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Posts Tagged ‘Dialogue’

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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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 Problem with Obedience

In communities, Dialogue, Family, Realtionship, World Work on October 25, 2010 at 4:47 am

Guest Post by Kathleen Mangiafico, Relationship Specialist at Farmington Valley YMCA

Are you a person who doesn’t like to read ALL the directions to a game, and you just want to learn as you go?  I am.  Sometimes I just feel like it’s too much to absorb at once.  There’s too many rules to follow.  I’d rather just stick with the attitude of curiosity, see how the game plays out, than feel frustrated with the idea of understanding it all.  Interestingly, this isn’t how many of us approach other aspects of our lives.  We NEED to know the exact way to go about living and if we start to get frustrated….well, that’s when the real trouble starts.

Obedience.  We love it!  Obedient people are easy to get along with, helpful, and generally pleasant to be around.  Obedience is an emotional gift that some people are born with by nature.  Historically however, the parent/child relationship model we’ve been working from is to nurture obedience too.  …And there is a problem that comes with being JUST obedient….it’s called the tank of resentment!  So how does obedience affect our view on life?  How does it affect our personality?  What kind of affect does obedience have on our relationships?

We are currently in what I call the “cultural and generational collision”.  When I was a kid (I’m almost 42), and certainly when you go further back in time, children did as they were told.  They followed the rules!  Children were “seen and not heard” and the old adage was “spare the rod, spoil the child”.  Obedience was consciously taught in the home, schools, and through organized religion.  Many generations later, we are coming to learn the downside of this misinterpreted philosophy and are experiencing the repercussions of this type of living.  Yet, we still have not defined how to approach life and all of our relationships from a more balanced approached.

Balance.  There are other terms we keep throwing around like organic, healthy, holistic, etc..  But what we really want to move towards is balanced living.  Balanced living cannot be judged based on a particular food you eat, whether you are being rational at the moment, or if we are completely “whole” within our relationships all the time.  Although we cognitively understand this concept, we are all conditioned to live based on obedience.  And guess what?  The human race is collectively sick of being obedient!  This is evident just by watching pop culture TV, listening to the radio, or watching the dreadful news.  The new norms and values to life are blurry at best.  Childhood and adult emotional disorders, mental illness, divorce, addictions of all kinds (food, drugs, alcohol), avoidance behavior (work a-holics, exercise a-holics, shop a-holics…), and disconnected relationships are the fabric of our lives.

Balanced living is a continuum.  Balance is a moment in time when everything seems to be falling exactly in line with what we deem to be perfect (a.k.a.)…  A peak moment!  For every other moment, we are either left or right of center!  To live a balanced life, you have to be aware of what’s really important to you and who it involves, yet still find an appreciation and value for all else that you would prefer to be different.

So how does obedience affect our view on life?

How does it affect our personality?

What kind of affect does obedience have on our relationships?

Approaching life from just the attitude of obedience will cause you to be marginalized….ignored!  As a kid, you will be loved and valued by your parents and teachers, but you will be tormented by your peers.  As an adult, your voice will not be heard in your relationships and you will start to lose value in yourself.  You will continue to only listen and follow directions and you won’t be able to make decisions!  Human nature dictates that we need to know what someone stands for.  So, if you don’t speak up and use your voice when needed, someone else will use theirs for you!

If you are obedient by nature, here’s some pointing towards growing into the whole YOU when in relationship:

If you are a kid or growing young adult:

  • Stand up for yourself on the playground!  Make sure your voice is part of the decision making for how the game is going to be played.  Stand up for yourself in the hallways of middle school. Accept that some people won’t like it and it’s not the end of the world!  Choose to leave the relationship (when possible) if your voice is not respected or valued.  Stand in the fire when needed and hold your own.  Don’t run.  Over time, you will earn the respect of your peers for letting them know who you are.  Accept whatever consequences come from authority.  Leave room for forgiveness to repair relationships.
  • In your relationship with Mom, Dad, teacher or another caretaker, don’t let obedience hold back your voice.  Sometimes the adults in your life are too controlling.  Try to understand that they are unaware of how they are treating you.  It’s not intentional.  It’s just learned attitudes and behaviors.  In the moment of disagreement, accept their rank and privilege and do what is necessary.  When the situation is calm, go to them to express how you feel using “I statements”. ex.) “I feel ____when ____happens.”  Accept that you won’t always feel satisfied, but at the very least, you will have expressed yourself and not stored your feelings in a tank of resentment.  Overtime, some of the adults will start to hear your voice and will respect it.

If you are an adult:

  • Assert yourself in your close relationships!  i.e. your marriage, co-workers, bosses, extended family, and friends.  Stop avoiding conflict by choosing avoidance behaviors such as:  closet eating, closet drinking, doing drugs, working, exercising, cleaning or shopping too much. Stand in the lions roar!!  Don’t let his/her roar scare you.  Face the lion and hold your ground. Take space if needed and let the lion know.  When the atmosphere is calm, express yourself in a calm, deliberate manner by using “I statements”.  Accept that the lion won’t always like it immediately.  They need time to understand your roar.
  • If you are an adult who grew up in a time of obedience, then ask yourself, “How do I show up  in my role as parent, teacher or caretaker?”  Are you controlling and a bully? …Or do you tend to be a catastrophic push over, only to end up yelling and screaming?  Get clear on your expectations of your kids.  Have a family/class/group meeting to express them.  Allow the kids to express their desires too.  Get aligned on the expectations.  See where you can flex to meet the children’s wants, especially as they get older.  Hold boundaries when needed and be consistent.  Stop the negative verbal dialog.  Be aware of giving genuine praise and acknowledgment.

Obedience is a necessary attitude of life, but is extremely detrimental when used to please someone.  When using the attitude of obedience, think in terms of being obedient to The Relationship…not being obedient to the individual(s).  Result?  With much practice, three generations from now we will have redefined healthy, connected, sustainable individuals and relationships.  They will be co-arising, not co-dependent!

Questions/Thoughts To Ask Yourself When the Attitude of Obedience Shows Up

  • How will what I am about to Say or Do impact my relationship?
  • What Is Trying To Happen for the sake of the relationship?
  • What do I Need to Accept from the other person, that I would prefer to be different, for the sake of the relationship?
  • What Needs To Happen next for the sake of the relationship?

Kathleen Mangiafico, ORSCC is a Relationship Specialist.  Her expertise lies in working with diverse individuals, and other relational systems (youth groups, couples/families, businesses) and can be reached at kbmangiafico@sbcglobal.net

Since feeling is first

In couples, Realtionship, Relationship with Self, World Work on October 23, 2010 at 12:53 am

Painting, acrylic on paper: Untitled, 2007, Alfred DePew

(Reprinted from the Vancouver Observer)

Canadians often put me in mind of Dorothy Parker’s quip about Katharine Hepburn, who, she once said, “ran the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

Some weeks ago, at dinner with my friend Hal, he said he had been feeling emotional.

“Which one?” I asked.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“You know—happy? Sad? Pissed off?

“I don’t know—emotional,” he said.

Then we changed the subject.

As North American white guys, we tend to avoid direct expression of feeling in day-to-day conversation.

Unless, of course, the subject is hockey.

And yet, my stiff upper lip has been known to quiver. I have the kind of face that registers everything—worry, delight, perplexity, and suspicion.

I am terrible at poker.

I’ve had to learn about feelings—the hard way, by being tyrannized by them. Had I been born in southern Italy, I’d have had no problem. Or so I imagine. But I was raised in St. Louis, whose dominant culture was Anglo and Teutonic, despite the French name.

At sixteen, I began to suspect that feeling was not just the root of the problem but the problem itself. My first therapist was a psychiatrist, a bona fide Freudian analyst of the Viennese School. When he’d ask how I was, I’d say “anxious.” I didn’t have a very wide emotional vocabulary in those days, and I don’t recall Herr Doktor as being much help.

Twenty years and four therapists later, I heard myself say that I’d know when I was ready to stop therapy when I no longer had any feelings.

Then I laughed. So did my therapist. It was our next to last session.

What had brought me to that fourth and final therapist was grief. When my father died, I was overwhelmed, nearly paralyzed. My father and I were not close. It didn’t make any sense. It was wholly irrational. And yet, as I came to see, grief had its own kind of logic. My friend, the poet Anne Rubicam Witten, pointed me to Gilgamesh, Innana, Persephone, and Orpheus—stories about the decent to the Underworld. Stories that acted as a map in this new territory of grieving.

Therapists could only take me so far. For the rest, I needed the poets.

Robert Bly used to talk about the grief at the core of the male psyche. He spoke about it as an initiation, the “time of ashes,” essential to the evolution of a man’s mind and heart and soul.

Not that grief is particular to men. My friend Monica insists that at the heart of every silence lies some form of grief.

What Hal chose not to talk about that evening at dinner was his mother’s death and the fact that he’d recently declared bankruptcy.

Emotional indeed.

What then is the language of feeling? Not just one, surely. Proclamations of love. Lamentation. Sidelong comments. Innuendo. Carping. Sarcasm. Body language. A glance. Those looks.

I often work with couples who want more intimacy, better communication, and less fighting. Much of my work involves training them to become exquisitely aware of what  lives in the space between them. Feelings. As they become aware of the impact of what they say and do, they have more choice about how they speak and act in order to keep the relationship space clear.

When I began with one couple, the atmosphere between them was so charged that even an intended compliment could start a fight. Gradually, as they became more aware of how they were interacting and what feelings they were generating, they began trying new ways of communicating—at different times, with clearer intentions, using more neutral language. Then they noticed the impact on their children and how they were treating each other. All this took slowing down and paying attention. Giving themselves time to feel.

Another couple, men who’ve been partners for eight years, wanted to stop avoiding topics they simply couldn’t discuss. So we began with what they could discuss, always pointing to the space between them and what was there. That they loved each other was clear. That the relationship was skilled at any number of tasks was also clear. And so we built on that. Some weeks later during a session, one acknowledged the other, and he began to tear up. A hard place for men, even gay men. He made a joke and looked away. I asked them to pause and invited them to sit with what was happening. In the ensuing silence, they held each other’s gaze, tears in their eyes. This was the intimacy they were seeking to reclaim. A sweet, tender, dangerous vulnerability. And they’d learned to create the safety to experience it.

And what of our relationship to ourselves, the time we give to our own feelings?

All week, I have been busy coaching couples, setting up individual calls with my certification students in Europe, interviewing and assessing new clients. Relationship work. Then all of a sudden I am exhausted. I have stepped over my own feelings of admiration, frustration, impatience, love, envy, and longing.

They clamour for my attention.

So I close the computer, lie down and let everything surface.

After a while, I take my notebook and pen and give myself a half hour to listen and write down what I need to let myself know.

The poem from which I borrow my title is, after all, a love poem by e.e. cummings.

since feeling is first
who pays any attention
to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you;

–the best gesture of my brain is less than
your eyelids’ flutter which says
we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life’s not a paragraph

It’s the thing that flutters up behind the eyes, a movement in the heart before language.

And then … the words to say it.

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 happens when two parts of your life seem to be at odds?

In Realtionship on August 4, 2009 at 6:49 am

For a time my professional coaching and my writing each seemed to ask me to choose it to the exclusion of the other. I would go back and forth, stealing time from one to serve the other, always feeling I was somehow being unfaithful, as though I had to sneak out on one part myself and meet in secret with another part of myself. Crazy! I know. But there you have it.

I thought I’d got that pretty much worked out some time ago, but something similar cropped up when I started this blog. There seemed to be a split between this blog and a novella I was writing. Both were competing for my time and attention. They were becoming adversaries.

So I took the matter up in my journal and wrote a dialogue between Blog and Novella. It went something like this:

B: “I’m professional.”

N: “Are you suggesting that I’m not?”

B: “Not at all. But I notice that I’m out there with 118 hits and 4 comments, and you seem to be some sort of secret.”

N: “In a way I am secret. I’m interior, intimate, and complex ….”

B: “Relationship is all of those things.”

N: “Yes, but you take the larger view. You’re outside, defining, intellectualizing, and I’m way inside the mind and heart—image and sensation—the body.”

B: “It’s my job to be public.”

N: “And it’s my job to be private, to draw awareness to the light in that Japanese Maple over there, the quality of stillness here in the garden ….”

B: “What’s your point?”

N: “What do you mean by point? Why does everything have to have a point? I’m simply looking, noticing, appreciating ….”

B: “I have nothing against that, but I need a sense of why I should care ….”

N: “You don’t care about the light at sundown in a Japanese Maple?”

B: “I didn’t say that. I said what my job was and asked you what yours was. I’m sorry if I didn’t make myself clear.”

N: “My job? Do I have a job?”

B: “Maybe purpose is a better word. What’s your purpose?”

N: “To make you aware. To get you to feel.”

B: “Forgive me for asking, but why is that important?”

N: “Everything of any importance proceeds from that.”

B: “A viewpoint. An opinion. I see what you’re getting at. My job is to provoke thought that goes in a direction. For example this morning I woke up thinking about khidr, a desert guide in Sufi stories, and how he may be an image of the “relationship itself,” I was talking about last week. Khidr appears to those who are lost and asks that we follow him without question. But in relationship … I don’t know. I like the questioning. I think it’s important.”

N: “I do too. I question everything—the established order, the old aesthetics, the novella form itself, my own heart and mind ….”

“So what’s my point,” you ask? What did I learn? Well, it was interesting to see how these two parts of my life come into alignment through conversation. They were willing to talk and be respectful of one another. They were willing to listen. They have some common ground. They both feel that questioning is important. And something about each one’s role is important here. That they both have an important function.

Honoring that, they have a better chance of letting each other be and get on with their work.

I’ll keep you posted.