Just Everyday Stuff…

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Philippians 4:8 (KJV)

The police officer who pays for groceries for a vagrant instead of arresting him. The minimum wage clerk at McDonalds who pays the bill for a customer who forgot her wallet. The first person in line at a Starbucks drive-thru who pays for the person’s order behind him, setting off a chain of events of people paying for the person behind them. The teacher who buys school supplies for her students who cannot afford them. The truck driver who stops to change a flat tire for a stranded motorist. The line of people at the blood bank giving life-saving plasma. The volunteers who go to California to help fight forest fires. The outpouring of support after a natural disaster.

Should I go on? Not enough room in the blog. These events happen EVERY DAY. There are actually too many instances of giving and sacrifice to be documented here. These events typically do not make headlines. Maybe because they are too commonplace and we take them for granted. Maybe they do not fit the narrative of sensationalism that our news cycle craves. Whatever the reason, we must not lose sight of this aspect of our human character.

It is important to celebrate these little daily exercises of goodwill and humanity. Take heart my dear readers, goodwill and kindness abound, it just gets shut out of the headlines. Keep up your silent and important everyday deeds that help your fellow traveler on this earth.

That is what we need to keep in mind to stay focused on what our country, indeed every country needs. These things are what makes America great. Let’s not let that knowledge slip into the background too far.

Prayer: Lord, you have created us to live in community and to bear one another’s burdens. Help us to remember that wonderful aspect of your creation, Amen

Rules of Engagement

Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. James 4:1 (The Message)

I typically give homework to my clients between sessions. After all, most of the work of change needs to take place outside the counseling session. My job is to equip clients with the tools they need to effectively handle life challenges. I encourage, I challenge, I give feedback, and I provide accountability for my clients. Above all, I try to listen closely to them and give them the respect that they deserve. They have entrusted me with very precious parts of their lives, and I have a duty to honor them with confidentiality and accountability.

Recently, I gave a set of Rules of Engagement to a couple who was having a hard time communicating effectively. I thought that I would share them with you to see if you might also find these rules helpful in times when communication gets tense or even counterproductive.

Rules for Healthy Engagement

  • We agree to engage in a reasonable discussion where no threats are made
  • We agree to each take ownership of our part of the problem
  • We agree that no blame is to be given to the other party
  • We agree to own how we are feeling
  • We agree that spiritual solutions should be sought for whatever problems we are having
  • We agree to stay engaged in this discussion as long as we can participate in a courteous, respectful manner
  • We agree that a “timeout” can be requested by either party with no questions asked, and no blame assessed, when tensions are getting too high to manage

I realize, of course that these, in some ways, are ideal goals and practices, but they are also reasonable and possible. It takes discipline and determination to follow these rules, but if we do, it works. I suggest that these might be applicable to political and social discourse as well. This list is far from exhaustive, but if followed, it will produce better communication for both parties.

So, there it is, and as they say in recovery meetings, it works if you work it!

Prayer: Lord, give us ears to hear, and discretion in our speech, Amen.

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. Psalm 139:14

Today we conclude my daughter’s (Jennifer Hartwell) guest blogger comments on faith and science. She had an experience somewhat similar to mine when we confronted God’s handiwork in shaping the human body. It solidified our faith in ways that were strong, and strangely beautiful. Here is the rest of Jennie’s story…

Science alleviates fear.

Is it our natural human reaction to fear the things we don’t understand. In the absence of understanding, we fill in a narrative of what we think, pieces of what we have heard, but it falls short of full understanding. There is an interesting misunderstanding of science in some circles…that it will undermine one’s faith, divert one from spiritual principles, or contradict the teachings of Christ. I posit that this is a position of fear. A position of mistrust of one’s self to study in depth the things that are uncertain. I trust my Creator to endow me with enough wisdom and insight in my journey to not retreat from my faith, but grow in it, as a result of my deeper understanding of the world He has made and the way we function in it. It is not science we have to fear, but rather the unknown. It is not science that subverts our faith. Science brings understanding, value, and worth to all things previously unknown. When we say we don’t believe in science, what we mean is we don’t understand science. When we say we are upset by the outcomes of scientific exploration, what we mean is that we are concerned about how disingenuous humans use the knowledge gained by science in malicious ways. Inquiry, understanding and knowledge are neutral, neither spiritual or evil. The methodical process of science can do much to alleviate fear, not exacerbate it.

Science affirms our understanding of our Great Creator.

As a first-year medical student in gross anatomy lab, I stood over and studied the incredible gift of the donor who, after her death, gave her body to our study group to learn every artery, vein, muscle, nerve, organ, and tissue. Then, in physiology class, I learned how all of these pieces work in beautiful concert together, to give us life. The intricacies of the human body, the delicate balance of every fluid and electrolyte and hormone to keep us healthy…it’s truly incredible. I remember sitting in class and saying, “How could anyone study this complex design and not wonder if there was a Creator?” I say the same when I see fall’s colorful leaves and huge waves crashing on a beach. It’s hard to experience the vastness, beauty, and fascinating inner workings of our earth without feeling inspired.

What is more, as I grow in my faith, as I am challenged by cultural, theological, moral and ethical dilemmas, science gives me a paradigm to question, study, reason, and make sound decisions. My study of science has bolstered my ability to be a critical thinker and a methodical student. When we write scientific papers, we always follow the same format: Background, Methods, Results, Conclusions. Following the same method, I am able to rise about the noise of social media, the sway of politics, the slant of media, and simply seek the facts that inform a sound conclusion. A question, followed by a well-designed study of God and his word, along with the wise counsel of spiritual teachers and mentors, leads me to the results that help me form a sound conclusion.

Prayer: Thank you Father for your amazing creation and the ways that science can complement and enhance faith, Amen.

Science and Faith

by John Jung and Jennifer Hartwell, M.D.

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out. Proverbs 18:15

This essay is my daughter’s first part of her exploration of science and faith in her life journey. She is a woman of deep faith and a deep love for people. Therefore, she finds it not incompatible in the least to use science as a way to heal people as a physician. That is the way she is using her gifts as a healer to live out her faith journey to love people. Science does not deny the presence of God, it helps to explain it. Loving people by using science is my daughter’s gift back to God of the gifts that he has given to her. A link to one of her journal articles can be viewed below

Here is her story…

Thanks to my dad for inviting me to write with him on his blog! He asked me to write about science and faith. Over the next two days, I will share with you some of the ways science and faith dance together in my life.

Let’s begin with some definitions:

Science: A branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws (Dictionary.com)

Faith: Confidence or trust in a person or thing (Dictionary.com)

Science helps us critically appraise our beliefs and empowers us to change our minds when we find we were wrong.

A story will illustrate this best. As a junior trauma surgeon, I started working at a medical center where the standard practice was to admit for observation all patients who suffered a concussion. As this was a deviation from the way I was trained, I was convinced this was a waste of time and resources, so I set out to prove it. I developed a study to retrospectively review all of the patients admitted to our medical center with a concussion over the past several years. We read through each chart in detail and gathered the data on a series of 395 patients. In the end, we found that nearly 1/3 of all patients we admitted, after evaluation by the cognitive specialist, needed ongoing therapy; therapy that would have not been offered had I simply discharged each patient from the ED. I changed my mind. Applying the scientific method gave me the framework to challenge what I believed, and to confidently redirect based upon rigorous study, not just a feeling or assumption. The data clarified the truth. My practice changed and my patients benefited.

Science brings clarity and hope to an often chaotic world.

Confusion and sadness can be powerful motivators for change. Let’s take the story of seatbelts. John D. States was an orthopedic surgeon and race track physician in New York. His experience at the track left him with stories of tragedy seeing drivers tossed from their vehicles to often deadly consequence. He was inspired to study the effects of seatbelts and, of course, found their life saving benefits. He shared his work with automobile manufacturers and legislators and in 1968 the first seat belts laws were enacted in New York. Though it would take another 11 years for 48 additional states to do the same, his steady work, his methodical study of a tragic problem, brought hope in the face of what had before been considered certain death. By 2016, it’s been estimated that seat belts save about 15,000 lives annually. Science helps us approach chaos, sadness, confusion and hurt, with a comforting, stable, consistent approach. Science inspires us to believe that we can solve unsolvable problems, and bring hope to what feels like despair.

Tomorrow, in part two of Jennie’s essay she gives her summation of how her faith was enhanced by her pursuit of science.

Prayer: Thank you Father for the gift of science and reason to help your people, Amen

https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/000313481508100431

Courage

“Be strong. Take courage. Don’t be intimidated. Don’t give them a second thought because God, your God, is striding ahead of you. He’s right there with you. He won’t let you down; he won’t leave you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg passed away the other day after a long and fierce fight with cancer. I think her battle with cancer really just emphasized the way that she lived her life- courage in the face of high odds stacked against her. She was a warrior for what she believed in, and therefore she became a lightning rod for dissent. I did not always agree with her stances, but I admired her tenacity. Clearly, she was ahead of her time- indeed she led her time- in the cause of equality for women in American society.

Much the same can be said for John Lewis, who passed on July 17th. Coincidentally, I was reading the book, The Children, by David Halberstam, when he died. The Children is the story of the young civil rights demonstrators of the early 1960’s. It covers the lives of men and women like John Lewis who, as very young college students, took courageous stands in lunch counter sit-ins, marches, and rallies at which they were often arrested, and at times, beaten. John Lewis suffered at least two significant concussions from beatings, one at the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Lewis, a man of strong faith, was willing to risk his life for what he believed. I was moved by the faith that drove Lewis to lay down his life for his cause. His motives were not just political, but rather a drive for social justice informed by his belief in God. Ruth Bader Ginsberg risked her reputation and career in trying to further the causes in which she deeply believed.

Both of these individuals took courageous stands in the face of what seemed to be insurmountable opposition. Both have been controversial in how they took their stands, and I suppose that is the point. People did not need to agree with their stands to see that they had passion and courage, and that they stood for principles which advanced the American way of life.

People who stand against the current tide are often not appreciated until late in their lives, or maybe not until they have long passed. The courage that these warriors possessed is a virtue which serves us all well, whatever side of the political or social spectrum we might land.

America has lost some fierce warriors this summer.

As I end the piece, I want to invite my readers to the treat I promised last week. My daughter, Jennifer Hartwell, will be featured the next two days as we continue the discussion on science and faith. She has some terrific insights into the subject, and I can’t wait to share them with you. So, check in to see the discussion!

Prayer: Thank you Lord for the people that you bring into our lives who encourage us to listen to the better angels of our spirit, Amen  

It Takes So Little… to be Above Average

The road to life is a disciplined life;
    ignore correction and you’re lost for good.                                                                                                          Proverbs 10:17 (The Message)

I remember reading the book years ago written by Florence Littauer titled, It Takes So Little to be Above Average. The concept is so simple, so basic, yet the results can be profound. I had the privilege of having dinner with Florence Littauer, along with my wife and a mutual friend, shortly after she wrote that book. She was very encouraging to me in my early attempts at writing. She also seemed to live the title of the book she had written. She really believed that we could, with very marginal extra effort, live a more compelling and impacting life. I think she was right.

It takes just a little effort to make our lives, and the lives around us, just a little bit better. I thought about this again recently while walking. I saw discarded paper masks, pop bottles and other assorted trash outside of the store I was about to enter. Litter, I told my wife, is a measure of how people value their community. The more litter, the less community cohesion and collective discipline.

Now, litter has been a problem for many years. Further, my hypothesis about the amount of litter and the inference about the collective care for the community has not been measured- at least to my knowledge. Nonetheless, I am disturbed by the presence of litter because it reflects poorly on my community. More importantly, it makes me believe that the general level of discipline has slipped.

It really, truly, is not hard to find a receptacle for trash. The laziness of those who litter gives me concern for the deeper, more negative implications that it holds. That is, people do not care enough about others to take a minute to do the right thing. They are thinking, at that moment, only of themselves. I think, as a society, we are becoming less disciplined, less caring, and less community focused.

As Florence Littauer wrote, it really takes very little to rise above mediocrity. I think that is true. I wonder how many people really want to do that?

Prayer: You have created us to care for one another, and our shared environment. Forgive us for our careless behaviors which dishonor you and our fellow travelers, Amen.

Lifelong Learning

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts”                                                                                          John Wooden

I give you sound learning, so do not forsake my teaching                                                                                  Proverbs 4:2

John Wooden, for those that may not know him, was the Hall of Fame basketball coach of UCLA. He won 10 national championships with UCLA, the first coming in his 18th season of coaching. Between 1964 and 1975, Wooden’s UCLA team won 10 of the 12 national championships, seven of them consecutively. He is known for his insightful and meaningful quotes, as well as a genuine faith and an incredible coaching ability.

This quote above gives insight into his humility and wisdom. We all need to be lifelong learners, and that takes humility. Keeping our minds and hearts open to new things is especially important these days. None of us has the corner on truth or knowledge, but that humble and open pursuit of truth and wisdom is what counts.  

As I am open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in the pursuit of God’s daily plan, I am open to learning things that I currently do not know. A guy who toiled for 18 coaching season before his first championship shows discipline, tenacity and perseverance. He also kept learning.

I think John Wooden was on to something.  This is a guy who won his first championship at age 54. His best professional years were ahead of him at age 54.

I like John Wooden.

Prayer: We are open to learning your ways daily. Thank you for giving that daily instruction, Amen.

Tears

Jesus wept.                                                                                                                                                                  John 11:35

Human tears are another of those incredible, intricate gifts of creation. I am continually amazed by what I learn about things we simply seem to take for granted. Tears, for example are more than a salty liquid which indicates our deep emotions. In fact, there are three kinds of tears. One type is for lubricating our precious eyes as a protection against foreign elements and dryness. A second type is a “response tear”. If you have peeled an onion or had smoke get into your eyes, you are familiar with “response tears”.  Finally, there is the type of tear which gets the most attention. It is the emotional tear.

I have read that there are hormones and enzymes in emotional tears which are actually healing when released by crying. Our tears are therapeutic. Indeed, many of my clients will become tearful in sessions, and note that they feel better after the release of crying. Crying is actually good for us, yet we men often go to great lengths to try to suppress the expression of those tears.

Sometimes at movies, I have been known to try to suppress crying. Once, at the end of Les Misérables my neck and chin actually hurt from trying to suppress my emotional response. Yes, that was kind of a dumb thing to do, but hey, I’m a guy.

Seriously though, I do not tend to cry easily, and maybe that is good or maybe not. I do think that the process of crying can be healthy. People often apologize for crying in public. I understand that this shows vulnerability, but it does not show weakness.

Tears are an amazing part of our bodily make-up. Maybe we should celebrate that a little more.

Prayer: Lord, help us to be in touch with the emotions you gave us, and more freely express them, Amen.

A House Divided

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.                                                                  Matthew 12:25

Abraham Lincoln gave the famous “House Divided” speech in 1858 in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. This concept and actual language came from Matthew 12:25 where Jesus was refuting those who claimed that his miracles of casting out demons was through the power of Satan himself. Jesus gave a brilliant and logical refutation. Indeed, he argued, if he used the power of Satan to cast out demons, that would be self-defeating. A house divided against itself cannot stand for long.

Lincoln, in his vision and leadership, much of which was informed from a good knowledge of the Bible, used this wisdom over and over in his Presidency. In his second inaugural address in March, 1865, just weeks before his untimely death, he was eloquent in using Biblical references to try to rally a nation nearing the end of the cataclysmic Civil War. He said things like “but let us judge not, that we be not judged,” from Matthew 7:1. He quotes several other Bible passages, and concludes with the magnificent prose “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” This is a re-work of Psalm 147:3 where he is trying to use these words to literally and figuratively heal a broken and bleeding nation.

Lincoln had the wisdom to use the wisdom of the ages, the Bible, to try to heal a nation that could not be healed with simply political and military solutions. I believe that Abraham Lincoln was the greatest President ever to grace our nation.

I think that Lincoln knew where his strength came from, and that knowledge, that humility, was a gift to our country.

Prayer: As we reflect back on our history, we see that leaders following your truth can lead us in difficult times. Thank you for the words that can heal, Amen.

Listen Up!

Answering before listening is both stupid and rude                                                                                               Proverbs 18:13

The Book of Proverbs is really old- well over 2000 years old- yet it provides wisdom even today. All of us should heed the words in this book, and while some parts are certainly culturally dated, the principles by and large remain as helpful truths.

Take, for example, today’s passage about listening. As a counselor, I know that my client deserves to have a good and thorough hearing of the things that are important to them. Things that have been weighing on them. They may have confusion about direction. They may have shame and guilt over past actions. They may have deep sorrow, or they may have anxiety that prevents them from sleeping.

Whatever they bring to the session needs to be heard before a discussion can begin. Any preconceived ideas I may have about them or the issues they bring must be set aside until I get to know their mind and heart.

The writer of Proverbs knew this, and told his readers that failure to listen is “foolish and disrespectful”. In The Message version quoted above, the writer says that “Answering before listening is both stupid and rude”.

I suggest that this also applies to today’s political discourse where we hardly give any consideration to listening to one another in order to apply our strongly held beliefs with some vigor.

Proverbs has some great stuff. We should listen.

Prayer: Thank you Father for the wisdom we see in Proverbs. It is timeless and needed for today, Amen.