Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Parakaleo - "called one alongside"


A great New Testament word describing our relationship to God and each other is “parakaleo” in the Greek. The word means “a called one alongside.” Para for alongside and kale for called one. As the Hebrew word “henini,” meaning “here am I” registers presence, “parakaleo” describes our role as a listener. 

 The summary of the Law, Loving God, neighbor and self, becomes the focus as parakaleio, called one alongside, moves from God to neighbor to self.

The word is translated into English in a variety of ways, console, comfort, entreat,  etc. consequently reading an English translation of the New Testament will not show its frequency.

From the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel we have “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” The word “comforted” is a form of parakaleo. “Those who are going through a profound experience will have a called one alongside. “That someone could be you or I or both. This Scripture verse is one of two sung in the first movement of Brahm’s Requiem.

Ronald Knox translates parakaleo as Befriender in the line from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. “Blessed are those going through a profound experience for they shall have a Befriender.”  The word advocate is related here as well, paraclyte.

St. Paul in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians in a passage, chapter 1, vs. 3-7. In five verses he uses parakaleo 9 times to describe our shifting relationship as God is alongside us, others are alongside us, and we are alongside others. This truly is the work of the Spirit, paraclyte, translated “advocate.” The Holy Spirit works alongside in the work of transforming whatever is taking place.

This is the passage from 2nd Corinthians.

"3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,   4 who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.   5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.   6 If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.   7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort. 

Now I will put Befriender in the place of comfort in the 2 Corinthian passage.

"3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all Befriending,   4 who Befriends us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to Befriend those who are in any affliction, with the Befriending with which we ourselves are Befriended by God.   5 For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in Befriending too.   6 If we are afflicted, it is for your Befriending and salvation; and if we are Befriended, it is for your Befriending, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer.   7 Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our Befriending. 

We have to remember St. Paul was a lawyer. He has a way of moving comfort, parakaleo, a called one alongside, around in the three aspects of God, self, and others. I like it. The passage provides a good foundation for story listeners as well. 

We are called to be radically relational. 

Marlin Whitmer
retired hospital chaplains
founder of the Befrienders in 1966, St. Luke's Hospital, Davenport, Iowa, now Genesis Medical Center.

Adding a recent experience in a local Greek restaurant. I pronounced the word as I had been pronouncing it, parakaleo. And he said parakalo. That is what you say when you answer the phone in modern Greek. I will be saying the word again the next time I eat there.


Monday, November 26, 2018

My Struggle with History


History was a high school class subject I disliked the most. Memorizing dates, countries, events, and names as single entities is what I disliked. It was like memorizing for spelling. The teacher was my track coach and as track coach we could connect. But the way he taught history was a different experience. 

That experience followed me to college where I made it through four years without taking a single course in the history department. This was a conscious effort, and somehow I managed with an advisor to use courses from the English and philosophy departments with a historical dimension as a substitute. Greek theatre, modern novel, Shakespeare, and philosophy from different periods of history, ancient, Middle Ages, modern.  I graduated cum laud to my surprise without a single course in the history department. Incidentally, the next year the college changed their ways to make what I did impossible. 

A rude awakening came my second year at the Virginia Theological Seminary when Dr. Zabrisky, Bill Clebsch, and Church History came into my schedule for three straight semesters. Now I had to connect dates, countries, events, and names in the life of the church with what was happening from a historical perspective, not a literary or philosophical. The background I had was helpful and expansive but not the full picture of what was happening on the ground. I did recover and because history was taught from another point of view other than facts and dates I was able to make meaningful connections and grow to see the importance of history.

Fast forward to today, I echo the quote from the philosopher George Santayana, "Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it," 

The philosopher Hegel generated a quote, “What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” 

“It seems to me this tautology-like quote is a result of mistranslation, I’m not sure though. In German language and specially Hegel philosophy, there are two words for History:

1- History as reported in history books (plain reports) which is called “history”
2-History as a subject to philosophical reflection, “geshishte or reflected history”

Now it might be that Hegel meant this “We learn from ‘geshishte/reflected history’ that we do not learn from ‘history (plain reports from the past)’.” (haven't been able to find the source for this but it seems authentic.)

Our present day is ripe for harvesting the task of reflecting on our past. Ken Burns has done this with his Civil War series. The last of the series ending provides insight that we are still engaged in that struggle. In the words of Ken Burns, "the Civil War was history running on all cylinders. It was the most important event in the life of our nation, and its importance continues today. The blueprint of the America we know was drawn up then, and whether we know it or not, we are still walking around in the shadow of that war.” One of the commentators in the last series does a better job of focusing on the present in the light of the Civil War.

Reminders about our historical forgetfulness are cropping up in our daily newspaper. On Tuesday, November 20th, 2018, Esther Cepeda’s column was entitled, “Ignorance of history fuels hatred in America.” On November 25th, Michael Gerson wrote, “A Lot of Historical Forgetfulness.” His first line reads, “One of the worst things about our awful political moment is its historical forgetfulness.”

 A more recent spokesperson for our society from a conservative school, Hillsdale College, called the the present situation a Cold War. War to reference our society remains in the daily vocabulary as culture wars, fight, etc., Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times used “Trying to fight, Not spread, Fear and Lies.” The article seemed to be more about media manipulation. For me the war and fight as metaphors are misplaced. I am not at that level or intensity. 

I am planning to go with the metaphors of light and dark this Advent.  And I may even embrace the paradox from the Psalms, “to thee light and dark and both alike,” a both/and for reflective history.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Little Learning is a dangerous thing ...

"A Little Learning is a Dangerous Thing, ..."

This is the opening line in a poem by Alexander Pope. The follow up line, often missed, “Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring."   More important is the whole poem about learning, shared at the end. 

I have heard the first line, "A little learning is a dangerous thing:" was very popular with the public and recited frequently in its past day. Of late the line seems to have disappeared although I declare the reality is all to clearly present in this historic time with sound bites, immediate gratification, bottom line thinking, and an abundance of ideological thinking. Dialogue and discussion are more difficult in a polarized environment.

My introduction to the poem came on a Faculty Night at Virginia Theological Seminary some time during the academic year of 1954-5. Rule Howe, the pastoral care theologian, had returned from a sabbatical my middler year and on this Friday night his talk was centered on the second line of the poem. "Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring." I do not have notes or content from the talk but I do have a strong impression. Plumb the depths of what you are studying, learning, experiencing, encountering, in person and in community.

I have taken this to heart in the art of story metaphor listening, probing the various facets of how language functions in communication and meaning. This is my way of working on the branch of philosophy known as epistemology, the question of our time surrounding how we know what we know.

I am indebted to Ruel Howe for my continuing focus and persistence into the mystery of knowing and the way language functions. 

"A little learning is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:.
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.
Fired at first sight with what the Muse imparts,
in fearless youth we tempt the heights of Arts;
While from the bounded level of our mind
Short views we take, nor see the lengths behind,
But, more advanced, behold with strange surprise 
New distant scene of endless science rise!
So pleased at first the lowering Alps we try,
Mount o'er the vales, and seem to tread the sky;
The eternal snows appear already past,
And the first clouds and mountains seem to last;
But those attained, we tremble to survey
The growing labours of our lengthening way;
The increasing prospect tired our wandering eyes,
Hill peep o'er hills, and Alps on Alps arrive."

Alexander Pope

As a life long learner my journey continues to "Drink deep, or taste not the Pieriean spring." A humility grows with knowing on knowing as one moves into the "mystery of silence."

Marlin Whitmer

Friday, November 16, 2018

Unintended Consequences

Unintended Consequences

The term came to my mind while attending the Mental Health Court Board the other afternoon. I was hearing a statistics report on how money was being saved by shorter jail time and recidivism reduction. Legislative folks were interested apparently and donors as well in the saving of money from the investment made. 

What struck me in the report was a figure that could not be obtained the first few years. Now that three years have past and graduates are out in the community there are other figures. Over 50 per cent are employed and over 60 percent are volunteering. Volunteering was part of their rehabilitation. They are continuing to be of service to the community as well as citizens in the work force, paying sales tax at least. They have not returned to jail so their previous cycle of behavior has been changed. These last items I would call unintended consequences not known or knowable in the beginning, perhaps envisioned and hoped for, but not the reality as they are now.

I have heard the term unintended consequences before. I have participated in a number of unintended consequences. I could tell numerous stories. Some had negative outcomes and some positive. 

The outcome of the first three Befrienders as story listeners at St. Luke’s Hospital in 1966, fifty years later had a number of unintended consequences, including the art of story metaphor listening, the grief resource group, the grief recovery group, and hospice of Scott County now the Clarissa Cook hospice. A more subtle change was to move the hospital culture to be more open to the importance of story in the organization as well as with patient care. It was definitely true after 25 years. I don't know if it is still true with a new administration and new people. 

Being a person fascinated with how language works I see one of my favorite words in this expression, intend and even tend as the root word. The word conveys to care for the process in progress. An unintended signifies part of the progress that includes aspects not apparent in the beginning. My own personal methodology in an environment which is more oriented to a management by objectives is intuitional intentionality. My intuition provides the direction in which to become intentional. Another blog about that. 

Positive outcomes that appear unintended can move to a more intended mode where further unintended outcomes reveal themselves on the horizon. The total process means continuing discernment as to which to pursue and which to correct as decision making comes into play. 

Another unintended consequence was revealed when I asked the director of the community mental health facility what they were finding as a result of seeing patients on the day of need instead of assigning an appointment a week or more in the future. The outcome: they are seeing more patients and a whole new clientele they had not seen before. The therapist seem to be surprised and energized by this. Another unintended consequence. Additional therapist have been added.

Another outcome that is not clear in my own mind is how they are reducing the number going to the emergency rooms.

Our store house of knowledge on the internet has some background to the term unintended consequences. The term has an author and some history. I will set aside some time in the future to read this background. In the meantime I am going to be adding the term to my connecting the dots approach. For unintended consequences is an important dot in knowing. The epistemological question of our time, i.e. how we know what we know.


Monday, November 12, 2018

The Story Listeners Task

This reflection has its beginning in the story telling culture of Sugar Creek township, Cedar County, Iowa, nine miles north of Wilton Junction. The environment is everyday down to earth living, farming. Other businesses have developed over time but in my growing up during the 30th and 40s we are talking about farming. I did not stay in this locale, at age 8 we became the wagon people after the loss of the family farm in 1938. I had some school time in Muscatine, West Liberty, Nichols, and back to Muscatine for my last 3 1/2 years of high school. Eight houses in nine years. Some were for shorter periods of times than others. My response in adulthood has been two houses since 1969 to 2011. I have added a two new addresses in seven years. Back to my topic: The Story Listeners Task.

The summer of 1953 brings the experience of being trained as a story listener by a person who was a story listener, Fred Kuether. Story listening was his method of supervision as a Clinical Pastoral Supervisor.  He did not tell us about his methodology at the time. I learned about his methodology 25 years later when I was developing a story listening method of my own. He was the catalyst for what I have generated.

Training 3 people in story listening as a way to change a rule in the hospital Auxiliary where volunteers who took the notions cart around were not supposed to talk to patients, 1966, became a beach head for change.

The a recorded visit with a patient opened my ears to hear how metaphors are a central part of the stories we hear.

Out of this personal history I identify and name the Story Listeners Task.

1. Stay with facilitating the story being told. There is some discipline to this which I can amplify at another time or in the revision of this post.

2. Respond to the clues provided by the story teller. A story teller will reveal a number of clues. When I was recovery from the loss of my first wife I was not all that open to the pain of others. As I was healing I remember a person saying , "last year was a difficult year." I did not respond to the clue even after hearing it. Realizing what I had missed I later asked him, "tell me about your difficult year." He had been receiving chemotherapy for a cancer diagnosis.

3. Listen for the metaphors in the story: root and orientation metaphors. Aristotle gave this advice in his Rhetoric over a thousand years ago. Slow learners. Root metaphors are nouns and pronouns. Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and propositions. "Difficult" is the orientation in the last paragraph, point 2. All our words can be moved to new places making them metaphorical.

4. Reach a level of comfort with the uncomfortable. Since stories have different levels of emotion what you respond to will register how deep and how much pain you are ready to hear. As you become more comfortable with the uncomfortable the listener will be able to listen at.a deeper level.

5. Develop a tolerance for the ambiguity generated by the story.

6. Keep a journal and develop a support group for reflecting and learning.

Marlin Whitmer, retired hospital chaplain, BCC.