silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time

Learning to Listen Anew

I believe we can change the world 

if we start listening to one another again.  

Simple, honest, human conversation.  

Not mediation, negotiation, problem-solving, debate, or public meetings. 

Simple, truthful conversation 

where we each have a chance to speak, 

we each feel heard, and 

we each listen well.

—Margaret Wheatley

With these words as my charge, I have spent the last year loving, listening, and learning.  Having served in broken and decaying systems, it has been profound to step outside of the institution and simply be present.  On the ground.  With no title or office, simply listening to friends and colleagues and strangers across disciplines reflect on their journey.

The Common Thread

The common thread throughout the conversations has been a hunger to make a difference.  To step beyond any attempts to fix what is broken to building the new, an entirely different task.  To be sure, there is a sense of dislocation and displacement that comes with stepping outside our bounded set realities.  But, there is also invitation.

The Invitation

Invitation to take seriously our responsibility to attend to a triple bottom line of environment, economies and equity.  Invitation to claim the reality that mental acuity, emotional health and physical fitness are not enough.  We cannot build the new apart from connecting soul with Source for the flourishing of our communities.  As environmentalist John Milton reminds us: Most great inventions and breakthroughs have arisen through deep communion with Source.

The Hunger

The hunger to connect to that place of deeper knowing is palpable.  The yearning for wholeness not just of body, mind, and spirit, not just for humanity, but also for planet, is core.  Our inter-dependence on both a local and global level reflects the realty that individual wholeness is impossible apart from communal wholeness.  The challenge remains, how?  

The Leadership Challenge

For starters, we need a new language.  As philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein observed over a 100 years ago: “The limits of language mean the limits of my world.”  Soul and Source: words ordinarily located in the lexicon of faith.  Global community: the people and nations of the world, inextricably tied together economically, socially, and politically.  Triple Bottom Line, an accounting framework, that evaluates performance through three measures: social, environment, and financial.   Words ordinarily located in the context of business.  Taken together, these words represent the core leadership challenge of the 21st century.   How are we going to intentionally form communities committed to the flourishing of all?  This calls for the development of a new kind of community, one that nurtures spiritual maturity in leaders, while also addressing 21stcentury leadership challenges.

The Call: The formation of a new kind of community, that nurtures spiritual maturity in leaders, while also addressing 21stcentury leadership challenges.

The Power of Unreasonable People

Being unreasonable is not just a state of mind.  It is also a process by which older, outdated forms of reasoning are jettisoned, and new ones conceived and evolved.  

The Power of Unreasonable People 

Power can be used to do great good or wreck havoc and destruction. Each one of us is responsible for what we do with the power entrusted to us.  To be sure, there has been widespread abuse of power in the church.  There has also been the failure to rightly use power in response to evil.  But there remains potential for great good.  Gifts and strengths come with a responsibility to make a difference, to breath new life into people and communities.  The Power of Unreasonable People shares stories of social and environmental entrepreneurs who have provided the catalytic energy and vision to make transformation real.

What sets these entrepreneurs apart from their counterparts is their unreasonableness.  What makes them unreasonable includes:

  • Their desire to change the system: “They spot dysfunction in the current system, and unlike reasonable people who accommodate themselves to the status quo, they try to work out how to transition the system’s equilibrium to a different and more functional state”;
  • They are insanely ambitious, but not for themselves, for the greater goal;
  • They are propelled by emotion and use the energy born of emotion to accomplish what others believe to be impossible;
  • They think they know the future: “They know the best way to predict the future is to create it and the best way to build momentum—and attract funding and other resources—is to develop and communicate a clear vision of how things might be different;
  • The seek profit in unprofitable pursuits (example: the Grameeen Bank who has helped seven million people; 97% of whom are women).

Their focus is on investment, not charity.  This is an important lesson for the church as charity gets in the way of empowerment.  Investment, by contrast, seeks to create the context whereby individuals are equipped and empowered to grow and take responsibility for their contribution to the whole.    For this reason, these entrepreneurs seek to measure the un-measurable, demanding return on s triple bottom line as they seek a deep social return on investment.  They do so through three models in particular: leveraged non-profit, hybrid non-profit, and social business.  

Many would say that these entrepreneurs are unqualified for the work they do; they would argue that this is precisely their strength.  They know they can’t do it alone and depend upon the full giftedness of the community.  Hope comes alive when the power of unreasonable people is unleashed.  Strengths, a commitment to lifelong learning, risk taking combine to make possible a future.  Being unreasonable is at the heart of the call to be Poets & Prophets.

May we all dare to be just a little bit unreasonable for the sake of people and planet!

The Roundabout Way

Roundabout

The roundabout way!  We tend to prefer the most direct route, unless we are on enjoying a balmy spring day on a winding country road.   Most of the time, we are on a schedule and, as we all know, schedules do not allow for roundabout ways.  Yet that seems to be where life often leads us, especially when in need of letting go.  It is a hidden gift, waiting to be received.

Whether we like it or not, the wilderness is a place where life is stripped down to its essentials.  Values passed down for generations may be recognized as contributing to racism and the destruction of planet.  Beliefs about personal lifestyle and professional aspirations, may be discovered as the expectations of others, not one’s true self.  The wilderness is where we come to accept the necessity of endings that we might be readied for new beginnings, not of our own making, but of connecting soul with Source.

Another term for wilderness is “liminal space.”  

Liminal Space

As Ruth Haley Barton writes: 

Liminal space, the place of waiting, is a unique spiritual position where human beings hate to be…  It is when you have left the tried and true, but have not yet been able to replace it with anything else.  It is when you are finally out of the way.  It is when you are between your old comfort zone and any possible new answer.  If you are not trained in how to hold anxiety, how to live with ambiguity, how to entrust and wait, you will run… anything to flee this terrible cloud of unknowing.

We are in a wilderness time: as nations… as a world… as people and planet!  Be it the political arena, the world of finance, or the future of the planet as we have known it, uncertainty abounds.  The tenuousness of it all has led many to look for a quick fix, seeking certainty in any false god that will promise a way out of the desert—even if it means returning to bondage.  But as anyone who has read the times knows, there is no going back.  There is only going forward, even if in a “roundabout way.”

In-Between

Much as we hate in-between times, they are crucial to our unlearning the ways that have enslaved us.  It is the only way to live forward into a way of being that honors the flourishing of people and planet.  William Bridges in his classic, Managing Transition, talks about the difference between change and transition.  Change is situational: a baby is born, a beloved family member dies, a friend loses their job, and a colleague gets married.  Transition, by contrast, is a process by which people come to terms with change.  

Endings & Beginnings

All transitions begin with endings.   The challenge is learning how to let go of what was.  The question is will we hang on to the past or will we make a real ending, thereby opening the way to a new beginning?  Letting go must precede taking hold.  We must be willing to live in the liminality in-between spaces.  And so, we must train ourselves to hold anxiety, to live with ambiguity, to entrust and wait… to enter into the cloud of unknowing.  For such is the way to life

Together, we are Poets & Prophets!

#PoetsProphets #Edgewalkers #FormationalJourney

The wilderness is where we come to accept the necessity of endings that we might be readied for new beginnings, not of our own making, but of connecting soul with Source.  

Why our formation matters!

Spiritual Formation and Leading Change

Spiritual formation: Growing up and waking up. Words ordinarily located in the lexicon of faith.  Global community: the people and nations of the world, inextricably tied together economically, socially, and politically.  Triple Bottom Line, an accounting framework, that evaluates performance through three measures: social, environment, and financial.   Words ordinarily located in the lexicon of business.  Taken together, these words represent the core leadership challenge of the 21st century.  How are we going to intentionally form learning communities to grow up and wake up for the flourishing of the global community, a triple bottom line of people, planet, and purpose?  This calls for the development of a new kind of equipping that nurtures spiritual maturity in leaders, while also addressing 21st century leadership challenges.

Historically, care of soul has been relegated to the faith community, while preparation of the leader has been the responsibility of the business community.  Yet, the challenges faced in each discipline press for the integration of the two.  Our human tendency to create dualities—body and soul, local and global, sacred and secular—has resulted in bifurcated lives.  The wholeness of the individual cannot be known apart from the wholeness of the community, demanding that prosperity be measured not only by bottom line profit, but also people and planet.  

The collapse of the global markets and increasing impact of global warming speaks of the radical uncertainty felt by people across the planet.  And, now the pandemic, followed by the civil unrest loosed by George Floyd’s death.  Our present context presses for intention with regard to the spiritual formation of the leader.  Leading with integrity in the 21st century demands connecting Soul with Source.

The Time is Now!

Historian William McLoughlin anticipated these emergent circumstances, predicting that they would prepare the soil for a “Great Awakening,” which will eventually result in a new global ethic of economy, environment, and equality.   He described awakening as the means by which “a people or a nation reshapes its identity, transforms patterns of thought into action, and sustains a healthy relationship with environmental and social change.”  In his study of religious and cultural change, McLoughlin identified five distinct, yet interwoven, stages:

  1. Crisis of legitimacy where old norms conflict with emergent values;
  2. Cultural distortion during which individuals come to understand that the problems are not personal but systemic;
  3. New vision emerging out of new articulations of faith and practice;
  4. New path during which the community experiments, creates and innovates; 
  5. Transformation as the tipping point is reached and the majority comes to embrace the new path.

While the last stage results in transformation, the first two stages, by necessity, involve breakdown and decline. The painful reality is that awakenings emerge out of “periods of cultural distortion and grave personal stress, when we lose faith in the legitimacy of our norms, the viability of our institutions, and the authority of our leaders in church and state.”   Herein, lies both challenge and opportunity.

Healthy systems are built backwards, beginning with desired outcome in mind. Such is the paradox of transformation.  Spiritual formation demands fresh articulations of faith and practice, a new path by which to experiment, create and innovate for the care of people and planet.  The spiritual growth of leaders for the flourishing of the global community involves developing a value curve that diverges from institutional structures and crosses market boundaries to integrate spiritual humility with servant leadership.  Wholeness of community requires wholeness of person, beyond the silos that have resulted in disconnect and dualism. 

Why This Matters

For us, as individuals, it is important that we understand:

    •       75 percent of adults in the workforce desire to live a more meaningful life.

    •       Only 26 percent of millennials say they feel like their current work is helping to create a better world.

    •       Only 31 percent of millennials are working within a career to which they feel called.

    •       36 percent of an adult’s life is spent “at work” in their careers, more than any other area in their lives, including family.

For the world, it is essential that we move beyond the dualities that result in bifurcated lives, that together we might contribute toward meeting human need for the Shalom of our communities.  At present, 

    •       854 million people do not have enough food to sustain them;

    •       25,000 people will die today from malnutrition;

    •       780 million people lack access to clean water;

    •       6,000 people will die today from waterborne illnesses;

    •       640 million people do not have adequate shelter;

    •       270 million do not have access to health services.

Growing up and waking up in spiritual maturity is the key to leading deep change.  We cannot give what we have not received.  It is only as we are transformed degree by degree that we can we bear transformation into the lives of others.

Join Mary Kay DuChene and me in a Wisdom Circle to begin in October.  For more: http://PoetsProphets.net.  Also, check out, upcoming online journeys and webinars: http://PoetsProphets.net.  For those working with water concerns, join us for a conversation with Aaron Wood on 8/30 at 1pm, EST, moderated by Rabbi Frank Dabba Smith of the Pivot Projects: https://www.linkedin.com/events/6699750790065741824/.  

#PoetsProphets  #ChangeLeadership. #FormationalJourney #PivotProjects

The Leader as Poet & Prophet

We live in a crucial season where our choices will have impact for generations to come.  Like tectonic platesmoving beneath the earth’s surface, we are encountering seismic shifts in our understanding not only of ourworld, but also of our very selves. For many, the result is a state of exile experienced on a physical, mental,emotional and spiritual level:

–     Physical born of a deep sense of displacement;

–     Emotional resulting in exhaustion and utter depletion;

–     Mental as creativity is lost in the attempt to sustain the unsustainable; 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 let go of one way of being that we might live forward into afuture discontinuous with our past. Given this, it is easy to understand the resistance to change.

Yet exile can also be a gift. It can provide a liminal space in which to forge new ways of being that becomes ameans of transformation and renewal. The flourishing of community is not immediately a responsibility thatmost leaders understand as inherent to their work.  Yet an increasing number of visionary leaders areexploring new forms of social action, resulting in the healing of both community and individual.

Flourishing can best be described as wholeness of body, mind, emotions, and spirit for not only the individual,but for the community.  This is not merely an ethereal state of peace, but the economic realization ofcommunity-wide prosperity.  Taken in this context, flourishing is a social, political and economic reality thatseeks the welfare of the whole, not just a few. Indeed, our inter-dependence, be it on a local or global level, reflects the reality that individual flourishing is not possible apart from communal flourishing. The painfulreality is that most leaders are not equipped to lead in the context of exile.  Such is the pace and demandupon leaders today that few are given opportunity to acknowledge the reality of exile, short of crisis.  

Conger in his seminal work, Spirit at Work: Discovering Spirituality in Leadership (1994) challenges leaders to remember that:

We share responsibility for creating the external world by projecting either a spirit of light or a spirit of shadow on that which is other than us. We project either a spirit of hope or a spirit of despair…We have a choice about what we are going to project, and in that choice, we help create the world that is… A leader must take special responsibility for what’s going on inside his/her own self, inside his/her consciousness, lest the act of leadership create more harm than good (p. 24-25).

The leader’s power to choose what spirit is projected cannot be fully grasped apart from the spiritual journey.  Our present zeitgeist presses the nurture of spiritual maturity in leaders, while also addressing 21st century leadership challenge of leading intentional change toward the flourishing of community.  Four observations from coaching leaders across disciplines:

  1. Spirituality is central to the shaping of core identity, character and call of leaders;
  2. Spiritual maturity involves leaders’ coming to claim the whole of their narratives—both light and shadow—as interpreted through their spiritual narratives;
  3. Connecting soul with Source empowers leaders to cycle between stress and renewal in the release of creativity and vision;
  4. The nurture of the poet and prophet in leaders empowers them to lead intentional change for the flourishing of community.

Historically, care of soul has been relegated to the faith community, while preparation of the leader has been the responsibility of the academy and business community.  Yet, the challenges faced in this threshold time press for a new understanding of leader formation.

Our human tendency to create dualities—body and soul, local and global, sacred and secular—have resulted in bifurcated lives.  But, what if we committed to the spiritual formation of leader toward addressing 21stcentury challenges? What if we developed the capacity of poet and prophet in individuals, teams, organizations and communities toward a more equal, fair and sustainable planet? Understanding that the nurture of the poet would help to articulate the holism of the human journey as it speaks to the past and present context, just as the prophet helps both individuals and collective cross over to the new, with intentionality and commitment for the flourishing of the community. What is spiritual maturity was found in the cross-disciplinary engagement of spiritual formation, social justice, and organizational development… for the sake of people and planet?  The leader as poet and prophet invites the community into a place where deepchange can take place, not for the sake of change, but toward the flourishing of community.

Shadow & Light

We all know someone who does not believe in their self-worth.  Perhaps it is a family member or friend or colleague.  Perhaps, it is you.   Be it you or another, our full potential will remain untapped until we come to know ourselves as self-worth.  Robert McGee in The Search for Significance identifies four ways in which we trade out our identity: 

  • The Performance Trap: placing our self-worth in our performance and other people’s opinions;
  • Approval Addiction: seeking the approval of others in order to feel good about ourselves;
  • The Blame Game: believing that those who fail, including ourselves, are unworthy of love and deserve to be punished;
  • The Shame Trap: trapped in the belief that one is hopeless and deserves to fail.

For far too many of us, our sense of self-worth is tied to performance and other people’s opinions.  Our lived beliefs get in the way of experiencing our core identity as fearfully and wonderfully made.    From the cradle, we are trained to place our identity in that which can be taken away.  This is why it is essential for leaders to be attentive to the stories that shape and form our understanding of self. 

Jim Loehr speaks to the importance of leaders knowing their stories: “Stories impose meaning on the chaos; they organize and give context to our sensory experiences, which otherwise might seem like no more than a fairly colorless sequence of fact.  Facts are meaningless until you create a story around them.”  Narrative knowing is different from analytic knowing. 

Narrative knowing helps us to deal with the complexities of human experience unable to be understood by the rational mind alone.  Stories provide the means by which to live with contradiction, compromise, conflict, and even crisis.  Leaders cannot help others make sense of the present chaos unless they have done so themselves.  We are what we remember.  But our remembering requires a willingness to engage the whole of our stories.  In a society that shuns weakness and rejects failure, this is risky work.  Yet it is essential work for those called to lead in this threshold time. 

The challenge is that we all carry within ourselves false stories.  Unless we take the time to name our false narratives, we will likely impose our biases, blindness, and fears upon others.  “Unhealthy storytelling is characterized by a diet of faulty thinking and, ultimately, long-term negative consequences… hardening of categories, narrowing of the possibilities, calcification of perception.”  False stories literally reconfigure our neural pathways.  We cannot lead from strength when our beliefs are rooted in a flawed understanding of self and world.

Intimacy, generatively, and integrity are all born of claiming the entirety of our stories.  We are able to nurture compassion for both self and others only as we engage our shadows and accept the reality that we carry within us both weakness and strength, good and bad.  As Jung reminds us:  

There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection.  To round itself out, life…calls not for perfection but for completeness and for this the ‘thorn in the flesh’ is needed,  the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent.

The Summons

The Summons. Do you feel it? Are you haunted by an inescapable sense that you need to respond? That you can no longer remain silent? Most
likely this feeling has been building for a while now, born of a growing sense of disquiet over social, ecological, and spiritual divides.

Many bemoan that we have lost our way. Others try to pinpoint
when — a particular administration, the subprime mortgage crisis, the refugee crisis, global wars that rip us asunder. Still others step back
to study five-hundred-year cycles. For years now, there have been conversations pressing toward the flourishing of our communities; toward a triple bottom line of people, planet, and prosperity. The arguments in response: idealistic, but not really possible. Good in theory, not reality. All the while the Summons deepens.

The wholeness for which we hunger is not just of body, mind, and spirit, not just for humanity, but also for planet. The wholeness we seek is not
just an ethereal state of peace, but the economic realization of community- wide prosperity. Taken in context, wholeness is a social, political, and economic reality that seeks the welfare of the whole, not just a few. Indeed, our interdependence, be it local, national, or global, reflects the reality that individual wholeness is impossible apart from communal wholeness. Already, social and environmental entrepreneurs are modeling to us what it means to seek the wholeness of the communities to which we have been called in exile.

For such a time as this, we are called to join the dance of action and reflection. The Summons is a journey to nurture the poet and prophet within toward the flourishing of our communities. It seeks not perfection, but wholeness. It calls us to care for people and planet even while attending to profit: a triple bottom line. It begins with connecting soul with Source.

The Summons.

Connecting Soul with Source

I have always known Source.   

Who… what is Source? Some know Source through their faith tradition,
others as an energy, others a presence. For me, Source is relationship. When
I am connected to Source, I am in flow, fully alive. It is in these moments I find
myself serving out of the intersection of my strengths and passions, in
response to the contexts in which I love and work. So, why ever disconnect?

Sometimes, the awareness of self and others is too much to bear. Sometimes,
the vulnerability too tender. There have been seasons when
I chose to disconnect, the essential loneliness too much to bear (more about
that later) and the ego’s tug too seductive to resist. Thankfully, the divine
embrace has always welcomed me home.

One colleague believes it impossible to disconnect from Source. That is not
my experience. Nor does my reading of spiritual teachings across
traditions support such a belief. Source will not force relationship. We must
choose to connect.

As leaders, we work hard to remain physically fit, emotionally healthy, and
mentally sharp, only to find the void remains. The hunger is deep. We want to
grow up, and wake up, spiritually. We know that connecting soul with Source
is essential; that we cannot give what we do not have. The challenge, of
course, is that there are no short cuts on this spiritual journey called life.

It would be so simple if we could just attend to the task at hand. The reality is
that to have an outer transformation, first there must be inner
transformation. Without nurture of soul, we cannot lead intentional change
for the flourishing of our communities.

But what is soul? Ruth Haley Barton in Strengthening the Soul of Your
Leadership provides a compelling definition:

When I refer to soul, I am not talking about some ill-defined,
amorphous, soft- around-the-edges sort of thing. I am talking about
the part of you that is most real—the very essence of you… (before
physical form) … the part that will exist after you go into the ground.
This is the “you” that exists beyond any role you play, any job you
perform, any relationships that seems to define you, or any notoriety or
success you may have achieved. It is the part of you that longs for more
of (Source).

Soul, the essence of all of us. Soul, the part that longs for Source.