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St. Paul’s Anglican Church: prayer and advocacy in Vancouver’s West End

In Christianity, communities, Realtionship, Religion, Urban living, Urban ministry, Vancouver, Working with the poor on May 18, 2013 at 5:34 am
St. Paul's Anglican Church. Photo by Iota 9 Source: Wikimedia Commons.

St. Paul’s Anglican Church. Photo by Iota 9 Source: Wikimedia Commons.

It’s Palm Sunday, and I’m standing in Nelson Park with parishioners from St. Paul’s Anglican Church, waiting to proceed to the church on Jervis Street two blocks away.

There’s a trumpeter, a trombonist, a few drummers and choir members in robes. A few people hand out palm leaves. After the priest, Markus Dünzkofer, tells us how we will proceed, he adds, “If bystanders ask what we’re doing, refer them to Clare, our seminarian.”

Everybody laughs. Clare looks uneasy.

As people begin to sing “All Glory, Laud, and Honour,” I get the image of a Salvation Army band, and offer a silent prayer that I see no one I know along the way.

I am here, after all, as a journalist, not a churchgoer.

Once inside the church, after the Opening Versicle, the Hosannas, hymns, prayers, the Gospel, and Confession and Absolution comes the Peace, during which we all turn and nod to one another, or shake hands briefly and say: “Peace be with you.”

I know the drill.

But what’s this? It goes on and on. People wander up and down the centre aisle, in and out of the pews, embracing one another and greeting more and more people.

I think: Good Lord, we’ll be here until Tuesday! Let’s get on with it.

The truth is I’m uncomfortable. All of this flies in the face of what I’d come to view as the stuffiness of the Anglican Church. Not that I like stuffiness. It’s just that all this kissing and hugging throws me off balance.

The truth is these people seem to know and care about each other in a way I don’t normally associate with church.

My reaction surprises me. Even more surprising is that I return for Good Friday services and again for Easter Vigil.

“The Anglican Church isn’t the church of your grandmother and grandfather,” Markus Dünzkofer tells me in a phone interview many weeks later.

Apparently, it’s also no longer the Church of the Empire, or the last bastion of British immigrants in Canada, an image that many Anglicans have been trying to change for years now. And Dünzkofer, a German who studied theology in Edinburgh and was ordained in Chicago, is emblematic of that change.

Curiosity and openness

“We’re an ever-changing community,” Dünzkofer explains, “a crazy and wonderful community. There’s an openness at St. Paul’s, a real curiosity about people, a willingness to engage with the divine, with each other and the neighborhood.”

The young woman to whom Markus Dünzkofer wanted to refer questions during the procession on Palm Sunday is seminarian Clare Morgan, aged 27, a self-proclaimed “Christian punk Goth.”

“I’m like normal here, not anybody’s mascot,” she says. “I still consider myself part of the Cathedral, but you come in with tattoos and a weird haircut and people love you, but they’re a little titillated to know someone like you. I never noticed until I was at St. Paul’s that no one here made assumptions. People don’t kind of slot you into something like: Oh look! A young person with blue hair!

“We may look as if we’re all WASPS,” says parishioner Leslie Buck, “but you look a bit deeper, and there’s an impressive diversity: Dutch, German, French, Turkish, Iranian, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish.”

Ordination of women and same-sex marriage 

A British-born, life-long Anglican, Buck came to St. Paul’s in 1993 when he and his wife moved here from Ottawa.

“We do things now that would have appalled people 50 years ago,” says Buck citing the ordination of women and same-sex marriage. He also cites shifts in the teaching.

“There was a time when the message was primarily keep your nose clean and don’t worry too much about what you do at work the rest of the week. Nowadays more is made of the social gospel, issues like homelessness and poverty. Which is not to say that one’s individual relationship with God or one’s behavior is not an issue, but the church is also responding to the world.”

Buck gives me a bit of St. Paul’s history. The church was first formed in Yaletown, and parishioners included Canadian Pacific Railway workers and their families.

As people prospered, they moved to the West End to build mansions. In fact, a friend of mine insists it was Benjamin Tingley Rogers (of BC Sugar fame) who started the trend in 1900 by building his massive stone house on the corner of Davie and Nicola. And when Mr. and Mrs. Rogers moved on to Shaughnessy, the socially ambitious followed suit, which in turn marked the beginning of what the West End has become today—primarily apartments and condos for single people, small families, and pensioners.

The present St. Paul’s was built in 1905, at a time when the West End was still home to Vancouver’s prosperous.

“The original ethos and style remained much the same from 1905 until 1985 when last of the old style rectors retired. David Crawley took his place and started to change things. The church started ministering to AIDS patients. The change came from the rector, but gradually everyone became supportive and more gay people came into the church, which changed the make-up of the congregation.”

Change or close

“After World War II and up to the eighties,” says Dünzkofer, “the parish thought of themselves as the bastion of English. David Crawley gave them a choice: change or close.

He flung the doors open, and people came in: prostitutes and drag queens. It’s heartbreaking reading the records in the mid 80s. There were three or four funerals a week during the AIDS pandemic. People came to think of us as the gay church. I would not use that term. We are the West End church. We reflect the particular make-up of the neighborhood. We put energy into the questions of poverty in the neighborhood, and what it means to be a Christian with social conscience, and how to be a traditional Christian community that’s open to welcome people in, without losing identity.”

“I think the easiest answer is worship,” Dünzkofer continues. “It’s the centre of who we are. I still think it opens ways into the mysteriousness of God—that constant rhythm of prayer. It empowers us to do the work we’ve been given to do. We are very much a praying community.“

In 1995, St. Paul’s established its Advocacy Office to provide information and support to anyone in the community who sought help with housing problems, legal problems, immigration issues, welfare applications, and other access to government services. The office used to see around 1,000 clients a year. Now it’s over 3,000.

St. Paul’s also supports Our House, a recovery house for people trying to break free of addiction to drugs and alcohol.

“We have a grant for a full-time homeless outreach worker,” says Dünzkofer. “The neighborhood puts a high demand on the church. Other parishes have more advocacy resources. We need to be creative in finding more resources for that.”

Some in the community know St. Paul’s because it’s where their chorus meets, or their regular 12-step meeting is. Others know it because it’s church hall houses a labyrinth that one can walk as a meditation.

“The labyrinth program was first established by people in the church,” says Leslie Buck, “but it opened itself up to the community in general, so we find people coming there who have very little to do with the church. Some wouldn’t be caught dead in the church.”

When I ask about St. Paul’s future, everyone seems to point to the past. In other words, they feel they can lean into the reconciliatory history of the Anglican Church, and its stand for freedom of thought and expression.

“The saint of the Anglican Church was Elizabeth I,” says Buck. “She established the importance of common prayer over a confession of faith. And that has persisted. We’re more open to individual interpretation, to the spirit rather than the letter of the law.”

Buck is optimistic about St. Paul’s future.

“My optimism lies in the current situation, on the people who are here and the way in which they go about their business. “In general people here are of good will. The Spirit is among us. If we keep our wits about us and don’t get complacent, I have hope for the future, though I have no idea what it will be.”

Seminarian Clare Morgan says, “I still hold out for a church where we try as hard as we can to stay together as a family, with a commitment to talking and sharing stories. A lot of fundamentalists go and split and form another church and keep splitting. A friend of mine likes to say ‘We’re good at being heretics, but we don’t like to be schismatic.’ So we yell at each other, but we’re all still Anglican.”

A deepening identity, advocacy and community

From Dünzkofer’s point of view, St. Paul’s future includes a deepening sense of identity. “I crave tradition that creates mystery,” he says, “that sense of the numinous. We also want to experience liturgy that meets people where they are. Some conversation needs to happen [about this], and we have great resources to deal with that. It is our tradition—the language of the people—and worship is a common experience. Praying together—that’s how we find out what God is telling us to do.”

St. Paul’s has faced many changes in the past 27 years. And now it faces yet another. At the end of Sunday’s service on October 21, one of the Church Wardens stepped forward to announce that Markus Dünzkofer has been called to be the next rector of St John’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh, and he has accepted. He will be leaving St. Paul’s at the end of December.

Dünzkofer says what impressed him most about St. Paul’s when he arrived eight-and-a-half years ago was “the intentionality of ministry in this community—in worship and music and the labyrinth. They were intentional about building it and intentional about getting the community involved. It’s the same thing with advocacy.”

One senses that this same intentionality along with discerning prayer and dialogue will be what carries St. Paul’s through its next set of changes.

After Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, a shift in values

In communities, Japan, Realtionship, World Work on April 5, 2013 at 7:33 pm
"Green Wave" by Alfred DePew 3/11/11 acrylic on paper

“Green Wave” by Alfred DePew, acrylic on paper

Published in the Vancouver Observer news site | March 8, 2012

Circulation: 100,000 monthly readers

When the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in March of 2011, executive coach and systems consultant Yuri Morikawa wanted to help. Like most, she wanted to focus on those hardest hit, the people in the Tōhoku region to the north of where she lives. But when she and her family evacuated to Nagasaki, she realized what she had already sensed—that everyone in Japan was in need of help, including her.

“Where I live [Tochigi, the prefecture south of Fukushima] also had high radiation,” says Morikawa. “So my husband and I decided to take our daughter to my mother-in-law’s house in Nagasaki.”

Morikawa and her family were there for a month. She had no real work to do, so she began to research how people in Nagasaki recovered from the atomic bomb. This led her to the grandson of Takashi Nagai, a physician and radiologist who survived the bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, joined in treating other victims, and then spent most of the rest of his life in prayer.

“Tokuji Nagai [Dr. Nagai’s grandson] told me about how Nagasaki recovered,” Morikawa continues, “and he was strong about this—it was not the help from outsiders” that brought it about.

To be sure, there was a great outpouring of compassion and money in the first year after the war, and there is nothing but gratitude for that, but then the foreigners left, “and the real pain and the real disaster started from there and lasted ten years. That was the toughest. Indifference happened. And segregation happened because just saying you were from Nagasaki, people wouldn’t want to marry you. There were afraid you were infected by the atom bomb. There was discrimination and real poverty in Nagasaki, even as elsewhere in Japan the economic recovery was strong.”

“Mr. Nagai said, ‘So Ms Morikawa. You sound like you want to be a helper from outside, and I must tell you it won’t help them much. Just know that. Start from your own family and your own community because you are also the victim. Have compassion for yourself.’”

“I felt like I was being hit by a huge bell,” says Morikawa. “It really shifted my mind from ‘what can I do?’ to I need help too, and so do my neighbors—from saviour or hero to the people who actually need help—including myself.”

Working with the nursing home staff

When she returned to her home, Morikawa began talking to her neighbors and parents of her daughter’s friends, “people I had seen before but never said hello to. I’d put my hand on their shoulder and ask them about what they’d been through. It seemed so natural, and yet so new. People were ready to support each other and to give things they had to those who didn’t have them. To be honest, I had never experienced this kind of unexpected uplift of emotions before. I think this kind of emotional exaltation cannot be without a deep pain and suffering, or awareness of that, or living with it.”

She had tea with a friend who told her stories about evacuating a nearby nursing home for the elderly.

“Amazing, heart-touching stories,” says Morikawa. “People who were on shift and people who were not on shift, once they got their own relatives settled—some of them, their homes were destroyed, but everybody helped to carry the old people, many of whom had Alzheimer’s or were bedridden, walking or by bike 30 to 40 minutes to the elementary school gymnasium. Then they went back to get the pets—goldfish, dogs, hamsters.”

“They were really working as one entity, seamlessly, without any direction or boss leading them. They worked smoothly, collaboratively. They made it happen. I was very moved. I also heard about their fatigue. Several weeks, day and night. They also had families they needed to keep secure. Many seemed to have a pain about that, sort of a guilty feeling toward their families. Some staff were out of town and couldn’t be with everyone when the earthquake struck. They felt guilty and also left out of the circle.”

Listening to her friend that day at tea, Morikawa thought of a way she could help. She proposed a workshop for the nursing home staff in which they could acknowledge one another and tell the stories of what happened on March 11.

“This is a wonderful legend this nursing home will be proud for the rest of its history,” syas Morikawa. “Let’s keep it, honour it.”

On the day of the workshop, they sat in a circle, and Morikawa put a lit candle in the centre. She began by telling her own story of 3/11. She thanked them for all the work they did to save the elderly people in the nursing home.

“Today is a time for gently looking back and telling your stories to one another,” she told them. “There was so much emotion,” says Morikawa. “Many said it was the first time they cried.”

Then she put a large paper in the middle of the room and asked them to put everything they wanted to remember, “everything they wanted the next generation to know. And if future generations encounter a similar tragedy, it will be a resource to them.”

One drew a dog that was saved. Some wrote words. Others drew people from the nursing home who had died before the earthquake. “Like spirits friends or allies,” says Morikawa.

As a professional coach and facilitator, she had many plans and ideas for exercises, but, she says, “I learned that in these times simpler is better, the fewer words, the better. The emotion is waiting for the space to come out, so once I set up, it will happen organically. I told my story. I put some water in the well—to prime it—‘calling water,’ we say— their story was the water of the well.”

Working with the nursery school teachers

Some weeks later, she offered something similar to the teachers at the pre-school where her friend taught. It was more casual. She had proposed a workshop along the lines of the one she led at the nursing home, but she says, the teachers “were tired of being serious and scared and sad. They needed tea and sweets and a chat.”

So one Saturday afternoon about eight teachers gathered at the school for tea. And stories emerged—“how they were busy and still there was a crack in the wall and a broken gate. It started from that. People spoke of what they were proud of—that no children were hurt or missing. Everybody had gotten safely back to their parents. Amazing in and of itself.”

“They said of course the kids were terrified. And the first thing the teachers told them to do was to get under the table but oh my goodness desks were swimming and running on the floor!” says Morikawa. “And the kids were screaming, so the teachers held them and said it’s OK; it will go away.”

As soon as there was a lull in the shaking, the teachers knew they had to get the children out of the building, so they had them line up as if it were a game and even had one class compete with another to see who could get out the quickest and be the calmest.

Some had the children clap their hands in rhythm. If the children focused on that, they could forget about their fear. To overcome their own fear, teachers focused on the children and communicated with each other with their eyes, rather than speaking too much. In addition to the pre-schoolers, there were the babies that had to be brought out from the nursery. They used slides to get from the second and third floors out to the playground with someone catching them at the other end. One pregnant teacher slid down with two babies on either side of her huge belly.

“Slide, catch, repeat.”

“Laughter makes the heart open,” says Morikawa. “And an open heart can let the pain out, and once the pain is out, it can be shared with others, a time of healing.”

How is life different a year later?

“On the surface level, things are getting back to normal,” says Morikawa, “but on a deep level, we are transforming. Change keeps coming like a rush of water. It’s a constant challenge. In Japan’s history, we have very little power to change from inside. We have always needed outside influence to change, a stimulus. This huge earthquake really shook society in a good way and changed people’s mindset from indifference to support for each other and actually taking action.”

“Our values are shifting dramatically,” she continues. “The culture of mass consumption and wasting things—that is not in fashion any more. Young people are moving toward agriculture. People care about what they eat—especially young parents—and where the food was grown. People in their 20s and 30s are forming non-profit organizations [that focus on] environmental support for the North, supporting families to take out the old soil, bringing in new soil, replanting strawberry farms.”

“In Japan,” says Morikawa, “shame is the worst thing you can give or receive. If you stick out too much, you are likely to be expelled from the village mentality. But with this huge natural power [the earthquake and tsunami] we were forced to change. There are stronger bonds in the community, a sense of awareness of who needs support. There is a kind of readiness. When something happens, we can help each other. We are better prepared. People are very grounded, and whatever happens we will face it together.”

Seeing Red: a play about American painter Mark Rothko at the Vancouver Playhouse

In Art, Art and politics, Realtionship on April 5, 2013 at 5:33 am
Jim Mezon as painter Mark Rothko in the Vancouver Playhouse production of Red

Jim Mezon as painter Mark Rothko in the Vancouver Playhouse production of Red

Published in the Vancouver Observer news site | January 21, 2012

Circulation: 100,000 monthly readers

“What do you see?” demands Rothko. “And how does it make you feel?”

These are the two questions that keep pulsing through John Logan’s play about Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko and his assistant. They are the questions that Rothko’s paintings themselves seem to ask, not only about paintings, but also about the world.

What do you see? And how does it make you feel?

I have to admit I went to see Red last night out of a kind of nostalgia for a time when America’s painters were most vital and important (as well as neurotic and self-absorbed and all the rest). And yet that was my fear—that I’d be seeing a period piece.

Me of little faith.

This is Rothko, after all, who stands before us and rails against everything we still cling to—real estate, money, appearance above all—everything bright and shiny—leisure and anything else that indicates status.

And then there’s the problem of a play about a painter in his studio—not exactly action-packed. Pollack, maybe, but these Color Field painters? Rothko himself says, “most of painting is thinking. 10% is putting paint on canvas; the rest is waiting.”

Thanks to Jim Mezon as Rothko and David Coomber as Ken, his assistant, and Kim Collier’s direction, the waiting is charged with tension. And words can’t describe the exuberance with which painter and assistant prime a canvas. Seriously. The play itself is every bit as vital and unsettling to us today as Rothko and his crowd were to New York in the 1950s.

More than once, Rothko decries the “nice-ness” and glib complacency of American life at mid-century, when everything was “fine, just fine.”

“We are not fine,” he shouts. “We are anything but fine.”

When the play opens, we find Rothko caught in a number of absurd contradictions. He is a rebel and an outsider who all of a sudden has a commission to paint murals for New York’s newest and trendiest restaurant. He tells his new assistant that he is not his rabbi or teacher or therapist, and then proceeds to act like all three. At the top of his game, he is most vulnerable.

He is getting old, by art world standards, and young Turks like Frank Stellaand Andy Warhol are on the ascendancy. But there is something about the sparring between master and assistant, the attack and counter attack, the philosophical questions raised, that suggest our own most troubling dilemmas and remind us of the courage it takes to remain honestly engaged with them.

When a house was a home and not real estate

In communities, Realtionship on April 5, 2013 at 5:11 am
The house on Pine Street, Portland, Maine

The house on Pine Street, Portland, Maine

Published in the Vancouver Observer news site | November 14, 2011

Circulation: 100,000 monthly readers

Even empty, even in the disrepair left by its last tenants, the soul of the house on Pine Street in Portland, Maine remains intact, palpable, and still welcoming.

In August, I walked through it for the last few times, showing it to friends and fellow artists who might be interested in buying it, talking to people from consignment shops about the five remaining pieces of furniture, and one last time to smudge it and bless it and thank it for being home to me for more than 15 years.

Before me, the house belonged to a colleague in the sculpture department at the Maine College of Art, and I had visited the back part, where the painter David Cedrone lived and had his studio.

It’s a house I had passed several times a day on my way to and from downtown, and it always caught my eye, not because it was showy, but because it was singular, somehow. Unlike any other house on the street. Simple, square, stout, and plain—wood frame with asbestos siding the colour of, well, let’s say “tan”—with the oldest tree on the block out front. And in the spring, clustered around one of John V’s sculptures, an abundance of blue flag iris.

I was not looking to buy a house in 1994, but when I passed it one day, and John was outside, he said he was selling. I asked if I could see the inside in case I knew of anyone who was looking to buy.

He walked me through his part, the middle room, which he used as a studio, the front room, where one of his sons was living, the kitchen, the large bathroom and the open space behind the kitchen.  Upstairs were two bedrooms he rented to art students and a bathroom; then there was David’s section in back—two rooms, a bath and kitchen area.

It was a lot bigger than it looked from outside, and I had the uncanny feeling that I already lived there.

“Uh oh,” I said. “I might have to buy this house, and I don’t even know how to buy a house—even if I had the money.”

Indeed, I wasn’t sure I entirely approved of home ownership. Some old Marxist impulse in me.

“Go to the bank,” he said, “and see if you can get a mortgage.”

A mortgage, I thought. Much too grown-up for someone like me. And yet with one thing and another, I qualified for a low-income first-time home-buyer mortgage, and somehow it all worked.

The night of the closing, after everything was moved, I went to a Christmas party and admitted to people how frightened I was to go back to the big empty house. It was odd. Here it was mine and I was scared of it. I kept having dreams of people who lived there I hadn’t known about. I dreamt of rooms I hadn’t seen. Whatever spirits there were in the house were friendly enough, even welcoming. Even so, it took time to live into the place—boxes everywhere, only two chairs.

Friends from a meditation group came to bless the house. Then I held a potluck supper. In addition to food, I asked people to bring a plate to eat off of and/or a chair. House warming gifts.

I fashioned a large table out of a hollow door on milk crates, threw a cloth over it, placed a vase of flowers in the middle, and waited. And people arrived, bringing just enough chairs, just enough plates. From thrift shops, potters’ studios. Each one different, unmatched, singular. Together a collection of unmatched objects, each its own shape and colour, conforming to nothing but the spirit of the house itself: improvisation and Yankee ingenuity.

Which pretty much characterized my life in those years. The next summer, I had my first writer’s fellowship at the Wurlitzer Foundation in New Mexico, which began eight years of migration back and forth. I began studying massage and Polarity Therapy. I returned to painting.

The house provided room for writing workshops, Liberal Arts faculty meetings, potluck suppers, community organizing, and healing sessions in the treatment room upstairs. Summers, I would rent the house to a writer who wrote three of her children’s books there. A friend of mine’s father came to stay with me for a week or 10 days, so I could work with him on a book he was writing about sailing solo across the Atlantic to celebrate his 70th birthday. I hosted my men’s group once or twice a month, switching off with another member who had a photography studio. I could meet with my students from the documentary centre down the street when we needed more space and quiet.

That first winter, while I was shoveling snow between storms, an elder man stopped and told me that’s he’d been born in the house, pointed to the front bedroom upstairs.

“In July,” he said. “It was so hot, my dad and his friends kept pouring water on the roof to try to cool the birth room down.”

During my first nor’easter, the house began to rock and creak like an old ship. I called a friend who live down east who assured me that its movement was good news.

“It’s made of wood, right?

“Yes,” I said.

“Then it’s supposed to do that. If it were a brick house and it was swaying, you’d be in trouble.”

“Besides,” she continued. “That house has seen more nor’easters than you’ll see in your life.”

She had a point. The house had survived the Civil War, the Great Fire of 1865, and any number of hurricanes. What was one more snowstorm?

After posting notices at the art school and the hospitals nearby, after telling every artist I knew that the house was available with a shed out back that would make a perfect studio, after upwards of 50 showings, a developer has bought the house to reconfigure and resell.

For the first time in its 188-year history, the house has been bought by someone who will not live in it. This dwelling housed students, artists and writers for the last 30 years or so, was once a boarding house, and may have for a time been a whorehouse (small and intimate to be sure. This house with a soul that called me to it, in the end, has become someone’s investment property, just another piece of real estate.

Not my first choice. Not my choice at all, but the way things turned out.

Eggnog, sauerkraut and cookies: feeding the ghosts of Christmas past

In Family, Realtionship on December 21, 2011 at 11:59 pm
Alfred DePew
Published in the Vancouver Observer | December 13, 2011 |
Circulation: 100,000 monthly readers

Children at Christmas dinner. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Sauerkraut

Every year, my mother would put a large dish of it on the sideboard along with the carved turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce for Christmas dinner, and each of us would be obliged to have a small portion as a way of showing respect to my father’s mother, her sister, Florence, and their childhood friend Edwina, three ancient ladies of German descent.

My mother hated Germans, not so much because of the war, but because of her mother-in-law. At best, their relations were strained. At worst, they flared into open combat. At least as open as life in a 1950s St. Louis suburb would allow. Which looked a good bit more like the subterfuge that characterized the years of the Cold War.

The root of the conflict lay in the fact that they were a great deal alike in temperament. Both had strong opinions about how things ought to be, and neither was shy about expressing those opinions.

Christmas being what it is, one makes an effort to be of good will, and my mother’s goodwill gesture toward Grandmother each year was sauerkraut.

There was always a lot left over. Sauerkraut, that is.

Aunt Edwina survived my grandmother and Aunt Florence by a good many years, so each Christmas, my mother continued to serve sauerkraut.  One year, my mother passed around the sauerkraut dish for second helpings, though it was clear than no one had had a first.

“Aunt Edwina,” she said, leaning over.

“No thanks,” said Aunt Edwina, “I’ve never much cared for it myself.”

I could almost read my mother’s mind: if Edwina had never liked it, then what about Aunt Florence and Grandmother? All that goodwill sauerkraut for naught.

Eggnog

It’s got to be the nastiest liquid on earth. I never could abide it — a waste of perfectly good bourbon. Of course not everyone agrees, and since it’s a Christmas tradition, it filled the cut-crystal punch bowl on Christmas Eve and then again on Christmas morning. My mother loved serving it to her mother-in-law and our maiden aunts, all teetotalers. After three cups or so, the old ladies would start giggling, without any clear notion of what was funny.

And my mother would grin, triumphant.

The good bourbon (Jim Beam, Old Grand-Dad, or Jack Daniel’s) was prominently on display, and everyone’s first highball was poured from that, but as my mother went around to freshen everybody’s drink, she’d carry the glasses out to the kitchen and pour from the bottle of 905, a more generic brand produced by the local liquor store by the same name.

Fruitcake

Speaking of bourbon, another Christmas treat that turned my stomach was fruitcake, the second nastiest thing in the world after eggnog. To think of the two together is almost more than I can bear. But, once again, to many it is the very essence of Christmas — heavy, dense, full of candied fruit and highly alcoholic. It was always a gift. From Mrs. Weintraub next door, I think. And so it was also showcased, and after a few hearty souls had a thin slice or two, most of it went the route of the left over sauerkraut.

Candy canes and oranges

They appeared in my Christmas stocking, and both were disappointments simply because they weren’t chocolate. Even so, I remember how exotic oranges seemed. I’m not sure why, but we never had any sort of fresh fruit around, except bananas — orange juice came from frozen concentrate. Oranges on Christmas morning were intriguing because I had to peel them, they sprayed a fine mist that tickled my nose, and they didn’t come out of a can. In the 1950s, that was sort of unusual. At least in our house.

In fact I don’t think I actually encountered an orange on a tree until I was well into my 40s on a trip to California, and — I kid you not — my first thought was: Californians are so weird, they hang ornaments in their trees in summertime.

Santa’s milk and cookies

I can’t for the life of me remember actually putting them out for Santa. It may have been one of those traditions that my family dispensed with before I was born. I was the youngest of four. I do, however, remember, my distress one year that Santa couldn’t possibly come because St. Louis almost never had any snow at Christmas-time. My father took pains to explain to me that for the southern route, Santa used a helicopter.

I was skeptical.

“How does he land it on a sloping roof?” I asked.

“The same way he lands his sleigh up north,” said my father.

“What about the reindeer?” I asked.

“Oh they’re helping to pull. Remember there’s a load of presents. And they know the route better than Santa himself,” my father assured me.

Everybody got the sense that year that I had outgrown Santa, and the next year, Santa didn’t drop in on Christmas Eve to have a glass of Christmas cheer. (The fact that Santa drank eggnog was a mark against him in my book.) True, the two previous years, I’d had a pretty good idea who was behind the fake belly and white beard, especially the year it was my older brother, but I had played along like the good sport I was always trying to be.

I can’t remember how old I was that year, but I was bereft and was working my way into a fit of tears. Whereupon my father snuck upstairs, put on one of my sister’s red winter coats, managed to stick some cotton balls on his face, and came back down.

“Ho! Ho! Ho!” he roared.

“Boo! Hoo! Hoo!!” I roared louder, not to be consoled by cheap tricks.

All these years later, I think: if only I’d had the presence of mind to soften, just a little. I was, in fact, too old for Santa, but I wanted the grown-ups to keep up the illusion, so I could act like I was playing along.

If only I had appreciated the apology inherent in my father’s ridiculous get-up that night.

If only I’d been willing, even for a moment, to believe in make-believe.

The Wisdom of Self-Doubt

In Children, Education, Family, Inner Work, Parenting, Realtionship, Relationship with Self, Schools on December 20, 2011 at 12:30 am

Maria V. Chatila

Guest blog by Maria V. Chatila, ILM, ACC, ORSCC

Maria V. Chatila is presently living in Dubai with her husband and three children. She works as an Education & Relationship Life Coach. She is dedicated to helping schools, families, couples and individuals to build personal and family awareness’ while creating empowering relationships. Maria has given talks to large groups of parents at schools as well as smaller groups of parents at their homes.

I dedicate this article to all parents and children in the hope that it may motivate and inspire you to achieve your full potential.

Anyone who knows me will agree that I am unable to wear the mask of pretender very well. Most often, I wear my emotions on my sleeve. Not only do I hang my emotions out for the world to see, I also assume that others will follow suit. Fortunately, I am mistaken. However, for the sake of this article, I will blast open one particular emotion that I tend to find very interesting and very wise. The emotion of the month is what I would like to call ‘Self-Doubt’.

According to the Collins dictionary, Self-Doubt is a lack of confidence in yourself and your abilities (Collins, 2003)

The Invasion of the Gremlins

As I sit here writing this article, I find myself reminiscing over my school years and the self-doubt that I experienced all of those years ago. The interesting thing about my memories is that my fears back then now seem so young and ridiculous. But, if I remember correctly, to the much younger Maria, those fears were very real and very scary. All these years later, the funny thing is that the essence of my younger self-doubt still exists.
My inquisitive nature leads me to use my curiosity and find the wisdom that lies behind the self-doubt that we may be feeling and use it to serve my audience of readers.
This is the time of the year when children and their parents may be feeling both very excited and very anxious about the upcoming end to the academic year. Most families have plans of enjoying a summer of carefree attitudes that means they could enjoy the freedom and flexibility that summer has to offer. The school schedule these days is about juggling the social and academic obligations and with this comes the knot in your stomach that for most people means SELF-DOUBT. Parents on the one hand are constantly wondering, ‘am I doing it right?’ Children, on the other hand, are wondering, ‘will my parents be proud of me?’

Last summer, I interviewed children of various age groups about how they felt about returning to school in September. The youngest of my interviewees Aya, was only 4 1/2 and she was ever so excited to begin school because this would be her first time attending the Big Girl school. She looked forward to a lovely new teacher who would surely love her and she especially was excited to play on the school playground. Apparently, says Aya, only clever big girls could play on the special playground so she was going to be a clever big girl this year! I was very impressed with Aya because it seemed that until this point, she really did not have any self-doubt. This made me really curious because, if most children were as confident as Aya commencing their careers as students then when did Self-Doubt begin to kick in?

Later on, I met Nicholas. He was 5 years old and he was preparing to attend Year 1 at his primary school. Overall, he had no real fears about recommencing school. However, he did say that he was a little bit nervous about meeting his new teacher. He claimed that until he could ‘see’ her face, he would be nervous. I asked him what he would be looking out for in her face and he said that he was nervous that she may not be nice and he would be able to tell this by looking at her eyes. He would be disappointed if she had ‘big circle eyes when she looked at him’ because this would be bad.

Michael, 7 years old, was getting ready to attend Year 3 and he was most definitely excited. However, he also claimed to feel really nervous too. Michael stated that his fears were mostly about the new teacher and his friends. He stated that meeting a new teacher makes him nervous because new teachers have new rules and new work that he will have to do. He was also nervous about his friends because he stated that if there were new people at school, he would have to make new friends.

Selena, also 7 years old, had a somewhat different stance to Michael’s. She was very nervous about not being able to make new friends which would lead her to be left by her lonesome during break-times to walk alone on the playground. Selena also claimed to be nervous about making mistakes with her class work that would then cause her to getting poor grades and this would eventually be the reason that she would be seen as a disappointment to her parents and they may even become angry with her. As she spoke, I could almost feel her fear.

Finally, I interviewed Dania who was 12 years old. As she spoke, I could feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. Dania discussed how she always has a feeling of self-doubt heavily on the first day of school. ‘Too much is unknown’, she said. She worries that this may be the year that everything goes wrong and she fails at tests and disappoints her parents, her teachers and herself. Dania worries that she may not have a bright future if this academic year is not successful and that she may not be able to accomplish the great things that she dreams of. Mostly, she says, ‘I feel afraid that I may not be noticed or chosen at school to do things that help me to stand out in front of my peers’. She worries that the teachers may not be fair and that she may not be accepted by her peers. Not fitting in amongst your peers is very challenging, says Dania. Some children get bullied if they don’t fit in and this can be scary for children, she says.

As I sat listening to the answers that were being offered to me by these young children, I remained astounded by how much has not changed since my younger years. Although technology has hit an all time high for creating amazing gadgets, our children are still suffering from the same issues of self-doubt as we did in our younger days!

With Age Comes Wisdom

‘Life is 10 percent what you make it and 90 percent how you take it’ Louise Priscoll
Interestingly, my last interviewee was a mid 30s mother of two children who remembers feeling self-doubt as a young child, but most especially at this time of the year when she was younger. To Melanie, the self-doubt reminded her of the ‘inner 5 year old child that lacks confidence, perseverance and drive’. I could not agree with her more. I too remember that my self-doubt really kicked in at the age of 5. Most countries across the globe begin to welcome children into school by the age of 5 and I do believe that although school is a place where children learn to build their characters and learn to mix with other children; I also believe and agree with Melanie’s statement; ‘as parents, we must become aware of our children’s feelings’.

Recently, the news printed a story about a young 13 year-old boy who tried to end his life because of his self doubt. Are parents, teachers and the community really aware of our children’s feelings of self-doubt that continue frightening them into doing things that seem like their only hope for escape?

A Coach’s Perspective….

In my working experience and in my personal experience, Self-Doubt is very common and I have still to meet an individual who has never experienced a lack of belief or a fear of failure. All those years ago and if I am very honest, not too long ago I still believed that my self-doubt existed to harm me. However, it is now my belief that ‘Self-Doubt’ enters our lives to give us some wisdom. The question is, are we ready to ‘see’ the wisdom in our fear of failure? It is a fact that teachers and caretakers have a huge impact on our children. Most teachers have more quantity time with children than some of the parents do. Therefore, it is important that parents and teachers work together to find the wisdom in the Self-Doubt that is causing havoc on our children’s lives.

Some of my tips are:

First and foremost, normalize the self-doubt. Most children are on a sole train called ‘EGO’ and they are not aware of the fact that many of the other children are also feeling scared, nervous and afraid of not being a success at school. As my evidence shows, all of the children that have previously been in school have already developed self-doubt. Sit down with your students and your children and share
your own memories of self-doubt as a child. In fact, share some of your most recent memories of self-doubt as an adult. Normalizing a lack of confidence will help your children feel comfortable with their own feelings.

Secondly, use the child’s fears openly and brainstorm as a family or as a class around the possible wisdom that is available to the child because of their self-doubt. At first, there will be no apparent wisdom just sadness and helplessness. Keep asking and soon enough the child will begin to say something positive about their learning’s because of the existence of their self-doubt.

Finally, once the wisdom has been made consciously aware, ask your child to take more actions that will continue to let them grow. Remember, ‘It is not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters’ (Epictetus) Sit down as often as your family or class feel is necessary and discuss the actions that were taken and give your child the feedback that they need. Praise them for whatever action they took and encourage them to keep moving forward.

Final Thoughts

I believe that it is our role as parents and teachers to help each and every child achieve their full potential. I stand strong and ask that you do too. At the end of our time here, I would like to believe that as a community we were able to light a fire within our children and help them to shine brightly for the next generation to see. What have you done today to help your child see the wisdom in their self-doubt?

For more information about Maria and her work, please visit her website, www.bpacoach.com or contact Maria directly through her email maria@bpacoach.com

.

James Hillman: Jungian, iconoclast, philosopher and wizard

In Inner Work, James Hillman obituary, Jungian pyschology, Men's movement, Realtionship on November 6, 2011 at 11:47 pm

by Alfred DePew

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

Its imperiousness, its shameless elitism—the very things we love to love about the New York Times can just as often make me spitting mad. And this time it’s the NYT’s obituary of James Hillman, which calls him “a charismatic therapist and best-selling author whose theories about the psyche helped revive interest in the ideas of Carl Jung, animating the so-called men’s movement in the 1990s and stirring the pop-cultural air.”

So-called men’s movement? Stirring the pop-cultural air?

Am I over-reacting, or does that sound snarky?

And who am I—a pipsqueak journalist, from western Canada, no less—to argue with the Gray Lady?

In my view, James Hillman was among the most important American thinkers of the second half of the Twentieth Century. So there! He was a Jungian analyst, theorist, philosopher, author, mentor, mystic, lecturer, visionary, and enthusiastic gadfly. By turns brilliant and obscure, his presence in the lecture hall is hard to describe.

You just had to be there. And I was, on two occasions.

The first was a retreat in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his co-conspirators poet Robert Bly and storyteller Michael Meade. 700 men gathered for two and a half days to unfold “The Water of Life,” one of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I had just returned from my first trip to Russia, so I think this must have been in the late spring of 1990, which felt important to me because I had been deeply in the archetype of Mother Russia (an archetype whose fierceness survived the Soviet years) and now I was surrounded by men embodying a German story. And in both cases, I wasn’t really sure what the hell I was doing there.

I was very uncomfortable. That much was clear to me.

And I knew something important was going on—in and around me—though I’m still hard-pressed to say exactly what. A felt sense of something in me opening or arising. A gathering of men around me (something I quite simply could not have imagined possible, much less desirable). A deep dreaming and a simultaneous awakening.

I experienced the luminosity of my imaginal world and its connection to history, legend, and the present moment.

Heavy stuff, eh? But you have to understand how hard we all laughed at ourselves and the world, even as we were in awe of the story itself. Even as we were in deep grief. Even in outrage, there was a line of pure zaniness in the men. On stage and all around the auditorium.

See what I mean? You had to be there.

The thing I remember most vividly about James Hillman is how he’d get carried away by his own thinking. A true flight of fancy. Until Bly or Meade would shout something like, “Come back to earth, you pedantic old fool,” and rein him back in.

Which gave rise to a spontaneous insult-hurling competition, each insult longer and more bodacious than the one before, until everyone was laughing so hard, it was almost impossible to tell who won.

A few years later, I drove up to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, to hear Hillman lecture for two hours on the colour blue.

Don’t ask me what he said. I have no idea. And yet it was one of the more memorable talks I’ve ever heard. It was the atmosphere he created, the quality of feeling, the wide range of thought and association. Charged, pyrotechnic, astonishing every bit as much for the thoughts and feelings his talk engendered in us, as the line of thought he was following in himself at the moment.

Indeed James Hillman seems the very incarnation of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s idea of “Man Thinking” described in his 1837 address “The American Scholar.”

“Him … the past instructs; him the future invites,” writes Emerson.

“The office of the scholar is to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances. He plies the slow, unhonored, and unpaid task of observation.”

And elsewhere in the essay:

“Free should the scholar be, – free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom, ‘without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution.’ Brave; for fear is a thing, which a scholar by his very function puts behind him.”

Fearless, James Hillman certainly was, and irreverent when it came to his own profession, as evidenced by the book he co-authored with Michael Ventura: We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy—and the World’s Getting Worse.

When it came to myth, imagination, and the resilience of the human psyche, however, Hillman was in deep and respectful wonder.

A wonder he was able to instill in us all.

In Canada’s poorest neighborhood, a pastor serves mass and lunch

In Christianity, communities, Dialogue, Lutherans, Peace, Realtionship, Religion, Spiritual Practice, Urban ministry, Work, Working with the poor, World Work on November 6, 2011 at 7:26 am

Brian Heinrich

 
by Alfred DePew

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

When I arrive at the Lutheran Urban Mission Society in Vancouver’s downtown eastside, Pastor Brian Heinrich offers me a seat underneath a verse from Scripture, I John 3:17-18: “… if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth.”

Heinrich puts the kettle on for tea and then goes in search of a guy who signed up for a yoga lesson with a teacher who is waiting in the chapel.

The walls are pale and fresh, the atmosphere bright and serene. In the chapel down the hall, I find icons of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker Movement; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.; South Africa’s Steve Biko.

Heinrich comes back from the apartment building next door, having had trouble getting in to find the man he was looking for. “Security,” he says. “It’s not like they don’t know me. They see me every day!” The man spaced out the lesson. Heinrich apologizes to the yoga teacher and asks him to come back at two, when he’s sure the next person on the sign-up sheet will be here.

Once we are seated at the chapel’s oak table, Heinrich tells me that, in a real sense, Vancouver’s Lutheran Urban Mission Society was born in St. Louis. That’s where Heinrich, one of LUMS’ founders, went to seminary some 30 years ago. He was educated and inspired by a small group of progressive theologians who, having been censured by the Lutheran Missouri Synod, formed Concordia Seminary in Exile, or Seminex, in 1974.

“These were the bright young stars of the 60s and 70s,” says Heinrich, “many of them educated in Europe and trained in the historical-critical method, which put Scripture into historical context.” A method that ran counter to the thinking of Missouri Synod leaders.

After repeated reprimands and several failed efforts at reconciliation, 45 of the seminary’s 50 faculty members and a majority of their students walked out in protest.

“They left with the processional cross and the shirts on their backs,” says Heinrich.

By the time Heinrich attended Seminex, the seminary had established itself in a storefront on Grand Avenue and was operating under the auspices of the Jesuits of St. Louis University.

“A reversal of the Reformation,” says Heinrich, chuckling. “Lutherans are like Jesuits,” he explains. “We’re the protestant equivalent. Grounded in deep learning, with a commitment to theology—and action. Because they had been exiled from the church body and had no parishes, [Seminex students] had to develop alternative ministry styles. And that’s the direct link from there to here.”

After completing his studies, Heinrich was called to a church in Oliver, BC, a German community not far from Penticton. He was 29. The elders approached him, clicked their heels, bowed slightly at the waist, and addressed him as Herr Pastor. Heinrich was taken aback. He extended his hand and said, “Call me Brian.” The elders were bewildered.

Heinrich would write out his sermons in English, have someone translate them into German, and then spend three days working on his pronunciation. Though he’d been raised understanding German in his neighborhood in south Vancouver, he usually answered his grandparents in English.

“It was my first parish,” says Heinrich. “When I graduated, I was a bit rigid.” He was first and foremost a theologian. “Oliver was a good match for me. They loved me and took care of me. They taught me to be more pastoral, more human. Later, when I was in New York, they sent me boxes of Okanogan jams and home-knit socks. Many of them are still in touch 25 years later.”

From Oliver, BC, Heinrich was called to Manhattan, St. Luke’s Church near Times Square on 46th Street. “Everything in New York shocked me,” he says. “I was a book learning person up to that point pretty much.” Once there, he ran a soup kitchen and a homeless shelter at the height of the HIV crisis. “Men were dying every week,” says Heinrich. “They were like lepers. Everyone was afraid. We served meals with real utensils, nothing disposable. We were affirming their humanity, not just feeding them.”

Heinrich’s ministry grew to include hospice work. By the end of his time in New York, he served as the chaplain at Bailey House on Christopher Street.

As compelling as his work was in New York, Heinrich had always believed that he was called to serve the Canadian church. And yet when the first call came from a bishop asking him to come to White Horse, Heinrich declined. “I thought and prayed and said ‘no.’” Six weeks later, the bishop called, asking him to reconsider, and this time the answer was yes.

It was time to come home to Canada.

After a year or so in White Horse, he returned to Vancouver and settled in Strathcona. While working at a L’Arche community for the disabled, Heinrich noticed that there were no Lutheran churches in the downtown city core. “It’s not that the downtown eastside needed to be Christianized; it was that the church needed to be engaged.” When he mentioned that to the church hierarchy, they all nodded, and, as he says, “that was about it.

“So I called a meeting with people in the community, and we founded LUMS as a separate not-for-profit organization—grass roots founded and supported. We were building out of nothing. I had to convert the churches: here was Lazarus at our doorstep, Christ clothed in the poor. I had to coax Lutherans who are internally focused into external, politically challenging situations. I went out to churches and took youth groups around the downtown eastside. It was intense and demanding.”

At first, LUMS had no office. Everything was on Heinrich’s cell phone. He worked part-time as a street priest for St. James Anglican Church Community Services until they ran out of funding. Next LUMS was invited to First United Church on Gore and Hastings, where they stayed for eleven years. Then came 18 months at Christ Church Cathedral. And then last November, LUMS moved to its own space at 360 Jackson Avenue.

LUMS is run on individual donations, not church structure. “Financial support for churches is shrinking,” says Heinrich. “The whole institution is in a huge recession. Some churches are closing.” So in a sense it’s good that LUMS doesn’t depend upon the church for its survival. “Individuals of conscience believe in our work, and this gives us broader support and keeps us truly independent. It’s the church as organic community vs. the church as facility,” he says.

And it’s this same community that helped Heinrich and his partner, Nathan, when their house burned down in February of 2008. “The fire has been very difficult,” says Heinrich. “The house was my place of refuge, its garden an immediate experience of life and breath. It was also a place of hospitality and welcome, with a chapel where I’d serve weekly Eucharist. Being in exile has connected me even more to the people in the downtown eastside. Your whole world is turned upside down. Where to sleep and do laundry? I have that much more understanding and empathy for challenges of the homeless.”

Heinrich’s passion for social justice is fueled by ecumenical impulses. He has always had close ties to Catholics and Anglicans engaged in the downtown eastside. He preaches regularly at the Anglican Cathedral.

Brian’s style is unconventional, more of a conversation than a sermon. He maintains that it’s not just his job to interpret biblical stories. “I speak freely,” he says. “It’s a dialogue. I’m not so much a preacher as the conductor of an orchestra—a living thing—the spirit is there. This is a living community, struggling with the text.”

From time to time Heinrich returns to preach in the church he grew up in, Martin Luther Evangelical Lutheran at 46th and Fraser. It can be challenging. “The old German people tell me ‘we had nothing when we got here. We worked hard and pulled ourselves up. Why don’t those people just work hard and pull themselves up?’ It’s always dicey.”

Heinrich explains that the circumstances of life have so wounded the homeless, they don’t have the same choices.

“I don’t think the old people get it,” says Heinrich, “but they’ve come several times to put on the meal. And they see some of the same people and get to know their names and establish relationship—that’s the conversion.”

The fourth Saturday of every month, the Lutheran Urban Mission Society serves a hot meal at 373 East Cordova Street. Before the gate opens, Heinrich serves mass to the volunteers at St. Paul’s next door.

Today, the volunteers are from a protestant youth group in Burnaby, 15-20 of them, mostly Asian teenagers, and not quite sure what to make of it all. They are in unfamiliar territory—Canada’s poorest neighborhood, a catholic church—and before them stands the imposing figure of a pastor well over six feet tall, sporting a Mohawk, and with both earlobes full of cobalt blue spiral earrings.

Heinrich invites them to come closer, into the front pews.

“I need your help,” he says. “I’m not going to do all the work here. I want you to listen to the text. Then I’m going to ask you some questions.”

A boy gets up to read from Jeremiah.

“For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, … then I will dwell with you in this place.”

Then a girl comes forward to read from Mathew, the parable of the man who sowed good seed and his enemy who came and sowed weeds among the wheat.

“What do you hear God saying to us?” asks Heinrich. “Come on, you have to help me.”

There’s a long, awkward silence. Heinrich can’t wait too long. There are people to feed.

“The stuff that we do in here in God’s beautiful house,” says Heinrich, “has everything to do with our everyday lives. If worship is separate from what’s happening outside, as if our lives have no connection to this source—don’t think God doesn’t notice that. Many say the church ought not to concern itself with politics. But Jeremiah says, act justly with one another. Do right things in the world. If we make war or take advantage of others—is that connected to what we do here in church? I think not.

“And the parable of sowing seeds—what’s that about?” he asks.

Again a silence, but this time one of the volunteers ventures an answer, and from that follows a bit of a conversation, though cautious.

“Does God want us to be fruitful?”

“Yes.”

“Do we want to be wheat, or do we want to be weeds?”

“Wheat.”

“Sometimes it’s too easy to say ‘we are wheat, and they are weeds.’ The truth is we are each both. It’d be easy to pull up the weeds and burn them. That judgment is not ours. We’re all mixed fields. The time we’re in is full of opportunity. Seize the time and be fruitful. The parts of us can be whole and integrated as we live out in the world.”

Heinrich concludes by acknowledging his listeners.

“This way of preaching may be different from how it’s done in your church,” he says. “Thank you for being gracious.”

Before serving communion, Heinrich says, “This is preparation for what we are about to do next door. Here we can practice generosity as we offer each other the body and blood of Christ.”

Next door, we take our places. Everybody has been assigned a role: food server, plate carrier, table wiper, dish washer. They need someone to circulate with coffee, so that’s what I’m assigned. I have two plastic pitchers, one for black coffee, the other for coffee with milk.

Heinrich opens the gate and lets in the first 43 people with free tickets in hand. It’s a bit chaotic at first—who to serve what first? I pour coffee into cups for people who really want juice. Some don’t speak English, so I lean over and let them look into the jug.

“Juice over here,” I call out. We are angling around each other and there are some near misses.

Pasta with meat sauce. Pasta without meat sauce. Juice. Coffee. A bag of three cookies. Ice cream in back and a small bag of fruit to take home.

“Coffee!” I head over to a table. “Not black. With milk.”

“Anyone for black coffee here?” I ask. “Yes? OK. I’ll be right back with the coffee with milk.”

“Where’s the sugar?”

“Already on the table. Right there.”

“Thanks.”

“More juice over here,” I call out and then head back to the counter to get the coffee with milk. But which table wanted it? And someone over there hasn’t been served a plate yet. Where’s a food server? Never mind. Not my job. They can handle it.

Not everyone is finished when Heinrich lets in the second group. Some in the first group have shoveled pasta into plastic bags they brought and are calling for more.

The pace picks up with each new wave of people. It’s hot. People are impatient. They’re hungry. Also gracious, grateful, and obliging. The kids from Burnaby are steady, unflappable.

Each seating seems a little more chaotic than the one before, and yet we begin to meet the increased confusion with a graceful rhythm in our bodies, as we learn to work together as a team by instinct.

“Hey!” a man shouts. “Hey. She’s had three meals! She’s stealing.”

When I go over to him, he grabs my arm and pulls me toward him.

“It’s those Chinese,” he says. “Rob you blind. Tell Brian to stop letting them in. It’s not right. It’s just not right.”

“I’ll tell him,” I say, and pour him a cup of coffee.

When I’m near the door, I peer out to see if the crowd is thinning. All I see is more people.

Then suddenly there’s no more pasta.

“We’re not out! We’re not out!” shouts one of the cooks. “There’s more cooking!”

A grim irritation settles over the room.

“Welcome,” I tell the newcomers. “Have a seat.”

I keep pouring coffee.

Someone brings out the new pot of pasta, and the servers are at it again until, after eight seatings, we have fed more than 300 people.

As the crowd thins out and we start cleaning up, a woman approaches me. She’s wearing a hoody and several bright scarves. She unwinds one of them, a fine, delicately coloured one made of something like silk, and presses it into my hand.

“Give this to Brian,” she says.

I thank her and assure her I’ll pass it on to him.

“Tell him it’s from Luella. He doesn’t know who I am.”

“He will, Luella. Keep coming back,” I say, “and he’ll know you.”

Making Difficult Conversations Less Difficult in the Workplace

In business, Dialogue, organizations, Realtionship, Work on January 13, 2011 at 5:29 am

Miriam Grogan, CPCC, ORSCC

A Guest Blog Post by Executive Coach Miriam Grogan

Does anyone like having difficult conversations?  After all, difficult conversations are, by definition, difficult.  (Sharing uplifting, positive messages with employees also seems to be difficult for most people, but that’s another topic.)

We may know something is wrong.  We may be able to define it and why we need to address it.  But ask “what do you want to be different?” and you’re likely to be met with a blank stare and long silence.

Three sub-questions can help you shape what you want to say.

After the conversation, what do you want the other person to

  • KNOW?
  • DO?
  • FEEL?

What do you want them to KNOW?

Sometimes, this is the easiest of the three, as answer is often written down somewhere, in a company policy or job description.  “Our workday begins at 9:00.”  “We’ve reassigned the taking the checks to the bank from Jane to you.”

That said, this question can be difficult to answer, if what you want the listener to KNOW involves the impact on others.  “You have a lot of good things to say.  But you say so much, people are tuning out everything.  Your good ideas are getting lost.”

What you want your listener to KNOW is a critical building block for framing a conversation.

What do you want them to DO?

What action do you want the person to take as a result of the conversation?  What do you want to start, stop, increase or decrease?

“Our workday begins at 9:00” may be important to know.  But it doesn’t necessarily lead to an on time arrival.  “Please make sure you’re at your desk ready to go, coffee cup filled, good mornings completed, by 9:00” has a better chance.

In the second example, only pointing out what the too-talkative employee is doing wrong leaves her hanging.  (She might even talk more because now she’s self-conscious and doesn’t know what else to do!)  Give her something to do.  Consider, “When John asks a question in our staff meeting, count to three before saying anything.  See if anyone else has an answer before you jump in.”

How do you want them to FEEL?

This is often the hard one.  The good news is, you often don’t need to, or even want to, articulate a response to this question.  But you cannot skip over answering it for yourself.  In Difficult Conversations, Stone, Patton and Heen write, “difficult conversations do not just involve feelings, they are at their very core about feelings.”  There’s no substantive conversation if you skip over the very core.

How do you want the person to feel?  Sorry?  Inspired?  Appreciation for the gravity of the situation?  You may or may not say it explicitly, and the person may or may not feel the way you hope they will, but choosing a “feeling outcome” will influence the conversation as much, if not more, than your words.

Using the examples above, let’s say you, the supervisor, want the person to feel

1.     On notice!!  You are sick of this behavior.  If it doesn’t stop – NOW – they’re cooked.

2.     Inspired.  You like this person, want to see them fix the problem and soar.

Read the sample sentences out loud from each “feeling.”  Different, eh?

Know, do, feel.  Clarifying what you want may not make the conversation easy, but chances are it will be less difficult.

To find out more about Miriam Grogan and her work, visit: http://www.stellarcoaching.com/pages/about.htm

The Parents’ Drinking Problem, Guest Post by Pearl Mattenson

In couples, Family, Parenting, Realtionship on December 1, 2010 at 10:57 pm

Pearl Mattenson, PCC, ORSCC

He comes home from a long weekend at a friend’s house. He is a senior in high school. At 17, he is able to drive his dad’s car, which he had borrowed for the weekend. Walking in the door, he gives his mom a hug and helps her out with a project.  They catch up on the events of the past few days. His mom asks,

“So was there drinking going on?”

“Yeah”

“Did you drink?”

“No”

Several hours later the mom happens upon her son’s Facebook page left open on her computer. She learns he had been drinking beer. She learns he threw up.

——————

I am so tempted to end this story here and ask: How would you handle this?

But I will share with you what his parents did. Some of these things happened immediately. Other reactions happened in the days following the revelation as they considered their response and reached out to others for advice.

  • They calmly sat him down and asked for a full accounting of the truth, “The whole truth this time.” They asked him what he was thinking when he made the choice to drink. “These were my best friends. I had never drunk beer before. I thought they wouldn’t let me get into trouble or make a fool of myself.” They tell him that if he had to drink, that was actually good thinking.
  • They asked him why he lied. “Because I was so scared of how mad you would get.” They told him they were far more upset about his lying than about his drinking. They expect him to test the boundaries every once in awhile. And they know that there are likely to be many more occasions in the future when he might find himself in a difficult situation. “We need to know that you can tell us what is happening so we can be there for you.”
  • They asked him what he will do in the future when in the presence of drinking. “I think I won’t drink. It wasn’t a good experience. I feel comfortable saying I am the designated driver or the designated sober guy.”
  • They told him that for the next 30 days he can’t drive the car alone. They also banned the home of the friend who hosted the drinking. They asked their son if he felt this was a fair set of consequences. “Yeah, it is.”

Your turn: What did they get right? What troubles you? What should guide a parent’s response in circumstances like these?

To find our more about Pearl Mattenson and her work, visit her website: http://pearlmattenson.com/