A Cure For Spiritual Heart Disease

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - January 25, 2006
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I have a friend named Charlie Plum. Of the nearly 600 returned Vietnam POWs, Charlie and I are the only two who returned from Vietnam and were led to share our experiences in public to the extent that professional speaking careers evolved. Charlie remained in the Navy Reserve and ultimately retired as a captain.

During America’s bicentennial celebration, July 4, 1976, Capt. Plum was assigned to coordinate the passing of the “Tall Ships” - a collection of the world’s finest sailing ships - passing in review in New York harbor. During this time, Connie Chun, a then network feature commentator, was hanging out with Charlie to do a story on him. After closely observing him and his problem-solving style, and his working relationship with other people, she asked the last question of her final interview: “Tell me the truth, Charlie, don’t you ever get depressed?” After only a second’s thought, he replied: “No! Not really!” Upon which Chun exclaimed: “Oh, God, how depressing!”

Charlie was speaking from the perspective of a six-year experience that teaches one to sort out the things in life which are truly important from those that just aren’t. And that makes “depression” rare.

Another of my associates in the speaking profession, a woman named Rosita Perez, is known and literally revered for her heartful embrace of an audience, and the soulful songs she sings to the chords of her guitar. In this most recent decade of her life she has courageously resisted a debilitating disease and is always accompanied by her dedicated husband, Ray, who frequently reminds her; “Honey, don’t sweat the small things!” And as Rosita loves to tell it: “OK, Ray, what are the small things?” Ray: “You are born, and you die; those are the big things. Everything in between ... those are the small things!”

I was especially reminded of these Plum-isms and Perez-isms this past weekend when I attended a weekend men’s retreat at St. Stevens Seminary and Conference Center just off the Kailua side of the Pali. About 50 men from Honolulu’s First Presbyterian Church gathered around Christian author and pastor, Don Cousins, who led us on a spiritual journey on “The Heart of a Man.”

Each formal session was preceded by 10 or 15 minutes of song which contributed to the bonding and trust between us. It seemed most of us had forgotten about the satisfying power of 50 strong male voices belting out hymns of praise - sometimes in harmony, sometimes not - especially in such a beautiful and serene setting. It truly felt like God was listening with approval.

During the sessions with Cousins, we focused upon the causes of “spiritual heart disease,” and the most effective preventative drugs: Faith, trust and forgiveness. For me, the most memorable metaphor was the raised hand toward God, either in a fist or with an open palm.

When we are in the “Why me, God?” mode we may rail against him for allowing this or that to happen to us: “God, what did I do to deserve this?” We tend to raise our hard, clenched fist in defiance, closing out God’s message. On the other hand, if we can get through the “Why me, God?” to the “Show me, God!” - ie: “What are you telling me here? What am I supposed to learn from this? - we can find God’s purpose in our hurt and pain. Now we raise our hand toward God with an open palm, ready to receive the message. A clenched fist hardens our heart, but an open palm opens and softens our heart.

The old song, “I never promised you a rose garden” speaks a significant truth in that a complete life includes both joy and sorrow, both victory and defeat, both faith and fear, both peaks and valleys. How blessed we are to have the freedom to choose to embrace all of life equally. And we learn the deeper the valleys, the higher the peaks.

We never literally wish adversity on anyone, but I sorta feel sorry for anyone who has it all good. Charlie Plum and Ray Perez could never have their positive attitudes without learning this lesson from their adversities. Thank you, God!

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