I am halfway through 2016. A bunch of blog posts, a couple of podcasts, several vCast conversations, and countless informal, online, offline, and extended moments of research and reflection...all these make up the body of work that I call Divign Thinking. What began as a collection of methodologies aimed to advance the skill level of spiritual leaders of all types has become a way of navigating my days.
I still attest to the effectiveness of the methodologies that taught me. I will still use and share them when there is a critical mass constituting a peer group of learners. It turns out, that is the challenge of our times; the challenge of our time. All to often it's a real or perceived luxury to spend time with peers in a circle of learning.
In 2012-13, I served as co-chair of the UUA Task Force for Excellence in Shared Ministry. It was commissioned by the then presidents of three professional organizations -- LREDA, UUMA, UUMN. This experience was formative for all of us on the Task Force as well as those who engaged the task -- to examine and establish best practices for the advancement of Shared Ministry on staff teams. The final report that was created has been useful to constituencies, groups and teams. And the work continued.
Throughout my time on the Task Force, I held on to an essential question. The question was, is, and I hope will be -- what is our theology of collaboration? What is mine? What is yours? I say theology because of my firm belief that the essence of collaboration is the handing over of control of process to a greater or higher power. The question could be what is our philosophy of collaboration. Sometimes that will hit the same, raw core. Other times it may merely dance in the mind as a pleasant to interesting notion. Whether philosophy or theology -- really, there is a mandate for us to collaborate.
Collaboration, succinctly defined as enhancing the capacity of another -- or, each other -- calls on a shared skill set that is very specific. Collaboration begins with a circle and a shared vision/goal. What comes next is a process that is essentially a group spiritual practice. It is not a free for all (although it does require freely imagining). It is not about silence (although it does require centering and contemplation through sharing silence). It is not about people ranking (but it does require a group to understand the priorities and related roles of implementation). It is not about a controlled outcome but it is about an intentional process. It does not happen with a group of like experts gathering around a table. It happens when all stakeholders are at a roundtable of looking at the same dream and sharing their perspective, experience and ideas about a new way. The new way will be powerful because it represents and connects back to a whole. The new way will be effective because it honors more voices. The new way will be transformative because it will give everyone a chance to work at it.
Collaboration does beg for trust. Trust requires vulnerability. Vulnerability requires humility. Humility offers us a chance to revere something very precious, together.
When we are leaders -- meaning, when we are responsible for representing a vision and a purpose so that others may be served by and serve that vision themselves -- then we must admit our awareness of the dangers.
By the dangers I don't mean the consequences of what happens when people you serve project their needs and desires and expectations onto you. That's something else.
What I mean in this writing is we have to admit that to be a leader means we have to have enough ego to walk out the door each day to be a person who stands with and for others. It's a big job. We have to admit that when we do this, it is our constant work to tame that beast and sin called ego. We need some to have the confidence to do the work but when we have too much we destroy the very work we intend to do.
These days, the distinctions and levels of leadership in any system are at once on a continuum and also clearly ascribed. In spiritual/purpose-driven leadership -- whether religious, community activism, public sector of education -- there are always hierarchies.
In a general sense, a hierarchy describes the areas and levels of authority and responsibility assigned to roles. Understanding the function of hierarchies is key to visualizing how the most basic of functioning – especially communication -- happens in a mechanism of people. (Well,ants have pretty great hierarchies but that is a different sort of study.)
Sometimes leaders in a system have a tremendous amount of responsibility with very little authority. Any kind and level of leader can have deep impact on individuals, groups, and cause. Leaders with authority and corresponding power have, do and will always have constant opportunity to have deep impact on individuals,groups, and causes. The more responsibility -- with authority -- a
person has, the more at risk they will be at having to contend with the insistence of ego.
What is the composition of your deep impact?
What was the nature of your "call" to leadership?
How did you prepare to manage your ego?
We can say we're different and that ego doesn't play a part in our work. We can say things used to be that way. We can say it's unnecessary hysteria to think we are at risk of ego's runaway trains. We can dodge the issue and point out that oh, we don't claim to be perfect (while we master the critique of others).
We say or do any of these, and more. And ego will have won another round.
This is my preliminary response to the 2016 Berry Street Lecture, "If Our Secrets Define Us," by Rev. Gail Seavey. The stories she tells are not new nor surprising in and of themselves. The details detailed, in total - in one sitting (in that context), sickening. She says this. The weight of what Rev. Seavey conveyed was enormous and she did so with methodical grace.
My own relief will come when the other shoes begin to drop. Then it will only be a matter of time before we may all see what the secrets have really been damaging -- the legacy of who we are and the future we are creating. Whether Unitarian Universalist or another faith,whether the community agency or the institution of higher learning,the ego-driven misconduct of the most entrusted leaders is only the
Then there are the secrets, and from this moment on formerly known as "confidentialities." I won't attempt to re-analyze the hideous nature of cover-ups in the name of protecting something sacred. Instead, I will jump to what these sins always obscure – the impact on the leaders of the future. Our children.
When we say so earnestly, "children are our future," we're not saying, "aren't they special?" We are reminding ourselves that they are –- literally -- THE future. We don't even need to be overly emotional or sentimental about this. It's an issue of practicality.
Such evidence of practicalities, practicalities of taking care of our children with excellence is rare. In fact, those with the most responsibility for taking care of children excellently so that there can be a future are usually under appreciated, bullied, and often discarded when passion gets the best of them.
So where is the discussion among us about what matters most?
Do we ever wonder what the children see when they are watching us? Have we
ever considered that, say, church attendance is tanking because it is in our collective DNA to mistrust such institutions because of this? If they are lucky and privileged, families stay at home or take walks in the woods or stay in their jammies extra one day a week because they can count on only that extent of goodness.
I've stopped analyzing why people don't want to join communities like churches. I no longer have a secure place in them. And so my question is, now what? The Dalai Lama said last week of the Orlando Shootings,
“It is not enough simply to pray. There are solutions to many of the problems we face; new mechanisms for dialogue need to be created, along with systems of education to inculcate moral values. These must be grounded in the perspective that we all belong to one human family and that together we can take action to address global challenges.”
Dialogue is an on-purpose conversation: questions, answers, requests and information, truth telling, truth; and reconciliation.
Perhaps reconciliation should go first.
Perhaps that could start the legacy that could follow us.
Today is a day to pray. But then again, yesterday was a good time to do it too. And tomorrow? Most certainly, I will need to pray tomorrow. And the day after....
Some people don't use the word "prayer." Some might say, "my thoughts are with you." That is a prayer too, or at least like a prayer in it's intention -- to give love with caring sincerity. Lately I sit in the quiet of night or the enormity of morning to hold the pain and suffering of another or others. I've practiced Tonglen meditation enough to be able to move myself quickly from self pity (however justified) to compassion (which is, for me, a spiritual mandate). Some days are better than others.
I use the word prayer because I pray. I also meditate. I must do this because to not do this, does me in. I don't meditate or pray to feel or be strong. I do it to access humility and my oath of goodness for the world. Sometimes the world is in the broken relationships in my family tree. Sometimes the world is the person whose picture is thrust in our e-faces. Sometimes the world is the child who didn't decide to be born yet who inherits the pain and suffering of those who raise them. Sometimes the world is me because I want to be useful. If my own suffering -- whatever it is -- prevents me from being useful, then I am a victim.
I heard once, in no place and at no time in particular, that we don't choose to be a victim but we do choose to remain one. For those who are prone to overwhelm, like I am, I have to embrace this. I have to. Otherwise I would never have enough clarity or courage to walk to the corner sub shop, to hop on a bus, or drive my car. I am a woman and have an array of choices to keep myself safe. I have inherited and subsequently collected enough common sense to not test the culture of egregious sexism or misogyny. Still, I cannot escape it entirely. Hardly. Everyday I am reminded of who I am and what I'm not. Every day. I could be a target of harm. Anyone can. I will not hide at home.
We hear, "please pray for me. Please think of me. Please send me good vibes." Whatever your word is, how is it that you make sure that it's not just an impotent word bomb? How do you make yourself clear that you care?
If you don't care? Hmmm. Okay, here is a hybrid prayer/thought for you:
In the name of god, light, love, and all of existence,
in the spirit of understanding and connection,
I hold out my hand to you.
Please take my hand.
Please, take my hand.
I don't know much
and I don't know nothing.
I don't have much
and I don't have nothing.
I know that you have a lot.
It is my belief that you do.
It is my belief that we all. have. something.
Don't you see?
This is our chance to discover!
We can draw lines in the sand,
but we know the wind will whip them away.
We can build walls to the sky,
and we must know that the wildlife will revolt.
If you take my hand we could meet in the middle, but not for long.
Soon we'd have to get more hands to hold in order to create a center.
It's the middle, the center of a space,
that does and will define us.
It's the middle that makes a vessel fine and worthy.
It's a middle that celebrates the variations of whatever or whoever created it.
It's the middle that always creates a whole that is more than the sum of its parts.
It's the middle, the space in between us, where we find ultimate purpose, meaning, and a chance to celebrate.
We love to celebrate.
Maybe there is a field around us.
Maybe there is unconscionable wreckage.
But it can be a middle,
a space in between us,
where we can meet.
Then we could ask the first question,
How we will feed each other -- healthy, fine, and fair?
The fifth practice of Divign Thinking is Meaning. When take on the identity of leadership, in any worthy form, we are implicitly committing ourselves to learning while leading with a growing mind, not a closed one. Listen to an anthropologist living on the border as she comments on the missed opportunity for us to make vital meaning of our connection to the history of all species.
Conversations like this one happen when we follow our empathetic impulse to ask a deep question of another -- "why." Why anthropology? Why does it matter to you? What have you observed in the classrooms over the years ? (Conversation dated April 2, 2016)
Randy Becker is a retired Unitarian Universalist Minister, community innovator and mayoral candidate in Key West, Florida. He is also from my home city, Utica, New York. Because of Facebook, I can tell when he is on retreat at his family camp at Cedar Lake. And so on a recent Sunday morning during a quick jaunt to visit my Dad, to sit at my mother's resting place, and to spend time with my friend and confidant, we noticed each other's same location. Let's go! To sit in the shade of tall and old trees and talk about innovations in spiritual community was more than I imagined for my sabbath. With the backdrop of nostalgia, we quickly caught up and got to the "what's new" part of the conversation.
When, in our work or circles, we talk about new ideas, it's not often that we come across people who are actually taking action. A new idea put into motion is risky. An innovation requires experimentation. To try out a new way of doing something means there must be trial, and error. This flies in the face of our culture of expertise, perfection, and security.
If we imagine making the world a better place, we have a picture in our heads of what it might look like, who is in the scene, what they are doing, what the feeling and energy is. I can tell you this -- an innovator can't not innovate. Innovation is about creating something that is a product of the imagination. It is a deeply creative, and spiritual process, that is the substance of moral imagination. All innovators are artists, in my view; but not all artists are innovators. Both are Creatives. Innovators forego a feeling of being settled or knowing what comes next or being able to just sit and rest without a care in the world. It's a beautiful life yet it can be a lonely life. People, perhaps sensibly, do not want to make small talk with a Creative. "So what's new?" Laugh out loud. I would never ask me that if I didn't plan to sit for awhile.
Divign Talks are unrehearsed conversations among strangers, acquaintances and friends. They are intended to not be overly directed so that viewers can be inspired by the every day conversations that can be found all around us, if we are curious. While some Divign Thinking resources are specific to Unitarian Universalism, pieces are curated for a wider appeal to all those who live out and act on their inner purpose, while connecting with others. Spiritual Leadership. Shared Ministry. Sharing Purpose.
In this clip, Rev. Randy shares what's going on with his start-up community, Spiritual Seekers. He also reflects on some points on the timeline of Unitarian Universalism. Hope you enjoy.