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From The President.

A Message from The Reverend Douglas C. Halvorsen.

Walking in Beauty

June 29, 2017

Fundamental to the Navajo or Diné Weltanschauung is the principle of hózhó, most aptly defined as “walking in beauty.” “Walking in beauty” is not simply a statement of personal aesthetic but rather an integrated, harmonious duty and commitment to live in peace with one’s self, one’s extended community, all of creation, and the creator(s). When such harmony is broken or abandoned, a return to health may be facilitated by ceremonies that include songs, dance, sand paintings, other ritual acts, and prayers.

The “Blessing Way,” one of five or six major such ceremonies, may be performed not principally to heal brokenness but primarily as blessing qua blessing. The authentic, correct, and accurate performance of the ceremony is itself the blessing. The desired result may be approximately understood as “for good hope” and though centered upon the one “sung over,” the extended attending community may obtain benefit as well. (Note that though geographically adjoining and sharing some similar features, the worldview and cultic practice of other Southwestern Native Americans such as the Pueblo, Zuni, and Hopi may meaningfully vary from those of the Navajo.)

For the vast majority of English speaking American “People of the Book” (i.e. Jews, Christians, and Muslims), not only are there no optimal, exact translations of significant Navajo cultic expressions and ways of experiencing the world, but the fundamental concepts themselves may seem baffling to the point of misunderstanding, mystification, and arrogant ethnocentric dismissal. Does this matter? Why is this pervasive de facto if unconscious rejection and ignorance of any current consequence?

As discussed in two previous blogs (See 2016 November “Remembrance of Politics Past” and September “Patience & Fortitude vs. Cancer or Polio”) the state of the US contemporary body politic, exemplified by the 2016 presidential choices (both utterly dismal candidates) and the election itself, is characterized by dissention, deception, dissembling, dishonesty, and deceit to the extreme. We as a people have cravenly, utterly rejected the necessity, possibility, and significance of “walking in beauty” out of cynicism, cowardice, and/or distorted self-interest. We have little in the political realm “for good hope.” Blessing, harmony, and the healing of brokenness have become alien, enigmatic notions to our time and place.

How are we to heal, to return to harmony, to become blessed as well as to bless, to experience “good hope?” How are we to “walk in beauty?” How can we again live in unity and peace? Several steps seem essential though of extraordinary challenge.

1.) Healing is not possible unless we genuinely, consciously, intentionally, humbly acknowledge that we corporately and individually need to be healed. Effective acknowledgement will not be accomplished by blaming others, rotely bemoaning that things need to change, or complaining that the system is broken. As unpopular and politically incorrect as it sounds, what is in fact required is confession motivated by contrition. We have as individuals, institutions, groups, and coalitions majorly screwed up! It is all too facile to blame political parties, economic conditions, world events, and the actions of our predecessors as excuses for our own poor choices, gutless acquiescence, and lazy disengagement. WE have screwed up and screwed up “bigly!”

2.) Undergirding these failures is a fundamental lack of shared vision. We have lost sight as a people of from whence we came, of who we must be, and for whom we must be. The author of Proverbs (29:18) foretold: “Without a vision, the people perish.” We have lost a sense of purpose larger than ourselves that is grounded in values far grander than our own self-centered desires. We routinely settle for platitudes that in our souls we know to be hollow, for promises we know to be disingenuous, and for goals we know to be bogus. Together we are obliged to construct a vision that unites, a vision of who we are and should become, of where we must go, and how we will get there.

3.) Contrition grounded confession is necessary but by no means sufficient. A vision constructed devoid of courageous implementing action yields nothing more than saccharine satisfaction. We must persevere and commit to correction. That correction will not come cheaply nor will we achieve immediate consummation. We must act not just for near term amendment of our errors, but as critical, for the sake of those who follow us and are subject to the fruits of our labors, both for good and for ill. We must correct our trajectory and cultural tenor for honorable generational stewardship. Sir Edmund Burke famously wrote: “The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for the good to do nothing.” Failure to act, to correct, to remedy would be our cohort's tragic failure of will creating a persisting, perilous legacy encumbering generations to come.

To “walk in beauty” requires humbly acknowledging our need for healing, the creation and commitment to a shared vision, and concerted concrete transformational action. Blessing and “good hope” are viable future possibilities and though grace never comes cheaply, the cost of stasis is an insufferable inheritance to pass on to our successors. 

We Are All Different and Yet Are All One

January 27, 2017

Several months ago, in the absence of the Rector and Deacon, I had the opportunity to celebrate the Mass and give the homily at a parish I often attend near our beach house.  Jake (we will call him) is a young man with Autism who routinely serves during the Mass, occasionally assisted by his father.  While vesting in the Sacristy that morning, Jake started to stare and point at my forehead.  Full of innocent curiosity, he came up to me, and pointing at my facial birthmark inquired, “What’s that?”  “A birthmark,” I responded.  Jake’s innocent curiosity instantly morphed into silent contemplation.  Breaking that moment of contemplative silence, he exclaimed, “You’re different!”  To which I responded, “Yes, I’m different: I have a birthmark, and also have ears that don’t work so well (I wear hearing aids after years of hunting and riding motor cycles).”  Again Jake silently contemplated, then exclaimed: “You’re different, I’m different, we are ALL different!”  Yes, Jake, you were blessed with nothing short of a holy revelation: We Are All Different!  Jake’s blessing of revelation was massively magnified by the setting in which it occurred: We are all different, yet in that moment we were all one in worshiping the God who created us and who for Christians is the Three in One, the Holy Trinity.  We were all different but are all united.

The story is told of an aged and venerable desert chieftain who lived in the Middle East in the mid-eighteenth century.  In his prime, the now infirm but ever crafty old warrior had subdued many lessor sheiks.  He had united a sizeable number of tribes under the leadership of himself and his numerous, increasingly jealous and fractious offspring.  Now, having been confined to a sickbed for some time, and feeling death to be close at hand, the wise old chieftain commanded his many sons to gather at his bedside.  When all were together about him, the dying man asked of them one last request.  In his feeble hands, he grasped a bundle of sticks, one for each of his sons.  His wish was a seemingly pointless task—to break the bundle of sticks.  One after the other, his proud and powerful heirs attempted the old man's request—and one after the other each failed.  Summoning all his remaining strength, the fast-sinking old warrior, with little effort, broke the bundle of sticks—one at a time, one at a time.  That final lesson accomplished, he silently died.

Unity, connectedness, harmony, wholeness, fellowship: these are qualities of relationships that we all know to be of great value, but qualities so often lacking in our parish, political, community, even family lives.  We seem so often to miss the point of the dying desert chieftain's last request of his heirs.  We seem blind to how frail and easily broken we are as individuals, but how irrepressible and effective we can be, united together as brothers and sisters created by the same loving God.  Unity: we pray for the unity of religious intentions, we seek international unity toward the end of war and oppression, we daily struggle trying to keep our families and marriages united.  But so often, this earnestly and deeply sought unity eludes us and seems but a pious, naive, unattainable illusion.  Why?  The scriptures speak of it, politicians claim it, we know we want it and we genuinely seek it—why can we not experience God's intended unity?

Let me suggest a few simple, practical, and powerful ways to facilitate, to make possible our experience of the solidarity, connectedness, unity that I believe God intends for all of creation.  Let me suggest several ways for us all to develop a more connected and thankful sense of the opportunity for unity through mutual service.

John had a very bad time with the chemotherapy and radiation therapy necessary to treat his life-threatening cancer.  The newspaper report described what a handsome man John had been prior to his illness and treatment.  Significantly contributing to his good looks were his full head of hair and full beard.  In the course of treatment, all of John's handsome head hair as well as his beard fell out.  He was mortified.  His appearance had always been important to him; and now when he looked into the hospital mirror, he saw a bald, smooth faced stranger looking back.  John recovered well enough to be sent home; but his pain and grief over the loss of his hair were enormous.  He would not leave his home nor would he allow visitors in to see him.  He locked himself away in frustration and embarrassment.

After several weeks, he himself realized that this life-style was not only killing his family but was even having negative effects upon his own precarious physical recovery.  He quietly announced one night to his deeply worried wife that the next morning he intended to leave the security of his self-imposed exile in his bedroom, and take a walk through his once beloved neighborhood.  If only he had his hair back—a hat would cover his head, as for his face, nothing would return that to its former state; but he knew he could put off the essential no longer.  The following morning, he got up, dressed for the dreaded day, and came down the steps to the breakfast table.  John was greeted by his wife and children, all going about their usual routine, all with their heads shaved as close as his.  In bewildered silence, he stepped out to the front walk and started down the street, to be greeted by neighbor after neighbor, all voicing their best wishes for his recovery, all with heads shorn as close as his.  Now that is really sharing in one another's suffering and pain.  John would never have been able to experience the deep compassion, the unity of his friends' and family’s support and care until and unless he opened himself up to them and allowed them to see and care for him as he really was.

Unity requires taking risks; it requires mutual honesty and trust.  Fellowship requires being open to one another, both being willing to stand with the other, and being willing to be seen by others as we are, baldness, smooth face and all.  Unity requires us to be genuine, receptive, and trusting with one another.

According to a news report, some decades ago, a gravely ill six-year-old girl was carried in a stretcher from the Tel Aviv air terminal to the commercial jet waiting to fly its passengers to London.  The terribly sick child was being accompanied by her parents on a desperate trip to seek the last possible hope for effective treatment.  However, the procedure cost some $164,000, and the family was of modest means, had no applicable healthcare insurance, and no way to come up with that amount of money.

Word of the young child's plight passed from the aircraft's personnel through out the passenger compartments.  Soon after the seat belt signs were extinguished, some anonymous traveler started a hat passing seat by seat through first class, among the flight crew, tourist section, and the steward's galley.  Returning vacationers signed their remaining travelers' checks, children emptied their pockets of change, businesspersons took out their wallets.  Shortly before landing, a count was made of the French francs, American dollars, Israeli shekels, British pounds, German marks.  CBS News reported that the total collected on that Tel Aviv to London flight came to just around $164,000!

Unity requires us not to ignore our differences but to learn from and lean upon each other.  Human connectedness, wholeness, harmony require that we not only each contribute to the common good, but that we willingly accept what the other has to offer.  We must learn that unity for the children of God requires us to embrace all of God’s creation, in all its diversity.  Unity is not homogeneity or sameness or uniformity, but rather the mutual interdependence and respect of persons with varieties of challenges, with varieties of gifts, with varieties of needs, with varieties of talents.

An ancient parable tells of six blind wise men and the elephant.  One touched the elephant's tail and said, "An elephant is very like a long vine."  One touched the elephant's leg and said, "No! No!  An elephant is very like a great tree."  One touched the head and said, "No! No!  An elephant is very like a huge stone."  One touched the trunk and said, "No! No!  An elephant is very like a snake."  One touched an ear and said, "No! No!  An elephant is very like a broad leaf."  One tried to touch, but in terror ran away when the elephant trumpeted.  He said that all the others were wrong, for an elephant was very like the thunder.  All the blind wise men were a very little bit right, but on the whole, they were very, very wrong.  However, if they had but shared together, each of their partial perceptions, united would have been very close to the truth.

Unity, you see, requires humility and openness to others' experience of truth.  Fellowship requires being able to consider the possibility that just maybe the other knows something that we do not; that just maybe we do not have a corner on all wisdom.  Unity requires us really to listen to what others have to say.

Christians fervently believe that in Christ, unity is possible, but to truly experience that unity we must be willing to be open and vulnerable with others; we must learn to accept our differences as variations of God's gifts; we must strive respectfully to listen to and learn from one another; and we must passionately serve and humbly accept the service of one another.  Thank God for our diversity and may we grow in our reverence for and delight in all of God’s creation!

 

Remembrance of Politics Past - With Apologies to Marcel Proust

November 9, 2016

Written 8 October 2016, One Month Prior to the Election

We are finally through what has been arguably our nation’s most discordant, dissonant, dispiriting, and destructive of political seasons. The Presidential Election is at last complete and a massively divisive narcissistic dissembler, simply the less despised of two horrible choices, has won. Substantive matters of gender, race, economics, social justice, religious freedom, personal and corporate ethics, military conduct, governance, international affairs, and almost all aspects of our life together have been cravenly invoked, distorted, defiled, and advanced as excuses for political advantage. We The People must now humbly pick up the pieces and energetically, even passionately, commit to effect healing and restorative repair.

How has our Republic’s star grown so dim? In truth, we have faced immensely ghastlier conundrums, yet remaining unresolved, in our almost two and one-half centuries since the Declaration and Constitution were penned. Conundrums such as: 1.) How did We The People tolerate, some even ardently espouse, the evil of Slavery; such as 2.) How did We The People turn blind eyes and deaf ears to the horror of the Shoah; such as 3.) How did We The People sanction the right of Suffrage to be determined by gender; and yes, 4.) How have We The People sheepishly repeatedly voted for and financially supported politicians (of ALL Parties) whose clear and pressing priority is self aggrandizement, perpetuation of their sinecure, and personal gain? That said, though we have confronted (more or less, if not adequately resolved) and survived ghastlier, this one is sordid indeed. The questions of how did and how do We The People allow such practices to be born, grow, and then metastasize, these questions remain moral conundrums of enduring consequence and immense bewilderment!

The popular votes are counted. All that remains to seal this debacle is for the Electoral College to vote and then for Congress jointly convened on 6 January 2017 to count those votes. So how do We The People pick up the pieces and move on? The unraveling of this conundrum is of enormous existential significance. Our Republic, like those historically precedent, has no guarantee of legitimacy, prosperity, or continuation. To quote the old Smith Barney slogan, “We must earn it.”  Over the coming term, how We The People vote, treat one another, engage our enemies, hold our elected officials accountable, regard the weak, protect the victim, conduct our community lives, honestly introspect, question our national and personal priorities, yes, especially how we honor our country, how we perform these challenging but essential tasks, how we do things will tell the tale for time to come.

As pointed to in the title date, this lament and challenge was written on 8 October, one month prior to the 8 November election, with obviously no foreknowledge as to which was elected, only with certainty who lost. The choice between the two presidential candidates was truly the choice between “cancer and polio.” No matter which malady won, We The People lost. Now, how do we ensure that loss is not permanent and ensure that conundrum not remain unresolved? Will We The People “earn” our Republic’s star shining once again?

Leadership as Personal Story

October 14, 2016

I am going to make an argument that is simple, elegant, intuitive, and therefore possibly too obvious to be worthy of your time! Leadership is inseparable from the person of the leader. (A tangent for another day is the relationship between leader and brand. See CEO Capital by Leslie Gaines-Ross.) Leadership is never anonymous; it is always deeply personal; it is forged in the crucible of interpersonal relationships and shared history. Further, leadership is fundamentally story creation, story living, and story telling.

General Norman Swartzkophf once observed, “Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. If you must be without one, be without strategy.” My first point is that the core of leadership is character, it is integrity, it is ruthless self-examination. Leaders are not born; they do not arise ex nehilo; they evolve, mature, grow, and through that continuous evolution, maturation, growth, and self examination, they are damaged and show the wounds of battle—damaged and wounded but continuously refined and recommitted to fulfilling, renewing, enlivening their vision.

August 1970, I was about to graduate from college, get married, move from KY to NJ, start a new job, and finish my tenure as a midnight-to-8:00 AM “Cottage Parent” in a maximum security juvenile correction facility—a so-called “reform school.” During my last night on the job, I took a local news photographer through out the facility, using my keys and security clearance to gain access. I intended to do a newspaper expose’ on the deplorable, appalling conditions there rampant and to document those conditions with photos. The resulting negatives and proofs moved with me to NJ. Several weeks later, I got a phone call from the facility Superintendent. In a bad movie, chilling caricature of a Southern drawl, the Superintendent saccharinely greeted me and then noted his feigned disbelief of the rumor he had heard regarding some late night unauthorized tour. He further noted that on his desk was my last pay check and pension payout. His bald demand was that I could have my check if he got the negatives. My wife and I were married all of two weeks, setting up house, and broke. I took the deal and sold-out. With that money, we purchased a vacuum cleaner; a vacuum cleaner with all the bells and whistles, but a full featured vacuum cleaner, nothing more. Leaders do not sell-out for vacuum cleaners, and if they do, they never ever do it again--that sell-out sears their souls and motivates them for the rest of their lives, damaged but recommitted. Integrity counts!

My second point is that leaders’ legitimacy, first built on integrity and character, is then confirmed and elaborated by their vision. Leaders see clearly what others only glimpse dimly. Inextricably bound to seeing their vision is powerfully and convincingly sharing that vision. That sharing must unfailingly be generative and never acquisitive. Leaders must know their own value and in knowing that, recognize that ultimately they are expendable; they are essential and expendable, but the vision is fulfilled and realized by being shared, by being infused into every fiber of the organization’s fabric. General Colin Powell noted, “Great leaders are great simplifiers.” If the vision does not create enthusiasm and passionate living-out by members, if it is not understood and embraced by every member, it becomes as expendable as the leader.

Early in the 20th century, the family owners of a small department store in Ohio fired a young whippersnapper employee for being too unconventional in his vision of retail. You probably have never heard of the Sims family who owned the store (by the way, my extended family), but you may have heard of the fired employee, Sebastian Spering Kresge, founder of the S.S. Kresge Co. five-and-dime chain stores, and later K-mart enterprises. Kresge had a vision, he would not be distracted from it, he never lost sight of it, he shared it, grew it, and it continued to prosper long after he was gone. My extended family’s store is now a parking lot.

My third point is that leaders are, as Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte observed, “confident dealers in hope.” Leaders inspire through living contagious passion, not through exercising raw power. This kind of leadership is evocative and but never prescriptive; it encourages and challenges but never stifles innovation or forces homogenization. In acknowledging and celebrating their essential dependence upon others to actually creatively implement their vision, leaders enable those others to have the confidence and passion and commitment themselves to pursue, expand, and fulfill that vision.

A decade or so ago, I was driving to a family wedding in the Midwest just as a hurricane hit the East Coast. Staying in close communication with Evergreens’ colleagues through out the trip, I was well informed as to the power outages, travel conditions, flooding, and related challenges. Some two hundred miles out on the PA Turnpike, with some agitation, I stated to my wife, semi-asleep in the passenger seat, that I thought we should turn around and I should return to campus. Her response was succinct: “Do you hire well?” she asked.  “Yes, of course, we hire the best,” I responded. “Then stay the hell out of their way,” she advised. Spot on advice. A leader driven by the necessity of staying in control is not a leader but a dictator, and justifiable mutiny is inevitable. The classic Sanskrit proverb puts it well: “Two parts there are to shooting the bow; first the drawing back, and then the letting go.”

Character and integrity, passionately shared vision, and confidence educing hope, these three essential qualities form the stuff, the bones of a leader’s story. And this is the story they must create, the story they must live, and the story they must tell. It becomes the legacy of stories that others embody, embellish, and carry on to new and unimagined ventures and achievements.

Patience and Fortitude vs. Cancer or Polio

September 23, 2016

New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia had an uncanny sense of the assets his citizens needed to get through the hard times of the 1930s. Most famously he read the morning newspaper comics over the radio during a strike (Today, could anyone successfully navigate a work day with out first reading Dilbert?). LaGuardia also astutely named the stone lions that silently guard the south and north steps of the NY Public Library “Patience and Fortitude,” highlighting the qualities required to prevail during those distressed times.

The Presidential election campaign of 2016 has been by many accounts one of enormous frustration, embarrassment, disgust, disbelief, and punctuated by the oft’ groaned incredulous queries, “Are these really the two fittest candidates available? Are these really the best from which we can choose? Can Republicans and Democrats really do no better?”

My non-pollster, non-pundit intuition is: 1.) Clinton’s challenge is that most people truly do believe that in reality she is as duplicitous, egotistical, and untrustworthy as she appears; and 2.) Trump’s hope is that no one can actually imagine that in reality he is as erratically crazy and blindly narcissistic as he appears. What a “dog’s breakfast!” Ironically, one candidate’s weakness is that most people actually believe her history, and the other candidate’s strength is that few people actually take him at his word! Our pragmatically possible choice indeed seems to come down to “cancer or polio” (apologies to Joan Baez!).

Assuming that one of these two “maladies” prevails, what are rational people to do? My gut tells me that LaGuardia got it right. In times like his with its seemingly intractable and demoralizing socio-economic challenges and in times like our own with seemingly implacable and perverse socio-political challenges, incorporating the complimentary qualities of patience and fortitude into the core of our civic and personal lives is imperative.

Why patience? I believe, naively maybe but fervently certainly, that the Republic will survive. It is essential that we as both a nation and as individual citizens neither abandon hope for a better future nor wallow in an enervating morass of self-loathing and futility. We have come through worse, and can and certainly will do better. Watchful waiting is in order.

 

Why fortitude? Patience devoid of fortitude is little more than craven cowardice dressed in a costume of superficial civility. To be patriotically patient is not to be politically passive. We citizens must arise to the occasion and constantly, courageously hold whichever “malady” is elected accountable for their actions. We must constantly, consistently challenge our elected officials to live and govern to the highest standards of their sacred oaths of office. We as individual citizens must constantly reaffirm, through our conduct, our commitment to actively embrace the historic values of service, loyalty, duty, justice, “common defense,” “general welfare,” and the “blessings of liberty,” which were and still remain the foundation of our Republic. Our current candidate “maladies”, when elected, cannot be allowed to threaten or weaken the ongoing maturation and evolution of our “great experiment.”

Morning of Memories

September 9, 2016

Reprinted in an edited version at this time each year since 2001.

It was Friday afternoon, the 22nd of November more than fifty years ago. I distinctly remember sitting in my high school’s study hall in Salem, N.J. I had big plans for that weekend, including a two-day overnight trip to New York City with some fellow Boy Scouts. We still took the trip, but it was radically different from what we had anticipated – its memory, to this day, grossly overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy.

Similarly, we all can remember with distinct clarity where we were and what we were doing on the morning of Tuesday, September 11 more than a decade ago. We had plans, expectations, and dreams – some for the immediate morning and some for the coming months and years ahead.

However, as the Rev. Mychal F. Judge, martyred NYC Fire Department Chaplain known affectionately as “Father Mike,” frequently said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for tomorrow.”

What changed our community and individual outlooks on life that morning was events that did not make God laugh. Rather, they were events that caused God to grieve with all persons of good will and decency.

On that September 11, all of our priorities and plans were abruptly and agonizingly altered. The atrocities committed forever altered our perception of who we are as people and of what is important in our lives.

We thought that our nation's shores were invulnerable – and with four horrendous acts of terrorism, we discovered that we were all too exposed.

We thought that we were indifferent – and in the selfless sacrifice of police and fire fighters, we found that we could care and be grateful to our core.

We thought that we were above needing assistance from others – and found that the support of allies and sometime adversaries was desperately appreciated and deeply humbling.

We thought that we were too jaded and cynical for patriotism – and found that we loved our country as much as life itself.

We thought that God was in our own image – and found that people of generosity and self-giving are to be encountered in every imaginable tongue and hue.

We thought that the experiences of strangers was of no significance to us – and found that in both the safety and loss of others, we could celebrate and mourn as if they were our dearest friends.

We thought that bravery was reserved for only a special few – and found that the strength to become a hero exists in each one of us.

Yes, our perceptions, priorities, and plans were irreversibly altered by the unimaginable events that occurred that grave day.  And in that alteration, we briefly became more united as a nation and more focused upon people rather than upon politics.

To this day, many across our nation are more unguarded in their caring, more committed to serving our country, more conscious of our dependence upon others, and more faithful in our recognition of God.  In light of our heightened sense of generosity, humility, and kindred purpose, we must dare to live and act with a renewed sense of clarity, courage, and passion. Though altered, our hopes and dreams for the future must never be timidly abandoned.

As we continue on our profoundly altered life journeys, may God’s grace shine upon our communities, our country, and upon all of creation. May we remember today and every day, all the lives that have been lost and all the sacrifices that have been made for the defense of freedom, peace, and humankind.

A Prayer of Hope and Remembrance

Oh God, we come together with you on this morning of memories.

We remember our country, and pray for unity and resolve.

We remember our enemies, and pray for a change of spirit and action.

We remember those who grieve, and pray for healing and recovery.

We remember our leaders, and pray for courage and wisdom.

We remember our yearnings for peace, and pray for your justice to prevail.

We remember our own failings, and pray for forgiveness.

We remember our fire, police, emergency medical, and military personnel, and pray for your protection and our support.

We remember those who are in need, and pray that we may be the answer to their prayers.

We remember the dead, and pray that they may be held in our hearts and in your presence always.

We remember to ask all these things in your name,

Amen.

The Pokémon Go of Marriage: How to Augment the Reality of Your Relationship

August 27, 2016

Homily for the Marriage of Katie Halvorsen and Kendall Snyder - Wightman Chapel, Nashville, TN

Today is a great day! Not only is it Katie’s and Kendall’s wedding, but it also is the beginning of the eighth week since the release of Pokémon Go! For those of you no longer in your 20’s or who have been living in a cave, Pokémon Go is an augmented reality game where you search for monsters. What has that to do with Katie and Kendall? I would suggest that the critical, absolutely essential task for any married couple is to augment the reality of their relationship by seeking six experiences. For a vibrant marriage, what must be actively, constantly sought? I am going to briefly define those six experiences, those six searches, illustrated by examples that may be a bit familiar to some of you here this evening.

1.) Seek that which Inspires

Carl Barth, one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century, repeatedly argued that to preach with impact, faithfulness, and authenticity, the preacher needed to have the Bible in one hand and the New York Times in the other. Most certainly Barth must have been a Democrat, for if he had been a Republican he would have urged a Bible in one hand and the Wall Street Journal in the other. The point is that the odds of having a loving, lasting, living marriage are greatly enhanced if that relationship is built not only upon sensitivity to the realities of each other’s day to day life but is also built upon the eternal realities of together practicing faith and together entreating God’s guidance and blessing.

2.) Seek that which Completes

Mark (Katie’s father) was coaching first base at Rider as an undergraduate, and seemingly the only one anywhere near the field with nothing to do. My oldest daughter, Jess, then age 3, was standing with me on the sidelines, and she idolized her Uncle Mark. Concerned that his hands were empty, she toddled over to the equipment bag, got a ball, and gave it to Mark so that he “had something to play with.” The point? Seek that which enhances. Relationships in which each partner seeks to complete rather than compete or correct the relationship greatly increases the odds of nurturing mutual respect, transparency, genuine trust, and reciprocity. To paraphrase Elbert Hubbard, “ The only way to keep love is to give it away.”

3.) Seek that which Endures

The story is told of Sir Winston Churchill at a posh cocktail party. After several hours and no small quantity of liquor, a very proper English society matron accosted the Prime Minister hissing: "Sir Winston, you are drunk!" Without a moment’s hesitation, Sir Winston retorted: "Yes Madam, and you are ugly, but I shall be sober on the morrow." Sir Winston understood that inebriation was temporary but ugliness endured. A pivotal challenge in marriage is to seek, nurture, and build upon that which is of lasting value and to disregard the passing. St. Paul wrote, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Seek what abides and let that which should pass away, pass away indeed.

4.) Seek that which Endears

My wife, daughters, and I visited Mark, Laurie, Todd (Katie’s older brother), and Katie a quarter century ago at their home in Chapel Hill. All were gathered in the family room enjoying each other and most especially the antics of Katie, then age 3 or so. Her newfound pleasure was in counting from 1 to 10. On a whim I asked if she could count backwards, to which she enthusiastically responded, “Of course, I can, I’m a big girl!” Immediately she once again began counting from 1 to 10, now walking backwards, oblivious to the adults’ gleeful laughter. Seek what delights, seek what brings gladness, celebrate what brings mutual ecstasy, and enjoy each other. Authentic humility and shared humor sustain through inevitable pain and sadness.

5.) Seek that which Matters

My family had a cat known among other things, for his tireless energy. Mark, Laurie, and Todd, then age 5, visited us at our home in Princeton. From the moment Todd spied that cat, he ceaselessly chased it all over the house shouting in his high-pitched North Carolina drawl, “Dawg, Dawg, Dawg!” Not for a moment did that cat retire from the game due to being mislabeled. A name did not matter; only the game mattered. So too in marriage, the critical task is determining what truly matters vs. what is trivial, what transforms vs. what should be ignored, what is substantial vs. what is insignificant. Answering rightly these questions makes the difference between that which festers and that which is forgotten.

6.) Seek that which Heals

Brad and Matt (Katie’s younger brothers) were wrestling in our living room in Mount Laurel; inexplicably a vase, a completely nondescript vase got broken; imagine—two brothers wrestling and something got broken—go figure! I had to go out for a few hours. Upon my return, there in place of the broken unremarkable vase was a new, much more attractive one. Though completely unnecessary but totally gracious, the broken had been replaced. Would that all of life’s brokenness could be healed as readily. The point is that when something in a marriage is broken, actively seeking healing is essential. Passively waiting for healing to occur simply gives time for hurt to entrench. Seeking forgiveness and reconciliation heals the wound.

In summary, in the Pokémon Go of marriage, to augment the reality of your relationship, there is no need to search for monsters—monsters will arise unbidden on their own. Rather, for your marriage to mature, not simply lifelessly survive but quite jubilantly thrive, search for these six experiences: 1.) seek diligently together for that which inspires, 2.) seek constantly for that which completes, 3.) seek unceasingly for that which endures, 4.) seek affectionately for that which endears, 5.) seek insightfully for that which matters, and 6.) seek empathetically for that which heals. Finally, St. Matthew records: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you”.

Brexit and The Great Divide

June 30, 2016

For the past several weeks, pundits’ predictions, politicians’ promises, economists’ elaborations, statesmen’s scenarios, investors’ invectives, opponents’ obfuscations, supporter’ shrieks, traders’ tirades, and pollsters’ prognostications have focused upon every imaginable aspect of the Brexit, both pre and post vote, with one astounding exception. Arguably, when all the economic, military, political, trade, currency, immigration, diplomatic, and legal issues have shaken out, the one aspect that will astonishingly remain unaddressed will be The Great Divide; that is, the growing distance between the young and the old, the struggling, frightened retired pensioners and the frustrated, aspiring youthful workforce. It is the tectonic divide between the “were” and “will be”, the seniors and the juniors.

To cut to the chase, in Brexit, United Kingdom pensioners voted almost en mass to exit the European Union and UK youth passionately voted to remain in the EU. The chestnut, “It’s the economy stupid” in fact is the surface issue. The issue behind the issue is demographics. The truly astounding reality is that the Great Divide of age demographics transcends (and will transform) national borders, race and gender definitions, economic policies, political allegiances, educational standards, cultural norms, historical certainties, and philosophical perspectives. Curiously, anxiety about current conditions and fear about future possibilities are experienced by both young and old. However, the specific attributed causes and espoused solutions of those concerns are radically different and even wildly contradictory.

Neither age polarity in this Great Divide appears any more introspective, altruistic, pragmatic, open to opposing opinion, or visionary than the other. Both seem locked into their own here and now (no matter how the risk or promise of the future is invoked). Pensioners stridently argue that they fought for and existentially need their country to be THEIR country, that foreign experts are not to be trusted, that risk comes from without, and that alien environmental and economic powers pose threat. The younger cohort equally stridently argues that it, as a matter of birthright, is owed and existentially needs permeable borders, embraces diversity, champions international standards (as long as supported by their own “fact-checking”), and feels threatened by local power institutions.

How will The Great Divide, especially in countries and regions where the “old-age dependency ratio” is significant, how will this chasm be bridged? Brexit has brought this chasm into high relief. The ultimate meaning of this vote will not be found in how trade agreements, visa regulations, currency rates, military alliances, and other hallmarks of international affairs are redefined, but rather in how the young and the old, the pensioners and the pension payers, and the creators of the past and the creators of the future, in how they are reconciled. The ultimate meaning will be found in how this Great Divide is resolved. All have significant investment in this reconciliation. Though trite but none the less true, the future becomes the past, the old were once the young, and the young become the old.

The Hay Wagon, Ducati Single, and Calumet Farm

June 2, 2016

The borrowed 250 Ducati, even by late 1960’s standards, was seriously challenged. Its single cylinder seemed reluctant to stay awake, and though it generally fired when prompted by the throttle, more than infrequently it seemed to fall back asleep midst cycle. Riding south of Lexington, the only way to get above 60 MPH was to fully open the throttle as cresting a rise in the serpentine two-lane road, lay down flat (head marginally protected by a floral “brain bucket”), then hell-for-leather on the down slope, and hope! Contrary to some other motorcycle depictions, this two-wheel presentation was anything but intimidating, and actually verged on the absurd.

Late as usual riding from my job in Kentucky Corrections to undergraduate class twenty-five miles from work, I kept the throttle fully open up, and down the twisting crests and vales. Some ten miles from campus, I noticed in the single cracked mirror, a hay wagon, methodically, menacingly, gaining on me. Laid out flat, throttle wide open, on a protracted down slope, the Ducati was doing all it could to keep both of us off the truck bumper. There were no shoulders on that road, just ditches, hedgerows, and periodic crude cutoffs to dirt paths in between miles of iconic white-fence defined fields. As the maniacal hay wagon was but yards from turning bike and me into hood ornaments, I spied a cutoff, jumped the ditch, and landed in a crumpled heap, actually in somewhat better shape than the Ducati. I never saw the driver of the truck through the tobacco smoke clouded windows, but I fervently hope he saw my raised “digit of distain.”

Catching breath and picking up bike, I saw on the opposite side of my landing zone a well-paved lane leading up to a substantial complex. The Ducati and I hobbled up that immaculate road flanked on either side by pristine white fences and manicured fields, up to the entrance of a massive horse barn masquerading as a mansion.  Leaving the bike laid out on roadside, I entered the “horse mansion” and called out a greeting. The only response was for a dozen or more absolutely magnificent thoroughbreds to poke their heads out of stalls, seemingly wondering who was this interloping alien intruder. Walking in farther in to the cool shade, I was eventually greeted by the sole human occupant, a stable hand, who agreed to let me use a phone hanging on a wall next to an office door. As I placed the call for a pickup, I asked the stable hand my location. I will never forget his imperious response: “You sir, are at Calumet Farm.”

The light bulb went on! In my fear and relief over an almost intimate meeting with the hay wagon of death, I was totally oblivious to the fact that I had landed at the only horse farm in the world to have won both the Hambletonian (first leg of the Trotting Triple Crown), the Kentucky Derby (first leg of the Thoroughbred Triple Crown), and almost 600 other trophies. The looming hay wagon had obscured my initial appreciation and wonder of an unescorted, never to be repeated walk through the Calumet Farm horse barn!

And the point? There seems to be an almost universal foible when amidst a struggle for survival, be it business, family, emotional, financial, physical, or other critical challenge, to become so immersed in that immediate struggle that all sense of context, larger vision, and situational awareness is lost. Rather than sharpening tactics and strategy necessary to surmount such engaged survival threats, the exclusive, myopic focus upon the immediate challenge at hand can blind one to resources and options, cutting off access to critical reserves just when they are required most.

The Coast Guard Auxiliary Manual defines six barriers to situational awareness, three of which stand out in this discussion: “excessive motivation, overload, and fatigue”. When caught up in a perceived survival threat, the classic Type A personality is especially at risk for these three blinders. Typically such driven, competitive people are extremely motivated to surmount obstacles to achieving their goal but not necessarily adept at taking their own pulse amidst the heat of engaging such challenges. Admitting to overload and/or fatigue may be seen as admitting weakness and giving an antagonist an opening to exploit. Ironically there are circumstances when a “stand down” to reflect and regroup is a vastly more successful tactic than simply continuing on “hammering the same rock with the same hammer.” Some clinicians suggest that these three barriers are at the heart of certain extraordinarily driven and determined individuals’ development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Further, not only can such myopia limit essential threat evaluation and decision-making, it can preclude joy. As counter intuitive as that significance seems on first glance, it is often the experience of serendipitous joy that not only enlivens one at a time of great challenge and stress, but it can also be experiences of unexpected delight, beauty, and pleasure that actually re-inspire, re-energize, and re-kindle creative problem solving. Openness to unanticipated joy breaking through the press of the moment can allow in the breath of fresh air that can enable one to rejoin the fray with renewed vigor and determination.

Hay wagons vs. Ducati singles abound in all of our personal and professional lives. The Calumets of life are replete as well. Beware lest the seeming survival threat and demand of the former blind to the enriching, enlivening, refreshing delight of the latter.

Tigers, Alpines, and Decision Making

May 6, 2016

It was a gorgeous early spring Kentucky morning in 1969. I was cruising alone north of Lexington on Interstate 75 in my recently-off-the-show-room-floor, burnt-yellow, Fiat 124 Sport Coup. I loved that car with its Stebro exhaust, dual Webber carburetors, four wheel disk brakes, five speed gear box, Vredestein radials, 50/50 front/rear weight distribution, aftermarket planed head, dual air horns, and yes, infamous and totally deserved, abysmal Fiat reputation for horrendous reliability. But that was not a morning to be concerned with probable future failures; that was an instant in time to savor the current perfect marriage of automotive performance, youthful arrogance, and spectacular weather.

Twenty-five miles into the drive, relishing every moment, and doing a cool 80 mph, I over-took a disreputable looking wreck of a ragtop two seater. From the looks of it, the trip across the “pond” from Britain must have taken a terrible toll and the owner subsequently must have treated the poor beast with total disregard. I assumed the wreck to be what remained of a Sunbeam Alpine. Dropping down from fifth to fourth gear, I dismissively accelerated off, expecting that to be the end of it. In my rear view mirror, I was utterly stunned to see TWO columns of black smoke blowing out of the back of the Sunbeam. Somewhere just north of 100 mph, the wreck blew by me as if I were at a dead stop and continued on accelerating until out of sight. The wreck I had assumed to be a four cylinder Sunbeam Alpine was in fact a dual exhaust, Ford V8, Sunbeam Tiger, one of the earliest, custom modified cars of Carroll Shelby (yes, the same genius of Cobra and Mustang super-performance fame).

So what is the point? The point is that in my youthful conceit, I had selectively seized the superficial evidence (i.e. disreputable appearance) and ignored the significant evidence (i.e. dual exhaust) that then confirmed my fantasy (i.e. my car was hot and the other was not). The point may not be profound but it is certainly germane to more general and significant decision-making. It is all too easy to let our conceit and preconceptions blind us in data collection, data analysis, and subsequent data based action (i.e. decision making).

So why does this happen? Clearly it does not happen simply because of youth. If it were, most “older” decision makers would be wise and most “older” decisions would be spot-on. Why do we selectively seize the superficial and ignore the significant, and then wonder what went wrong?

Leon Festinger’s seminal work, A Theory of Cognitive Dissonance (1957) brought this process in to high relief. If we strongly hold something to be true and are faced with compelling evidence (data) to the contrary, we generally seek to reduce the attendant discomfort. Some of those attempts may achieve a measure of short-term consistency between what we expect and what we actually experience, and therefor less discomfort. However, many such attempts at reconciling strongly held, emotionally laden beliefs with contradicting evidence may be at the cost of long-term effective decision-making and action. Confirmation bias underlies many irrational conclusions drawn by seemingly rational decision makers.

So how does one effectively resolve such dissonance such that data collection and analysis are done without confirmation bias and subsequent data based decision-making and action have an enhanced probability of yielding superior (if unexpected) results? Let me suggest a few practices that offer hope overcoming our own biases.

 

  • The more intensely one holds to a belief, the more frequently and rigorously one needs to test that emotionally invested belief. Strength of emotional investment is not a guarantee of error; it is simply a warning indicator of possible risk. There is a crude analogy in statistics where a null hypothesis is tested. Simply put, does my belief really explain results or improve outcomes better than an alternate? If it does not, what is the advantage of the alternate and what is the peril posed by continuing as before?
  • Subject beliefs with significant cost vs. benefit outcomes to “outside” review, preferably from a congenial but competent “dissenter.” Two heads are not necessarily better than one, but if the other head is a dissenter, at least there may be an alternate option opened for consideration. If the original belief survives the review, there are good odds that it will be enriched and matured.
  • Beware of “paradoxical confirmation” or what is more commonly known as the “backfire effect.” This risk to decision making takes the form of one’s beliefs actually being strengthened by being exposed to contradictory, in reality accurate information. Paradoxically, especially when one feels persecuted (what ever shape that experience takes), that experience may be interpreted as confirmation of being correct, and maybe even one being of special importance.
  • Play a mind game. Imagine the one person you most despise in the world; could be a corrupt politician or the perpetrator of an especially egregious investment fraud or maybe a particularly heinous mass murder. Now imagine that this most despised person agrees with your ardently held belief and actually publically supports it. Does that enhance your opinion of the despised person or does that make you question your own position? If you lean toward enhancing your opinion of the despised person, vigorously question your own belief.
  • Pay attention to significant “dual exhausts” not superficial trivial appearances. It is the unexpected details in the data underlying a deal or decision that precisely because of being contrary to what one assumes, are in fact what makes the difference. Search for what refutes your position not what supports it. Supporting evidence will be obvious and enduring. That which is contrary to your assumptions may be harder to uncover, and given the investment in your existing belief, harder to establish credibility.

Finally, careful introspection and rigorous testing of strongly held beliefs must never be confounded with cowardice. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum, “Verify, then trust.”

Test, question, evaluate, analyze, correct, and then with courage and conviction, decide and act.

 

Top Twenty Ways in Healthcare to Beat a Dead Horse

April 8, 2016

Adapted from an earlier version first published in Open Minds Advisor, April 1999, Vol 1, #4

Native American wisdom teaches that when you discover you are riding a dead horse, the best strategy is to dismount.  However, all too often in the healthcare business we persistently try all other strategies with our dead horses, including:

  1. Investigate whether to build or buy a better whip to beat the dead horse;
  2. Change dead horse riders, and then take the opportunity to restructure everything else;
  3. Affirm that this is the way we have always ridden dead horses;
  4. Designate a cross-discipline, ad hoc work group to do a root cause analysis of dead horse sentinel events;
  5. Study other companies to learn their approach to and philosophy of riding dead horses;
  6. Institute rigorous corporate compliance standards regulating dead horse riding;
  7. Appoint a task group to reengineer the dead horse, with the Mission Statement “No Horse is too Dead to Beat” or maybe “We will Ride Until We are as Dead as the Horse”;
  8. Develop a training module to increase dead horse riding competency as taught by subject area experts;
  9. Advocate to improve parity and access to dead horses in today’s competitive yet underserved riding environment;
  10. Create a Vision Statement declaring “We Dare with Dignity to be the Best at Riding the Deadest Horse”;
  11. Outsource to independent contractors riding the dead horse in order to reduce fringe costs (and embarrassment if the horse really won’t run);
  12. Integrate (i.e. partner, merge, or acquire) several dead horses together for increased cost effectiveness, infrastructure efficiency, access to capital, and enhanced morale (after all, being a dead horse can really get lonely);
  13. Establish AROs (i.e. Accountable Riding Organizations) to ensure that dead horse riding information gathered by all member organizations may be seamlessly, confidentially shared;
  14. Introduce Value Based Purchasing and Impact Acts such that at-risk riders extend dead horse riding to defined populations via capitated contracts;
  15. Benchmark against other dead horse riders and analyze competitors’ dead horse riding outcomes;
  16. Implement new enterprise wide IT systems to make sophisticated dead horse riding data more accessible and to ensure that dead horse riding is solidly evidenced based;
  17. Market the dead horse as an exciting new resource sensitive, environmentally favorable product with the tagline “Dead Horses are Leaner, Meaner, and Greener”;
  18. Execute quality improvement initiatives to refine existing approaches into innovative and market driven (though possibly off label) uses for dead horses;
  19. Reduce the productivity requirements for riding dead horses thereby freeing up more time for doing dead paperwork;
  20. Promote the dead horse to a management position to ensure dead horse cultural competency, enhance dead horse diversity, and increase sensitivity to the assets dead horses bring to mission critical operations.

In practice, contrary to what we formally espouse and empirically know to prevail, we in healthcare all too often:

  1. Doggedly do anything except dismount from the known but discredited in order to seize the promising if unfamiliar;
  2. Desperately endeavor by all means possible to never welcome critical change or ever embrace creative transformation.

Nowhere is this tired self-defeating approach more evident than in the realm of healthcare regulation. At both the national and state levels we continue to follow the patently fallacious dictum: “If existing regulations have not reduced unnecessary cost, obstruction to access, scarcity of providers, and stagnate quality, increased regulation will surely solve the predicament.” The false promise of mandated increased coverage without clinical and financial capacity to actually deliver existing care requirements has never been more obviously dead.

The market is rarely absolutely fair, totally efficient, or immediately responsive, but it does spur innovation, reward quality, and expand opportunity. Contrary to a top down regulatory approach driven by political expediency, the most efficient market is driven by consumer expectations and experience. It is the consumer to whom healthcare is ultimately accountable and for whom it ultimately exists. The “dead horse” of hyper-regulation by governments of healthcare has been beaten and ridden beyond credibility and to a growing disservice to all consumers, providers, and payors. It is high time to dismount and allow the marketplace to deliver its extraordinary potential.

 

Sleeping Well and Saved from Hell? Political Discourse Circa 2016

March 2, 2016

He sleepeth well, who wisely drinks.

Who sleepeth well, no evil thinks.

Who thinks no evil, never sins.

Who sinneth not, salvation wins.

Therefore, he who drinketh well,

He shall be saved from Hell.

So reads a graffito scrawled on a pub wall in Eton, England, circa 1450. Regrettably, no matter how appealing the conclusion may seem at first glance, even a modicum of reasoning suggests that the matter of “salvation” might be a bit more complicated than simply salubrious imbibing (a classic reductio ad absurdum). Other such initially engaging arguments, though less amusing, may similarly be found upon even cursory inspection, to be equally logically flawed.

Amidst our current political discourse (actually more like a no-holds-barred, verbal bar-room brawl, simultaneously occurring in both parties), grossly logically flawed arguments abound, to such excess that rhetoric and philosophy instructors are literally awash in an embarrassment of utterly negative exemplary riches.

You don’t hate all Muslims, so you must support terrorists. It was personally more convenient for me to maintain my own server for classified material, so I really did nothing wrong. Some refugees are criminals, so all refugees must be banned from immigrating. Some bankers are crooks, so all financial institutions should be micromanaged. Poverty is horrible, so wealth must be involuntarily redistributed. Warfare is terrible, so any and all armed conflict must be avoided at any and all cost. Abortion is murder, so all women’s health services must be terminated. People may be killed by others shooting firearms, so all firearms should be banned.

Every one of the preceding arguments starts from a plausible premise and settles upon an irrational and absurd conclusion. Further, the current political discourse appears to be heavily characterized by the assumption that the louder and longer I speak and repeat a statement, the closer it approximates truth (similar to argumentum verbosium compounded by argumentum ab auctoritate).

On a chilly fall evening when I was but a latency lad, my father took me to a stock car race in South Jersey. Seated in the open bleachers, the night wind cut through us like the racecars through the track curves. Seated behind us were two gentlemen contending with the cold by passing a brown-paper-bagged bottle back and forth between them. The more one of them consumed, the louder, more intrusive and animated he became. Finally with no small air of embarrassment, the lesser inebriated of the two spoke up apologizing for his totally snockered friend: “When he runs out of logic, he turns up the volume.”

That, I am afraid, is the perfect analogy for much of what currently passes as political whit and wisdom as expressed in ongoing debate forums, campaign speeches, op-ed pieces, and “cream puff” media interviews. Our candidates in both parties have long run out of logic, and have cravenly, cynically, and cowardly simply turned up the volume. If we continue to tolerate this level of junkyard-dog discourse, maybe we really do deserve elected officials indistinguishable from drunken race fans. That would be hell indeed!

What Guides Your Journey?

February 19, 2016

"A wandering Aramean was my father..." So begins the brief Deuteronomy passage constituting what some Biblical scholars identify as one of the oldest, most central pericopes, or concise, stand-alone sequence of verses, embedded in the entire Hebrew Scriptures. It appears to have functioned as a sort of historical credo or confession of faith repeated over centuries by the ancient nomadic people of Israel. It tersely summarizes the pilgrimage of generations of those tribes, including the so-called Forty Years Wandering in the Wilderness, with especial focus upon telling the story of the Israelites' experience of God's saving action in their history (i.e. heilsgeschichte). It was recited in times of bondage and oppression, unity and peace, violence and dissention, freedom and rejoicing.

This reading is paired in the Revised Common Lectionary (i.e. selections of Biblical readings appointed for specific days of the liturgical year as agreed to by most Christian churches) with a reading from the Gospel according to St. Luke. This story told by St. Luke tells of Jesus’ own forty-day pilgrimage in the wilderness following his baptism in the Jordan River by St. John the Baptist. Further, it tells of Jesus' temptation three times by the Devil following a period of self-denial and meditation. Whereas the Deuteronomy verses are the story of the pilgrimage of a community of faith, the Lukan account is the story of the pilgrimage of an individual of faith.

In Lent, many Christians the world over participate in a pilgrimage, a journey of forty days. This forty-day pilgrimage shares much in common with both of the wilderness passages described in the two scriptural accounts noted above. Amidst this journey, we have the opportunity to recall God's saving actions in both our own individual and community pasts. We are challenged to exercise self-denial as a way of clarifying our attention and priorities. We are called to meditate and reflect upon whom God would have us be and where we may be led in the future. Yes, we may even be subject to temptation or required to make difficult decisions under difficult circumstances.

As we traverse this forty-day Lenten pilgrimage, there is an essential element for the meaningful completion of our journey. Throughout our Lenten journey, we need to be continually reminded not only where we are heading but also how we are getting there. Lent leads to Easter, but it leads through the cross. It is the cross, Christ's death, which makes Easter, Christ's resurrection, possible. The cross must remain the guiding symbol, a constant reminder, an ever-present sign of the depth of God's love for us and of the seriousness of God's call upon us. Amidst all the cultural trappings of the season, the cross points to the essential meaning of this time of preparation. For what are we preparing? For the joy of Easter, but it is joy tempered by and filtered through events of pain and despair, events of sorrow and doubt. It is the cross pointing toward Easter that speaks so accurately of our lives as citizens, family members, and workers; our lives filled with hope and fear, love and rejection, fulfillment and disappointment.

Some twenty years ago, the week after Thanksgiving, I was into the second day of an annual deer-hunting trip in Pennsylvania. The morning had literally exploded to life with a branch-snapping, tree-crashing ice storm. Even before dawn, the woods sounded like a battlefield from the leaden ice coating, bending, and then breaking everything from saplings to mature evergreens and hardwoods. The world seemed shrouded in an almost surrealistic glaze of ice. Late in the afternoon, my host and I remained the only two from our original party of eight still in the woods. Dead tired and convinced that even the marrow of our bones was frozen solid, my companion Michael and I began one last drive, estimated to be about an hour-long walk, through a particularly dense stand of trees, brambles, and boulders. It was an hour and a quarter until dusk.

There would be no useable landmarks and the prospect of getting lost under the prevailing conditions was not appealing. We took compass bearings, mumbled encouragement, and started off. Within two minutes Michael and I, clad as we were in hunter orange, were totally out of each other's sight. Within fifteen minutes, I was totally confused. I repeatedly checked my compass. The direction I was certain was correct was ninety degrees off the compass reading. I must be correct; my compass, either frozen or banged up, must be in error. But maybe not! Maybe the compass was accurate, and just maybe I was disoriented. Which to trust: my own now numbed instincts or that mysterious needle floating in a hollow block of Lucite? I in fact followed the repeatedly read compass bearing and it led me to the destination clearing just five minutes before dusk. Without my Boy Scout compass, I might still be wandering around in confusion in the Pennsylvania wilderness.

Similarly it is the cross that leads us through our Lenten pilgrimage. It is the cross that gives us our bearings during those forty days of preparation. It is the cross that gives direction to the wanderings in the wilderness of our individual and community experience. We are amidst a pilgrimage, a journey. As we look to Easter, it is the cross that points the way.

To Grieve Yet to Believe

February 5, 2016

Some sixty years ago I vacationed with my parents, two younger siblings, and paternal grandparents at a lakeside cabin in Maine. On the first evening in that strange and unfamiliar place, we all bedded down in typical rustic cabin accommodations—my little brother and I sleeping on adjoining cots, and my infant sister in a dresser drawer, padded with towels and placed on the attic floor between us—the children upstairs and the adults downstairs.

Sometime after getting into bed and quieting down, I noticed with immediate terror, that a floor-length curtain was blowing menacingly by an open window. This observation prompted an instant shout to my parents: "Help!  There's a monster up here!" My father dutifully bounded up the steps, turned on all the lights, and bravely lifted the moving curtain in every possible direction to expose every possible view of the wall and window.

Now, I would like to be able to tell you that I thereafter calmly went back to sleep, reassured that there were no monsters, only "the wind doing its job" as says the little badger's father in the children’s classic, Bedtime for Francis. However, that is not the way it went. My five-year-old head knew that the much-feared monster was only the wind. However, my five-year-old gut remained frightened, now not only scared but also a little bit guilty and embarrassed in the knowledge that I shouldn't be scared.

That, I think, is what it often is like for Christians (and other persons of faith who believe in a loving God) when facing death or other intense loss. The words in an NFL commercial attributed to Walter Payton several months prior to his death may ring spot-on: “Of course I am afraid of dying. I’ve never done it before.

The bitter truth is that the loss of one near and dear to us, or the prospect of our own imminent demise may pain and frighten us deeply. Further, all too often, such grief is accompanied by more than a little guilt and embarrassment at the power of that pain and fear. We may even tongue in cheek, affirm with Woody Allen that: “ I am not afraid of dying (or losing a loved one); I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

To believe yet to grieve. For many people of faith, that seems a contradiction in terms, or at best an impious imperfection. Yet, contradiction or not, it truthfully portrays our human experience.

For many of us, there seems to be only two equally unsatisfactory directions to be taken in our attempt to resolve this dilemma—the dilemma of grieving yet still believing. One direction goes something like this: "My grief, my loss is so intense, so overpowering, so deep, that my faith must be a farce, my belief must be bogus." The other direction goes something like: "My faith is so strong, my belief so unshakable, my religion so uplifting, that my loss doesn't really hurt, my grief is joy, my sorrow is nothing."

In the pursuing the first path, in denying the reality of our faith, we deny God's presence with us; we deny hope; we reject consolation. In pursuing the second path, in denying the reality of our grief and loss, we deny our own humanity; we deny the power and passion of our relationships with other people; we deny the authenticity of our own experience.

How are we to avoid either of these two equally unsatisfactory courses? How are we to authentically resolve the apparent contradiction? I am convinced that though far from definitively resolving this conundrum, the story of Jesus and his friend Lazarus as told in the Gospel according to St. John, Chapter 11, points us in a valuable direction. Recall that story: Jesus, Mary, Martha, and the two sisters' brother Lazarus were close friends. Lazarus got sick and died. St. John gives a poignant account of Christ’s reaction to news of his friend's death.  We read that Lazarus died, and “Jesus wept” and was “deeply moved”.

Yet even in the midst of his intense, all so human pain, Jesus continued to trust in God. Jesus, we are told, “lifted up his eyes and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me.” St. John reports that Jesus prayed to God and Lazarus was restored to health. Neither Christ’s pain nor his trust were any the less real, any the less authentic. He grieved and believed, one neither falsifying nor denying nor diminishing the other; and his trust in God was not betrayed, for God did not abandon Jesus in his time of loss and grief.

Some thirty years ago my wife and I anticipated the birth of our third daughter with great joy and great expectation; joy and expectation in large measure based upon the delight and wonder brought to us by her two older sisters.

Our baby girl died in childbirth. There are times when those simple words still bring a searing pain, a spasm in my throat, a gasp for breath, an uncontrollably wet eye. The weeks after her death and burial remain obscured in a compassionate numbness, shrouded in a blur of hazy recollection. Nevertheless, of one thing I remain certain: though our baby girl was gone, we were neither abandoned nor alone. Our grief, though through and through most personally our grief, was shared; shared by other loved ones, by friends and acquaintances, even shared by the God who makes us one. If you ask me, "Did you always believe; did you ever despair?” All I can answer is that I was never forsaken. My grief was not diminished, but I was never betrayed. We were never forgotten nor were we ever deserted.

Loss and mourning are experiences central to being human. God's gracious gift to us is that even amidst deep pain, God is ever there. God is there even if we are unable or unwilling to cry out.  God reaches out to us even when we do not embrace God. God is there not as a disinterested observer, but as one Himself deeply mourning. God Herself grieves with us.

Almost fifteen years after the 11th of September attack, and months and years after other such traumatic events of national and personal loss, the agonizing truth strikes us all: thousands of our country men and women are not only missing but also many are in fact dead. Now, as much as any other time of tumult, tragedy, and terror in our personal lives and in the life of our nation, as we reflect upon and remember those loved ones now silent, remember and never forget, we are not alone. God is always here. Both grief and belief are expressions of the person of the Creator, the Creator who freely shares in the life, in the joy and in the pain, of creation.

Carved over the door of Carl Jung’s office in Kusnacht, Switzerland is “Vocatus atque non Vocatus, Deus aderit.”—Bidden or not, God is present—present not just in our joy and our celebration, but also in our loss and our grief, in our anguish and our terror.

“What Makes a Man?”

January 8, 2016

In the fall of 1967 US Marines were under aggressive artillery fire by NVA at Con Thien. The two sides exchanged almost 300,000 rounds, with B-52 strikes supplementing tenacious Marine fire to finally lift the approximately six-week siege. During that protracted battle over 50,000 marched on the Pentagon demanding an end to the Vietnam involvement. Shortly thereafter, President Johnson restated his resolve to maintain such US military involvement. American youth were both bravely fighting and dying, and loudly protesting such fighting and dying. The Military Selective Service Act of 1967 expanded upon the provisions of the Act of 1948 and the Draft was in full operation.

That same fall I began my sophomore year at a small college in central KY, when an ill-executed excursion to a Beach Boys concert ultimately resulted in me being thrown out of school. There is no optimal time for such an involuntary academic departure to occur, but this was clearly one of the worst possible. Upon “getting the ax,” I rapidly found a job selling shoes in an urban mall which required hitchhiking 20 miles each way from a rural “room” I rented from an elderly widow. As soon as such lodging and employment were effected, I called my parents in NJ and informed them that I would save them embarrassment and not return home until Christmas break. I looked through each day’s mail with dread, fully expecting to find a letter from my local Draft Board. Given that I found no new school that would admit one “disciplinarily dismissed,” I reapplied to where I had been ejected and was conditionally readmitted for the following academic quarter.

During Christmas break, one afternoon I overheard my father relaying the events of my academic fall to one of his colleagues. The colleague’s response startled and challenged me as few such remarks ever have: “Maybe this will make him a man?” “Make him a man!” What did that mean? What makes a man? What was a man? I was clueless.

Just to confirm that God does have a sense of humor, it was my maternal grandmother, my alma mater’s Dean of Women years prior to my arrival (and abrupt departure), who funded that ill-fated sophomore year. I delayed for some weeks to write informing her of my “difficulties”. For months I heard nothing in response. One following spring day a brown paper wrapped, butcher string tied package arrived in the mail. There was no explanation, just a poem, crudely framed, gold trimmed, cut-out from a book; hand written on the back of the frame was “1967, Love, Grandmother.” The poem? Kipling’s “IF.”

If you can keep your head when all about you   

    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,

    But make allowance for their doubting too;   

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,

    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

 

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   

    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster

    And treat those two impostors just the same;   

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken

    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,

    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

 

If you can make one heap of all your winnings

    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings

    And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   

And so hold on when there is nothing in you

    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   

    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

    If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   

    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

I got it! Being a man had nothing to do with bravado, machismo, or any other culturally attributed measure of MANLINESS. Being a man meant to be humble, loyal, courageous, visionary, patient, compassionate, to take prudent risks, to be tenacious, and to live with integrity. The more I have considered and observed these traits, the more I have become convinced that they are not only what makes a Man, but equally, what makes a Woman. Thank you Grandmother!

Christa & Charlie Hedbo

December 4, 2015

In 1975, Edwina Sandys’ Christa (the first prominently displayed depiction of Christ on the cross as an anatomically correct nude female) had its premiere exhibition in London for the United Nations’ Decade of Women. The response of Christians ranged from utter revulsion and outrage to The Rev. James Parks Morton’s (Rector of NYC Cathedral of St. John the Divine where the sculpture was displayed in 1984) observation that “Christa simply reminded viewers that women as well as men are called upon to share the suffering of Christ.”

Energetic, sometimes vitriolic debate continued for years from pulpits, publications, and people of intense faith and those of no faith at all. However, the facts to this date are that though names were called, damnations were cast, diatribes were written and delivered, and partisan divisions were exacerbated, no one was shot, stoned, beheaded, burned alive, flogged, kidnapped, or blown up.

As the first anniversary of the Charlie Hedbo Massacre in Paris approaches, though the intensity of “free speech” debate has somewhat diminished, the fallout continues in governing bodies, publishing houses, anti-terror departments, theological circles, and the streets of many countries. International response (both Islamic and non-Islamic) has ranged from vociferous condemnation of the terrorists to equally vociferous condemnation of the cartoonists. In the past month, once again Paris has been besieged by those bent on the slaughter of dissidents, and renewed calls for further murders continue to be shouted. The intensity of radical Islamic animosity and violence has not abated.

Some champions of free speech have passionately defended the rights of anyone to say anything about anybody, and some champions of religion have urged respect and restraint for whatever or whomever someone passionately holds sacrosanct or unassailable. Whatever the opinion, the Charlie Hedbo facts, in their starkest reality, are that seventeen people were killed by two other people because of the victims’ allegedly blasphemous portrayal of the killers’ religious leader, and that credible death threats have subsequently been made to numerous others, with multiple acts of horrendous violence actually perpetrated.

What accounts for the radically differing intensity, range, and rage of responses? Was some Moslem response to Charlie Hedbo ethnocentric and passionately violent in the extreme out of religious “immaturity?” And the obverse--did Christians not respond violently to Christa out of greater “maturity?” Are the extraordinary differences in the responses to these two provocative “artistic” presentations functions of the differing decades’ zeitgeists, elemental differences between the two religions, simply flowing from the fanatical extremes of an outlying few, or is there something about the historical maturity of a religion that fosters or dampens violent, persecutory action “in defense” of the Faith?

Does the historical maturation of a Faith over time diminish a propensity to Faith sanctioned violence; does time breed tolerance or “civilized” forbearance? The question raised here is how something so egregiously culturally strange for non-Moslems (and many Moslems as well) as the Paris Massacres could occur in the 21st century. Does an additional six hundred years of a Faith’s growth and development make a difference?

Gordon Allport (1950) makes the distinction between mature and immature religion. Allport’s focus is essentially upon the individual practitioner’s personal development and religious expression and not upon the aggregate, corporate, institutional development of a religious system. That said, characteristics he highlights as immature, such as prejudice, fanaticism, magical-thinking, and unreflective literal adherence to second hand wisdom may not only characterize the individual’s “faith” (i.e. personal belief) but also the collective “Faith” (i.e. cult, denomination, or sect). Will such a belief system (at least in the corporate sense) mature over time? Will the propensity to persecute and commit sectarian violence diminish with age?

Six hundred years from now (God willing much sooner), will the retrospective consensus of then contemporaneous Moslems regarding the Charlie Hedbo and similar massacres be analogous to how modern Christians view the Inquisition; that is, as an heretical, profoundly disturbing, Faith deviant, odious aberration? During a 15 January 2015 flight en route to the Philippines just days after the Charlie Hedbo massacre, Pope Francis is quoted as saying: “It is an aberration to kill in the name of God…. Religion can never be used to justify violence….” Is this sentiment fundamental to a Faith or is it at least to some degree, the product of time?

Dementia: Challenge and Call

October 30, 2015

The ancient adage affirms that as we get older we also get wiser. Thankfully, for most of us and our loved ones, that adage accurately reflects the reality of our senior years. Tragically, for many others of us and our loved ones, the reality of our advancing age is clouded by the onset of dementia. As Oscar Wilde observed, “With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” Agonizingly, age may actually come with impaired cognition and lost recall.

Dementia can be produced by diverse causes and can assume many different characters. It can be evidenced by agitation and fear, loss of distant and/or recent memories, changes in behavior, social withdrawal and isolation, and confusion and disorientation. It can advance insidiously, by increments almost too incidental to be perceived except in retrospect; or it can seemingly attack out of nowhere, with huge chunks of cognition directly and rapidly degraded. Dementia occasionally can be diminished or delayed with treatment, but all too often it is forever.

The Evergreens is a community comprised of persons with diverse pasts, disparate futures, and varying current capabilities. Some of our community members remain physically independent, active, mobile, significantly employed, and able to travel both near and far as they choose. Other community members require considerable assistance and support from people and devices in order to complete basic activities of daily living. Similarly, some of our community members retain and routinely exercise incredible, formidable intellectual capabilities to the end of their days. Others experience a cognitive decline that is demoralizing and bewildering to both the afflicted persons themselves and to their circle of loved ones.

Our senses of identity and self worth are intimately tied to our senses of physical prowess and mental acuity, especially when these attributes are of long standing. The impact of cognitive deterioration is especially debilitating in that our personality and our unique character are largely formed by what and who and with whom we remember. For many of us, to be is experienced as being able to recall. (If you will, memini ergo sum, with apologies to Descartes!) To be able to remember with intensity something as ordinary as a biscuit eaten in childhood (Proust, Remembrance of Things Past) can be of life long sustaining influence. As that ability to recall recedes, our sense of who we are and were and will be suffers enormous insult.

So, what is the challenge and call for our community regarding dementia? At an organizational level, we must continuously review program approaches and their implications for “bricks and mortar.” Short-term as well as long-range tactics, strategies, and studies, in consultation with residents and family members, and financial, clinical, and architectural specialists, must be diligently pursued.

However, at least as important as our institutional response to dementia is our attitude and behavior as individuals. Our family, friends, and neighbors who forget more frequently, have trouble performing simple tasks, behave gruffly, act fearfully, withdraw socially, seem agitated, get confused or lost, repeat themselves, and/or appear depressed and irritable, these persons may be confronting the reality of their own cognitive decline. Our response of calm patience, gentle persistence, clear communication, consistent respect, gracious reassurance, and quiet dignity will accomplish much in smoothing their difficult road of transition. Compassionate regard for our loved ones who may develop dementia must be a hallmark of who we are both as care givers and as those potentially subject to cognitive decline ourselves.

“Why Me? Why Today?”

October 2, 2015

Revised from Original, Published 24 July 1998 as “Getting on Track After a Layoff” - WSJ National Business Employment Weekly: “Guest Editorial”

No matter the quantity, intensity, or frequency of forewarning signs during a restructuring, the timing of an employment termination always seems to come as a traumatic shock to the one terminated. Why me; why now; why not last week; why not next month; why not the end of the quarter; why “today”? For me that “today” was Friday, 29 May 1998, 2:00 PM. I quickly packed my office, assisted by three colleagues, all whom in shaky voices and with teary eyes expressed anger, frustration, support, and not-so-subtly-concealed relief that they personally had survived restructuring, at least for that “today”.

From 101 Psych. we all know that the paradigmatic, primordial responses tofright are either flight or fight. Intuitively, I knew that if I did not rapidly get productively fighting, I would soon be hopelessly fleeing. Much HR wisdom advises against terminations occurring on Fridays, the logic I suppose being that the one freshly fired should not be immediately left to lick their wounds adrift in the unstructured sea of a weekend. For me, the timing was paradoxically an asset. It gave me the opportunity to instantly and relatively painlessly implement Step 1. in my swiftly evolving plan to get re-employed well and in a timely fashion.

Step 1. quite simply was to tell the world that I was looking for a job. Once I had told friends and family informally over the weekend (actually starting at a NASCAR race in Dover, DE), I began telling professional colleagues and competitors (both great potential sources of leads) as the workweek began. Once I had told them, the word was out. I could never thereafter retreat into the self-pitying and self-destructive isolation of denial and inaction. Further, as consultant Niels Nielson has said, “If you are looking for a job and don’t tell everyone, you will get the results you deserve.” By the end of my first week unemployed, I had called sixty-five key people in my industry, and solid leads and concrete support were flowing in.

Step 2. became acutely obvious as the first Sunday evening waxed into Monday morning: I needed to develop an action plan. Getting a job had to become my full-time job. If I were to achieve, even triumph, in this new endeavor, I had to devote the same energy, muster the same talents, rouse the same creativity, manage tasks and resources with the same proficiency, and generally operate with the same commitment to quality that had brought me success previously. When I was Clinical Vice President, working for a corporation, I manifested integrity, dedication, and competence. Now that I was working for myself, I could be no less disciplined. Setting goals, planning, and implementing remained absolute essentials. This means that every morning I had to get up, get ready, go to work, and really work; only now the commute was much shorter!

Step 3. was equally simple: I sought others engaged in the same endeavor; that is, that first week unemployed, I attended a jobseekers group (ironically one that I had previously consulted for regarding stress management and depression). I needed to get technical expertise, increase my knowledge base, and find confidential, trustworthy feedback as to the probable effectiveness and efficiency of my own efforts, and I needed to get those things fast! I was an expert at doing a job (i.e. behavioral healthcare management) but not necessarily particularly adept at getting a job (though I quickly found transferable skills).

Step 4. was neither voluntary nor original with me. As part of my termination package, additional severance was offered if I would sign a standard release and pledge of non-defamation. I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to my previous employer for including this clause. In my initial anger and humiliation over being terminated, I lacked the common sense and impulse control to on my own, refrain from bad-mouthing my terminators. Over the course of the first week of unemployment, a burst of unexpected insight hit me: the more positive and optimistic I was, coupled with my lack of criticism or expressed bitterness, the greater the support, encouragement, and practical assistance I received from professional acquaintances and personal friends. The termination package’s clause served as a transition between the blind bad judgment of panic and the reasoned restraint of realistic hope.

Step 5. also grew out of my determination to fight not flee: during my second week unemployed, I targeted key customers (both internal and external) with whom I had worked, such as vendors, consultants, payers/purchasers, and regulatory officials. I boldly, if somewhat apologetically, requested that they memorialize their experience working with me in writing. This served three functions: a.) as these performance testimonies came in, I got repetitive and tremendous boosts to my self-esteem during subsequent, sometimes trying unemployed weeks; b.) I developed a readily available and varied library of references to use with potential employers; c.) and not of least importance, I developed a war chest of documentary evidence for use as needed, should revisionist historians at my previous employer choose to inaccurately portray my accomplishments.

Step 6. was not rocket science: to remain optimally motivated and productive in my job search, I must remain spiritually grounded. Toward that end I scheduled time each day to pause and reflect, in a focused fashion using the core resources of my religious tradition (i.e. the Bible and the Anglican Book of Common Prayer). Missing that time of ordered contemplation became as counter-productive as missing the news, industry trade papers, or professional Internet resources.

Finally, I have frequently been reminded of the extraordinary opportunity, even adventure, unemployment presented. I would never have voluntarily chosen to quit work so that I might find work. Yet, finding a dream job truly is a full-time job, and my previous attempts to achieve substantial career advancement while employed had been half-hearted, poorly planned, semi-secret, and sporadic. Unemployed, my search became highly energetic, well organized, clearly focused, and on occasion even fun. When called and informed by me ten minutes after it occurred that I had been terminated “today”, my wife’s first comment was an enthusiastic “Congratulations”. On the whole, that optimistic sentiment accurately reflected my search experience.

Morning of Memories

September 11, 2015

Reprinted in an edited version at this time each year since 2001.

It was Friday afternoon, the 22nd of November more than fifty years ago. I distinctly remember sitting in my high school’s study hall in Salem, N.J. I had big plans for that weekend, including a two-day overnight trip to New York City with some fellow Boy Scouts. We still took the trip, but it was radically different from what we had anticipated – its memory, to this day, grossly overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy.

Similarly, we all can remember with distinct clarity where we were and what we were doing on the morning of Tuesday, September 11 more than a decade ago. We had plans, expectations, and dreams – some for the immediate morning and some for the coming months and years ahead.

However, as the Rev. Mychal F. Judge, martyred NYC Fire Department Chaplain known affectionately as “Father Mike,” frequently said, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for tomorrow.”

What changed our community and individual outlooks on life that morning was events that did not make God laugh. Rather, they were events that caused God to grieve with all persons of good will and decency.

On that September 11, all of our priorities and plans were abruptly and agonizingly altered. The atrocities committed forever altered our perception of who we are as people and of what is important in our lives.

We thought that our nation's shores were invulnerable – and with four horrendous acts of terrorism, we discovered that we were all too exposed.

We thought that we were indifferent – and in the selfless sacrifice of police and fire fighters, we found that we could care and be grateful to our core.

We thought that we were above needing assistance from others – and found that the support of allies and sometime adversaries was desperately appreciated and deeply humbling.

We thought that we were too jaded and cynical for patriotism – and found that we loved our country as much as life itself.

We thought that God was in our own image – and found that people of generosity and self-giving are to be encountered in every imaginable tongue and hue.

We thought that the experiences of strangers was of no significance to us – and found that in both the safety and loss of others, we could celebrate and mourn as if they were our dearest friends.

We thought that bravery was reserved for only a special few – and found that the strength to become a hero exists in each one of us.

Yes, our perceptions, priorities, and plans were irreversibly altered by the unimaginable events that occurred that grave day.  And in that alteration, we briefly became more united as a nation and more focused upon people rather than upon politics.

To this day, many across our nation are more unguarded in their caring, more committed to serving our country, more conscious of our dependence upon others, and more faithful in our recognition of God. In light of our heightened sense of generosity, humility, and kindred purpose, we must dare to live and act with a renewed sense of clarity, courage, and passion. Though altered, our hopes and dreams for the future must never be timidly abandoned.

As we continue on our profoundly altered life journeys, may God’s grace shine upon our communities, our country, and upon all of creation. May we remember today and every day, all the lives that have been lost and all the sacrifices that have been made for the defense of freedom, peace, and humankind.

A Prayer of Hope and Remembrance

Oh God, we come together with you on this morning of memories.

We remember our country, and pray for unity and resolve.

We remember our enemies, and pray for a change of spirit and action.

We remember those who grieve, and pray for healing and recovery.

We remember our leaders, and pray for courage and wisdom.

We remember our yearnings for peace, and pray for your justice to prevail.

We remember our own failings, and pray for forgiveness.

We remember our fire, police, emergency medical, and military personnel, and pray for your protection and our support.

We remember those who are in need, and pray that we may be the answer to their prayers.

We remember the dead, and pray that they may be held in our hearts and in your presence always.

We remember to ask all these things in your name,

Amen.

“Effective Followership” – The Art of Being Led

August 7, 2015

Of all topics currently written about in popular press and business journals, discussed in classrooms and on panels, and attended to in executive interviews and mentoring sessions, leadership has to be the most prolific. (A net search on that one word yields in excessive of 481 million hits in .34 seconds!) Consideration of leadership in any multi-person endeavor is not only ubiquitous but also essential, be it the boardroom, operating room, dance floor, election campaign, IPO, M&A or faculty senate.

But what about the occasions when one is being led rather than leading? No one, no matter how charismatic, erudite or passionate can lead in every context. Not every team member can be the leader in all matters. There are times when all of us are the led, not the lead.

Robert E. Kelley, in a classic leadership piece published in the Harvard Business Review (Nov, 1988) entitled “In Praise of Followers,” writes: “What distinguishes an effective from an ineffective follower is enthusiastic, intelligent, and self-reliant participation—without star billing—in the pursuit of an organizational goal.” What are some commonplace styles of being led evidenced in many teams? What are several styles of following?

In the 1980s, my family was a member of the Princeton’s Nassau Swim Club. My elementary school daughters swam (with neither great distinction nor great interest) on the club’s swim team. The team mascot was the LEMMING, that furry, little Artic rodent notorious for periodic migrations where large groups drown following a leader off a riverbank into water too deep to safely ford.

This reference serves as one of two “bookends” on the “followership” continuum. A “lemming” team member may docilely follow the leader without reflection, feedback, active evaluation or even much sense of interest. Perceived urgency or velocity of action may be a cover for lack of genuine investment, attention to possible outcomes or even comprehension of a tactic’s relationship to strategy. Of even greater risk to the organizational goal is the passive/aggressive dynamic, whereby abdicating responsible team participation may be a method of distancing oneself from accountability. The absurd extreme of this bookend is the so-called “Nuremburg Defense,” to whit, “I was just following orders.” Lemmings on a team may create a specious and fragile aura of agreement, mutual resolve and affirmative cohesion.

From the late 1930s through the early 1970s, Plainsboro, NJ was home to the Walker Gordon Farms Rotolactor. The Rotolactor was a gigantic “merry go round” of sorts, where cows about to be milked would enter at one point, be washed and prepped for milking, milked and then exit all in one rotation of the huge device. (Obviously pre-Dr. Temple Grandin!) One of the keys to success in a session’s milking was to get the lead cow and all following cows to enter the device without hesitation, such that the session progressed efficiently. (For those not familiar with cow milking, a cow with full udder is generally as motivated to be milked, as is the dairy farmer to do the milking.) As a child, I distinctly remember observing the process go badly awry on one occasion: a cow in line to be milked completely shut down the entire process by refusing to follow the leader. The irony was that the obstructing cow needed to be milked as much as Walker Gordon needed the process to progress unimpeded.

This story serves as the second “bookend” on the “followership” continuum. A team member behaving as an oppositional “cow” may actually function in a manner not only detrimental to corporate goal attainment, but even detrimental to that member’s own best interests. Here, what may pass as independent thought, objectivity, exploration of alternative options or prudent restraint is actually frozen, sometimes cowardly or lazy, obstruction of analysis, decision-making and execution. There are situations that require a team member of integrity and courage to stand up and stay “No” or “Wait” or “Reconsider”; but the “cow” can sabotage process and implementation due to being hyper-risk-averse, lacking confidence in the leader or lack of commitment to team success. What is actually even more destructive is an initial verbal “Yes,” followed by a behavioral “No.”

So what are characteristics of an effective follower? Kelley suggests four:

1.) Self-management
2.) Commitment to the organization
3.) Competence and focused effort
4.) Courage, honesty and credibility

It is the actualization of these four critical characteristics of optimal “followership” by all team members that can ensure team effectiveness, goal attainment and organizational success. The behavior of “cows” and “lemmings” can almost certainly ensure failure.

Healthcare Heroes

July 10, 2015

Who is a hero?

The Seattle Seahawks lineman who recovered Denver’s botched snap to drive for a 2-point safety on the first play of Super Bowl XXXXVIII? The US Airways pilot who safely crash-landed Flight 1549 into the Hudson River? The eight-year-old Penfield, NY boy who died trying to save a seventh family member from a house fire, after previously helping to save the other six? The American Olympic biathlon contender who gave up her berth for her sister who had been previously eliminated due to illness? The Colorado police officer who sang “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” to soothe a frightened, crying little girl whose father had just been killed in an automobile accident? The autistic woman who overcame challenges to become a leading world expert on controlling cattle behavior? Are any or all of these people heroes?

What makes a hero? 

The people listed above are all ordinary folks whose stories have been told over the course of the past several years. Curiously, many acclaimed as heroes reject that characterization and avow that anyone would have done the same thing in the same circumstance. Former President Ronald Reagan once stated that true heroes were not braver than ordinary people; they were just braver for five minutes longer than ordinary people. So is what makes a hero to go back into a burning building for the seventh time or drives for the safety instead of settling for a recovery? Does the heroic require sacrifice in time, position, money, comfort or life itself? Is there a unique type of person who rises to the heroic or is that capacity embedded in the DNA of each of us? Is the heroic simply the whim of Fate, as the character in Blazing Saddles describes his existential state, “Mongo only pawn in game of life?” How is doing the extraordinary possible, and is that what makes a hero?

In healthcare today, do heroes matter?

The single greatest challenge in healthcare today is uncertainty; uncertainty as to governmental policy, availability of financial capital and reimbursement, benefit and service costs, status of the larger economy, federal and state mandates and regulations, constantly changing technology, access to a shrinking number of providers, risk shifting to consumers, etc. Given that the present and the future seem unusually volatile and even capricious, do we require champions or wonks, strategists or advocates, visionaries or quants, the nimble or the solid, the possibly scalable or the certainly secure, the blue-sky creative or the tried and true dependable? Never before has the accuracy of our environmental scanning and the precision of our execution counted for so much. Sophisticated assessment, meticulous planning, rigorous implementation and constant review are vital for business survival and the delivery of quality care to our patients and residents. Do healthcare heroes even exist

Inspiration counts!

If uncertainty is the greatest current challenge, inspiration is the greatest potential resource. If highest quality healthcare is an amalgam of science and art, it is also a fusion of training and commitment, knowledge and compassion, determination and reason. From where springs the source of inspiration critical to ensuring those qualities are constantly and consistently lived by healthcare practitioners? In its essence, it is the heroic that inspires us. It is the inspiration stimulated by heroes – ordinary people doing the extraordinary – that energizes, emboldens and animates other ordinary people to dare the extraordinary. Heroes beget heroes – just as fear is contagious, heroic action geometrically inspires others to behave and live beyond themselves. The heroic goes viral!

Where have I found healthcare heroes?

I have had the privilege of knowing several sets of healthcare heroes who have significantly inspired my own vision and leadership. One of my brothers, a perinatologist, and his wife, a nurse practitioner and sonographer, have a West Coast medical practice focused on women, many of whom are marginalized and all of whom are amidst significantly compromised pregnancies. My brother and sister-in-law’s commitment, sensitivity, competence, energy and tenacity, dedicated to the care of those challenged mothers-to-be inspires and astounds me. How they continue to practice extraordinary care and compassion within a system characterized by profound and pervasive uncertainty and often crippling limitation is, to me, truly extraordinary and almost miraculous.

Another set of healthcare heroes in my experience is senior living residents. They approach their medical, mobility, social and sensory trials with a patience, wisdom, perseverance, inquisitiveness and acceptance that encourages and humbles me. On the whole, they refuse to passively sit in God’s waiting room focused upon their losses, but rather they actively strive to surmount the realities of morbidity and mortality and never to let those realities define or confine them. They choose to live.

Healthcare systems (similar to politics, organized religion and the military) are complex and hierarchical. There are those at the top with power, acknowledgment and compensation who fulfill vital and recognized functions. There are also those at the bottom who do the often unappreciated but absolutely essential day-to-day service work. Day in and day out, housekeepers, nursing assistants, techs, dining attendants and maintenance workers serve together alongside patients and residents with compassion, respect, competence, humor and devotion, honoring and cherishing their work together as members of the same community with the same end goal. More often than not, these people really know and are known by those they serve with greater intimacy than that of the CFO, administrator, physician, CEO or director. These ordinary persons at the healthcare “bottom” are my “top” heroes, routinely doing the extraordinary. They truly inspire those whom they serve and also the colleagues with whom they serve.

Once again quoting Reagan, “Those who say that we're in a time when there are not heroes, they just don't know where to look.” Healthcare heroes abound!

A Preliminary Vision for Our Preferred Future

June 5, 2015

“Where there is no vision the people perish.” - Proverbs 29: 18

We have considered how the via media can serve us as a kind of organizing principle as we define who we are as a community, where we are going and how we will get there. This future we are building requires both vision (verb) and a Vision (noun). As leaders, all of us count vision (verb) – that of seeing clearly – among our many roles and jobs. We must work at keeping our leadership grounded, authentic, relevant and inspirational by continuously striving to see a bit “over the horizon.” Those who we lead must continuously be reassured that we, as their leaders, really do have a clue as to what needs to be done, what it takes to do it and how it will impact them, their dreams and future aspirations.

My job as CEO is to draw out and hear my community’s dreams and aspirations, see the broadest possible vistas, anticipate probable obstacles, refine and define the clearest goals and then rally the community’s support in achieving our preferred future. My job is to not only have vision (verb) but also a Vision (noun). So what is this Vision of our preferred future?

The first image that comes to mind in defining my hopes and goals for our future is that of the Roman god Janus, patron of gates and doors. Also known as the god of beginnings, Janus had the unique feature of having two opposing faces, bestowing upon him the ability to see both the past and the future simultaneously.

In the spirit of Janus, The Evergreens, too, must never forget or forsake its roots but also never become root-bound. Our original community, The Evergreens Home for Deserving Widows, was born out of the marriage of unmet needs of elderly widows and the fervent desire of Episcopalians with means to ensure adequate provision for those “deserving widows.” Though there is solid Biblical support in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament for this practice, it was, however, not a universally practiced European custom. In fact, places like The Evergreens Home for Deserving Widows were notable exceptions to what was often poor care and callous indifference toward aged, poor, predominantly female individuals without families to assist them. If leaders 95 years ago had not had the vision to turn the Lamonte and then Johnson mansions into homes of care and compassion, many would have suffered. If leaders 80 years after those founders had not had the foresight and guts to broaden both the care provided and the recipients of that care, The Evergreens would have gone under. We, like Janus, must be able to see both the past and future simultaneously – honoring our heritage without being confined by it.

The second image that comes to mind in defining my hopes and goals for our future is a story from my extended family. Early in the 20th century, the owners of a small store in the Midwest fired a young whippersnapper employee for being too unconventional in his retail approach. You may have never heard of the Wilsons who owned the store (i.e. my extended family), but you may have heard of the fired employee, Kresge – founder of the S.S. Kresge Co. five-and-dime chain stores, and later K-mart enterprises.

In the spirit of Kresge, The Evergreens must never become averse or afraid of education, innovation and prudent experimentation.  We must constantly strive to be a learning community that over and over again learns from our past and present, and dares to attempt new things for the future. There are at least two consequences of this attitude. First, we must put a very high priority (including financial) upon training employees at every level. Employees must be absolutely certain that we, as managers, and I, as the CEO, value their efforts at improving their skill-sets and expanding knowledge bases and will support these efforts in significant ways. Further, it must be made absolutely clear to all employees that their ideas and suggestions for improving processes and practices are given serious and enthusiastic consideration. Second, we must be willing to give genuine and well thought through trials of these proposed new approaches and methods. I envision a time when our community will have pilot projects going on at every level and in every department as part of the course of normal business. These pilots must obviously be assessed, planned, implemented and evaluated, and their outcomes must be communicated back into our information gathering and decision-making “loops.” Equally important is the development of cultural openness and valuing the people who take risks in proposing and championing these pilots.

The third image that comes to mind in defining my hopes and goals for our future is that of the medieval knight. The role of a knight was not just to sit around a table (round or rectangular) and tell great tales and regale other knights with yarns of past glory. The role of a knight was to periodically take on an arduous task or challenging quest as the identified champion of that cause. If it had not been for former President John F. Kennedy, the exploration of outer space might have remained the stuff of comic books. If it had not been for Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights might have remained in the shadow of a white sheet and burning cross. If it had not been for Maggie Kuhn, the segregation, stereotyping and stigmatizing of people on the basis of age might have remained the prevailing norm in America.

The point is simple – for significant issues to be addressed and essential change to occur, plucky, passionate, prepared people must be willing to step up and say, “I’ll take the lead, I’ll get it done, I’ll be the champion.” The Evergreens must not only assist such champions when they fortuitously volunteer, but support the growth of that kind of empowered behavior as the expected, the reinforced, the standard. The old saw remains sharp and true: if the buck stops with every one, it stops with no one. This seems so simple and self-evident that you might wonder why I emphasis it as a component of my Vision. The practical necessity is that we must encourage our employees to take ownership over what they do and even how they may do it! We are never going to have a surplus of managers and supervisors – every task needing to be completed won’t automatically have someone assigning the work or making sure it is done. There is literally no process, practice, procedure or plan that will not benefit and have the potential to succeed if taken on by an empowered, enthusiastic and educated champion. These champions will make or break our ability to compete, provide quality care, be efficient and effective, deliver contracted services, and, yes, even survive.

The fourth image that comes to mind in defining my hopes and goals for our future is that of Crossroads Preschool. Crossroads is the preschool run by Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study. I will never forget a visit I made at the beginning of the school year when my wife first began work as a Head Teacher. As I walked through the modest building, I passed a door with a large sheet of poster paper taped to it, covered with words and phrases from every language known since the Tower of Babel. Upon further inquiry, I found that because the school served families from literally all over the world and the kids generally only spoke their native language, bathroom words needed to be taught to the staff who only spoke English. Not surprisingly, Einstein was once quoted as saying that the really significant learning that occurred at The Institute occurred at Crossroads.

What does this story tell about my Vision for The Evergreens? Yes, there is, of course, the obvious recognition of diversity. The vitality and variety of that diversity significantly contributed to the highly enriched atmosphere that encouraged social development, enhanced learning of new skill sets, facilitated enlarging knowledge bases and promoted independent functioning. What is of even greater significance for The Evergreens is how this story points to the necessity and consequence of going beyond perfunctory acceptance of differences to active adaptation to individual needs, anticipation of individual challenges and the use of creative approaches to normalize the unusual. In other words, this story points to a community that assumes that members will not all be the same and differences will need to be bridged, and, furthermore, it is the community’s responsibility to do the bridging. Clearly, in some settings being unable to communicate in English is a distinct disadvantage – imagine a setting where one is unable to communicate even such basic needs as toileting! But differences to be bridged and de-stigmatized are certainly not limited to communication and plumbing.

My Vision for The Evergreens is of a community where threats to dignity and self-esteem (i.e. loss of a driver’s license), impediments to career development (i.e. child care needs), obstructions to full community participation (i.e. reliance upon assistive devices), obstacles to religious practices (i.e. unavailability of neutral worship/meditation sites), preference for “non-traditional” medical interventions (i.e. lack of in-house complimentary medical practitioners) are respected and embraced – where differences are anticipated and bridges built as a part of the normal array of benefits of employment and/or terms of a residential contract. I do not believe this expectation is either optional or naive. I believe that prospective employees and residents will increasingly expect differences to be bridged, normalized and de-stigmatized. These expectations will have a powerful effect on employee choice in determining where to work and pursue a career, and resident choice in determining where to live and receive health care and other services.

The fifth and final image that comes to mind in defining my hopes and goals for our future is that of a former resident of this community who took his health very seriously. He frequently read health and nutrition related material and practiced what he read. He would be occasionally seen in front of the dining room entrance, inputting the day’s menu items into his smart phone so that he could calculate their nutritional values.

What does this image say about my Vision? I believe we must anticipate and aggressively prepare both in programs and bricks and mortar for residents who will take active roles in determining the general direction and even specific aspects of their future medical care. These residents will not simply want someone to fix what is broken. They will be at the forefront, and require us to join them in working together to prevent illness and disabilities in the first place. This model of cooperative care will require far more than beautifully appointed rooms in our Health Care Center; it will go far beyond a Fitness Center outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment. What will be required is a new type of collaborative relationship between resident and leaders, one that begins long prior to the ink drying on a resident’s Residence and Care Agreement. As leaders of the community, we will be required to identify, design and sell a product with options that move buyers to invest in our community. This will then necessitate the development of contract options beyond industry experts’ current scope of imagination. It will require us to have working relationships with vendors, practitioners, institutions and venues not even currently existing. It will also require that we plan, develop, consult, problem-solve and care with our residents. In other words, I see a new relationship where there will be major redistribution of power, decision-making and choice to the resident.

This shift will not take final form soon – it has already begun. The opportunity, privilege and challenge to be co-creators, collaborators and fellow travelers will clearly not be limited to healthcare and the continuum of care alone. It will also occur in financial arrangements, housing configurations, supportive services, etc. It will also not be optional. These shifts in how and what products we sell (i.e. emphasis upon choice, choice, choice) are already evident. The choice for us as leaders of The Evergreens is the degree to which we will take enthusiastic and creative control in determining and ensuring our preferred future as a community.

The Via Media as a Strategic Principle

May 1, 2015

The Compromise or Settlement (via media) of Elizabeth I, Queen of England from 1558 to 1603, shaped the Anglican Communion for the next 400 years. Through the power of her resolve, Papist and Protestant English churchfolk were wrestled into a single church that over time grew to find its external strength in its internal diversity. Queen Elizabeth's religious policy shaped the future of the Anglican Church as a blend of Roman Catholicism and Continental Protestantism (Calvinism) – a compromise that enabled England to avoid fratricidal religious wars so prevalent elsewhere in Western Europe. Both Roman Catholics and Protestants were dissatisfied with Queen Elizabeth’s compromise, many intensely, but both sides “went along” in the hope of subsequent developments being more to their sympathy.

Three hundred years later, amidst a time of similar religious contention, John Henry Newman started his own spiritual pilgrimage. He believed that the Anglican communion offered a middle way – or via media – between the errors of Rome, particularly the elevation of tradition, on the one hand, and the errors, or rejection of authority, of Protestantism (especially the Continental Reformation) on the other. The fact that he later came to reject this middle way and become a Roman Catholic Cardinal does not diminish the power of his original argument.

Both Queen Elizabeth (eventually) and Newman (initially) saw in the English Church the possibility, even necessity, of serving as a unique bridge across the divide between radically differing views of ceremonial practice, the role of faith, the character of ecclesiastical power, the function of scripture and the boundaries of revelation.

So what does all of this have to do with The Evergreens today and our challenge to develop a shared vision for our preferred future? Our historic lief motif has been that of a grand mansion – and not just simply a grand mansion, but a grand mansion fronted by a massive stone and iron fence. Further, our heritage is closely tied to and informed by the Episcopal Church. From the grand, walled mansion grows the central organizing images of solid security, seclusion from undesired intrusion, being served or waited upon and quality of life – all with a distinct emphasis upon “club-like” exclusivity. From the Episcopal heritage comes images of aristocratic elegance, charity care for the less fortunate (i.e. noblise oblige), “waspy” reserve and formality, and a pervading racial and ethnic monochrome.

Admittedly, all of the above images are stereotypes and there are many notable exceptions to those generalizations. However, with few exceptions, these images are shared to some degree by most members of our community (i.e. staff, residents, neighbors, vendors, etc.). There is a sense that our culture is more deeply influenced by memories of the past than by expectations for the future.  As a community, no matter how limiting or unfulfilling the reality of the past may have been, we generally seem more comfortable hanging on to the old than embracing the new. Curiously enough, for a community steeped in religious imagery The Evergreens as a community often appears ambivalent, at best over, the prospect of transformation or “conversion.”

But again, what does all of this have to do with The Evergreens today and our challenge to develop a shared vision for our preferred future? What does the via media offer us as present and future leaders – heirs of our history as a mansion-based, Episcopal “home for the aged?”  Just as in the time of Queen Elizabeth and Newman, our future is uncertain. We are faced with choices of lasting consequence, consensus is ours to build and opportunities abound. As in those two eras, value and style differences which one might characterize as “papal vs. congregational” (i.e. lone-ranger vs. team-based) and “high vs. low” (i.e. exclusive vs. inclusive), as well as ambivalence regarding the role of tradition, continue to present formidable obstacles. These obstacles present challenges to planning efficiency, decision-making effectiveness, development and exercise of leadership, expansion of ownership, recognition of all community members and success of follow-through (i.e. implementation).

So what is and what is not this via media for us at The Evergreens? Let me offer the following suggestions:

First: The via media is not an averaging of administrative extremes, but is a definable executive style. The decision-making style we are developing at The Evergreens is one that values and seeks broad input and feedback, but never loses sight of where the buck stops. Personally, I need your opinions, perceptions, estimates and knowledge, and will work for and make every attempt to achieve consensus on major undertakings and directions. However, I will not take a vote on our future, as we are neither an autocracy nor a democracy. Prudent information processing requires that various and representative positions are sought after and considered, but final decisions on crucial issues will always be made by those empowered by the community to act in their interests. The exercise of this power is neither a right nor a privilege, but rather a responsibility often more evidenced by intentional restraint than by direct engagement. Finally, leading in the via media requires both calm confidence and genuine humility of those exercising such leadership.

Second: The via media is not a standardization of cultural differences, but is mission-driven in its inclusiveness. The Evergreens of the future will be more diverse in more ways than we can imagine. This diversity will be evidenced in the people being served, the people delivering the service, the people governing the people delivering the service, the services delivered, the way services are delivered and the way delivered services are funded. Amidst all this diversity, our core mission will remain unchanged and constant:  In the spirit of our Episcopal tradition, it is The Evergreens'® mission to enhance the individual, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being of our diverse community. This constancy is the “who, what, when, where and how” of our work. It is precisely this constancy that gives us our uniqueness amidst other similar communities. Paradoxically, our uniqueness can enable us to address our diversity. We will be united, but not uniform.

Third: The via media is not a homogenization of variant visions, but is a focused vision of a preferred future. How we are getting to our future, on the one hand, may be better described as a multiplicity of roads than as a single superhighway. Nevertheless, this multiplicity of roads must be going in the same direction and at the same frequency – which is to say that the roads must lead to the same destination and must not obstruct each other. Our vision of where we want to be in one, five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years, and who we are at each stage in that journey must be constantly reviewed, refined, reaffirmed and communicated. The intent is for all travelers to make the entire journey, recognizing that some may choose to stop along the way to pursue other things and go different directions. Vision cannot be forced on community members, though it must be shared with and responded to by community members, and not all will respond in the same way. Our vision for The Evergreens is not any one’s solitary obsession, but must be championed by myself with both passion and openness. It must also be responsive to community members’ needs and input, but larger than any one interest, individual, obstacle or opportunity. Our shared vision for our preferred future is, thereby, both defined by our community and ultimately defines our community. My job as CEO is to draw out and hear the community’s dreams and aspirations, see the broadest possible vistas, anticipate probable obstacles, refine and define the clearest goals, and then rally the community’s support in achieving our preferred future.

This via media then is not a convenient rhetorical device artificially placing The Evergreens in some imaginary center, but rather is an intentional, defined and disciplined approach to determining who we are, where we are going and how we will get there as a community. It is not merely an expedient way of least resistance, but rather is a principled and distinct path that celebrates our tradition and points to our future with enthusiasm and openness.

Going Home: Dad’s Story

April 10, 2015

To paraphrase Dr. Atul Gawande's opening line in his extraordinary personal and professional testament, “Being Mortal” – I learned about a lot of things in seminary, graduate school, and professional practice, but my Dad's story wasn't one of them.

In late 2011, when the ravages of Alzheimer’s were causing significant challenges for my father and impeding his recognition of the familiar and customary, I stopped him in the hallway of the Skilled Nursing Center – housed in the community where he was a resident and I served as President and CEO – for a brief chat.

“Where’s Douglas?” Dad anxiously asked. “I’m Douglas, I’m Doug, I’m your oldest son,” I responded. Dad suspiciously looked me up and down, and then said with obvious skepticism, “Well, that’s YOUR story!”

But what was HIS story, his life, his labor, his love? I knew the facts, but only toward the end did I really come to know his story.

Dad was born in New Jersey, in a house his parents later lost in foreclosure during the Depression. His father – my grandfather – though born in Philadelphia, was orphaned early and grew up in Denmark. After returning to the U.S. and putting himself through night school, my grandfather spent his working career as a machinist in various U.S. Navy shipyards. My grandmother kept the home for her husband, my father, his older sister, his older brother (who died at six months of age) and his younger sister.

Dad graduated from high school and worked as a butcher’s assistant. Following induction into the U.S. Navy, he spent WWII as a Neuropsychiatric Technologist, Pharmacist Mate III, serving in several different East Coast hospitals. After war, he attended college – the place where he met my mother – and graduated with a B.A. Mom and Dad were then married by my grandmother, Mom’s mother, in Nebraska – interesting to note, my grandmother was most likely one of the first ordained female Methodist ministers.

Upon graduation from seminary with a M.Div., Dad was ordained as a Methodist Minister. He served parishes throughout Southern New Jersey, and spent six years as a District Superintendent. Mom and Dad had five children. Mom died in the summer of 2009, and Dad grieved her loss until the moment his disease completely consumed him.

These are the facts, but they are more a “table of contents” than real story. I have come to realize that Dad’s REAL story is the story of other people – marrying them, baptizing them, burying them, counseling them, preaching to them, living with them and always loving them. Dad’s real story is not told in simple facts, but rather told in the complexity of relationships, service, commitment and dedication. Dad loved his family, his church, his country and his God. But though this love was unconditional, it was never unreflective.

I remember a conversation I had with Dad late one evening, following a funeral he had presided over for a young man killed in action in Vietnam. Dad was a patriot and a veteran, but I will never forget the pain and uncertainty he courageously wrestled with that night. He loved his country but he did not always like what it did.

The fact that Dad loved me was a given I never doubted. My phone call informing him that I had been thrown out of undergraduate school yielded neither platitudes nor “cheap grace,” but rather the pragmatic and concrete inquiry as to how I intended to fix the mess I had made. He loved me, but I was still accountable.

As Mom’s Parkinson’s progressed and the limitations resulting from her hemorrhagic CVA continued unabated over the years, Dad’s conversations with God were not always submissive or well-mannered. I have no question that God knew exactly how Dad felt about what had happened to Mom. Dad loved his God, but was never afraid to assertively question, “Why?”

Repeatedly, Dad was elected by his denominational peers to represent them in regional and national forums. Concurrently, he openly served on the Board of Directors of a dissenting, loyal opposition, renewal and reform movement. He loved his church, but that loyalty was never at the price of his integrity or beliefs.

As Dad’s disease inexorably progressed over the years, his confusion intensified, his cognition clouded, his memory faded, his speech and step stumbled and his certainty as to where he was wavered and waned. But his certainty as to where he was going, remained firm and steadfast. Dad never doubted that he was going home, and he never doubted as to who would greet him upon his arrival. That is Dad’s REAL story. He lived and loved and went home.

Lord Baden-Powell, founder of the Scout Movement and first Chief Scout of The Boy Scouts Association, has but a solitary symbol on his tombstone – ʘ. This circle with a single dot in the center is the universal trail sign for “I have gone home.” That truly is the fitting symbol for the culmination of my Dad’s story.

Loss And Life Together

March 6, 2015

The Evergreens is blessed with an extraordinary campus that is undoubtedly one of the most aesthically appealing, physically accommodating and independence promoting of any CCRC. An essential responsibility of our volunteer Board members and our paid staff is the stewardship of these buildings and grounds. Those who preceded us passed on to us a great heritage of gracious living amidst beautiful and accessible surroundings.

That said, it is fundamentally not these physical assets that make our community the welcoming and considerate place that it is. What is at the core of our life together is the people – the individuals with whom we have chosen to live our lives, to fulfill our careers, to volunteer our time, to dedicate our service, to perform our work, to be known by and to know. It is the residents, the staff, the families of residents and the Board members; it is you and me who are at the heart of The Evergreens.

Our living, working and serving together often presents challenges and opportunities, times of fulfillment and times of frustration, encounters of concord and others of divergence, but always the experience of being a part of something larger than any one individual and the certainty of being valued and cared for by others. We all, both in our agreeing and our disagreeing, in our hopes and in our disappointments are the living stuff of which our community is made.

As we get to know each other in working and living together, inevitably there will be loss. In many other social contexts in life such as clubs, neighborhoods, churches and companies, loss primarily takes the shape of people moving on – coming and going to and from other organizations, employers, towns and centers of worship. That is decidedly not the shape of most of our losses here at The Evergreens, especially the loss of residents. When we as a community lose a resident member, that loss is through death. There is no “polite” way to phrase it: all of us who have been a part of this community for any length of time have suffered the deaths of close friends and neighbors.

Just because death is as natural as life (and maybe even more certain!) does not mean that we are either comfortable or sanguine over the loss of one significant to our daily routine. These losses affect all of us in ways that are both shared and unique, expected and surprising. These losses affect us as residents who lose an old dear colleague, a dinner companion or bridge partner. They affect us as nursing, facility, administrative and dining service staff who lose someone we have worked with and for. They affect Board members who lose someone they have served, maybe even someone who had been familiar with their own parents.

In a paradoxical and puzzling way, our community and our life together continue not in spite of such losses but at times almost because of such losses. The memories of those dear to us but no longer in our midst underscore the deep and certain truth that members may be gone but never forgotten. And it is often in the remembering of those gone before that we are challenged and invigorated anew to craft a compassionate whole out of our many disparate parts – to create our community as a home not an institution, to honor and respect each other for all that we have been and will be together.

Remembering and celebrating those who have departed may not be painless, but those remembrances and celebrations of loved ones now gone provide both shared perspective and collective experience. It is just these points of common life amidst our varying needs and diverse histories that can and must unite us together into the strong, supportive, sympathetic and stimulating community we know as The Evergreens.

What is Leadership?

February 6, 2015

What is leadership? What should characterize a leader in a management position? What is required of such a leader? What are some guiding principles? As we work together to achieve our preferred future, defining and developing leadership, and identifying and nurturing leaders will be central opportunities and challenges. What follows are a few of my own reflections on core responsibilities of leaders in management positions.

Leaders have a core responsibility to hire well and then to support outcome achievement. The greatest accomplishment of a leader is to have those who he or she leads succeed; that is, for persons to be “well” hired and then enabled to significantly contribute to the attainment of the corporate mission.  People really are our most important (sometimes only!) resource. In this environment, we need five characteristics in all hires, including leaders: 1.) high, focused energy; 2.) capacity to rapidly and genuinely connect with people; 3.) comfort with, even love of change (chaos?); 4.) facility with and sensitivity to boundary issues (e.g. limits, structure, teams, etc.); and 5.) absolute commitment to quality.

Leaders have a core responsibility to promote innovation, initiative and creativity in the persons they lead. That requires the creation of an atmosphere marked by the freedom to fail, inextricably tied to an expectation that learning and improvement must constantly occur (i.e. make the same mistake only once). Everyone in the corporation must really believe that messengers are never hung and mediocrity is never tolerated. It is said that Francis Asbury annually asked his American frontier pastors two questions: 1.) “How many new members/converts have you made this year?” and 2.) “How many people have you made angry this year?” If either number seemed too low, a third question followed: “What if anything have you accomplished this year?”  Excellence must be “hired for,” supported and nothing less accepted.

Leaders have a core responsibility to promote unity while upholding diversity. Corporations, work teams and departments gain much from images/symbols that potently portray priorities and integrate the entire enterprise into a community. Symbols and images powerfully enable external as well as internal customers to connect with a company and its message, products and people. Leaders must facilitate the community in creating and then embracing evocative and motivating symbols/images that evolve out of and make concrete both the leader’s vision and a shared sense of commitment to a common corporate enterprise. Leaders themselves may become symbolic reminders of a company’s unifying values, binding together a diversified workforce in a collective pursuit.

Leaders have a core responsibility to set the corporate standard for integrity. Without “moral authority,” the leader is simply the biggest/baddest bully on the block and must invest constant, ever increasing effort in maintaining order and obedience rather than in sharing their vision and supporting its pursuit. Integrity is neither a partial nor a sometime characteristic (i.e. falsum unum, falsum omnium).  For better or worse, leadership occurs in a fish bowl; to choose to be a leader is to dare to conduct all business with honor.

Leaders have a core responsibility to constantly strive to foster a stimulating but manageable equilibrium between excitement and terror (i.e. mysterium tremendum et fascinans).  That is, leaders must live themselves, and encourage in others an attitude of passion. To approach an undertaking with passion means to never be half-hearted, to constantly work a bit “on the edge,” to keep the ultimate intent always in sight and to refuse to be distracted. This passion must be contagiously modeled by leaders, who must remain ever infectiously optimistic.

Leaders have a core responsibility to resourcefully and skillfully challenge the corporation to walk the “mission/margin” tightrope. Leaders must constantly keep this tension before all employees and jointly struggle in maintaining the balance. Without a consistent, demanding concentration upon mission, “margin” will be reduced to an empty exercise in “bean counting.” Without constant, rigorous attention to margin, “mission” will become but a short-lived, futile if well-intentioned fantasy. In other words, leaders must have a vision worth creating and the business and “people” skills sufficient to make that creation happen.

On Aging

January 9, 2015

Groucho Marx once said, “Age is not a particularly interesting subject. Anyone can get old. All you have to do is live long enough.” Our experience as members of The Evergreens community is very much to the contrary. To a person, our Board, residents, and staff members embrace aging as both a challenge and opportunity, as well as the normal process we all will experience. We as a community seem much more in agreement with the sentiments of Maggie Kuhn when she stated, “Old age is not a disease – it is strength and survivorship, triumph over all kinds of vicissitudes and disappointments, trials and illnesses.”

It is, however, true that no one can ever adequately anticipate what the experience of aging will really mean to him or her or to their loved ones. As Leon Trotsky wrote, “Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man.” To choose to be a resident in a CCRC clearly indicates a commitment to planning and provision for future prospects and needs in general; but the specifics of those prospects and needs remain unknowns to be embraced as they emerge.

How do we, members of The Evergreens community, support residents in embracing these prospects and needs presented by aging as they emerge? Let me suggest several ways we can and must do this together both within and beyond our campus.

1.) Francis Bacon (quoting Alonso of Aragon) wrote: “Age appears to be best in four things – old wood best to burn, old wine to drink, old authors to read and old friends to trust.” As a community we take very seriously the prospect and need to develop “old friends to trust.” Both formal and informal occasions and structures abound both to encourage new and to nourish existing trustworthy friendships. Access, across our continuum of care, to a variety of trust-encouraging social possibilities is part of the fabric of our programs as well as our “bricks and mortar.” Trustworthy friendships are a significant piece of what distinguishes a vibrant community from a lonely institution.

2.) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s comment that in “the evening twilight” of old age, “The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day” points to yet other opportunities to embrace the prospects and needs of our community members, and to both learn from and serve one another. The Evergreens community actively supports access to and participation in a host of “stars, invisible by day” – which burn so brightly in the experience of our fellow members and of persons beyond our campus. Sharing in discussion groups, appreciation of the arts, volunteer service in local schools, wood carving in the shop, assisting neighbors with a first computer – all of these experiences, and countless more, are “stars” for which there may have been limited time for and attention to in earlier (younger) days but which yield enormous satisfaction in our “evenings” together.

3.) We believe, along with André Maurois, and live as a community that embraces the following adage: “The true evil [of age] is not weakening of the body, but the indifference of the soul”.  Further, we are absolutely convinced that such “indifference of the soul” is never a necessary characteristic of aging.  Daily we encounter in each other abundant evidence of caring, energy, commitment, loyalty, insight, compassion, faithfulness and vitality, all compelling confirmation of the steadfastness of our “souls.”  Together, we continue to seek new possibilities to live out this steadfastness in service and stewardship.

So there it is: We who live and work as part of The Evergreens celebrate aging as the prospect of embracing trusted friends, the opportunity to share “stars” with others, and the challenge to remain steadfast to our hopes and values.  Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said: “The great tragedy of the world is not what people suffer, but how much they miss when they suffer.”  At The Evergreens, we strive to miss as little of life as possible and celebrate with thanksgiving all that we are able to accomplish together.

The Advantages of a CCRC

December 5, 2014

Continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) offer an array of services, activities, resources, levels of care and living arrangements based upon a couple’s or individual’s personal needs, interests and preferences. The continuum offered by CCRCs typically includes independent apartments or villas, assisted living and skilled nursing care facilities, as well as a host of amenities that may include onsite bank branches, ATM machines, medical clinics, salons, security, dining service options, recreational activities (e.g., putting greens, pools), cultural programs (e.g., concerts, lectures), transportation, housekeeping services and more.

In a CCRC, residents choose what interests they wish to pursue – how they like to dine, where they like to go, with whom they want to engage socially and what cultural / recreational experiences they wish to enjoy. When it comes to health care, all personal needs of the individual or couple can be met in the exact manner the resident(s) requires. Commonly, all health resources are available contiguously, and often under one roof right on campus.  

Other senior living options – which can include stand-alone assisted living, skilled nursing, age restricted housing, staying at home, etc. – may only offer some of these resources to residents. However, CCRCs uniquely offer all of these resources as an integrated whole.

What sets The Evergreens apart?

The Evergreens is a community with 95 years of solid, secure, stable, not-for-profit history. We are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF), and have been consistently rated “5 stars” since the implementation of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Five-Star Quality Rating System. Residents come to us from a wide variety of backgrounds, talents and expertise. Likewise, our staff are supported by extensive professional experience, training and impressive credentials. Our staff and residents come together to define what our community is all about – bringing a vibrancy, vitality and sense of neighborhood hard to find anywhere else. 

As a community, the services and amenities we provide are comprehensive, and are offered conveniently right on our campus. A sample of these services and amenities include:

  • A full TD Bank branch and ATM
  • A competition 9-hole putting green
  • Extraordinary dining, prepared by a premier culinary team
  • A full-time board certified geriatrician Medical Director – named “Top Doc” and “Top Physician” for multiple years running
  • Gorgeous apartments in a variety of configurations
  • Musical venues including those for concert pianos and organ, known as one of the most outstanding digitals in South Jersey
  • An impressive 85,000 sq. ft. Health Care Center

Are you ready for a CCRC?

No matter the motivation, moving out of a home one has lived in for many years is one of the most challenging life changes a person can experience.  At The Evergreens, our staff members remain professional, yet supportive throughout the moving process. We work to ensure each new resident remains confident and ultimately happy with their decision to move to our community. By making the move-in process as easy of a transition as possible, we give residents and their family's peace of mind. Our flexibility, attention to detail and sensitivity ensure that residents feel they are in the right hands – and ultimately, exactly in the right place.

Cornu Copiae & Shofar: Horn of Plenty & Horn of Awakening

November 7, 2014

Each year as we celebrate Thanksgiving, our nation’s annual day set aside to consider and give thanks for our community and personal blessings, a host of reminders stir up memories of such days gone by. For many, the turkey (Ben Franklin’s preference as our national emblem over the now reigning eagle) is the sine qua non of the holiday.

For some, the holiday is all about anticipation of scoring bargains on Black Friday. For others, Thanksgiving is second only to the Super Bowl as THE big football event of the year. And yet for others still, family members gathered around a feast table (with all the attendant drama, joy, and angst), poignantly summarizes what the holiday is all about.

For many elementary school children, Pilgrim hats, pumpkin cookies, Native American head dresses, Mayflower models, and corn stalks all give tangible substance to oft told stories of newcomers seeking religious freedom, prevailing over disease, cold, and famine with the assistance of those already here at home.

Of all Thanksgiving symbols, none has the history, simplicity, and power of the cornucopia. Since the Classical Greek age, the “horn of plenty” (originally a goat’s horn) has been a symbol of abundance, plenty, and endless supply.  Be it food, drink, possessions, whatever, the horn of plenty symbolizes an over flowing of one’s heart’s desire. The only challenge implied is that of being up to the task of consumption. Abundance is there for the taking; it is not necessary to share, steward, or even relish – just consume.

Several months earlier in the year occurs another holiday, Rosh Hashanah. It too features a host of reminders that stir up memories of such days gone by. Of all Rosh Hashanah symbols, none has the history, simplicity, and power of the shofar (to this day a ram’s horn). Rather than a horn of consumption, this horn is one of awakening – awakening those who sleep and “spend their days without examining the consequences of their actions” (Rabbi Chaim Richman).

The sound of the shofar is a call to reflection and reexamination of one’s behavior, judgments, and priorities. Hearing that sound, seeing that reminder, calls us to take stock of who we are and who we really must become. Being confronted by the sound and symbol may not be comfortable but nonetheless powerfully awakens us to our responsibilities and visions.

The threat of Thanksgiving is to unreflectively, passively “sleep” as creatures of consumption. Our time and world beckon us to awaken to the challenge of creative, compassionate, courageous choice and action. The risk of sleeping through Thanksgiving (and life) is not engendered by turkey and tryptophan but rather by encountering the cornucopia as simply a sirene call to consume.

The opportunity of Thanksgiving is to heed the ever powerful, awakening call of the shofar. The challenge of a plentiful Thanksgiving is to rigorously reflect upon the cozy compromises of conscience we have accepted, the injustice and mediocrity we have accommodated, and suffering of others we have in silence ignored.  To authentically celebrate this holiday of abundance requires us to awake, reflect, and act.  May Thanksgiving become for us the holiday of two horns: horn of plenty and horn of awakening.

Leibniz and ISIS

October 3, 2014

There is a devilishly difficult distinction to be made between following Jesus’ injunction to “turn the other cheek” and timidly standing by while the patently evil triumphs.  Nonetheless, people of faith are called to daily struggle discerning and then living just this consequential difference.  From Sir Edmund Burke (“All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”), to the Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (martyred German Lutheran pastor who allegedly participated in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler), to military chaplains (whose calling is to minister to warriors), this dynamic has occasioned much thought and angst in persons of faith.

To complicate this challenge of discernment, there is the all too common confounding of personal or communal vengeance (according to Torah, God’s prerogative alone) with the active prevention of further evil subsequent to horrific acts perpetrated by private and/or state actors (arguably the citizen’s and community’s moral responsibility).  St. Paul wrote: “Do not return evil with evil” (Romans 12:17). But is active, preemptive resistance (even if violent) to manifest evil, actually correspondent evil? To courageously refrain from retribution when one’s cheek is symbolically or literally slapped is diametrically dissimilar from cowardly standing by while another is beheaded!

What is the meaning and function of forgiveness and mercy in this dynamic? Jesus taught to forgive “seventy-seven” times (colloquial for an unlimited number), and that those who practiced mercy would receive mercy.  General Norman Schwarzkopf’s comments regarding those who orchestrated the 9/11 attacks ("I believe that forgiving them is God's job. Our job is simply to arrange the meeting.”) blur the boundary between justice and vengeance in a disarming yet disquieting fashion.  Does our desperate desire for justice (no matter how “legitimate”) ever trump the call to mercy and forgiveness? What if actively, aggressively forgoing mercy and forgiveness actually prevents the further triumph of evil? How does justice differ from vengeance?

Forgiveness, mercy, justice, vengeance, craven inaction, intrepid inhibition of menacing evil – these are the competing (at times mutually exclusive) tensions of the existential environment in which “we live and move and have our being” (with apologies to Tillich and Epimenides).

For people of faith, these competing tensions intensify the pertinence and passion in addressing the conundrum of theodicy: how to reconcile an omnificent and beneficent god (or universal power) with pervasive and seemingly triumphant evil.  And more simply, why do good people suffer?  The consequences of how one of faith works this out are concrete, potentially costly, and morally troubling.  Even for those who do not explicitly believe, the resolution of this conundrum has enormous practical consequence.  These consequences are not simply matters of resolving cognitive or emotional dissonance, but of daily decision-making, personal integrity, public and private behavior, and even political priorities.

Of all these consequences, none may be more compelling and disturbing than that of “moral injury,” especially pointed as our nation acknowledges the reality of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in our warriors.  Freemark’s short 2013 piece, “A Crisis Of Compassion In The Chaos Of War,” scratches the surface of this most insidious “trauma of war.” Just as being faithful does not solve or simplify, neither does being patriotic.  Our men and women in uniform are trained in international laws of war, rules of engagement, personal codes of conduct, and the duty to disobey an unlawful order.  But at the very core of our warriors’ raison d'être is behavior fraught with moral, ethical, and personal dilemma. 

Our country’s true heroes are not just those who perform acts of great physical courage, but rather those who consciously and courageously contend in their souls with the devilishly difficult distinction between gratuitous violence and the sacrifice of their “moral health” for a greater good.  There is no higher responsibility for a country than in honoring and exercising absolute regard in sending our warriors into harm’s way.  The humility, integrity, and recognition of cost and sacrifice required of us as “senders” cannot be delegated, diminished, or dismissed.  We may of moral necessity commit our warriors to violent action, but we must all share in their trauma.  All – victors and vanquished, senders and sent, the evil and the good – touched by violence are changed and accountable.  For the majority of citizens who remain noncombatants, our debt to those who fight cannot be paid with parades or parties.  Our debt can only be paid through personal and corporate recognition of our shared challenge to openly confront together the devilishly difficult distinction.

Reflections On 9/11: Morning Of Memories

September 11, 2014

It was Friday afternoon, the 22 of November some fifty years ago. I distinctly remember sitting in my high school’s study hall in Salem, N.J. I had big plans for that weekend, including a two-day overnight trip to New York City with some fellow Boy Scouts. We still took the trip, but it was radically different than anticipated – its memory, to this day, grossly overshadowed by the assassination of President Kennedy.

Similarly, we all can remember with distinct clarity where we were and what we were doing on the morning of Tuesday, September 11 more than a decade ago. We had plans, expectations and hopes – some for the immediate morning and some for the coming months and even years ahead.

However, as the Rev. Mychal F. Judge, martyred NYC Fire Department Chaplain known affectionately as “Father Mike,” frequently said: “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans for tomorrow.” 

What changed our communities and individual outlooks on life that morning were events that did not make God laugh. Rather, they were events that caused God to grieve with all persons of good will and decency.

On that September 11, all of our priorities and plans were abruptly and agonizingly altered. The atrocities committed forever altered our perception of who we are as people and what is important in our lives.

We thought that our shores as a nation were invulnerable – and with four horrendous acts of terrorism, we discovered that we were all too exposed.

We thought that we were disinterested and indifferent – and in the selfless sacrifices of police and fire fighters, we found that we could care and be humbled to our core. 

We thought that we were above needing assistance from others – and found that the support of allies and sometimes adversaries was desperately appreciated.

We thought that we were too jaded and cynical for patriotism – and found that we loved our country as much as life itself. 

We thought that God was in our own image – and found that people of good faith come in every imaginable tongue and hue. 

We thought that the experiences of strangers was of no significance to us – and found that in both the safety and loss of others, we could celebrate and mourn as if they were our closest of friends. 

We thought that bravery was reserved for only a special few – and found that the strength to become a hero exists in each one of us.

Yes, our perceptions, priorities and plans were irreversibly altered by the events that occurred that grave day.  And in that alteration, we briefly became more united as a nation and more focused upon people rather than upon politics.

To this day, many across our great nation are more unguarded in their caring, more committed to our great country, more conscious of our dependence upon others and more faithful in our recognition of God.  In light of our heightened sense of generosity, humility and kindred purpose, we must dare to live and act with a renewed sense of courage and passion. Though altered, our hopes and dreams for the future must never be timidly abandoned. 

In conclusion, I offer up a prayer of hope. As we continue on our life journeys, may God shed His grace upon our community, our country and upon all of His creations. May we remember today, as we do every day, all the lives that have been lost and all of the great sacrifices made for our great nation.

 Oh God, we come together with you on this morning of memories.

We remember our country, and pray for unity and resolve.

We remember our enemies, and pray for a change of spirit and action.

We remember those who grieve, and pray for healing and recovery.

We remember our leaders, and pray for courage and wisdom.

We remember our yearnings for peace, and pray for your justice to prevail.

We remember our fire, police and military personnel, and pray for your protection and our support.

We remember those who are in need, and pray that we may be the answer to their prayers.

We remember the dead, and pray that they may be held in our hearts and in your presence always.

We remember to ask all these things in your name,

Amen.

Living in Community: The Opportunity to Serve One Another

August 1, 2014
The Evergreens is formally defined by both regulation and industry convention as a “continuing care retirement community.”

For those of us associated with The Evergreens, what does the word “community” truly mean? And, more importantly, what does it mean for us to “live in community” with one another?

In typical, everyday usage, the word “community” refers to a group of people with shared interests and/or a group who lives in the same area.

The Latin term communis literally means “duties together.” Further, the Latin term munis has the implication of being “ready for service” – especially “public service.”  To “live” – a word with both Old English and Germanic roots – refers to “being alive” and to “having life” with the implication of both continuation and activity.

Integrating these several linguistic references yields a strong suggestion, even a challenge, as to what being associated with The Evergreens’ community can mean – not only from a resident’s perspective, but also from an employee, Board member, friend and family member’s perspective.

To be associated with The Evergreens community in any way means “to be a part of a group of people with a mutual pursuit, who share a portion of life together, and who engage in service for the common good."

Our Mission Statement puts the suggestion and challenge succinctly: 

In the spirit of our Episcopal tradition, it is The Evergreens’ mission to enhance the individual, social, emotional, spiritual, and physical well-being of our diverse community.

The first of the three elements of our Values Statement – labeled “Service” – further validates the sentiments outlined in our Mission Statement above. The Evergreens, as a community, is fully committed to treating each of its members, residents and staff alike, as equals and with both the respect and dignity they deserve.

As an ever-growing community, this is the opportunity that is afforded us each day. The Evergreens – the diverse and vibrant community that we are – must continuously strive to enhance our collective and individual well-being through service to one another with equality, fairness and dignity.

A Center of Excellence

July 11, 2014

The Oxford English dictionary defines a center of excellence as “a place where the highest standards are maintained.”

Such centers of excellence exist, for example, in Bioinformatics (University at Buffalo), Sustainable Development (US Department of Energy), Remote and Medically Underserved Areas (St. Francis University), Interferometry (NASA), Poultry Science (University of Arkansas), Electronic Government (University of St. Gallen), Food Safety (University of Tennessee), Visual Genomics (University of Calgary), Small Wars (U.S. Marines), and Geriatrics (NJ School of Osteopathic Medicine) – to name a few.

Over the past several years, Board Members, Residents and Staff have regularly engaged in the ongoing discussion and exploration as to what it means for The Evergreens to truly work and live as a “community.”  But what does it mean for The Evergreens to aspire to become a center of excellence?

Our “sphere of activity” is nothing less than the creation and cultivation of this community – one with its very particular focus upon services to seniors who have chosen to call The Evergreens their home.

For The Evergreens to become a center of excellence in senior services requires our community as a whole to commit to the very best in every process, plan, partnership and practice in which we engage. It also means that we will become a community where best practices in senior services are developed, implemented, evaluated and refined. Attentive listening to our residents’ needs, creative problem solving, openness to new possibilities and collaborative research are all essential in the development of such best practices.

What are some of the areas of senior services where best practices should be investigated and elaborated? In my opinion, a few of the areas we should evaluate regularly include ministry, dining services, administration and management, leadership, interdisciplinary functional assessment, governance, medical services, complimentary care, end-of-life decision making, pharmacy, financial modeling, legal services and ethics.

Who are some of the providers delivering senior services who should participate in best practice development? Chaplains, social workers, complimentary care practitioners, physicians (osteopathic and allopathic), business administrators, nurses, nurse practitioners, dieticians, financial analysts, pharmacists, lawyers, and physical and occupational therapists should hold active roles in best practice development within a growing and successful community.

What are some of the institutions that might collaborate in the advancement of best practices? Local institutions that could serve as collaborative partners are Rutgers Graduate School of Business Administration, NJ School of Osteopathic Medicine, Cooper University Medical Center, graduate schools of social work, theological seminaries, nursing programs and valuable vendors such as Morrison Senior Dining.

How will The Evergreens benefit from striving to be a center of excellence where best practices prevail? First and foremost, becoming a center of excellence in senior services will mean that our residents can expect to participate in the most advanced, empirically validated, evidence-based approaches to care. At The Evergreens, we will continue to recruit and retain the highest quality staff by supporting them and challenging them to the peak of professional practice. Further, as a center of excellence, we will be awarded improved opportunities to be the training site for various professional internships and to receive various foundation grants supporting research – both of which will positively impact our community’s ongoing operational expenses. Finally, becoming a center of excellence in senior services is a logical extension of our Mission Statement: “to enhance the individual, social, emotional, spiritual and physical well-being of our diverse community.”

As our community’s years of service evolve, we all will hear, see and experience this exciting and essential maturation and continued progress of The Evergreens. Your thoughtful feedback and active participation will be absolutely indispensable as we continue to work together toward our goal of becoming a community that is a center of excellence in senior services.

Quality

June 27, 2014

“Quality” is a frequently used descriptor in many current advertising, marketing and promotional materials. But how is “quality” defined exactly, and how do we know if we have it?

An automobile company’s ads avow that “Quality is job one!” A senior housing and service organization assures us that “Quality comes first.” Both a U.K. daycare organization and a U.S. anti-aging research company use the tagline “Quality counts.” A California medical center asserts that they “take quality seriously.”

At The Evergreens, we define and measure quality by identifying essential aspects of our community and evaluating our performance in these areas. I would like to highlight several of the most important approaches we use to measure, achieve and maintain quality.

  • We define and measure quality through the completion of customer satisfaction surveys conducted in alternating years on our Residents and Employees. This survey is done by Holleran Consulting, an outside national research firm.
  • We define and measure quality through periodic surveys by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and through our annual New Jersey State Department of Health and Senior Services Surveys on Skilled Nursing and Assisted Living, respectively. These surveys review health care facilities in every area pertaining to patient care – dining services, pharmacy, care planning, staff credentialing, sanitation, activities, safety, transportation, management of personal accounts, resident and family input, nursing and medical care, staffing patterns and ratios, etc.
  • We define and measure quality through our national accreditation with the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Of approximately 2,000 Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs) in the U.S., The Evergreens is one of only approximately 350 accredited by CARF. One of the key areas reviewed for this accreditation, conducted on site every five years with annual updates, is financial performance. By all measures of financial performance, The Evergreens is solid, stable and secure. Sound financial performance is critical for a CCRC, mainly because we pledge to provide for our residents’ future health care (very similar to long-term care insurance) as well as provide housing and hospitality. Our financial strength and prudent financial management attest to the fact that we can provide the quality care our staff works hard to maintain and what our residents trust us to deliver.
  • We define and measure quality through the work of our internal Quality Improvement Committee. This cross-disciplinary group meets quarterly to review operations and events and plan and execute projects, all with the intent to continuously improve how and what we do as a community.

So what is “quality” at The Evergreens? We define and measure it, in part, through customer satisfaction, provision of health care services and financial security.

There are many other ways that quality may be defined and measured, and our own high standards drive us continuously to improve our performance. W. Edwards Deming, “father” of the modern quality improvement movement, wrote: “Improve constantly and forever”...(and thereby)…“drive out fear and build trust.” We at The Evergreens embrace and strive to live this counsel as we define, measure and constantly work at improving our “quality” as a community.

For more information, click here to contact us online or call 1-877-673-8234.

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