Skip to Content

Charleston and Orlando Are Sacred Ground


This summer, dozens of people from the LGBTQ community, mostly people of color, were murdered in Florida. A year before that, black churchgoers were shot down in South Carolina. Killing rage, in sacred spaces.

Sacred: Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Charleston. June 17, 2015.

Sacred: Pulse Night Club. Orlando. June 12, 2016.

Because when a church casts you out for who you love and cannot be a sanctuary, a nightclub can be. Vulnerable communities have historically been pushed out to the margins: underrepresented, ignored, underserved, attacked. And there, on the margins, beauty is made in spite of oppressors. In black churches, in gay nightclubs. Sacred marginality, holy cocoon – in dancing together, in meeting together, in being free and fully embodied, fully self.

As President Obama described: “The place where they were attacked is more than a nightclub – it is a place of solidarity and empowerment where people have come together to raise awareness, to speak their minds, and to advocate for their civil rights.” This, again, was violence and hatred in a sacred space.

By Rhododendrites (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pulse Night Club memorial at Stonewall Inn in New York City. Photo by Rhododendrites (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Pain like that, experienced this summer in Florida, committed in places supposed to be safe, is unbearable.
It bowls us over. It causes pause. In the most radical, justice-oriented church service I’ve ever attended, we passed the peace not by saying “Peace be with you,” but rather “May the spirit disturb you.”

And this is my wish. To be disturbed.

 We must be disturbed. Now is a time for us to become, as philosopher of race Dr. George Yancy calls it, “un-sutured.”

“And this is my wish. To be disturbed.”

Yancy explains: “…being un-sutured involves a continuous process of renewal and commitment.” He suggests that this process is an extremely visceral and bodily one, and involves critical self-reflection and confession that we are inextricably linked with the systems of oppression that have informed our lives.

For us, this looks like sustained discomfort, not to be sewn or sutured up or closed off. It looks like asking hard questions, exploring our own role in the problem, and potentially being undone by what we discover in the answers.

Queer theorist and justice scholar Dr. Judith Butler writes in her book, Giving an Account of Oneself“To be undone by another is a primary necessity, an anguish, to be sure, but also a chance – to be addressed, claimed, bound to what is not me, but also to be moved, to be prompted to act, to address myself elsewhere, and so to vacate the self-sufficient “I” as a kind of possession.”

Onward, to Listen and Be Moved

How can we move forward?

When it comes to restorative justice, liberation theologians like Gustavo Gutierrez describe a process for addressing oppressive systems: it starts with listening.

“It starts with listening.”

True close listening means both seeking out the neighbor inside and outside of our living room walls and diagnosing our own role in injustice and racism. We must be reading and watching, educating ourselves and not depending on marginalized groups to train us, but looking for ways to take responsibility and train ourselves.

Though systems of oppression and social injustice are nonsensical, we must believe that they exist and profoundly affect the lives of millions. And they affect us. They hurt us. We must be receptive to the unthinkable, open to the inconvenient. We must bear witness to the voices and cries of lament from victims and their families, and our own internal cries that this is not right. Injustice is illogical and unhealthy for all of us.

Action Beyond the Rational

By The All-Nite Images [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

NYC Stands with Charleston Vigil & Rally. By The All-Nite Images [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Here we are tempted to form a strategy, to lay out a step-by-step process for the game plan. But strategic plans can be a form of sanitizing a process that must be felt deeply. Injustice is nonsensical and visceral, and we must feel moved to respond.

We sob for those who died in Orlando and in Charleston. We sing to remember them. We dance to honor them. We cry out in confusion and disbelief that they are gone.

Black Catholic theologian Fr. Bryan Massingale describes that a practical, technical approach is no match for injustice, which he says is “impervious to rational appeals and cognitive strategies…Logic alone seldom compels action in the face of indifference….We cannot save ourselves solely through rational analysis, study, and planning.”

Massingale notes that oppressive systems like racism, homophobia, Islamophobia instill “selective sympathy and indifference” that “numbs us to the reality of injustice and makes us calloused and hardened to it manifold harms.” The truth is that we have to feel this. We have to be bowled over and shocked and knocked down because oppression does numb us.

“The truth is that we have to feel this.”

I for one will not be numb. I will read of the victims and their families. I will listen to their cries. I will be angry and confused. I will ask if writing these very words will do any good. I will mourn.

In her book Undoing Gender, Dr. Judith Butler explores mourning and lament in the queer community. She writes:

I am not sure I know when mourning is successful, or when one has fully mourned another human being. I’m certain, though, that it does not mean that one has forgotten the person, or that something else comes along to take his or her place. I don’t think it works that way. I think instead that one mourns when one accepts the fact that the loss one undergoes will be one that changes you, changes you possibly forever, and that mourning has to do with agreeing to undergo a transformation the full result of which you cannot know in advance. So there is losing, and there is the transformative effect of loss, and this latter cannot be charted or planned.”

“How Can I Keep from Singing?”: Lament that Disarms Complacency

After the mass shooting in Charleston, President Obama gave his eulogy at the funeral of Rev. Clementa Pinckney, black preacher and senator gunned down at church. In his speech, our President paused, took a deep breath next to his fellow black leaders on stage, and started to sing: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…”

President Obama delivers the eulogy at the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney. Photo by Lawrence Jackson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

President Obama delivers the eulogy at the funeral of Reverend Clementa Pinckney. Photo by Lawrence Jackson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Newspapers around the world reported not on the logic of his message nor the feasibility of change, but on his voice, gathering a moving choir of witnesses. This June around the country and the globe, during Pride Month, the LGBTQ community and allies gathered in queer community hubs: in clubs, in parks, in the streets, at Stonewall – shouting for those senselessly lost. Raising angel wings, singing the same Amazing Grace to drown out voices of hate. And they still are. We still are: Singing. Dancing. Flags flying. Quoting Harvey Milk or Judith Butler, prophets with sacred messages to provide balm or fuel or both.

In his description of lament, Fr. Massingale describes the resolution of the song “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” in the following way:

“This spiritual, then, exemplifies a core characteristic of the lament genre: it expresses the reality and pain of evil and suffering, and yet is more than mere mourning or catharsis. The act of lamenting overcomes psychic numbness and stunned silence in the face of evil. Its wails, cries, and pleas tear asunder the veil of complacency and the shroud of immobilizing fear. Lament facilitates the emergence of something new, whether a changed consciousness or a renewed engagement with outer events. It is indeed a paradox of protest and praise that leads to new life.”

Lamenting, unlearning, becoming undone, remaining un-sutured, then moving to act – it is hard work. It is our work. And we are called to do it. Now.

May you be disturbed.

 acnheadshot16Anna Czarnik-Neimeyer is a writer and the assistant director at St. Norbert College’s Cassandra Voss Center (CVC), which focuses on transformation through initiatives related to race, class, gender and identity. Published with Teaching Tolerance, Ms. Magazine, American Camp Association & others, Anna’s roots are in experiential education, social justice program management, outdoor ministry, and higher education. Follow her work at

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

Inner Leadership, Inner Journey: Lessons from El Camino

Pilgrimage is a universal phenomenon that describes the journey of human life, the search for meaning, an inner journey. This journey is inward and outward, an opportunity to discover new meaning or encounter the world with fresh eyes.

Pilgrimage, a special kind of travel, is a physical, geographical and a spiritual effort. It is the individual and collective search for the sacred, where spiritual experience and geography converge. The pilgrimage road, the path, the physical journey is the outward manifestation. For me, it is laden with abundant lessons about life and about leadership.

“…even before you sat down with them,
broke bread and drank wine,
wiped the wind-tears form your eyes:
pilgrim they called you again. Pilgrim.”

David Whyte, from Camino

Long before I began to travel or write about pilgrimage, I was drawn by the sacredness and purposefulness of pilgrimage. Nearly ten years ago, I first walked this pilgrimage known as El Camino de Santiago in Spain – The Way of Saint James. In the 9th century, the discovery of a tomb in the westernmost tip of Europe, reputed to contain the remains of the body of Saint James the Great (Santiago in Spanish), was found. Santiago quickly became a pilgrimage site, and for centuries has drawn pilgrims from all over the world.

My attraction to pilgrimage began with my parents. My Cuban mother, Jamaican father and Chinese Trinidadian relatives gave me an early appreciation of the world as a large and complex place. They were a liminal people, like many who immigrated to America. They were caught in a sort of limbo: having left their native Caribbean land, they no longer belonged to their homeland and yet they were not fully settled into the new.

My parents’ arduous journey from their island countries to America, with little more than a suitcase, was not unlike the pilgrim’s journey. It was a journey full of possibility.

As a Courage & Renewal Facilitator, leadership coach, and writer, I am curious about ways to access the soul, the inner journey. I am curious about how pilgrimage supports inner work, true self, true voice, and authentic service in the world. How does pilgrimage cultivate community and relationship while also nurturing the individual? These questions are foundational in my work with leaders, individuals, and teams.

Recently, I returned from leading a group of pilgrims on El Camino de Santiago. We began our walking pilgrimage in Santiago, a beautiful and lively medieval town famously known to be the end point for many of the thirty-nine Camino routes across the Iberian Peninsula in Spain. Our pilgrimage destination was the small fishing village of Finisterre, known as the “End of the Earth.” To prepare for the pilgrimage, our group of twelve pilgrims reflected on the Touchstones, savored poetry and prose, and invited daily open questions to walk with.

It’s said that in walking El Camino, the road itself is the best teacher, and for me, the road offered many lessons in inner leadership.

During my high-pressure career as a lawyer-lobbyist, I believed that effective leadership was about a set of competencies that included technical skill and expertise, power, status, and control. I believed that leadership was largely about positional authority and superior technical skills. The person at the top of the organizational chart was the leader. I played by these rules for decades, believing that if I had the right educational degrees, the right skill set, and right experience, I would be a successful leader.

img_7355Today, working primarily with leaders across professions, I’ve learned that a new language around leadership has emerged. Leadership requires self-awareness, emotional intelligence, integrity, and trustworthiness. In the face of complexity, ambiguity, and uncertainty, leaders are called to be adaptable, to embrace paradox, and to hold unsettled tensions.

On returning from leading El Camino, I shared my experience on a Peer Learning Call for the Academy for Leaders. I explained that in our group of 12 pilgrims, I felt called not to be the person up front, leading the group, but instead to position myself sometimes in the front, at other times in the middle, and often dead last.

img_6808I perceived that my role wasn’t to prove that I could walk fast, that I could keep up, but to support others in their pilgrimage journey.

Walking El Camino, the path itself, taught me that leadership is not about where I position myself in the group, but the relationships that I cultivate with each person, how I express care, concern, and kindness, how I offer support to others, and for myself. I realized that the support I could offer the fast walkers might be different from the support that I offer the slow walkers. El Camino helped me to attune to others and to trust my brief moments of clarity and my own intuition.

As I finished my sharing, a fellow participant in the call – a wise and sensitive college professor with a Ph.D. in indigenous leadership – thanked me and said that I had just summarized his research on indigenous leadership. He wrote, “A leader waits patiently for an opportunity to serve the people. Leadership is not about position; it is primarily about knowing the needs of others and meeting those needs….Authentic, traditional indigenous leadership is more about caring for others than about serving self.”

Walk the inner path
of leadership at
the Academy for Leaders

Only a few spots left for the next cohort beginning November 10-13, 2016!
Email Christine to register.

I noticed that leading this way gave others permission to do the same. My individual leadership became our collective leadership as we each took turns walking in the front, the middle, and the rear. What emerged was a genuine sense of care, a vulnerability to accept not being in the lead, and the willingness to unconditionally support each other.

I learned about the inner journey of leadership by welcoming others and making space for everyone to become an integral part of that journey. Everyone mattered. Ultimately, we collectively created a wholehearted learning community on the pilgrim’s path.


Valerie BrownValerie Brown is a Courage & Renewal facilitator, international retreat leader, writer, and ICF-accredited leadership coach of Lead Smart Coaching, LLC., specializing in the application and integration of mindfulness and leadership ( In her latest book, The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School (Corwin Press, 2015), she explores the role of mindfulness in strengthening thriving leaders and building greater understanding and peace within schools. Valerie will be co-facilitating the next Courage & Renewal Academy for Leaders at Pendle Hill, beginning November 10-13, 2016.

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

Confiding in Others Is an Act of Love

green plants growth

Being human means having things in our lives that feel too painful, too raw, or too unformed to share. Yet secrets are not always shameful. Sometimes they are precious ideas we are batting around, or fragile hopes of possibility, or tender seeds for creating something new.

Just as seeds need strong husks, we need protected space to integrate our “secrets” in our heads and hearts until we are ready to voice them aloud.

It takes courage to be vulnerable with such sharing. And it requires a trustworthy community of one person or several.

A challenging but vital practice is the agreement to observe confidentiality. With this touchstone, we give our word that we will not repeat what is shared by another without permission. This is not only an act of trust, it is an act of love between and among us.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke describes this love as when “two solitudes protect and border and salute each other.”

As Parker Palmer writes in A Hidden Wholeness, “We stand with simple attentiveness at the borders of their solitude – trusting that they have within themselves whatever resources they need and that our attentiveness can help bring those resources into play.”

This act of love provides the right conditions for our secrets, those tender seeds, to break out of their husks and begin their journey upward – through the soil, to the sun.

      How have you experienced being held in confidence by others?

      When has this not been true?

      How have you experienced holding the confidence of others?

With gratitude,
Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. We invite you to discover and practice deep confidentiality at any Courage & Renewal program as you explore your life and leadership questions, in concert with the whole set of Circle of Trust Touchstones.

mail iconToday’s blog is a mirror of our monthly Words of EnCOURAGEment e-newsletter. If you’re not a subscriber yet, sign up so you don’t miss anything!

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

A Personal Reflection for 5777

I am sitting at a small maple desk built by someone’s dear hands in the 1800s, or so I was told by the antique dealer I purchased it from. I know it is old because the craftsman built it without using one nail, the desktop smooth, dipping ever so slightly where I imagine many papers were written, bills paid, homework completed, masterpieces created. Outside my window is a tall poplar tree, beginning to turn a bright yellow, with the change of the season.

autumn-leafFor many, approaching fall is a time to relish the crisp air of early morning, shorter daylight, raking leaves, carving pumpkins while sipping hot apple cider. For me, this time of year is a time of deep reflection, of returning to what is most valued, a time when my calendar reminds me to pay close attention, consider the year past, make amends to those I may have harmed, and harvest what is most important to my soul-keeping, my family, my world – to begin again, with renewed purpose and promise. This time of year, as I approach the Jewish Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, followed by the festival of Sukkoth, my prayers are ones that reconnect me with my core self, my relationships with God and others, my work with my community and beyond, the rich nourishment that sustains me and brings wholeness to my life.

As I enter Elul, the twelfth month of the Hebrew calendar, a month that means “search” in Aramaic, I begin a practice of searching my heart through reading prayers, prose, and poetry as a path back to my inner spirit. This work is in preparation for the first day of Tishrei, the beginning of the High Holidays, of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, where it is commanded that we hear the blowing of the Shofar (a hollowed out Ram’s horn), whose notes are meant to be a wake-up call, to summon us from our complacency, a call to repentance. Here, in my small office, amidst a pile of sage words, those on sheets of paper and those bound into books, a week before the start of days spent with family and friends, attending services filled with meditative prayer, gratitude, atonement, remembrance, and festive meals of celebration, breaking fast, and harvest, I am alone with my thoughts.


This past year has been both joyous and challenging. Personally I have much to be grateful for: I spend time with my children and new grandson, I am enriched by good work, I have completed my preparation as a Center for Courage & Renewal Facilitator, work that aligns with my values of living whole, to be welcoming, hospitable, open, curious, present, and generous of heart. I celebrate these practices and community as a positive life force. And yet, it is knowing this good work and my deep yearning for a more gentle and harmonious world that has created a hole, one that my reflection brings me to – an unsettled place felt in the pit of my abdomen, a shadow place that I feel turning, emerging from our nation and world. Every day for days and days it seems that the current brings news of discontent, hate, and tragedy. I look at the words on my desk…thinking, How can this be? Is there an answer here?

It is this poem, “My Child Wafts Peace,” by Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (translated by Benjamin and Barbara Harshav) that sits on top of my distinguished pile. It is this poem that is staring at me, begging me to read it once again, like a prayer unanswered:

My Child Wafts Peace

My child wafts peace.
When I lean over him,
It is not just the smell of soap.

All the people were children wafting
(And in the whole land, not even one
Millstone remained that still turned.)

Oh, the land torn like clothes
That can’t be mended.
Hard, lonely fathers even in the cave of the
Childless silence.

My child wafts peace.
His mother’s womb promised him
What God cannot
Promise us.

*The traditional burial place in Hebron of
Abraham, and the other Patriarchs and
Matriarchs of Israel.

I read this poem, every year, often sharing it with friends to remind us that coming together in prayer at the High Holidays is a charge and an opportunity. A child is at peace in its mother’s womb, once born, it is only we who share this earth that can make peace. This year, Yehuda Amichai’s words haunt me more than past readings. My reflections bring me to an even greater awareness of a troubled landscape. I remember easier days, or so it seems. Days when we were not burdened with hateful words tossed around as though they are void of meaning, days not filled with lies hanging in the wind like linens on a clothesline, days bereft of bellicose and bullets. Reflection is the hard work before the real work. This year I hear my soul louder than ever before, like a drumbeat in my head and heart, one that I cannot turn away from, a question that I must respond to, a wrong that cuts through me, one that I have to stand up to and do whatever I can to bring healing to the cries, hope to the discouraged, and help to those most in need.

This year rather than harvesting well wishes and happy memories, I harvest my thoughts – my deepest fears – but I will not sit with them and allow them to grow. No! I will put them into a plan of action – there is an urgency, no time to be content. This is a time to reach out, to be giving and open to receiving the stranger, those that are different. This is a time for loving-kindness, for deeply listening to the needs of another, for radical hospitality. I will be reminded to do so with every blast of the Shofar, a call to my better angels. At the Yom Kippur memorial service, I will hold the names of my great-grandparents and grandparents, never forgetting that they were seen as strangers in this land. Remembering how they loved this country for its acceptance of others. And when I begin to tire or feel lost, I will hold these words by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, so that I can be inspired to keep going:

“The test of faith is whether I can make space for difference. Can I recognize God’s image in someone who is not in my image, whose language, faith, ideals, are different from mine? If I cannot, then I have made God in my image instead of allowing him to remake me in his.”

– Jonathan Sacks, from The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations

Personal reflection is not always easy; it often requires facing truths that have been set aside for another day. This year my meditation teaches me that returning to my true self will require walking a path with strangers. As 5776 on the Hebrew Calendar comes to a close, I find I am holding realities that are deeply concerning, issues that need a lot of attention, but I am not disheartened despite the challenges. I am instead uplifted by the many individuals and communities who are doing great work to bring about positive and lasting change. At the conclusion of Rosh Hashanah services we wish each other Shanah Tovah Umetukah, A Good and Sweet Year. I cannot think of a better wish for all of us.

 is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator, Professional and Personal Relationship Coach, and Founder and CEO of a new social profit, Create Safe Space, Inc. whose mission is to 
cultivate thriving environments of integrity that inspire healthy relationships, support individual potential, and grow communities of purpose and well-being – envisioning a world where we hold each other’s dignity as closely as we hold our own.

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

A New Manifesto for a New American Dream


The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream dives deep in a most refreshing way. In this thoughtfully curated, graceful yet punchy book, Courtney E. Martin has created a holistic, all-in-one manifesto for a brand-new American dream. A good manifesto for community, belonging, and creativity should be lively and earthy, and this book is both of these. It owns up to our shortcomings, but it is ultimately filled with bright and unyielding hope.

From the stories of countless brave people and communities, she’s quilted one madly beautiful patchwork quilt of what it looks like to choose challenge. Choose beauty. Choose love.”

This is the American dream I want to aspire to, one that, I believe, all of us long for in our deepest selves. It’s a dream of belonging, closeness, and interdependence.

Of being brave, of choosing love over fear.

Of choosing relationships over “stuff” – and creating new rituals to make meaning for all of it.

“We must seek meaningful work, love our people well, and prioritize play and pleasure – now. We must listen to that quiet, brave little voice saying ‘enough’; we must consider what it has to say about the overvaluing of money and the undervaluing of time.”

– Courtney E. Martin
The New Better Off

Reading the book brought me back to myself a decade ago, when I was still in undergrad trying to wrestle meaning out of the stories I’d been told about “success.” All of that came into focus when I graduated and had to decide where to go and what to do.

The recession was fresh and jobs were scarce. For a few months after graduation, I lived with friends-like-family who extended “radical hospitality” to me when I really needed it. I tried to find a 9-to-5 job, to no avail. Since I was in a rural area with little ch­ance of finding work nearby, I decided to change it up by searching for a close-knit urban community first, moving there, making friends, and searching for a job. It was risky, and I didn’t have much margin for error, but I leapt.

Thankfully, it worked out. I found an intentional community that welcomed me with open arms and helped me find both good housing and meaningful work.

hand-labor-187951_1920Throughout my two years living with and participating in this urban community in the Midwest – not unlike the cohousing communities Courtney describes in The New Better Off – I learned a million different ways that “wealth” and “success” could be defined.

Maybe it was the community storefront on the corner, used by everyone for every occasion, and open for music and poetry nights, for baby showers and wedding receptions, for marking events in our neighborhood’s life, both tiny and momentous.

Maybe it was the friend who decided that she could ask each neighbor on her block if they would be open to lending her a patch of land – and so her problem of lacking access to farmland could be solved by stitching together by so many little pieces of yard.

Maybe it was the rambling old buildings that would otherwise be left to rot and were instead reclaimed and lovingly tended by a motley crew of community members.

Maybe it was the communal embrace of a neighborhood in need of TLC – where many, many people said, Here. This.

ripening-tomatoes-1530464When I moved to Seattle, four and a half years ago, I brought that community with me, as well as a deep recognition of the importance of interdependence. I was inspired to ask my new friends in a new city for help – even to the point of asking one friend if I could start a garden in his yard, since I didn’t have access to a plot of land anywhere else. Planted on a steep slope outside of this friend’s fence, my garden has become even more priceless as the years go on. It’s a flourishing “wealth” that gives and gives – my greatest investment, by far.

And I’m learning, thanks to The New Better Off, that it is investments like these that exemplify what “new better off” looks like. I take comfort in that. When culture tells me that success looks different, that success is glitzy and starred with dollar bills, I can go to my garden, look at the sweeping lavender, the happy calendulas beaming over the beets – and remember:

Success is relationship – as I glance at my friend’s house.

It is community – as I stand in the garden and chat with neighbors who have taken to calling me by my favorite nickname, “Farmer Jo.”

It is love of good, heart-nourishing work – as I weed and water and bend and mother the tiny watermelons and green tomatoes.

“We are delighting in the surprises of spontaneous reciprocity. We are remembering the power of intergenerational interaction. We are colliding and reassuring and repairing and planting and, along the way, turning into imperfect, edifying communities.”

– Courtney E. Martin
The New Better Off

Courtney’s book thoughtfully, vividly stitches together vocation, freelancing, caretaking, finances, homeownership (or the lack thereof), parenthood, attention, and – above all – community. Reading it, I realized afresh that I was not alone in finding my wealth in neighborliness and in relationships with others. Her lovely, wide-ranging exploration of burgeoning redefinitions of the American dream introduces us to folks all over the country, everyday people who are finding new and exciting ways of building communities that watch out for and nurture each other.

And, reading this book, I was inspired with new insights, fired up with ideas about how to be a better, kinder, more hopeful friend, neighbor, coworker, and human being.

The New Better Off comes alongside of you in the heart-filled meeting space of your being and doing, and says “I get it. So let’s be brave, together.”

JoVanceJo Vance recently joined the Center for Courage & Renewal team as Marketing & Communications Associate. A stalwart believer in the power of stories to spark change in the world, Jo is passionate about creating space for those stories to be shared through effective communications. When she’s not hiking in the mountains or by the ocean, Jo volunteers with fellow environmental and social justice activists, works on a poetry manuscript, and delves into her ever-evolving stack of library books.

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

The Wrong Bend, the Right Place


In the car and on the way to the airport and some time away from it all I took a deep breath. It had been a long slog of one thing after another. It was time for some perspective that only the mountains might provide. I knew this. I needed to get back to where nature, the seasons, and animals teach and offer another way.

What are the indelible moments of your life,
when time and place,
inspiration and awe,
brought you to a more profound sense of soul and self? 

Navigating to the airport, I got caught at a light at one of the busiest intersections in Chicago. I looked to my left in time to see a man transfixed by his phone. He was nearly hit/hurt/maimed/crushed by an SUV that came screeching to a halt as the man wandered across the street oblivious to the fact that his life nearly ended or would have been changed in significant ways.

I just shook my head.

The light turned green and on I went toward the airport and freedom from that kind of obliviousness.

But I was soon stopped at another light. I glanced to my right and saw a woman with her cell phone in one hand passionately talking, and by the animated expressions on her face it seemed she was deeply committed to making her point. Meanwhile her other hand held a leash for her dog. The dog was urinating on a sign, a puddle forming on the sidewalk where she stood…in it. Distracted and clueless. Standing in it. Making her point while her dog made one as well.

I shrugged, shook my head again and wondered when was she going to notice? 

bustleOff I went. All I could think was please, get me away from all this distraction and busyness.

Finally I got to my seat on the plane heading to Denver where I would catch another plane to some peace and perspective in Bend, Oregon. I texted my itinerary to my contact who would be picking me up in Bend and then turned off my phone. Done. Now, time to turn off all the chatter in my mind and settle in.

I dozed, waking up as the plane landed in Denver. How nice to just be for even a little while.

But then I powered on my phone and it lit up with messages and texts and emails. I started scrolling…Hmm. Really? How is that possible? In my haste to get out of the chaos of my life and the city, evidently, and somehow, I had been moving a bit too fast when I booked the plane ticket.

I was flying into the wrong Bend, Oregon.

How did this happen? I don’t make mistakes like that. The smugness I had felt earlier as I was leaving Chicago vanished.

Options considered. I boarded my next flight to North Bend (the wrong one), rented a car, drove four and a half hours to the airport at Redmond/Bend (the right one). The owner of the retreat center met me there – an amazing lady! What a beautiful drive through the mountains. Right? At least I didn’t get hit by an SUV or find myself standing in dog urine. It could have been worse.

But I had to wonder…what other things had I missed or confused or went flying past these last months?

Finding Myself at the Right Place


That next week awareness and new perspective came as I settled into some much-wanted time working with horses on a ranch and writing at the pump house that looked out across a pond and the mountains. There were so many things I had simply lost track of and forgot even existed.

As a teenager my grandpa had given us a horse. He knew what he was doing as taking care of a horse is a lot of work and not just about riding on the weekends. I had gotten to know that amazing creature, her moods, instincts and joys.

I was longing to return to some of those moments from southern Indiana when I had learned so much about myself and life. It seemed that here in Redmond Bend, a new chapter was opening in my life. The ranch’s horse trainer was giving me tips for reconnecting with my earlier horse sense.

“All you need to do is focus your intention, look where you want to go and breathe in. The horse will follow.”

What?!? This is not going to work. I don’t remember anything like that from when I was a kid but then again, that was then and this is now and I am older and have discovered a lot since then. And so I looked at my trainer as if she had three heads and said in my most polite yet I-think-you’re-crazy voice, “Could you please say that again?” She smiled and said, “Let’s practice.”


Greg Eaton with Calvin

Easy for her. I was the one sitting on this enormous and majestic white Arabian horse named Calvin. She said, “When you want to go, you simply breathe in. When you want him to stop, exhale and root down in to the saddle.”

“That’s it?” I said.

She smiled and simply said, “Yes. Begin when you are focused and ready.”

Focus. I was so used to shifting from one project to another. And while I gave each project my full attention, or at least thought I did, the idea of deep focus and rooting down and simply breathing that intention was not in my norm. The trainer was asking me to clear out everything in my mind from this morning to what would happen this afternoon to what was happening online and at home, and simply be here in this saddle on this horse.

I looked at a tree across the way, took a deep breath. Calvin immediately responded and off we went. I spent the next hour learning and being reminded of the difference between deeply focused intention and priorities that just kept shifting. When I lost that deep focus, so did Calvin. When I was clear, we were in sync.

Focus your intentions at
The World’s Thin Places
and Your Quest


It was easy to think of that afternoon with Calvin as magical—and limited to a vacation. But with some time and reflection, I realized that this way of being exists in the world. It is what happens when we are in the moment, paying attention and connected. Magical and ordinary and possible all at the same time.

I decided I wanted more of those moments.

For the rest of the week my intention and direction were clear. I committed to being where I was, head up and eyes open, fully participating with the people, horses, and events in front of me. I slept well. I laughed a lot. I learned even more.

Be where you are.
Focus your intention.
Look where you want to go.

It was much better that way.

getcontributorlargepictureGreg Eaton is a Courage & Renewal facilitator based in Chicago, with decades of experience working with leadership development, change processes and organizational systems. You can join him and his co-facilitators in another magical place—Quebec City, Canada—for a Courage & Renewal retreat called The World’s Thin Places and Your Quest. Click for details.

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

Don’t Turn Away, We Need Everyone

At one of our final circles of the Academy for Leaders, a woman broke the silence with a comment about addressing social and racial inequity during the Academy. She suggested that if we truly want to practice valuing Otherness, Creating Community and Living with Tension, then we should use the process to talk about systemic oppression and discrimination.

I need to acknowledge that it was a woman of color who spoke up and started the conversation. Too often, white people are oblivious to the nuances and pain of racism so we don’t start conversations about race. That was true for me in that circle. Because of my skin color privilege, I wasn’t pondering how a powerful process like the Academy for Leaders could be used for racial healing.

Even in this safe space, it was brave to raise the topic of inequality. After all, the question is often met with silence, defensiveness, and anger. But, here, in this space where we were putting the Habits of the Heart and Touchstones into practice, silence would have been a breach of trust. Holding space, being open and valuing otherness weren’t abstract concepts to us. We’d experienced together the power of deep listening and I personally felt a soulful transformation from my conversations and reflections with this group of people.


The circle responded and we explored ways we could continue our work together, building on the mutual respect and trust within the group, to challenge the status quo and the inequities we observe and experience.

The next morning, as we shared breakfast, we took a first step toward planning another retreat focused on inequality, particularly racial inequality. Seven of us decided to pursue this conversation: four women of color and three white women. As we pulled out our phones to plan our next meeting, we pondered a name for our group. After a brief discussion about being allies for one another, someone spoke up and said, “No, we’re accomplices.” That seemed right: We were accomplices in challenging the harm and pain directed towards the “other” – people of color, immigrants, and the LGBTQ community.

In my calendar I wrote, “Courage/Accomplice Group.” We agreed on a central location. We carpooled. We gathered. We took notes, exchanged ideas. We laughed, shared articles, and planned.

We set another meeting date for the following month: July 8, 2016. In the 48 hours preceding our meeting, two black men were killed by police officers, one of whom, Philando Castile, was gunned down in our capital city of St. Paul. We sat around a large table at the Perkins in Monticello, Minnesota with a weight of sadness hanging over us. We weren’t sure how to start our conversation.

broken-glass-colorsThen, someone shared this question: Where are we feeling vulnerable as we face these tragic events, and where do we find strength?

The same brave soul who started the conversation at the Academy talked openly about the pain she was carrying. The day after Philando’s murder she was participating in a work meeting. As the group was doing a check-in, she shared her sadness over the shootings and said she needed to talk about what happened and the impact on their community. But her words were met with silence, even denial, with one person giving voice to his belief that it wasn’t relevant to their work.

They turned away at a moment when she needed their presence, and she cried heavy tears as she talked about the betrayal she felt, the disconnection from her colleagues. As we held space for her, I wondered what had been taken from the community in turning away. What gifts did they withhold? How did their reaction prevent healing?

I admitted to keeping myself distracted the day after Philando’s murder, but was forthrightly called out by a Facebook post stating that “what we need is for white people to get off their couches, off Facebook and show up.”

There I was. White. On my couch. On Facebook. I called my older brother, the one who introduced me to the ideals of working for social justice when we were just kids. Together, we drove over to the Governor’s Mansion in St. Paul where hundreds had set up camp and where Black Lives Matter provided space for expressions of anger, sadness, and a demand for justice. I took a picture of a sign that said, “Don’t Turn Away. We Need Everyone!”


Don’t turn away. If I had to sum up the Academy for Leaders with one bold slogan, it might be this. Don’t turn away. Rather, embrace the hard and rough edges, the unknowns, the questions, and the vulnerabilities.

What an extraordinary gift to be with this group of women at this time. As so many in our country were feeling hopeless, not sure what to do, we had one another. We had a place to share our grief, our sadness, our hopelessness. And we were looking to one another for the questions to ask that could lead to healing our communities and enter into a new dialogue on race in the midst of this pain.

Just hours after our meeting, the Dallas shooting took place. Five police officers dead as “payback” for the shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. The question from our meeting came to mind:

Where do we find strength? And my heart filled with gratitude for the women around the table the previous day. Our strength comes from turning towards one another with open hearts.

Practice deep listening at
the Academy for Leaders


Next cohort begins November 10-13, 2016 at Pendle Hill near Philadelphia

Click here for details

At the memorial service in Dallas, President Obama closed with this:

“Can we find the character, as Americans, to open our hearts to each other? Can we see in each other a common humanity and a shared dignity, and recognize how our different experiences have shaped us? …That’s what we must pray for, each of us: a new heart. Not a heart of stone, but a heart open to the fears and hopes and challenges of our fellow citizens…With an open heart, we can stand in each other’s shoes and look at the world through each other’s eyes.”

Opening our hearts to one another.

In Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatley talks about the order that comes out of chaos through small influences occurring in different places, the unseen organizing of the world, the conversations that ebb us closer to discovering our shared humanity with the Other. I wonder how many conversations are happening around the country in the midst of the pain and I feel hopeful thinking about how they will move us out of chaos into a time of greater understanding.

Our Courage/Accomplice group has created space for us to turn towards the hard questions and open our hearts to each other, giving voice to our experiences and hopes for the future and remembering: Don’t Turn Away. We Need Everyone.

Marna Abiopicnderson
lives in Minnesota and is a nonprofit leader with expertise in organizational effectiveness and major donor fundraising. She has served organizations focused on human rights, conservation and violence against women and children. Currently, Marna is the Director of Development and Communications for Nonviolent Peaceforce, an international nonprofit that protects civilians in violent conflict using unarmed strategies. She attended the Spring 2015 Academy for Leaders in Minnesota.

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

The Importance of Shared Silence


Here’s a lovely meditation on silence by Gunilla Norris. I find it compelling because it names the importance of both personal and shared silence:

Within each of us there is a silence
—a silence as vast as a universe.
We are afraid of it…and we long for it.

When we experience that silence, we remember
who we are: creatures of the stars, created
from the cooling of this planet, created
from dust and gas, created
from the elements, created
from time and space…created
from silence.

In our present culture,
silence is something like an endangered species…
an endangered fundamental.

The experience of silence is now so rare
that we must cultivate it and treasure it.
This is especially true for shared silence.

Sharing silence is, in fact, a political act.
When we can stand aside from the usual and
perceive the fundamental, change begins to happen.
Our lives align with deeper values
and the lives of others are touched and influenced.

Silence brings us back to basics, to our senses,
to our selves. It locates us. Without that return
we can go so far away from our true natures
that we end up, quite literally, beside ourselves.

We live blindly and act thoughtlessly.
We endanger the delicate balance which sustains
our lives, our communities, and our planet.

Each of us can make a difference.
Politicians and visionaries will not return us
to the sacredness of life.

That will be done by ordinary men and women
who together or alone can say,
“Remember to breathe, remember to feel,
remember to care,
let us do this for our children and ourselves
and our children’s children.
Let us practice for life’s sake.”

“Shared silence is…a political act,” Norris writes in her book, Inviting Silence: Universal Principles of Meditation. That may seem like an odd claim, but in my experience it is profoundly true. Shared silence is at the heart of the Quaker tradition, of which I’m a part. For centuries Quakers – though few in number – have been disproportionately represented in movements for peace, truth, and justice that have had political impact.

Norris pinpoints the reason why. Silence “brings us back to basics, to our senses, to ourselves.” In the silence, we have a chance to get re-grounded in fundamental human values, and “the lives of others are touched and influenced” in ways large and small.

I invite you to spend some time meditating on the words above, and — if you don’t already do so — practicing silence alone and with others. I think you will find it revealing and rewarding.

With warmest regards,


Parker J. Palmer
Founder and Senior Fellow
Center for Courage & Renewal

P.S. In my latest book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, there’s a section on silence, solitude, and the practice of “getting the news from within” which resonates with Norris’s meditation.  You can also experience this sort of shared silence at any Courage & Renewal retreat.

mail iconToday’s blog is a mirror of our monthly Words of EnCOURAGEment e-newsletter. If you’re not a subscriber yet, sign up so you don’t miss anything!


Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

Fierce, Beautiful Wholeness: Why I Look Forward to Courage Camp

The wild winds roared the spring I first learned about “hidden wholeness,” blowing in from the Strait of Juan de Fuca and buffeting the shore. I watched the white-capped sea tossing and turning, a constant thrum of energy. At night, as I drifted to sleep, the old Victorian house where I was staying creaked like a ship. I was on Whidbey Island for my last spring residency in a Master of Fine Arts program, where I had been studying poetry for two years, exploring inner and outer landscapes.


Although I became a better writer through my degree, the most powerful gift it gave me was the chance to experience nourishing connections with other people. Because of this close-knit community, I grew into the bravery that I needed that stormy March to embrace my grief over painful losses I’d experienced. Now I could hold that brokenness and, underneath it, uncover my hidden, yet fierce wholeness.

This is why I find a home in the Circle of Trust® principle that “a ‘hidden wholeness’ underlies our lives.” I didn’t have these graceful words then, but they perfectly describe the discovery I made, as I learned to stop circling the center and, instead, dive straight into it – finding new strength to write truthfully from both shadow and light.

The kinship with others that I experienced as a poetry student – what I sometimes, with a wide grin, refer to as “writing camp” – afforded me the time and space to make that vulnerable discovery. There, I learned that a community with integrity and compassion at its core is sometimes the only place where this sort of change can blossom. I’ll admit I was a little worried that I wouldn’t find a community like that again.

I didn’t need to worry.teachingwithheart

A teacher friend of mine recently shared her struggles with me, hungry for a nurturing place to rest and learn as a teacher and as a human being – and I felt immensely grateful to be able to share Courage in Schools and Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach. She called me a day later to say how hopeful this had made her for the new school year.

It’s easy to lose heart when you don’t have opportunities to connect with your “hidden wholeness,” when you face difficulties at work or in personal relationships and need to find clarity and peace. It’s frighteningly easy to become cynical.

It takes courage to remain open, to search for tenderness in your own heart and the hearts of others, a tenderness which is a special kind of strength. My friend and I finally have an opportunity (thanks, Courage & Renewal!) to root ourselves in a new kind of community learning – a place where we can continue the work of uncovering and shining out of our fierce, beautiful wholeness.

And who knows? Maybe I’ll get to call my first Courage & Renewal experience “courage camp.”

JoVanceJo Vance recently joined the Center for Courage & Renewal team as Marketing & Communications Associate. She holds a multifaceted background in communications, project management, and fundraising through her various roles in the nonprofit arts and grantmaking sectors. Before working in communications for a private foundation, Jo delved deeply into arts management through positions that included running the office of a visual arts center in Cincinnati and writing grants for a mid-sized theatre in Seattle. She completed a Bachelor of Arts in Writing and Humanities from Houghton College in upstate New York, and in 2013 she received a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry from Seattle Pacific University. A stalwart believer in the power of stories to spark change in the world, Jo is passionate about creating space for those stories to be shared through effective communications.

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone

Free Online Class by Parker Palmer on Bridging the Political Divide

Parker J. Palmer, teacher, author, activist, and an outspoken advocate on faith and democracy issues, will teach an online course that is open to all from September 5-19, 2016. After that time the course will be accessible via the ChurchNext library, though it will no longer be free.

We are in the midst of what may be the most polarizing and contentious election cycle in recent U.S. history. Many observers note that the political rancor and rhetoric has reached all time highs, injecting unprecedented fear, division, and unease into our culture. Parker Palmer believes our current political climate provides a rare opportunity to think more deeply about who we are as people and a nation.

This course is intended to spur thought, conversation, and action around current political tensions. The class, a series of video lectures and discussions, can be taken anytime between September 5 – 19. Students can sign up today. No special software is required. It will take an average learner about 45 minutes to complete. Registration is free and open worldwide.

For more information and to register click here. Resources for Congregations, including downloadable posters, bulletin inserts and a Launch Guide can be found here or at > The Big Class.”

Throughout the free course, participants are encouraged to ponder and discuss what it means to live faithfully in a society racked with political division. “We the people have made America great,“ says Palmer. “And re-discovering our potential, in light of the present political climate may be our greatest challenge and reward.”

This ChurchNext course is made possible by the generous support of Forward Movement, The Episcopal Church, Bexley Seabury Seminary, Living Compass, and the Center for Courage & Renewal. ChurchNext creates online Christian learning experiences that shape disciples. ChurchNext is devoted to helping people grow in their Christian faith, improve their lives, and better the world. Learn more at

Share this on: Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+Email this to someone