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Shadow and Leadership with Parker J. Palmer

This post originally appears on 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

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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.”


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 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?


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Thank You from Parker Palmer

parkerpalmer-mail150It’s hard to find just the right way to say THANK YOU to all who blessed me with kind and generous words on my 76th birthday! But please know that I’ve taken in every birthday greeting with gratitude and wonderment. Thanks, too, for supporting the work of the Center for Courage & Renewal with your donations. I donate my time as well as money to the Center, and I’m grateful to everyone who wants to help our work along.

When I began writing 50-plus years ago, I felt as if I were putting messages in bottles and tossing them into the ocean, wondering if they’d ever wash up on distant shores. I’m ever-grateful for all you beachcombers who spotted and opened those little bottles and found meaning inside! More important, thank you for bringing my words to life through YOUR way of being in the world. Without YOU—your life, your work, your wisdom—my words would still be bottled up.

I thank my friends and colleagues at the Center for their hard work on this online birthday party—and for the mind, heart and soul they put into our work day in and day out. You can meet the Center’s dedicated staff at Special thanks to Terry Chadsey, Executive Director, for his tireless efforts to orchestrate our global symphony—and to Karen Rauppius and Shelly Francis who pulled together this three-day hoopla and give the Center a lively online presence all year long.

Special thanks also to the 230 facilitators who lead Courage & Renewal programs across the U.S., as well as in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, with a spin-off program in South Korea. Learn more about these good people and the great work they do with folks in many walks of life at

Finally, I want to thank Marcy Jackson and Rick Jackson, founding co-directors of the Center, without whom the Center would not exist. In 1997, it became clear that we had to build and maintain an organization to sustain this work. I am lacking in the gifts required for that task. But it was my great fortune to have two dear friends who have those gifts—and many others—in abundance. On behalf of everyone who values Courage & Renewal, thank you Marcy and Rick for putting wheels on these ideas.

As a way of thanking everyone who came to this party, here’s one of my favorite poems. Anne Hillman’s words capture much of what I believe our work is about—learning to embrace uncertainty, helping to birth new life, daring to be human, opening ourselves to beauty, and growing in love…


Parker Palmer
Founder & Senior Partner


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A Birthday Celebration for Parker Palmer and a Chance to Say Thanks! Day 3

UPDATE: You made the Parker Party a huge success! Thank you so much for sharing the love around Parker’s 76th Birthday. Here’s a letter of thanks from Parker:
THANK YOU, from Parker Palmer

Today is the LAST DAY of the Parker Appreciation Party :(
(It’s okay. If you subscribe to our newsletter, you can get monthly updates about the ways Parker’s ideas are showing up in the world, plus opportunities to experience a Circle of Trust in retreat, and more. Sign up here.)

For someone who’s turning ??, Parker Palmer has sure been busy this past year! In honor of Parker’s birthday, February 28th, we’re taking a few days to celebrate the highlights of his year and let his friends and fans say thanks.

YOU can wish Parker a Happy Birthday and let Parker know if your life has been touched and transformed by his wisdom. Leave a comment below!

The party is also happening at Facebook where we’ve taken over Parker’s page!

DOUBLE-donation-CLICKHEREPlease consider making a special gift to honor Parker on his birthday. Thanks to an anonymous donor, your gift by midnight on March 1 will be DOUBLED!  When you give to the Center for Courage & Renewal, you place Parker’s wisdom in the hands and hearts of more community leaders, teachers, clergy, and doctors. Thank you!

We put wheels on Parker Palmer’s ideas.

Yes, today is the last day of the party. :(  It’s okay. If you subscribe to our newsletter, you can get monthly updates about the ways Parker’s ideas are showing up in the world! Plus opportunities to experience a Circle of Trust in retreat and more. Sign up here.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY from 27 Courage & Renewal Facilitators!!

Dear Parker, enjoy this birthday greeting sent lovingly from the folk at the Kirkridge Fellowship this week. Special thanks to Dan Hines for capturing and sharing!

Two Toasts – a birthday song for Parker Palmer, by Carrie Newcomer

Friends for many years, singer-songwriter Carrie and author-activist Parker have often collaborated. Today, Carrie shares video of her song inspired by Parker’s poem, “Two Toasts,” plus a new poem she wrote, aptly titled, “Another Toast.” Enjoy!

Happy Birthday Parker! I have always loved your poem, “Two Toasts,” and I loved creating a song together based upon that poem. I’m posting a video of that song today for your birthday. I also thought I might post one toast for every year, but that’s a righteous bit of scrolling my friend :-)  But seriously, here is the video, and a few heart felt toasts… sent with love, gratitude, hope and a bit of birthday swagger.

~ Carrie Newcomer

Another Toast
By Carrie Newcomer

Here’s to every horizon before and behind,
All the embers you kept kindling, until there was a flame
Here’s to every new morning that comes boundless and whistling,
To the deep silent places that point toward true north.
Here’s to unexpected kindness, small miracles and wonder,
Good questions that keep us intrigued and alive.
Here’s to songs and stories, poetry and prayers
To the ones you love
And to another good year.

Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists

In March and December, Parker co-facilitated Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists, a program designed especially for emerging leaders to experience a Circle of Trust® and find clarity around their inner leadership. Below, a few people say Thank You to Parker for the life-transforming experience!

thea-cMy experience at the Courage to Lead for Young Leaders retreat was deeply transformative. The sacred space of trust and openness created so skillfully by Parker and the other wonderful facilitators brought power and depth to every moment of our shared time together. I learned to listen to others and to myself in a completely different way, and I am now applying that listening to the purpose of my organization and my role within it. Over those brief few days in Georgia, I felt the weight of overwhelm and burnout I had been carrying for months gently dissolve, and in its place, new seeds of energy and inspiration began to germinate. The retreat truly gave me the courage and renewal I needed to step into the next level of leadership, and continue on my path of doing the work that my soul and the world are asking me to do. I am deeply grateful for the gift of that experience, and all the ways it continues to resonate in my daily life.

Thea Maria Carlson
Director of Programs, Biodynamic Association
Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists, 2014

Bryan and Parker Dear Parker,

I was given a copy of your book Let Your Life Speak about five years ago. More personal growth has been generated from this introduction than almost anything else in my life. Reading your writings made me realize that I was not the only one dealing with a lack of soul care. It is difficult to find one’s way in life unless you can identify someone with similar struggles and learn how they navigated them. Fortunately, you have had the humility and courage to share this knowledge with people like me.

Like many others, you have made a profound impact on my life. Along with close family and friends whom I trust dearly, you are someone who I have invited into my inner circle, whether you know it or not. I have read your other writings and taken part in Courage & Renewal retreats (where I felt blessed to get to meet you in person). The results for my life speak for themselves. After decades of wandering somewhat aimlessly and pursuing others’ dreams for myself, I am now in seminary pursuing a life’s work caring for others. I had known I had unique gifts that allowed me to care for others but I did not value them. I highly doubt I would have the courage to pursue this calling if not for your teachings. I finally was able to give myself permission to live in to who I was created to be.bryan-m

Thank you for all the inspiration and encouragement, and Happy Birthday my friend.

Bryan Mitchell
Seminary Student
Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists, 2014



A birthday haiku for Parker:

You bring light and joy
to all that cross your path. I
am grateful.  Thank you.

- Marcia Lee, Cap Corps
Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists 2014

This photobomb by Parker was at the Cap Corps Midwest retreat in October 2014.  Marcy and Parker led a retreat on “Bridging the Tragic Gap.”

IMG_7768Here’s a poem I wrote recently. Being on retreat twice in the last year with Parker and Marcy really encouraged me to add more creative outlets to my life as well as to add more time for silence. I’m so grateful for the work of the Center for Courage and Renewal!  Thanks, Parker and Happy Birthday!

- Shelly Roder, Cap Corps
Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists 2014


A Poem Reading for Parker’s Birthday, from Tara Reynolds
“The Perfect Heart” by Geof Hewitt

Happy Birthday Parker!
Tara Reynolds
Co-Founder, WholeHeart Inc.
Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists 2014, Academy for Leaders 2014, Courage & Renewal Gateway 2015, and Courage & Renewal Facilitator Preparation Program 2015-16

Happy Birthday Dear Parker! It is an honor and a pleasure to celebrate you, your life and work and all that you have so generously contributed to the work of the Center for Courage & Renewal this past year, not to mention since its founding in 1997.

There are many touching, true, transformational moments I’ve witnessed in retreats we’ve co-facilitated together this year, but I’m going to mention one that goes down in the Courage annals as one of your finest “bloopers” on the Circle of Trust Trail. You probably know which one I’m talking about and I’m sure I’ll hear about it later!

So, here goes:

This “incident” occurred when we were leading a Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists Retreat in March 2014. The retreat was in Wisconsin where it was still cold and wintry and Parker’s car went on the fritz just after he arrived. Now this was a car he loved and at first he had a hard time fathoming that this car could fail him! He finally had the car towed to a town some miles away so it could be fixed while we were leading the retreat. He’d arranged to have someone bring the car back to the retreat center and had told them to call him when it was ready. Truth is, Parker could hardly wait to get his beloved car back.

parker-marcy-islandwoodcircle600Unbeknownst to me, Parker kept his phone on to await the call. Meanwhile, we were in some of the deepest waters of the retreat, talking about the “tragic gap” and about what it takes to stand and act in that gap. Parker was part-way through telling a powerful and moving story from a Civil Rights Pilgrimage that he and Sharon had gone on a couple of years ago when that blessed phone call finally came. Sitting next to him I was astonished at hearing a cell phone go off in the circle, and then realized it was his! I no doubt gave him a disapproving look at which point he grabbed his jacket pocket with the phone in it and squeezed it, as if to tell it to “Quiet Down!” It didn’t, and the ringing continued until it turned over to voicemail. Meanwhile, Parker gamely kept talking as if nothing had happened.

Two minutes later the phone rings again. This time I give him an outright dirty look and said “Give me your phone!” to which he says “no” and again squeezes his jacket with even more urgency as if to say “Shut up already!” But he talks on, his voice speaking with appropriate gravitas for the subject matter. (By this point I’m wondering why he didn’t just turn his phone to “silent” but it turns out his phone was from the Paleozoic era and didn’t have one!)

Another minute goes by and it’s the phone again. But now I’m laughing as Parker—more dogged than ever—is acting as if this annoying intrusion wasn’t really happening. Snickers were heard from others in the circle as we watched our fearless leader plow on, at this point throttling his errant phone while feigning nonchalance. It happened a fourth time at which point I think I said something like, “Why don’t you just go and take your damn phone call?!” He finally did and when he came back we were all grinning and guffawing.

Now Parker will want to refute this tale, and in fact he has his own version of what happened, but I HAVE WITNESSES. So that’s MY story and I’m sticking to it! Happy Birthday Parker!!

Marcy Jackson
Co-Founder and Senior Fellow, Center for Courage & Renewal
Co-Facilitated the Courage to Lead for Young Leaders & Activists 2014

Praise for Parker’s Wisdom

Last winter, Brain Pickings, the blog of well-known writer Maria Popova, featured two articles on Parker Palmer’s books and philosophies. Parker was also named one of thirty “Wise Elders” at Spirituality & Practice. Links to these stories below as well as a birthday poem from long-time friend, Trish Alley.

brain-pickingsParker’s features on Brain Pickings:

The Elusive Art of Inner Wholeness and How to Stop Hiding Our Souls

How to Let Your Life Speak, Discern Your Purpose, and Define Your Own Success

spiritualelderscollage2Spirituality & Practice‘s Living Spiritual Teachers Project and Remembering Spiritual Masters Project shine a spotlight on people from different religious and spiritual traditions. They selected 30 teachers out of the 140 on this site as “wise elders,” including Parker J. Palmer.
See the list here.

Trish Alley -1

Courage for the Deed; Grace for the Doing
Trish Alley

I went to a Quaker School.
Well, it was not very Quaker
the 13 years I was there 47 years ago,
their motto, not then a centerpiece of the curriculum.
It stuck with me, none-the-less,
revived by choices on my life’s journey.
Courage for the Deed; Grace for the Doing.

I didn’t learn real chutzpah until my middle years,
wisdom mined in the center of paradox.
My great grandmother said,
You can’t convince me the meek inherit the earth.
I don’t know.
Humility buys me a lot of time
with my chutzpah.

It takes courage to trust
those habits of the heart.
Renewal is the reward
for self, for us, for now.
Solitude with loving curiosity,
community of shared intention,
it’s what we cannot not do.

With Gratitude on Parker Palmer’s Birthday

Trish Alley
President and Spark of Divine Mischief
WholeHeart, Inc.
Greensboro, Vermont


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A Birthday Celebration for Parker Palmer and a Chance to Say Thanks! Day 2

UPDATE: You made the Parker Party a huge success! Thank you so much for sharing the love around Parker’s 76th Birthday. Here’s a letter of thanks from Parker:
THANK YOU, from Parker Palmer

Today is DAY TWO of the Parker Appreciation Party!
(See Day Three)

For someone who’s turning ??, Parker Palmer has sure been busy this past year! In honor of Parker’s birthday, February 28th, we’re taking a few days to celebrate the highlights of his year and let his friends and fans say thanks.

YOU can wish Parker a Happy Birthday and let Parker know if your life has been touched and transformed by his wisdom. Leave a comment below!

The party is also happening at Facebook where we’ve taken over Parker’s page!

DOUBLE-donation-CLICKHEREPlease consider making a special gift to honor Parker on his birthday. Thanks to an anonymous donor, your gift by midnight on March 1 will be DOUBLED!  When you give to the Center for Courage & Renewal, you place Parker’s wisdom in the hands and hearts of more community leaders, teachers, clergy, and doctors. Thank you!

We put wheels on Parker Palmer’s ideas.

Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit now in paperback

Parkers latest book, originally published in 2011, was re-released in paperback last August with a new Introduction and Discussion Guide. Check out the full Discussion Guide online and read an excerpt from Parkers new introduction on the blog. More information about the book below including Parkers New York Times interview that followed the books release!

Healing the Heart of Democracy: Now available in paperbackHealing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit
(Jossey-Bass, 2011, paperback 2014) by Parker J. Palmer

At a critical time in American life, Palmer looks with realism and hope at how to deal with our political tensions for the sake of the common good—without the shouting, blaming, or defaming so common in our civic organizations and faith communities today.

New York Times Interview with Parker Palmer:
“About two years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a retreat led by the renowned author and activist Parker J. Palmer. The retreat was based on a methodology called a Circle of Trust, drawn from Palmer’s writings, intended to help people step back from the noise of modern life, reflect, and return more centered and effective in their vocations. I was amazed at how, in just two days, this process brought 40 individuals together into respectful and strikingly honest discourse. […]

David Bornstein: What’s at the heart of “Healing the Heart of Democracy”?

Parker J. Palmer: “We the People” have succumbed to divide-and-conquer politics, so we find it difficult or impossible to talk with each other across our lines of difference. When we can’t do that, there’s no “We” in “We the People.” And when there’s no “We,” there’s no way to reach even a rough consensus on the common good or generate the people power necessary to hold our leaders accountable.
Read the full interview at the New York Times

Music and lyrics.  Heart and mind.  Impassioned activist and quiet witness.  These are often held as opposites in our culture and society.  But in Parker’s book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, and the book’s Discussion Guide these “sides” blend to support each other and give us the wisdom, compassion and courage we need for our times.  In his book, Parker urges us to “listen to each other openly and without fear, learning how much we have in common despite our differences” and then to come together in conversation so that we can work together. An important message for us all. Thanks Parker for holding up this message and calling us to our better selves.

Happy Birthday!

Rick Jackson and Megan Scribner
Co-editors of the discussion guide for the paperback edition of Healing the Heart of Democracy

Abide, a song co-written by Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer

The years have seen many collaborations between singer-songwriter Carrie Newcomer and author-activist Parker Palmer. She has appeared in his videos for the Healing the Heart of Democracy Guide and he’s supported her albums. Last April, Carrie Newcomer’s album A Permeable Life was released, featuring a song the two friends wrote together. Listen to “Abide” below and read a note from Carrie too.

 I will bring a cup of water. Here’s the best that I can offer
In the dusk of coming night there is evidence of light.
With the pattering of rain let us bow as if in grace
Consider all the ways we heal, and how the heart can break.

Oh abide with me, where it’s breathless and it’s empty

Yes abide with me and we’ll pass the evening gently.
Stay awake with me and we’ll listen more intently
To something wordless and remaining, sure and ever changing
In the quietness of now

Let us ponder the unknown. What is hidden and what is whole
And finally learn to travel at the speed of our own souls.
There is a living water a spirit cutting through
Always changing always making all things new


There are things I cannot prove, and still somehow I know
It’s like a message in a bottle an unseen hand has thrown.
You don’t have to be afraid, you don’t have to walk alone
I don’t know but I suspect, that it will feel like home



Dear Parker,

It was an honor and delight to include our co-written song “Abide” on A Permeable Life in 2014! Today we celebrate leaning into listening, presence and all the people you’ve touched in the past year!  

~ Carrie Newcomer

Habits of the Heart for Healthy Congregations Retreat facilitated by Parker Palmer

In August, Parker co-facilitated Habits of the Heart, an annual retreat for clergy and faith leaders who seek renewed energy for ministry, courage to lead in the congregation, and practices for building community. There, he spoke on his Five Habits of the Heart. Below a few participants say Thank You to Parker for the gift of his wisdom!

P.S. This year’s Habits of the Heart retreat is open for registration. Details at

My life and future have been profoundly influenced by your work, Parker. I have been able to bring it back to our church community. We have a small group studying A Hidden Wholeness and we are encouraged about educating and equipping our whole community with the possibility of better communication, better citizenship, and more integrity joining soul and community citizen and church member role. I’m thrilled to be attending the upcoming Geography of Grace retreat. I’m a better pastor, a better spouse, a better parent, a better friend, a better citizen for having brought this work into my life. Parker, you have blessed me, and I hope through me to share the blessing to many generations. Happy Birthday and may you enjoy many more years of love, joy, peace and the gift of life. 

Karen Gygax Rodriguez
Pastor, Green Lake, WI
Habits of the Heart for Healthy Congregations 2014

Thank you, Parker. Your words, and your presence, are interwoven so tightly within me and within our community that it is hard to begin to express gratitude. You have given us a framework within which to act, and the encouragement to contemplate the broader view before taking the next best step.

I first met you in Decorah, Iowa, where you and singer/songwriter Carrie Newcomer were exploring the creation of community workshops around your latest book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. I had mentioned our region’s ongoing flood recovery, and our company’s hopes for the future as we build new capabilities in this emerging hyper-connected world. You came to visit, just because you wanted to do so.

Several people had recommended Healing the Heart of Democracy to me. As I read it, I realized that it was a mature and thoughtful work, with a hopeful message and a helpful historical context.

As noted in your book:

“The human heart, this vital core of the human self, holds the power to destroy democracy or to make it whole. That is why our nineteenth-century visitor, Alexis de Tocqueville, insisted in his classic Democracy in America that democracy’s future would depend heavily on generations of American citizens cultivating the habits of the heart that support political wholeness.”

You then explored those habits that will best cause democracy to flourish:

  1. An understanding that we are all in this together
  2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness”
  3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
  4. A sense of personal voice and agency
  5. A greater capacity to create community

While the book made me think, participating in the workshop strengthened my resolve to pursue this direction. It is up to each of us to cultivate these habits, and to join with others to make our communities thrive. However, for many of us these productive and constructive habits run counter to our tendency to be an “audience” treating democracy as a spectator sport.

As you noted in the book, and called out to me in person, mainstream media exacerbates those tendencies by briefly and rapidly focusing on what is going wrong, thus dissuading many from participating in the process. Our company believes it is not enough to only shine a light on issues – we must have the intentionality to help our communities resolve those issues and help create the context, understanding and potential connections to facilitate progress.

Each of us can explore your ideas by reading Healing the Heart of Democracy, or by beginning to practice these habits. By joining together with others who are also practicing these habits, we can build thriving communities, and create a democracy reflecting our better natures.

Thank you and Sharon for being with us. And thank you for deeply grounding me in The Promise of Paradox.

Chuck Peters
President, The Gazette Company
Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Habits of the Heart for Healthy Congregations 2014

This Möbius strip, from the London Borough of Islington, birthplace of our first grandchild, is for you.Mobius

Dear Parker

stone-sand-manley-tannisI have always been drawn to and collected stones. The work we did in Geneva Lake, WI, with the invitation to bring a stone helped sanction my addiction (!), and the encouragement to embrace metaphor in the Courage work had led me to work a little more with stone as a symbol: solidity, time, ancestors, the Church, my own history. At that 2013 gathering I was fortunate to be in a group with someone I now consider to be a treasured friend and colleague, and Joseph was able to ask me some open and honest questions that allowed me to develop the image even further. The setting of the ministry I had begun just prior, is an historic site, a limestone building, and part of the Red River Settlement story of western Canada. Joseph shared some of his knowledge of limestone – as a life-giving stone, soft, and helpful, when crushed, for ‘sweetening the soil’ of fields about to be planted. I felt a true sense of being exactly where I needed to be – at that event, and in my new congregation.

s-manley-tannisA year later and Holding the Tensions of Ministry was the theme. I recognized one tension that I carry in the very first session of story-telling and listening. Again, Joseph asked me the question of how I would describe my leadership and instantly I said ‘soft’. The word came out with what was probably close to a sneer – and laden with baggage. As a ‘sensitive’, woman in ministry, having suffered with depression, still seen to be ‘young’ in my denomination (despite being categorized as ‘middle-aged’ by society’s terms!) and even questioned about whether I use my authority enough, ‘soft’ did not seem a very positive attribute. Memories of being told by teachers or others in leadership that I would have to ‘toughen up’ came flooding back and suddenly the weight of that tension broke open. In my journal that evening I was able to ask the question, ‘what is this reaction to the word ‘soft’ about?’

In your talk the following day you explored the image of living in the ‘tragic gap’, of being in the world with hearts broken open as opposed to shattered. And once again there was a connection for me, a gift in being able to SEE what that tension was – and how I could not only hold it, but celebrate it. The ‘softness’ in my leadership began to change throughout that day – (at least, how I viewed it) – and continued to be ‘broken open’ in our fish-bowl sharing, as you offered up yet another image – that of Henri Nouwen’s ‘wounded healer’; the word ‘vulnerability’ suddenly was not a negative, but a gift.

little-britain-united-church-manitoba-manley-tannisSo, the process of the circle and your words offered my inner wisdom, in a vulnerable moment, the space to see the softness in a new way. The exquisite hope and fear of being in the midst of a ‘breaking open’ moment, was honoured by you in a caring, safe and humble way. And that has allowed me to do some more work – reclaiming, reimagining, revisioning the concept of soft: soft is not the opposite of strong; soft is not about being a pushover; kindness is not weak; even the stones, strong enough to build structures to house our pasts, are soft enough to be shaped by time; and even hard boulders will give way, will break open, and will become sand.

So, thank you. Thank you for your gifts. Thank you for sharing them.
Happy Birthday

Shelly Manley-Tannis
Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Habits of the Heart for Healthy Congregations 2014

Dear Parker,

When I doubt or give into what I should do, I go back to your words, “I cannot give what I do not possess, so I need to know what gifts have grown up within me that are now ready to be harvested and shared. If the gifts I have are mine, grown from the seed of true self, I can give them without burning out. Like the fruit of a tree, they will replenish themselves in due season.” All I need is within. The universe is not through with me yet. 

Sue and Dan ParillaAt the Siena Center in August, we had some precious time to talk one-on-one. We shared family stories. I have thought of myself as someone who could be present with others, but you showed me how I could continue to grow. I am grateful for that time with you.

The photo I include is of me and my son, Daniel, who I told you about and has also benefited from your words.

Happy birthday, Parker. The light in you has brightened the flame within many others.

~)<  Sue Parilla 

D-Day Touchstones

Dear Parker:

Words cannot describe the depth of my gratitude for God’s grace and guidance that I have experienced through the Circles of Trust and related spiritual practices. Your influence through the Center for Courage & Renewal and especially Karen Jackson and John Fenner has forever changed my life and deepened and renewed God’s call as a husband, father and minister.

Thanks to you and others, the spiritual practices captured in the Touchstones have become a significant part of my daily life personally and professionally as a minister serving the John Knox Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC. This was especially true on one of the most significant days of my summer sabbatical in 2012. On D-Day, June 6, my family and I attended the Anniversary Ceremony at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France. After the ceremony we walked to Omaha Beach. To my surprise, my initial focus was on the hundreds of pebbles dotting the shore. My immediate thought was “The Touchstones!” Later that night as I prayerfully reflected on the experiences of the day I wrote in my journal, “praying the Touchstones may create the space where peace may abide and not conflict, in order to avoid the sorrows of war.” I pray that the more we as individuals and countries across the world live out the principles of the Touchstones, the less likely there will ever be another D-Day!

Also, I will forever be grateful for the experience that the Center of Courage & Renewal afforded me professionally to help fund the Circles of Trust project “Connecting Hearts” in the life of John Knox. One of the many highlights was sharing that experience with my own daughter Erin.  

Erin’s words are a witness of how the work of the Center for Courage & Renewal is reaching across the generations of the Church, the Body of Christ that she feels called to serve as a minister also: “As a young adult standing at a cross-roads both professionally and spiritually, I felt the nudges of the Holy Spirit leading me to enter into a new life phase.  When I look back on the journey to ordained ministry, Connecting Hearts was one of the most pivotal experiences of spiritual discernment I have had. I’m so very grateful that God worked through John Knox to offer a time of meaningful contemplation in a trusted community (Circles of Trust) poised to hear the Spirit’s whisper in each other. I currently still engage in these spiritual practices that I learned then to approach the twists and turns on the journey of life and faith now.”

I am forever grateful for the seeds of vocation and spiritual renewal you and others from the Center for Courage & Renewal have planted not only in my heart, but in my daughter’s and thousands of others! May the seeds continue to sprout and grow!

Happy Birthday from the grateful heart of an old farm boy pastor,

Joseph Gaston
Habits of the Heart for Healthy Congregations 2014

DdayTouchstonesPebbles dot the shore of Omaha Beach as Joseph reflects with his wife Karen, daughter-in-law Rebekah and son Caleb.  

Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach, foreword by Parker Palmer

In May, Parker authored the foreword in a new poetry book for educators called Teaching with Heart, edited by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner, both longtime friends of Parker and the Center. In Teaching with Heart, a diverse group of ninety teachers describe the complex of emotions and experiences of the teaching life. Learn more below and see a birthday note from Megan and Sam.

teachingwithheartcoverIn 2001 we sat in Parker’s living room in Madison and dreamed up the basic idea that became our first poetry book Teaching with Fire. Parker selected Marge Piercy’s “The low road” as his submission for the book. The poem celebrates the power of community and partnership. One line in the poem reads, “Three people are a delegation, a committee, a wedge.” Yes, we are! Over the years, the three of us have worked on many projects together. We have been a committee, a team, and through it all, it has been alive with laughter and the satisfaction that comes from doing meaningful work.


Parker’s roles in Teaching with Fire, Leading from Within and Teaching with Heart have run the gamut from wise advisor to author of moving Forewords and Introductions. Running through all these books, and the work he does each and every day, is his love and support of teachers. He understands and sees them as “culture heroes, the true first responders in our society.”  No teacher could ask for a better voice of support.  And we could not ask for a better friend and colleague. Thanks Parker!  Happy Birthday!

Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner

Editors, Teaching with Heart (2014)

Tears of Silence, foreword by Parker Palmer

In November, (after swearing off forewords forever) Parker authored the foreword in a new release of Jean Vanier’s Tears of Silence. Inspired by the similar themes these two great thinkers have explored through their life’s work, Courage & Renewal Facilitator Dan Hines created a video interview series with both men.

tearsofsilenceHi friends,

Here is a link to a 35-minute conversation with Parker about the writer/humanitarian/philosopher Jean Vanier. I was teaching a summer course about the works (with interview material) of both Parker and Jean and wondered about their thoughts concerning one another. I’ve valued some written comments from Jean about Parker; it was good to receive these recorded thoughts from Parker about the contribution that Jean has made (and also some reflections about their shared friend, Henri Nouwen). I included some photos of Jean’s life and presence along with Parker’s audio.

Gratitude to Parker for the time and for permission to post this chat together.

Dan Hines
Coach / Consultant / Minister / Courage & Renewal Facilitator

Later, Dan followed up Parker’s interview about Jean — he chatted with Jean about Parker and about community and aging:

Lessons in Belonging from a Church-Going Commitment Phobe, foreword by Parker Palmer

With foreword by Parker Palmer, this new book by young author and Courage & Renewal Facilitator, Erin Lane, explores the messy business of belonging. Part memoir, part cultural analysis of the church, all heartfelt reflection on what it means to be in community, this book is a true joy. Read an excerpt on our blog. A special thank you from Erin below.

Erin-Lane_Lessons-in-Belonging-from-a-Church-going-commitment-phobeThanks to folks at the Center for giving me new insight these last three years into the structure of belonging. I want to name especially Marcy Jackson, John Fenner, Faye Orton Snyder, Caryl Casbon, and members of my facilitator cohort for reading early sections of the work and allowing me to write with honesty about our Courage & Renewal work and how it has taught me to become an agent of belonging both within the church and beyond. Of course, I’m grateful too for Parker agreeing to write the foreword when he should have known better.

A little more about the book: As evidenced by the growing population of religious nones, belonging to the church and other worshiping bodies has become a lost art, especially among my generation. But it’s not simply that we’ve chosen not to belong. I think we’ve forgotten how. Lessons in Belonging is about remembering how to belong to God’s people – and often failing. It’s a story about my search for a church home as a Catholic feminist in the American south. It’s a story about becoming a pastor’s wife before I became myself. It’s a story about trying to make friends when friends are making babies. So, too, is it a story about enduring community when it’s awkward, and small talk suffocates and the preacher gives bad sermons and the suffering of strangers feels intrusive. Still, we offer our pained lives to one another like bread and say, “Take. Eat. I belong to you.” My hope is that this book will point other twenty- and thirty-somethings to this work and continue to seed our beloved community for years to come.

Erin Lane
Author / Blogger / Courage & Renewal Facilitator / Assistant Program Director for Clergy & Congregational Leader Programs

We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope, contribution by Parker Palmer

Parker Palmer contributed his essay, “A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue,” to We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope, a new collection of essays to celebrate the Centenary of Thomas Merton’s birth, January 31, 1915.

Parker writes:

I met Thomas Merton a year after he died. I met him through his writing and through the communion that lies “beyond words,” met him in the seamless way good friends meet again after a long time apart. Without Merton’s friendship and the hope it has given me over the past forty-five years, I’m not sure I could have kept faith with my vocation, even as imperfectly as I have.

You can read the entire essay online at

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A Birthday Celebration for Parker Palmer and a Chance to Say Thanks!

UPDATE: You made the Parker Party a huge success! Thank you so much for sharing the love around Parker’s 76th Birthday. Here’s a letter of thanks from Parker:
THANK YOU, from Parker Palmer

Today is DAY ONE of the Parker Appreciation Party!
(See Day Two)

For someone who’s turning ??, Parker Palmer has sure been busy this past year! In honor of Parker’s birthday, February 28th, we’re taking a few days to celebrate the highlights of his year and let his friends and fans say thanks.

YOU can wish Parker a Happy Birthday and let Parker know if your life has been touched and transformed by his wisdom. Leave a comment below!

The party is also happening at Facebook where we’ve taken over Parker’s page!

DOUBLE-donation-CLICKHEREPlease consider making a special gift to honor Parker on his birthday. Thanks to an anonymous donor, your gift by midnight on March 1 will be DOUBLED!  When you give to the Center for Courage & Renewal, you place Parker’s wisdom in the hands and hearts of more community leaders, teachers, clergy, and doctors. Thank you!

We put wheels on Parker Palmer’s ideas.

OnBeing and PopTech Rebellion

Since March, Parker has written weekly columns for On Being with Krista Tippett, an award-winning national radio conversation, podcast, and website. There, Parker lends his voice to one of the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? Then, in October, Parker and fellow On Being columnist Courtney Martin took the stage with Krista at the PopTech Conference to speak on the theme of “The Inner Life of Rebellion,” which became the number one podcast in On Beings history! You can listen to that podcast below.

Click here for the conversation transcript

Messages to Parker

poptech-becky-sI had the privilege of getting to know Parker Palmer through my work at PopTech. He was one of the speakers at PopTech 2015 and had a wonderfully insightful conversation with Krista Tippett and Courtney Martin on stage. (Listen here:

At PopTech, I participated in On Being’s Audio Selfie project. I shared a story from a few years back related to my cancer diagnosis. (I am now cured.) I talked about how the tough love of a medical technician motivated me to face my illness head on — to ask questions and become knowledgeable about an unavoidable crappy situation. While my illness was never a secret, it certainly wasn’t something I broadcasted. When my Audio Selfie was posted online a few weeks following the PopTech conference, I felt vulnerable. It was terrifying to share something that personal with the Internet, an audience that we all know can be inexplicably cruel. Parker Palmer responded to my story on On Being’s Facebook page with a message of genuine support and compassion. The fact that he took the time to listen to my story and send encouragement my way meant the world to me. Afterwards, I didn’t feel as anxious. I felt proud to have had the courage to share an experience that meant so much to me.

Thank you Parker for your encouragement, and have a Happy Birthday!

Becky Sennett
PopTech Director of Communications


I spent a lot of my 20s on the look out for heroes. I wanted to know the rules on how to live. I wanted to see them enacted by noble men and women who had figured things out. Truth be told, I wanted to be a sort of hero myself. I had this sense that I just need needed to learn the “right” way to live and then have the willpower to do it. The reward would be sureness.

What I discovered, instead, was Parker Palmer. And Gloria Steinem. And Cheryl Strayed. And Krista Tippet…and all these incredible humans who refuse sureness, who deny the existence of “right,” who laud ritual over rules, instincts over ideology, love and complexity above all else. Parker’s work is an anchor for me. His way of being a writer, in his little office and in the world, is a powerful model of how I want to live.

And then there’s the actual guy. My friend. The guy I can sit beside on a stage, as we did last fall at PopTech!, and try to offer something imperfect but genuine, something spoken across generations and genders, something made hearty because it is rooted in real friendship. It was one of my most favorite moments for so many reasons, but one of them was the sense that friendship, made public, is so much more edifying than performance.

So happy birthday to my mentor, not-hero hero, my friend. I’m so grateful that you’re in my life and in the world.

Courtney_Martin_headshot_1Courtney E. Martin
Author / Speaker / Entrepreneur

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Courage to Lead Invitational Retreat

In February last year, Parker co-facilitated an annual Courage to Lead retreat for thirty-five community leaders from across the globe who were invited to experience a Circle of Trust® with Parker and Marcy, two co-founders of the Center for Courage & Renewal. It was an unforgettable journey of self-discovery for the participants, who included a rich blend of nonprofit founders, educational leaders, business executives, and medical directors, among others. Below, a few participants say Thank You to Parker for all they’ve learned!

One year ago, and I’m still reveling in the time we spent together in retreat at IslandWood…

Dear Parker,

In my first year of college, I struggled to belong to the institution of which I found myself a part. I was confused when the word “tight knit community” was used to describe the life from which I felt estranged. When I spoke with one of my deans, she said, “Andrew, I really think you will enjoy Parker Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak; I can lend you my copy if you want.” I read the book. I re-read it and got my own copy, gave that away, and got a new one. It is the question, “Is the life that I am living the same as the one that wants to live in me?” that has helped me discern my journey through the monstrous maze that characterizes college. At a crucial stage when many young people my age are bereft of authentic eldership, your courage to share your own story gave me courage to belong to mine instead of running away from its vicissitudes.

andrewwithparkerLittle did I know then that our paths would cross at a retreat at IslandWood in Bainbridge. My experience in a Circle of Trust showed me what it meant to be held in community. Your reflections about the ‘tragic gap’ have inspired a more generative belonging in my college than one that was filled merely with rebellion, burnout and ambivalence. Not forgetting your humor, of course…I remember laughing, not necessarily at your jokes (even though I like the Quaker oats & Quaker PowerPoint one), but at how you simply crack yourself up! If I’m going to spend a great deal of time in the tragic gap, why not crack myself up while in there. Anyways, my time at the retreat inspired courage in me to direct a youth leadership camp in Uganda last summer, which brought twenty-nine young leaders from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania in dialogue across ethnic, religious and gender differences.

I’m left with a year and a half in college now, and I am glad I listened to my life speak. Even when I forget to do so now and again, even when I lose sight of my way, I’ve learned to trust the seasons of my own life journey and the wisdom they bring as a gift. Incidentally, I’ve never been in a place like the Northeast where I’ve witnessed the four seasons in their intensity. I share the rage with you towards the cold dark winters… they make me remember Uganda where the rest of my family lives. Without the guidance of your teachings though, I might probably have missed the lessons hidden within the seasons here in the Northeast and in my own inner landscape.

Thank you for sharing your gifts, Parker. A very Happy Birthday to you from miles away.

May the long time sun shine upon you
All love surround you
And the pure light within you
Guide your way on.
~Farewell blessing

With love and gratitude,
Andrew Nalani, Dartmouth College
(Kampala, Uganda)

Joan BladesThere is so much I appreciate about you, Parker, and your influence on our work at Living Room Conversations. You have articulated what we are working to do so beautifully. I often try to channel you when speaking and writing. And we are deeply honored to count you as a partner. Parker, you have deepened my appreciation for the power of listening and reminded me to take time for poetry. And sometimes I feel like a little kid I want so badly to share the beautiful healing conversations being done by partners and see you smile with appreciation! I am so grateful to count you as a friend, Parker, and wish you the happiest of birthdays!

Joan Blades
Living Room Conversations

Two weeks ago, I was afforded the opportunity to lead a Fearless Dialogues workshop with a select group of my Emory University’s Board of Trustees, my dean, and the university provost. In this one-hour session, I utilized a full-sensory teaching style to share my research about muteness and invisibility, and invite my fellow sojourners in the room to reflect on moments in their lives when they felt unseen and unheard. In this Laboratory of Discovery (which is built on many of the principles in a “Circle of Trust”), the trustees shared deep and personal experiences of times that they felt unacknowledged.  To affirm their vulnerability and lead us to more intimate exchange, I shared Parker’s words, “We are now connecting soul-to-soul, and not role-to-role.”

To my surprise, at the end of this session, the university provost informed me that I had earned tenure and I had been promoted to Associate professor. In glee, I tossed my baseball cap in the air. Seconds after the cap hit the ground, an older stone-faced trustee commented, “Greg, it’s just a role. Don’t let it take your soul.”

Cousin Parker, thank you for your wisdom, friendship, and lessons that ground me even when you are not in the room. Happy 76th!

Antoinette and Gregory Ellison II

Ms. Sharon took this picture of my wife and I at the Courage to Lead invitational retreat in 2014.

cloudHappy Birthday Parker,

So many times I rely on “a third thing”, when I want to meditate, and go deeper with my thoughts. This has been a wonderful tool that I use for my journaling and bringing other people together. Another gift from youI often quote you from Healing the Heart of Democracy. I have moved to the city, and make an effort to get to know my neighbors. They are all ages, all economic levels (including homeless), and all part of my community. I value their personal stories, and their joys and struggles. It is apparent to me, also, that you are correct that my adult children indeed consider The Mall as their community, which closes out unwanted people and issues. I can clearly state my thoughts, share my concerns, and live into an undivided life. Thank you! And Happy Birthday!

Carolyn Workman

natalieorDear Parker,

Many congratulations on your 76th birthday!  The lessons of deeply listening continue to unfold for me.  I would like to extend my great appreciation to you for how your work is changing the face of the world.

With best wishes,
Natalie Orfalea

Dear Parker,

It doesn’t seem that long ago when we were at IslandWood for the Invitational Courage to Lead retreat and celebrating your last birthday!

I want to share two things about you and your work that I appreciate to this day. First, I very much appreciate your book Healing the Heart of Democracy. I was at city hall this week with a great mix of committed city and community leaders and I was compelled to share a little bit about Healing the Heart of Democracy, its underlying theme and how important it is that we continue to engage the challenging issues of our community.

Secondly, I appreciate your fondness for kids. Twenty-two months ago my wife and I became grandparents for the first time, and I remember from your presentation at Benaroya Hall in Seattle your thoughts about talking with 3-year-olds. You suggested that we ask them questions, listen intently to their answers and then remember to be the one who’s wildly crazy about him or her. Then later, at the IslandWood retreat, we had a brief conversation over breakfast about the joys of being a grandparent. Thank you and Happy Birthday Parker!


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Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do: Stories of Living Divided No More

Parker wrote a beautiful essay for this new book, which quilts together stories of the many ways people are embodying Parker’s ideas about wholeness. Let the Beauty We Love was published in April 2014, and was curated by Sally Z. Hare and Megan LeBoutillier, two facilitators who have worked alongside Parker since the beginning of Courage & Renewal! Sally wanted to let Parker know how much she appreciates his contribution…

sallyhare_book_2014Dear Parker,

Thank you for the beautiful piece you wrote on “The Movement Way” for our book, Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do: Stories of Living Divided No More.

I knew your words would add so much to our book, and I was thinking of them as a “grace note.” When we decided to use a quilting metaphor for our book, I researched to find the right term – and learned that an embellishment is to a quilt what a grace note is to a musical composition. So with great delight we added to our cover, “with an embellishment by Parker J. Palmer.”

An embellishment adds interest to a quilt, and that has certainly been the case with our book. Thanks not only to your embellishment, but even more, to your writing and work that is the ground on which the entire book stands, we are taking our work out into the world. We recently received news that we made several Top 100 lists in Amazon.

With much love and gratitude,


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Courage & Renewal Global Gathering

Last April, Parker joined over a hundred Courage & Renewal Facilitators as they convened in Minneapolis for the annual Courage Global Gathering. The conference was organized by the Center for Courage & Renewal and led by two facilitators, Caryl Casbon and Ken Saxon. Below, Caryl Casbon shares a poem she wrote for Parker and read at that event.

The Man With Two Last Names
Caryl Ann Casbon

The first time I met this gangly, mid western Quaker,
I thought, “At last, a teacher of questions!”
How do you listen to the voice of the soul?
Who are you, and Whose are you?
His call: to live the questions, to live

—divided no more.

Fierce defender of the inner life, he opines: the soul
reveals her substance in the seasons’ cycles, thrives in silence.
It’s never a waste of time to nurture your soul, but cautions:
she cares more about your growth than safety, image or success.
She loves it when you take a risk.
He urges you to:

—welcome the wild animal of your soul.

Cracking himself up with goof-ball jokes fit for middle school boys,
he quotes saws from his father:
Remember, Parker, today’s peacock is tomorrow’s feather duster.
If you spot it, you got it.
He points out:

—you teach who you are.

Parker weighs in on his Wisconsin winters,
the dark nights that almost extinguished his light.
When depressed, you don’t have darkness,
you are darkness.
The seeds of your future gestate in this place,
if you make it through.
He encourages you to:

—let your life speak.

He cautions that when you seek light without darkness,
it is artificial, like yellow neon lights in a garage,
so different than sunlight on an icicle at dawn.
No matter how grueling, strive to hold the tensions,
but sometimes create them.
Listen sincerely to others’ stories:

—then stand in the Tragic Gap.

At the peak of intensity in a Hopi Indian Sun Dance
a clown appears, unexpected, shocking,
tossing candy at worshipers,
disturbing the ego’s attachments.

At end of the day, Parker Palmer leads
the sacred dance in a circle
where Truth and trust are found in the Spirit within us,
among us, through us, where dwells
hospitality for the unknown self, the unknown Other,
where he urges us to realize:

—the Word made Flesh.

Parker with Caryl Casbon at the 2014 Courage Global Gathering

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A Thank You from Terry Chadsey

Terry Chadsey, Executive Director of the Center for Courage & Renewal, shares his birthday message for Parker below.

Dear Parker,

As Director of the Center you founded, I daily witness the impacts of your teaching on the lives and work of thousands around the globe. This was punctuated recently in a lovely way.

I joined a group of 80 thoughtful leaders convened by Echoing Green to begin to define the emerging “field of purpose.” The first morning we collectively built a historic timeline of “purpose.”

There wasn’t much on the chart when a woman I didn’t know stepped up and wrote on the timeline, “1999: Parker Palmer writes Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation” and there were murmurs of agreement around the room.

terry-catalystHappy Birthday, Parker!
With love and gratitude,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director, Center for Courage & Renewal

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A Mom Advocates for Wholeness in Health Care

Cristin and her son, GabeCristin Lind’s son, Gabe, has multiple chronic health conditions and complex needs. She remembers the moment, standing in her kitchen, when she shifted from mom to advocate.

“I had spent years caring for Gabe, but in a passive way. I didn’t understand that I was in the driver’s seat. I was surrounded by smart people and was happy to do whatever they told me to do.”

But one day while talking with her husband about his possible job promotion, she said maybe it would be a chance to quit her job and devote herself full time to figuring out Gabe’s needs.

“It felt different in my whole body when I said that. Once the words were out I knew there was no going back. I had seen a truth and couldn’t deny it anymore.”

That moment led to a year of intense advocacy looking into Gabe’s needs. And feeling moved to make it easier for other people. Cristin wondered if navigating the healthcare system was so difficult for her—someone with social capital and other strengths—what must it be like for other parents?

“Health is woven into the cloth of life, and to divide it into separate pieces labeled ‘school’ and ‘work’ and ‘family’ unravels the entire fabric,” said Cristin. “Yet the very systems meant to support my son, Gabriel, often tried to do just that. Accessing and coordinating his services became a greater challenge than his actual condition.”

Care mapping is a tool and a process Cristin created to stay organized and communicate with her son’s care team, including teachers, friends, and family. Click to learn more.

“As we nurtured this sense of interconnectedness, our whole family’s health and lives improved,” Cristin said. “But it was hard to enjoy what we had created when we saw disparity in among our extended family, our friends and our neighbors. My desire for a sense of interconnectedness and wholeness in Gabe’s life expanded to a desire for wholeness for everyone, everywhere.”

In March 2014, Cristin attended the Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists retreat. She came with the question of how to cope with the struggle of being a healthcare advocate.

As parent of a child with special needs, you get the message to be a mama bear, to be fierce and not back down...“Most of the people teaching me about advocacy had an Us vs. Them mentality,” Cristin said. “As parent of a child with special needs, you get the message to be a mama bear, to be fierce and not back down, to think you’re the expert. You’re told that to do this advocacy well means you have to fight.

“But it simply felt wrong to be fighting my child’s teachers and doctors. They were trying to do their best, but often the systems they were working in tied their hands. I felt that fighting can’t be the way. There’s not enough power to go around. If parents have to fight to get more power, change won’t happen in my lifetime.”

“There’s something beautiful about being the voice for people who haven’t found their own voice, or working for equality and social justice. But the Us vs. Them perception is not a useful paradigm. I think of myself more as a partner when I’m doing my work.”

Cristin found her heart’s truth after attending the Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists retreat. During the retreat, Parker Palmer shared stories about his trips to the South during the Civil Rights movement. He said, “We realized that the struggle wasn’t between blacks and whites, it was the struggle between people who understood and people who didn’t understand.”

“As I talked to Parker, he mentioned wholeness of the heart and I suddenly understood. Healthcare advocacy is about those who understand the wholeness of people – even health care professionals – and those who don’t.

quote-cristin-gift“It was powerful for me to let go of the idea of my advocacy work being a struggle. I thought, I’ve been given this amazing opportunity as Gabe’s mom to understand the need for wholeness. I saw that if I could bring wholeness instead of trying to fight, then it would be okay.

“To be given the opportunity to get so clear on your own truth – that’s such a gift. That’s what the Center is offering,” Cristin said. “I hope as many people as possible get that opportunity.”

Cristin explained, “For me, the retreat was really transformational. I had a lot of thoughts and ideas inside me all the time, but I wasn’t brave enough to let them bubble up. The retreat carved out a space for me to let those thoughts bubble up. Having access to the wisdom of Parker Palmer and Marcy Jackson – to be guided by such high level teachers – was a very powerful experience.” Read more …

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