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Heartbreak, Violence, and Hope for New Life

In respectful acknowledgement of the immense suffering that is happening in places like Baltimore, Maryland, and the nation of Nepal, as well as the immense suffering that continues around the globe without as much visibility, we would like to offer this writing by Parker J. Palmer on the topic of heartbreak, violence and hope. It also recently appeared at OnBeing.

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Protests at the Baltimore Police Department following the death of Freddie Gray, April 25, 2015. wikimedia commons.

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Rubble in the aftermath of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Nepal, April 25, 2015. wikimedia commons.

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A disciple asks the rebbe: “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?” The rebbe answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.” —Hasidic tale

Heartbreak comes with the territory called being human. When love and trust fail us, when what once brought meaning goes dry, when a dream drifts out of reach, a devastating disease strikes, or someone precious to us dies, our hearts break and we suffer.

What can we do with our pain? How might we hold it and work with it? How do we turn the power of suffering toward new life? The way we answer those questions is critical because violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.

Violence is not limited to inflicting physical harm. We do violence every time we violate the sanctity of the human self — our own or another person’s.

Sometimes we try to numb the pain of suffering in ways that dishonor our souls. We turn to noise and frenzy, nonstop work, or substance abuse as anesthetics that only deepen our suffering. Sometimes we visit violence upon others, as if causing them pain would mitigate our own. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and contempt for the poor are among the cruel outcomes of this demented strategy.

Nations, too, answer suffering with violence. On September 11, 2001, more than three thousand Americans died from acts of terrorism. America needed to respond and plans for war were laid. Few were troubled by the fact that the country we eventually attacked had little or nothing to do with the terrorists who attacked us. We had suffered; we needed to do violence to someone, somewhere; and so we went to war, at tragic cost. A million Iraqis lost their lives, and another four million were driven into exile. Forty-five hundred Americans died in Iraq, and so many came home with grave wounds to body and mind that several thousand more have been victims of war via suicide.

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Yes, violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. But we can ride the power of suffering toward new life — it happens all the time.

We all know people who’ve suffered the loss of the most important person in their lives. At first, they disappear into grief, certain that life will never again be worth living. But, through some sort of spiritual alchemy, they eventually emerge to find that their hearts have grown larger and more compassionate. They have developed a greater capacity to take in others’ sorrows and joys, not in spite of their loss but because of it.

Suffering breaks our hearts — but there are two quite different ways for the heart to break. There’s the brittle heart that breaks apart into a thousand shards, a heart that takes us down as it explodes and is sometimes thrown like a grenade at the source of its pain. Then there’s the supple heart, the one that breaks open, not apart, growing into greater capacity for the many forms of love. Only the supple heart can hold suffering in a way that opens to new life.

What can I do to make my tight heart more supple, the way a runner stretches to avoid injury? That’s a question I ask myself every day. With regular exercise, my heart is less likely to break apart into shards that may become shrapnel, and more likely to break open into largeness.

There are many ways to make the heart more supple, but all of them come down to this: Take it in, take it all in!

My heart is stretched every time I’m able to take in life’s little deaths without an anesthetic: a friendship gone sour, a mean-spirited critique of my work, failure at a task that was important to me. I can also exercise my heart by taking in life’s little joys: a small kindness from a stranger, the sound of a distant train reviving childhood memories, the infectious giggle of a two-year-old as I “hide” and then “leap out” from behind cupped hands. Taking all of it in — the good and the bad alike — is a form of exercise that slowly transforms my clenched fist of a heart into an open hand.

Does a nation-state have a heart that can become supple enough to respond to collective suffering without violence? I doubt it. But since I don’t know for sure — and never will if I don’t keep the question alive — I’m not going to yield to cynicism. There are enough real-world facts and possibilities to justify hope. (There is much more on this topic in my book, Healing the Heart of Democracy.)

Remember how people around the world stood in unity with us for a few weeks after September 11, 2001? “Today,” they said, “we, too, are Americans,” because they had known suffering at least as painful as ours. Suppose we’d been able to take in the global flood of compassion that came our way during those post-September 11 days. We might have been given the grace to consider the alternative to war many proposed at the time, including the late theologian and activist, William Sloane Coffin:

"quote-L“We will respond, but not in kind. We will not seek to avenge the death of innocent Americans by the death of innocent victims elsewhere, lest we become what we abhor. We refuse to ratchet up the cycle of violence that brings only ever more death, destruction and deprivation. What we will do is build coalitions with other nations. We will share intelligence, freeze assets, and engage in forceful extradition of terrorists if internationally sanctioned. [We will] do all in [our] power to see justice done, but by the force of law only, never the law of force.”

That proposal aimed at turning suffering toward new life. As a nation, we lacked the moral imagination and capacity of heart to respond to our suffering with anything other than massive violence. So today we are living into Coffin’s prophecy of “ever more death, destruction and deprivation.” We have traveled some distance, it seems to me, toward becoming “what we abhor.” Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering.

But alternatives abound in our personal and political lives. Will we use them? It depends on our willingness to exercise our hearts so that when suffering strikes, they will break open to new life.

Lead
by Mary Oliver

Here is a story
to break your heart.
Are you willing?
This winter
the loons came to our harbor
and died, one by one,
of nothing we could see.
A friend told me
of one on the shore
that lifted its head and opened
the elegant beak and cried out
in the long, sweet savoring of its life
which, if you have heard it,
you know is a sacred thing,
and for which, if you have not heard it,
you had better hurry to where
they still sing.
And, believe me, tell no one
just where that is.
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.

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Reflections on Earth Day: Place and Belonging

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“They Took My Place”

by Carol Kortsch, Courage & Renewal Facilitator, Writer and Gardener at Stonehaven Commons

Retreat work digs to the heart of the matter of being human – who am I, what is my deepest longing, and how do I offer myself back to this world? Always as a retreat leader I learn most when stopping and listening – inside and out – to all that is around me. Very, very, often I am shocked back to the reality that I am not alone, that I am part of a living, breathing planetary community we call Earth.

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All photos above © Carol Kortsch

One afternoon, as a participant in a 5-day intensive outdoors retreat, I joyfully marched down a woodland trail, then hiked off-trail into the backside of a wilderness property in NY State. I was more than excited to have several hours of solitude pondering my place in modern life; it was especially wonderful to have already chosen the perfect spot beside a stream and a hollowed-out tree that I would revisit each day. When I had come across it the day before, it reminded me of my childhood drawing of a perfect fantasy-escape-hide-away so I knew it was ‘mine’. Imagine my shock that afternoon, to come upon another member of our group quietly meditating and settled into ‘my’ place! With 40 acres of pristine woodland and only a dozen people – what on earth was she doing here? Now I can recognize, after the fact, that many of earth’s profound synchronicities happen in most unusual ways.

She never saw me, but as I wheeled around and stumbled back into the undergrowth, these words were wrenched from my heart: “They took my place.” Never had I spoken this before, or even thought it, but they precisely summed up ancient personal pain, and released a river of petulance streaming from a buried memory bank. Lost from wandering and emotionally distraught, I finally put my head down on a felled-log. Then with awe, I recognized my personal grief was only the beginning—my broken-open heart became a portal through which a much larger experience was being offered.

“They took my place.” I was given the gift of bearing witness to both the grief and the sustainability of that eco-circle of land. The physical spot became ‘my new place.’ For that afternoon and the days to follow, the grief of the forest in ancient old growth stumps and limbs rotting around me, the mating calls of barred owls at sunset and the thunderous drumming of pileated wood-peckers resounded through me and opened up an intense sensory world, connecting me inside and out in ways that I had never known before. As awareness clarified, both outrage and insight amalgamated and for a time I was able to hold and be held by both sides of the tragic gap of my humanity. I recognized that I am not only joined to this body called Earth, but I am earth. “Why is it so hard to offer the tender, ‘wild love’ of being nature-beings to our own human bodies and to each other? These are my relations, my dearest neighbors, bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. How outrageous that we as humans have marched in and possessed this sentient community and called it ‘mine.’”

In addition, later in the day, I was most grateful for the gift of a reflective and loving human community: to speak from the heart into the center of the circle, to be witnessed and honored by an awesome silence, and also to be surprised by the fire-storm of anxiety that my story provoked from several members who guiltily were sure that they were the offending person (that became part of their story to tell.) It is curious how reflexive guilt and shame or any other shadow emotion can be door-openers to depths of soul in community – if each person is given time and space to sort out their inner story which is always chock-full of painful and humorous illusion! Circles of trust offer so many tender and often hidden portals like this for each individual’s soul work—if we take the time to stop, look, and listen.

This Earth Day I am grateful to continue the journey alongside so many individuals within safe communities, who each provide ‘my place’ to continue exploring down well-trod and wild paths, both as leader and as follower. And, today I write with a longing to speak more clearly on behalf of ‘our place’ – especially our dear plant and animal friends who suffer and yet offer such wisdom in their companionship. As the sun and moon cycles move us together into an uncertain future, I pray for the gift of cleansing grief to enter our circles, for loving communities to come back to enlivened senses, and discover the holy and sacred Oneness of which we are all a part. There is enough room and a joyous welcome for each of us in this Circle of Life – let’s find and relish it together!


 

Carol KortschCarol Kortsch is a facilitator trained by the Center for Courage & Renewal and offers retreats from her wilderness soul as a life adventurer and Earth listener. She worked internationally for 20 years establishing live-in rehabilitation, counseling, and training communities before moving to Radnor, PA where she lives, works, and writes from Stonehaven Commons.

Consider joining one of Carol’s upcoming retreats:
Soul Care Circles at Stonehaven (April 24 & 25)
Renewing Our Courage to Work & Live Wholeheartedly: for Courage & Renewal Alumni (May 2)
Soul Care Circles at Stonehaven (July 19 & 20)
Sustaining your Wild and Precious Life – a weekend at Kirkridge Retreat Center (July 24-26)

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StoryCorps App Lets You Record Stories

Dave Isay hard at work in a recording booth. Photo: StoryCorps

Dave Isay hard at work in a recording booth. Photo: StoryCorps

StoryCorps—often heard on NPR—has become a treasured national institution over the past decade. If you’re not familiar with it, click here http://tinyurl.com/porjwsj and listen to some brief but powerful real-life stories.

Dave Isay is the founder StoryCorps. He’s a remarkable man I’m privileged to know—remarkable not only because of his many awards, but because his passion is to preserve and share people’s stories. As Dave says, “My wish is to help create a world where we listen closely to each other and recognize the beauty, grace and poetry in the lives…we find all around us.

Last month, Dave received the TED Prize, an annual award of $1,000,000 to an individual “with a creative, bold vision to spark global change.” His vision was to create a StoryCorps app for mobile devices that would allow anyone, anywhere on the planet to interview another person and share the result with the world.

Thanks to the TED Prize, that vision is now a reality—you can learn about it here https://storycorps.me/. Then download the StoryCorps app for use whenever you’re ready to interview a treasured elder, a favorite teacher, or anyone whose story deserves to be preserved and shared. Imagine how much that would mean to the interviewee as well as to you!

As one who believes that the preservation of the world is found not only in wildness (to quote Thoreau), but in learning each other’s stories, I was moved by the way Dave Isay ended his TED Prize acceptance speech:

“Together, we can create an archive of the wisdom of humanity, and maybe in doing so, we’ll learn to listen a little more and shout a little less. Maybe these conversations will remind us what’s really important. And maybe, just maybe, it will help us recognize the simple truth that every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.”

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“Welcome to the Human Race” an Interview with Parker J. Palmer on the Topic of Depression

bk04125-darkness-before-dawn-published-cover_1excerpted from Darkness Before Dawn: Redefining the Journey through Depression, April 2015, Sounds True.

This experience called “depression” is isolating to a greater extent than I imagined could be survivable, but I realize that this incredibly isolating experience ultimately reconnected me with the human community in a deeper, wider, and richer way.

Tami Simon:  Parker, I want to start our conversation by talking about redefining the journey through depression and your experience of navigating through the darkness.

Parker J. Palmer:  I like your emphasis on redefining depression for a couple reasons. As a person who’s suffered three profound experiences of clinical depression—two of them in my forties and one in my mid-sixties—I’m aware of a couple of things. First, at the most basic level, our culture defines depression as something shameful. This angers me because it leads to a situation where millions of people are suffering not only from depression, but live in an aura of shame about it, as if it were evidence of some sort of personal weakness or character flaw. The good news is that recently there has been a more open discussion about depression, which is a sign that we’re moving beyond the taboo state of affairs in which people who experience it are shamed.

Another way we need to redefine depression has to do with the way it has become “medicalized,” which obscures the spiritual dimension of some forms of depression. I do not reject medical approaches, especially with respect to those elements of depression that are tied to genetic makeup and brain chemistry. I’m not against antidepressants categorically—in fact, I’ve personally been helped by them. In the short term, they put a floor under my emotional life so I could gain some clarity as to what was happening within me. My objection has more to do with the fact that many psychiatrists do not engage in talk therapy to help people make meaning of the experience, but simply prescribe drugs as the sole course of treatment. This tendency we have to want to reduce depression to a biological mechanism seems to me misguided and ultimately harmful.

So, redefining depression from something taboo to something that we should be exploring together in open and vulnerable ways; from something that’s purely biological to something that has dimensions of spiritual and psychological mystery to it; and from something that’s essentially meaningless to something that can be meaningful—all of this seems to me to be important.

TS:  How were you able to make meaning from your three encounters with depression?

PJP: When I was in depression, making meaning was impossible—it was just an experience to be endured. For me, it’s a mystery as to how people survive that deep darkness. I’ve come, over the years, to say that depression is not so much like being lost in the dark as it is like becoming the dark. In the depths of depression you have no capacity to step back out of the darkness, or move a bit away from it, and say, “Oh, look at what’s happening to me. What’s this all about?” When you become the dark rather than being lost in it, you don’t have a self that is other than the darkness. Therefore, you can’t get perspective and try to make meaning of it.

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I often hear people say, “I don’t understand why so-and-so committed suicide.” Well, I understand why this happens, I think. Depression is absolutely exhausting when you’re in the depths of it, and people who commit suicide often, to put it simply, need the rest. The mystery to me is why some people come through to the other side and not only survive it, but thrive in the wake of it. I’ve wondered about that question a lot, and I’ve never come to an answer that fully satisfies me. All I can say is that I somehow managed to get through the worst of the worst of times—and every time, it was a very lonely journey. In each case I had some help from the medical side, I had some help from the talk-therapy side, and I had some help from one or two understanding friends who knew how to be present to me in that experience.

Unfortunately, many friends and acquaintances didn’t know how to be present to me. They were scared of me, I believe—they didn’t want to come anywhere near me, as if I had a contagious disease. Or, they offered me well-intended but inadvertently hurtful advice that allowed them to leave their version of a “gift” in my hands—and then get out of the room as quickly as possible. Of course, in this situation, that doesn’t feel like a gift at all, but a rejection, or even a kind of curse. So when people say to me, “I have this friend or relative who’s depressed—what should I do?” I usually respond, “Well, I can’t prescribe in detail, but I can tell you this: do everything in your power to let them know that you’re not afraid of them. Be present to them in a way that expresses faith and confidence that they have what it takes to make it through. Don’t come to them with cheap encouragement of the sort some people tried on me: ‘But, Parker, you’re such a good guy! You’ve helped so many people, you’ve written such good books, you’ve given such good talks. Can’t you fall back on all of that and pull yourself out of this hole?’”

When you hear something like that at a time in your life when you’re feeling like a worm, when you’ve totally lost your sense of self, what you say to yourself is something like this: “I guess I’ve defrauded one more person. If they ever understood that I’m really not a good guy, and that all that stuff I’ve written and said is meaningless, of absolutely no utility now, they would reject me and cast me into the outer darkness.”

Similarly, people came to me and said, “But, Parker, it’s such a beautiful day outside! Why don’t you go out and soak up some sunshine and smell the flowers.” Well intentioned as it may be, this kind of counsel is ultimately more depressing than encouraging. I knew intellectually that it was a beautiful day, and I knew intellectually that those flowers smell perfumed and lovely to other people, but I didn’t have an ounce of capacity in my own body to really experience that beauty or that loveliness. So the encouragement to get outdoors and see how lovely it is turned out to be a depressing reminder of my own incapacity.

Having worked my way through that very lonely journey—where only a few people were able to offer the kind of presence and support that I needed—as I came out to the other side, a couple of things happened that allowed me to start making meaning of the experience. One is that I found myself [to be] a more compassionate person. When you suffer, if you hold it in the right way, in a supple and open heart, you become much more empathetic toward the suffering of others.

Another way to say this is that you become less afraid of other people’s suffering. You’re more willing to be present to it in a faithful, abiding way because you’re no longer treating it as a sort of contagious disease that you too might catch. You’ve been hollowed out by your own suffering, which makes space inside you for the suffering of other people. You’re better able to offer an empathetic presence to them.

In this way, you start to develop a sense of community which, in an odd way, begins to normalize the problem. Empathy born of suffering says to you, “We’re all in this together, and this is part of the human experience.” Since having the experience of depression three times and emerging on the other side, it’s very clear to me that the most important words I can say to someone who comes to me with almost any form of suffering—after I’ve listened to them deeply, after I’ve attended to them profoundly—are, “Welcome to the human race!”

No matter how horrendous their experience, there’s nothing in me that wants to say, “I can’t bear to hear this!” or “How could you ever let such a thing happen?” or “Now you’ve taken yourself to the margins of the human community.” On the contrary, what I want to say is: “Welcome to the human race. Now you enter the company of those who have experienced some of the deepest things a human being can experience.” So you start to make meaning of it, it seems to me, by realizing that this incredibly isolating experience called “depression”—and it’s isolating to a greater extent than I imagined survivable—ultimately reconnects you with the human community in a deeper, wider, and richer way.

A second kind of meaning-making I’d name—after this opening into compassion that depression can help create—is that surviving depression can make you more courageous. After each of my depressions, I noticed that my capacity to put myself in challenging or intimidating situations had grown. For example, if I’m giving a lecture on what’s wrong with medical education to a few thousand medical educators, that would have been a very intimidating experience for me thirty or forty years ago. I would have been operating out of a lot of fear and ego defensiveness. But once you’ve survived depression, you can say to yourself, “What could be more daunting than that? I survived depression, so the challenge in front of me right now doesn’t seem all that fearsome.” Then everyone benefits because when I’m not threatened I’m more likely to speak from a soulful place, not an ego-defensive place—and my message is more likely to be well received, even if it is critical. So that’s another way in which I think you make meaning: depression becomes a benchmark experience against which other things just don’t look so bad. And since we have frequent experiences of facing into things that look pretty tough, that’s a real asset, something of real meaning.

A final way that I’ve come to make meaning out of depression is through sharing the experience as openly as I know how to with others. But before doing this, it’s important that a person’s experience of depression, of becoming the darkness, be well integrated into his or her self-image and self-understanding. If there is any residue of shame or a sense of being personally flawed, then the experience may not be ready to be shared, and it could in fact be unhelpful or even dangerous to do so.

After my first depression, which was in my mid-forties, it took me ten years to feel that it was well integrated enough that I could begin to write and speak about it. Only then did I have the ability to say, “Yes, I am all of the above. I am my darkness and I am my light. I am a guy who spent months cowering in a corner with the shades pulled down, as well as a guy who can get on stage in front of several thousand physicians and deliver some challenging messages. I am all of that, and I don’t need to hide any of it.” It’s my way of saying to myself, “Welcome to the human race! We humans are a very mixed bag—and, Parker, that includes you!” As soon as I was able honestly to say that to myself, I was ready to share my experience in ways that can be healing, therapeutic, and encouraging for others.

shopcarticon64Purchase Darkness Before Dawn to read the second half of this interview with Parker J. Palmer. Available through Sounds True and Amazon.

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Your Potential Is Waiting

The other day I heard someone say that we’ve created a world we don’t want to live in. Hearing that felt like a challenge.

Because I believe we CAN create a world we DO want to live in. It will take courage and it will take more people trusting themselves to make a difference.

That’s why I feel hopeful when I see this video by our friends at Luck Companies.

I love the way they challenge us to align “that thing” on the inside with how we choose to make a difference:

“…That thing that keeps reminding you that there’s more to life than just going through life. That thing is your human spirit, the extraordinary potential you were born with.

“It’s your choice whether or not you use your potential, a conscious choice. […] One thing you will do is positively impact your own life in immeasurable ways. And as a result, you’ll make a difference in the countless others, over and over again.

“Your potential’s waiting. Patiently. Go. Use it. Make a conscious choice to be great.”

So how will you make a difference today in ways that only you can?

terry-catalystWarm regards,

Terry
Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Connect with your human spirit at a Courage & Renewal program.

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Shadow and Leadership with Parker J. Palmer

This post originally appears on Reboot.io. The podcast is credited to Reboot and Jerry Colona.

As Carl Jung repeatedly declared, our goal is wholeness, not perfection. People living soulcentrically are not untroubled or unchallenged. They are not beyond experiencing times of confusion, mistakes, and tragedies. They have by no means healed all their wounds. They are simply on a path to wholeness, to becoming fully human- with all the inevitable defects and distresses inherent in any human story and with all the promise held by our uniquely human imagination.
Bill Plotkin. Nature and the Human Soul – Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented World

Episode Description

Who are you? What do you believe to be true? What do you bring consciously to the world? And, even more interesting, what do you bring unconsciously to your work, your organization, your relationships? How does that which you have either denied about yourself, or feel uncomfortable about, shape your life, either positively or negatively? What lies in this unseen shadow? And why is it important for you to explore?

The work of today’s guest shows up in just about everything we do here at Reboot so we are thrilled to have one of our key teachers, Parker Palmer, join Jerry Colona for a discussion on a very important and powerful topic: Shadow and Leadership.

For episode quotes and transcript, visit http://reboot.io/?p=2254.

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“And” is the Way of Mercy

Editor’s Note: Dr. R. Scott Colglazier is a pastor, author, and speaker, but for a few short days at our annual Habits of the Heart for Healthy Congregations retreat, his principle role become ‘learner.’ Below are his daily reflections on the theme of the retreat, “Embracing the Tensions of Ministry.” To read more, visit his Take a Breath blog. 

Dr. R. Scott ColglazierHere’s a hint that you’ve landed at a Catholic Retreat Center for a few days: the WiFi password is HailMary. (No, I’m not kidding.) I’m in Racine, Wisconsin at the Siena Retreat Center doing a workshop with Parker Palmer titled Habits of the Heart for Healthy Congregations. I thought I might post a few thoughts and ideas as the week goes along.

Day 1:

  • It’s been a long time since I’ve done something like this. I’m not in charge of anything this week. I only need to be present and show up with my life. It’s an odd thing not being in charge when you’re used to being in charge, even though thinking you’re in charge is one of the great delusions known to humankind.
  • We’re exploring paradox this week, and that means holding opposites in creative tension. You can’t have a church community if everything is either/or. There has to be a lot of both/and. Richard Rohr has written that “AND is the way of mercy.” I might also add that it’s the way of church and community and relationships.
  • Finished my small group work tonight. I was with 16 other men and women, and I found them all to be quite remarkable. People really care about their churches and vocations. They’re all trying hard to do the work of God in the world.

Day 2:

  • I awake early. Too early. I surrender myself to be a novice today. Open to learn. Open to grow. Open to be different at the end of the day. I see the tops of the trees outside my window swaying in the wind. I can hear the waves of Lake Michigan lapping the shore. To wake. To live. To learn. This is a gift.
  • Exploration: Paradox will drive you crazy, but if it doesn’t kill you, it will open you up to new ways of being in the world. Living with “either/or” might make life easier, but it doesn’t make it richer.
  • A quote from Wendell Berry I learned today — “The only thing that has solved a big problem are a million little answers.” In other words, every gesture of goodness and kindness and compassion matters.

Day 3:

  • Early morning walk. No rain. Sunshine. Cool air. Coffee. Thinking about church, not just my congregation, but church as church, and wondering about what it means to be a church in the 21st century.
  • When conflict happens in a church (or family), we’re wired to either fight or flee. Fighting is aggressive and rarely does much good. Fleeing is passive and rarely does much good. This means that day after day church leaders, including myself, must find their center. To be centered – spiritually, emotionally and intellectually – is a place of strength and goodness. From the center place can come action. From the center place can come stillness. This is life-giving tension.
  • Take a breath today. Hold silence for a few minutes. Ponder anew. Whatever you call it — soul, love, source, light, insight — let it come close to you today.

Day 4:

  • The last day of a retreat like this is a little like the last day of church camp. You have insights and feelings that you think will change your life forever. Do they? Probably not. But the experience stays with you forever.
  • I have listened to the stories of others. It’s so sacred when someone shares their story. I’m in awe, really, of clergy and congregations doing such good work. Perfect? No. But good, genuine, honest work? Yes.
  • “What do I want to bring to my church?” That was the question posed to me today. My answer . . .

o   I want to hold creatively the tensions I feel between success and failure and between what I need personally and what my congregation needs.

o   I want to hold the tension between saying yes and no and between doing one more thing and not doing one more thing

o   I want to hold the reality of what I know needs to be done today and the uncertainty of what outcomes might or might not happen tomorrow.

o   I want to hold within myself the tension between effectiveness and faithfulness.

So, I Take a Breath today. And now my job at hand is less lofty and idealistic — I need to finish a sermon for Sunday about The Grapes of Wrath. Yikes! It’s Thursday!

If you’re looking to revitalize your leadership and community, join Parker J. Palmer and over 100 clergy and faith leaders around the globe at our 2015 Habits of the Heart for Heathy Congregations retreat on “Risking the Call to Belong.” We’re gathering outside of Chicago, IL from August 3-6, 2015. Learn more about Habits of the Heart and register here. 

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Open Honest Questions in Ministry: Moving Out Of Familiar Ruts And Independent Silos

tree-through-church-windowI love the cross-professional nature of many Courage & Renewal events. As a leader and as a participant, I’ve repeatedly been exposed to new language, new images and new expressions of a healthy and deeply spiritual life. In almost every case, I’m pushed beyond my own limited language and exposed to fascinating and rich ways of seeing the world.

My profession of ministry is not alone in often suffering from silo thinking in which we stick to one thread of ideas and language. We are not the only ones limiting our sense of good professional practice and healthy living because our circles of connection are too small. I’ve seen in tangible ways how some of my deepest theological and spiritual insights come from those who do not consider themselves either theological or spiritual.

Somebody once said that one of the most important traits of a religious leader is to help a community of faith ask the right questions about its life and mission.

Since participating in Courage & Renewal work, I’ve deepened my appreciation for the power of an honest and open question. I have found there are many applications of this skill beyond their use in Clearness Committees on retreats.

One area where this practice is useful is in the way I approach the sacred texts. I’ve become more focused on asking questions of wondering rather than questions that are really veiled, predetermined ideas about the meaning or application of a text. I try to read and interpret these texts in our context with questions such as “What is happening here? And what does this mean? And what do we learn from that?”

450px-Domenico-Fetti_Archimedes_1620I’m trying to listen to ancient texts as well as my community; trying to stay open to new interpretations or even a new line of questioning stemming from our inquiry. I’m trying to embody leadership that models wondering and curiosity so that all of us may truly engage questions of faith together.

While progressive theologians often speak of the power remaining open minded, we are often just as closed minded as anyone else. What one believes is different from how one helps a community of faith ask good and important questions, working together at understanding right action in a given moment. In the best of worlds, this practice helps to create an environment where people feel like they can ask questions, give input, and suggest ideas as we all try to figure it out.

The biggest question for anybody in a church these days is “What are we doing?” We’re in an institution that is by any measure fading from the cultural landscape. “Why are we doing this? What do we have to offer? Is there a point to this? Does it matter?” These are pretty real questions for most religious leaders.

For me, Courage & Renewal has helped me approach those questions with great excitement and enthusiasm. By asking these tough questions, we are more likely to discover our purpose and define our ministry. We will not be as tied to cultural relevance or notoriety. I believe the future of faith communities lies in developing and nurturing this practice of honest and open questions. Those who can’t ask and face important questions will be relegated to insufficient and small-minded answers that will be neither vibrant nor life-giving.

Winton BoydWinton Boyd has been Senior Pastor at Orchard Ridge UCC in Madison since 1999. He has been a facilitator with the Center for Courage & Renewal since 2007. In this capacity he has worked with cross professional groups of men and women in settings across the USA and British Columbia. He and his wife of 30 years, Tammy, have three young adult children.

Join Wint in May 2015 for a Courage & Renewal Men’s Retreat.

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Creating Safe Space for Connecting Over Stories of Loss

3-LennonFlowers_sequoyahLennon Flowers had a lot on her plate. She is co-founder and Executive Director of The Dinner Party. It’s a new national organization forging community for people in their 20s and 30s to share their experiences of loss and vulnerability – by sharing their stories over a potluck dinner.

Lennon felt the burden of heavy demands and an urgency to make a difference.

“This startup year was a challenging one,” Lennon said. “I felt consumed by endless to-do lists, worries about money, and the gnawing sensation that whatever I was doing wasn’t enough. I was perilously close to burnout.”

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Lennon hadn’t made space for her own renewal. Instead she was questioning her every move.

Lennon attended the Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists retreat in Atlanta in December 2014. Young people in positions of leadership don’t have a lot of spaces where they can be vulnerable, she said.

“You’re expected to present a strong face and have all the answers, and bring your team along, being a constant cheerleader,” said Lennon. “We need spaces to reflect on and name the unsolved or unanswered questions, personal and professional.”

“Courage to Lead gave me renewed faith in my own inner voice and a chance to silence the noise,” Lennon said. “It was deeply reassuring to be among people whose interest was in asking better questions and equipping participants with the space and tools to find their own answers.

Lennon is weaving Courage & Renewal practices into the very fabric of her organization—thanks to advice from previous Courage to Lead participants and monthly mentoring calls with C&R Executive Director, Terry Chadsey.

She also engaged Courage & Renewal facilitators to lead retreats for The Dinner Party hosts to learn about creating safe space and asking open, honest questions.

“Courage & Renewal has had a catalytic impact on our work,” Lennon said. “The Courage & Renewal Touchstones reflect the kind of spaces we want to grow in the world, and its practical techniques have been deeply instructive.

“But from a personal standpoint, the retreat was renewing in the truest sense of the word for me.”

CTL-GA-pjp-in-group500“Courage to Lead shouldn’t be just a once-a-year or once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Lennon. “It was a really powerful experience in December and something we wanted to sustain.”

Lennon has continued to meet monthly with several Courage to Lead participants. They have a monthly date on the calendar to talk on Skype video chat.

“We now have an increased level of intentionality and self-awareness. We say, ‘Is this question I’m asking an open, honest one? What would Parker say?’

“It’s helpful to have an open space where we can be sounding boards and question-askers and space-holders for each other.”

You can stay tuned to Lennon and her nonprofit’s progress at The Dinner Party blog.

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How might we be like mentors to one another?

What I love about my job is that I have regular conversations about meaning, purpose and dreams. A few weeks ago I met a man who told a story I shall never forget.

When he was in third grade, his schoolteacher told his mom that he’d never amount to much. “Lower your expectations,” his mother was advised. (Can you imagine!)

But, he added, there were three adults in his community that supported him even when others had given up on him. A Barber, a Pastor and a Neighbor were there for him through the years, making sure he understood his homework, thought about his future, and shared his report cards.

“They held my dreams for me until I could hold them myself,” the man said. Today he’s an accomplished leader in a large nonprofit.

Mentoring shows up in so many ways. How do we “hold dreams for others until they can hold them for themselves?”

terry-catalystWarm regards,

Terry
Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Join a community of mentorship and learning at a Courage & Renewal program.

The Human Dance of Mentoring: Reflection by Parker J. Palmer

Parker J. PalmerLooking back, I realize that I was blessed with mentors at every crucial stage of my young life, at every point where my identity needed to grow: in adolescence, in college, in graduate school, and early in my professional career. But a funny thing happened on the way to full adulthood: the mentors stopped coming. For several years I waited for the next one in vain, and for several years my own growth was on hold.

Then I realized what was happening. I was no longer an apprentice, so I no longer needed mentors. It was my turn to become a mentor to someone else. I needed to turn around and look for the new life emerging behind me, to offer to younger people the gift that had been given to me when I was young. As I did, my identity and integrity had new chances to evolve in each new encounter with my students’ lives.

Mentors and apprentices are partners in an ancient human dance, and one of teaching’s great rewards is the daily chance it gives us to get back on the dance floor. It is the dance of the spiraling generations, in which the old empower the young with their experience and the young empower the old with new life, reweaving the fabric of the human community as they touch and turn.

- from The Courage to Teach

How might you engage in a life-giving “dance” with someone of a different generation?

mentorsandapprentices-woe-version

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