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Listening for our True North

Click here to download the Touchstars image.

Star light, star bright,
First star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.

I can’t help looking for the first star in the evening sky.  

I have two granddaughters now, growing faster than I can believe. I find my heart wishing fiercely for a healthier world for them to grow up in. And the courage to make it so by living their own lives.

Each December, the stars seem somehow closer and crisper. I marvel that in spite of the oceans and borders that seem to divide us, all 7 billion humans sleep beneath the same night sky. And we always have.

In the days before compasses and maps and smart phones, our ancestors relied on the stars to orient them.

The Courage & Renewal Touchstones are what orient us in a Circle of Trust. Each principle and practice is a guideline for holding a space and creating a trustworthy container of community. The Touchstones are like stars, guiding us to know who we are and where we stand, and showing us how to listen with open hearts.

With this metaphor in mind we’ve turned the touchstones into “Touchstars,” as a reminder of these ways of listening to ourselves and each other – ways of being more compassionate, more self-aware, and more aligned with our “true north.”

My deep wish this December is that we become more adept at heartfelt listening, the way that humanitarian Jean Vanier once described:

“As we start to really get to know others, as we begin to listen to each other’s stories, things begin to change. We begin the movement from exclusion to inclusion, from fear to trust, from closedness to openness, from judgment and prejudice to forgiveness and understanding. It is a movement of the heart.”
One of my favorite “touchstars” is the practice of turning to wonder. Isn’t that what the stars invite us to do?

What’s your earliest or fondest memory of stargazing?

Which touchstar catches your attention today?

As you look up at the stars this month, know that I’ll be doing the same when the sky is clear. And I’ll be thinking of our shared sky.

With gratitude and best wishes,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. You can experience the Touchstones and a sense of deep listening to yourself and to others at a Courage & Renewal program.

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The Hidden Gift of VUCA


I was asked to speak recently at an executive seminar on the human cost of VUCA and the role of sanctuary in human formation. The session preceding my own, was a presentation by a leading executive from a major global energy company. The presentation focused on the game-changing nature of the industry today and the many challenges the company faces in staying competitive in a fast changing world. The key word in the presentation was transformation.

Everyone in the room recognised the landscape that was being described. Which business is not defining its territory today as “disruptive”? Which business is not being pushed to “simplify its portfolio,” improve efficiencies, and pave the way to a new and yet unimaginable future all within the context of an unprecedented digital transformation?

The corporate response in this case was typical of any business driven by these powerful forces; being a matter of survival, ultimately any action becomes a question of fight, flight or freeze. Since flight and freeze are synonymous with death, the message was clear and predictable; we must fight. In corporate language this meant simplify and accelerate; become more agile and adapt more quickly. To achieve this the company must “listen better” to stakeholders, simplify the portfolio, accelerate innovation, support necessary changes through every ecosystem both internal and external, and being willing to re-invent their own identity – all the time.

This is a perfect description of the business world described today by the acronym VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) and led to a discussion involving another word becoming commonplace alongside transformation – that word is overwhelm.

The Q&A that followed the session was interesting. It was quite clear that the future life of this large and influential multi-national was genuinely at stake in a rapidly changing world. “If we do nothing,” the presenter said, “We will make money over the next 3 to 5 years…and then we’ll be dead.” It seems we are living in end-game times and how we relate to that reality, how we bring our attention to it has a lot to do with the way things will probably play out. Living in a VUCA world, in this kind of context, is like holding a tiger by the tail.

“Do we have the answers?” asked the presenter rhetorically. “No, we don’t.”

How to Move Beyond Joyless Urgency?

“The spirit of the times,” observes the writer Marilynne Robinson in her essay on humanism, “is one of joyless urgency.”


“Many of us,”
she continues, “are preparing ourselves and our children to be means to inscrutable ends that are utterly not our own….that are…preparation for economic servitude… We are less interested in the exploration of the glorious mind and more engrossed in the drama of staying ahead of whatever we think is pursuing us.”

I think the sense of pervasive threat described by Robinson comes close to defining a powerful hidden drive behind our current rendering of VUCA and goes far to explain the way in which it seems to cause so many people to suffer personally and professionally in a world that is incessantly driven by the demands that VUCA makes.

As much as VUCA claims to be about opportunity, innovation and possibility, it is, at worst about survival and fear; the grinding sense of ever-present, vague, unaccountable, undefinable threat. It is the relentless pursuit of and running from something only ever half-seen that so exhausts the spirit and undermines any possibility of a collective effort that might imagine a more respectful workplace and dignified concept of work for the 21st century.

At heart, the concerns of each executive in the group were the same that day. In terms of business they talked off the record about the personal human impact of endless change, the effects on their families, what VUCA meant as a reflection on our shared humanity.

The central and abiding question asked of the presenter at the end of his presentation was: with all this changehow do you value your people? We picked that theme up in our session with the observation that we value others to the degree that we can value ourselves. The value we place on ourselves is evidenced by the practices we engage in to live our lives faithfully and purposefully, individually and in the communities in which we live and work. The essential question really is something more like:

What does the way you live your life tell you about how you value yourself, about your integrity, about what matters most to you?

Walking the Day after Brexit

In June I went walking in the mountains in Wales with my partner. It was the day after Brexit and the world—so it seemed—was noisy, frightened, angry and chaotic. Part of the walk took us on a steep climb up the side of a mountain called Garn Wen into ancient woodland to a holy well. The well itself is pre-Christian and dedicated to Aeron, a mythical personage whose story has long been lost in the mists of time. It was a slow, steep, peaceful climb that followed the track of a stream as it cut its way down through the hillside from the mountain above us. The entrance to the woodland was guarded by a stand of purple monkshood, a tall, beautiful, highly poisonous and quite rare wild flower that gave the whole place a feeling of mystery.

Cairn on Garn Wen. Photo by George Tod (public domain), via Wikimedia Commons.

We eventually reached the well itself, which was small but wonderfully preserved—a result it seemed to me—of simple disregard over time. It was a place both insignificant and yet highly charged all at once. Stone slabs a few feet across marked the roof and sides of the well itself whose water was clean, cold, refreshing and absolutely still. Time and space shifts in such places; one thinks of Philip Larkin’s poem “Church Going”:

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.

A serious house on serious earth indeed.

Larkin tells us that;

“… someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in”

I think most of us at one time or another are that someone, who, perhaps surprising themselves, feels called to be more serious. It is the purpose of small places such as the holy well to mark out space and time sufficient to this calling.


It’s an interesting paradox that seemed very apparent that morning by the well that the world can be both volatile and still, complex and simple, uncertain and trustworthy in its presence, ambiguous yet clear in the same moment. Everything was indeed changing; the water quickly, the sunlight quickly too, the trees and rocks very slowly but nonetheless changing—and yet there was such a stillness in the place that I could not discount it. And more importantly the feeling it left me with, call it calm, peace, stillness, presence—but something that spoke quite clearly to me in the depths of what I will call my soul.

I could feel the long history that was gathered in this simple place—that was buried here and ran before me into an uncertain future, filled as it was outside this valley by the shock waves of Brexit. Actually Brexit; the dynamic ebb and flow of life was a part of this too but this was a different space designed for other kinds of inquiry though not intolerant to the world or dismissive of it. This place was set aside to allow for our mysterious need for quietude, to listen deeply, to acknowledge, to commemorate, the intelligence of the feeling heart. The place was important for all those reasons and more.

Living a new story

The issue with our current rendering of VUCA—what makes it such a contributor to the joyless urgency of our times—is that it cannot account for or accommodate my experience at the well. VUCA disregards moments like this at the well or marks it out as irrelevant in the world of work and in the work of human becoming and in so failing, it casts out so much of what allows me to live well and make sense of a changing world. I seek both joy and urgency as one who participates in both its solid realities and its mysterious ebb and flow.


Whilst VUCA might well be a description of naturally arising phenomena—everything flows, said Hereclitus—it becomes a source of suffering because it lacks a compensatory story that can synthesise and reconcile the objective experience of volatility, complexity and so forth with our subjective experience of those conditions and our need to humanise our experience. When our suffering is unmet and indeed amplified, it shows its face as any number of forms of violence. It it is this subtle and sometimes explicit violence that so marks the business environment today.

If VUCA is to be embraced for the unintended gifts it brings, we need a fundamental shift in perspective that accounts for the whole of human experience including the need for ‘serious time’ that actually makes sense and gives purpose to our days.

Work matters in many ways beyond the simple fact of “having work to do.” Vocation and calling are both related to work, which is an expression of the ceaseless and shared movement we feel in life for exploration and integration. Given its pervasive presence in the world, given our apparent desire to contribute, to be active and productive, we might conclude that work should be able to speak to our shared striving for self-realization in ways that it simply cannot now.

Surely one possibility for the 21st century is a workplace that can add up to more than work as economic servitude. For this we need to consider what the psychologist Karen Horney means when she offers us the idea of a “morality of evolution.” It might be that a morality of evolution, one that can account for balanced growth in a broader sense than is currently granted, could inform us towards an understanding of economics that would be more sustainable for the future of life.

A sacred world

To humanise the workplace we might begin by re-imagining what is sacred in the world and what we name otherwise. We begin of course, with ourselves and the ground we stand on. If there are, as the poet Wendell Berry suggests at the start of this piece, no unsacred places, then it’s possible that everything that is—is in some very real sense—sacred, that is to say, worthy of our attention, our gratitude, our reverence and our love. What is not sacred is, according to the poet, only that which we ourselves have desecrated, through ignorance, misuse, lack of care, urgency, forgetfulness. It is a strange and uniquely human gift that we can act in ways that desecrate what is inherently sacred. No other creature wields this kind of power, nor does any other creature have the capacity if it so chooses to be astonished, left speechless and transformed by the innate sacredness and beauty of life.


The work of building our understanding the world, of discovering the truth of things is a platform that science and religion share when they are at their best. The physicist Wolfgang Pauli once commented that

“The ambition of overcoming opposites, including a synthesis embracing both rational understanding and the mystical experience of unity, is the mythos, spoken or unspoken, of our present day and age.”

This is, I believe, the real gift that VUCA offers us—an appreciation of the need for a new synthesis of understanding; precisely what Pauli intuited from his work as a quantum scientist. The mythos of our times is much more complex and interesting than a bland story of urgency and blind intensity, but it requires us to take the implication of words like volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity more seriously if we are to shift our current compass bearing and save ourselves.

Possibility lies at the edge of the known but it must be met with a degree of maturity that currently defies us. Life’s mystery sits at the heart of all serious study, be it scientific, philosophical or religious. Sir Arthur Eddington, the physicist and mathematician (best known for his exploration of the theory of General Relativity which Einstein called ‘the finest presentation of the subject in any language) is close to the mystics when he says quite simply, “something unknown is doing we don’t know what.”


This seems an accurate description of business life today and of VUCA particularly and it requires a proper response that takes the well-being of those that serve business seriously. The hope I think, lies in our continuing capacity for inquiry, our endless call to the cycles of exploration and integration; a willingness to ask questions of ourselves and one another, some of which will have no answer.

Renew your inner leader at
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“What is the ultimate truth about ourselves?” asks Eddington. “‘Various answers suggest themselves but there is one elementary inescapable answer; we are that which asks the question. Whatever else there may be in our nature, responsibility towards truth is one of its attributes. This side of our nature is aloof from the scrutiny of the physicist. Concern with truth is one of those things which make up the spiritual nature of Man.”

We have yet to get to the truth of what VUCA means in our modern context. We see and articulate more often than not its shadow and misread its principles thereby creating suffering where we could do so much more. The mythos of our times is one of synthesis not division, the unification of our scientific and religious sensibilities towards a private and shared philosophy that is fundamentally humanistic and indeed, as the poet Wendell Berry imagines it, sacred.

VUCA as much as anything, gives us the opportunity to re-imagine our working lives together in ways that honour both our rational intellect and the artistic passion which sits at the heart of that world and of our creative potential. It is true enough that none of us individually know how to evoke the change that we need to make but that we commit to collaborate and try to find a way forward is a fundamental expression of the better sides of our nature, part of the morality of evolution in which each of us takes active part.

nick-rossNick Ross, BA, FRSA, has been a leadership trainer and personal development coach for over 20 years and he is a facilitator in preparation for the Center for Courage & Renewal, as well as an alumni of the Courage & Renewal Academy for Leaders. Coming from a professional background in addictions therapy his work today includes delivery of extensive leadership development programs and executive coaching to global companies and senior leaders. Nick is the Director of a different drum, whose work he summarises as ‘helping others to take the next step’. As a writer, poet and lover of the outdoors Nick brings his love of the arts and nature to his work with executives and senior teams to address and reflect on the place of soul in leadership and the role of sanctuary in supporting healthy human development. You can learn more about Nick here.

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In Gratitude


As we turn toward Thanksgiving this week in the United States, I’m remembering the lines by poet Suji Kwock Kim from “Slant”:

I can’t help thinking no word will ever be as full of life as this world,
I can’t help thinking of thanks.

Here are some of the words of gratitude I hold this week.

I’m thankful:

For communities which come together and support each other, despite adversities and challenges along the way.

For fortitude to carry on even when the going gets rough.

For poetry of courage that helps to carry us through the unspeakable sorrows of our lives.

For artists and musicians and writers and all creative people for the way they show us the world in all of its beauty and all of its hardship.

For the awareness of creative, reflective, mindful practices that help us stay present and compassionate.

For the courage I see in my colleagues and friends, as we live with our hearts broken-open, choosing to ask: “How can I help?”

For life-giving conversations – for those who speak and for those who listen, which are not always easy choices to make.

For the turning of the seasons, wherever we are in the world; the shifts of light and color, the cooler or warmer air, the presence of rhythm in the midst of change.

I leave you with these words, and wish you kindness this week – wherever you find yourself these days:


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 her poetry manuscript, and delves into her ever-evolving stack of library books.

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Passing the Baton: Reflections on Retirement

This is a poignant year for me.

In 2009, I surprised myself and applied to be the Executive Director of the Center for Courage & Renewal. Next June, I will retire and pass this role forward to the next ED. My years at the Center have been humbling, enlivening, challenging and fulfilling.

I’ve always thought that the leading of Courage & Renewal is similar to running a relay race. In 2010 the founders handed me the baton. I ran my leg. Next year it will be time to hand off the baton to a new leader. We human beings take turns helping with big jobs. I also hope to continue to support Courage & Renewal in a variety of ways.

I’ve made this decision to retire for three reasons:

First, with the hard work of the CCR staff and Board and facilitators, I’ve led the change I set out to accomplish—a stronger more sustainable organization with a broader following across the world.

Second, I believe that it is timely and important to pass forward the leadership of Courage & Renewal. The next leader will bring fresh perspective and energy to advancing the mission and strategy. This will be good for Courage & Renewal and good for the many people we serve.

Third, I will be 64 in April. After 42 years of leadership in schools, school districts and Courage & Renewal, I look forward to tending the “third chapter” of my own life—giving more attention to my family, my health and my community.

arcade-1537365_1280I recognize that this leadership transition will be a big next passage for this organization. I have no doubt that it will go well. It may carry inevitable bumps along the way, but it will go well in the larger scheme of things. There are just so many good people and wise leaders across the staff, board and larger community of stakeholders who will make this so.

I also recognize that this is the big next passage for me personally and professionally. I’ve had countless conversations in recent months where friends have reflected back how they hear me “walking the talk” of Courage & Renewal. That’s humbling to hear and makes me reflect on just what that means.

Here is what I’m already learning about my transition:

Don’t step back too soon or too late. I’ve watched leaders of organizations crawl into the handoff exhausted and spent, and I’ve watched leaders put the organization on autopilot for months before handing it off to a new leader. I’m striving to lead strongly and well until I put the organization into the hands of the next ED.

Don’t say yes to anything for at least six months after stepping down. I don’t plan to go into a new full time job. Rather, I look forward to building a healthy mix of consulting, volunteering, and creating new routines that allow space for the unexpected.

Plan to undo and redo. When a friend moved from a demanding leadership role to writing a book, she recently described to me her process of first dismantling her way of being in her job and then building a new way of being as a full time writer. I admire this image of recreating one’s life with intention and awareness.

…one should
always expect
and expect no

Expect discomfort and no closure. Years ago, Glen Singleton was leading work about race in Seattle Public Schools. In such work, he advised, one should always expect discomfort and expect no closure. I’ve carried those wise words forward for many years, not only when involved in real discussions about race but in other topics and transitions that have touched my own identity and sense of self, like changes in career and relationships. I often hope that such passages will come to a clear endpoint and resolution but life is seldom so clear-cut. I fully expect this passage into the third chapter of my life to be full of discomfort and lack of closure.

I’m curious what you might add to my reflections. What have you learned about life’s transitions?

With gratitude and all best wishes,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

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You Don’t Have to Know What Is Happening

Beskydy mountain

You do not need to know precisely what is happening
or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize
the possibilities and the challenges offered by the present moment
and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.

~ Thomas Merton

Where do we find courage, faith and hope to keep going in the hard times? Courage is never convenient. Faith isn’t a faucet you turn on and off. And hope is a choice.

Courage, faith and hope may arise in our hearts if we’re willing to look inside for some answers and truth. The courage to do such inner work comes from community, whether that means one other person or many.

“Know that it’s possible … that the seeds planted here can keep growing in the days ahead.”

This year we have been exploring each Courage & Renewal Touchstone that make up the practices in circles of trust. As we arrive in November, this last touchstone feels a bit incomplete here without the entire collection. At first glance it seems easy to say but hard to believe. That’s because it’s not a conclusion but an invitation and an intention to keep on growing.

Know that it’s possible…

Like Thomas Merton’s quote, the opening words of our final touchstone speak to the need for courage, faith and hope in the midst of the unknown. But where do we find those three magic words in the midst of hard, busy days?

Sometimes we need to pause for a spacious span of time – which could be just a few intentional hours, or a few days – to reflect on what we most value in life, rediscover and affirm the ground on which we stand. To reflect on questions that help us live into our own answers. We don’t often give ourselves enough time to slow down and reflect. It takes practice to stay self-aware and awake to the messages our hearts long for us to hear.

How can we build healthy reflection into our daily life so that we remain present, with our hearts wide open?

Sometimes hope appears in the grace notes of a song in your ears or your heart, or perhaps in your inbox.

Hopefully, over time, we hone our ability to recognize and embrace life’s challenges as possibilities for growth. And in doing so, may we give more hope to each other.

Enjoy this song from our friend Carrie Newcomer, You Can Do This Hard Thing, from her new album The Beautiful Not Yet. Here’s my favorite line: The impossible just takes a little more time.

Where do you find hope, faith and encouragement on your hard days?

At earlier times in your life, how have you experienced a sense of possibility in the midst of challenge?

With gratitude,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Reflect on your challenges and life’s possibilities at a Courage & Renewal program in the company of other people on the same journey.

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!

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Ever Widening Circles of Us


When we hear about how people are reflecting on and sharing Courage & Renewal work in their sacred spaces, homes, and communities, we’re always curious to learn more about their stories and how they were drawn to this work. We asked John McNeill, pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Ithaca, NY, Karen Kaufmann, and Marcia Eames-Sheavly to share their stories of reflecting on Parker J. Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy together as a church community this fall.

As they did so, they found their hearts opening in surprising ways.

John was the initiator of this conversation at St. Paul’s UMC. “Troubled by the coarseness of the tone of the political conversation around me,” he writes, “I could feel myself drawn into a reactive partisan stance.”

So, turning to wonder, instead, he asked: “How could we help people engage in what I have called prayerful conversation – speaking and listening with open hearts and an awareness of sacred presence – even when we are talking about politics?”

Wondering about a politics
of the human spirit?
Explore resources here.


John goes on:

quoteSince Parker Palmer’s approach to what he calls “Circles of Trust” is one of the models that informs my notion of prayerful conversation, it was an easy leap to turn to his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, as the foundation of a series this fall that would help people grapple with the heart-challenging presidential election campaign we would live through together. The series came to be called The Politics of an Open Heart.

Knowing that I would be tempted to close my heart and enter into partisan warfare with snarkiness, cynicism, and accusation, I needed to focus this fall’s worship planning and leadership around themes that would ground me in the deeper truths of how we need to engage one another.

My heart knows, as Parker Palmer eloquently reminds us, that we all bring something to the conversation. And if we conduct that conversation with the habits of the heart he outlines, our hearts will be open to one another.

My heart has been particularly opened as folks have shared with me how important this series has been in their own lives as they try to negotiate an open-hearted politics within their own families. People want to be better at prayerful conversation. People want to develop the capacity keep their hearts open in this trying time. I am hearing that raising this concern openly in itself offers hope.


John carefully curated this series, so we also wanted to hear from some of the individuals that took part in the conversation. What did they experience? How were they changed? Karen Kaufmann wrote to share a few of the reflections that came up for her as she participated and opened her heart. She reflected:

quoteThe first and most persistent conversation I have this season is with myself: how to open space in my heart for folks who would make little space for me? One inner conversation takes me down the path of listening, to better understand the what and why of other views.

Another path leads to self-examination, wondering where the need, or grace, or courage for conversation with others might arise in me.

Yet another is a path of discernment, looking at the foundational values—compassion, fairness, humility, wonder—that shape my discourse with the wider world, and wondering how other folks frame these conversations.

And then I wonder: if, or as, people of faith engage together in this inner conversation, moving to open our own hearts, can we come to some consensus about the foundational value of conversation, about civility and the limits of rhetoric, and thus find some hope for common ground for us all, as the political season evolves?


A test case: early in the season, some folks in our congregation proposed to circulate a petition on gun violence. In line with Pastor John’s Open Heart homilies, the group put out a draft petition during Sunday coffee hour and invited conversation. Folks with differing perspectives on gun use and restriction actually spoke to, rather than at, each other, and over several weeks of discourse we honed a petition grounded in common sense regulation—licensing, screening, limiting access to semiautomatic weapons—to bless collectively and send out into the wider world.

Another test: mid-season, a cousin comes to visit, with strong opinions born of military heritage and wartime service. In listening mode, I hear his service stories, his concerns about leadership and accountability—and come away with deep respect for his ethos of care for country and community, and his pride in the system of rights and balances at the heart of our democracy. (For instance, he is first to insist that village authorities were out of bounds in demanding that I remove my Bernie sign—although his political loyalties lie elsewhere.) A small matter, perhaps, but a point of common ground seeding further conversation.

And then: towards the season’s end, our new granddaughter is born. The biblical readings Pastor John drew on that week include the prophet Jeremiah’s invitation to make the best of hard times: to grow vineyards, raise children, build community, engage the heart, even in exile. And basking in baby light in our daughter’s home in a multi-ethnic Boston exurb, I reflect: truly each fruitful vineyard, each loving family, each adventure to the market or library or playground or town meeting is, in its way, a tender, courageous, prayerful, conversational gambit—a step toward building togetherness, valuing otherness, holding tension, giving life and voice, creating community; seeding the future and making personal the politics of the open, tender, courageous, prayerful heart.

And so my heart, too, warms to the conversation, in and beyond the electoral season.

Colorful fresh produce are highlighted in the foreground with a busy farmers market filled with shoppers in the background.

Finally, we turned to Marcia Eames-Sheavly who also participated in this series and found herself transformed by it.

Marcia shared that “as a facilitator prepared by the Center for Courage & Renewal, it hasn’t been difficult to find myriad ways to integrate Healing the Heart of Democracy and the Five Habits of the Heart into my professional and personal life. Students in one of my university classes have been reading the book this fall; our garden-based learning program has used the habits as a foundation for a video series; I am leading a Tuesday evening small group discussion on the five habits; and stirred by an inspiring summer retreat, I’ve led two all-day retreats on the fourth habit.”

But despite Marcia’s firm footing in this work, she notes her need “to stay grounded and do my own inner work in the midst of it.” This is why this series has been instrumental to making the space for that inner work to occur:

quoteI attend the early, contemplative service at St. Paul’s. Sitting and listening quietly to messages in the Politics of an Open Heart series, with titles such as A Politics of the Broken Heart; A Politics of the Cosmos; and (my favorite one thus far) A Politics of Making the Best of It have helped me to pause, center deeply down and gain a firmer spiritual footing in a season in which our public discourse saddens me. 

I have been left with an abiding message of hope, which bubbled out of the latter service: there is no them, just ever widening circles of us.

jwm-headshotJohn McNeill has been a United Methodist pastor for over thirty years; he has also been a college and seminary teacher. He is a volunteer mediator and enjoys sailing. He is married and the father of three grown children.


Karen Kaufmann

Karen Kaufmann came of age in the 1960’s, trained and works as a lawyer, and strives to serve her church and community, the former as congregational lay leader and the latter in interfaith connectional and service projects.  She is married to William Patchen, a fellow Cornellian, and has two adventurous daughters, one forbearant son-in-law, and—new this fall—one beautiful  and fierce red-headed granddaughter.


Marcia Eames-Sheavly is a Courage & Renewal facilitator and a university horticulture educator, who has devoted most of her professional time to bringing people and plants together, whether students in the classroom, online learners around the world, or community members from New York to Belize. The recipient of national teaching and writing awards, she presents internationally and has authored numerous publications, book chapters, articles, and recently, a book of poetry – So Much Beauty.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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