by Paula Parrella begin with this line, "Imagine yourself in an unfamiliar country where everyone around you speaks a different language." I wonder, did Abraham know the Egyptian language? Or did everyone speak Arabic? When did Hebrew come in?

The article documents four families: Two are from Bosnia and two are from Vietnam who left the familiar for the unfamiliar. As America becomes more multi-cultural Genesis 12 takes on more meaning. America has been a place to dream, vision, learn, work, etc., a promised land. Have we not been a gathering place for Genesis 12 folk? Thomas Jefferson wanted to have "a cloud by day and a pillar of fire" on the dollar bill. We do have “a new order under heaven.” He was proposing a direct image from the book of Exodus and the way Moses and the Hebrew people traveled in the wilderness for the promised land ... another journey story and a continuation of the journey of Abraham.

All my ancestors left the familiar as Abraham to come to this unfamiliar land of promise. They came for different reasons and from different places, there is more than one Ur. The Whitmer’s came to escape religious persecution, first out of Switzerland. My Great Grandfather came with his wife from Germany to escape military conscription or jail. We have more than one story. My Irish Great Grandparents came to escape starvation. My Scottish Great Great Grandfather, I am not sure about the reason. He came early but moved along with the Whitmers to become a well know blacksmith in the early days of Cedar and Muscatine Counties, Iowa.   

The result, my mother's first language was German. She grew up on a farm near Louden, Ia. When I went to the Kreinbring Reunions as a boy I heard the elders speaking German. My mother understood. My father did not speak German. He felt out of place. Plus he didn't play cards or drink beer. There was one other man with a German background and a farmer who did not play cards or drink beer. They would visit.

During World War 1 my mother abruptly stopped speaking German while in grade school. America’s participation in the war brought criticism Germans for using their language. Iowa passed a law forbidding the spoken language. The trauma of that event continued for my mother’s lifetime. She would not even share a German word or phrase when asked.

I remember going to a Japanese New Years party in Chicago. I was the only Caucasian. My friend George Hayashi, seminary classmate, had invited me as we were on our way back to Virginia Seminary. It was a great party. They had plenty of food, mostly pickled. The women said they had been preparing for months. I like pickles and it all tasted good even if I didn’t know what I was eating.  They had plenty of drinks, warm saki. Wow! Laughter was also plentiful although I didn't know what they were laughing about. George would occasionally translate. It must have been funny in Japanese. George had been in the Japanese internment camp during WW11. Another story.

This reflection was first writing in January 14, 1999. Now under some revision I submit this with the acknowledgement that Donald Trump is the President of the United States. He must have an entirely different interpretation to Genesis 12 with the rhetoric of the building of a wall along with deportations and severe limits on immigration. He reminds me of our previous mistakes. Would the Times article have the line "strangers in a friendly land?"

Do you have any Genesis 12 memories and/or current Genesis 12 happenings in your neighborhood?  I think it is important to reflect on these stories as we struggle with our post 9/11 world that lives in fear of the “other.”


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

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Navigating for the Journey continued – 2

Navigating the Safety Net.

A person I know was heading toward being homeless. He needed a job and his search was coming up empty. He seemed resistant to a number of opportunities. He also limited himself to the library computer for job offerings, seldom going in person. I enlisted a friend more knowledgeable than I to help in the job search. He too found him resistant to suggestions and possibilities. All the time he was needing funds. I found two grant sources in the community. One handled a one time grant for 22 different self help groups. With the grants he had a temporary cushion.

501.c3 from the IRS for charitable groups require a submitting your purpose. It turns out the variety of purposes apparently cause fragmentation in the social network.

I enlisted a social worker from CASI to help us understand the various resources. I also encouraged him to file for Social Security since he was 62. He didn’t think he qualified since he hadn’t paid in for a lot of years. After an illness when young he lived with his parents. They apparently became overprotective and he left the workforce, then he became their caregiver as they aged and until each died.

Little by little I kept finding out new elements in his story, surprises as well as the need for financial aid. A sister and brother who lived some distance away provided some support. They had been frustrated by his procrastinations over the years.

Out of necessity he filed for Social Security. He was accepted and he began receiving enough to eek by. The weather became spring like and he started supplementing his income doing yard work.

Then one Sunday my son noticed he was breathing heavily as he walked from the church to the parish hall. When asked about this he said he was out of shape since he hadn’t been bike riding. I thought of other possibilities since his father had congestive heart failure.

I encouraged him to see his doctor, then went to his doctor’s office ahead of his appointment to inform them of my observations. The nurse at first gave me the confidentiality issue so we had a conversation that we never had. They do accept the information they do not have.

After seeing the doctor he was admitted to the hospital for heart problems. Cardiac rehab came next. This allowed him to apply for Social Security disability which he began receiving. He now had sufficient funds.

There is much more to his story as other very serious health issues appeared. While going for a check up he had a cardiac arrest in a restaurant. He was attended to immediately by EMT people who were in the restaurant at the time. The outcome was an implanted fibulator.

At present he is doing well, very regular in Church, even helping with some outreach programs. He sees contact with people an important part of his life and health and the church has a central place in his life beginning with worship.

The Navigator part was staying with his story as it took various unexpected turns, finding and learning which social agencies and systems would be appropriate. The life-threatening turns that appeared more than once required hospitalization and follow up visits. Miraculously, more than once the right people were there for him at the right time. The Lord was ever present.

Through it all I learned how fragmented our safety networks are, plentiful as they are. Working through the maze is stressful in itself. I find it extraordinary that some can use the system for self-gain.

Today the Good Samaritan Story takes many forms as the pattern and personnel in the story are metaphorically moved to new and different places. The constant: Who was neighbor remains the question.  And the answer ….

Luke 10: 37And he said, “He who showed mercy on him.”
Then Jesus said to him, #Prov. 14:21; (Matt. 9:13; 12:7)
“Go and do likewise.”

Marlin Whitmer,
Retired Hospital Chaplain
Founder of the Befrienders and the Art of Story Metaphor Listening