Living in a Different Way

A lot of black men die early. And many die from preventable diseases and the sticky consequences of them.

When I read of John Singleton’s death, this came back in an undeniable brightness. I grew up loving his work. I didn’t know how young he was until obituaries began.

Then, I visited the catalog in my mind. The men I’ve loved as an adult who have died, namely my father Mardell Culley and my then father-in-law John McKinney. There’s the list of men I’ve served as a leader, a list of those living who, like Singleton, struggle quietly.

Among the responses to Mr. Singleton’s death, researchers have turned again to the problem of black folk dying, particularly black men. Dr. Clyde Yancy, a cardiologist at NM whose work around social determinants of health I respect, grow from, and learn from is a consistent care provider around these issues.

Dr. Yancy says bluntly, “I want this message to be explicitly clear: Check your blood pressure. That’s a hard stop. That’s the takeaway; and especially if you’re an African American man, check it today.”

That is within reach. Drop-in clinics, CVS, Target, your doctor, your cousin’s doctor, your family friend who is a nurse, your ex’s distant friend from third grade. Check your blood pressure.

Speaking about the rates of disease in the black community and after stating the men he has lost, Dr. Yancy sums it up, “It’s just unacceptable. We can live life a different way.”

It’s true. We can. And we can struggle while making noise for the health of our beautiful selves and the health of those we love.

Read the full, brief piece here.

Already Better

“When I got to your stage of having a whole night’s sleep several times,” Sasha told me, “I did just one thing. I paid absolutely no attention to ‘it’ whatsoever. I pretended it wasn’t there. I decided I’m not going to give up another second of my life to this ridiculous problem. You are still paying too much attention to it just by having this conversation with me. You’re already better.”

Sasha talking to Kate about years of paying attention to not having enough sleep. The quote says so much about sleeping, dreaming, and living after sleeping and dreaming. Read the rest here at the Guardian.

My Blog: Things You Don’t See

One of the earliest things I learned when I started working as a chaplain is that things I don’t see can sicken me, take away my strength, and cause me harm. There are more pathogens in the world than I’ll ever see.

On one hand, that’s enough to send a non-medical person nuts. Everywhere you look and everywhere you touch, you’re wondering, “What’s on this?” You change your habits. You watch your six-year-old and test him by secretly counting how long he washes his hands. You do this to everyone in the bathroom, too. Until the results depress you.

On the other hand, this unseen presence makes the human body that much more remarkable. We walk around well, and that’s miraculous! And we also need to care for ourselves as much as possible in appreciation for ourselves. How will you appreciate yourself today, amazing sustained miracle that you are!

Teach Your Daughter (and Son)

Photo Thanks to The Typical Female Magazine

Photo Thanks to The Typical Female Magazine

Teach your daughter how to cook kale.

Teach your daughter how to bake chocolate cake made with six sticks of butter.

Pass on your own mom’s recipe for Christmas morning coffee cake. Pass on your love of being outside.

Maybe you and your daughter both have thick thighs or wide ribcages. It’s easy to hate these non-size zero body parts. Don’t. Tell your daughter that with her legs she can run a marathon if she wants to, and her ribcage is nothing but a carrying case for strong lungs. She can scream and she can sing and she can lift up the world, if she wants.

Remind your daughter that the best thing she can do with her body is to use it to mobilize her beautiful soul.

Read Sarah Koppelkam’s full article here.


“Singing Love Songs to Them”

I’m particularly interested in the ways to hear/see this presentation from a pastoral-theological point of view. Not being a medical person, I’m drawing on my basic bottom beliefs about human personhood and community and health.

I think Johann is on to something wonderful. Again, not being as conversant with the particular cognitive psychological elements or neuroscience underneath this talk, I’m vulnerable to that gap. But I think of readings by James Ashbrook and Gerald May and of my professor in seminary, David Hogue.

I’d love to know what you think.

Cost in Human Dreams

I read something the other day about how illness, particularly chronic illness, costs more than we can see. The article said that statistics could only tell us so much. “They do not tell us about the cost in human dreams and endeavors…”

I thought of a patient whose stories had been twirling around in my head like a song. I kept seeing her face from the four or five occasions we spoke. The movement in my memory from her spunky, particular manner to the more resigned countenance she had when we last spoke. She was leaving the hospital for home hospice, to die in her home. Even though I had seen her leave and return within a week that previous week, I knew that this ending was a final one for us.

And I’m thinking of her and her illness and its costs. How the world has seen her dreams in shrunken form if at all. Disease costs. And we hardly count those costs, hardly inspect them in an effort to keep managing day-to-day, without the care and love of somebodies telling us to take good care of our selves so that we can live into all those dreams.

And even when we do our best to care the best for our whole selves and when disease rips us apart, we still need people to come by our sides, to take us close, and to tell us in clear language that we can still dream. Of course, sometimes we tell others of our dreams.

So go to bed. Rest. Dream. Wake up. Live them.

Cultivating New Routines

…it is much easier to resist temptations if we adjust our worldview so that they no longer seem like temptations at all…Healthy living, of course, amounts to more than quick decisions: it involves cultivating new routines, bodily habits, and values.

Andrew Aghapour writing at Religion Dispatches about whether religion will solve the obesity crisis.

Questions You Should Ask Fathers

A trend started when we brought the boy home from the hospital, after his birth.  I noticed it right away.  The first couple who saw us coming off the elevator in our building asked us.  They are a lovely couple and always have been.  I respect them and admire them.  But they started this trend in my mind, launching me into an experience that’s left me motivated to change how the world asks questions when interacting with parents, particularly fathers.

Their question—and everyone else’s question—was something like, “How are you?”  They were looking at my wife.  They never looked at me.  And it started.

When people would ask me, after the birth or after the three weeks I took off from the church, they would always want to know about the boy and about Dawn.  Now, I appreciated this.  I did.  But it’s always left me wondering if people have the curious tools to ask about me, about the father in the picture.  That would be me.  Before you think I’m completely self-serving and needy, consider how important it is to ask the how you’re doing question to a mother.  Why wouldn’t it be so valuable to raise with a father?  Would a person really think a newborn is needy right before asking about that baby?

So, here goes:

  1. How are you?  This is basic.  This opens up many possibilities.  It takes little effort.  Most people have already asked it, as I mentioned, and only need to modify it so that the guy feels included.
  2. Have you slept?  This, again, is basic, but it’s one of the most caring questions you can ask a father.  He’ll think you love you, even if you’re meeting him for the second time.  He’ll walk away with good thoughts of you.
  3. How do you do it?  More people, more non-parents should ask this.  It’ll make them appear empathetic.  Or smart.  Parenting is difficult.  I can’t understand how single moms do it.  I can’t wrap my brain around how a single dad would either.  It takes too many people to screw up at this.  I can’t imagine how I could mess up all by myself at parenting.  A variation of the question above is, how do you all do it?  How do you make it happen is also a variant.
  4. How is your marriage?  How is your relationship with the child’s mother?  This question takes some history with the father to raise.  But since parenting, no, since children change everything, we need help paying attention to everything outside of the kid(s).  We miss the essentials of life outside of the kid during those early years.  And sometimes that leads to erosion in our relationships as a couple.
  5. Who are you talking to?  Dads need therapy or spiritual direction or great, life-giving habits or really good friends or a combination of all of these.  We need people we can tell what our experiences are, good or bad.  They shouldn’t just be spouses, if you have a spouse.  Get a friend.  Use that friend.  The way you would a prescription from your favorite doctor, faithfully and consistently.  It’s good for you.
  6. Are you spending time with the kid?  Fathers need to spend time with their children.  We need more time than most of us are practically able to give.  This question pushes us to think about where the time goes, whether the kid is a newborn or a teenager or a full-grown adult.  This looks different for me and my father.  Our time is spent mostly on the phone.  I don’t rush him, though he’s too sensitive to time when he calls me.  With my son, it may look like refusing to overlook him.  It may mean sitting in the floor and rolling the wheel on that dump truck.  And doing it again and again and again.
  7. Are you getting time away?  Sometimes I feel like my kid gets tired of me.  I get tired of him.  Uh, all the time.  Then I leave.  I do something else.  It’s not selfish.  In fact, the most helpful thing I can do for that boy is leave my house.  Now, I’m coming back; that’s probably the second most helpful thing I can do for him and for his mother.  But for a guy like me—who needs to get away from people in order to replenish, to re-engage, etc—leaving is vital.  And it pushes me raise how much I am there when I’m there.  Am I with him?  Am I thinking about him?  Do I notice the way he rolls his eyes and laughs during breakfast every morning?  Did I see him raising his arms to me as I washed those dishes before one of the grandmothers arrived in the morning?  Or was I spending my thought time elsewhere?  Leaving enables me to return well.
  8. Can I help?  Be forewarned that this question may lead to kissing and hugging and undying thanks from the father.  We need help and if it’s offered, there’s very little to prevent us from heartily accepting that help.  Of course, we aren’t going to leave our kids in the care of people we (father and mother) don’t trust.  But beyond that, we’d love to have you!
  9. Taking care of yourself?  Most people assume this is a mom question.  And that’s true.  But dads need this.  My schedule has generally been more flexible than my wife’s since the boy.  So, I’ve done the things that needed to be done around the fringes.  But I work full time in a church as a pastor, teach a class at a seminary, write curricula when contracted to do so, and like to take a drink of water every now and then.  All of these things that I do are my decisions to make.  But I love that people tell me to care for me.  I need that.  Or I’m no good to the wife, the child, or anyone else.  This relates to question 7, but it’s an expanded question because the answer includes whether we’re attending to physical health, emotional health, spiritual health and mental health.
  10. What are you learning?  Fathers learn all kinds of things.  We don’t notice it most times, but when we’re asked, it makes us consider.  Along with that, I think we should keep some record of what we’re learning.  My blogging is part of that for me.  My periodic posts about what my boy is teaching me or how I see things differently are ways for me to capture those answers.  A variation of this question is, are you growing?  Or, how are you growing?  How are you different?
Would you add any questions?