Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Partial Book Review




Partial book review: Maybe You Should Talk to Someone


The author, Lori Gottlieb, has short snatches relevant to the different clients from authors of different therapists. Her book is no text book, scholarly, and academic account of these therapist nor does she cover the field. My training and experience in pastoral care could generate too much writing. I will limit myself to a few areas.


She has the stages of Eric Ericson. Her focus is on his 8thstage, integrity vs. despair. What she leaves out is his noted approach to psycho social history where his analysis his own story from and unwed mother to becoming a Harvard professor without a PhD. A one of a kind and the story is in his psycho social history. He does the same in his book on Gandhi. It is a great read and I recommend it as another example of therapy. Ie understanding.


At the end of her book in acknowledgments the author says, “we grow in connection with others.” She then thanks her patients, “They teach us so much.” As a chaplain I can say the same, patients, staff, administration, caregivers, community, etc. all have given me new insights and understandings that are passed on to others. 


This insight is in Dr. Alfred Adler’s book “Social Interest.” An essential in mental health and overcoming mental illness. Adler is the third psychiatrist in the Freud, Yung, line. He did not probe the unconscious as the first two. He stayed more with the conscious mind through stories. In therapy an ealy question is, “What are your earliest recollections.” He starts with stories. These stories will help explore where the client has made mistaken interpretation that are becoming troublesome. Adler was also interested in birth order. I am the classic dethroned king. An only child for six years on a farm, and a brother was born with health issues. The attention that centered on me was abruptly gone. Fast forwarding I moved to see all are my equals as brothers and sisters. My thanks to Willard Beecher, Adlerian Therapist, and co author of Parents On the Run and Beyond Success and Failure. 


She is Adlerian without naming Adler with all her acknowledgments.


In the same page she gives Wendell a special acknowledgement. “thank you for seeing my neshama, even (and especially) when I couldn’t.” We are into the Hebrew bible. 


With that small insight I say we have two Jewish therapists who have left out the heart of the discussion. They already knew what the heart is. I will refer you to this article if you want to know more.



She has one other reference to Scripture otherwise the transcendent is mainly absent as is the mystical.  Over my lifetime I have become a Christian mystic. My brother had the experience before me. My mystical experience came while I was celebrating the Eucharist on a Sunday morning. That is one way to bewilder a congregation. Most though I was getting sick, I turned white, some said. 


William James, early American psychologist, who wrote the “The Varieties of Religious Experience” for the Gifford Lectures. You can read the Gifford Lectures on the internet. He says 65% of the people have a mystical experience. I would agree. It is the elephant in the room for most. I count “out of the body experiences” under this heading. I have heard a number  of stories as a chaplain to know the reality.


She has a chapter counseling and therapy where the word neshama appears. She gives examples where she wants Wendell to counsel and how he wisely responds with a story about his father. Then the paradoxical intervention. She is wanting an answer (fix it) about writing the book she doesn’t want to write. Wendell’s fix is to give the question back to her. An important chapter where neshama comes up again.


Big insights here, learn by doing, “as I heal inside, I’m also more adept at healing others.” And “once you know the basics, you can skillfully improvise.” That is Jazz folks. That is learning to live Jazz. And my discovery of that came after the mystical experience for the two sides were in my mystical experience, structure and improvise. 


When you professionalize reality you can also lose touch with reality. My approach with lay people was to train them in part to be a lay therapist. They do that anyway in ordinary conversation when they drop the necessity of having to fix the other persons story.  That requires a disciplined way of listening.


Blogs located here are a beginning at describing that discipline as the art of story metaphor listening.



Marlin Whitmer


Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Comfortable with the uncomfortable

Becoming Comfortable with the uncomfortable.

A foundational principle in the Befriender training. I would start there again.  This is where real listening begins.

“Becoming comfortable with the uncomfortable” was the mantra. And Abraham is our teacher for the journey. Genesis is our beginning. Abraham in his old age left the comforts of Ur, called out, to begin a wandering in forming a new people. 

Befrienders had to leave the comforts of their own stories and often the need to be in control, wanting to fix the problem. Instead all of us were to make room for the uncomfortable and comfortable stories of those hospitalized. Many of the stories involved grief. Sometimes the stories were from the past and sometimes they were from the present. The dynamic was incarnation as the words of others were given room in our flesh for a mirroring, and “the eye sees itself but by reflection.”

This is a continuing journey, the structure for listening is a descent/ascent, uncomfortable/comfortable. We have this in three locations at present: church, virus, and social justice. Gaining a tolerance for discomfort will be our continuing prayer and the learning curve to a greater truth.  The fire of Pentecost can be purifying, as old elements are burnt off for a better outcome. 

 With social justice Andra Day says, “True Allyship Requires a Willingness to Be Uncomfortable.”

In the midst of nationwide protests over racism and police brutality, Day says that white people who want to be allies need to start questioning their thought processes

“People forget that racism — systemic racism, institutionalized racism, racial injustice and oppression — is a network. It’s a network of things happening at the same time in order to make you think the way you think and me think the way I think. Otherwise it doesn’t work,” she says. “You can’t only control the thoughts of the people being oppressed. You have to control the thoughts of the oppressor — whether they’re aware of it or not. So I think one of the first things [white people] can do is really start to question and undo some of the things that they think about people of color in this nation, about black people in this nation.”


Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Seeing metaphors is the first task

Seeing metaphors is the first task for seeing deeper levels of meaning. From seeing them you can move to listening for them.   

First a definition: meta new   phor place
Aristotle wrote about metaphors in his book on Rhetoric. 

My way of teaching the Befriender model of listening starts with seeing. The first session in their training after the orientation was on metaphors. I sent folks home to check out the sports page for metaphors. One lady came back saying, "I couldn't find any. I asked my grandson to help and he could not find any either. This is too difficult." I said thanks for the metaphor. She was puzzled. "Difficult" is an "orientation" metaphor. You can move difficult to a lot of different places. Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions. Root metaphors are nouns, pronouns, and often direct objects.

One year a gentleman started from ground zero, an engineer, as to what metaphors meant. He was the most academically educated in the group yet with no awareness of how metaphors function in our language and communication. At the end of the evening he said they were the key to communication. The word key told me, “He got it.”

Sports writers and coaches delight their readers with metaphors that are easy to see. Whether they understand how language works I do not know. I do know they know how to make language work. And what I do is help people know, what they already know, but don’t know they know. 

“sweep the series. It was a clean sweep.” This is no ordinary broom. This is metaphorical language engaged in communicating. 

What did you find in the sports page today? Take a look and circle the orientation and root metaphors 

Sports writers, coaches, and players move metaphors to explain in a short hand way what is happening. Todays Quad City Times (Friday, March 29, 2019) is no exception. The article is about the Pleasant Valley girls track team, the sprinters and their relay coach. The coach is quoted, “when you have the versatility of the kids we have, it becomes a chess match.”  Following the suggestion of Johnson and Lakoff in Metaphors for Everyday Life we have an orientation metaphor, versatile, and a root metaphor, chess match.” I guess the chess match refers to the coach moving runners to different places. The article gives examples before “chess match” is used. “Chess match” becomes a summary of what has preceded. 

Another example from the past.

Kirk Ferentz, the Iowa coach did it after the Wisconsin Game. “We’re not the prettiest car in the lot,” Ferentz said, “but that’s OK. We’re having a lot of fun.” Who would match a car lot with a team at a football game? "Not the prettiest car in the lot" was his description of the Hawkeye team metaphorically speaking. Obviously they are not literally a car in the lot and then "not the prettiest car." He has moved the expression to represent his team. And you don't have to be "pretty" to win and you can have a "lot of fun" at the same time. In a more earthy way others say, "they get the job done." Here "job done" is moved to describe the Hawkeyes.

 Root Metaphors and Orientation Metaphors: 
Root metaphors are nouns and direct objects. Johnson and Lakoff use “time is money” as root metaphors in our culture. We talk about budgeting our time, saving time, and spending our time (Johnson and Lakoff, page 7-8).
Orientation metaphors are verbs, adverbs, adjectives, and above all, prepositions (Lakoff and Johnson, pages 9-24). We can easily miss how much prepositions tell us as they move from "down in the basement," "the stock market is down," and "down in the dumps." Without getting overly complicated, as some explanations can, I stick to these two basic kinds of metaphors for gaining a better understanding for listening to stories.
Examples from my hospital experience.   
Fire makes poets of us all: Shakespeare.

As we search for words to explain the unexplainable we resort to metaphors, moving words we understand to what we do not understand. The reality, you can not construct a sentence without using metaphors. It isn’t realistic to look or listen for every word. Find the metaphor as Aristotle suggests means find the key words that are the heart of the story. Sometimes hidden. Sometimes unsaid. Sometimes out in the open as clear as day. We move words around to different places as innovative as poets. We are meaning and image makers.

“The doctor dropped a bomb on me today.” The remark of a wife outside of the Intensive Care Unit after the doctor had told her about her husbands condition. He said, “Her husbands mental confusion may not clear up soon.” I notified her church. later in the day after various visitors dropped by she said, “My husband and I have weathered many storms.” She moved from shattered to finding a way through. Her metaphors tell her story.

change the metaphor you change your story.
change the story you change your future.

Marlin Whitmer

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

Grief Sermon

Here is the direct link to view my delivery of the sermon: 

Several weeks ago (June 7, 2020) I asked Dean Horn for permission to preach during the Sunday service at Trinity Cathedral, Davenport, Iowa. With all the discussion around the coronavirus there was something missing. We had an elephant in the room and no one was talking about it. Folks were using grief language without using the word grief.

One week later a drastic and overwhelming change came with the murder of George Floyd. the overwhelming emotions generated from social injustice added to the 108,000 coronavirus deaths bringing grief and mourning out into the open big time.

My original plan was to give a sermon on Pentecost to celebrate my 90th birthday and 65th year of ordination. Circumstances changed my plans. Instead Ron May brought the choir to our house and they made a half circle in the yard, distancing, singing two of my favorite hymns, Lord of the dance, and the Celtic ordination hymn which begins with the Trinity. “I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity. By invocation of the same, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” We are called into community as the Trinity is in community. The verse will be the foundation of all I say today with the mystery of the Trinity abiding in our presence.
I facilitated a grief recovery group for 17years. iI a participant came to the group grieving a violent death.  the surviving person was moved to an individual appointment.  Their emotions silenced the emotions of others in a grief group and no one talked. You can be overpowered. Numbing sets in or an equal emotional reaction occurs. Words just don’t cut it when events become too staggering. Words need time to name the pain. And the words cover a wide range of feelings from discomfort, fatigue, frustration, distraction, upset, and grumpy, to disconnect, anguish, overwhelmed, exhausted, crazy times, etc. 

My main task is to share some insights secular and biblical about grief and mourning. All persuasions are grieving and morning. We are a nation and a people in grief. We are a grieving church. We grieve on many levels. And Who knows how many other unresolved griefs linger at the same time.
My credentials for addressing the topic come from being a professional chaplain. The president of the  Chaplains association wrote that grief work is one of our most important skills because to become a whole person requires healing. So where can we look to for healing. Christ heals. Christ did grief work in the upper room, appearing to and being with the disciples, asking the two on the road to Emmaus to share what was going on in Jerusalem. He helped them to Name it and Talk about it. And with Petter who betrayed him three times, Christ asked him three times, do you Love me, feed my sheep

My own grief stories begin early, at age 5, the loss of my dog, and then at age 8 the 3rd generation family farm was lost during the depression of 1938. In six years we lived in seven different houses, I went to four different schools in three different towns. We experienced poverty. I then lost a father with an unresolved grief and chronic depression  Grief can be experienced in many ways. I was a skinny runt, always the last chosen for sand lot softball. I did make it in high school wrestling at 112 pounds. That kind of loss and grief left me with an inner anger needing healing. I have known healing over time.

Our griefs have to be faced, named, and acknowledged more than once. Here I find the Lament Psalms helpful. There are communal laments and individual laments. We need both Jim Wallis of Sojourners is encourage communal laments for our time. We all can write one. We can write a personal lament for not being able to worship together as a congregation in Church. But remember our Baptism:,we are in Christ wherever we go, wherever we are, and we are the Church where ever we go where we are and we are in him and he is in us. 

Lament Psalms have stages.'The early stage addresses God, then the complaint followed by a petition. In the process pain is named in powerful language, like Ps. 86, Bow down your ear o Lord for I am poor and in misery.” 

With the virus and social injustice communal laments are needed, both in the early stages.The titles of articles say it best. Nightmare, social unrest, parallel crisis, Anguish, In reality the stages are extended, taking longer than most people want to admit.

Our Prayer Book is a great resource here with all 150 Psalms, there you will find the laments, and and in the back special Prayers and Thanksgivings starting on page

Dr. Kubler Ross and her five stages on grief are still relevant . A Befriender working with the grief recovery group ave a talk describing grief as work and windows. As work we are all over the emotional map, a mess of spaghetti as one person said, with the different strands representing different emotions appearing, disappearing, and reappearing another place. In the midst of the work we need window times. A time to see where we are. Back to Dr. Kulber Ross and her five windows.

. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s angerYou’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.  Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.

You can move these 5 windows to our life at Trinity Cathedral at present, to the social unrest, to any transition in life.  As we share the stories during our window time we become mirrors of understanding to each other.  Loving God, neighbor and self. Or as Shapespeare said, the eye sees itself but by reflection.  We reflect all three. God, Neighbor, and self.

David Kessler, another grief counselor, adds a couple more windows, finding meaning in the jouney and anticipatory grief.  Anticipatory grief challenges our patience and our trust, even Faith. We are grieving an uncertain future. We do not have a final outcome to many of our current issues. We are not back in church. the virus continues, social injustice  continue. Etc. Maintain the course. The Psalms name God as stronghold, rock, and more, In the New Testament we read Christ is in us and we in Him.

In the 17th Chapter of John Jesus prays,

25 “O righteous Father, the world doesn’t know you, but I do; and these disciples know you sent me. 26 I have revealed you to them, and I will continue to do so. Then your love for me will be in them, and I will be in them.”

How is that lived our as we go through the process of being healed in our many griefs? I have a story that I lived the first year of my ordination. I was a curate at St. Thomas Episcopal Church Sioux City. C. B. Chesterman, a successful business, was paying my salary. Once a month he and hs wife took me out to dinner at the best restaurant in Sioux City.. I was 25. They were in their 80;;s. About the 5th month I asked. you folks have so much fun together. What is your secret.?He said without any hesitation. ?We don't know each other yet.” Over 50 years and still getting acquainted.  We don’t know each other yet. Its a life long journey and we are blessed to have each other as sojourners.

I end with the hope that we will continue to know each other, knowing and loving go together as Christ said.

“I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity. By invocation of the same, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  …

 Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.