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Archive for May, 2014

In my last posting I reflected some on my physician; he is soon to be retired. I awoke this morning reflecting upon my father. Like his father, he was an ‘old-time’ doctor. He did it all. He was a family doc, he delivered babies (hundreds of them), he was also a surgeon (he was honored by the International College of Surgeons). He was on ‘call’ every day. He made house calls after office hours. He lived to be 91. He was never really sick; ten days before he died he became ill and then he decided that it was time and he let go and died. A few months after his death I wrote the following in my journal. I titled the entry (I seldom put titles on my entries): ‘Remembrance.’ Here is some of what I wrote:

Dad, it was not science that you believed in, it was the person. You demonstrated to me that science, as good as it is, is less than the human being, far less. You ‘used’ science in care-full ways. You lived medicine as an intuitive art. For close to sixty years you cared for human beings. You, literally cared for generations. I remember times when we were out and a family would be nearby; they would see you and with deep gratitude etched in their faces they would come over and thank you. I remember one family: a grandfather, a son, and his son’s son – you attended to all three.

As I grew into adulthood I could observe a tension. The tension was between ‘conventional wisdom’ and ‘personal conviction.’ You trusted your personal conviction more than conventional wisdom. You trusted your lived-experience; you trusted that reflection plus experience was the real learning. You were the ‘mature observer’. You trusted your ability to be attentive (you paid attention with intention and purpose). I remember a time, you were in your early 70s, and I was home visiting. You were a person of few words, so when you spoke more than a few I really paid attention. We were sitting on the porch, you had a book and so did I (we both loved to read). You had taken into the practice a young doctor; I asked you how it was going with him. After a bit of silence, you seldom ever shot from the lip – you seemed to always lead with reflection not words, you said something like, ‘He believes he knows it all!’ Mom, who was nearby, often supplied additional information. She said, ‘Your father means that Dr….. does not take time to relate to his patients, he doesn’t take the time to get to really know them. He goes by the book, not by the person.’ I looked at my father, his silence confirmed that mom was correct. I remember feeling sad (I am feeling sad as I type these words); I felt sad for my dad and for the young doctor.

Why do I care so much for you? You’re no different from the rest of us; you are a living paradox just like I am. In many ways your passions were a weakness, not a strength so you developed into the ‘strong silent one.’ YET….yours was the last as well as the first great honorable passion…a passion for the well-being of human beings. You fused two loves – the love of knowledge and the love of the person. You fused the love of the search with the love of understanding. Always, your impulse was to serve, to care, and to attend to those who were suffering. Many people, including your family, wanted a part of you. You did your best in attending to the many who wanted something from you – you were always clear, mom told me, that your first obligation was to be there for others (your wife, your patients, your children).

You strove to live this tearing tension; you strove to be the authentic man who sought his authentic place in the world. You could not do it all, yet. . . As human beings we are constructed to serve and we are constructed to care – you strove to do both as you understood your life’s calling. Overall, dad, I would say you did a good job. Thanks. I thank you and I thank you on behalf of all of those you served and cared for – for close to sixty years.

Here is a photo of my mom and dad, outside of their home on the day of their 50th wedding anniversary (July 20, 1985).

Mom & Dad 60th Wedding Anniversary - Copy

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Last week the physician that I have had for fifteen years retired. I continue to grieve. Words cannot begin to capture what our relationship meant to me. He was a physician who listened, first. He spent the time I needed – and I am told the time that any of his patients needed – and yet he always seemed to be on time (he committed to us that he would do both – take time and be on time). He was cautious and conservative and sought the ‘minimal’ intervention – medicine is, after all, more of an art than a science; he was both artist and scientist.

During these past 44 years I have had the privilege of spending time with a variety of professionals – physicians, nurses, educators, engineers, attorneys, armed forces officers, and ‘people of the cloth’ (priests, ministers, rabbis, imams). In order to keep it simple (not simplistic) consider that there are two types of professionals. One has traditionally been the ‘expert;’ we relied on this professional to be ‘all-knowing’ and to be ‘wise’ and to ‘tell us’ and our role was to ‘trust’ and to ‘do as we were told’ – if we did all would be o.k. (Well, this was the illusion that we accepted. In doing so we could avoid being responsible and response-able).

The other type of professional was the one that insisted that a ‘relationship’ rooted in trust, support and mutual accountability exist; both had knowledge, both could be ‘wise,’ and both were responsible and response-able. This position is not ‘easy’ for either person. Our culture and our development of professionals stresses ‘expert’ – that is, the professional is the expert.

I continue to spend time with professionals and for this short piece today I will focus on physicians. For the past fifteen years I have had the privilege of being on the faculty of the Physician Leadership College which resides within the Opus School of Business which resides within the University of St. Thomas, which resides within the city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am charged with introducing the physicians to Robert K. Greenleaf’s concept of ‘The Servant as Leader’ (which is a great fit for physicians who, mostly, already view themselves as servants); I am also charged with providing them an opportunity to learn more about ‘relationships’ – the first is the relationship they have with themselves, the second is the relationship they have with the other (colleague, patient, nurse, etc.).

Here are some reflections offered to us (me and cohort members) by a few of the physicians; they are striving to move from the ‘traditional’ expert role to a relationship role (where both parties provide support and mutual accountability and where both choose to be responsible and response-able). Here is what three different physicians wrote in their ‘end note’ to us:

A major change for me has been getting better at listening deeply and receptively… I am hearing things that completely passed me by before… I am learning to listen more to me and more to the other person.

I am learning how best to present options – first to myself and then to those I lead… The final choice in what happens is ‘ours’ not mine or not just theirs; we are both accountable.

I am learning that most of what happens in life is a ‘mystery.’ This is blowing my mind; I get that medicine is mostly an art (with some science thrown in) but that ‘healing’ is a mystery, wow!

Last week, as I was saying ‘goodbye’ and as I was ‘thanking’ my physician I asked him who in the practice would be a good fit for me. He had already thought about this; he pulled out his note pad – the pad where he kept these types of notes for his patients – and suggested a physician; with the caveat that I needed to meet with him and talk and then decide. I have an appointment to do so. ‘Thank you Dr. B, you have been a true physician and health-partner.’

 

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I ended my last posting with: So, if a Christian is one who freely chooses to follow Jesus the Christ what is it that one is choosing – what is the ‘reality’ not the illusion? What is a Christian?

Jesus was not always ‘direct’ when it came to helping us understand what one who chooses to follow is actually choosing; BUT he was always ‘clear!’ For those who are searchers and seekers in order to understand what they are choosing Jesus clearly offers us the ‘what’ (as in ‘what are we choosing’). In order to keep it simple I invite us to spend many hours with the four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and pay attention to what Jesus is quoted as saying; your searching and seeking clarity via Jesus’ words will suffice to answer the question: ‘What is a Christian?’ (Note: if you, gentle reader desire complexity then read the writings of any number of Christian theologians).

Given our limited space here I will share but a few of the implications for one who freely chooses to follow Jesus the Christ.

Love God first and love your neighbor as yourself. This is enough to stop some folks in their tracks. Go sell all that you have, give the money to the poor and then ‘come follow.’ Yeah, right! – as if this is going to happen. Visit the sick, feed the poor, visit the imprisoned; now we are getting closer to what is ‘realistic’ (oh, by the by, Jesus did not say ‘give money to others and they will feed the poor’). Luckily Jesus was not clear about how often I am to do these things. . .I have done each one at least once in my life so I guess I can check this trio off. Don’t become rich for most of us will not fit through the eye of a needle (I am stunned by the number of ministers who preach that having a lot money is great and I am stunned by how many ministers seek to have a lot of money). Jesus was not a capitalist; I am not sure what he was but he was not a capitalist.

Pick up your cross and follow. . .another big ‘yikes’ for me. Be a servant, first (we in our culture are enamored with being a ‘leader’). How about this one: if you marry and divorce and remarry you commit adultery (Jesus is both ‘direct’ and ‘clear’ with this one). Jesus also blesses the following folks:
• Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
• Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.
• Blessed are they who mourn: for they shall be comforted.
• Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill.
• Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
• Blessed are the clean of heart: for they shall see God.
• Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.
• Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

These eight alone generally cause me to stop and stare (I do not think I am alone when it comes to this stopping to stare).
If you are without sin you get to cast the first stone – how many professed Christians these past two thousand years have ignored this requirement (and continue to ignore it)?

Luckily, for those of us who are imperfect, Jesus offers us the parable of the Prodigal Son (actually, upon reflection I have during my lifetime played all three major roles: the father, the good son and the prodigal son). All sins, Jesus says, can be forgiven – save one: The sin against the Holy Spirit (I don’t believe I have committed this sin and given Jesus ‘directness’ and ‘clarity’ regarding this sin I don’t think I will choose to commit this one).

Thankfully, Jesus does not expect me to be perfect; he did not invite one perfect person to come follow. So, even though I am imperfect (perhaps perfectly imperfect) I can still freely choose to accept Jesus’ invitation to ‘come follow me.’

So I conclude these postings with more clarity and I also continue to hold the question: ‘What is a Christian?’

 

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My current thinking leads me to respond to this question with: A Christian is one who freely chooses to follow Jesus the Christ. Jesus did not say ‘there is a specific denomination that I want you to follow;’ his invitation was personal ‘come follow me’ and it was also relational and communal. Jesus was rooted in community; he did not invite just one to ‘come follow’ he chose a variety of personalities – all known, by the by, to be truly imperfect human beings. Jesus directly invited some to ‘come follow me’ and some of these folks freely chose to do so [their individual motivations for initially doing so seemed to vary depending upon who they were and over time their reasons for remaining – or choosing again to follow after they had ‘fled the scene’ – evolved over time]. Others were ‘attracted’ to Jesus because of what they experienced, or what they saw or what they heard or because of the person called Jesus or because of what they ‘projected’ onto Jesus; some of them chose to follow as a result.

There are implications involved in freely choosing to follow. Some are apparent in the moment of choosing; some emerge within a short time; some only emerge over-time. Folks who freely chose to follow the ‘star’ – think Napoleon, Alexander, Washington, Hitler, Luther, Jim Jones, etc. – do so because they invest the person with ‘hope’ and ‘potential’ and ‘stardom’ and they want to be part of. Jesus also offered ‘hope’ and ‘potential’ – those who chose to follow projected upon Jesus what the ‘hope’ and ‘potential’ entailed. For some it was that Jesus would become the King that would save them from the Romans and would then restore their own Kingdom. For others it was the potential that Jesus would ‘make it all right’ in their world. A confirmation that ‘projection was afoot’ occurred when things got rough for Jesus they ALL fled. The ‘reality’ of Jesus was too much for them; it was like Don Quixote finally seeing his image in the mirror and ‘reality set in’ and he couldn’t stand it; the illusion was shattered. What has always amazed me is that no matter how often Jesus reflected to those who were following that what they thought they were following (e.g. ‘the return of the King’) was not ‘real’ and when Jesus offered them the opportunity to ‘get real’ they had ‘ears that did not hear.’ The rich young man did hear – right on the spot – and he fled. He got ‘it’ right away. Awareness of the ‘real’ does not bring comfort nor solace; it brings disturbance. Peter had a taste of this when he was confronted and when he denied Jesus (three times it was); he became awake and aware and he fled and he cried bitter tears (he also decided to reconcile and return, unlike Judas who despaired – those of us who have followed these past 2000 years have also denied and betrayed and some of us have sought reconciliation and some of us have despaired; the point is not in the denial or the betrayal, the point is in what we freely choose to do after we deny and/or betray).

So, if a Christian is one who freely chooses to follow Jesus the Christ what is it that one is choosing – what is the ‘reality’ not the illusion? What is a Christian?

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I was baptized within an hour of my birth as I was a ‘sickly’ new-born and I was not expected to live. . .surprise! I remember when I was six years old asking: ‘What is a Christian?’ I have been holding this question ever since. About 8 days ago I was having breakfast at one of my favorite breakfast places and nearby there was a gathering of six men. As I listened in it became clear that this was a regular gathering; a ‘Bible Study Group.’ I heard the question: ‘What is a Christian?’ My focus shifted to listening intently for this is the question I have held for so many years. What stunned me was that for the next forty minutes or so NOT ONE TIME did anyone of them mention Jesus; they spent their time quoting the Old Testament as ‘guidelines’ for being a good Christian. When I left they were still talking and they might well have shifted their focus to Jesus the Christ; but for forty minutes they had not come close. So since then I have been consciously holding this question: ‘What is a Christian?’ Given this, a few days ago I decided to write a bit as I continue my own searching and seeking as I hold this question in my heart and soul. I pulled out an old journal as I decided to begin with the word ‘Christ.’ Following is an edited version of what I had written many years ago.

The word Christ, Christos, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Messias, means “anointed.” According to the Old Law, priests (Exodus 29:29; Leviticus 4:3), kings (1 Samuel 10:1; 24:7), and prophets (Isaiah 61:1) were supposed to be anointed for their respective offices; now, the Christ, or the Messias, combined this threefold dignity in His Person. It is not surprising, therefore, that for centuries the Jews had referred to their expected Deliverer as “the Anointed”; perhaps this designation alludes to Isaias 61:1, and Daniel 9:24-26, or even to Psalms 2:2; 19:7; 44:8. Thus the term Christ or Messias was a title rather than a proper name. The evangelists recognize the same truth; excepting Matthew 1:1, 1:18; Mark 1:1; John 1:17; 17:3; 9:22; Mark 9:40; Luke 2:11; 22:2, the word Christ is always preceded by the article.

Only after the Resurrection did the title gradually pass into a proper name, and the expression Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus became only one designation. But at this stage the Greeks and Romans understood little or nothing about the import of the word anointed; to them it did not convey any sacred conception. Hence they substituted Chrestus, or “excellent”, for Christus or “anointed”, and Chrestians instead of “Christians.” The pagans made little or no effort to learn anything accurate about Christ and the Christians; The Roman historian Suetonius, for instance, ascribes the expulsion of the Jews from Rome under Claudius to the constant instigation of sedition by Chrestus, whom he conceives as acting in Rome the part of a leader of insurgents.

The use of the definite article before the word Christ and its gradual development into a proper name show the Christians identified the bearer with the promised Messias of the Jews. He combined in His person the offices of prophet (John 6:14; Matthew 13:57; Luke 13:33; 24:19) of king (Luke 23:2; Acts 17:7; 1 Corinthians 15:24; Apocalypse 15:3), and of priest (Hebrews 2:17; etc.); he fulfilled all the Messianic predictions in a fuller and a higher sense than had been given them by the teachers of the Synagogue. So Christians became known as the followers of Jesus Christ, or Christ Jesus, or Jesus the Christ. So what are some of the indicators that one is a follower of Jesus the Christ? What is a Christian?

 

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The great Roman Emperor and Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, gifted us with his ‘Meditations.’ Since about 200 A.D. countless of folks have spent time reading, reflecting upon and have been deeply affected by his words. Since I began posting here in February 2012 I have at times provided you, gentle reader, with some of his journal entries. Today I will provide you with a few more; these are taken from ‘Book Nine’ of his ‘Meditations.’ It is important to remember and note that Marcus is writing to himself; he is not addressing his words to anyone else – he did not write with the idea that his ‘Meditations’ would be published for others to read – thus they provide us not only one man’s inner journey, the provide us a window to his heart and soul. Marcus writes:

If you can, teach others to become better; if you cannot, then remember that the power to be kind has been given to you for this purpose. Even the gods care for such people and help them to gain health, wealth and reputation, so helpful are they. Such kindness is also in your power, or tell me, who is there to prevent you? [9:11]

Today I escaped all difficulty; or rather, I have ‘cast out’ all difficulty, for difficulty is not external, but rooted in my judgments. [9:13]

Just as you yourself play an essential role in the social body, so should each of your actions help to perfect a communal life. Therefore, any action of yours which does not bear some direct or indirect relation to his common goal will fragment your life, disrupting its unity and creating internal strife. [9:23]

Whenever someone blames or hates you, or if anyone should express such sentiments, go directly to their souls, pass into them, and see who they really are. You will then see that you do not have to trouble yourself about what such people may think of you. However, you must be kind to them, for they too are your natural friends. [9:27]

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Longfellow wrote words that continue to give me pause: ‘If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm our hostilities.’ Recently I have, once again, immersed myself in seeking to understand the causes of war, what then sustains them once they have begun, and perhaps most importantly, how we manage to convince folks to kill one another (slaughter one another is more appropriate).

Consider that in war human beings have never killed other human beings. Human beings have killed japs, nazis, gooks, pagans, unbelievers, papists, micks, huns, commies, etc. We do not, it seems, fight people, we fight symbols or adjectives or appellations. We view our foes as inhuman, greedy, immoral, sadistic and devil-like (if not the devil incarnate). Each side must view the other in this way in order to kill for humans do not kill humans (in fact there are many stories about enemies choosing not to kill the others because they ‘humanized’ them – A Christmas eve during WW I and again during WWII dramatically demonstrated this).

Consider that all wars are ‘just wars.’ Each side believes that they are fighting for the ‘good’ and the ‘sacred’. Every war, in the end, is truly a ‘holy war’ – a battle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness; don’t believe me? Read a few of the ‘histories’ written by folks on either side and you get it (the ancient Greeks thought the Persians were ‘pagans’ and ‘heathens’ and the Persians thought the same of the Greeks and during the Crusades the Christians thought the Muslims to be ‘pagans’ and the Muslims the Christians to be ‘infidels’ and in the many ‘Christian versus Christian’ wars each side view the other as ‘heretics’ and non-Christian).

It seems that just as we have needed to have friends we have needed to have foes – a mutual dependency appears to exist. We embrace those who are ‘part of us’ and we fear those who are not; at all levels we are suspect of the ‘stranger’ and his or her motives and desires. We will defend what we believe to be ‘sure’ and ‘sacred’ – we see ourselves as ‘light’ and we project our ‘darkness’ onto the other; our projections fuel and sustain our passions (this enables Christians to demonize and kill Christians and Muslims to demonize and kill Muslims, for example).

Consider that if it were indeed the case that the world is composed of ‘friends and foes,’ of ‘good people’ and ‘evil people’ then we should expect that our enemies would be ‘constants’ through time. But, of course, they are not – they never have been. For example, at one time the Chinese were ‘good’ and then ‘evil’ and then ‘good’ again (now they are somewhat good). The Russians were good, then evil then good again (now they are moving toward being evil again). The Japanese were evil then good (they were ‘saved’) and once they became an economic powerhouse they became suspect again (now that they are struggling economically and are with us against the potential Chinese threat they are good again).

There is hope. As a by-product of many things the world is becoming more and more connected and we are, more and more, aware of the ‘others’ as being fully human. If we do not destroy ourselves or our planet we might well be able to hold onto our view that all are human, that all have pain and struggles, and that we – as fully human beings – are truly our brothers’ keepers. Although this is no simple challenge; the more we are able to see and engage the others as fully human the more difficult it will be for us to dehumanize the others and thus the more difficult it will be to see them as foes rather than as friends. The more we can accept our own selves as living paradoxes of ‘good and evil’ of ‘light and darkness’ the less we will seek to name the others as ‘demons.’ The more we connect with the others, the greater the likelihood that we will establish, nurture and maintain healthy relationships with them.

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