Thursday, August 25, 2011

Alzheimer’s Association NAPA

If you’ve watched women’s college basketball, you will be dismayed by the news that the University of Tennessee’s legendary coach, Pat Summitt, confirmed she has been diagnosed with early onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type. She later told news media that her grandmother had suffered the disease.

On January 4, 2011, President Obama signed into law the National Alzheimer’s Project Act (NAPA). This legislative action passed unanimously by both Houses of Congress. NAPA establishes an Advisory Council on Alzheimer’s research, care and services.

The new Advisory Council will develop a national strategic plan to respond to the Alzheimer’s crisis and coordinate Alzheimer’s disease efforts across the federal government. NAPA will ensure the coordination and evaluation of all national efforts in Alzheimer’s research, clinical care, institutional, and home and community-based programs.

One of the most important components of NAPA is that it allows participation in the evaluation and strategic planning process by specialists outside of the federal government including patient advocates, health care providers, state health departments, Alzheimer’s researchers and health associations.

Why NAPA and Why Now?

The Alzheimer’s Association was the leading voice in urging Congress and the White House to pass the National Alzheimer’s Project Act. With a disease that is already impacting so many Americans, the Association recognized the need for a national, coordinated effort that pools the skills of all those working on the problem. The Alzheimer’s Association states the need clearly in its literature:

For too many individuals with Alzheimer’s and their families, the system has failed them, and today we are unnecessarily losing the battle against this devastating disease.

Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death in the United States and is the only cause of death among the top 10 in America without a way to prevent, cure or even slow its progression.

Making her announcement, Coach Summitt said she had the company of her son, Tyler, during her time at the Mayo Clinic. He explained his mother's feelings after being diagnosed.

"Nobody accepts this," Tyler said. "And there was anger. 'Why me?' was a question she asked more than once. But then, once she came to terms with it, she treated it like every other challenge she ever had, and is going to do everything she possibly can to keep her mind right and stay the coach."

To read more go to

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Ready or not, the political season is once again attacking us. Political candidates, pundits and pollsters attempt to define the anxiety of our country in economical and emotional terms. Anyone who does not agree with them in congress or the presidency is disparaged as partisan. This revelation should not knock your socks off.

Dissent and lack of control increase the level of anxiety and volume of proclaimed disbelief that anyone would hold to such an idiotic position. Comparisons to Hitler proliferate. I'm already weary of patriotism claims and accusations of terrorism.

The more anxious we become the more we slant the issue, stack the facts, and shade our witness in our attempt to show our position in the best light. The story can never reflect the whole truth because, with our hysteria controlling our reactive thought processes, we can’t see the whole truth. Our emotions warp our perceptions so our thinking spirals out of proportion. And as our thinking goes, so does our story. (More on this with future posts on Storytelling.)

We frantically defend our point of view as we vehemently dismiss our opponents. Anxiety blinds us to our part in the devilment, as it binds us in our need to convince others to protest with us.

In a troubled marriage there is no totally good spouse and totally bad spouse. In an angry family, there is no good parent and bad parent, as there is no single bad child and the rest escape as acceptable. In an organization a wide swath of grey wanders between the black and white. But we do so love to assign blame.

We are naturally wired to become anxious when threatened or we think we see threat. (“Anxieties of life” Luke 21:34) Loss of job, income, home, health, family. You can name your anxiety of the day.

As dementia diminishes the thought process, the sufferer thinks they can continue to take charge; sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t, and we never know what’s coming next.

A small coalition of members decide the leadership isn’t performing and they foment for change. The neighborhood around the church changes complexion as members move out and cash flow, with the membership, fails to meet agreed upon goals. Misbehavior alleged or real by a leader or member jump-starts the rumor mill.

Dr. Peter Steinke in How your Church Family Works, writes, “Crowd delirium is fed by both emotional extremes—ecstasy and anxiety. Both numb the thinking processes. As long as people function in reciprocally reactive ways, there is little emotional separation between them.”  Blobs wobble; differentiated individuals reason.

Like any challenge, anxiety's impact depends on how we handle it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Book Review

Caldwell, Bo. City of Tranquil Light. Henry Holt and Company. 2010.

In 1906 two Mennonites, Will and Katherine, separately join a missionary journey to the North China Plain. They are surprised by love for each other and the people of Kuang P’ing Ch’eng—City of Tranquil Light. Together Will, the preacher, and Katherine, the nurse, share hardships and personal loss as they survive the crumbling of a more than two-thousand-year-old dynasty. Through societal collapse and dangers from bandits, civil war, and the attacks by Southern armies of Chiang Kai-shek, Will and Katherine slowly earn the respect of the local people. These courageous nationals continue the work when the Communists threaten and missionaries are forced to leave China.

“City” is a beautifully written life story told from Will’s perspective with Katherine’s journal entries, growing tendrils of grace and faith from the earth of China to our hearts far across the sea.

“Chung-Kuo.  It means Middle Kingdom, because of the people’s ancient belief that their country was at the center of a vast square earth, surrounded by the Four Seas, beyond which lay islands inhabited by barbarians. That’s us.”

Thursday, August 11, 2011


In earlier posts on Transitional Thinking (Wed., April 20), I described the differences between Problems and Polarities. When an organization’s operational system does not distinguish between the two, anxiety heats up. In the frantic search for solution, finding someone to blame becomes crucial.

To review, a Problem can be solved. People involved in a tiff can be brought together and held accountable. (Gossips must also be held accountable.*)

A Polarity, however, requires management because “there are two complimentary dimensions, which are always in tension and need to be appropriately balanced for the context.” Sometimes we want hot water, sometimes cold, both appropriate desires.

Members of a family age and leave for their own households. But they carry with them the learned pattern of knee jerk reaction/shouting, or calm/quiet waiting for explanation: two system extremes. To qualify for the middle you react to anxiety-producing stimuli by going on alert, but ask “why” or “what is the matter here” before you respond.

An organization like a congregation is composed of individuals who learned how to handle anxiety from their families. Every group we have encountered contained individuals demonstrating both extremes and the middle. We have experienced congregations whose corporate character tilted from productive Problem solving and Polarity management toward reactive chaos.

Organizations with ineffective systems neither resolve the Problem nor explore the contrasting dimensions of a Polarity. They hover anxiously. Anxiety becomes the modus operandi; the organization deteriorates as it must. (The word dysfunction has been misused as the blameworthy cause.)

An anxious group may find temporary relief when new leadership demonstrates and demands behavior change. But when the leader departs, if the group does not own its new insights, the system may return to former patterns like a hard ball on a rubber band. If you’re the next leader, watch out! You’ll get the “icks.”

* Romans 1:28-32 “Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives.”

The Message

Sunday, August 7, 2011



Fools have short fuses and explode all too quickly;

   the prudent quietly shrug off insults.

Truthful witness by a good person clears the air,

   but liars lay down a smoke screen of deceit.

Thursday, August 4, 2011


One of the houses in which we sojourned offered hot water in the downstairs bathroom that could redden skin in the split second it took to reach from the loose hot to the stuck cold handle. Contrarily, the hot water in the upstairs bathroom where we showered took longer to get warm than a dead mule to move. Such was the water system in that house.

Organizations, be it a family, a senior care facility or a congregation, have developed a system for dealing with anxiety, pain with an uncertain cause. These systems range in effectiveness.

We all agree that anxiety is a miserable experience. One of my favorite people used to describe her anxious spells as the “icks.” A professional person, she sat in the back row in church.

I quickly learned to turn the cold water on before the hot. In every congregation we have served there was one person who had learned to start yelling as soon as he felt anxious. Dementia does the same because controls have been lost. A previous resident liked to “poke” her family and then refused to respond when they jabbed in return, claiming to dislike conflict.

When we become so obsessed with the temperature in the room, the minister’s leadership, or our spouses’ driving that it interferes with our ability to live, worship God, enjoy the car ride with our mouth shut, that’s a concern.

If we are expending so much energy on the worry that we can’t function effectively, we have a problem that needs to be addressed. Our coping system is not working effectively.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


Hope moved into our home bringing her bedroom dresser. Her children removed the drawers at her house, transported them, and without sorting through any of them, slid them into place at our home.

One afternoon about 3:00 PM she needed redirection. I brought her into her room. She picked the drawer and I placed it on her lap. We rolled the drawer to the kitchen table. We slowly removed the contents piece by piece, talking about their use and where they came from.

One of the contents was a yellowed paper lined with mimeograph ink smudges. If you don’t know what a mimeograph is, Bing it. The language is from the days when bread was $.05 a loaf and a house kit from Sears and Roebuck cost less than $2,000.

The treasured article is as follows:


Remember we old folks are worth a fortune. We have silver in our hair, gold in our teeth, stones in our kidneys, lead in our feet and gas in our stomachs.

I have become a little older since I saw you last and a few changes have come into my life since then. Frankly, I have become quite a frivolous old gal. I am seeing five gentlemen every day. As soon as I wake up, Will Power helps me get out of bed. Then I go see John. Charlie Horse comes along and when he is here he takes a lot of my attention. When he leaves Arthur Ritis shows up and stays the rest of the day. He doesn’t like to stay in one place very long, so he takes me from joint to joint. After such a busy day I am really tired and glad to go to bed with Ben Gay.  Wow, what a life!

The preacher came to call the other day. He said at my age I should be thinking of the hereafter. I told him, “Oh I do all of the time. No matter where I am, in the parlor, kitchen, etc., I ask myself, What am I here after?”