Vacation Black Hills

Yes, we went to the Black Hills, Custer State Park exactly. Now, I'm a Yellowstone fan. Black Hills, they're OK, but Yellowstone is one of the top 3 in the lower 48. We've been to Yellowstone more times than I can count and it always rocks. But something happened this time. I tried the Black Hills and I liked it, yep, I liked it, maybe even loved it.

Why the change, you ask? Closer, easier to get to. Nice 8 hour drive from Lincoln. But all that shows is that I'm getting older and wimpier. I used to be able to do the longer drive in my sleep. Now I think, shorter, maybe I'll get more sleep.

So that's not a really great reason for me to say I loved the Black Hills. Here's another. My girls loved it. Nuff said. Actually, they loved the campground, the pine air, the scenery, the views, the animals(not near as many as you know, Yellowstone, but still quite a bit), but here is the clincher, the hiking trails. They came back very satisfied with the hiking. And that's a big deal at my house. Well, nuff said again.

For me, I think at this time in my life, anything that takes the stress level down is pretty important. And the Black Hills did that for me. Easy to get to, took some beautiful roads through some beautiful parts of Nebraska, and arrived at a beautiful place.

Probably do it again.

The Church Is...

They say the church is a hospital
I say it is a garden
They say it is for sinners
I say it is for plants
They say for the sick
I say for the growing

I wrote this some where back in the early 80's. Even then, my ideas about church were not mainstream. I guess I've always been a bit of a square peg in a round hole. I couldn't agree with what I thought was a simplistic view of church. And the hospital metaphor didn't work in many churches anyhow.It might have been a goal for some in leadership to bring healing to the members, but all too often, more hurt was brought than healing. How surprised was I when I found a church that was more healing than anything else. Not many of them. No, for me it was a place to grow. It took me a while to see that and connect it with discipleship, but disciples grow, victims may be healed but then what. I think the hospital metaphor falls short of what church is unless there is a growth metaphor to go with it. Psalm 1 is my inspiration for such growth. Just cleaning out some old files, think I'll keep this one for another 30 years. See what I think about church then.

Do you feel that?

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These are untidy subjects to write about. Feelings, actions, reactions, responses, responsibilities, perspective. They are all tied together and affect each other. We act or react often based on our feelings. We may have very little accurate information, but we go ahead anyhow. That’s because our feelings of fear have more control over our actions than our feelings of peace or stasis.

A glance or a look from someone is enough to set our minds into overdrive about what they are thinking or what did they say about me. Like a pinball, thoughts zip back and forth in our mind. They usually run dark and they end up negative. It’s a sort of threat assessment. 

If we’ve been hurt enough in life, then we’ve learned that people are the source of most of that hurt. It’s a wonder that some people ever develop healthy relationships after all the suffering they have been through. Changing our feelings is a tough process. To believe that everyone is not out to hurt you requires a courage to be vulnerable. This does not come easy. Not after repeated hurts. 

How do we let our guard down? We must get better information. We must learn the difference between reality and perspective. We must understand why we feel what we feel. How do feelings shape our actions and reactions.  

We would like to be seen in a favorable light, to have people positively impressed when they see us. That’s fairly normal. What’s not normal is living in fear that we will be seen negatively most of the time. What’s not normal is giving excessive care and thought to our image. Image management can severely interfere with living authentically.   

What do you feel right now? Anger, frustration, anxiety, courage, innovative, risky, hungry, happy, elevated, miserly, bouncy, musical, boundless, energetic, disgusted, vengeful, determined, disciplined, euphoric, depressed, wild, balanced, smart, wise, churlish, peevish, delighted, tired, or raring to go.

Is that feeling based on perspective or tangible information? Many of our feelings invade our mind from unchecked sources. We can feel disgust at politicians just because they are politicians. Is that healthy or warranted? Police? Teachers? Animal control? Criminals?

Examining why we feel, what we feel, where those feelings came from and who they are directed at, will yield a gold mine of information about “FEELING” better. 

Think about these words, perspective, reality, thoughts, feelings, actions, reactions, responses, living, hiding, authentic, fear and courage, love. 

We all have a certain amount of time to devote to living fully. Those who live the fullest gain clarity over their feelings, the origin of those feelings, and managing those feelings for happier, healthier lives.   

What were the prominent feelings of this past week and what are you feeling right now?  

Feelings

This is a big topic and the science of feelings/emotions is growing. Here's an article to get us started.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/feeling-our-emotions/

Feelings have a lot of power in our lives. I'm exploring this subject a lot right now, partly because I have a large range of emotions in my work with the dying and partly because I see so many people who are led by the nose by some feeling and they have lost control of their behaviour. Sometimes the consequences of losing control because of our feelings is very serious. More importantly, how can we harness our feelings to improve our lives?

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See

Do you see enough to see it all? Of course not. You don’t even see all that you think you see. Much more than we like to admit, our witness is second or third hand. We did not see, they saw. Yet, we take what they saw as if we saw it ourselves. We transform third or second hand sightings into personal observations, allowing them to inform our words and actions. 

This sophistry is stupid and dangerous, larger than the loss of all the Lemmings lost to the sea.  

What do you see? What have you heard? Return to the first person, yourself, in person. Judge life from there. Even there, with first hand knowledge, you still are an imperfect judge, but a better judge presumably. 

News, fake or not, is vastly second hand. It is rarely good. The way it is dished up to us, it is instilling little more than anxiety and fear. When you think about how you feel after listening to the news, you might begin to wonder why you watch it anymore. Why does it have such mood swaying, depressing power over us?  

Resolve to See for yourself. 

 The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.

John Berger

360

Life is all around us, but our eyes only look at part of it. Our ears capture a part. Our smell even more. These inputs are sense-able. Yet much goes unsensed. Growing up in a city made me more sympathetic to my senses. Survival in combat depends on our senses working alertly in all directions.

I wonder which is more joyful, a hyper sense, where gigabytes of data are taken in with a glance or a whiff of spring air, or a hypo sense, where little or nothing is noticed, our mind moving into hibernation? 

I usually prefer the more active sense at work and play. Yet, I feel more vulnerable to sensory overload these days. Empty space in my senses does not feel very productive but it may be the only way to lasting productivity.

What do you sense? Your feelings depend on your senses. Feel the sun, smell the breeze, pull out the thorn. Use your senses, make sense of the surroundings. Live 360. 

Ted Kooser Train

Ted Kooser wrote this over a decade ago but writings about time so easily become timeless. It's in his book Local Wonders. Take a read here at NPR. 

The Train Of Life and welcoming your next year, even after cancer which Ted had. Then being greeted with upturned glasses, you are still alive.

 

Ted still lives, about 30 minutes from my home. I will turn up my glasses if I see him. 

Right As Rain

The more people you see each day, the more you will be asked a version of "How are you Doing"? 

How's it going, how's it hanging, wassup, etc. Of course, it's what we do. I usually like it. Heaven knows, let someone walk by you without some sort of greeting and you'll ask yourself, "What's up with them? They might be having a bad day, or maybe their upset with you. And away your mind goes for 20 minutes thinking, "Now what did I do"? 

No, it's better off to just greet everybody and yes, ask them how they're doing. A few of us might even tell you the truth, skipping conventional responses, if we feel like whale scat, we'll tell you. If we feel like a million bucks, we'll tell you.  

My latest response has been "Mostly Sunny" Both true and descriptive, mildly engaging. I'm looking for a new one. It's been rainy of late. "Right as Rain."

When you ask me next time, How I'm doing? You probably already know the answer. 

Nature Cares Not

"Nature doesn't give a damn about us after we make our babies"  Nautilus March/April 2017

Well, I've got news for you. It didn't give a damn before you made your babies either. You see a spiritless nature after childbirth, you might as well be consistent, Nature in your understanding is Divineless. It has no soul.

The religious group, the Shakers preferred celibacy. There are 2 or 3 Shakers left. They were pretty bad at populating the earth. They seem to have missed the Be Fruitful part in Genesis, or having a full quiver of arrows, a house full of children.

They had their reasons, but their religion didn't give a damn about making babies either. 

I have two offspring. They are amazing; eyes, ears, fingers and all that stuff that comes in the package. where did the care that I have for the come from, why do I care so much about them? Why do I hurt when they hurt, help when they are in need, empower them to succeed, shell out all that cash for them to get a degree?

Unlike nature, I do give a damn. And I'll tell you this, I think nature does too. 

If You're Breathing

Most of us are born, live and die in what feels like one lifetime. When it comes time to hang it up, we surprise our younger selves and lay the spurs in the common pile for one last time. We wore them well, rode tall and now it's time to rest. A long rest. We're tired. I've looked into many eyes, tired but satisfied eyes. Green eyes, moist eyes, sparkled eyes, cloudy eyes. There are abundant memories in those eyes. 

 

Often, one story, a lifeline will lead you back into those memories like following a guide into a dark cave. A time in the military, a life changing event, a relationship that endured, some story that is linear and sustaining will lead you to any number of chambers in the mysterious cave of a human mind. Light may be shed in some rooms for the first time, other rooms passed by for ever. There is something in there worth rediscovering, reclaiming.

 

i often hear family gather together to tell stories of their departed, and some where in the story, someone will go, "Really, I never knew that." Their loved one is gone but still full of surprises, some fascinating, some puzzling, some a bit dodgy. 

 

I often ten think it might be better to tell these memories when we are still alive, still breathing.  

What Do We Remember At Funerals?

I've never thought so much about death until I became a Hospice Chaplain. I'm afraid I never thought so much about life until I became a Hospice Chaplain. If you could do one thing in the next 30 seconds to live more fully, what would it be? Take the next breath and hold it, briefly, taste it, roll it around in your lungs, allow your mind to focus, and let your stomach exhale it for you as you let your inner muscles do their work.

That breath, that life, that moment, is all we have. It is a gift, just as you yourself are a gift.

I came across this as I was preparing a message for the tragic death of a young lady.

In his book The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction, the American novelist Frederick Buechner has this to say to us:

Whatever you do with your life–whatever you end up achieving or not achieving– the great gift you have in you to give to the world is the gift of who you alone are; your way of seeing things, and saying things, and feeling about things, that is like nobody else’s. If so much as a single one of you were missing, there would be an empty place at the great feast of life that nobody else in all creation could fill.

The funeral sermons I write today are more nuanced than ever before. They used to be for church going, religious folks. I had confidence that they lived the kind of life that would guarantee them a place in heaven. That has all changed in the last few years.

So many people die without that confidence when their time has come. I have had to shift my whole way of thinking about what is important to remember at ones funeral. It comes down to this. Now I spend more of my time, 15 or 20 minutes of it, by sharing how God has been working in the life of the one who just died. I used to focus mostly on What God has done in general for all of us. I always put in a good word about the deceased of course, but now I have become more focused on what God has done in and around the one we mourn.

Sometimes its hard to find any evidence that God has had much to do with them, at least by normal religious markers. This has only made me look for God in other places and dimensions. Buechner seems to get this. God is at work in every person, all breath is His, and whatever has breath is to praise Him as the rightful giver of life. I continue to believe that God will have His way and will with those of us whom He has been working in and around. I just don't think we have been remembering the right things all the time and it's time we start asking ourselves, what do I want people to remember at my funeral? Did I do something, or did God do something in I? Take your next breath and think about it.

 

Freedom To Dream

A while back I read Matthew Kelly's book, Dream Manager. After some thought and more reading, I came to realize that this is my favorite thing to do in life, to help people enjoy and experience their dreams. It's the one thing I would do if I knew I could not fail. It is the thing I try to do everyday. To find the diamond in others and see that it is brought to the surface and given a place in the community for others to enjoy.

I'm a little uncomfortable with the title Dream Manager, but Dream Coach sounds closer to what I am thinking about.

When others succeed and you had a contribution in their success, I dare say there is nothing like it in the world. It can be lonely at times, even thankless on occasion. But it is usually the most gratifying thing we can do. At times my own selfishness gets in the way of course, but I'm a work in progress too.

Look back at those who you helped to get up on the horse and into the saddle and take pleasure and pride in your assistance to them. You have made a difference and made a contribution, small or large doesn't matter. It really doesn't. We can't measure the output of our contributions by the input. Much can happen because of one kind sentence or one helping hand or some simple guidance. Dreams are too often easily squashed and if you took the time to help someone move closer to their dream fulfillment then you stand tall.

It is my dream to help others realize their dream. So much so that I think my blog may go in that direction for a while. I've been so busy with day to day work as a Chaplain that I haven't been able to deliver a constant and useful stream of blog posts on my work. Truth be told, I go to bed much earlier than I have since the army days and I get up early and I don't get everything done I want to each day. My blog may find some new life in this idea of Coaching others into their dreams.

I am free to dream of such things, just as you are. I have been face to face with this every week as a hospice chaplain. Step one has been the constant closeness to death. It has heightened my awareness about daily choices. I have not had a perfect day as I see it, but I've had a longing to have days that are more perfect than many in my past. When I figure out what a perfect day is, I'll be sure to let you know.

In the meantime, I'm dedicated to finding the diamond in everyone I meet and helping them to really shine. It's a new calendar year, a new day tomorrow, a brand new week, the future is moments away. I look forward to the discipline of moving forward and helping others to do the same each day. We have time, at least I have been telling myself that for many years. And we do. Just what we do with all that time is another matter.

I just bought Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss. Filled with tools and tech ideas for your mind and body that Tim has tested for himself as he has interviewed hundreds of powerful people. There is a lot of good in that book to help you live your dreams. His podcast is a Diamond mine as well.

Another book I highly recommend, Peter Drucker's Managing Oneself. He shares some wisdom about you that will give you renewed energy for knowing yourself and how you learn and how you interact. Simple but eye-opening. 

So it's a new Year, let's dream about it.

The Wicos Problem

A quick observation from When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi.  

During lucid moments, I was acutely aware that with this many voices, cacophony results. In medicine, this is known as the WICOS problem: Wh Is the Captain Of the Ship?   p189

The WICOS Problem. When the doctors get together to decide what to do for you and decide who is in charge. 

 

Music for life

Martin Luther wrote, "next to theology, I accord music the highest honor." Or words to that effect.  Wiki Luther Music

Music is a language that needs no study, only enjoyment. Study it if you wish, many do. Just remember, you don't need to make music to be musical. Valuing the music and it's effects upon your mood, attitude, and overall health is my promotion for the moment.

In Musicophilia, Sacks wrote,

Music can take you to places you have never been before, wish to go to, wish to avoid, and help you navigate all of them. It is rhythmical geography for the soul. When it comes to the end of a cherished life, it is a memory restorer/curator, sort of like a musical picture album for the mind.

I played music this week for dozens of people. It is almost always affirmed by a smile, a nod of recognition, joining in and singing with the tune, a reminder of other songs, a piece of history that seems long lost. Music resurrects the life or a slice of it long assumed dead. It can bring back joy and courage and resilience, even healing when it is properly used.

A while back, I entered a room of a client and began to play hymns softly on my harmonica. I routinely do this and my charges are not surprised or bothered by it. They just know that pastor Marty has his harmonica in his left hand and he will likely play me a tune or two. As I played This is My Father's World, my client began to sing the words of the light and airy hymn. Her mood improved and her day was brighter. The nurse and others in the room were somewhat surprised because they had not seen this side of the client, the memories of a hymn that came flowing from her mouth so easily. I think it was a bit of a shock actually. It was assumed that there was not much left of her mind, nothing reserved for lucid speech anyhow. It even surprised me a little bit.

It has pushed me to research more and play more music. To be able to see family members smile as their loved one sings along when they thought all that has been lost, is a magical moment. A restorative moment. A healing moment. A hopeful moment. A musical moment.

On occasion, I have played music and within seconds of conclusion, the loved one goes to sleep for the last time. When family is present, this is often the most peaceful memory they could wish for. It stuns me how this happens, but then I remember the power that music has to bring one close to God and thankful for life on earth and prepared for life hereafter.

A lot of communication goes on when music is involved.