Compassionate, informed advice about healthcare decision making

Archive for December, 2021

A Year of Reading on Faith, Doubt, and a Way Forward

Posted by

This year, I consumed more than forty books. Their topics ranged from spirituality to science to the Civil War to race to books exploring my Southern roots. I surprised even myself with the number. In the coming weeks, I will share what I read in other fields, but here are a few books I read on spiritual themes:

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church (2015) By Rachel Held Evans.

I regret to say that I had not heard of Evans until 2019 with the news of her sudden, unexpected death at age 37. The outpouring of grief and respect by those whose lives she had touched got my attention. We shared common roots in White, evangelical fundamentalism that no longer fit our adult hearts. Here’s a sampling of her journey: “Faith isn’t just meant to be believed, it’s meant to be lived and shared in community.” “Christianity isn’t a kingdom for the worthy—it’s a kingdom for the hungry, the broken, and the imperfect.”

 

Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It (2021) By Brian D. McLaren.

This is a good word for all the doubters out there. A former pastor and author of more than twenty books, McLaren encourages doubt and reframes it as the key to a more mature and fruitful faith.

 

Why Religion? A Personal Story (2018) By Elaine Pagels.

Over a decade ago, I was planning a long road trip and asked my friend, Wayne (who collected the best books on CD), to pick a book for my trip. Wayne handed me The Gnostic Gospels (1979), and I was hooked on Pagels’ insightful writing about early Christianity ever since. I went on to read Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003) and Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012). Although written by a historian, these books led me to a deeper faith. In Why Religion? she shares her faith journey following the deaths of her son and husband within a year of each other.

Devotionals

I have been a fan of devotional books for years. It’s easy enough to commit to read a page a day. I have read Merton, Rumi, Rilke, Lewis, Tolstoy, and Melody Beattie. I read these two this year:

Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations (2011) by Matthew Fox.

My friend, Myra Bridgforth, introduced me to this book as we co-led a silent retreat on the topic. Each entry starts with a quote from a giant of Christian mysticism: Dorothy Day, Meister Eckhart, Howard Thurman, Teilhard de Chardin, and many you have never heard of — or, at least, I never heard of them. Then, the mystic for our times, Fox, offers his spin on the quote.

The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and The Art of Living (2016) by Ryan Holiday.

This does sound boring, doesn’t it? I started this a couple of years ago and quit after a couple of weeks. I picked it up again in January and, WOW. I will finish it on time for the new year. Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, and other dead Romans share their wisdom that is just as relevant today.

 

 

__________________________________________

Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.

Pick a Day — Call it “Christmas” — Voilà

Posted by

As ironic as it sounds, the celebration of the birth of Jesus could have been any day on the calendar. And get this — Christmas was not that much of a big religious deal for the first 1,200 years of the Christian era. So why December 25? Who settled on a December Christmas?

The Square, Oxford, Mississippi

I got to thinking about this while I was on a nighttime walk on The Square in my hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. Like so many small towns in the South, The Square is built around the courthouse. Shops, restaurants, and (because it’s a college town) bars line the streets.

And — since Thanksgiving— lights! Lights on the trees. Lights on the courthouse. Lights on the light poles. Lights in the windows. The sitting William Faulkner statue is under the lights. Who thought of all the lights for Christmas? We don’t light up Easter.

St. Francis of Assisi is credited with making Christmas an important feast. Richard Rohr explains:

Around 1200, Francis of Assisi entered the scene.… He believed God loved us from the very beginning and showed this love by becoming incarnate in Jesus.… The Franciscans realized that if God had become flesh and taken on materiality, physicality, and humanity, then the problem of our unworthiness was solved from the very beginning! God “saved” us by becoming one of us!

Holy Scripture does not indicate what time of year Jesus was born. That manger scene could have been in the heat of summer. Early Christians tried April, May, and September, but none stuck. Then we find the record of a nativity celebration in 336 AD in Rome on December 25.

It is no coincidence that it is also the date of the Roman winter solstice. Christians adopted a pagan celebration to be the day we honor as the birth of Christ, which explains all the lights.

Light at dawn in the Newgrange, Ireland, passage tomb, 3000 B.C.E.

The days get longer after the solstice, and there is more and more light. The light grows, and the darkness fades. Ancient peoples made the winter solstice a center of their religion. I visited a passage tomb in Ireland called Newgrange. Five thousand years ago, it was built to allow the dawning sun to shine into the tomb’s chamber on the solstice and the few days before and after.

The Gospel of John does not have a birth story as we find in other gospels. John chose the metaphor of light to describe this event.

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

No wonder Christians chose the solstice to be the celebration of the birth of Christ.

__________________________________________

Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.

Journaling — A Discipline with both a Daily and Annual Ritual

Posted by

I don’t think of myself as very disciplined. Papers and books litter my office. Exercise? Sometimes. Prayer and meditation are not always daily habits.

Hank’s first journal — Nov. 1975

But for some reason, journaling has been a regular part of my life for 46 years. Most days a week, often daily, I write a few pages.

I recently completed a more-or-less annual ritual of starting a new journal. I started my first journal in November 1975 — a cheap composition book with lined pages. I previously blogged about my introduction to journaling. I’ve tried loose-leaf binders and journaling on the computer. I have settled on the Moleskine lined and leather-bound journal in recent years.

About ten years ago, I adopted a ritual of copying quotes on the first page of a new journal. I call it a ritual because it is a sacred marking of the end of one journal and the beginning of another. Each year I drop a few quotes and add others. They are all short so that I can squeeze them onto the journal’s first page.

I will leave you with the quotes I have chosen to open my latest journal on 11/21/2021:

First page of new journal

“The end is nothing; the road is all.” —Willa Cather (d. 1947)

“Having no destination, I am never lost.” —Ikkyū (d. 1481)

“No envy, no fear, no meanness.” —Liam Clancy to a young Bob Dylan (c. 1960)

“The first 20 years of life contains the whole experience. The rest is observation.” —Graham Greene (d. 1991)

“God is not found in the soul by adding anything but by a process of subtraction.” —Meister Eckhart (d. 1328)

“…what I really want, it is not to be afraid. When I am afraid… I play it safe. I restrict myself. I hide the talent of me in the ground. I am not deeply alive.” —Gordon Cosby (d. 2012)

“… losing one’s attachment to the self is liberation, the end of suffering.… The malady is the self.”   —   Anil Ananthaswamy, The Man Who Wasn’t There

“Who are you, God? And who am I?”  —Francis of Assisi

“Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to be still.” —T.S. Eliot

Me: “I’m the chaplain.” Patient: “Oh God NO!”

Posted by

I started our first meeting as I have hundreds of times before and since, “I’m Hank. I’m the chaplain.”

The response from our new hospice patient took me aback, “Oh God, NO!”

One of the great things about being a chaplain is that, generally, people are glad to see you.

…Let me restate that: People are not glad that they are in hospice and need to see a chaplain. People who are seriously ill and dying are usually pleased to see the chaplain. My standard greeting on a first meeting is, “I am glad to meet you but sorry for what has brought us together.”

An invitation to revisit my experience as chaplain

 A recent “GeriPal Podcast” has caused me to reflect on my years as a healthcare chaplain. That’s “GeriPal,” as in geriatrics and palliative care. “Spiritual Care in Palliative Care” is discussed by three chaplain educators and trainers and the two physician hosts.

Years ago, by chance, I became part of an experiment to find out how people actually felt about the prospect of seeing a hospice chaplain. I was the only chaplain working out of the Loudoun/Western Fairfax office of the Hospice of Northern Virginia.

When a new patient came into our service, the admitting nurse would ask the patient or family, “Would you like to see the chaplain?” About 30% said, “Yes.” Even at that low rate, my caseload was getting too much for me to cover adequately.

Then, something very fortuitous happened. We merged with another hospice, and suddenly, we had another chaplain to cover the whole eastern half of the region.

Now, we were looking to find a way to increase the caseload to fill this new abundance of chaplain hours. We changed from a question (“Would you like to see the chaplain?”) to a simple statement from the admitting nurse — “The chaplain will be calling to set up an appointment in a few days.” Bingo! We went from seeing 30% of the patients to seeing more than 75% overnight.

Why would so many people go from saying “No” to a question to so willingly accepting a call from a chaplain?

There are all kinds of reasons people said “No” to the question. Perhaps saying “Yes” implied, “I am not spiritual enough and need help.” Or people think of chaplains as “religious” and “I am not religious.” Or maybe accepting a visit from the hospice chaplain means, “I don’t think my pastor is good enough.”

Or, maybe it’s the reason the man who said, “Oh God NO!” had when I introduced myself. I asked him, “Why did you respond like that?” He immediately said, “I don’t want to die.”

Oh my goodness. He was equating meeting the chaplain as meaning he is going to die. In his mind, you only see the chaplain when you are dying. In truth, to be admitted to hospice, he had to acknowledge that his physician was estimating that he had only six months to live. Perhaps, he had seen too many movies with a chaplain escorting a prisoner to the gas chamber or a chaplain comforting a dying soldier.

I used that first visit to assure the man he didn’t have to die just yet. I told him people flunk out of hospice all the time by their condition improving. In my mind, I could explore his fear of death in a future visit. But it was not to be.

He had another stroke and never spoke another word. His pastor and I could provide general words of comfort and encouragement in the face of the fear of death, but we had no idea what he was thinking.

So, people refuse to see the chaplain because seeing the chaplain means, “I am dying.” The ill-founded logic goes, “Asking to see the chaplain means I am dying. I don’t want to die. Therefore, I will refuse the chaplain visits and will not die.”

I wish it were that simple.

__________________________________________

Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.

The Vietnam War and the Wall of Grief

Posted by

The lone figure of a man at sunrise leaned in and touched a name. Was this a daily or weekly ritual? Was it the first time or one of many? Why at first light?

I had come to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington with my own agenda. I wanted to film one of my “Hank’s Deep Thoughts” videos at dawn. I was hoping to beat the crowds, and I like how the early morning light brings long shadows.

I was here to ponder how one place can hold so much grief and healing.

The Vietnam War, to me, was personal. I had come of age as my friends were going off to war. Mass demonstrations, draft card burnings, and men fleeing to Canada marked the era. The war drove one president from office and marred the legacy to two others. I got my draft induction orders in 1969 but was spared from service by staying in college and getting a high lottery number.

The Wall of Grief

By chance, I ended up with a backstage view of the design of “The Wall,” as it has become known. It was a long and winding road for me from Gainesville, Florida, through Louisville, Kentucky, and Macon, Georgia to therapy group in a church on Embassy Row near Dupont Circle in D.C. We all came to the group with our own issues and often reminded each other, “We’re all Bozos on this bus.”

Hank asked his friend who was not in the group, David Wear, to draw the therapy group motto, “We’re all Bozos on this bus!”

One of the group members was an artist and Vietnam vet who submitted a design for the memorial. His was one of 1,421 designs entered in the competition to honor more than 57,000 Americans who died in a war that divided the nation.

The winning design came from a 21-year-old architecture student from Athens, Ohio, Maya Ying Lin. Her idea was quite simple: Two polished black granite walls below ground level forming a V-shape in the earth. The names of the dead and missing were each listed in chronological order — 1959-1975.

A firestorm of opposition to the design quickly arose. The artist-vet, of course, felt his idea of showing soldiers’ courage in battle was better. Others said the black of the wall was the color of shame. They saw it as a “wall of shame” — a ditch in the ground. Lin’s view was that it represented a gash, a wound in the earth that needed healing.

A place of grief and healing

It turns out her idea was masterful. The Wall has become a place of reflection and healing, a public place to grieve privately. Annually, millions walk the path by the wall in silence, as if in a sacred space — indeed it is. Grown men weep as they touch the name of a fallen comrade. Children visit the names of fathers they never knew.

That lone man who touched the wall silently at dawn — what’s his story? I don’t know. It was too private of a moment for me to interrupt. He walked past me into the morning light.

__________________________________________

Chaplain Hank Dunn is the author of Hard Choices for Loving People: CPR, Feeding Tubes, Palliative Care, Comfort Measures and the Patient with a Serious Illness and Light in the Shadows. Together they have sold over 4 million copies. You can purchase his books at hankdunn.com or on Amazon.

Quality of Life Publishing Logo

Quality of Life Publishing Co. is the proud publisher of Hank’s books, as well as other branded educational materials for health care & end-of-life care.

www.QOLpublishing.com

Copyright 2022, Hank Dunn. All rights reserved. Website design by Brian Joseph Studios

Volume Discounts for Branded Book Orders

Minimum quantity for branded books is 100. English and Spanish branded books are sold separately. Click here for more information or contact us with questions.

Black

  • 100 to 249 copies: $4.00 each
  • 250 to 499 copies: $2.84 each
  • 500 to 999 copies: $2.24 each
  • 1000 to 1499 copies: $1.69 each
  • 1500 to 1999 copies: $1.43 each
  • 2000 to 3999 copies: $1.30 each
  • 4000+ copies: $1.11 each

Color

  • 100 to 249 copies: $6.65 each
  • 250 to 499 copies: $3.95 each
  • 500 to 999 copies: $2.79 each
  • 1000 to 1499 copies: $1.96 each
  • 1500 to 1999 copies: $1.61 each
  • 2000 to 3999 copies: $1.44 each
  • 4000+ copies: $1.17 each

Volume Discounts for Unbranded Book Orders

Discounts apply to the total books ordered of all titles. Mix and match to get quantity discounts on unbranded books.

  • 1 to 9 copies: $7.35 each
  • 10 to 24 copies: $5.13 each
  • 25 to 49 copies: $4.24 each
  • 50 to 99 copies: $3.75 each
  • 100 to 249 copies: $2.87 each
  • 250 to 499 copies: $2.37 each
  • 500 to 999 copies: $1.98 each
  • 1000 to 1499 copies: $1.54 each
  • 1500 to 1999 copies: $1.32 each
  • 2000 to 3999 copies: $1.21 each
  • 4000+ copies: $1.05 each
There are no products