Jim’s Latest Book Is Yours for Free

January 28, 2019 by

abba-cvrMost of Jim’s writings through the years have revolved around loss and grief, illness and caregiving, healing presence, and managing transition. While there is commonly a spiritual dimension in his works, either in the background or the foreground, as a rule he has chosen not to write specifically religious books. Most references to religion have been with an openness to a variety of faiths, including Judaism and Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, among others.

It is a fact that Jim is himself a Christian, as well as an ordained clergyman. While he has not made his living as the minister of a congregation for over 35 years, he still occasionally performs those functions. When his daughter, the minister at Peace United Church of Christ in Fort Wayne, Indiana, went on a sabbatical leave, he volunteered to preach in her absence for four consecutive Sundays. He chose as his topic the Lord’s Prayer.

Not far into his preparations Jim realized that he could not communicate all he wished in four 20-minute sermons. So he ended up writing out in greater detail what he did not have time to speak, including a hefty selection of themed age-old quotations and some suggestions he proposed for how the reader might bring to life the various parts of this prayer in everyday ways.

The book came to be titled Our Abba: Praying the Lord’s Prayer So It Comes Alive in Us. Jim had a fair number of copies printed and then gave out a complimentary copy to each congregational member after his final sermon.

Now he’s making “Our Abba” available at no cost to you too. Simply click here to download a PDF of the entire book, which you can read on an electronic device or print out on paper. You can also choose a bound, signed copy of the book if you’d like, but he’ll need to charge you for that one. You can order it here. Quantity discounts are available (as with all his books)—call 260.490.2222 for details.

Book Review: “Why Religion?” Is About Much More Than Religion

January 28, 2019 by

book cover, Why Religion?Dr. Pagels has written an honest and insightful book that’s a welcome addition to the field of grief. While she does write about religion, because that is her specialty and her professional life, she writes surprisingly personally as well. It does not take long to realize that the losses in her life inform her understanding of the nature and purpose of religion as much as the other way around.

Pagels writes chronologically, both about her unfolding research regarding early Christian manuscripts and events and also about her unfolding life as a woman, a wife, and a mother. She marries a distinguished physicist, Heinz Pagels, and they become parents to their first child, Mark. Early on they learn that Mark has a rare incurable lung disease and his life will not be long. He lives to be as old as six, with numerous, anxiety-laden medical interventions. Then wife and husband undertake the journey that no parent ever wants to take—the painful, soulful journey through grief. Pagels writes poignantly about her tumultuous experience, giving expression to and validating the feelings that many bereaved people will understand and appreciate.

Thinking that the worst has by then happened, she learns that is not the case. A year later her 41-year-old husband slips while hiking with friends and falls down a cliff to his death. Widowed, with a baby and toddler to care for, Elaine Pagels confronts her terror, rage, and despair as grief strikes all over again.

Among this book’s pages, grief specialists will find frank and genuine expressions of what bereaved people often go through, what life is like for them. Grievers themselves will find confirmation of the normalcy of what they feel and think, though I would advise against their reading this book too early in their time of bereavement. But they need not wait too long, since the author offers a sure sense of authentic hope by the end of her writing.

One of the gifts of Pagels’ book is the way in which she weaves together the subjects of religion and loss. She writes from the perspective of her less-than-conventional faith system, with a ready openness to religions other than Christianity. If you’re a spiritual explorer, you’ll likely find her approach freeing and encouraging. If you’re accustomed to a traditional pattern of Christian theology, you may be introduced to occasional references, quotations, and perspectives that are new to you.

A central understanding of Pagel’s response to grief grew out of someone’s telling her that the death of her young son would teach her a spiritual lesson, so she could find meaning denied to those who had not been exposed to such a raw life experience. Pagels writes, with some feeling, “…[M]eaning may not be something we find. We found no meaning in our son’s death, or in the deaths of countless others. The most we could hope for was that we might be able to create meaning.”

That’s what Pagels’ book revolves around: how do you create meaning in the face of tremendous, unnerving loss? How do you go forward in life when you feel you’ve been knocked backward so soundly? What roles might religion and spirituality play in all this?

Early on she refers to the words of the anthropologist Clifford Geertz about how “the work of culture is to make suffering sufferable.” As she lays out her own thoughts, she seems to adopt a related idea about one of the purposes of religion—to make suffering sufferable. Hence the title of her book.

Yet she takes a step beyond this when she writes near the end of her book that, after contending with Jewish and Christian attitudes about suffering, she believes that “seen through the eyes of wisdom, suffering can show how we’re connected with each other, and with God.”

There’s a lovely story at the end of her book, as she participates in an outdoor commencement ceremony at Harvard University where she is being awarded an honorary doctorate. Her two children, now grown and married, are with her for the noisy, joyful ceremony, as are her closest friends. Reflecting upon that event, and upon her long life, and aware of those who could not be physically present with her, she quotes an ancient Jewish prayer: “Blessed are Thou, Lord God of the Universe, that you have brought us alive to see this day.” Then she offers this concluding thought: “However it happens, sometimes hearts do heal, through what I can only call grace.”

Hers is a testament to all bereaved, whatever their faith experience: “Yes, hearts can heal; they do heal. And aren’t we grateful for this reality?”

I Needed Help As A Caregiver: A Personal Story

January 28, 2019 by

One minute Bernie was sitting on a tall stool in a store and the next minute, as she leaned to one side to see what a clerk wanted to show her, her feet became caught on a metal footrest, she lost her balance, and dropped helplessly to the concrete floor. I was seated beside her, saw it all unfold in slow motion, and was unable to catch her or break her fall. It was frightening to watch.

Tests in the emergency room showed no broken or cracked bones, but Bernie was in agony. She cried out in pain each time she moved. For ten days she was wheelchair-bound. For weeks she moved only laboriously with a walker. She needed around-the-clock care.

I stopped going to my office. I started doing all the cooking, the serving of meals, the cleanup afterward. I did the laundry and the household chores. I undertook the nursing responsibilities and the coordination of medical appointments and physical therapy.

I had a little backup support, but not much. And, to be honest, that was okay—I wanted to be the one who was there for Bernie. I know her. I love her. Who else could do this caregiving as well as I?

Then something else happened. Over the course of days and weeks, my energy started to wane. I couldn’t ever seem to feel rested. My spirits drooped. I wondered how long this episode in our lives would continue. I wondered how long I could keep doing all that was required. Would things ever get better? How could I regain my sense of composure and optimism? What about the work waiting for me at my office?

Daily-Inspirations-brandIt was a couple of weeks before I thought of something so obvious that I felt embarrassed I had not considered it. Two years prior I had created a resource for people just like me—family caregivers in need of encouragement and support. Titled “Daily Inspirations for Caregivers,” it arrives each morning via email, 365 times in a row. I signed myself up for a subscription. It felt funny doing so.

It had taken me about a year and a half to create all the short videos, the audios that used my own voice, the one-page writings, and the photo-thoughts built around my camera work. Throughout that time I had visualized providing family caregivers with something to look forward to hearing, seeing, reading, and pondering every single day. I wanted to share with them something that might give them confidence and hope. I wanted to add a spark to their day. I wanted to help them persevere, to find a sense of stability.

You know what? I learned—unexpectedly, unintentionally, gratefully—that “Daily Inspirations for Caregivers” works!

It was such an unusual experience, receiving messages in video format that I had forgotten I had created. My words and my own voice soothed me, lifted me, and gave me courage. When I longed for assurance and insight for doing this caregiving work, there it was, waiting for me, like a gift.

Bernie has healed now and most of my caregiving duties have receded. I have cycled through the entire 365 inspirations. Looking back, there were a handful of videos that especially spoke to me when I was in the midst of my struggles. These are their titles and the links for you to see them:

If you’d like to sample more of these inspirations, I’ll happily send you twenty days worth with my compliments. Just let me know your first name, last name and email address at jmiller@willowgreen.com. Or call our office at 260.490.2222.

I’d like to think they’ll work for you, or for someone you know, as well as they did for me.