117: Lanny Hunter: The Power Of Stories And Narratives – A Hero’s Journey From Vietnam To Writing To An Embrace Of The Mystery
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Lanny Hunter: The Power Of Stories And Narratives – A Hero’s Journey From Vietnam To Writing To An Embrace Of The Mystery
This is an interview with Lanny Hunter. He is a retired physician with more than 50 years’ experience in the consultation room and operating theater. He is a Vietnam veteran and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for Valor. He has authored or co-authored more than five books including a book co-authored with his brother Victor, Stories of Desire and Narratives of Faith: From Neanderthals to the Postmodern Era. He lives in Denver currently with his wife, Carolyn. Lanny is an amazing man. He has a life full of experience and wisdom. If you had the change to read the episode with Peter Peitz, this is a very similar episode in many ways. I felt so honored to get to sit down with him for a few hours and hear from so many amazing experiences and stories. In this conversation, which we like to coin, a back porch conversation, we discuss the disciplines of science and religion, embracing the mystery in life, living a reflective life.
We talk about his experiences in the Vietnam War, which he is the most decorated war physician, I believe. He doesn’t talk about that much. He’s very humble but received many medals and rewards of honors for his role and his heroism there. We actually talk about what real heroism looks like. We talk about practicing medicine, we talk about the role of writing, the power of narratives and story and much more. It’s refreshing to hear from someone who is in the autumn of their life and has strived his whole life to live a good life and learn what that means. I enjoyed it. I’m going to be done so that you can sit back and enjoy this sweet, rich, deep conversation with Lanny Hunter.
Lanny Hunter, welcome. I’ve been very excited to sit down and chat with you. I got to interview my grandfather a couple of years ago. One of the things I love most in life is learning from the wisdom that life brings with age and a life lived well. We’re going to dive into many aspects of that. I thought it would be interesting to hear a little bit at the start of learning how to ski. What were the early experiences of skiing like with your brother?
My first ski trip was with one of my favorite uncles. I had many favorite uncles, but this was an uncle who was a naval aviator in World War II. He came back and used the GI Bill to get a law degree and he was a practicing lawyer. The year after I came back from Vietnam, he wanted to take me and my wife, my brother, who is five years my junior and his wife on a week ski trip to Breckenridge and stay in a cabin that they had access to. We will visit for a week, get caught up as uncle and nephews and have a good week. I had never been on skis before. It was a great week, largely in the conversation, the comradeship and the affection that was clear between all of us and the respect. Skiing was a chore and the first chore was getting up a little hill and this was back in the day. Have you ever been to a T-bar?If you make religion about power and property, you've missed the point. Click To Tweet
First of all, I couldn’t ski. I had to use those skis to catch a T-bar coming by. My brother and I standing side by side and get yanked up the hill. It took a long time to get our skis under us and get towed up the hill. Most of it was the two Stooges trying to get free of the T-bar after it had entangled us. We didn’t have either the skill or the strength or the wit to let go. That’s how we started. We did learn to ski that week on the bunny slopes. I fell in love with skiing and went back later in the winter to have another week at the mountain. My wife and I and our kids skied all through our years as a family and later. Only in the last few years have I stopped.
Those T-bars can really get you. I’ve had some experiences as well. One of the things I do before interviews is to talk to a handful of people. One of the things I learned is that you love to sing. What did you love most about singing?
I grew up in a church. I’ve been watching Ken Burns’ country music. I watched all of those segments, I think twelve. It struck home because I grew up in a little gospel singing small church that had no piano or an organ. It was all acapella. You learn to sing and you learn to read music. You weren’t sustained or supported by a piano or an organ. That was part of the family tradition. I had a pretty good voice, so it gave me a lot of pleasure and opportunity to perform through junior and senior high school and on into college. I was struck by the folk music craze that I became aware of in the ‘50s with the older groups in the older country, Western singers and so forth, but then later with the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary and Bob Dylan and all. I was struck by that. I wanted to do that. I had a lot of opportunities in my earlier years to sing. In my second year in medical school, I spent most of my time learning to play the guitar and the banjo and working up a folk act. I did so with a college friend that he and I sang together then and we got back together.
Speaking of love of singing, and this resonated with the Ken Burns’ Show, singing with my friend Bill Lyon, who was a tenor, with our guitars and banjo, it was a spiritual experience. We did folk music and spirituals and that type of thing. Joining our voices together was a spiritual experience that joined us for the rest of our lives. That had been a big part of my life. I went down when he was dying of cancer and sang a couple of songs to him with my guitar. I sank into that experience of being with him and sharing song. It has been a huge part of my life.
How was that for you in medical school having that contrast? Because I feel that singing and music is such creative expression, whereas medicine, while it has creative elements, it’s much more rudimentary or rigid and disciplined. It’s a practice of discipline in a sense. They’re both disciplines, but how has that contrast for you in college?
This strikes at the heart of how I’ve lived my life in learning and wanting to experience. Medicine was evidence-based. It was scientific but it was also an art. You mentioned creative, but it was evidence-based and that became important. It became important to me at a time when if I looked carefully at my upbringing in my conservative church. We didn’t have much respect for science. We liked the fact that radio waves work and we could listen to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night. When we started thinking about things like creation and how old the world was, we had the fundamentalist view that in a sense denied the evidence.
I was trained in a conservative church to seal off the things that didn’t make sense to this conservative religion. It’s like canned goods, hermetically seal your religion off in your brain because you couldn’t talk about creation in any way other than the six days of the Genesis story. I have spent maybe the last 75 years of my life figuring out the difference between a test tube and a text. One is evidence-based and one is a story. Stories are true. That is why country music is so fantastic because someone years ago had defined it. Ken Burns brought this out, but I knew this quote for the last 50 years, “Country music is three chords and the truth.” I’ve always thought that’s wonderful insight.Every man is a coward and a hero at the same time. Click To Tweet
What I have realized is that stories are true. They carry great weight in connecting, understanding, inspiring, feeling, seeing and being, but it’s different than evidence-based science. At the end of my life, I believe that the stories of religion, all religions, have something to say to evidence-based science. They both have a seat at the table of being human. That is the connection for me between whatever art I had as a singer or as a guitar player. It didn’t take me long to realize I wasn’t going to make it as folk singer, that I didn’t pick up the guitar when I was three. I picked it up when I was 23 and that was too late. It came to me that I had this wonderful year of doing something that was deep in my heart and in my gut of performance, singing and the spiritual act of that with a good singer, but I needed to go back to medicine, which I also loved and which was a viable vocation. I returned to medical school and became a physician and that’s how that little detour affected my entire life.
What was it that you loved about medicine? What got you into that?
I was interested in science and how things worked, not in things like how to take a car apart. That was not the mechanical science that I wanted, but the science of the body and how it could be affected by disease and how the disease could be affected by evidence-based techniques. I also learned that a lot of our techniques are not evidence-based. They were superstition and bad science. That’s maybe another thing I’ve learned in 80 years. There’s bad science and good science. There’s bad religion and good religion. You have to pay attention to both or you’re going to be bamboozled. You wind up far astray from the hope of each one of those vocations, whether it’s the story of religion or the story of medicine. Both are stories and they come to life with different tools. What I loved was taking care of patients. I knew I was never going to be a researcher, whatever it was. I don’t know if I didn’t think I was smart enough or I didn’t want to spend my days in the laboratory growing viruses or doing whatever, but I knew that I wanted to be a clinician and take care of people and help solve problems. It was a lifelong learning experience.
I love the tension that you hold there. The tagline of our show is intention in the tension. Having intentionality in life helps us live in the middle of those tensions between good and bad, within whatever lane that is. What have you found in your years and experiences that have helped you discern or become aware of the good science and bad science or the good religion and the bad religion? How you walk down that path?
That’s a question that takes a lifetime to sort through. This is a good time for me to say that I don’t believe in bumper sticker religion or bumper sticker science or bumper sticker climate control or anything else. Life has more variety in-depth and context than that. In reading your book, talking about simplicity, complexity, and simplicity. I understand that and I think it’s true. You don’t get to the final simplicity of your vocation, whatever that is without understanding the complexities. That means that in certain things you must pay the price to learn the skills, to understand the complexities, whatever your vocation is. Medicine allowed me to realize at the end of my medical career that because I could do something for a patient doesn’t mean that I should. They had a choice and I was there to present them with alternatives and present possible outcomes and maybes, how difficult it was to achieve the best outcomes. Every medicine we have is a poison and you have to treat it with respect. Every time you pick up a knife, you’re waiting for the disaster to happen. You have spent a lifetime learning the complexities of those skills so that you can move into that with some reassurance that maybe being professional is knowing how to get out of trouble in what you’re good at when you get in trouble doing it.
That is what a professional is, I think. You take responsibility for it. This is what I did and this was what happened. That’s one thing. In bad religion and bumper stickers, it’s the little WWJD, “What Would Jesus Do?” Most people will say that, but don’t know what Jesus did. They don’t have a clue. They just know the sweet stories and it’s magic. Religion is not magic, but it is a mystery. It takes a long time to become sensitive to the mystery. You can’t shout Jesus from the housetops. Have a little humility. Bumper sticker, “Jesus is the answer.” To what? It takes more reflection, more thought, more experience. I think if you get rich off your religion, it’s not a good religion. I think that you can get that so warped and twisted that it’s antithetical to what Jesus did. I don’t know that I’ve said anything that answers your question except that this long experience of walking your vocation of doing it or walking your art or walking your religion. It’s a journey, it’s an experience and you have to pay attention.
One of my favorite quotes, Whitney Wolfe Herd said, “Experience is the most expensive currency in the world.” I thought it was pretty true. We’re going to get to talk to about a lot of what you said. I want to start with the mystery. Because when I talk to people that know you and ask how they would describe you in two words. One of the words shared was mystic. Others are courage, integrity, kind, Jonathan and David. Maybe you could make it a narrative in the sense of how you have come to see the mystery and appreciate the mystery and what that process has been like for you?
Are you talking about religion?Heroism and courage is incremental; it's doing little things day after day. Click To Tweet
Particularly religion, but it could be in all of life too. I think that would be beautiful.
Let me talk about religion and see where that leads us. Part of it goes back to my comment about finally coming to see that discipline of a test tube and a textbook are different disciplines. You can’t apply the techniques of one to the other. I grew up in a religion that basically said, “If the Bible is true, it’s true about everything.” That means that if something in science seems to not fit with some text, the text is literally true and science is literally wrong. It put learning in tension with how you could find truth. The Bible as a book of truth became law, a rule book and propositions. You may believe that Jesus has saved you, but would that have you believe that Jesus fed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fishes or that he walked on the water? If you don’t believe that, then you’re not a Christian? If you don’t believe the Bible, you’re lost? You have no hope and that is the religion that kills hope, kills openness and kills learning. To use the idea that I’m a mystic. I think it means that I believe that you can go so far and you’re confronted with the mystery. That happened in several ways with me for the Bible in the sense that what difference does it make if God parted the Red Sea and they walked on dry land. Whatever that was, that marvelous mystery that they escaped Pharaoh’s army.
What differences does it make whether you believe that or Daniel walked through the lion’s den or that Jesus was born of a Virgin? That his birth is about gynecology or that he walked on the water? When the only piece of that story that matters is the end in which he was resurrected from the dead. If that isn’t true, then you’re not a disciple. You’re a Christian philosopher. When I look at that resurrection story, it seems to me that at the end of the cross, the story, the disciples thought it was all over. Literally they hung up a sign, “Gone fishing.” They went back to doing what they were doing. Because this wonderful human being that talked to them and promised certain things and done wondrous things that they observed was killed by religion and power. He was ground death between religion and power and it was over. You read the rest of the gospels and people who seem to be reliable people like you and me said that they saw him. That’s the witness and it’s a great mystery. I guess that makes me a mystic because I can’t explain it. You can’t go toward that mystery with science on your mind to explain how God did it or how it’s going to happen for you.
This story ends with that mystery. To believe that I think you have to be a mystic. You can’t be a scientist. You certainly can’t be a nihilist and a lot of other things. You are stopped by that story and then the rest of it falls into its pattern of a marvelous story of salvation in which the paradigm is death and resurrection. If you make the Christian religion about keeping The Ten Commandments or preserving and maintaining your denomination and buildings and money and national conferences and so forth. If you make your religion about power and property, you’ve missed the point. You make your religion then about rules, regulations, preservation, maintenance. Being wealthy, being happy, being secure when the paradigm is death and resurrection. I guess that makes me a mystic.
It’s profound when you think about that religion and power killed Jesus. Those are a lot of times the two things that we default to if we aren’t aware or conscious. In speaking of mystery more in general now and in the state of life or where you’re at now in life, how do you see it as beautiful? Because it is a place of great tension. I think most humans want to know the answer and have all our I’s dotted and T’s crossed. How do you embrace that or seeing the beauty in that and lived in that place?
I think I went through the complexity to the simplicity, the final thing that I can’t explain it, but it’s a faith story. I think that religion partly is how to have life after you’re born, life afterlife. Life after death is not the payoff. That’s what we tend to think. “Things are tough here. Things are bad here. I don’t have much money. I don’t have much food. This was us in Western Kansas in the depression. We don’t have things, we don’t have food, we’re sick, we’re poor, but when we die, we get the big payoff.” That’s how religion was sold. Jesus said, if we’re going to return to the story, “Come onto me and you will have life now.” Live life now. Life was a bitch and then you die. I don’t like the quick answers, the easy answers because I don’t think that’s the way it is. I think that a companionable journey is the beauty, so that the beauty of the Christian religion, that’s the only religion I know. I want to say there are other religions and I thought they were all wrong. I’m sorry, they got it wrong. The poor things, they’re going to go to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus and they hadn’t been baptized. It’s too bad. Isn’t that a shame? We’ve got to do everything we can to save everybody. Let’s get a mission fund and go to China. There are other world religions and there are other book religions from antiquity.
There was something going on at the beginning and every human heart asking the question, what does this mean? Is life hard and then you die? They started asking questions. Maybe that’s why I love science and religion. The two great disciplines that tried to unravel this question from the very beginning where science and religion. Science tried to figure out how it worked and religion tried to figure out what it meant and they both brought these questions to the table. In those early misty eons ago, even the language of religion and science was the same. It began to separate into the disciplines, text and evidence-based. For a long time, religion had all the power and the Christians showed Galileo the rack. They said, “Do you think the earth moves? Repent or we’ll put you on the rack? He repented because he was enough of a scientist to know what happened when you pulled the tendons, the muscles and the bones apart. He did the better part of valor and I think he said it moves under his breath. Religion has so much to answer for, so much harm, so much meanness and so much depth. The inquisitions, the crusades, the beheadings, the burnings of the witches. The church drags this history behind it and all it can do is grieve and repent, but it doesn’t have to repeat it.
Right now, in some of the best, most prominent, powerful religions, they’re still caught up in wealth, power, greed and they grind people up. I don’t know this great story of the Bible. I like heaven is a place for all-seeing by old Uncle Gerbert, the fighter pilot who taught me to ski. That’s because we don’t know any other way to describe what’s going to happen. That’s about the only story we can tell. It’s going to be the best here. I have no idea. Maybe we’re going to be a drop of rain. I liked the other story. That’s the story, but you don’t put people to the stake over it. You don’t kick people out of your church because of it. Is there any way to sum this up? I think it’s holding your faith with a light hand. You don’t shout it from the rooftops. You don’t bludgeon it into somebody with words, with arguments and debates and parsing Greek and Hebrew. You might have to ask finally what would Jesus do, but you better know what he did.Stories are so important because they give voice to the deepest longings of the human heart. Click To Tweet
I love that a companionable journey is the beauty. There’s a lot of freedom in that. It’s simple. It keeps it a little bit grounded. I feel like we get lost in the complexities and a lot of times make those important and lose the groundness of life. I think that’s helpful. A lot of what you’ve been talking about reminds me of this book that I have next to me called Stories of Desire and Narratives of Faith by Victor and Lanny Hunter. I was very impressed with the thoroughness and the writing and the way that you two went about it. All the book from what I’ve read so far is, and I’m guessing most of it is about a power of narratives and power of stories. I’d love to hear why this book.
It goes back to things we visited a little bit about before and some of it is so simple. It sounds silly or it does sound like bumper sticker. There are different ways we find our way to the beauty, the mystery, the power and all the wonder of living and even dying. That’s in different ways may be given way back in geography, genetics, family history of and talents. Some people sing their way to understanding. Some people play the cello. That’s their modality. Some hit a golf ball. You can spin the stories. I was turned toward literature, reading and that is to say towards stories, history and biography. The science textbook is another story. It’s this funny word and it has a different toolbox. Believe me, when you get finally to quantum physics, you’re talking philosophy. We have different ways to get there. One of my ways was to put words on paper and it helped. That’s maybe part of my obsessive-compulsive disorder. That’s why I tried to be orderly and put words on paper in a logical fashion that makes sense. I have enough of maybe the poet, the singer, the lover to try to make the language beautiful, to make it sing a little, to make it a summons and to make it faithful. That’s why I write and it uses my talents.
Somebody else can very well do it with those other modalities we’ve already talked about and beyond that, build the world’s fastest racecar. I don’t know. I write and it helps me think. A lot of things I’ve said have come from, first of all, 75 years of conversation with my brother and the others and 75 years of reading. I’ve been writing seriously for about 40 years and loving the craft and hoping to be better and realizing that I won’t be. There are limitations that I work with, but it is doing the best you can. Someone said to Stephen King once, “When are you going to write a good book? You’re a good writer. Why don’t you write a good book?” He says, “I’m writing the best I can, but it turns into the crazy dog that comes and terrorizes at town.” I’m writing as fast as I can. I’m writing the best that I can. I practiced medicine the best that I could. I made some mistakes along the way. Fortunately, most of them rectifiable, but there is nobody in a life-coaching class that’s going to make me better because I’ve only got so many fast-twitch muscles to run, so many neurons that are still connected in my brain to think.
A limited experience of a boy from Kansas and the dust bowl with the very parochial education who had married, family, friends, comrades in arms, one to kill a commie for Christ and all of those things. I’m not even the best I can be for myself, let alone that I could be even better at something that I could dream about. I am some of my genetics, experiences, geography, family, stupidity and mistakes. We’ve said this before, but I see the life in the soft middle ground. Persistent, patient, be a lot nicer to people that I haven’t been. All of those things but nobody can say that, “I have no regrets.” That’s impossible. Nobody can say that. That is the mystery of the Christian religion that the story promises hope and that’s it.
I love hearing this from you because I think it’s helpful for myself and to anyone reading. Because like we talked about in the first conversation we had, these myths that we are led to believe and the exceptionalism is one of them. How that puts such a weight and pressure on us that we put on ourselves individually to be more than we are or can be. What I love hearing from you now even is the humility to know who we are, which is humbling because there’s things we don’t want to see. The grace to appreciate where we are and the love where we are and be grateful for it, even in the midst of what we see. That’s something that we all need more of. It’s so hard for me. That’s something I fall prey to a lot. I know I do. It’s encouraging to hear the perspective. I appreciate that.
You want me to tell you how angry I am? Out of all this, I say that jokingly, but it’s true. There’s an edge of anger to what I feel about life and there’s an edge of the diagnosis of depression to what I feel about life. Some days I want to put my foot through the television as I watch the stupidity, the harm, the meanness and the arrogance. It makes me angry. Why am I saying this? I guess I’m so afraid that somebody will think I’m a good person that I want to make sure that I’m a real person. I’ve got these feet of clay. If I want to believe the metaphor, I was made out of a mud pie. The beginning story of Genesis is I think a tremendous metaphorical story for my feet of clay. I have regrets. I have some people that have been good to me and stuck with me for my whole life. That is the blessing of the companionship. That is a little bit of the story of Jesus. He had a community. We made it an institution and he had a community and that makes me angry. How can we miss that? I don’t know.
It’s a powerful distinction and institution versus community. They’re so different. One of the things I asked you is what is my guest’s superpower? What is Lanny’s superpower? One of them that I thought was profound was your ability to live a reflective life and keep on going, which I thought it was pretty powerful too. What comes to your mind when you hear that?
My life was touched by Vietnam, as were millions of others. Let me talk about that a little. There wasn’t a Vietnam War. There were a million Vietnam wars. You can begin to detail. There were the B-52 bomber pilots in Thailand bombing the Ho Chi Minh trail. There were the Sergeant Saigon checking out air conditioners to the people who needed them for their offices who were keeping the records. They were the Navy nurses. There were the Special Forces camps up along this Laotian-Cambodian border and the Marines at the DMZ. There was the big red one down in the Delta. There was 25th Infantry Division up in the Highlands. There was the first air cabin. With each person, it’s a little bit different war, but there was also a link. That war was so complicated, but I went as a believer because I was raised in Western Kansas on the Cold War rhetoric, on the godless communists, on taking over the world, on the Gulag, the prison camps. That there was such thing as freedom and justice. People sometimes say, “Why did you go to Vietnam?”Humor is one of the startling realities of being human. Click To Tweet
Looking back now 50 years later and there were a lot of reasons, but I’m going to say one thing, “My country sent me.” They told me that that was a thing to do. That was a right thing to do. They told me that we occupied the high moral ground. They told me that we would stay until the job was done. They told me that the sacrifice was worth it. They told me a lot of things that weren’t true. They told me things that weren’t true for their own political benefit, for their own political gain, for personal self-aggrandizement. Vietnam taught me something about staying the course and I came away from Vietnam a decorated war hero. I was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star for Valor, Air Medal, Purple Heart for Wounds, the Vietnamese Gallant’s Cross by the Vietnamese government. I don’t know about medals.
In the Army, in the military, you don’t get bonuses, you don’t shares of stock in the corporation. You don’t even get raises. Maybe as you pass through the various ranks. The currency of recognition in the military is medals. Napoleon recognized this when he said, “Give me 100 meters of ribbon and I will build an army.” That nails it. A little piece of ribbon and metal hanging from a man’s chest or a woman’s inspires others to maybe hold on a little longer or make a sacrifice or a self-sacrifice or do something risky or whatever. The reality is that every man is a coward and a hero at the same time.
There were so many people who did so many things that were courageous, heroic and persistent, whatever you want to say. There were never recognized. Point in fact, the man at the desk who kept the paperwork of the operations and then went on and kept the records. Maybe a boring task day after day. That’s a form of heroism. Maybe sometimes, there were probably sometimes some people that have an out of body experience and an explosion of adrenaline and leap out and do something of the moment. More often than not, it’s a moment by moment. You have a job to do. You get a medal if somebody up the line saw it and decides to recognize it out of all the other things going on. I have this understanding about heroism and courage as incrementalism. That’s doing a little things day after day, trying to be faithful. You wind up doing that for the people around you. Sooner or later, it wasn’t about communism or freedom for the South Vietnamese or geopolitics. It’s about twenty men in your presence that if they could do it, you can do it. If it had to be done, someone had to do it. Here’s the final thought on that. It’s not profound, but the strange thing now 50 years later is I don’t miss the terror and the tragedy of Vietnam, but I miss the comradeship and the clarity. In some ways, after all of this, Vietnam looks like the good old days.
Would you do it again?
That’s not quite a fair question because I know better, but I did it then. After it all, I’m not a pacifist. I don’t think you can teach pacifism from the Bible story. The Centurion wasn’t told he had to stop being a soldier. That story you had to believe. The Vietnam War memorials are mostly about our glory. You look at the Confederate and Union monuments now, it’s not politically correct to do so, but they’re heroic. The Marine Memorial of raising the flag, that’s heroic. The Vietnam War is about grief, not glory. Wars are cause for grief, not glory. You cannot fight gloriously. It is dirty, bloody and cruel. That’s why it’s prettied up with uniforms, gold braids and medals.
The Memorial Wall in Washington about Vietnam, it’s about grieving, but partly because of the names of the dead. It names them in a context of being wasted. Nothing was accomplished. If you’re a military historian, you know that that’s the story of military warfare. Lives wasted by stupidity, by bravado, by stupid command decisions, by lies at the very top of the civilian command chain and lies at the very bottom of the company commander. By tactics that were known to be that they would fail and they do all of these things. To stand at the Vietnam, but to have these wasted lives in the world of military history, victory tended to redeem the sacrifices. There was no victory in Vietnam and the sacrifices were unredeemed and that’s why it rankles so. Still the country needs its military like the city needs it’s police or the county needs its sheriff because we live in a world of meat-eaters and maybe, just maybe sometimes a line has to be drawn in the sand. I’m enough of an old soldier to think that’s true, but I’m enough of an old soldier to know that it’s impossible to know the truth of it at the moment.
I’ve read most of Colonel David Hackworth’s book About Face. For someone like me who hasn’t had the experience as a civilian, he does a good job of bringing insight into some of those experiences. It’s shocking. In the book about stories, what have you come to see as the power of story and narrative? How was the process of writing a book? How did that shape your view of stories and narratives?
It reinforced the learning of the power of stories. It reinforced that stories give identity. Stories reveal purpose and inspire. Stories are painful. Stories characterize the losses. Some stories are so powerful that they have an overarching theme that can carry a vision of what might be or what might be possible or how to be at your best. That’s why poems, songs and stories are so important because they give voice to the deepest longings of the human heart. They give wisdom and guidance. In that identity of humanity being human and not being lost, that’s the power of great literature. That’s the power of the great religious stories. All of them that carry their grain of truth. My window on that story happened to be the Christian religion. I would not make the claim that that’s the best religion or the truest or the most honest or the most inspirational, but it’s my story. It’s the only story I have lived by that carries the overarching theme. I am enmeshed in that. It is part of my story. That’s what religion does for you. The religion story. It can become your story too. You join that. When you become a disciple, you join the story. You don’t join the church. If you’re lucky, the church won’t screw you over or teach you something hateful.Never travel any distance with somebody that doesn't have a sense of humor because you're going to be bored. Click To Tweet
The world of stories, and I want to point out that again, I think chemistry book is a story, a math book, geography book, geology book or anthropology book. They use different language, but they’re stories. When you read those stories, they lift you up and enlighten you. They also cast light in the darkness and the other stories you are living with. They all pass back and forth. That’s why in the universe of discourse, all of those stories are important and you need to listen to them all. To come back again, it’s part of my angst, my depression, my whatever. The child that is birthed not whole and maybe that child story never extends beyond the mother’s care. Don’t talk to me about being whatever you want to be if you think about it and train hard enough and work hard enough and believe it enough. Because some stories, by virtue of their being, never extend beyond the mother’s breast. That’s their life. As Kansas boys that were born with most of our tissues intact, a few neurons in the brain, a few fast-twitch muscles, myocardium that keeps on banging away 70 times a minute and opportunity. You’d still be Thane Marcus Ringler, but you wouldn’t be the Thane Marcus Ringler of your knowing, being and becoming.
Hank Williams was given a guitar when he was three years old and he grew up with it. He grew up, but he also had a poetic mind. I love the story that I’ve heard about Hank Williams before when he was in Ken Burns’ Show. He wrote the song, I Saw the Light. “I saw the light when Jesus came like a savior that night. Praise God, I saw the light.” This old alcoholic, Hank Williams, finished a song one night, walked off the Grand Ole Opry stage and spoke to Minnie Pearl. This college-educated lady who took on the persona of this hillbilly woman to be the comedic act of Minnie Pearl in the Grand Ole Opry. She always wore a hat that had price tag on. Hank Williams came off into the wings and said, “That’s the trouble, Minnie. There isn’t no light. Three chords and the truth.” He couldn’t see the light, not all the time. Christian lives is a pilgrimage. It’s one foot in front of the other with the story, the inspiration and hope and with the call to be alive now. You might also have life coming towards you from the grave that we cannot even fathom.
I have a few one-offs to close this. What do you fear most in life right now?
It is something very selfish. I don’t want to end my life like my mother and my sister with Alzheimer’s, wearing my Depends and being totally lost and fading into the darkness. I fear that.
One thing I heard from some references was how much humor and laughter is a part of your life. They’re not getting a taste of that, but what’s the importance of humor to you?
Humor is very informative. The punch line illuminates the whole joke. That makes it real. That’s part of it. Humor deflects horror. Humor is one of the startling realities of being human. I don’t know if animals have humor. We don’t know about those lines. Walt Disney may not be right in the way Thumper and Bambi talked to one another, but we know that all the scratching, squeaking and roaring, they’re talking and they’re passing on a lot of information. I don’t know if they have humor. I think one of the things that I’ve been careful not to do is never travel any distance with somebody that didn’t have a sense of humor because you’re going to be a bore. Without a sense of humor, they don’t have any redeeming value. That’s my critical thought on that. Humor exposes us at our silliest and exposes of the silliness of our most profound thoughts.
If you could teach a class for a semester, what would you teach on and why? You can pick what grade too.
I’ll have a class about writing and I think I’d like to do it with grade school kids. To let them do it and have a way for them to understand that writing can be humorous, informative or scary. It’s all a story and the words are magic and if they put them together right, they can have wings. That’s what I’d like. In doing that, I’ve learned a lot.In the universe of discourse, all stories are important and you need to listen to them all. Click To Tweet
What books have had the biggest impact on you?
I want to say that I turned up my nose at people who would go around with the Bible clutched to their bosom, spouting platitudes. I don’t think there’s any doubt that it was a part of my growing up in powerful ways. My small little country church had some odd ideas that couldn’t be sustained either in the real world or in the religious world because they were off center, but it was the best they can do. I learned that that was an important book and you need to pay attention. I’ve done that my whole life. I also loved history. I love fiction, but I read less fiction than I used to. I like biography, history or something informative. I’ll name a book for the record. The man who directed the British Museum of Natural History published a book with pictures called The History of the World in 100 Objects. He had pictures of the things and he writes a little essay about that object. The first one was a hand axe that had been shaped by some human creature.
This rock was dated two million years BC. In the back of this rock was probably a round object that they worked on a little. The back of it was a curve so he could hold it in your palm. They had napped the other side to a blade. On the back on the top of that handle, there were two grooves that had been dug that can only be considered decorative. That was found in Africa. It was done when humankind figured out that you might kill a beast, but she couldn’t get at the meat and the innards to get something to cut and scrape and that was invented. That book talked about that thing, beginning with that two-million-year-old hand axe all the way to the present. That was a great book.
This is a question that we ask all the guests. The question is, “If you could send a morning text reminder to every up and comer out there, what would you say and why?” This is a way for all the up and comers out there to get a reminding message every morning on their phone from you.
Seize the day. Carpe Diem.
There is no better way to end this, Lanny. I thank you so much for taking some time and sharing your life and of the lesson learned. Where’s the best place for people to find your book?
The book that my brother and I published, the title is Stories of Desire and Narratives of Faith: From Neanderthals to the Postmodern Age. It’s easily gotten on Amazon. Amazon has taken over the world. It could be found there without problems.
If people wanted to reach out or say anything or say things about anything, is there a good place to find you?
They can reach me at TheUpAndComerShow@Gmail.com. I like that.
I don’t have a blog. I don’t have a web page. I finally got email and an iPhone. I don’t have any place to be reached and I don’t know that I want to be.
Lanny, thanks again.
- Stories of Desire and Narratives of Faith: From Neanderthals to the Postmodern Era
- About Face
- The History of the World in 100 Objects
About Lanny Hunter
Lanny Hunter is a retired physician with more than fifty years’ experience in the consultation room and operating theater. He is a Vietnam Veteran and recipient of the Distinguished Service Cross for valor. He has authored or co-authored more than five books. He lives in Denver, Colorado with his wife, Carolyn.
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