Sunday, May 19, 2019

Cyberspace: The New Nineveh?

The story begins many years ago when I was still an active hospital chaplain. I retired in June of 1992, so I am in the era of the 1980's. Old as it is I say it is a relevant today even though I am out of the hospital loop. health care is everywhere.

A man after open heart surgery is non compliant with the recovery program. He is staying in bed not wanting to move. His wife is feeding him. He is heading toward becoming a cardiac cripple. 

I get a referral to visit. The first and only visit begins without resistance. He is open and friendly. He complains about the food. Not eating is not like him. He has always been an eater. 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." Now that gives a person permission 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 it once in all my 88 years. Every story is unique. I ask, "What do you know about Jonah?" He gives me a Sunday School
answer. "Fish ... swallowed," etc.  

I ask if I can tell him something about Jonah. 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. I have his attention. We talk a little more about his call to a new life experience, "a ball of pain" and the word "Jonah."

I leave his room shortly afterwards. Later in the day I pass the nursing station and they want to know what we talked about. I said, "Jonah." They are not interested. They are interested in the fact 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 appreciated my visit. Since he had a Church and a Pastor I did not stop in again. I had been Jethro. My work was done. I went to new territories.

A number of years later a Lutheran Pastor told me about an Alban Institute Conference where Roy Oswald shared the Mutual of Omaha approach of paying heart patients $3500 to participate in the Dean Ornish Heart Program. The Dean Ornish approach is low fat, exercise, support group, and stress management with meditation. At the time I was part of heart rehab phase 3 for my high blood pressure. I asked the nurse if anyone in Phase 3 was doing the Dean Ornish Approach. She said one person. I said, "introduce me." Guess what? It was "Jonah!" Richard! He had no remembrance of my being present 17 years before. That is not unusual. But he knew I knew what no one else knew when I told him of our visit. He now referred to the experience as a mystical experience. 

He was trying the Dean Ornish program on his own. It was hard. We negotiated to organize a support group with meditation. And we did. He said he brought up the Dean Ornish approach to his doctor who said, "That is what they do in the lab, this is the real world." I said on the spot, "The real world is also a lab!" It is hard to believe how doctors of scientific medicine can be so unscientific. I started my college education to be a chemical engineer so I know a little about the scientific method. Besides Dr. Selye said, "The scientific method never made any discoveries. That is the way you write them up. Discoveries are made by asking the question no one else is asking." That is what Dean Ornish did.  

In the meantime I found the manager of the cardiac program at Genesis was involved with setting up the Mutual of Omaha approach. His name, can you believe this, Steve Fish. When you work with a big system like Genesis Regional Medical Center and a Cardiology Group of 8 doctors it is a little like David and Goliath. But this gets me into another story and away from Jethro, a bottom up approach. The Cardiology Group wasn't interest but it still, to this day, leads me to think about Jonah and Nineveh. 

The book of Jonah confronts my resistance to being called. 

My question: Where is Nineveh today? Where are the places we resist God's call to exercise ministry? For many a years the hospital and medical science was Ninevah for the Befrienders and I. Now I say Ninevah is the health care industry. Or even the obsession with health as well as the ways we abuse ourselves and our health. What kind of yo yo, roller coaster, are you and your family experiencing these days?
Part of my mission and call was to ask health care professionals of all persuasions to remember the basic in our relationship with God, which is the story, the word, the Word made flesh, in Christ, and in all of us. This is where all healing begins and ends.

Back to the rehab unit, the heart patient and I set out to get permission for a meditation time as both a spiritual discipline and an exercise to lower blood pressure in the cardiac rehab program. We said, "We are going to Ninevah!" His cardiologist had told him that the Dean Ornish program which includes meditation were things "they do in the laboratory, but this was the real world." My reply, "the real world is also a laboratory." We did get permission to do the meditation exercise. We did demonstrate meditation reduces blood pressure even after exercise.

Later I tried to get a heart rehab (prevention) program going at the  DeWitt Fitness Center. Nothing happened

Now I say the blog is a laboratory for learning. Could the internet be our new Nineveh? What a city we have in cyber space? The city is getting more connected all the time with new technology. Is there a need for a new mind, repentance, in the way we relate?

Marlin Whitmer

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