Turning to wonder is one of the touchstones used to create safe space in our Circle of Trust® approach. The touchstone suggests that if you feel judgmental, or defensive, ask yourself, “I wonder what brought her to this belief?” “I wonder what he’s feeling right now?” “I wonder what my reaction teaches me about myself?” Set aside judgment to listen to others -- and to yourself -- more deeply.
In this video, Courage & Renewal Facilitator Ken Saxon shares how this touchstone strengthened his capacity as a community and business leader to engage in those rich and vital conversations necessary for navigating change.
Join Ken Saxon and Susan Plummer for Journey Toward an Undivided Life in Santa Barbara, California, from January 22-24, 2014. [Update: This retreat now has a wait list. See other available options.] Experience "turning to wonder" and other touchstones for yourself at this Courage & Renewal retreat.
This retreat reconnects you with your inner wisdom—and with others—in a way that will refresh and sustain you like nothing else for the important work you do in the world. At this retreat, you will
- Focus, without distraction, on what matters to you, especially your values and vision, challenges and fears
- Learn principles and practices from our Circle of Trust approach that can be applied to your daily life and work.
- Connect with others seeking similar insights, who listen fiercely with “no fixing allowed”, who honor each other’s differences.
See our calendar for similar retreats in other locations.
“I believe.” Something changes when you say it out loud. Something shifts.
When you say “I love you.” When you say out loud, “This is important to me” or “I don’t know but I’m wrestling mightily with this idea.” Or “So much is changing, but this much. this much, I know is true.”
Something happens when you can articulate that.
Enjoy this video conversation between Parker J. Palmer and Carrie Newcomer, who then sings her ballad “I Believe.”
Look through your own life and see what you can “sing about.”
What truths do you embody as you lead your life?
For you, what makes life so, so wonderful and worth living? As Carrie says, “It’s that idea, not what are we against but what are we for?”
Today's blog is a mirror of our Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe here.
by Erin S. Lane
Excerpt from the introduction of Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank about Faith (White Cloud Press, Oct 2013), co-edited by Erin S. Lane and Enuma Okoro
I was a graduate student of theology when word of her actions reached me. During a seminary class on preaching, her professor had warned students not to wear open-toed shoes in the pulpit lest they be a distraction to wandering minds (and libidos).
Better yet, he advised, men’s black dress socks were recommended for all—women included. She showed up the following day in dress socks as instructed. Except they were pulled taut. Over bare legs. Beneath a miniskirt.
Her transgression was small but potent. By literally following her instructor’s words, she unmasked their unspoken message that to exercise authority in the church she would have to become like a man.
The anecdote stuck with me as I began collaborating on this book with my co-editor, author Enuma Okoro. It revealed how even the bodies of young women in the church, never mind their voices, remain taboo for some, and in twenty-first-century America, no less.
In the clear and honest words of the women who “talk taboo” in this book, we hear voices of truth that can help Christians reclaim respect for flesh and come to feel more at home in their own skins. Talking Taboo is an important book, one that should be read and discussed in every church in the land.
– Parker J. Palmer
Taboo. It is a word we seldom use in the United States, where freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our foundation and the boundaries of what is socially acceptable have stretched wide. The notion that there are still experiences that remain off-limits for expression sounds antiquated, or even prudish. And yet we still bite our lips. Hold our tongues. Swallow our words in fear of being stigmatized, ostracized, or vilified. The power of taboo is still palpable.
Young American Christian women have more freedom than ever before to speak for ourselves; we are being theologically trained in unprecedented numbers, accessing leadership in our communities through both orthodox and unorthodox avenues, and playing the roles of professional, wife, mother, daughter, girlfriend, and friend, among others. As the first line of an evangelical magazine article titled “50 Women You Should Know" affirms, “Christian women who want to pursue influential roles in politics, the church, and other sectors of public life in the United States and Canada have never before had more opportunities to do so.”
But with all of the perceived progress, why does it feel like our voices still aren’t fully being heard? And if we could speak honestly, what would we want to say? This is a collection of essays that aims to address what happens when we speak the unspeakable about our sacred experiences of faith, gender, and identity.
Our book is part of a series of anthologies from I Speak for Myself, Inc. on young American men and women from three Abrahamic faiths: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. While the first volumes on Muslim American men and women explored the relationship between faith and country, Enuma and I knew a volume on the experiences of Christian Americans would need to be positioned differently. Christians continue to make up three-quarters of the population in the United States, a majority that is reflected in the number of Christian memoirs and narratives on the shelves of bookstores across America. Put simply, we wondered what hadn’t already been said and who hadn’t said it. The pages that follow are our attempt to flesh out this silence…
While we don’t all agree with one another, we believe in the power of personal stories to build bridges of understanding where there were none, to give faces and names to what were previously only “issues,” and to bind people together in their common humanity.
October 25, 2013
What makes a leader worthy of our trust and what should we also hold ourselves to? Diana Chapman Walsh, president emerita of Wellesley College and an exemplar of courage and integrity, talks about five attributes of trustworthy leadership needed for this time of complexity. When embodied, these capacities help us bring our full selves into our work.
1) Question ourselves.
2) Develop and attend to solid partnerships.
3) Avoid the use of force except as a last resort.
4) Value differences not only as a mark of respect but as a source of creative information.
5) Create a community.
Enjoy Diane's wise words on these five points in this video from the IHI Open School, Profiles in Leadership series, How has your idea of a good leader changed over time?
October 22, 2013
Parker J. Palmer
Sometimes, when I talk about the value of contemplation, someone will say that contemplation is a cop-out, an escape from the world's needs. But my experience with activism tells me otherwise, and this quote from Thomas Merton explains why.
When we fall into the frenzy of overwork, we do violence to ourselves and kill "the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful." The results can range from unmanageable anger to sullen resentment to burnout, all of which lead to misguided action—and ultimately take us out of the action.
We need to expand our understanding of "violence", a concept that goes well beyond doing physical harm. We do violence every time we violate, or fail to respect, our own or another person's soul. Psychological and spiritual violence do as much harm in their way as bombs and bullets do in theirs.
Living nonviolently means more than "Thou shalt not kill." It means, "Thou shalt not violate anyone's soul", including your own...
P.S. About the photo: Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama met in Nov., 1968 in Dharamsala, India where the Dalai Lama was living in exile. They quickly recognized each other as "soul brothers" and doubtless would have continued to work together. But Merton died in Bangkok just one month later at age 53. It's one of history's most instructive ironies that Thomas Merton and the Dalai Lama, both deeply committed monastics, have had a huge impact on the peace movement, the racial justice movement, and other forms of activism all over the world.
The quote is from Merton's 1966 book "Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander.
October 16, 2013
Susan Otey, Pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Billings, MT
After attending several Courage to Lead weekend retreats, I wanted to introduce circles of trust in my congregation. I hoped my congregation would experience the gift of being deeply heard and trusting their inner teacher, but I was afraid that if I tried creating something on my own, I wouldn’t maintain the integrity of the work. I struggled for several months around how I might use this work meaningfully in a congregational setting when the Geography of Grace retreat and curriculum was introduced. I was thrilled to attend the training and come back with my very own copy of the curriculum.
When I returned from the training, curriculum in hand, I set about gathering my first group; those I hoped might lead others through this work in the future. In the year since I started my first Geography of Grace group, I have offered 5 different groups and 29 people have begun to trust their fellow congregants, have learned how to listen deeply to others, and have started understanding they do not need to fix other’s problems. They are striving to live into listening and asking questions in a new way.
When I asked this group what was the most beneficial aspect of Geography of Grace, here is what they said:
- “having a place where I can be my true self, good and bad”
- “the opportunity to think about experiences and situations and how they have shaped me”
- “self- discovery and being free to talk openly without judgment”
- “learning to trust not only the group but my own inner teacher”
- “knowing that in the circle of trust I can share or not and that is okay!”
Geography of Grace has helped my congregation see each other through new eyes. It has increased trust and understanding of each other and of the inner teacher. It gave one woman in my congregation the voice she had suppressed years ago. It has offered people the understanding that the struggles and problems we face are very similar, no matter how good we look on the outside. Since we started using Geography of Grace, I have observed people listening more deeply to themselves and to others and responding in ways that show empathy and compassion rather than judgment.
Ministry is hard work and there is no end to the number of people who want to tell you exactly how to “do ministry”! The greatest gift of the Circle of Trust approach has been learning how to trust my own leadership. This work has been invaluable in my life and ministry as I strive to lead from a place of wisdom and integrity.
If you’ve experience a Courage & Renewal program for yourself and want to share its approach in your faith community, please consider joining us in Lutz, Florida, from February 4-6, 2014 for a four-day retreat and training on the Geography of Grace curriculum. Registration is now open.
October 9, 2013
Hanna Sherman, Director, Courage & Renewal Health Care Program
“I thought I was the only one.” I’ve stopped counting how many times I’ve heard this statement. Physicians, health care leaders, men, women, nurse leaders, administrators – the list goes on – speaking with some sadness from a history laced with loneliness, and also now with gratitude from the hope stirred by community. I know it too well myself from my own journey as a leader.
The isolation experienced by leaders of all kinds, and certainly in medicine and health care, often goes unacknowledged. At least it wasn’t something I was taught years ago in my medical training, nor raised as I was mentored as a leader. So I was unprepared for the loneliness that arose as responsibilities and expectations increased.
It’s not surprising that the first time physicians and leaders sit in a Circle of Trust, they are startled by the degree of support they experience from being with a community of peers who are reflecting individually and together on questions with personal and professional meaning. For many it is the first bridging from isolation into sharing their inner experience of leadership.
As leaders we tend to split off parts of ourselves, particularly our inner experiences, putting them aside for a seemingly endless list of reasons: we have no time to explore them; we fear that sharing them may make us look weak or less competent; we’ve been told there is no place for emotions or the personal in our care or work; and many more.
When we do this, we risk depersonalization and emotional exhaustion, some of the symptoms of burnout, a condition that now affects almost half of physicians in the U.S.. This comes at a crucial time when we need more clinicians available to care for the newly insured as the Affordable Care Act goes into effect and more Americans have access to health care.
A recent set of articles in the New York Times by David Bornstein addressed the risks of burnout and highlighted programs developed by Rachel Naomi Remen MD to raise self-awareness in medical students and to support physicians in their continuing journey. The intensity of the problem was mirrored by the vast number of comments that ensued online and the stories shared about experiences of heartwarming connection and of heartbreaking isolation in medical education, training, and practice.
At the Harvard Medical School Center for Primary Care’s Annual Innovation Conference on Monday, Darrell Kirch MD, the president and CEO of the Association of American Medical Colleges, spoke in his keynote address about the need for leaders who know themselves and are able to lead others collaboratively from a place of deep integrity. In the moment when we as leaders say, “I thought I was the only one,” we are beginning to recognize that we share questions and doubts in our leadership, times when our values feel at risk, and fatigue as we struggle to serve our patients, students, teams, and communities well.
Our Health Care Institute, serves as an entry point where leaders come together to explore the inner strength of leadership, how to maintain their personal and professional integrity, renew their purpose, and lead others in the face of uncertainty and change. It’s a place where the space between us begins to close in a trustworthy circle of peers and the door opens to more personal resilience and organizational vitality. Join us if you can.
October 2, 2013
In this fast-paced world, how often do you slow down and reflect on what is most meaningful to you?
Leo Tolstoy wrote, “A thought can advance your life in the right direction only when it answers questions which were asked by your soul."
Inner truth often arrives with an "a-ha," a deep peace or a knowing stillness. In this video, Stephen Lewis, a Courage & Renewal facilitator and board member, talks about the power of good questions and a community that knows how to pose them.Take a moment. Pause. What question is your soul ready to ask and waiting to answer?
Today's blog is a mirror of our Words of EnCOURAGEment newsletter. Subscribe here.
September 25, 2013
Where does the spirit of goodness move through our lives? Maybe it’s in the daily and unexpected places.
Parker J. Palmer talks with Carrie Newcomer about how her song, Betty’s Diner, and how it illustrates the second habit of the heart Parker writes about in Healing the Heart of Democracy.
Visit with the folks in Betty’s Diner as Carrie sings them to life.
by L. J. Rittenhouse (September 19, 2013)A friend was in the running recently to be named CEO of the company he had worked at for 10 years. Both internal and external candidates were being considered. When asked why he wanted the job – besides more money and power – he said, “I want a challenge. I want to grow new businesses and expand into new geographies. I want to use the leadership skills I have developed over the years and develop new skills.”
These were fine reasons, but they didn’t ring true. I suspected there was more, so I kept pressing him. One day, he declared, “Because I want to restore the company to its greatness.” In that moment, I knew my friend would be the next CEO. By connecting with a purpose bigger than himself, he spoke from the power of his authentic voice.
My blog on “Why Words are as Important as Numbers in Business” sparked some chatter about authentic leadership. It reminded me of my 2001 interview on authenticity and leadership with the Center for Courage & Renewal founder, Parker Palmer. His observations, recorded in an article called, “Leading from the Heart”, are as true today as they were when we talked back in 2001...
Read the rest of the article at Forbes.com, by L. J. Rittenhouse, President and CEO of Rittenhouse Rankings, Inc.; which works with executive teams to build cultures known for accountability that sharpen execution, grow trust and achieve financial leadership. Connect with LJ on Twitter @LJRittenhouse or for more information visit her website at www.RittenhouseRankings.com.
Remembering the Habits of the Heart Retreat and Learning Conference
by Erin Lane (September 10, 2013)He was debriefing a week-long backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail this summer when two teenage girls approached my husband Rush, a United Methodist youth pastor, at the camp site. They wanted to remember rightly.
The first said, “Rush, when we get home and the school year starts, will you remind me who I was in this place?”
“And Rush,” the second began, “when I get home and feel like I’m doing this God stuff by myself, will you remind me that I am not alone?”
Memory matters. Rush was at our recent Habits of the Heart Retreat and Learning Conference for Clergy and People of Faith near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin where we gathered with over 100 participants, including Parker Palmer and Carrie Newcomer, to reflect on how to bring the habits of the heart to life in our congregations and communities.
Our heads and hearts were full – of music and poems and prayers – by the end of our four days together but still we wrote a letter to ourselves to remind us of the course we wanted to chart. It’s a ritual at all Courage & Renewal retreats for facilitators to collect these letters and then mail them weeks, sometimes months, after the retreat experience when our memory starts to languish. This time we asked those who were willing to share their letters to leave the envelopes unsealed; below, used with permission, are some of their consecrating words:
“I hope that you have and will always remember these 5 habits because they are real gifts. Take time with them, share them with your wonderful congregation. Be deliberate, gentle, and strong.”
“I do love you even in your conflicted state and I care for you and your way, your beautiful way, of being in the world. So keep the faith (the new faith as we have been talking about) and know in your heart that the journey through tensions is worth it.”
“The last several days have been a gift featuring some of the world’s truth-filled holy people…Take this experience into the future. Feed and nourish the community to strengthen and develop the weak and the broken. Remember to make room for silence, the appearance of God in His/Her nature and the need to ‘repair my church that has fallen into ruin’ (St. Francis).”
“Your persistent “inner critic” who tries to minimize your lay leadership role in your church community was quickly banished to the lake outside! Instead your ‘inner champion’ walked beside you and mentored you as you learned and discerned around the Habits of the Heart.”
“You have been surrounded by soft hearted, courageous, prophetic people. People who are working with you – though unseen – to help heal the world. You are not alone. Remember this.”
Although our words were penned with our own ink, they couldn’t help but bleed into a collective memory. In them, I heard the same wisdom that the young teenagers were seeking, the same wisdom that all faith traditions seek to impart, the same wisdom that undergirds every Courage & Renewal experience: “Remember who you are. Remember you’re not alone.”
Shira Leibowitz, PhD
September 5, 2013
- The question we most commonly ask is the “what” question--what subjects shall we teach?
- When the conversation goes a bit deeper, we ask the “how” question-what methods and techniques are required to teach well?
- Occasionally, when it goes deeper still, we ask the “why” question--for what purpose and to what ends do we teach?
- But seldom, if ever, do we ask the “who” question--who is the self that teaches? How does the quality of my selfhood form--or deform--the way I relate to my students, my subject, my colleagues, my world? How can educational institutions sustain and deepen the selfhood from which good teaching comes?
~ Parker Palmer, The Courage To Teach
Beginning my position as a new Head of School, I opened our first full staff professional learning session with the above quote from educator Parker Palmer. Determined to shift from my voice to our voices as quickly as possible, I moved almost immediately to a learning activity modified from one Palmer describes later in his book.
Imagine a moment when everything was going right for you as a teacher; when your teaching was so good you felt you were born to teach, and you knew you were making a difference for students.
The happy social buzz of first day greetings, which had begun shortly before our learning session as we arrived for a welcome breakfast, continued. The ebullient, celebratory mood of greeting friends and colleagues after a summer apart gently moved deeper, broaching seldom asked questions about qualities of teachers that lie at the heart of learning; transcending curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
After a short time, I invited teachers and staff who wanted to do so to share with the whole group; acknowledging teachers’ humility and reluctance to speak in a manner that might feel like boasting. The stories inspired. Some were about individual students’ triumphs in overcoming challenge or adversity; some about entire classes making remarkable progress; and others about a key attribute of a teacher that positively impacted students year after year. We applauded each and every speaker, beginning our year with appreciation.
We then moved just a bit deeper as Parker Palmer encourages us to do. I asked teachers to focus, not on their own celebratory stories, but on those of their colleagues, identifying the gifts, the personal strengths and qualities within their colleagues, that bring success. Colleagues talked about care, the ability to listen, patience, perseverance in the face of challenge, and grounding in enduring values. They spoke, meaningfully and thoughtfully, not about skills or specific knowledge, but rather about qualities that enable teachers to connect and build relationships with students. Intuitively, teachers reached beyond themselves, emphasizing the need to understand our students, equating greatness in teaching to connection with students; as individuals, as a class, and as a school-wide community of learners.
As we concluded the session, I shared with teachers my commitment to being present in classrooms regularly, not to judge, but to engage, learn, appreciate, and support. In time, I plan to offer ongoing non-judgemental feedback to prompt teacher reflection. Yet in the beginning, as teachers at my new school and I get to know each other and develop trusting relationships, I choose to refrain from offering feedback and instead to focus almost exclusively on presence and heartfelt appreciation. As the Head of School of an independent school, in which the format for teacher evaluation is not mandated by a district or the state, I have that freedom. I can take some time, engage with teachers, and collaboratively design a feedback framework emphasizing growth.
In the past I interpreted, or more likely misinterpreted, educational research as indicating that paradoxically praise is judgmental and disrespectful of teachers’ and students’ abilities to reflect on their own learning; successes and mistakes alike. Teachers opened my eyes; sharing the pain of giving heart and soul and only infrequently, if at all, receiving appreciation from supervisors. I have heard from teachers about how disconcerting it is to feel as if one is “on stage” as a supervisor, even a caring supervisor, observes. Trained to focus on learning from mistakes, teachers often, almost obsessively, analyze what went wrong in a lesson,while glossing over what went right. We frequently see ourselves through intensely critical lenses and imagine those observing us do as well. We too often neglect to celebrate our successes, inadvertently missing out on the potential to build from our strengths.
As Parker Palmer boldly asserts, it takes courage to teach. That courage deserves appreciation.
And so, I reach out to teachers in my own school, and to colleagues more broadly wondering about ways of structuring appreciative, reflective exploration of teaching practice.
If you were able to structure a system of feedback for professionals to promote growth, in lieu of formal evaluation, what process would you use? What components would you include? What would be helpful for you?
This blog was originally posted on Sharing Our Blessings and is reposted here under Creative Commons license. Author Shira Leibowitz is Head of School at The Solomon Schechter School of Queens in New York, an instructional coach for teachers and principals, and facilitator of on-line learning. She holds a Ph.D in education and a rabbinical degree from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. She is also the facilitator of YU2.0, a community of educators invested in learning, collaborating and integrating technology into education.
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