Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Novel Coronavirus Orientation Metaphors: page 1

The sports page is my usual location for teaching metaphors in the art of story metaphor listening. I teach the art of listening by focusing on metaphors. They provide the tip of the ice berg for meaning since a lot of meaning is under the surface. With the novel coronavirus I have a more dynamic situation involving life and death for teaching metaphors.  With sports you have winning or losing with suspenseful moments but not physical life or death. With coronavirus we have a unfortunate feast of orientation metaphors depending on who is using them.

Back to coronavirus as teacher. The headlines in the Quad City Times, Tuesday, February 25, “Coronavirus threatens economy: Dow drops 1000 points as investors worry.” From the book Metaphors we Live by I focus on two features of the metaphor: root and orientation. Root metaphors are nouns and direct objects. Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions. 

The headlines gets us started with orientation: threatens, drops, and worry. The orientation metaphors will dominate the stories you read. That is my prediction. From the article: slumped, worst, worry, weaken. These four orientation metaphors are in the first paragraph. The alliteration with worst, worry, weaken reminds me of Shakespeare who said, “Fire makes poets of us all.””

the new virus may be most dangerous because, it seems, it may sometimes cause no symptoms at all. (Atlantic Article)

“Certain containment measures will be appropriate, but widely banning travel, closing down cities, and hoarding resources are not realistic solutions for an outbreak that lasts years. All of these measures come with risks of their own. Ultimately some pandemic responses will require opening borders, not closing them. At some point the expectation that any area will escape effects of COVID-19 must be abandoned: The disease must be seen as everyone’s problem.” 

In future pages I will identify orientation metaphors from various these sources. The orientation metaphors will change, providing different perspectives, but all will be orientation metaphors just the same as they move words from other places to focus on the present coronavirus epidemic…bordering on pandemic. 

Metaphors from containment

Metaphors from medical practice

Metaphors from the public (mostly social media)

Metaphors from the Department of Disease control and the World Health Organization.

Metaphors of politicians.

Metaphors of countries



Marlin Whitmer

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Connecting the Dots reviewed

 Connecting the dots

The Chaplains and Befrienders (hospital lay visitors) gathered each week day at 9 AM in the chapel for a shortened form of Morning Prayers from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. We would read and discuss the Daily Office Scripture and conclude with the prayers. 

The Befrienders would then be assigned a nursing floor and given cards with the names of patients to visit. Later in the morning they returned to the pastoral care office to write a brief description of their visit. These descriptions were then read by the chaplain for a debriefing session with he Befriended. 

The purpose of the debriefing was to help them detach from a more emotional visit and to provide the chaplains with referrals. It was not uncommon to have a patient story connect with both a scripture reading and a Befrienders stories. I came to call this Trialoging to emphasis the connection between the three stories. Steve Jobs reinforced this with the talk he gave at Stanford on Connecting the Dots. The activity and observation disciple moves metaphorically to a number of different places.

The Befrienders did not take to this word Trialoguing . It was a Befriender who moved "connecting the dots" to this three fold experience. We actually had more flexibility because more often it was two fold with in the three fold connection. Patient/ befriender, patient /scripture, Scripture/ befriender. This morning experience became a mutual benefit for all involved. The program had a built in maintenance feature as the years progressed. The program is now 54 years of age, starting in 1966. 

“Abide in me” from John's Gospel became my mantra for connecting the dots. The Holy Spirit as the called one alongside was with us in our journey and learning, aiding us with new connections. 

Our Scripture source for the three fold connection comes from the tenth chapter of Luke where Jesus sends out the disciples and the story gives reference to a brief, a mission, and a debriefing. 

My hope was to include a picture of "Abide in me" as the ongoing mantra for connecting the dots. My expertise needs more training to do what the blog says you can do.

Marlin Whitmer

Thursday, February 20, 2020

The King Arthur "Grail" as metaphor

The grail has become a current metaphor as it was more powerfully prevalent in the  Middle Ages to address our purpose and destiny. Two recent examples come from writers who moved the word grail to very different places. 

The first was a sports writer about the success of the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl: “The other motivating factor was to win the ring for their “teddy bear” coach, Andy Reid, who had waited 21 years for the NFL “grail.””

The second was an opinion letter to the New York Times starting with this title:  “The Whole-Grain Grail: A Sandwich Bread With Mass Appeal” We have a certain kind of bread as a grail. 

For me we have quite a jump from the original where the grail was the cup, chalice, associated with the blood of Christ. The legend goes that it was Joseph of Aramathia who provided the cup and brought it to England. During the Middle Ages the knights of the Round Table made a search for the grail. Percival was the main one to make the find in the grail castle. To encounter the grail required an answer to the question, “who does the grail serve?” The grail was a cornucopia of fulfillment. The answer, “The grail serves the grail King.” Namely Christ the King. 

The full story and the shortest of the stories I am told is the French account by Chretien-De-Tropes. Different countries of Europe had a version of the story. One writer said the story defined the religious perspective of the age. Our counterpart was the period of time when servant leadership caught the imagination and emphasis. Another variation was management by walking around as found in the HP Way by David Packard. A number of the authors made reference to Christ calling us to be servants.   

Perhaps the more recent popularized version of the legend was Monty Python and the Holy Grail movie in 1975. It was popular at the time and a money maker. A group of us went to see it at our local theater followed by a discussion about the movie.

The current use seems to undercut the theological and mystical origins of the legend, while still keeping the focus on a serious search. At the same time meaning and purpose are held within the scope of the grail as metaphor. 

For me the Holy Grail relates to our deepest and ultimate search. The current writers did leave off Holy. In one book on the interpretation the shortest legend, and at my age I do not remember the name of the book or the author, I remember the basic story. It takes us through Percival’s Ilife stages in symbolic language when he changes from being a knight to becoming a monk in a monastery. There he is coached to ask the grail question. “Who does the grail serve?” And the answer: “The grail serves the grail King.” 

At the weekly Eucharist I am reminded of the question and the answer in the Daily Office Scripture readings. Thereby I am continually nurtured and enlightened on my journey.

On the other hand, going back to the two recent writers, I celebrate these two metaphorical findings for keeping the word alive. Perhaps others will become more curious and search for the longer story and deeper meaning of the Grail. They have been reminded by the NFL and wheat bread.   

Marlin Whitmer
Retired Hospital Chaplain

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Physiological impact of story listening

Physiological impact and Benefits of story listening

1. Physiological Impact

1. ACTH, Cortisol Substance - well being

This was researched by Dr. Hans Selye involving the adrenal and pituitary glands. More more documented approach is in his early book on Stress.

2. Endorphines - pain control

3. Oxygenation - “internal jogging” 

4. Cardiology effects - Vegas nerve

The Broken heart syndrome is an example of the reverse impact.

5. Blood pressure - expressing our feelings through story can help reduce our blood pressure.  Also meditation, relaxation exercises

6. Lymphocytes - the immune system gets involved.

I have a story from a pulmonary support group. One man said as we began that he felt terrible. He only slept an hour or so and then it was in a chair. Others shared what they were experiencing. Some time during the discussion they started telling WW 2 stories and each one was funnier than the last. The time went quickly. My closing summary question, “What has this session been like?” The man who came saying he felt terrible now said , “I feel better.” And I said, “I want you to explain that.” He couldn’t. I said that I would. And I did.

The laughter made a big contribution. Norman Cousins called this “internal jogging.” He may have better oxygenation. ACTH, a cordizone-like substance from the adrenal pituitary glands, may have given him a sense of well being. The laughter and story telling may have stimulated the endorphines, natural pain relievers in the brain. And being less depressed may contribute to maintaining an optimum level of lymphocytes for resisting infections. The studies of John Lynch indicate that at different times in our sharing our heart rhythms may have been in sync. We can have heart to heart conversations. He also says communication affects blood pressure. And the placebo affect was in full force as “remembered wellness ”. Soldiers who have been in a war often tell survivor stories to remind themselves that they will survive again.

People in grief can come down with more colds. I would look at the CBC of hospital patients when I knew a person was going through a number of griefs. Often I would find lower lymphocyte count on the CBC. Doctors would give me another reason than grief.

The telling of stories in a lament fashion, where the pain is expressed, often led the story teller into telling about better times. The transition to a wellness story becomes a placebo effect and is acknowledged by the story teller in a variety of ways, both non verbal and verbal, as in “I appreciate your stopping by.” 

A short summary,

Marlin Whitmer
retired hospital chaplain

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Super Bowl LIV Metaphors

Reading the sports page for metaphors has been a source of delight and serious learning about the power of metaphors, the whole communication process. The Super Bowl LIV was not only aa great game for the come back of the Kansas City Chiefs but how the metaphor resilient influenced the outcome. They made 21 points in the last quarter, down 10 at the end of the fourth quarter.

The quarterback Patrick Mahomes chose resiliency a year before when he decided to start serious work outs for the Super Bowl. The word was shared with the team and in games leading up to their final win they demonstrated come backs more than once. They had been resilient before the fourth quarter on the Super Bowl. The other motivating factor was to win the ring for their “teddy bear” coach, Andy Rreid, who had waited 21 years for the NFL grail. With grail we have a deep meaning theological word being moved to the trophy. The grail from the Grail Story has the question who does the grail serve? It has certainly served to motivate a lot of football players, coaches, executives, and fans.

Most of the memorable metaphors went to Patrick in the articles read. Rifle arm describe his passes with the reference to being the son of a major league baseball relief pitcher. Then how music entered I don’t know, but highly imaginative sports writers do this kind of writing. There was a executive who say Patrick as a developing Mozart. Mozart is great but how he developed is beyond me.

I hope you recognized the metaphors that came out of the big game. 

Were I training the art of story metaphor listening I would be sharing these metaphors. Or handing out the article for those present to identify these metaphors. There are more than I will mention but I encourage your own efforts. Learning to hear and read metaphor will tell you a great deal, even open up a whole new world.

Patrick is more than a rifle arm passer. He is an astute quarter back who knows hoe to motivate and chose a word that can revive a team in the midst of defeat.

The definition of resilient: “adjective. springing back; rebounding. returning to the original form or position after being bent, compressed, or stretched. recovering readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like; buoyant.”

I first heard the word in recent years in association with grief recovery work. when I was an active chaplain supervising grief recovery groups. I don’t remember ever hearing the word in relation to recovery. It is new on the scene and now it is new in the sports world.  Maybe Patrick heard it someplace else to move it to his own experience and the experience of the Kansas City Chiefs.

Marlin Whitmer

retired hospital chaplain

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Updating Midwifery

Midwifery in daily conversations

Listening can provide transformation, new birth, renewal. I know this. I have seen this. I have done this. I am convinced the Holy Spirit works in our midst at the same time for the birthing process. Nicodemus came to Jesus by night (John 3) where Jesus presented him with midwifery, bring born again.

Ever fascinating is bringing the Socratic method consciousness into everyday conversations for Aha’s, insights, new understanding, enlightenment, etc. and then the blessing of acknowledgement. 

Socrates was concerned about finding truth. And such is the concern for most of us although we live in a time of great deception in the political arena. Midwifery has more in common with poetics than politics.  

A farmer came to the pastoral care office with a picture of a lady hugging a tombstone at the Rock Island Arsenal. As he put the picture on my desk he said "I don't want to be like this." Or as St. Paul said before him, "who will deliver us from this body of death." I said he did not have to be like that and the healing process began. He came back to life after a few visits and attending the grief recovery group. He later remarried and began a new life.

Another conversation began with these words, "I am not very religious, I always had too many questions." My question, "What do the first five letters of questions spell?" He said, "Quest." And I said, "That sounds like a very religious journey." The visit continued as he worked on the grief of his eight year old granddaughter who died from cancer.

"Now that my husband and I have lived our life," was what a lady said during her third admission to the hospital in a few months after her husband's death. I said, "I want you to keep saying that until you hear what you are saying." Shortly there was that Aha! moment when she realized she had died too. She did not return to the hospital with the same medical condition. This encounter took place a number of years ago. I still remember our visit very well. Another facet of the story, the doctor had written in the medical chart under family history, "non contributory." I don't think so. 

In the above examples confirm for me that I was called to be a mid-wife, assisting folks, parakaleo, being a called one along side as they make their journey back to life, arriving at a new place, renew, re-birthing, etc. This isn't a quick fix. Waiting, prayerful patience, remaining a presence, continually listening, are a few of the skills necessary as well as being a match maker when a person was close to a break through. Making new connections, susnesis, is the New Testament Greek word, becomes part of the experience as well. Guidance from the Holy Spirit is an ever present reality, unacknowledged at times. 

Being called to be a mid-wife does mean you will need to accept this role first of all as a listener. You have to be ready to be misunderstood and rejected as Socrates who names the process. For many it will mean giving up on what to do and what to say, fix it, since the answer needs to come from the one sharing their story rather than our controlling their story.

The midwife approach in ordinary conversation has a subtile revelation when at the end of the conversation “thanks for listening.” Or somehintng similar. Then you will know the subtlety of 
midwifery.  You have the blessing, the benedictum, the good word for acknowledging a new place, even the slightest release from stress. 

You can read more about midwife and maeutic education in one of Plato's Dialogues. "Theaetetus" For me the parables of Jesus are another form of midwifry and maeuitic education.

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