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Coming Out and the Courage to Be Real

“We all have closets,” says Ash Beckham. “All a closet is, is a hard conversation, and although our topics may vary tremendously, the experience of being in and coming out of the closet is universal. It is scary, and we hate it, and it needs to be done.”

In this video, she talks about the “easiest hard conversation” she ever had. It was easy because she was real.

“I’ll give you 100 reasons why coming out of my closet was harder than coming out of yours,” Ash says, “but here’s the thing: Hard is not relative. Hard is hard.

“At some point in our lives, we all live in closets, and they may feel safe, or at least safer than what lies on the other side of that door. But I am here to tell you, no matter what your walls are made of, a closet is no place for a person to live.”

Ash offers us her three “Pancake Girl” principles.
Be authentic. Take the armor off. Be yourself.
Be direct. Just say it. Rip the Band-Aid off.
• Most important: Be unapologetic. You are speaking your truth. Never apologize for that.

“We know it’s hard but we need you out here, no matter what your walls are made of, because I guarantee you there are others peering through the keyholes of their closets looking for the next brave soul to bust a door open, so be that person and show the world that we are bigger than our closets and that a closet is no place for a person to truly live.”

As a straight, white professional male, the closets I’ve found myself in have been facing painful moments in close relationships, failures in my work or being “the other” in a group. In each case the smugness and confidence born of my privilege is suddenly gone. Sometimes I quietly close the closet door and withdraw. Sometimes I let myself be vulnerable, admit that I do not know what to do and step into the conversation — and then I find my whole self moving forward in ways I could not imagine moments before.

We believe in being real. In taking the risk to be vulnerable.

How do you find the courage to step out of your closets?

P.S. Courage & Renewal programs are places to be real and find the courage you need for conversations of all kinds. See our calendar for upcoming programs and retreats.

This blog is a mirror of our August Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe to our monthly mailings here.

A Call to Teach for Equity

chip-wood_teaching_for_equitySome say education is the civil rights issue of our time. Robert Moses, of the Algebra Project, says children are the civil rights issue of this century. “In this 21st Century,” he said, “we need to include the children. They need to have a constitutional right to an education in this country.”

Teaching for Equity is a new book by The Origins Program that introduces approaches for eliminating the learning opportunity gap for children whose experiences each year in elementary school leave them further and further behind their peers. The book—written by Courage & Renewal facilitator Chip Wood and his colleague Linda Crawford—is for elementary teachers and teacher leaders, school administrators and specialists, teacher educators, school families and school advocates who work to find or create a more just and equitable elementary school education for students.

We shared a common purpose with thousands for a national education agenda that would level the educational playing field for all, and we have seen, instead, widening learning gaps that primarily impact students living in poverty and students of color. Models of instruction feature external modes of assessment, standardized practice for standardized testing, and sorting, classifying, and isolating students, teachers, and schools by performance on standardized tests. All of these practices have not worked to close the so-called “achievement gap.”

To create an equitable foundation for learning, certain school and classroom conditions and experiences are necessary to meet the basic needs of students for autonomy, competence, relationship, community, and play.

Teaching for Equity explores seven strands of practice that grow equity in education:

1. Personalized learning
2. Personalizing whole-class learning
3. Partnership
4. Attuned student-teacher relationships
5. Enhanced communication
6. Teacher integrity
7. Relational trust among adults, including student families

Provided these dynamic, interrelated social and cognitive pathways, children will grow in self-confidence; in self-regulation; in their capacity to learn for themselves, from their teacher, and from each other; and in their capacity to question. They will learn to work together productively, to care for each other, and to enjoy story, movement, music, poetry, drama, and image-making integrated with academic learning. They will learn how to listen—to be an audience, to learn the meaning of “me,” “us,” “we,” and that how we are different creates our traditions and our cultures.

These practices, founded on decades of classroom experience and on ongoing research, address children’s needs for autonomy, competence, relationship, community, and play. The book offers practical ways to link your standards, curriculum, lessons, instructional approaches, and your professional and personal growth to these equity-building practices.

Order here and view sample chapters:

Teaching for Equity by Linda Crawford and Chip Wood. The Origins Program: Education for Equity, headquartered in Minneapolis, has been working since 1979 to provide teachers and schools around the country with professional development for classroom teaching focused on arts-infusion and multicultural approaches.

Singing for Social Justice & Compassion

“Her songs are attuned to the still, small voice of the soul,” says Parker Palmer. Others have described her as a “minister of the wide-eyed gospel of hope.”

Our good friend Carrie Newcomer, singer/songwriter and social justice activist, is a shining light of love and compassion. She believes kindness can save the world and proves that one person can make a difference by singing with her true voice. Check out this video profile of Carrie at Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, a PBS program.

Food, Friends & Real Talk About Life After Loss

The Dinner Party Manifesto. Go to the website.We spent a lot of time in our early days around the question of, “Is this a grief group or isn’t it?” and trying to understand what we were and were not qualified to do. We read books and studies and talked to lots of people with letters after their names. We soon realized the answer to the grief group question was a pretty definitive, “no”. There are lots of highly trained people who are expert in handling trauma and working with the bereaved, and we’re not trying to replace them. This isn’t about fixing, or advice-giving, or even coaching. It’s not really even about grieving, at least not in the traditional sense. None of us are qualified to tell someone what they need; hell, most of us are still figuring out that out for ourselves, and struggling to pay close attention when our personal needs change. When we hear of someone wanting to “help others through the same experience I went through,” our eyebrows furrow. We’re interested in creating accessible spaces where you can “speak your truth” with peers, or more to the point, friends.

There is perhaps no greater champion of the “no-advice-giving” rule than Parker Palmer, founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. Palmer is best-known as the author of The Courage to Teach, and the person who made it okay to talk in corporate retreats and other secular settings about  “the soul” and living what he calls “a divided life”. Among the celebrated voices in the self-help world, whose soundbites litter the cover of O Magazine and call to mind Tom Cruise’s character in Magnolia, he is neither a kook nor a salesman; he makes no attempt to proffer Five Easy Steps That Will Change Your Life Today.

Still, I was a bit worried when I picked up his book, A Hidden Wholeness, a couple of weeks ago. I was looking for practical tips that we could share with our hosts that wouldn’t feel cheesy or forced or generally facilitator-y: tips that steered clear of what one of our original Dinner Partiers, Jess, calls, “woo-woo”.

My now dog-eared copy is testament to the fact that I need not have worried. In the book, Palmer writes extensively about the “divided life”: the problem that happens when we compartmentalize, and are compelled to cover up a key part of ourselves. (Okay, fine, it can sound a little woo-woo.) But it strikes me as a far more apt description of life after loss than “grief” or “bereavement.” It’s a feeling we hear a lot, and know all-too-well personally: Long after our brains have resumed functioning, after we’ve passed one anniversary and another, and adjusted to a new normal, we discover our work still isn’t finished. We continue to project one image here and another there. We choose carefully whom we share our stories with and when. We never quite adjust to our phantom limbs.

Palmer lays out the theory and practice behind an approach he calls “The Circle of Trust”: a highly refined set of principles and practices for facilitating soulful conversation, creating the kind of safe spaces where you can listen to and learn to act on your own “inner teacher”. The result is both reflective and instructive, unearthing everything from the design of “clearness committees,” a practice created by early Quakers to help participants achieve clarity, to how to practice deep listening.

It’s worth reading in full. For those looking for a Cliff’s Notes version, however, here are a few choice quotes, and a few key tips for anyone looking to create spaces where it’s cool to #realtalk.

1. Honor the awesome in everyone. Looking for the perfect thing to say at the perfect moment? Forget it. Your goal isn’t to say something profound, or to produce a lot of head nods. It’s to create a space where everyone–yup, you included–can listen to their own voice, and in so doing, discover their own ah-ha’s.

“We all have an inner teacher whose guidance is more reliable than anything we can get from a doctrine, ideology, collective belief system, institution, or leader.” (25)

“‘I took comfort and strength from those few people who neither fled from me nor tried to save me but were simply present to me. Their willingness to be present revealed their faith that I had the inner resources to make this treacherous trek — quietly bolstering my faltering faith that perhaps, in fact, I did.’” (62)

“It’s not about what you say. It’s about creating a space where every person can hear and discover and listen to their own voice.” (120)

2. Do not, do not, do not attempt amateur psychotherapy. The end.

“A circle of trust is not a therapy group. It is not facilitated by a professional therapist, and its members do not have a therapeutic contract with each other. In an age when therapy is practiced without credentials, competence, or invitation, the image of two solitudes protecting, bordering, and saluting each other can keep us from falling into this common form of interpersonal violence.” (63)

3. Create intentional moments of silence: Growing up, my agnostically-inclined mom insisted on starting dinners not with a prayer, but with a moment of silence. We held hands around the table, closed our eyes, and simply sat for what usually amounted to 15 seconds or so–an eternity to my seventh-grade self. I always had a slight pang of embarrassment when friends would come over and join this little ritual of ours, and it’s only now that I’ve come to really appreciate it.

Palmer suggests creating moments of intentional silence in the beginning, so that people don’t feel compelled to immediately fill spontaneous moments of silence later on. That doesn’t mean you have to spend five minutes in a meditation (unless that’s your jam, of course). A few deep breaths and the silent setting of intentions can go a long way.

4. Ease into it. The soul is shy, Palmer is fond of saying. Asking a person to share something deeply vulnerable the instant they walk into a room is generally a sure-fire way to scare them off. The Circle of Trust employs what they call “third things”–typically a poem or a song–to help kick off a conversation. Participants are invited to share whatever it is that comes up for them in hearing that particular piece or story, and to reflect on why they respond in that particular way.

For us, the “third thing” is, in a lot of ways, the dinner itself: We find it’s generally a good idea to leave a few things unfinished as folks arrive, to give people the chance to help set the table, pour drinks, and mingle casually. Preparing dishes with a story behind them–say, a family recipe, or a favorite food of the person you lost–and introducing those stories at the beginning of the meal, serves the same purpose: a way of introducing yourself and the person you lost, and easing into the conversation.

“If soul truth is to be spoken and heard, it must be approached ‘on the slant.’” I do not mean we should be coy, speaking evasively about subjects that make us uncomfortable, which weakens us and our relationships. But soul truth is so powerful that we must allow ourselves to approach it, and it to approach us, indirectly. We must invite, not command, the soul to speak. We must allow, not force, ourselves to listen.” (92)


Lennon FlowersThis blog post originally appeared on Learn more about how Lennon Flowers and her team are transforming life after loss from an isolating experience into one marked by community support, candid conversation, and forward movement.

To Understand Within, Look Outside Yourself

As I lay amongst a stand of Gum trees, looking up into their branches, I remembered how the branches we see in the trees above are also reflected in the trees’ roots beneath us. I suddenly had this beautiful feeling of being held, Embraced By A Tree, above and below. It inspired me to create this painting and poem.

I find it paradoxical that in connecting with nature around me, I am able to also go deeper within myself to find my own root and essence. To feel fully connected within I need to feel fully connected without. At one with all.

What connects you to your root & depth? What practices could you build into your life to deepen the connections within and without?

Artwork by Leanne Nearmy

here I am
all of me
the essence
the root
the depth
of me
No more
is required.

Leanne Nearmy
Facilitator Preparation
Australasian Cohort 2014-2015

Parker Palmer’s Thirteen Ways of Looking at Community
(…with a fourteenth thrown in for free)

“The Inner Edge,” August/September 1998

[Note] The title, and only the title, was inspired by the poem “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” by Wallace Stevens (see The subtitle was inspired by late-night TV infomercials.


I. Whether we know it or not, like it or not, honor it or not, we are embedded in community. Whether we think of ourselves as biological creatures or spiritual beings or both, the truth remains: we were created in and for a complex ecology of relatedness, and without it we wither and die. This simple fact has critical implications: community is not a goal to be achieved but a gift to be received. When we treat community as a product that we must manufacture instead of a gift we have been given, it will elude us eternally. When we try to “make community happen,” driven by desire, design, and determination—places within us where the ego often lurks—we can make a good guess at the outcome: we will exhaust ourselves and alienate each other, snapping the connections we yearn for. Too many relationships have been diminished or destroyed by a drive toward “community-building” which evokes a grasping that is the opposite of what we need to do: relax into our created condition and receive the gift we have been given.

II. Of course, in our culture—a culture premised on the notion that we must manufacture whatever we want or need—learning to relax and receive a gift requires hard work! But the work of becoming receptive is quite unlike the external work of building communal structures, or gathering endlessly to “share” and “solve problems”: receptivity involves inner work. Community begins not externally but in the recesses of the human heart. Long before community can be manifest in outward relationships, it must be present in the individual as “a capacity for connectedness”—a capacity to resist the forces of disconnection with which our culture and our psyches are riddled, forces with names like narcissism, egotism, jealousy, competition, empire-building, nationalism, and related forms of madness in which psychopathology and political pathology become powerfully intertwined. Read more …

A Day That Sings

Poem by Denise Levertov

With the onset of summer, I am taking a week to be with my extended family. We take time to simply be together–to refresh, revitalize, to languish in an abundance of time and leisure. The kitchen is filled with fresh local fruits. The days are warm and long. For a brief time, busy work lives recede.

Whether summer or winter, do you notice certain days that infuse you with possibility? 

Warm regards,


Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. Courage & Renewal programs and retreats renew your mind and spirit. Find a program to bring forth your whole self.

P.P.S. Today’s blog is a mirror of our monthly Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe here.

New Interview: Parker J. Palmer Speaks on Jean Vanier

Why We Must Also Listen to Our Inner Shadows

“If we do not understand that the enemy is within, we will find a thousand ways of making someone ‘out there’ into the enemy, becoming leaders who oppress rather than liberate others,” writes Parker Palmer in Let Your Life Speak. What does it mean to confront our inner enemy, knowing we can never truly be rid of those shadows? In the article below, facilitator Rick Bommelje offers an illuminating story about embracing the both/and of our inner worlds.


A powerful old story captures the importance of the messages that we listen to inside of our heads.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life:

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.” It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?”

You might have heard the story ends like this: The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed the most my son.”

In the Cherokee world, however, the story ends this way…

The old Cherokee simply replied, “If you feed them right, they both win.” and the story goes on:

“You see, if I only choose to feed the good wolf, the bad one will be hiding around every corner waiting for me to become distracted or weak and jump to get the attention he craves. He will always be angry and always fighting the good wolf. But if I acknowledge him, he is happy and the good wolf is happy and we all win. For the bad wolf has many qualities – tenacity, courage, fearlessness, and strong-willed – that I have need of at times and that the good wolf lacks. But the good wolf has compassion, caring, strength and the ability to recognize what is in the best interest of all.

“You see, son, the good wolf needs the bad wolf at his side. To feed only one would starve the other and they will become uncontrollable. To feed and care for both means they will serve you well and do nothing that is not a part of something greater, something good, something of life. Feed them both and there will be no more internal struggle for your attention. And when there is no battle inside, you can listen to the voices of deeper knowing that will guide you in choosing what is right in every circumstance. Peace, my son, is the Cherokee mission in life. A man or a woman who has peace inside has everything. A man or a woman who is pulled apart by the war inside him or her has nothing.

“How you choose to interact with the opposing forces within you will determine your life. Starve one or the other or guide them both.”

~ Cherokee Story

This article was originally posted here at Listening Pays, the blog of Courage & Renewal facilitator Rick Bommelje. Rick is a professor of communications at Rollins College and an Inductee to the Listening Hall of Fame. He  facilitates Courage to Lead programs with a focus on listening as a tool for powerful leadership.

From Mess to Meaning: A Leader’s Journey


It was all “just too much!” There was too much overwhelm, too much grind, too much meaninglessness, depression, isolation and too much uncertainty that anything would ever change. In hindsight, it was not surprising that my overly stressed and under nurtured life came to a full stop, shutting down my health  — physical and mental, finances, home and career  — but fortunately through Grace, not the urgings of my spirit.

Such had been the state of my “successful” yet work-weary life as an education lobbyist when the wise spirit within pressed me to ask, “What is it that really matters to you?” I found myself in a Google search for the only answer that mattered to my heart in that moment: “love and compassion.”

And there it was…confirmation on the landing page of the Fetzer Institute…a picture of H.H.The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu in full embrace, and an announcement that they would soon receive the Fetzer Prize for their work advancing love, forgiveness and compassion. In that one image I saw love and compassion across individuals and cultures, and religions and race, and also saw a stand for creating bridges across differences of all kinds.

Scrolling through the site I saw the Center for Courage & Renewal and the tag line, “Reconnecting Who You Are with What You Do.” In that one line I received affirmation that I was not the only one disconnected. Thus began my relationship with the Center. A couple of years later I was invited to participate in the Courage & Renewal Academy for Leaders and truly began my personal relationship with courage work — work I came to refer to as “the courage to begin again.”

At the initial Academy retreat, I knew I was in the right place when before sharing my own story, one of my cohort members shared the proverb, “My barn having burned to the ground, I can now see the moon.” I was home and there was hope.

My clarity and conviction to begin again grew with each cohort call. The calls were a safe place to pause and ask previously unmentionable questions, along with intelligent and committed peers with whom to do so. I had the privilege of experiencing the tremendous courage my peers called upon in the search for their own more sustainable ways of being, doing and contributing. I received confirmation, affirmation, validation and the courage to align my work with my most deeply held values, motivations and desires for meaning and contribution.

Through this alignment, through “truing up,” I became clear that my calling too is to be a bridge across the personal and political, the individual and global. It is from this aligned and far more solid foundation that I will soon enter the Pacific School of Religion as a Changemaker Fellow in its new Certificate of Spiritual and Social Change program and its Center for Spiritual and Social Transformation. Together these initiatives seek to integrate formative theological study with the preparation of vocation as a catalyst for transformational leadership and social change.

In shifting out of a career and into a calling, I will combine my personal and professional advocacy skills with the lessons learned over the past few years about peer learning, mindfulness, mental health, neuroscience, leadership and vocation. As a Changemaker Fellow, I will add the last and most important pieces, further spiritual formation and theological grounding in order to do what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. has encouraged:

“Make a career of humanity. Commit yourself to the noble struggle for equal rights. You will make a greater person of yourself, a greater nation of your country, and a finer world to live in.”

valerie_purnellI offer this story of reinvention and ongoing transformation in hopes that another searching soul might land upon it and find encouragement to participate in the Academy for Leaders. Meanwhile, I will cherish my Academy photos and the memories of those therein. They listened to me, saw me, tempered, centered and encouraged me. I embrace and carry them forward with me in strength and with the deepest gratitude. That is what is offered here.


Want to hear more from Valerie about the process of finding her True North? Watch her video here.

Learn all about the Academy for Leaders at and consider taking your leadership “from mess to meaning” at one of the upcoming academies near Austin, Texas (2014-2015) and Seattle, Washington (2015).