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The Emotionally Healthy Leader

An Interview with Courage & Renewal Alumnus and Author Peter Scazzero

scazzero-book-coversPeter Scazzero and his wife Geri discovered Courage & Renewal work like many: through a book. More specifically, it was the books of Parker Palmer that gave this evangelical pastor and author the tools to bring contemplative spirituality more fully into the life of his growing, multiracial congregation in Queens, NY with people from over 73 nations. He spoke with the Center for Courage & Renewal about his new book The Emotionally Healthy Leader, adapting the Circle of Trust approach for evangelicals, and making the case for soul work in the life of leaders. The following is an edited transcript.

ERIN LANE: You begin your book, The Emotionally Healthy Leader, by talking about four distinct conversion experiences. The last one you name was the move from “Skimming to Integrity in Leadership” back in 2007. Around that same time you attended your first Courage & Renewal retreat. What was going on in your life that prompted that decision?

PETER SCAZZERO: At that point, in the early 2000’s, my wife Geri and I were writing curriculums. We had already come to see that evangelical curriculum was too heady, too intellectually driven. And we wanted to get at people’s transformation, their souls. So we both attended an introductory retreat, and then Geri attended a seasonal series of five retreats. Although we already had the language of contemplative spirituality, we didn’t have the tools.


Since then, our whole church has been influenced by Courage & Renewal: the way we train small group leaders, run our staff meetings, think of discipleship, the way we operate as a culture. For example, Geri was the one who first brought open and honest questions to our staff meetings. I also use poems like “Fire” by Courage & Renewal Facilitator Judy Brown to open our team up through a medium other than Scripture. These reflective practices help us get at the soul of who we are together. We’re not telling people how to do their journey. We want people to hear the Holy Spirit coming from inside of them.

So in our curriculum and in our study guides, we always have guidelines now for how we operate that are probably a simplification of the Courage & Renewal Touchstones. Anyone who gets exposed to our Emotionally Healthy Spirituality work is exposed to Courage & Renewal work.

EL: What was most challenging for you about the Circle of Trust approach to spiritual formation? What about it felt most natural for your church, New Life Fellowship?

PS: We already had a theology of the Holy Spirit and language for true self. What we had to work on was differentiating the two. Quaker language wouldn’t work in our tradition. We define true self as the Spirit of God moving in us and how He’s made us. (There’s a chapter in Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, called “Know Yourself That You May Know God.”)

One of the gifts of Courage & Renewal is the theological balancing it brings to evangelicals. Evangelicals tend to emphasis Genesis Chapter 3, i.e. the nature of human sinfulness. But Courage & Renewal work tends to bring out Genesis Chapter 1 and 2, i.e. the nature of human goodness. We as evangelicals tend not to trust our passions, loves and delights. It has been a wonderful opening up for all to see God’s goodness in creation.


EL: You’ve been writing about Emotionally Healthy Spirituality since 2006. Why the shift now to Emotionally Healthy Leadership?

PS: I got to a point where I realized our church was stuck because of me. At that point our church was quite large, with 25 people on staff. I had to dig more deeply into how my interior issues were hurting the church.

The inner work of a leader is like drilling down into a rock. We’re building something bigger than most and if our foundation isn’t solid, the whole thing will crumble. I use the illustration of a skyscraper in The Emotionally Healthy Leader.

If there are four inner things you’re going to need to deal with as a leader, here they are: facing your shadow, leading out of your marriage/singleness, slowing down for loving union, and practicing Sabbath delight. Ultimately, who you are matters much more than what you do. Each of these inner life issues then impacts the way we do the outer work of leadership – like planning and decision-making or culture and team building.

EL: What’s the next frontier of your development as a leader?

PS: After 26 years of being lead pastor, I’m now a teaching pastor and pastor at large at New Life Fellowship Church. I was able to change my role and come under the leadership of a 36 year-old. Geri and I are trying to give ourselves away at this point to the next generation. It’s been way more wonderful than we imagined – the letting go. The additional time we now have for reflection has deepened our work with others.

Running an organization is very demanding. I was always aware that while I had some gifts to do it, it wasn’t ideal for my true self. Yet I sensed God was calling me to do it because it forced growth for me. Sometimes people can use “this isn’t my true self” as a way of avoiding hard things that are necessary for maturity during a certain phase of your life. You need real discernment for that, especially when you’re younger. If I had not pushed through my 2007 conversion, it would have been a real loss. It wasn’t that I was supposed to be lead pastor forever but I believe it was something that was a must for my journey for that season. And for that I am eternally grateful!

Want to learn more about The Emotionally Healthy Leader? Buy the book on Amazon, visit the Emotionally Healthy Spirituality website, or follow Pete on Twitter at @petescazzero

erin-lane_author-photoErin Lane is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator and the Center’s Assistant Program Director for Clergy and Congregational Leaders. She develops programs that deepen the spiritual formation of people of faith and support healthy congregational life. A writer and speaker, Erin is the co-editor of Talking Taboo and author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe. She blogs on faith, feminism and belonging at

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Showing Up with All of Who You Are

I’ve been noticing lately about how our cell phones, for one, lay claim to our attention and distract us from being fully present. In her book Reclaiming Conversation, Sherry Turkle points out research showing that the mere presence of a mobile phone on a nearby desk will decrease the quality of a conversation-and reduce empathy and a sense of connection.

What does it mean to be fully present for another person? You might begin by focusing. You might try being more aware of your surroundings as well as what is going on inside your mind, body and heart.

“Be present as fully as possible” is the second Courage & Renewal Touchstone. And we take it a step further:

Be present as fully as possible. Be here with your doubts, fears and failings as well as your convictions, joys and successes, your listening as well as your speaking.

Combined with the other touchstones like welcome, being fully present helps us practice showing up as our whole self. That means embracing the paradox of our shadows and light, strengths and weaknesses, chutzpah and humility. The practice of being fully present is a way to gently integrate all aspects of who you are, and invite others to do the same.

Here is a poem by Rumi that speaks to the idea of being fully present. Then below is a reflection from our latest poetry anthology, Teaching With Heart, in which professor Richard Ackerman describes how Rumi helps him show up fully as a leader.

Vincent van Gogh, 'White House at Night'

Vincent van Gogh, ‘White House at Night’

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~ Rumi

A Professor Reflects on “The Guest House”

Many years ago, I attended a celebration honoring an old friend on the eve of his retirement after a distinguished forty-year career as a school leader. I was a brand new school leader struggling with the ebbs and flows of my new role, and I remember eagerly anticipating his response when somebody asked him to detail the most important lesson he learned during his tenure. He paused and then said, “A good school learns somehow to bend itself around the strengths and weaknesses of its leader.” Huh?! I was baffled.

Decisiveness, strength, vision. These were my gods! Uncertainty, fear, failure? How could these, well, imperfections be integral leadership elements in the growth of a school?

But now as I approach my own retirement, having spent many years teaching leadership, I am reminded once again of my friend’s advice-echoed in the essential paradox of “The Guest House.” We must, as Rumi says, “welcome and entertain them all,” our strengths and our weaknesses, understanding all of them as necessary to our own development and, ultimately, the life of a school. To better practice leadership, we must “be grateful” in accepting these challenges.

And today, when asked a similar question by a young leader, I say: “Let others really know you; learn to fall gracefully when you tumble; and, above all, be vulnerable.”

These are the surest ways I know to foster trusting relationships, genuine
achievement, and the blessings of a conscious leadership life.

~ Richard H. Ackerman, College Professor of Educational Leadership, Brooksville, Maine


It takes courage to be your real self. In our everyday busy and unintentional lives, to show up as real means to risk being rejected, or laughed at, ignored. Or you might be embraced, fully seen. By being yourself you might, in fact, be seen as a role model.

How are you learning to be present and welcome what is?

When is it easy to be present? And when it is a stretch?

How might you be more present to each part of your life, each conversation and relationship?

With gratitude and best wishes,
Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Experience the safe space to practice “being present as fully as possible” at a Courage & Renewal program and see how this and other touchstones can expand your life and leadership.

P.P.S. Thanks to C&R facilitator Holly Wilkinson for suggesting “The Guest House.”


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Welcoming Reflection – In the Circle of Trust with Barbara Reid

The Forest Trust (TFT) folk recently participated in a Circle of Trust facilitated by Barbara Reid from the Centre for Courage & Renewal. Here I share a little about the Circle and introduce a podcast I recorded with Barbara.

When something keeps popping up on your radar, it’s probably worth stopping a mo to check it out. “What is that thing?” Over the past 12 months, I’ve seen references to the ‘Centre for Courage & Renewal’ over and over again. It seems to have been saying, “Come on! You need to learn about me”.

First, a friend posted an article by the Centre’s Founder, Parker J. Palmer, on Facebook that resonated with me very strongly. Visiting the Centre’s website, I learned that it is based near Seattle which is where TFT’s North American office is located. Next, a friend from Australia mentioned the training she was doing with the Centre and how she loved it and recommended I check them out. So I did. I read blogs and listened to podcasts. Then a colleague, Nick Ross, mentioned the Centre’s work and that he had participated in the Centre’s ‘Academy for Leaders’ program in the US. “You what?” Too many coincidences!

Nick recommended we participate in a Circle of Trust and introduced us to Barbara Reid, the nearest Courage & Renewal Facilitator to our Geneva office. We were thrilled when Barbara agreed. [Editor’s note: Courage & Renewal facilitators are also in Australia, Canada, Guatemala and New Zealand, as well as the U.S.]]

We were all given links to the Circle of Trust Approach and did our homework to understand what was going to happen. Eighteen folk (including Barbara and Nick) gathered as we kicked off the first morning.

Barbara eased us into the two-day work program slowly and calmly, introducing the key principles of the Circle of Trust Approach. I found myself descending to a more thoughtful place as she shared poetry and quotes and introduced us to the ‘bridge’ metaphor:

Original by Kasi Metcalfe; used under Creative Commons.Original by Kasi Metcalfe; used under Creative Commons.

from Bridge for the living by Philip Larkin

Reaching for the world, as our lives do, 

As all lives do, reaching that we may give

The best of what we are and hold as true:

Always it is by bridges that we live

In the afternoon, we got deeper into the exploration of our own inner voice and that led to a fascinating session in the evening where we explored the use of open, honest questions. It’s nowhere near as easy as it sounds and we learned very quickly how we tend to rush to solve people’s problems for them, cutting short their own exploration at quite some detriment.

On the second day, Barbara introduced ‘Clearness Triads’ which was a modified, shortened version of the ‘Clearness Committee‘ concept used in the Circle of Trust. We formed into groups of three and following the Approach’s practices, we worked together to explore a dilemma currently playing out in each person’s life. We each had five minutes to describe the dilemma and then our two colleagues had 30 minutes to ask open, honest questions based on what they’d heard. There was then a five-minute period for reflection and affirmation before a small celebration at the end. Absolutely exhausting! But we all found it to be a very effective tool to help us really grapple with issues affecting our work and lives.

We did some more work and reflection in the afternoon before a wrap up at the end. People went off, quietly, each benefitting from having enjoyed a period of time-out for deep introspection about their work and their purpose.

And then we had our Christmas Party!!

I nabbed Barbara before she headed for the airport and we recorded a TFT Earthworm podcast (see the link below).

I loved hearing more about Barbara and the Circle of Trust Approach but I really loved Barbara’s description of the power of bringing poetry, art and music to discussions to help give us a wider perspective on an issue so it’s less charged. That certainly resonates with TFT’s work and is one of the key messages in my book Beyond Certification. Best of all was Barbara’s observation that our values can be a plumb line for our work. Amen to that!

Scott PoyntonScott Poynton is the founder of The Forest Trust (TFT), his non-profit organisation that analyses and delves into the supply chains of the world’s biggest retailers and commodity producers to reveal the environmental and social damage done by their products. Then he shows them how to do business differently. TFT’s model for change has helped convince companies such as Wilmar, Nestlé, Ferrero and Asia Pulp & Paper – some of which are considered by the green movement as the epitome of environmental evil – that they can operate without cutting down forests and harming forest-reliant communities. Read how Scott “stopped the chainsaws” here

This article was originally posted at It is reprinted here with permission (thanks Scott!). 

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Feeling Welcome: Joining Out of Loneliness for Each Other

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The first Courage & Renewal Touchstone is about Welcome, which we introduced in our January 12 post.  This month we’re looking deeper into why Welcome matters. Building trustworthy community–whether in a Circle of Trust retreat, at home or at work–requires courage to reach out to others. Today’s post by guest Bruce Anderson asks us to consider how loneliness shows up in our lives and how we might cure it by offering welcome. 


William Stafford, poet and teacher from Oregon, writes that things join “out of loneliness for each other”. At the heart of all community building is the desire to connect citizens with other citizens. These acts of joining, small or large, form the fundamental cure to loneliness.

Could those of us strategizing ways to build community make good use of our time by considering what the condition of loneliness means to each of us in our own lives? By joining together, telling our own stories of loneliness, and describing the pathways that guided us through those times, we may locate a collective wisdom we can expand and take back to our work on a larger scale.

lonely-penguin resizeWhy aren’t we talking more about our own loneliness? The stories of times when we have felt disconnected with others take us back to places many of us would choose to forget, if only we could. As part of our organization’s community building work, we often ask groups to divide up–in pairs or threes–and have each person tell a story about a time in their life when they felt like they didn’t belong. As those stories are shared, many of them told for the first time since the event happened, there is often an initial feeling of darkness and despair.

What we have learned, however, is that the darkness is quickly replaced by a feeling of unity and strength as the similarity in the stories is noticed and people begin to remember that the condition of loneliness is part of our common story. We have also learned that each of us has wisdom and a unique understanding about loneliness that is useful to share. There is a strength resulting from the telling of these stories that binds people together and increases their commitment to community building action.

Is our unwillingness to “join out of loneliness for each other” because we want to be alone? Not me. I have persistent and haunting memories of each time in my life I have felt lonely…somehow unwanted or unaccepted by others even though I yearned for their touch or their particular nod in my direction. So now, as I consider my own quiet refusal to stand beside those who are lonely, I question the advantage my silence brings me.

I get the comfort from not revealing my own stories of loneliness to others who may benefit from hearing them, but also the damaging turbulence that locked up stories bring to my soul. I get the advantage of thinking that my life is put together somehow more completely, and that I need less help than those around me, but also the daily burden of maintaining that false front. I get the “calm before the storm” advantage of delaying facing my own suffering, though not answering that knock at the door creates a deeper dissatisfaction with my own courage.

Sometimes I respond to loneliness by saying “but, in the end, we are alone in the world”. I know when I think or say these words it often comes on the coattail memory of its companion belief–another grim reminder–which begins… “You really can’t trust anyone but yourself”.

These two half-truths, usually erupting out of some situation in which I did not receive the love or attention I thought I deserved, serve to drive me further into my loneliness by carrying into my psyche the idea that the world is a dangerous and hurtful place. It is that small and afraid voice inside reminding me that when you go out in the world, this is what you can expect. You should have known better. These responses come from a desire to reconcile my feelings of loneliness by pushing them towards hopelessness. Far from courageous introspection, this comfortable hopelessness gives me permission to see loneliness in others and myself and not take action.


William Stafford, in a poem called A Ritual to Read to Each Other, reminds us of the deep obligation humans have to stay joined and act when we are a witness to disconnection. He writes about a band of elephants holding each other’s tails on the way to the park. “But if one wanders”, he says, “the circus won’t find the park. I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.”

Loneliness comes from the unmet desire to feel the presence of another in your life. There is a sadness and disconnection with the world that comes with the feeling of loneliness. Being alone, on the other hand, is not the same as being lonely. Being alone does not, in itself, cause loneliness. Being alone simply states that you are standing by yourself, not in the presence of others. That you are “going it alone” for the moment, and acting by oneself. Being alone can involve courage, a feeling of wholeness, and a feeling of deep connection to those around you.

wendell-berry-small-acts-of-integrity-quoteWhat are we doing to help those around us not feel lonely? And what are we doing to encourage those around us to know the power of standing alone? For myself, I know that helping others find ways out of their loneliness has shattered my own illusion that I am not lonely.

I struggle with my own feelings of being unwelcome each time I witness another person taking courageous steps towards connectedness with others.

As Wendell Berry says, “true social change may stick, not through large heroic acts of defiance, but rather through the small acts each person makes because their conscience and integrity would be shattered if they did otherwise”.

Clasped_hands resize

The small acts of “standing by” that we make each day tell more about our desire to cure loneliness than the heroic programs and principles we pledge our allegiance to.

My fear
is in getting to know you.
For in those moments of conversation
when I begin to see you more clearly,
I may discover I am not
the loving person I imagine myself to be.
Not loving. Me. Now I’ve said it.

My safety
is my silence and quiet refusal
to stand beside you when you need me or I need you.
I hold my breath tightly, silently,
trying to stop love from moving through me,
giving trouble a solid place to stand.
Forgetting that, like water,
love moves through all things.
Like the tides, it washes over dry souls who wait.

If I could have one thing,
just one thing different,
it would be to touch that stone-cold part of my soul
and give it light.
To walk, wet and shivering,
out of the river of fear
with a heart that no longer needs to hide.

~ Bruce Anderson

Click for more resources on Welcoming by Bruce Anderson. Community ActivatorsBruce Anderson, author of The Teacher’s Gift and the audio program, Our Door is Open: Creating Welcoming Cultures in Helping Organizations, says that the capacity for “welcoming” is a necessary component of sustainable change. Bruce Anderson is the founder of Community Activators in Vashon, Washington, providing action-based, fresh, and hopeful training and organizational coaching for helping professionals, educators, and community activists. Bruce is a Fellow of the Asset Based Community Development Institute.

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Welcome: Opening Doors and Hearts

“Welcome!” It’s the word we use to receive guests into our home, opening ourselves to another’s presence or companionship.

There’s a reason “welcome” comes first in our Touchstones. Give and receive welcome.

Welcome sets the tone for trust to emerge, like playing middle C to tune a piano, a choir or an orchestra.

Welcome is the first step in acknowledging the presence and dignity of another person, and of yourself, too.

Welcome is how we move from isolation to community. Just ask Josh, a young man whose story illustrates the potency of an open-hearted welcome.

Josh was once an outsider at his school. He felt invisible, unwanted. Then one day he decided to hold doors open for his schoolmates… Watch his inspiring story in the video below.

What Josh did was more than politeness. It was a courageous act of integrity.

Instead of viewing himself as a nobody, Josh decided to ‘show up’. He took a chance to extend welcome to others, creating a stronger sense of belonging for everyone.

The first Touchstone, WELCOME, reminds us to extend and to expect welcome: to welcome ourselves, welcome each other, and welcome new experiences.

Welcome matters and yet it’s not easy. It’s a privilege to feel safe (not only brave) enough to be the one offering welcome. Across the lines of difference and identity that separate us, think about where and with whom we experience welcome and where we don’t.

When we can shift our stance – from self-protective fear to open-hearted vulnerability – we create the possibility for authentic connection. Welcome often takes risk, but when it’s possible to act from a welcoming heart, you might open new doors.

What have you learned about offering welcome?

How does it feel when genuine welcome is offered to you?

What if we offered welcome where and when it’s least expected?

With gratitude and best wishes,
Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Experience the Touchstones in person, in depth, at a Courage & Renewal program and see how they can transform your own life and leadership.

P.P.S. Thank you to C&R facilitators Larry Petrovick and Erin Lane for sharing this video!

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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Circles of Trust DVD Now Available Online, Free

The paperback release of Parker J. Palmer’s A Hidden Wholeness in 2009 included a companion DVD with 10 brief talks with Parker.

At long last we have finished uploading the DVD onto the web so that today, we can offer you this resource for free. ENJOY!

All 10 videos are available at

ABOUT THE DVD:  The “Circles of Trust” DVD invites us into deeper contemplation of the dynamic between our inner lives and our outer bearing in the world. Expanding on the principles and practices developed by Parker J. Palmer and the Center for Courage & Renewal, “Circles of Trust” offers insight and guidance for all who seek to map an inner journey toward wholeness, to live a more authentic, meaningful and resilient life. Additional information on Circles of Trust is available HERE and in Parker Palmer’s book, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Towards An Undivided Life.

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Solstice: Holiness in Stillness & Staying


There’s a broken suitcase on the floor of my room.

In the last 6 weeks I’ve travelled to Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Atlanta, New York, Minneapolis. Google says 9,519 miles. I’ve kept rickety luggage partially packed on the clothing-strewn floor of my Green Bay, Wisconsin home for weeks, packing and repacking for different ventures — waking at 3 am and driving towards airports while everyone else is sleeping, everyone else is being still. I am not still.

The suitcase handle no longer works. Last month it got stuck in a turnstile in Manhattan as I sweated my way from subway to bus to plane. Departures and arrivals, leaving and returning. But never staying.

My latest trip was last week — to a retreat center outside of Atlanta, where I was one of 32 participants meeting from across the world at co-founder Parker Palmer’s Center for Courage & Renewal Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists retreat. We were given journals, poetry, comrades. We were given time to be still, to be quiet and attentive — to let the wisdom of our internal teacher find its voice, thinking about how our inner lives and outer lives could meet; how our “on-stage” and “back stage” selves could live in close proximity. I was not accustomed to the stillness, the staying. I thought of myself as wild, free. In his book, The Courage to Teach, Parker Palmer speaks of stillness, of deep listening:

shysoul-deer copy“If we want to see and hear a person’s soul, there is another truth we must remember: the soul is like a wild animal: tough, resilient, and yet shy. When we go crashing through the woods shouting for it to come out so we can help it, the soul will stay in hiding. But if we are willing to sit quietly and wait for a while, the soul may show itself,” (157).

In the first session, we were asked to reflect on three questions to begin the retreat:

  1. What memory do you have of listening to yourself describe something that you really loved, cared about, or mattered most to you?
  2. When have you heard the sound of the genuine in yourself but did not follow it?
  3. If you were to act on your genuine voice, what might you say or do?

The third question tumbled, crashed, splashed over my mind. Even before the journaling, before we broke for reflection, a word rushed into my head, an image of a hand coming up like a crossing guard motioning toward moving vehicles. STOP. Verbatim, here’s what is free-written, scratched furiously into my journal just 2 hours after we arrived:


stop moving. stop pressure.
stop comparing. stop bugging me.
stop the pressure. stop coming at me.
stop doubting. stop not being yourself.
stop doubting that this is right. stop worrying.
stop false or “should” expectations. stop feeling guilty for being home, feeling how you feel.
stop leaving mentally.

stop interrupting. stop feeling sorry for self.
stop the should. stop pretending to be different- use gut.
and slow. down.”

The paradox of a vocational calling is that it also inherently conjures images of movement: emotionally moved, spiritually swept up, holy current, change.

I lived for two years in a place where people were constantly leaving. In a Christian intentional community with temporary volunteers and guests, it was a rhythm of unending departures and arrivals featuring deep ritual and songs and prayers that kept us long-termers sane among the emotional weight of staying while others came and went. This place, Holden Village, is a small intentional community and retreat center in the North Cascades of Washington State. I came with the plan to leave after a few months. That didn’t happen. I extended my time to three years. The irony is that I left before my time, because of a call — back to the Midwest, back to justice work, back to cultural institutions I grew up with: small towns, whiteness, football, higher education, Wisconsin politics, family, Christianity.

The notion that a call is beyond our control — that we could never have planned it, that we get swept up in the flow of God’s play — indicates a certain lack of agency and control. I did feel out of control, that I had not chosen this.

But once we’ve answered a call, is it possible everyday to continue choosing that call?

It’s not only possible, it’s essential.


Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists, December 2015 cohort in Atlanta

On the last day of our Courage & Renewal retreat, in the final large group time before closing, I sat next to Parker Palmer, 6 inches away from his hand that held a theory devised with others doing courage work. They had recently revised it to include experiences of young activists:

“A Movement Model of Social Change: Four Stages
Stage 1: Divided No More

Isolated individuals reach a point where the gap between their inner and outer lives becomes so painful that they resolve to live “divided no more.” These people may leave or remain within institutions, but they abandon the logic of institutions and find an alternative center for their lives. These people do not hate institutions — they love them too much to allow them to sink to their lowest form…”

We were nearing the end of the retreat, and I was prepared to passively receive a few more resources, then depart. I was prepared to hear the remaining stages and go use them. But as Palmer started to read, all eyes on him, I started to leak.

As his kind, deep voice steadily flowed, chronicling the further stages, I steadily lost my grip. I didn’t hear much of anything else. As he spoke, Parker placed his water bottle on the floor next to me and it tipped, liquid overflowing onto my backpack. I did not notice. When a group member passed toilet paper to sop up the spill, I thought they were passing it to me to sop up my spilling emotions. All faces in the large group circle were turned towards this teacher and I sat right next to him within their gaze — embarrassed, weeping silently, snot and tears flowing onto the page of theory, feeling like a sad toddler who has no concept of Kleenex or public composure. My friend Joelle, who had been part of my first group where I expressed the need to stop, sat next to me and silently placed a box of tissues at my side.

We broke to journal then met in triads for what Parker called “15 clear minutes each.” Clear meaning speaking with no interruption, tapping into conversation with our inner teacher, then accepting open & honest questions and mirroring from others to help us in this dialogue with ourselves.

I sat in the triad with two almost-strangers who I now loved. I divulged through tears the difficulty of choosing to stay put as a millennial doing work for which I felt too young, amidst competing regional norms to settle and marry, pressures to have children and build my retirement, gritting against generational alternative scripts to always be moving, to land in big cities, to never settle, to act out frenetic adventures of owning no furniture, flitting from deep experience to deep experience, sleeping on couches and instagramming all the beauty while moving, untethered, through relationships and metropoles and part-time work. This alternative is not freedom, as I had thought.

I told my group, now. I’ve made the choice to stay. To stay in these institutions I love too much to let them sink to their lowest form. Stay in Wisconsin, which at worst can look like xenophobic refugee denial, union busting, downtrodden teachers, suffocating whiteness, brutal chill — but at its best can look like my home of summer camps, family gatherings, of Aldo Leopold, warm fires, Georgia O’Keeffe, UW-Madison, swing state that embodies what philosophy professor & friend Dr. Benjamin Chan calls “myriad lives, lived in myriad ways, shared openly.”

Further, I’ve chosen to stay in Christianity, which at its worst looks like abortion clinic bombings, rationalized racial violence, and anti-Muslim extremism — but at its best looks like welcoming the stranger, healing song and ritual, assurance of new life and belief that light overcomes darkness. I’ve chosen to stay in higher education which at its worst looks like perpetual discontent, corrosive cynicism disguised as critical thinking, resume touting, pretentious specialists — but at its best looks like tireless betterment, freedom from ignorance traps, theories and vocabulary that liberate, shields against stagnation, propellant toward community and enlightenment. I even choose to stay in football culture, which at its worst looks like hypermasculinity, senseless concussions, church cancelled for games, domestic violence after losses — at best it is open homes and weekly ritual, cross-class/ cross-racial involvement, local ownership, small town economic development, shared joy and celebration.

Vocation is a call, true — bringing more than we can imagine for ourselves, life different than we dreamt or planned. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to choose our vocation everyday amidst the pull towards alternatives that seem more typical, more normative, more understandable, more common, more safe.

But I’ve made a choice. A conscious, active decision to stay. If you’re a person of new year’s resolutions, call it resolve. If you’re a person of theory adoption, call it praxis. If you’re a person of religion, call it faith. If you’re a follower of seasons and cycle, call it solstice, which is derived from the Latin sistere:

To stand still.


Anna Czarnik-NeimeyerAnna Czarnik-Neimeyer is the assistant director and chief of staff at St. Norbert College’s Cassandra Voss Center (CVC), which focuses on transformation through initiatives related to race, class, gender and identity. Daughter of a camp director, Anna grew up living and working at camps for 22 years before becoming the national events coordinator at Holden Village, an ecumenical learning and retreat center in the Cascade Mountains. She lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, and loves to thrift.

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The Inner Life of Poet-Sage Robert Lax, Thomas Merton’s Close Friend

November 30 would have been the 100th birthday of Robert Lax, a poet perhaps best known as Thomas Merton’s close friend. Merton said of Lax, “His was one of the voices through which the insistent Spirit of God was determined to teach me the way I had to travel.”

A native of New York, Lax graduated from Columbia University in 1938 with a degree in English Literature. After much wandering he traveled to Greece where he made Patmos, Isle of the Revelation, his spiritual and creative workshop. There, he quietly resided for over 30 years, writing the ascetic and experimental verse that would rank him among America’s greatest poets, a true minimalist who can weave breathtaking poetry from remarkably few words.

The New York Times Book Review called Lax’s best-known book, The Circus of the Sun, “perhaps the greatest English language poem of this century.” And Jack Kerouac called Lax “a Pilgrim in search of beautiful innocence.”

But author/editor Steve Georgiou called him Bob — and friend, and sometimes “Uncle Robo.”

Steve Georgiou and Robert Lax on Patmos

After serendipitously meeting the poet-sage on Patmos in 1993, Steve returned to the isle many times over the next seven years to sit in Lax’s company and learn about life, art and spirit (their personal conversations are captured in Steve’s earlier book, The Way of the Dreamcatcher: Spirit Lessons with Robert Lax).

In the Beginning Was LoveSteve Georgiou’s new book, In the Beginning Was Love: Contemplative Words of Robert Lax, reveals the inner life of Bob Lax through this anthology of poems and journal writings, including handwritten images and photos.

Simplicity and minimalism are themes in Lax’s poetry. To see Lax’s handwriting from his journal feels like an intimate glimpse into his artist’s soul. And the playful structure of his poems invite reflection on more than the words alone. As Steve told me, each poem may be read as a meditation, which can lead to discussion.

In the Introduction, Georgiou writes:

Throughout Lax’s writing we hear his perennial plea to “slow down,” “relax,” “simplify,” to consider where we came from, where we are now, and were we are going….Ultimately he tells us — just as he told the young Merton decades before — that we are all called to be peacemakers…

Lax inspires us to begin a ‘renaissance of goodness.’ He inspires us to see how a new age grounded in spirit and art is possible, if only we take the ‘inward passage; and emerge with gifts of the heart to share.


C&R:  I loved seeing Lax’s handwriting and his artwork. Is the cover art one of his drawings? What did Robert teach you about the practice of creating art?

SG: Great you’ve enjoyed the book & like its arrangement, Lax art-writing, etc.. The book’s cover drawing is mine but certainly Lax inspired, in terms of the free play of creativity-creation and the water-fish-circuit-circus theme (all things are rhythmically, playfully alive in God, and the journey is to God in God…).

Regarding what Lax taught me about art, I think all of Lax’s wisdom interrelates — art-poetry-spirit. For him, spirituality & creativity were two sides to the same coin.

love power wisdom

power wisdom love poem

C&R: Finding your authentic voice and turning to wonder are two key practices in Courage & Renewal. I noticed several poems about songs and wonder. Did you hear Robert sing often?

SG:  No, I never really heard Bob singing, but he might say one word aloud (softly, slowly) repeatedly, like a mantra; something as simple as saying “good,” created a calming effect, at least for me. The word “song” does come up from time to time in his poetry because, in a sense, everything is singing in God, everything is being what it was created to be, there is a cosmic song ever going on. Bob loved jazz, felt that we all have our own “special solo” to play, but we can only play it well if we pause to listen, deeply listen, to life.

nightsong by Robert Lax

C&R: What poem by Bob Lax has the most personal meaning to you? Which one would he pick, do you think?

SG: Hmmm, this can change from day to day, I guess. But for some reason, I keep on thinking of one poem this past week, I just wrote it into a guest book at a retreat center I visited:

Every being you’ve ever known, the only being you’ve ever known, keep with you always, wherever you may be.

I also like the one about hearing the “night-song of the world…”

C&R:  What do you most want people to know or appreciate about Robert Lax as we’re marking his centenary year?

SG: I guess it might be to appreciate the calm, creative “still point,” to “put themselves in a place where grace can flow,” as he would say from time to time. From there one can begin to hear one’s voice, one’s own song (& the eternal song of creation calling unto the Creator).

By the way, though Lax was a fount of inspiration & wisdom, I did not think of him as a guru, rather a compassionate teacher who integrated the realms of art and spirit. His mentoring qualities were undeniable, not just for me, but for many searchers-artists-travelers he happened to meet over the years.

Excerpts reprinted with permission of Templegate Press LLC.  

In the Beginning Was Love is available at Templegate Press or or from your favorite bookseller.

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The Art of Work


Vocation is en vogue. In light of recent research that purports 87 percent of the world’s workers are more frustrated than fulfilled, the marketplace has rushed to meet our need for meaning. Its noise can be overwhelming.

Are we to follow our bliss or change the world? Yes. Do we commit where we are or risk an adventure? Yes. Should we set some goals or let the destination find us? Yes. It’s no wonder Jeff Goins’ new book, The Art of Work, has a subtitle emphasizing “a proven path” to discovering your life’s purpose.

We’re consumers of clarity, and I’m first in line.


You could say I’m a vocational enthusiast. It all started when someone handed me a copy of Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer during my senior year of college. Its short-term effect was giving me the courage to say no to a stable, but stressful night job at the college union. The long-term effect? I discovered my “something I can’t not do” was helping other people grab hold of their something.

There’s a lot to grab hold of in Goins’ book about discovering “the reason you were born.” (No pressure.) Seven themes anchor his ideas – Awareness, Apprenticeship, Practice, Discovery, Profession, Mastery, and Legacy – and each theme is illustrated with anecdotes from the lives of ordinary people, including Goins himself.

While Goins is a Christian and cites Christian tradition to make some of his points, religiosity doesn’t overwhelm the reader. The practical takes precedent over the philosophical.

In the chapter on Awareness, a story illustrates how noticing what makes us different from other people can be a source of both pain and purpose. This has been a trusted way of knowing in my own life as I discerned that an early (and sometimes ostracizing) lack of desire for bio kids pointed to a vocation of being available to others’ kids later in life.

leaf-self-whoyouare-journeyIn the chapter on Practice, we see an example of how our love for something, like painting, might be honed into a skill set, like web design, without making us feel like a sell-out.

“Your vocation can evolve,” Goins writes in the chapter on Profession, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Now, nearly a decade after my first brush with Let Your Speak, I hear from young wanderers picking it up for the first time and feeling the pressure to find their path once and for all.

“There is a thread we follow,” I tell them, paraphrasing a poem from William Stafford called “The Way It Is,” but with it we weave many selves over the course of one life. In his column at OnBeing, Parker affirmed something similar in a letter to young activist Courtney Martin: “Most of us value a lot of things and serve a variety of purposes; some of them reinforce each other and some tug at each other. I’m one of those “diffuse” people.”

Much of Goins’ writing seems best suited to our independent selves, the selves that get to manifest their own destiny with the support but not permission of loved ones. His advice to “do what’s required of us,” “push ourselves to the point of exhaustion,” and “keep moving,” does not resonate in my own life where I work part-time in order to pursue the delight of being human with my husband, my friends, my church, and a whole ecosystem of people on whom my choices bear. A book on how two independent adults discern vocational rhythm together – now that I’d be clawing to read.

As people around the world explore new ways to make meaning, ideas on how to make a meaningful living will continue to be plentiful. If the projections are true, the majority of American workers will be freelancers by the year 2030, making vocational discernment a more flexible and frequent occurrence.

“It is a journey of becoming,” Goins rightly points out. And I’ll take all the worthy companions (and books) that come along the way.

erin-lane_author-photoErin Lane is a Courage & Renewal Facilitator and the Center’s Assistant Program Director for Clergy and Congregational Leaders. She develops programs that deepen the spiritual formation of people of faith and support healthy congregational life. A writer and speaker, Erin is the co-editor of Talking Taboo and author of Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe. She blogs on faith, feminism and belonging at

*Writer received this book for free through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. She was not required to write a positive review. The opinions she has expressed are her own. She is disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

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The Everywhere Oracle – a New Poetry Book for the Inner Life

Inside an Ancient Rhythm

I was very young with this energy signature of fear,
a grip of tension embedded deep in my gut,
brought in from Another Time.

It sounds like these clicking computer keys:

tap tap tap,
the clatter of a mind with the 3 a.m.
blah blah blahs of small worries.
Like unanswered emails,
their blue warning dots demand response,
jarring me into a wide awake nervous fret.

Or: Drip drip drip
the inner water torture of endless to do lists
inciting a harried rush from this-to-that,
fueling an addiction to activity that keeps me
on the surface of things.

Or the rapid, reactive:
thump thump thump
of a heartbeat when feeling
insulted, afraid or threatened.

Tap, drip, thump escalate to:
boom boom boom
with Big Worries,
a tribal nervous system of pulsing fears:
disappearing bees, polar bears, ozone.
Wars, so many wars.
The seductive, deafening noise of these times.

Sometimes beneath this cacophony
a Gong is heard.

Here, deep, prolonged fog-horned crescendos
summon my soul,
intoning, “You are so much more than this.
Return to me. Rest in Me.”

You could be ready
to live inside an Ancient Rhythm.
Let me ring you home.

The Everywhere Oracle book and journal

“An Ancient Rhythm” is one of many wonderful poems on change and the inner life curated into a new book by Courage & Renewal facilitator Caryl Ann Casbon, The Everywhere Oracle: A Guided Journey Through Poetry for an Ensouled World.

“There is an immense difference between simply reading a poem for it’s first impressions versus entering into a relationship with it,” said Caryl. “So many people say, ‘I have a hard time with poetry.  It’s not accessible.’ I know what they mean. Yet when you engage in conversation with a poem, it has the potential for touching you on a soul level. It can challenge you, speak to you, and invite you into a dialogue with your own inner teacher. It is in this way it can become a poem for you. When approached like this, there is no right or wrong way to interpret poetry. It is for you to discover its’ unique meaning for your life, in spite of what your literature professor told you in college!”

Caryl’s poems can be used in book groups, around the dinner table, or on retreat, where people explore their own relationship with the meaning and stories in the poems.  The book includes a User’s Guide at the back, with questions to go with each poem.

The Everywhere Oracle: A Guided Journey Through Poetry for an Ensouled World, as well as a journal to go with it by the same title, is available at

Join Caryl on a retreat based on her new book and journal in Hawaii, February 12-14, 2016. Click for details: The Everywhere Oracle: Discovering Grace, Guidance and Creativity Through the Alchemy of Change in Women’s Lives
Caryl Casbon

Caryl Ann Casbon works as an interfaith minister, spiritual director, and facilitator through the Center for Courage & Renewal. Over the last 15 years Caryl has lead Circle of Trust© programs nationally and internationally for clergy and lay communities, medical and hospice groups, and educational leaders. Caryl also serves as a Leadership & Curriculum Consultant with the Sacred Art of Living Center for the Anamcara Project and the Sacred Art of Dying programs, international and interfaith educational programs that address spiritual suffering and transformation at the end of life.  You can learn more about Caryl’s books and work at her website:


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