Saturday, August 30, 2008

'Courage to Lead' in Congregations

I've just returned from a two-day retreat for 'Courage to Lead' for Congregations.

We are taking the 15-month series of Courage retreats (for clergy) that I participated in 2006-2007 into our congregations. Pretty amazing stuff. We each invited 3 or 4 lay members of our churches, ending up with 26 people in the Circle of Trust. (See Parker Palmer's Hidden Wholeness.)

I've written before about how I realized that the series of Courage retreats were about practicing what church should be like. I'm very excited about the prospect of actually seeing church cultures slowly change. The change can come about, I think, as people learn to EMBODY the Courage To Lead touchstones. Here are a few of my favorites:


  • Speak your truth in ways that respect other people's truth. Our views of reality may differ, but speaking one's truth in a circle of trust does not mean interpreting, correcting or debating what others say. Speak from your center to the center of the circle, using "I" statements, trusting people to do their own sifting and winnowing.

  • No fixing, no saving, no advising, and no setting each other straight. This is one of the hardest guidelines for those of us in the "helping professions." But it is vital to welcoming the soul, to making space for the inner teacher.

  • Learn to respond to other with honest, open questions instead of counsel, corrections, etc. With such questions, we help "hear each other into deeper speech."

  • When the going gets rough, turn to wonder. 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.

  • Trust and learn from the silence. Silence is a gift in our noisy world, and a way of knowing in itself. Treat silence as a member of the group. After someone has spoken, take time to reflect without immediately filling the space with words.
I wanted to share a couple of the quotes/poems we used for the "Listening for Wisdom" segment:

From Mary Oliver's Thirst...

Praying
It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

And then this from John Fox, Deeply Listening from When Jewels Sing, 1989...

When someone deeply listens to you
it is like holding out a dented cup you have had since childhood
and watching it fill up with cold fresh water.
When it balances on the top of the rim
you're understood.
When it overflows and touches your skin
you are loved.
...
When someone deeply listens to you
your bare feet are on the earth
and the beloved land that seemed distant
is now at home within you.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

"Honey, it's Joe Biden"

Saturday morning. 7 a.m.
The familiar voice of Scott Simons' Weekend Edition wakes us up.

"JOE BIDEN."

I'm brushing my teeth when I hear it. David is still in bed. I come out and before I can say it, he does: "Honey, it's Joe Biden."

Both of us had been pulling for a surprise announcement of Hillary Clinton as his running mate, so we're both initially a bit disappointed. How EXCITING a Hillary VP nomination would have been! Wow! But Joe Biden? He's been around so long, part of the Washingon establishment. I thought Obama was trying to change Washington. Guess he thinks he needs a long-time insider to do that.

Knowing she'll still be asleep in her dorm room, I text Lovely Passionate Feminist, who left me a message last night to let her know when we heard something. Two word text message:

J-o-e B-i-d-e-n

Two hours later she texts me back:

W-h-y-?

Apparently she shares our initial ho-hum response.

But as the day has gone on and we've heard more about Biden's strengths, and heard him and Obama speak in Springfield Illinois, I'm getting a little better feeling about it...

The guy does have a wicked wit. That'll help. People love that...

His experience in foreign policy matters will help...

He wrote the legislation helping victims of domestic violence. I didn't know that, and I like it. A lot....

He only owns ONE HOUSE...

He can be a good attack dog for Obama when the Republicans get nasty. Apparently you have to have that to win these days...

My heart is sick of, and exhausted from eight years of the worst administration I have ever known. Under this administration America is now known as a nation that tortures human beings. TORTURES them. TORTURES THEM!! For eight long years I have been heart-sick about it. And I do not think that under Republican McCain that kind of mentality, down in the ranks, will change. There must be a no-tolerance-policy to really get it stopped, and those in the military who approve of such horror will assume another Republican administration will again give them a green light. Or at least a wink and a nod.

I heard an interesting interview this morning on Speaking of Faith. Krista Tippett was interviewing Rick and Kay Warren (of Saddleback Church in Southern California) who were talking about the need to restore civility to our public discourse. And they spoke about the need for Christians to be concerned with both family issues and issues of poverty and econimics--it's not an either/or for Evangelicals anymore, at least among the younger generation. Apparently Kay Warren had a Damascus experience a few years ago in which she 'saw the light' about HIV-AIDS in Africa. They spoke about how that horrible disease, and poverty, and corruption, and prostitution, and trafficking in women and children is all tied together.

The Warrens had a huge conference on HIV AIDS at their church a couple of years ago, and Obama was one of the speakers. That impressed me. I'm glad they have given him a forum.

One of my spiritual directees watched Rick Warren interview Obama and McCain last week. I didn't see it, but she told me that it wasn't good for Obama. People tended to applaud McCain a lot more, she said. Her belief is that Obama is so thoughtful, so nuanced in his thinking, that it could cost him the race.

Oh, please NO. Obama must win. We need, the world needs someone in the White House who has a basic respect for human life and is not so arrogant to think that America can do whatever it damn well pleases. Oh, please NO. Obama must win. We need someone in the White House with an ability to think through difficult issues and will ask to hear and then will actually consider the opinion of those who disagree with him. Oh, please NO. Joe Biden, p l e a s e, be the right candidate for this ticket.

Honestly, I was so depressed in 2004. If Obama doesn't win this thing I really might have to get serious about moving to Canada. No joke.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A hope and a prayer in this liminal time

Something's different in my life. It's requiring a little adjustment.

For the first time in my married life (all four years of it), we have no children at home. The house is just home to me and David. It feels sad, kind of empty.

When David and I married, Young Man with Integrity (YMI) was 19 and a sophomore in college. Several people told me that would be a problem for our marriage--okay, not a problem automatically, but they warned me that it could cause extra stress at a time when you're learning to live together as a couple.

But, no, it didn't cause a problem or extra stress. YMI is quiet and easy to get along with. I appreciated the chance to get to know him, and he was a HUGE help to me last year when I got so sick just as David had a bunch of important traveling scheduled.

YMI moved out in May, just as Lovely Passionate Feminist (LPF) moved in for the summer. She's back in her dorm at college now, and it was extremely sad to see her go. She had eased the adjustment in losing YMI, and she's just such a joy to have around--considerate and thoughtful and interesting. All three children are interesting to talk to. They are well read and have opinions on politics and religion and current events.

I found myself really tearing up as LPF left home (even though she'll be back for the Labor Day weekend!)

Beautiful Genuine Musician graduated from high school in May, but she decided to rent an apartment in City to the South and attend community college there before she moves up here in a year or two. We had to adjust to the disappointment of not seeing her as much as we had expected.

So, David and I have the house all to ourselves. For the first time. Of course it's not all bad. I've turned YMI's bedroom into a lovely office, holidays will be more special when the kids come home!, and we get to babysit YMI's girlfriend's little two-year-old daughter.

Still, there is a quiet, petite sadness pervading the house.

Part of it is probably connected to a growing awareness of age. You know you're not a kid anymore when there are no children left in the house! Part of it is missing the vitality these young adults bring when they are here. (Almost without fail these days, David and I both come home absolutely exhausted from work.) Part of it is probably an underlying concern for all three of them now that they are out on their own. Will they remember to turn off the oven? lock the doors? balance their checkbooks?

I'm also aware of a new phase in my marriage. It's not sad, but the transition is bringing a new question of who we will become as a couple. Will we grow closer? more distant? When I moved my desk and files from the little office David and I shared to my new office (formerly YMI's bedroom), David more than once remarked, half-jokingly, that he didn't like me moving. "Now we'll never see each other," he said in this plaintive tone (always a big clue that he's teasing). "You'll come home and go to your office, and I'll come home and go to my office. We'll grow apart." I think he was also expressing, in his own way, his sense of loneliness at the kids leaving home.

I've always said that I wanted my marriage to be a spiritual discipline. How do I become a better person--the person God is calling me to be--through this primary relationship? I'm finding that the answer is both easy and difficult. It's easy because David will give me feedback, he's a trustworthy mirror for me. It's difficult because I so often don't want to see what he is reflecting back to me--both the positive and the negative!

In that sense perhaps this new phase of marriage can really deepen and grow me--both of us, really--because there will be more time when it's just the two of us, more time to focus on us and who each of us is as an individual inside the relationship. More time to have a conscious marriage. That's my hope and my prayer in this liminal time.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

A Sunday Evening Psalm Prayer

From Thomas Merton's A Book of Hours:

Psalm Prayer
I entered into the everlasting movement of that gravitation which is the very life and spirit of God: God's own gravitation towards the depth of God's own infinite nature, God's goodness without end. And God, that center who is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere, finding me, through incorporation with Christ, incorporated into this immense and tremendous gravitational movement which is love, which is the Holy Spirit, loved me. And God called out to me from God's own immense depths. Silence

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Coming Home and Something New on my Blog

I'm home!

We drove straight through. Twelve hours from Pensacola. The girls slept a good portion of the way in the back seat. I relieved D as driver for about an hour, but then found my eyelids closing of their own accord. The rest of the time I played FreeCell on my computer. Over 80 games I played. Yup.

That was Saturday. Sunday I drove into church, thinking how eager I was to be there. After church it was back home to meet a couple of friends. The three of us drove to San Antonio where we stayed until Wednesday this week -- Yes, I've had my share of being in the car for a while!

Vacation was a dream--I'll post some pictures below. And so was San Antonio, where I participated in the reunion of my Courage to Lead group. "Oasis in the Desert through a Circle of Trust" was the theme. Think about it: How often to we get to be part of a group of

people who are all there in order to provide a safe place for the soul to show up? Parker Palmer likens the soul to a wild animal, independent and strong, but shy, too. A wild animal will stop and examine a place before it shows itself openly. Circles of Trust are specifically designed to be a safe place for people to be REAL with each other. I absolutely loved it! So much so that I volunteered to be a co-leader next time we gather. (As if I have the time. Oh well.)

Something New:
You'll notice my CCBLOGS logo at the top of my blog. In reading Songbird one day last month I noticed the logo there, so I went to investigate. It's The Christian Century! CC is hosting its own blogs, so I decided to inquire about it. Gordon Atkinson (Real Live Preacher) is the host/manager. I'm excited to be part of that group!

Pensacola sunrise

The Beach (taken from the balcony of our condo)


Lightning strike (taken near the entrance to the condo)

Pensacola sunset

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Reflections while vacationing

I've been reading John O'Donohue this morning. Anam Cara, which is his book about soul friends. I read his profound words, words drenched in beauty, and I can feel my soul open. What wonder that evokes in me.

We live our lives so busy, so goal-oriented that we--No. Let me put this in the first person--I am so busy, so oriented toward getting things done, that I have spent my long-anticipated vacation actually working on a paper due soon for an interview about dual standing in the UCC. Finally, last night, I realized what I was doing, and today has been a completely different experience. Reading O'Donohue, I am transported to a different, and I think more real, reality.

Zen taught me that "This is it." This moment. This place. This body. When I am awake, aware, conscious of my being in time and space, then I am alive. This aliveness this morning, reading O'Donohue and stopping frequently to reflect, brought an opening of my soul. Through this opening came ... Love. I felt tremendous love for my daughters-by-marriage who were sitting here with me, both lost in their own books. Love prompted me to ask them whether, in their lives so far, they had experienced the love of an anam-cara, a soul friend. And then I read to them a small portion from O'Donohue's book. David came in from the beach just then, saying something about a siren he'd heard, so the moment was really lost, but after a moment or two, it didn't matter. My question arose from love, and love remained and is expressed in a myriad of ways from me toward them all.

As the morning has given way to afternoon now, I am grateful for the brief (but by no means small) experiences of the Really Real I have had this week...

Early evening Tuesday, Beautiful Genuine Musician went with me to the water's edge. We just stood there together in silence, allowing the roar of the ocean to fill us. The water, the star-filled sky, and the darkness were immense. I wondered whether she felt the awe of it as well, so I shared with her one of my experiences of losing my sense of self in the face of such majesty. What a sense of connection--holy connection, I think--when she reciprocated by sharing her own story of existential confrontation with forces greater than we are ourselves. Ahhh, the grace of life shared with one so dear.

And dear to me as well is Lovely Passionate Feminist who suggested a walk along the beach last night. I've been struggling with some vertigo, but like her sister Lovely Passionate Feminist was wonderfully kind in her care and concern for me as I had to hold her hand or shoulder to steady myself. As we walked together, I suddenly felt Joy. The joy of being in this breathtaking place with the family I love, the joy of the earth itself manifested in this unique moment and place by the vast water--dark, but sparkling with jewel-like glimmers from the moon's reflection. God is Beauty. And God is Joy as well.

David remarked just now how grateful he is that we've been able to get away like this, and how he wishes it didn't take several days to really begin to relax into a place. How true. For both of us, it's taken until now for the fast-paced busy-ness to ease off. I wish I could always be in touch with the Reality so vividly presented in O'Donohue's work. I'm grateful that I chanced upon his work, for it has never failed to help me open my soul to God.