Friday, August 27, 2021

Denying Evident Truths: a letter to the editor

This article appeared in the Quad City Times, Davenport, Iowa, on Friday morning, August 27, 2021, in the Letters to the Editor section.

 

The main editorial on Monday, Aug. 16, reflects on the end of the world. Instead of the high drama, I want to make it more individual and personal. Fractional suicide is more evident to me. I first heard the term in 1971 while training in an alcohol treatment unit in Iowa City.

 

Fractional suicide begins with denial, our first and major defensive mechanism. When a person denies they have a problem they begin putting nails in their coffin. For the alcoholic liver failure is the final nail.

 

The phenomenon can be moved to other life experiences. As an emergency room chaplain, I don’t know how many times I heard the gasp for air and then, “Oh, no!” as they heard the worst news. Denial begins. Sometime during my 28 years as a chaplain I read “Psychological Autopsy,” which asks the question “when does a person begin to die?” Some are beginning to die when they refuse COVID vaccines, threatening their own lives and others.

 

My father taught me directly by being unable to accept the loss of the family farm in 1938. He died at 57 of a heart attack. I was too young to understand what I know now. Learning to live with loss is part of becoming a mature adult.  Life is a series of descent/ascent experiences. (Losing something precious, grieving the loss and learning how to live again). This applies to politicians and political parties as well. Denial of evident truths is how fractional suicide begins.

Shalom,

Marlin Whitmer, BCC

Retired hospital chaplain, that is, if you can every retire from pastoral issues.

  

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Metaphors for the variant virus

 Aristotle said there were two major metaphors: mechanical and organic. Apparently those who politicize our ability to be vaccinated under all kinds of non rational reasons have carved their answer in stone, i.e. mechanical. I would put all our statistics and data in the mechanical.  The number of deaths recorded for that given week will stay the same as the piece of angle iron. 

I choose to use organic metaphors since the variant came I being as a mutation and without more people being vaccinated I have read we can have more varianst from mutations. We are into a virus that seeks a home, and acts like what the name organic covers.

With that short introduction I want to talk about two organic metaphors I have read about. The first is marathon and the second is dance. I may find more. The two are for starters.

To be continued

Marlin Whitmer, BCC


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Metaphorical Patterns: Resistance


Abstract:

The next three presentations deal with patterns that are unspoken yet evident in the way a story is told. They are hidden as iambic pentameter is hidden in a sonnet and as meter is hidden in a hymn making possible the same tune for different words. Those listening to the story will find these patterns assist in being a "called one alongside" (parakaleo). The patterns add to our effectiveness for spiritual care and health care for body, mind, and spirit. I will begin with various patterns of resistance to listening, dialogue, and our deeper relationships with God, others, self.

Introduction:

First, a word about metaphorical patterns and models, etc. The Biblical word in the Greek is "tupos." From the Greek we have the English word type. It comes from imprinting the image on the coin. Imaging is then related to this phenomenon.

When a cancer patient imaging pac men eating up cancer cells went into remission Dr. Carl Simonton, his radiologist, became interested in how the immune system was effected. At least that is the impression I gained when hearing Dr. Simonton in person. Dr. Simonton started a program with cancer patients using imaging.

The practice is very old. The people from the caves of France are thought to have imaged the hunt by drawing on the walls of the cave before the hunt. They may not have known about the immune system. 

After seeing the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark our oldest son asked, "Dad, where is Ark in the Bible?" Aha! The teaching moment has arrived. We went to 1 Samuel 6. The Philistine had captured the Ark from the Hebrews and a plague broke out. The mayors of the five cities got together to decide how to respond. They decided to send the Ark back to the Hebrews. But the way they did is fascinating. The cart carrying the ark was pulled by two cows who had just had calves. If they pull the cart rather than stay with their calves they will have a sign, "this is the right decision." On the cart they put five golden images, tupos, figures of mice and tumors. The tumors in Hebrew I am told literally mean hemorrhoids. Now we have a better idea of what part of the body was affected by the plague. The imaging is a foundational part of the story. They imaged the illness as a way of being released from the illness. And the Ark went back to the Hebrews.

We still develop models, images, and patterns of various experiences to explain the life process. Physicians read all kinds of imaging apparatus to make a diagnosis. Then we have Erickson's eight ages, Gail Sheehy's passages, and others. All image some aspect of our lives. The "art of story metaphor listening" found significant outlines in describing what happens in story listening. They are metaphorical in that they can move from story to story as a hidden dimension.

In previous face-to-face seminars the order has been to start with the wounded healer patterns, move to trialoging (connecting the dots) , and then resistance patterns.  

Reality necessitates bringing the topic of resistance to the beginning of metaphorical patterns.

The daily newspaper provides countless examples of resistance of one kind or another. The other day a family was resisting the new entrance to the Community College. Car lights from the road would be shining in their front room.

From physics, ohms law, to Scripture, and the doctrine of the Fall of man, we have resistance. “Stiff neck” and “stubborn” are used in the Old Testament.

I have my own resistance stories. I resisted when I was told I would be taking management training. "I'm a chaplain." The vice-president spoke quietly and forcefully, "If you want to continue as a chaplain you will take management training." I had an intellectual conversion in the class on Principles of Management. The Bible contains many management stories. "Where are you?" asked by God in the garden provides the shortest performance review question I can think of. If we have stages in terminal illness, the five stages provided by Dr. Kubler Ross, what about stages in sudden death. Dr. Alfred Noyes at the University of Iowa asked that question. His insight came from a Swiss mountain climber who told the story of his fall off a mountain. He first resisted. This was not what he wanted to do that day. He kept falling anyway. Next he had a flashback of his life. And suddenly he felt at peace. He survived the event but the memory of the "peace-experience" had him talking to other survivors. Many had the same story of Resistance, Review (flash back), and Peace.

I have changed the "peace experience" to blessing. One cold morning the alarm sounded the time to get up. I said, "it can't be; I don't believe it; I just got to sleep." During the night I had been called to the hospital for an emergency. I said, "It's nice and warm under the covers." Resist as I might it was time to get up. After a splash of water on my face and a cup of coffee I decided I could make it. Then it was time to awaken the rest of the household. They all went through the same steps: resistance to getting up, review of what needed to be done to get up, and some degree of acceptance. I concluded that is how we live most of our days by repeating this pattern over and over starting with varying degrees of resistance. And under the threat of death some people experience this more powerfully with a greater intensity as peace, light, presence, i.e. the other side. I have met people after a trauma from an accident and cardiac arrest who went through the sequence. But to some degree all of us repeat the cycle more than once on a given day. Its a metaphorical model and pattern --- a "tupos."

Dr. John Savage from Leadership Education and Development provides another outline: Awareness, Anxiety, Intentionality, and Integration
(Figure 2; see footnote 1). That was a very helpful outline when we made transitions as to where Befrienders' served. When Befrienders were invited to participate in the grief recovery group they said, "We have never done that before." They had already heard plenty of grief stories from patients and families, the dominant story in patient visiting; but they had not been hearing the stories in the format of a grief recovery group. They had reached a level of comfort in the hospital setting. We had to have a training session to walk people through the resistance by naming their

anxieties in transferring what they knew to a new setting. The training session was a metaphorical journey in itself to walk people through the familiar and help them see where the familiar would reappear in a new and unfamiliar setting. Others might call this stress-reduction training, and still others reframing. Story-listening remained the main skill. A few years later we started a hospice program. Again, Befrienders were hesitant as awareness brought anxiety. We went through a similar retraining to become Intentional before folks could integrate what they were learning in a new environment. This time the new environment was the home setting.

"Intentional" became a major emphasis in working through resistance. After a few years in the Befriender training I found resistance needed to be addressed about the 8th week in the first 10 week unit. People were beginning to seriously question whether they would be a good listener. Their beginning expectation--what to say and what to do was not being answered in the way they had expected. Now the question had been turned around, what clues do you hear from the person as to what to say and do? They were not in control of that. Listening became more anxiety producing. We would talk about those anxieties.

Two years of college Latin can be helpful. The word "tendare" meaning "to tend and care" has some other implications. From this word we can have tendency, tension, intend, intent, and intention. All are related to tend but all provide others aspects to the primary purpose of caring.

I have found you can manage by being intentional. This allows and permits all kinds of resistance awaiting those connections where a person is moving toward the original intention. This is more intuitive than rational. To do this kind of management requires accepting the tension of "not there" and the tending to "get there." Plus in the process to see it differently than originally intended. The difference between management by objectives as I understand: Objectives are set down in writing (like being engraved in stone) but intentional is written in space and offered to the Holy Spirit. After that, someone else is in charge. And you Wait! ... and you Wait! ... and you Listen! ... and then Aha! A new connection. Hello Wayne Oates Institute. I attended an early conference in the 90's after I retired. A good friend made the trip to the conference a possibility. That was a beginning.

Integration requires persistance and staying with the learning to find

yourself in a new place and a new understanding. Maintaining the intention in the mystery of the journey allows one to see differently.

Befriender stories

The need to be of help was moved to being helpful by not helping. This was often resisted in the beginning until experiencing the benefit from this seeming contradiction.

After a visit a Befriender lamented not knowing much about social security disability. It was pointed out the more complete story shared with her would not have been heard. The information could be provided by others. Her role was to hear the story. Her mother had always stressed knowing. It was a revelation to discover "not knowing" could be a benefit.

I had visited a patient at the request of a family member. I could sense his resistance to my presence. Befrienders began to visit. He began to share with them his anger about many things, including God. Finally he realized he was dumping on the Befrienders. His attitude changed. I made a visit and found him at a new place and more ready to relate. He moved to a sense of peace before he died. All had to encounter resistance.

Our chapel services with Scripture readings provided discussion following. They often involved a conversation about some aspect of resistance. One particular day the Gospel reading revealed the resistance of the disciples to Jesus in preparing to die. A Hospice Befriender acknowledged her resistance in learning the patient she was visiting was closer to dying.

Current stories

"I have been wanting to talk to you" was the greeting. This person was moving into being a presenter for a Christian Experience Weekend. His new commitment was coming a few years after his wife's death from cancer. We explored various topics he could address. Nothing was acceptable. Finally it became apparent to me that resistance might be a good topic. He became interested giving examples of how he was resisting doing the very thing he wanted to do. He left on a more confident mode. I later asked him how the presentation went. He had received a lot of accolades. Did you address resistance? Not really, he started there but

most of this talk addressed other things.

Resistance is often where we begin. I recently learned speaking in front of a group is the second greatest fear with people. This was in a class for gardening with children. The hands on experience and sharing what grows provides a way for children to move through the resistance of talking to others in a group.

Biblical Stories

An interdisciplinary Grief Resource group meeting weekly at 7 AM on Wednesday provided a setting to learn about loss and change in general. One time a psychiatrist was presenting two sessions on the book by a Dr. Horowitz, the Stress Response Syndrome. The stages included denial, intrusion, anger, and reconciliation. It so happened the Old Testament morning readings during the same time frame were the Genesis story of Joseph. His brothers conspired to get rid of him. He was sold into slavery in Egypt. There he became a servant in the household of Potiphar. He refused to advances of Potiphar's wife. She accused him of making advances and he was thrown into prison. All this takes place in Joseph with denial at work front and center. We read of no complaints. In prison his reputation grows as a interpreter of dreams. When the Pharaoh has a dream his advisors can't interpret Joseph gets a chance. His interpretation wins the day and he is made secretary of agriculture. He marries and has a family with two sons. Their names, Manasseh and Ephraim. In the family setting the intrusion sets in. The names of his children reflect "God has made me forget all my troubles and my father's family" and "God has made me fruitful in the land of my hardships." (Genesis 41:51-52) The more he says the names of his children the more he remembers. Then comes a famine and his brothers arrive for grain. He recognizes them and his anger is vented in a variety of ways. In the final episode he discloses to them his identify. He breaks into tears and reconciliation results.

Many Biblical stories can be told from a resistance standpoint. The disciple Peter is an excellent model for resistance overcome. In Acts 10 Peter resists the instruction to kill what Jews considered unclean. The dream troubles him. Then he is invited to the home of Cornelius a gentile. The moment of truth arrives in the Greek word "katalambano." "I now see,

(realize, understand) how true it is that God has no favorites, but in every nation those who are god-fearing and do what is right are acceptable to him. ..." (REB Acts 10: 34-35) This is certainly not where Peter begins.

Personal Story

An important personal experience with resistance came in March of 1973. I had offered to present a workshop on training lay people for hospital visiting at the College of Chaplain's Annual Conference. As the time approached I became extremely anxious about doing this. I had not been able to find any previous presentations on the topic. I was wondering how my peers would accept what I had to say. The Sunday before leaving I was a supply priest at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Bettendorf, Iowa. During the sermon I summarized my presentation. At the words in the consecration prayer, "he took the bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it..." I lost my voice. I could not speak. My mind began to review how rejection had been a large part of my life as well as my father's life. Then came the word, "Brokenness is not the last word." My voice returned and I went on with the service. People commented afterwards, "are you okay?," "you turned white," " I was about to come to help you." One lady told me afterwards she knew I had a religious experience.

Later that day I called my brother who is an Episcopal priest also. He was a great help, "you ought to know better than have a religious experience in church." He was a great help. I relaxed. I was now on my way to the College of Chaplain's Conference. And yes, the workshop went well. The chaplain from a nearby hospital was there and we started training Befrienders together for both hospitals. Both hospitals continue to have Befriender programs to this day under younger leadership.

The rest of the story includes going to a session at the Conference on Black Theology by James Cole before the Befriender presentation. From my perspective blacks have a better understanding of community suffering than whites. I could identify in part having come out of the economic depression of the 30's, the loss of the family farm, and a father who died young with an unresolved grief over the loss. I also learned more about the lady at St. Peter's who knew I had a religious experience.

Reference:

Footnote 1: I did not have a good reference for the four steps in the LEADS approach. I raised the question on the Diocese of Iowa serv/list since this had been a project at one time. Where did these four steps come from? A retired priest and a former Bishop reviewed the history of LEADS in the Diocese. This wasn't exactly what I was looking for. Then another priest involved in a continuing education project had contact with a LEAD'S coach last summer. She gave me a web site. I wrote an e-mail and I received an answer back. This is an outline shared in the Basic Unit. However, their outline is: information, awkward, intention, and integrate. (e-mail) I had reworked the first two names of their outline to fit our experience with the Befrienders.

by Marlin Whitmer

Copyright © 2008, Marlin Whitmer. All rights reserved.