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Posts Tagged ‘Deep Democracy’

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.”

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One Million Pounds of Fish

In Ecology, Work, World Work on October 24, 2010 at 10:22 pm

Chris Causey

Guest Post by Chris Causey, a professional mediator in Portland, Maine.

It is hard for me to imagine a world without fish.  I wish I could say that statement was linked to some scientific truth or recent data supporting the incalculable bounty of marine life but neither is true.  In fact we all know the seas are in trouble.  My relationship with fish and the sea itself has more to do with the nature of my imagination—the nature of my very soul, which is a watery place inhabited by sea creatures.  As a boy, I both loved whales and imagined I worked on tall ships hunting them.  At once I read about and studied various types of whales and also kept paintings of 19th century whaling scenes–gory scenes of men harpooning whales from open boats.  It was probably no mistake that in my young manhood, I worked as a commercial fisherman in Kodiak, Alaska–fished for six years and made my living as a deckhand on salmon, halibut, herring, crab and trawl boats.  I don’t know how many fish I contributed to killing, but I do know how exhilarated I was to participate in the hunt, the acquisition and the kill of those fish and crab.

Yet, even as I worked and made my livelihood on these boats, I related to the sea and its inhabitants in other ways, too.  The sight of porpoise dancing beneath our bow or a gray whale breaching in the distance used to fill my heart with such gladness, it’s hard to describe without sounding foolish or daft.  Once, when working on a salmon seiner, I watched two sea otters mating in some drifting bull kelp in the early morning, and was nearly beside myself.  They sort of rolled around, and I thought at first they were wrestling, then I saw the male’s piston thrust, the female’s smiling face, all in the rising and falling waves near the rocky shore, and I couldn’t help laughing.  I wished that I could turn to the multitudes and say, look at them making more otters–isn’t that the greatest thing you’ve ever seen in your life?  Any time something from below showed itself on the surface, whether shark, seal, or jumping salmon, my heart leapt for reasons I cannot entirely express.

So the idea that somehow the oceans are becoming sterile means for me, a loss that reaches to the very depths of my experience as a human being and a loss that transcends human experience.  Although I no longer make my living from the sea, my soul, my imagination and the oceans are somehow inextricably linked.  My shore for where the human meets the non-human is literally and figuratively where the sea meets the land.  It has taken me a long time to realize that what’s down there beneath the waves is both me and way beyond me, and for that, its remaining rich, fertile, diverse, and thriving is a calling of the highest order.

Recently I returned to Kodiak for a short visit.  There I met a man and his son, also visiting, who were looking for a place to spend the night.  I shared my accommodations, and the man, call him Tim, told me about his former work as a boat captain in the Bering Sea.  Now the vice president of a software company, he was then one of the first captains to explore the cod fishery in the western Aleutians.  He said he convinced a fish processing company to have one of its processing ships follow his boat, and there was a lot of risk in that, not knowing whether there were any fish out there or not.  One day, as the cod were schooled to spawn in Nazan Bay off Atka Island, he caught a million pounds.  One day.  He said he had to drag a net full of codfish behind his boat through the treacherous Amlia pass to the processor because the processor’s captain would not take the vessel through the pass to meet him.  He also said it was the eeriest day he had ever fished.  The Bering sea, which is hardly ever calm, was like poured lead and the comet Hyakutake was in the sky.  He’d seen wind clock at over one hundred and fifty miles per hour, wind that you simply can’t believe is being churned up by nature, but that day the wind and water were so flat it made him suspect something horrible might be coming.   We stood shoulder to shoulder in front of a huge map of Alaska, taped to the wall.  “I plugged the processor,” he said smiling, but without pride.  “One million pounds in one day.  There was nothing left for us to do but start back to Seattle.  My deckhands put a charcoal grill on the back deck.  They were bowing to me and saying “not worthy not worthy,” because I had just caught a million pounds and we all had made a ton of money.

The grill was going and that comet was in the sky and I’m feeling about as great as I can feel, looking out at the sea, which can tear you up, and then to top it off, as it grew darker, Korovin Volcano on Atka began erupting just enough to see sparks of orange shooting out of it.”

I knew what it was like to watch a net or a crab put come up from the bottom full of fish, the sense of wonder and acquisition, the absolute jubilation of catching so much fish.  I knew if I were a deckhand on that boat, I would have been bowing with his other deckhands, celebrating, and I know too the sense of loss I felt, knowing that in one day one boat took a million pounds of cod fish from the sea.  I don’t consider my position ambivalent at all.  I am a predator, the most capable of all predators but recognizing too that is a grave responsibility.  I have used the words stewardship and heard it used in many contexts and understand that stewardship for hunters and fisherman cannot be a smokescreen to hide some shadowy need or hidden agenda.  It means recognizing our primordial desire to hunt and fish and take and kill and be absolutely successful doing so and looking at that closely, reconciling our need to prove ourselves and provide with a greater sense of confidence that we need not actually catch or kill the fish and that there is more than a game of chance, drive and desire as the biomass shrinks

In his book, The Gift, Lewis Hyde wrote the following: “Ecology as a science began at the end of the nineteenth century, an offshoot of the rising interest in evolution.  Originally the study of how animals survive in their environments, one of ecology’s first lessons was that, beneath all the change in nature, there are steady states characterized by cycles.  Every participant in the cycle literally lives off the others with only the ultimate energy source, the sun, being transcendent.  Widening the study of ecology to include man means to look at ourselves as part of nature again, not its lord.  When we see that we are actors in natural cycles, we understand that what nature gives to us is influenced by what we give to nature.  So the circle is a sign of an ecological insight as much as of gift exchange.  We come to feel ourselves as one part of a large self-regulating system.”

Science is about not knowing and wanting badly to know.  Fishing is about pursuing and wanting badly to acquire.  The two share similar emotions of passion and drive and the limitations of where we are now vs. where we want to be.  The deadliest catch is so popular in part because of mysterious acquisition and part because of what the men on those boats endure as they go after crab, but its flaw is that it is shot produced and shown in order to appeal on a completely human scale.  What is missing is a moral vector, the perspective that includes the non-human and beyond human, the awe and humility and veneration owed to nature because it is our source not only to what we know, but to what lies beyond our knowing.

When asked if he were a religious man, Albert Einstein answered as follows:  “Try and penetrate with our limited means the secrets of nature and you will find that behind all the discernible laws & connections, there remains something subtle, intangible and inexplicable.  Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.  To that extent, I am in fact, religious.”

My concern lies somewhere at the heart of what Lewis Hyde and Albert Einstein are intimating.  We are part of something, not lord of it, and our connection to this something (nature) is also our connection to all the mystery that lies behind it.  It includes hunting, taking, and killing and acquiring, but it also includes relating in a way that guards against arrogance, mindless consumption and exploitation.  Otherwise the watery part of the human soul is apt to become dry and brittle.

For more information about Chris Causey and his work, visit: http://causeymediations.com/about-chris-causey/

Chiron in Pisces: A Guest Post by Eric Francis of Planet Waves

In communities, World Work on April 21, 2010 at 4:54 am

The Earth is the original holos, a complex system of interrelationships that adds up to more than the sum of the parts.

For those who appreciate the concept ‘holistic’, I have some astrology news for you — Chiron in Pisces. We think of holistic as something like going to a naturopathic doctor, though it has much wider implications. Here is a succinct Wikipedia definition. The concept of holistic (from holos, a Greek word meaning all, whole, entire, total) is the idea that the properties of a given system (physical, biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc.) cannot be determined or explained by its component parts alone. Instead, the system as a whole determines in an important way how the parts behave. Or, looked at another way, every ‘part’ contains the whole or represents an accurate picture of the whole system.

As of Tuesday morning, April 20, Chiron is now in Pisces for the first time since the 1960s. It made its ingress within hours of the Sun entering Taurus. Still  considered a new element by most astrologers, this small body was discovered  orbiting our Sun in 1977. Chiron has a strange orbit; it spends just 18 months  in a sign when close to the Sun (as it did in the mid-1990s) and seven to nine  years in a sign when distant from the Sun (as it is doing now). This makes a  sign-change a particularly special occasion at this point, and Chiron in Pisces  arrives with a new feeling, shifted sense of reality and a new healing agenda.

The Aquarius-Pisces cusp, where Chiron is now (on the Pisces side, as of today), is a part of the zodiac that is about  whole-systems consciousness. These are signs near the end of the story of the  zodiac, and as a result they take on vast topics and have a long history. The  mental/intellectual quality of Aquarius and the creative/intuitive attribute of  Pisces together expand our awareness and help us see ourselves and our issues from a viewpoint that is distinct from what we think of as individual. Chiron’s presence here calls our attention to the necessity to see ourselves as part of something larger than ourselves, and subtler than the physical world.

At first these shifts may be difficult to discern, though they are likely to be a new form of a message you’ve been getting for a while. Chiron is, for many, a background presence. Consider that  for the five years that Chiron was in Aquarius, we saw a gradual explosion of Internet use — but the change is subtle unless you consider it all at once. Most places it’s more than doubled the past few years, and the  number of portable devices seems to be growing faster than anyone can keep  track. Usage of Facebook has surpassed Google. That’s an image of Chiron in Aquarius: a vast web of interconnectivity.

Pisces addresses even larger  systems, which don’t necessarily need as much technology to hold them up, and  Chiron tends to enhance our experience of any sign that it’s transiting. Think  of the Internet as a simplistic model of something that already exists: the  subtle sphere of consciousness that is biopsychic — the web of life that  connects everything and everyone. What if we tuned into our ability to connect  with that level of awareness, as a natural experience?

In many respects,  Chiron in Aquarius has been a study in form — the particular form that  communication takes, such as what kind of device or networking system is used.  Pisces is about the content; the creative dimension, which will be emphasized by  Chiron’s presence here. Many people fear that they’re not creative; Chiron says it’s about consciously wanting the experience, and then directing one’s awareness there.

This creativity factor involves our relationship to what we think of as God or to our spiritual source. We tend to live as if separated from that source (something easily discerned by observing ourselves and others as we make decisions). Chiron is calling us to full awareness of either direct contact, or our sense that we lack contact. This way we can start taking steps to get what we need and healing issues that can only be resolved through a full-awareness approach.

On the way there, we’re likely to encounter the denial factor, which is the shadow side  of Pisces. We know that we deny plenty just to get through the day, and much  else besides because it’s inconvenient or threatens our concept of the world.  Chiron in Pisces is likely to serve as a force that pulls back the veil and  reveals the truth of many issues we would prefer not to look at. Most of them  involve the interrelationships between the levels of society and ecology: how  advertising pushes us toward ecological destruction; how abuse of mood  stabilizers alters our involvement in politics or the economy; how many of us shape our self-image through video games, fashion ads and TV commercials, and aren’t even especially concerned about this. Yet are these really the exemplars we want to be using? And if not, what do we want to hold as an example?

Through July 20, we have a warm-up of  Chiron in Pisces. Then Chiron will retrograde back into Aquarius, where it will  stay until February 2011, when it returns to Pisces for the next eight years —  to be our constant companion through whatever it is that we are calling  2012.

To find our more about Eric Francis and his work, visit: http://planetwaves.net/

Becoming Still (Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

In Inner Work, Peace, Relationship with Self, Spiritual Practice, World Work on January 4, 2010 at 11:40 pm

Let’s just say it’s not at the top of my agenda most days, which is why at Christmas I usually choose to make a retreat.

Chances are, if I had a regular sitting meditation practice, I wouldn’t need to take such drastic measures: booking the retreat, explaining to friends and business associates why I won’t be at their Christmas parties again this year, taking a bus to the ferry, the ferry to Vancouver Island, and a taxi to the retreat centre.

That’s the easy part. The hard part is living in my own skin for four days without the distractions I keep saying I want to escape.

Once they are nowhere to be found, distractions seem like a mighty good idea.

Who wants to face one’s failures and shortcomings? Who wants to face one’s loneliness and cravings?

And who the hell wants to listen to what goes on inside my head?

I sure don’t. And yet that’s exactly what I am faced with in the early stages of any retreat I make. To a certain extent, that’s the whole purpose. The aim is to get beyond the “monkey mind.” My fear is always that it’s nothing but monkeys as far as the mind can see. Experience has taught me that I can get beyond them, but not without going through a considerable amount of chatter.

So far, I haven’t found any short cuts.

I was trained in the retreat process by Sufis. Once—sometimes two or three times—a year, I would drive to a small centre in southern New Hampshire and sit in a tiny hut from three to fourteen days of silence. My guide would give me various spiritual practices when she came to sit with me each morning. And in the evening, she would leave a hot meal outside my door.

The retreat process is analogous to alchemy, the practice of turning lead into gold. Unhappily, it involves a lot of burning, melting and putrefaction along the way.

Not everyone’s idea of a good time. In fact I was sure I had gone stark raving mad my first time out. And I had. That was what I needed to get through before I could find anything akin to peace of mind.

This is the point at which many say the real retreat begins.

Not for me. My retreat starts shortly after I make the intention and finalize the travel plans. I’m eager, and then resistance sets in. I’m suddenly convinced that this is not the right time. My business needs attention. What about Christmas cards? You might meet someone important at one of those parties, you know. They’re going to stop inviting you if you keep refusing.

Then I encounter everything in my life that is out of whack—a sneak preview of what I will be alone with at the outset. The theme. Then I stay up late the night before I leave, trying to get everything done. (O! Human Folly!) Then I’m up in the morning, drinking coffee, then running for the bus, having forgotten to bring along the phone number of the cab company in Nanaimo. But I get there—somehow I always get there—and I begin to settle in.

It’s lovely at first. I usually start out with a nap. And then a long walk or some basic practices before the first meal break. It’s as if my mind wants to let me believe it’s going to behave itself this time and not interrupt the proceedings. Ha! Just another ploy, so it can jump out and get me when I’m not looking. I’m much easier with it than I was when I started. The mind does what it does—distracts, bedevils, tells itself bad stories, worries, and comes up with great ideas like smoking a cigar or sneaking out for ice cream. It’s a wild ride until the mind is also brought in line with the breath and the heart. And it always takes time.

Whether I intend it or not, an examination of conscience begins. Years ago, one of my Sufi guides gave me a short form—three questions. Where am I not right with myself? Where am I not right with others? And where am I not right with God? “Right” here is used in the sense of right relationship, not right vs. wrong. No matter how much experience I have with this, it’s always agonizing—and humbling. An act of radical acceptance. And essential if I am to gain any peace at all.

Peace begins with glimmers—something I read, perhaps, or after I weep. On a walk. Sitting on a stone above the lake. The silence itself is what brings it about. That’s what I’ve come here to find.

Peace is like a pulse that gets stronger as fear and resentment and worry loosen their grip.

And I remember the verse from the 46th Psalm: “Be still and know that I am God.”

On Christmas Eve, I step outside and watch the moon growing fuller. I’m aware of waiting in a vast silence, the way that I imagine Mary waited to give birth to something beyond all comprehension.

And as I stand there, looking up, there is nothing more to think or plan. In that moment, all the words fall away, and I am surrounded by blessing.

Eldership Circles (reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

In communities, Realtionship, World Work on January 2, 2010 at 9:00 pm

As supportive as her women’s group has been over the years, Vicki McLeod felt a need to extend her personal work into her professional life—and beyond. She also noticed that many of her colleagues and clients “were doing everything their MBAs taught them and the consultants told them, and it still wasn’t happening—things weren’t changing. Something else was needed.”

So McLeod, a local communications consultant and coach, started an Eldership Circle.

“I realized that if I was going to hold a space for change, I needed a place where I could do my inner work and be fully supported to take it out into the world. So I decided to put out a call.”

The group’s purpose is to create a space where women can help each other in “overcoming personal barriers and prejudices, [creating] conscious awareness of rank and privilege, and resolving inner conflict—all necessary to … heal our communities.” The circle is meant to go beyond personal growth and always points to service. It’s a place where personal development and social consciousness meet.

“To want to change the world is scary. One is subject to doubt and maybe even ridicule. So the Eldership Circle helps people to explore their own edges, get clarity about goals and purpose and hold space for the collective mind to emerge. There’s magic in a circle.”

And who answered the call?

Women who were “willing to stand in wisdom and fierceness to facilitate change,” says McLeod. Women in search of role models and mentorship. “Kick-ass, loving women,” as one member of the circle puts it, intent on charting new territory.

“Spiritual warriors,” says another.

“It’s hard work,” says McLeod, “particularly in dealing with system conflicts. And yet conflict is very often at the core of deep change and can offer incredible wisdom.”

What the women in the Eldership Circle seek and find in each other is, in the words of a third member, “Authenticity, friendship. Laughter. Joy. Connection. A group that will hold me to my highest self when the road gets rocky and bring me back to [my purpose] if I get lost in the mud.”

“Eldership is really about looking at transformational change through the lens of how it can impact the greater whole,” says McLeod.

“Elders ask: what does this mean for the world? If I’m suddenly afraid to speak in front of the group—that is a process for me. It may be present in the group, and it may be present in the World. We are all afraid to speak. How, then, might my crossing that edge make it possible for the World to cross that edge too?”

What is the difference between leaders and elders?

The way McLeod sees it, “leadership is often about having followers. Leaders set a direction.” Elders, on the other hand, “have faith that a direction will emerge.”

It sounds a bit like walking in the dark.

“It’s a lot like that,” says Vicki, laughing.

What, then, would be the most useful relationship between leaders and elders?

“Ideally” says McLeod, “leaders would access the wisdom of elders and eventually become elders themselves.”

This means that elders must be present and in conversation with leaders, which is not always the case today. In fact, some maintain that elders have disappeared over the last few decades into retirement communities and assisted living facilities. We do not have much access to elders. McLeod says that eldership was not really obvious in her world. Both her grandmothers died before she was 20.

“The notion of eldership circles is ancient—the bringing together of the collective wisdom of a group or tribe in service of the greater whole has been around, I would venture, as long as humanity. Certainly, aboriginal cultures consider eldership as a key component of social and community functioning.”

McLeod doesn’t want the circle to be seen as an exclusive enclave for professional women. She wants Eldership Circles to be open to anyone who feels called.

“I would love to see more circles grow, more individuals stepping into Eldership and offering their wisdom to the world. I would especially love to see men’s circles get started—or mixed circles. One of the principles of eldership is embracing diversity.

“I started my circle where I am—a middle-aged, middle-class white woman. So my circle is largely composed of the same.

“My intention for Eldership Circles is very clear. There are no fees for them, and anyone is free to create a circle and use the resources on my website to get started. While this is part of my life’s work, it is not the way I make my living. It is a contribution I want to make to the world, and then I hope that the circles will grow and become self-sustaining and self-spawning.

“It really has nothing to do with me.”

For more information about Vicki McLeod and the Eldership Circles, visit her website:

http://www.vickimcleod.com/world-work/eldership

What are You and Money doing together this Holiday?

In Dialogue, Realtionship, Uncategorized on November 26, 2009 at 8:49 pm

A Guest Post by Shell Tain, PCC, CPCC

So, what do we do with Money over the Holidays?  Most of us use it and ignore it at the same time.  We spend it with the idea that we will catch up with it in January.  Actually it’s more like April, because it takes that long for many people to catch up with, or recover from, their holiday spending.

At the very least it seems we put our money thinking on hold.  And yet, what do we expect from Money during December?  We expect it to be there.  We expect it to stretch to meet our needs and desires.  We expect it to magically appear.  And we expect it to do all this cheerfully.  Hmmm.

Remember that thing about how we are going to be in relationship with Money all our lives?  Remember the question: “If we knew we were going to be in relationship with a person forever, how would we want that relationship to be.” I’m guessing that we wouldn’t expect anyone we were in relationship with to do what we expect of Money over the Holidays.

So, what might Money want?  What’s on Money’s wish list? You’ll have to ask your Money to find out.  (Yes, talking to your Money is a good thing.)

Here’s what I think Money will say to you.  I think it wants what everyone really and truly wants.  It wants your time and attention.  It wants to have a shared experience of deep caring with you.  Well, isn’t that what we want from our loved ones?  Stuff comes and stuff goes, and, frankly, it’s very few presents that make a lasting impression.  What we want is positive time together.  Money wants some of your time and attention.  It might even want your acknowledgment and appreciation for the frenzy you put it through during the holidays.

Wait!  Money as a loved one?  That may be throwing your off, but think about it.  Money is there, in your life, day in and day out, just like family.  Sometimes Money doesn’t give us everything we want, but then, neither does family.  Sometimes we have to work really hard to keep things going with Money, the same as with family.  Sometimes Money seems to let us down, just as family does.  And sometimes, Money really comes through and helps us, just like family.

Money will be with you longer than family.  You will interact with Money every day.  What’s the relationship you want?  What’s the relationship Money is asking you for?

Oh, and again, just like family, Money has some obstacles in communicating with you, doesn’t it?  It can’t talk to you; it has to get your attention in other ways.  What if you tried to notice what it might be trying to say?   What might that bounced check be saying?  What might the pile of unopened bills be saying?  And what might the money that unexpectedly lands in your lap be saying to you?

So check in with your Money and see what its wish list looks like for this holiday season.  Can you possibly fit in giving Money a bit of what it wants now, and during the coming year?

Shell Tain is credentialed professional certified coach, a money coach who knows how to help people make changes.   As an Accountant/Controller for more many years, Shell gained first hand money experience in everything from “start-ups” to mid-sized companies.  Her coaching focuses on how your feelings, beliefs and attitudes about money affect your progress in fulfilling your goals.  Working with Shell improves your confidence and effectiveness with money.  Shell takes her clients from the crunch to the “ka-ching.”

Shell Tain, PCC, CPCC

$ensible Coaching

503.258.1630

shell@sensiblecoahing.com

http://www.sensiblecoaching.com/saleitems.htm

“Zeitgeist and the Berlin Wall” (Reprinted from The Vancouver Observer)

In communities, International Relations, Peace, Realtionship, TimeSpirits, World Work on November 15, 2009 at 8:58 pm

On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I’m aware of not only the spirit of that time, but also a difficult-to-name energy at work around last month’s announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize.

Zeitgeist is usually translated as the intellectual, ethical or political climate of a nation, the “mood of an era.” It is, quite literally, TimeSpirit, and I write the word in the same way that physicist and Jungian analyst Arnold Mindell does when he talks about a felt but invisible force having an impact on how we think and relate to one another. When I work in organizations or with couples, I sometimes feel the TimeSpirits of Racism or Homophobia, as well as the TimeSpirit of last year’s economic meltdown.

Twenty years ago, I followed the events in Berlin with a sense of excitement and dread. On the one hand, I was full a wild hope; on the other, the fear of a massacre along the lines of Tiananmen Square five months earlier. What prevented Berlin from becoming a bloodbath? Nobody knows, exactly. There may have even been something about Tiananmen Square that actually shifted the world’s awareness. But there was something different about the TimeSpirit in Berlin, which I believe helped to shape the final result. Many events led up to November 9, 1989—Hungary opening its border to Austria; East Germans flooding the West German embassy, refusing to return to the East; Erich Honecker’s resignation. And what some observers feel really made it possible: a mass demonstration in Leipzig a month earlier, which in turn was made possible by the Montagsdemonstrationen, or “Monday demonstrations” that preceded them.

Police, and the troops that were later called in, could have opened fire on the demonstrators. According to some reports, they were ordered to do so. But they did not. Why? What had shifted? One remembers the plea of Chinese students to the soldiers: Don’t shoot! Join us; we are your brothers and sisters! It wasn’t enough to turn the tide. And yet, five months later, halfway round the globe in Leipzig, when 70,000 protesters began to chant, “Wir sind das Volk!”“We are the people!”—something was different. And a month later, at the Berlin Wall, whatever the political, economic, and social factors at play, a TimeSpirit seemed to dictate that this would not end in the same way as Tiananmen Square.

Writer and medical intuitive Caroline Myss maintains that people in Eastern Europe simply decided to divest themselves of Communism. It was a shift in thought, in consciousness. And because there were enough of them doing it at the same time, nothing much else was needed to accomplish it. Zeitgeist. A sea-change. Something that, in the end, cannot be explained in any of the usual ways.

Last November, American voters elected the first black president in their history. Like the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, it was one of those things I never thought I’d see in my lifetime. As I watched President Obama being sworn into office in January, I was filled with the same kind of uneasy wonder I’d felt watching the Berlin Wall come down. Against all odds, beyond all the reasons given by political pundits, the inconceivable had actually happened.

Last month, when the Nobel Committee announced President Obama as the recipient of the Peace Prize, there was a kind of stunned silence at first, then criticism of the Committee’s decision because Obama had not “proven himself.” Again, I felt the presence of a TimeSpirit—something larger than political events or one man’s personality and charisma. Something that included people’s renewed sense of possibility and the ability to imagine an entirely different kind of future. Something far beyond political rhetoric: zeitgeist. As if the Nobel Committee were honouring not the man, but all that he has come to embody in this moment.

Obama, himself surprised, said, “I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.” Aspirations held by people in all nations. Zeitgeist.

Not one man or one woman, one event, or one single turning point, but a gathering of consciousness, a TimeSpirit that when heard and headed is what can make all the difference in the world. And my hunch is that more than one person on the Nobel Prize Committee is aware of that.

It’s certainly what those gathered 20 years ago at the Berlin Wall found out.

What about fierceness on the job?

In business, communities, organizations, Realtionship on September 2, 2009 at 5:13 pm

We certainly don’t want any fierceness there.

Or do we?

I love working with start up companies. There’s a freedom and wild abandon that is thrilling. New ideas, disagreements, counter ideas fly across the table fast and furiously. There’s often a sense of nothing to lose and everything to gain. Creativity is the only way out because it was the only way in. Everything is up to question, re-examine, challenge, improve, or toss out …. At this stage of the game, change is exciting and energizing. Everything seems urgent. No one knows exactly what she’s doing, and yet everyone is willing to try—and fail. Curiosity is the driver, not fear. There’s nothing quite like this kind of camaraderie. Each day is a leap of faith, and with each successful leap, trust deepens, bonds grow strong, and in this way the new venture moves forward, sometimes like a leopard, stealthy and deliberate; other times like a mouse, running in circles, close to the ground.

No one is walking around on eggshells. Not yet. That comes later.

Think about it—the company has proven itself and now has a track record. Then it attracts bigger and bigger investors. The company is established, a known quantity. It has a recognizable brand. The public trusts it. And something inside the organization changes. People grow more cautious, tactful (and tactical). Meetings lose their creative edge. Things are running more smoothly because there is less and less difference of opinion. We’re all on the same page. Or we appear to be. This slowing down and deepening is a natural stage in a company’s development. But at some point the growing cautiousness begins to serve not only the status quo but certain patterns and power dynamics which have emerged—also natural. What’s new is the emotional field in meetings. More harmonious, perhaps, but also a bit duller, flatter. With more restless boredom under the surface. People say less in meetings and more at the water cooler, and leadership hears what people think they want to hear, not what they need to hear.

There’s a radical truth-telling I associate with fierceness. I think of my friend Agnes back East. We could always depend upon her to stir things up at faculty meetings in the college where we both taught. People referred to her as The Contrarian. She opposed almost every plan of the Administration—on principle. That was her role. And as often as we clenched our teeth when she started to speak, we were grateful. Nervous, but grateful. For she performed an important duty. She raised the hard questions that most of us were too chicken to ask. And she kept on asking them during a time when we were under the leadership of a petty tyrant who would brook no “insubordination.” (Think Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter books.) Didn’t phase Agnes for a moment. She went right on asking hard questions and naming oppression and any other kind of jackass foolishness she saw. In the end she managed to resurrect the defunct Faculty Forum and call us to govern ourselves as we had said we’d intended to in the beginning.

She was heroic. And a pain in the ass.

The point is somebody’s got to do it. Somebody has to occupy the role of trouble maker. That energy has to go somewhere and more often than not, that energy is fierce. Fierceness has truth in it—often a truth most of the organization doesn’t want to hear. The energy of fierceness gets more and more marginalized as an organization matures. The disturber can become a scapegoat. And even if that person leaves the organization or the team, someone else steps in to occupy the role. The Disturber, the Contrarian, the Squeaky Wheel—whatever name you give the role and however skillfully it is occupied—it is often the doorway in a system through which something new and essential is trying to emerge.