people walking on pedestrian lane during daytime

Leading in Exile

Last week, we looked at the context of leadership: exile of body, mind and soul (https://poetsprophets.net/2021/10/14/exile/).  This week, we explore leading in exile.

I believe it begins with forming an alternative worldview, not dependent upon the dominant social, cultural andpolitical values.   In my work with prosocial leaders, I’ve found that two competencies, in particular,  lendthemselves to leading in times of exile: that of Poet and Prophet.  In a time, when many voices speak on asuperficial  level, we need the poet to help articulate the pain and questioning  born of our state of alienationand dislocation.  

Missiologist Alan Roxburgh describes poets as:

The articulators of experience and the rememberers of tradition. They image and symbolize theunarticulated experience of the community, identifying and expressing the soul of the people. The poet isa listener and an observer, sensing the experience of the body and giving that experience a voice.

Many voices compete for our allegiance.  The poet helps us to remember who we are that we might reclaim the integrity  of core identity and character. Beyond the quick fix, beyond the individualization  of our times, beyond the loss and pain born of deepchange, the poet helps to draw people into hope for the future.  Through image and story, the poet shapesmeaning out of chaos that memories might be shared and new visions emerge.  The poet weaves togetherthe disparate (and often, dissonant) voices into a rich tapestry of story and meaning that neither reduces, noreliminates creative tensions, but rather nurtures exploration of new collective possibilities.

The word of the poet is heard because the poet is not didactic. The poet neither scolds, nor sells; rather the poet invites the community to imagine together another way of being. By painting a picture of Shalom throughwords, the poet intuits a way forward that permits relinquishment of old ways of being.   The poet thereby  creates movement  beyond the present crisis of identity to fresh forms of community.  These possibilitiesallow the community to shift from  a focus on deficiencies, individual interests, and entitlement  to a focus onpossibility, strength, and generosity of spirit. But, as Roxburgh points out, “Without the prophetic voice, poeticleadership is little more than adaptation and consolation.”

The prophetic  challenge of the leader becomes the means by which the community crosses over into a newunderstanding of role and responsibility in seeking Shalom of the cities to which we have been sent into  exile.  Pain has the potential to open the door to deep, kenotic change. Kenotic change, the emptying of real and perceived rights and prerogatives that we might embody Shalom,requires attentiveness to both the guilt and the yearning that stirs in our souls.

The prophetic voice is the voice of truth. As both individual and collective whole come to claim the truth abouttheir present state of being, they are thus invited into a paradoxical experience of loss and hope.  True flourishing involves  a delicate dance of repentance as the community  acknowledges their state of brokennessand delight as they yield to the possibilities born of an alternative vision.

It is important to note that the truth, which the prophetic voice speaks into the life of the community, is not anephemeral ideal or abstract concept, but rather an embodied reality.  This reality is tested and refined in the context of relationship.  Truth is made real as the community comes to experience the wholeness of body,mind, spirit,  and emotion.   The leader as prophet names dehumanizing policies and structures, as well  asintroducing new practices that nurture community.   These practices help the community to surrender old waysof being,  thereby allowing the new to emerge.

The prophetic voice of the leader thereby empowers the community to reside in the liminality  of this time.  Instead of avoiding or minimizing  differences, the leader as prophet helps the community  to claim the gift ofconflict.   Deep, adaptive change will not come apart from challenge: of our structures, of our processes, of ourvery understanding of community.  Beyond the individualism which seeks to care for “self”  apart from the“whole” of the community,

Flourishing calls us to realize our inter-dependence  upon one another.  The leader as prophet refocusesthe conversation from that which is unsustainable to finding new solutions to the environmental, socialand economic challenges we face.

Taken together, nurturing the poet and prophet within allows us as leaders to transforms pain into hope,thereby inviting previously unimaginable levels of engagement in shaping a new reality.  When we lead aspoet and prophet, we invite the communities of which we are a part to engage in acts of intentional change,  not for the sake of change, but that an alternative identity  might be formed for the flourishing of people and planet.

Willing to share your story of leading as poet and prophet?  Please share!

Exile!

Every 500  years or so, civilization goes through  a massive shift.  I know it feels like every week these days, but hang in with me.  For such a time as this we have been called!

Like tectonic plates moving beneath the earth’s surface, civilization  encounters seismic shifts in ourunderstanding not only of our world, but also of our very selves. For many, the result is a state of exile  thatis experienced on a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level:

–     Physical  born  of a deep sense of displacement from a known way of being;

–     Emotional as increasing demands upon time and person result in exhaustion and utter depletion;

–     Mental as creativity is lost under the burden of attempting to maintain unsustainable structures; and

–     Spiritual as core identity is challenged by the seduction of an easy fix, a quick way out of our presentstate of displacement.

Exile involves both pain and loss. It calls us to a place of letting  go of one way of being that we might liveforward into a future that is discontinuous  with our past. Given this, we can understand the resistance toacknowledging, let alone entering into, exile.  EXILE!

Yet exile  can also be a gift. It can provide a liminal space in which to forge new ways of being that becomes  a means of transformation and renewal. The role and call of community in such times is to seek the flourishing of people and planet.  In the words of a Babylonian exile from the sixth century  BCE:  Seek  theShalom (i.e., the flourishing) of the city to which you have been sent in exile, for in its Shalom will be yourShalom.  Note: We are not the first to go through disruptive times.  Indeed, they are the prerequisite for deep, adaptive change!

Seeking the Shalom… the flourishing of community is sadly not a responsibility that many leaders understandinherent to their work.  Too often, we confuse the inputs and throughputs of our work with the outputs.  Weget caught up in the heresy of the urgent, failing to live the questions that lead to new forms of engagement.  Yet an increasing number of visionary leaders are exploring  ways to produce  a triple bottom line of people,planet and profit that is indeed resulting in the flourishing of both community and individual.

Shalom in this context can best be described as wholeness of body, mind, emotions, and spirit for not only theindividual, but for the community.  The Shalom, of which our ancient voice speaks, is not merely an etherealstate of peace, but the economic  realization  of community-wide prosperity.  Taken in this context, flourishingis a social, political and economic  reality that seeks the welfare  of the whole,  not just a few. Our inter-dependence, be it on a local or global level, reflects the reality that individual wholeness is not possible apartfrom communal wholeness. The painful reality is that most leaders are not equipped to lead in the context ofexile.  Such is the pace and demand upon leaders today that few are given opportunity to acknowledge thereality of exile, short of crisis.

Join me next week as we explore the implications of leading in exile.

person standing on rock formation

Accessing Our Inner Wisdom

How many of us long for inner wisdom? 

Yet, we resist the intention required to honor the soul of our leadership.

Perhaps, because we intuitively know that such nurture requires surrender. On a gut level, we know that the surrendered life is about releasing our need to be in control… to be right. Much of our ability to let go depends upon our ability to entrust ourselves to the journey.

This involves a commitment to waking up and growing up. Without such commitment, our formation will remain on the surface, never integrating life’s challenges, let alone providing the means by which the emergent future might be made known. 

Pause, and think of a time when your sense of self shifted, and you became aware of a deepened connection to both yourself and your world. Accompanied by this connection was an awareness of the potential that you could be living into. 

Joseph Jaworski reflects on this connection: “It takes courage to listen to your inner knowing. But once you hear the voice of that knowing, deciding becomes fairly easy. You don’t have to think or strategize. You just know.” Making decisions then becomes not so much about deciding as about letting an inner wisdom emerge.

We live in a threshold time—when one way of being is ending as another emerges. Our relationship with Source, stranger and self cannot be orchestrated, controlled, or forced; only lived. The future will not come by majority vote or even consensus. Leading, especially in changing times, is an action of the surrendered heart. While we cannot predict the future, aligning with the movement of Source through an open mind, heart, and soul allows the future to emerge through us. 

A way to begin to align is to simply pause and connect body, mind and heart:

  • Begin by settling yourself into stillness.  If you find yourself scattered and diffused, tie a short phrase—like “Be still and know”—to your breath.  Breathe in: “Be still.” Breath out: “and know.” Allow your mind to listen to your body and your heart.
  • Next, do  a mental scan of your body, starting with your toes and working up to your head. Notice areas of tension, relaxation, soreness, or limberness. What is your body trying to say? Incorporate a few moments of stretching as a form of bodily meditation and release.  Breathe in… and release.
  • Now, dwell with your heart. Name what your heart holds. Honor what your heart seeks to share.  What action might you take to either nurture or release this feeling? 

In our practice is our path.  The soul of our leadership depends upon it.

Investing in Yourelf!

How often do you invest in yourself?  Really!  

Long ago, a wise leader asked: What does it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?  The two questions haunt me—on both a personal and a professional level.  I know firsthand the paradoxical experience of outward success and inward emptiness.  I can attest to the cost of pouring myself out in service, only to wake up drained of compassion and devoid of energy. 

As leaders, we enter our work in response to a deep-rooted sense of call.  In the very fiber of our being is the desire to make a difference—the yearning to bear transformation—into the life of individual, community and world.  In the strength of our passions and gifts, we become leaders charged with the oversight of many.  For most of us, the strength of our call carries us through the first five or ten or even fifteen years, until one day they we wake up spent and emptied, wondering, “what is it all about?”  It is then that Jesus’ question rises to the surface of consciousness: “What does it profit if you gain the whole world and lose your soul?  Is anything worth more than your soul?”

Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee reflect on the cost sacrificing too much for too long:  “The constant sacrifices and stress inherent in effective leadership can cause us to lose ourselves and sink into dissonance […] slowly, over many years, we lose touch with who we are and what we really care about, and one day we find we are not ourselves anymore.”  The tender reality is that when leaders, in any profession, find themselves trapped in the sacrifice syndrome, mere rest and relaxation is not sufficient.  

Restoration…renewal will only come through the intentional practice of mindfulness, compassion, hope and play.   When a leader loses his or her soul, it is costly to retrieve.  As pastors and elders, we have a responsibility to be attentive to the care of our souls.  Until (and unless), we attend to the care of soul, the spiritual transformation of team, congregation, and community will remain impossible.   How will you gift yourself with sufficient time apart to awaken anew to yourself and to Source?  

Business Laureate Hall of Fame Dee Hock challenges leaders to calculate how much time and energy they invest in each of these directions—people beneath them, over them, peers, and leading themselves.  His recommendation is that “we should invest 50% of our leadership amperage into the task of leading ourselves; and the remaining 50% should be divided into leading down, leading up, and leading laterally.”  Daniel Goldman, in his study of  leadership potential, has found that has found that self-leadership is the root cause of why most leaders hit a plateau far from their full potential.

Leadership begins with investing in yourself; in knowing who we are and allowing that to inform our doing.  We have the power to cast either shadow or light.  As leaders, we create the ethos in which others must live: one of light in which people flourish and grow or one that is a living hell.   What sort of ethos are you creating?  

How are you connecting to Source—for care of both your soul and the people with whom you serve?

man tattooed praying

Grieving & Trusting

I’ve been grieving this week.  I’ve been grieving the loss of  American lives to Covid-19.  One in five hundred Americans have died, yet we are still arguing over masks and vaccines.  I’ve been grieving over the polarization between political parties, and divided communities, and explosive school board meetings across the country.  I’ve been grieving and yet trusting as the vaccine becomes available for children ages 5-11, as the booster arrives for those over age 65 (please get it!), as we continue to respond and adapt to our changing circumstances.

Even as our present context has brought me to my knees in prayer, I am reminded that disruption is often the context for deep change.  And so, my prayer is not shaped by words but surrender.  I find myself seeking to abide in the mystery that I might the emergence of a new way of being.  In my dwelling, I trust even when no immediate resolution to our present circumstances seems to be on the horizon.

My dwelling time has led me to reflect on the crucibles in life.  Those times when I’ve not been able to bypass the fire, but rather are led through it by grace.  As I’ve reflected on my own fiery furnaces, I’ve been reminded of how much I have learned through my failures and how much I’ve grown.   

Often, we are not saved from life’s trials. Rather we are shaped and formed by them.  We live in a culture that has become expert at avoiding pain (or at least attempting it). Yet, deep down we know that trial, temptation, and even failure are often gifts in disguise. 

It should not surprise us therefore, that spiritual growth, essential to change leadership, entails suffering, pain, and struggle.  Our trials and temptations become the means by which barriers come down. The gift and burden of free will means that we must choose to embrace the pain, rather than run from it.  Such is the paradox of this time.

One note of caution: Crucibles alone do not transform us. They can, however, help us loosen our grip, free us trying to control the outcome, and bring us home to ourselves, one another, and this world.

May we dare to embrace the pain of this time as a form of rebirth!

Deborah

boy in blue jacket hopping on water puddle

Dangerous Wonder

Dangerous Wonder

Do you remember the first time you experienced snow? Jumped in a puddle? Watched fireworks? Delighted in something new?  Fell in love?  Do you remember what it felt like… feels like… to wonder?

One of the hidden gifts of Covid for me has been the opportunity to slow down and recover the practice of wondering.  A snippet of an old Southern folk song floats through my mind: 

I wonder as I wander out under the sky…  

While Covid has limited my travel, there is a profound power to wondering and wandering in place.  In reconnecting with the land and the people I love, my wandering in place has me wondering about a lot things, most especially my call… our collective call… in this threshold time.

In another threshold time, Martin Luther King, Jr. named “our inescapable network of mutuality” prompting me to ask: Are we ready to nurture compassion toward a mutuality that honors diversity, demands equity, and nurtures inclusion?  Will we allow wonder to nurture moral imagination that we might embrace a new way of being, belonging and becoming, even as we acknowledge other forms of wonder that distract and distress.  

On this 20th anniversary month of 9-11, the terrible wonder and disbelief that planes could crash into the Twin Towers, the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania. This past month, the seemingly overnight return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan.  A pandemic still raging across the globe.  The tipping point (O God, may it be so!) of violence against people of color that we might finally know that we are all connected.  Either we flourish together in our interdependence as people and planet, or continue on a path to destruction.

Richard Rohr in The Naked Now believes that  “wondering” is a word connoting at least three things:

                        Standing in disbelief

                        Standing in the question itself

                        Standing in awe before something

Many stand in disbelief these days.  Others remained locked in questioning.  Ultimately, the danger of wondering is that it asks something of us.  To respond requires acknowledgement that while we are not in control, we do have agency to co-create a future that moves us beyond this present age of destruction.  It begins with standing in awe, reconnecting soul with Source, and wondering.

Are we ready to wonder about the future through the lens of our interdependence?  Can we conceive of flourishing apart from GDP?  Might dare to wonder, without immediate answer, about the pressing social and environmental issues in ways that do not seek to control or hold onto the past, but let go that the future might emerge?

This form of wondering is dangerous.  It requires a willingness to shift in perspective, even long held beliefs, that we might allow for the conditions that honor life, in all its wondrous forms, to emerge.  The practice of dangerous wonder  invites us to be attentive to people and place, and dwell in the questions, beyond easy answers.  Dangerous wonder suspends judgment in favor of exploring the inherent gift of life amidst contradiction and challenge.  Much depends upon our willingness to wonder.  

Will you join me in sharing your stories of wonder?

Practice Makes Perfect

Living the Altered Scale of Our Times

You’ve likely heard the phrase practice makes perfect.  

The challenge is that when we seek perfection, we often get stuck.  We associate perfection with flawlessness.  Yet break down the word to its root—per and fect in Latin—and something far richer emerges.  The prefix per means through and fect means to make or do.  What if perfection is not the absence of flaws or defects, but a means of making a way through?   Reconnecting with the root construct of the word, practice makes perfect presses not towards flawlessness, but practice that carries us through this time as we make a new way.  

The term altered scale must also be defined.  Altered scale in jazz refers to a musical scale based loosely on a major scale, but with alterations, that can lead in unanticipated directions.  There is tension and release.  There is variation.  There can be dissonance, there can harmony.  Altered scale takes both musician and listener on a journey.   What if we approached our  present context as an invitation to a journey, a journey of emergence found through practice and altered scale?

If ever there was a time when we need to acknowledge the need for altered scale and explore new practices, that time is now.  If we have learned nothing else from a global pandemic, George Floyd’s death, the US departure from Afghanistan, and the list goes on… it is that our actions matter.  Our actions, informed by our daily practices—small and large—inform how we engage with our world.  They shape what we think and guide what we do.  

The inspiration for these practices come from the chapter titles of a book entitled Dangerous Wonder.  Danger and wonder.  The dissonance of connecting these two words presses us to explore the paradoxical relationship between adjective and noun.  The adjective challenges, while the noun invites.  Joined together adjective and noun becomes a practice that stretches us beyond our comfort zones, inviting us to discover the altered scale for our time.  Our adjectives for this journey: dangerous, risky, wild, daring, wide-eyed, irresponsible, happy, naïve. Our nouns: wonder, curiosity, abandon, playfulness, listening, passion, terror, grace.  Together they invite us to embrace emergence.  

We stand at the crossroads.  Will we embrace our interdependence?  Or not? Will we respond to climate change and systemic injustice that we and future generations may live? Or not? The choice is ours.

To that end, these practices are an invitation to enter the altered scale of our lives.  Get ready to practice some dangerous wonder! Coming next Thursday!

Together,

Deborah 

Image: Swimming between tectonic plates in Iceland.

people forming round by shoes

Beloved Community

Beloved Community: You’re Invited

What does beloved community mean and what steps might we take to create beloved community?


In every new arising there are three forces involved:
affirming, denying, and reconciling.

Cynthia Bourgeault, The Law of Three

After 18 years of making “the journey” our home, my husband and I are back in Connecticut where we began. There are still people who can tell me the story of the day I was born. Two of my siblings and several of my cousins live right across the state line in New York. It is the place where I belong. But that does not mean that my sense of belonging is experienced by all.

In my mostly prosocial town, there is an inordinate number of traffic stops for those whose skin color is different than mine. As progressive as we like to think of ourselves, our privilege betrays us in the statistical reports. One Easter, a family friend was stopped leaving our house; he was black. Our mayor was mortified to hear that a guest to our community was stopped while “driving black.” Of course, these incidents don’t even tap into the risk of being killed, or the collective trauma experienced by people of color.

So where does that leave us? What will be our response to the on-going loss of life? Will we claim our moral responsibility to act? In the aftermath of the Chauvin verdict, what is our call? I’m reminded of words from John Lewis, conscience of congress even now, “if not us, then who? If not now, then when?” 

How we define “community” will determine our future. Will we choose to be beloved community… or not? How we engage with one another—stranger, friend and even enemy—will reflect the depth of our commitment to living as beloved community. It will require a third force, in addition to the affirming and denying forces currently at work. Cynthia Bourgeault in her book The Law of Three describes this force as the reconciling force: 

The most important thing to keep in mind here is that this third force is an independent force, coequal with the other two, not a product of the first two as in the classic philosophy of “thesis, antithesis, synthesis.” Just as it takes three independent strands of hair to make a braid, so it takes three individual lines of force to make a new arising. This third force serves to bring the other two forces (which would otherwise remain disconnected or deadlocked) into relationship, from which forward momentum can emerge. 


This coming Saturday, April 24, from 9:00 am-noon (Central), we have a unique opportunity to dwell in community with Anita Howard, activist, researcher and professor at Case Western Reserve University, who will be sharing her research and journey as it relates to Beloved Community. Together, we will explore what it means to be beloved community today, and steps that we might take to create it. Click here to register.

Community doesn’t just happen. It takes intention that involves both an inward and outward movement. Ultimately, it is the most challenging of disciplines from which we receive the greatest of gifts: a sense of belonging and purpose—and, if we keep working at it, an experience of beloved!

Hope to see you Saturday!

Deborah

Journey to the Center of the Earth

A favorite movie!

One of my favorite movies as a child was Journey to the Center of the Earth.  I can remember exactly where I saw the move and what seat I sat on… well really, I was on the edge of my seat.  I was enthralled.

I wanted to be Hannah, the one to serve as guide to Professor Anderson and his nephew Sean.  Trapped in a cavern, the only escape route was to go deeper and deeper beneath the earth’s surface.  They encounter unexpected places and strange creatures.  And, of course, the volcanic activity adds drama and presses the need to find the way out.

The Land of Ice and Fire

Imagine my delight when our daughter Elizabeth wanted to go to Iceland for her high school graduation.  We have now been twice.  The land of fire and ice!  Magical… mystical… and hauntingly beautiful, Iceland tells the story of climate change and equity.  

Visit the Vatnajökull glacier and you will see how the inches have become feet, which have become yards, of melting glacier; a daily reminder of global warming.  Memories of the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull remain an ever-present reminder of our utter dependence upon the earth as our home.  While the decisions made after the subprime crisis tell a story of what happens when a country chooses equity over greed.

Iceland’s journey provides invitation as we emerge from the pandemic.  How we re-enter after a year of stay-in-place will reflect just how much (or little) we have learned.  Will we take responsibility for our stewardship of creation? Will we finally come to honor our inter-dependence?  Or not? 

Iceland’s Response

The story of Iceland’s response to environmental, economic, and identify issues model a way forward for us to engage with our own communities.  In many ways, the country’s response mirrors the Martin Luther King’s Six Principles of Non-Violence:

  • PRINCIPLE ONE: Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. 
  • PRINCIPLE TWO: Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding. 
  • PRINCIPLE THREE: Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people. 
  • PRINCIPLE FOUR: Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform. 
  • PRINCIPLE FIVE: Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate. 
  • PRINCIPLE SIX: Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

Join me on a (virtual) pilgrimage

With Principle Six, especially, we are invited to understand the connection between the environment and justice.  This coming Sunday at noon, EST, I am leading a virtual pilgrimage to Iceland.  This online journey is an invitation to reclaim the heart of what it means to be, belong and become as together we honor people and planet.   I hope you’ll join me and others from across the globe as we journey to the center of our beings.  There is no charge.  Just bring yourself (and a friend, if you like). Here is the link!

And, then a retreat with Anita Howard

After making Pilgrimage, my hope is that your commitment to reentry with intention will be deepened.  To support you further, I invite you to register for the online Beloved Community retreat with Anita Howard to learn more what it means to be beloved… and community.  While popularized by Martin King, the term that was first coined in the early days of the 20th Century by the philosopher-theologian Josiah Royce, who founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation.  As we re-enter, how might our communities come to embody justice, equal opportunity, and love of one’s fellow human beings… and creation?

Never forget that our paths are made by walking!

The Longest journey | relate

Reactivity, anyone?

There is a lot of reactivity these days.  

To be fully transparent, I must acknowledge my own.  The other day I found myself telling a colleague about two people who were driving me crazy.  Now, who is that really about?! Reactivity for me is an indication that I’m over-extended.   I’ve lost the grace-space in which to welcome the other.  

Interruptions

When I’m over-extended and in need of a time-out, I want to say “piss off” to Henri Nouwen’s confession: “I used to complain about all the interruptions to my work until I realized that these interruptions were my work.”Really?!

Deep down, I know interruptions that are part of the fabric of life.   How we approach them determines whether they become gifts or distractions.  Invariably, when I allow myself to let go of my neatly constructed schedule, I find myself blessed by the one (or situation) to which I was earlier feeling reactive.

The Breath

For me, pressing through irritation begins with the breath.  A deep breath to center and focus.  Sometimes a number of deep breaths.  When centered, I am freed to listen with the ear of the heart and from the gut.  It is then that I once again connect to the inherent dignity of the person before me, while also honoring my own dignity and space. Moving beyond the heresy of the urgent, I slow down enough to hear the yearning beneath the words.  Yearning to be heard and understood.  When I fully listen, I can disentangle myself from the need to fix and instead hold the space to relate to the other, rather than react.

Relate

The origin of the word relate means to stand in relationship to; to have reverence.  Paul Woodruff in his book Reverence believes that to teach reverence, you must find the seeds of reverence in each person and help them grow.  He cautions us not to confuse reverence with religion; it belongs to community.  In a time when loneliness has reached epidemic proportions, nurturing community is essential for the care of soul, both of individual and collective.

There will always be people in our lives who give us energy, and others who drain us.  Some relationships support and delight.  Others challenge and refine.  Taken together, they have the potential to restore community: the context for our being, belonging and becoming.

Experiencing some reactivity?  Lean in.  You will likely find a gift awaiting you!