Living Well

Break Free

break free from your moldI turned 60 this summer – and I’ve been pondering how that feels and what that means to me. Several friends turned 60 also – and we’ve discovered that each of us is thinking about life with more depth, more questions, more sensitivity.

I’m more aware of how I have viewed the coming decade from afar.  When I was little, I thought of people in their 60’s as being old. And many of them looked old to me. It makes me wonder how I look to children. When I was a teenager, I thought of people in their 60’s as having some interesting things to say, but also being more tired . . . slowing down. I wonder how I look to teenagers now. When I was in my 30’s and raising young children, I thought of people in their 60’s as having lots of parental wisdom, but also thought some of their ideas were outdated. I wonder how I sound to young parents these days.

Now that I am 60, I have a greater and more regular appreciation for the gifts of each day – good food, beautiful surroundings, loving family and friends, sustaining work. I am more aware of the gift of my body and its ability to move and be in the world the way I ask it to . . . most of the time. I am more willing to slow down, to try saying no as often as saying yes, and to get clearer about what to include on my bucket list. I feel less tolerant of the ways I have remained silent when I have something to say, because I wasn’t sure how it would be received; and I feel more aware of the ways fear has kept me from being my best, whole self.

So I am making a commitment to myself to break free from the mold I have fashioned for myself. Oh, it is easy to point away from myself and identify the worldly forces that have created the mold and kept me in it. But that is not really the whole story. I have not fully trusted that when I step out, I will still be loved, still be seen, still be valued. I have not fully appreciated that while I am always loved and seen and valued by God, I have not always loved, seen and valued myself.

So I am stepping out . . . and am grateful for all those around me who have helped me to get here . . . at 60.


Living Well


545The other night, Roger and I took the opportunity to go see “Wicked”, one of our favorite musicals. It is, in some sense, a prequel to the well-known “Wizard of Oz”; and tells the story of the relationship between Glinda and Elphaba – how Glinda became the ‘good witch’, and Elphaba became the ‘wicked witch of the west.’

The show is dazzling in every way – sets, lighting, special effects, costumes, and the incredible musical score. We had seen the show before; and I know the score very well, having listened to it countless times, and sung one of the songs a few times in performance. So I was ready to experience it all again, looking forward to the special moments I remembered from the first time we saw “Wicked.”

The house lights went down, the orchestra began, and we settled in for a special evening. And while the cast and crew and everyone involved provided a magnificent performance, I found that I was drawn into an element of the story I hadn’t pondered the first time I saw it.

I have been dwelling in a deep soul-place, of late. The swirl of questions have, in part, been about the nature of being human – and my struggles with how I live with my own limitations, sharp and painful emotions, less-than-desirable responses – and how these things measure up against my longings, my prayers, my dreams and hopes. So from this deep place of reflection, I began to experience the story unfolding before me on the stage.

Elphaba was born green and possessed special powers. She wanted nothing more than to meet the Wizard of Oz with hopes that he would “de-greenify” her, and help her to find a place of acceptance among her community and within herself, and a useful purpose for her powers. In the meantime, Glinda – beautiful and self-centered – sought to help Elphaba fit in; not for Elphaba’s sake, but because it helped Glinda to elevate her status and sense of herself as all good.

We know the ending of the story in one sense – Glinda becomes the beautiful and revered ‘Good Witch’; and Elphaba becomes the terrifying ‘Wicked Witch’. But really, who was good and who was wicked? Were Glinda’s beauty tips, her underhanded maneuvers to get rid of a suitor by encouraging him to dance with the girl in the wheelchair to ‘please Glinda’, her willingness to sacrifice what was right with what was expedient and self-serving – were these things good? Was Elphaba’s desire to fit-in, to find a community, to tell the truth even if it meant being ostracized, to ‘defy gravity’ by rejecting the impulse to conform – were these things wicked? Did the community of Oz help to characterize Glinda’s goodness and Elphaba’s wickedness by seeking the easy way – scapegoating Elphaba for all that was happening that was ‘bad’, and assigning all their hopes for restoring order to Glinda?

It is a story told again and again. I came away from the performance energized by the wonderful performances, the energizing and inspiring music, and grateful for a night out with my husband. I also came away with a powerful framework for reflection. How is it that we, as people in community, define one another? How do community’s values, needs, fears, define each of us and our sense of self? What is good? What is wicked? I’m grateful to the ‘art meets life’ moment that watching “Wicked” provided for me. ‘I have been changed . . . for good.’

Living Well

How to Make Peace in the World

jooYears ago, while on vacation, I happened upon a framed quote that captured my attention. I stood and looked at it for a long time, trying to burn the image and the words into my memory. I was at the beginning of my vacation and, hoping to stretch my vacation dollars, decided not to purchase the quote – concerned I might find something else later in my vacation and be out of spending money before I got there. (Yes, yes – I can get controlling about this)

As you might imagine, when I got home from vacation and was thousands of miles away from the store that was selling the framed quote, (and I had some money left over), I realized that it felt important to me to purchase it. So, thanks be to the internet, phone calls, and international mail service (yes, it was in another country), I ordered and received this important treasure.

You see, the quote is an old Scottish blessing – and I love things Celtic. But more importantly, the words – for me – simplify the enormous challenge we all live with. How is it that any one of us can have any agency and influence toward bringing peace to the world? I’m not a politician or in the military. I don’t work for an NGO in another country. I’m not a doctor or a member of the UN. But, I learned, I have a daily opportunity to help bring about peace in the world. Here’s what I learned from the wise ones in Scotland:

If there is righteousness in the heart,

there will be beauty in the character.


If there is beauty in the character,

there will be harmony in the home.


If there is harmony in the home,

there will be order in the nation.


If there is order in the nation,

there will be peace in the world.


So let it be.

I have come to learn it is my daily, hourly task to cultivate righteousness in my heart. I will do it differently from anyone else. This is not self-righteousness, mind you. This, to me, is daily tending the garden of Love within, planted by God and nourished by the choices I make to cultivate that Love.

Each of us has this garden of love, of righteousness, within. So go – cultivate your garden – and make peace in the world.

Living Well

What is truth?

On Saturday night, when the news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal bleeped on my cell phone, I sighed deeply and my heart sank . . . heavy with grief. I knew what today and tomorrow and the next day and the next day . . . would bring. There would be, and has been, a flurry of responses on social media. As I write this, I have not yet seen the news – though, of course, the responses I see will depend on which news outlet I choose to watch or read. We are in the post-trial time of outrage, grief, sadness, fear, and judgment.

truthI have been wrestling all day with my own heart response. I am sad beyond words that the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, and the ensuing media coverage and trial, have once more highlighted how much work we still have to do – as a nation – to understand and address the fear and misunderstanding and violence that continues when we are faced with people we call ‘other.’ I am deeply grieved for the loss Trayvon’s family has to live with.

But my deeper grief is this. We are obsessed with right and wrong; good and bad; victim and offender (I could go on to say red and blue; liberal and conservative . . . ). We have left it to our legal system – with all of its confounding complexities – to determine guilt and innocence, as if that is what is needed here. When all is said and done, we are left with gaping wounds in the body of our communities that cannot, and will not, be healed by a courtroom verdict. And we will never know the truth of what happened that night . . . in part, because, as Pontius Pilate knew so acutely, truth is a slippery thing that is understood differently by the various parties in an emotionally charged situation.

The Martin family will never have Trayvon return to their fold. George Zimmerman will have a very difficult, maybe impossible, time finding a life of freedom from the shortcomings of his own humanity, and the forces and influences in his life that I/we may never know about. Our legal system did nothing to help us discover how it is we are to live in relationship with people we don’t know and understand.

What might have happened, if instead of providing a safe courtroom for the trial with all the attendant public media presence, we could find a way to create a safe space for Zimmerman and the Martins to speak privately with one another about the fear and grief and loss that they each have suffered; and determine how they are to move forward in a way that is healing rather than divisive and terrifying?

At this point, it seems to me, there are no winners here – most especially our nation. We continue to divide and divide and divide; to judge; to be fearful; to build walls; to close doors. I pray, fervently, for the Martins in their continued grief; for Zimmerman and his loss of freedom; and for myself – that I might look into the very dark places in me where fear and judgment reside. I pray that God, in some way I can’t even imagine, will bring us to a new day through this horrible situation, and help us to find the courage and wisdom to sit with the ‘other’ – whether it is the person who looks different, or prays different, or thinks different – and listen. What might we discover? I fear that until we learn to do this, we will endure countless more horrific losses of life and freedom.

Living Well

Touching Life and Death

I subscribe to just one magazine – “The Christian Century.” I have so little time to sit and read. There are books that beckon, emails to respond to, Facebook posts to check on. It took me a long time to even subscribe to “The Christian Century.” But once I did, I found that I read it cover to cover – each issue – every two weeks. The articles and features challenge, enlighten, amuse, stir, and keep me enlivened and inspired in my life as a minister and woman of faith.

In recent issues, there has been a series entitled, “Ministry in the 21st Century” – interviews with pastors in their early years in ministry. As the shape and scope and vision of Churches is undergoing close examination and great flux and change, it has been interesting to me to read what new pastors are thinking and believing and experiencing.

The June 26 issue of “The Christian Century (TCC)” included an interview with Lisa Yebuah, a United Methodist minister in Raleigh, NC. As I began reading Lisa’s responses to the questions posed by TCC, I – at first – found myself feeling a heightened awareness of her use of ‘religious language’ – something that feels challenging to me as I deepen my own awareness of what seems to put people off to ‘organized religion.’

48584441But then I got to Lisa’s response to the last question: Describe an experience that made you think, “This is what church is all about.” Here is her reply:

Watching our church family prepare for the funeral of a sweet eight-year-old girl. This will forever have an impact: now I know what the church is capable of in moments of despair. The parents had made arrangements for a green burial. They decided to entrust the preparation of the body and the burial itself to members of our church community. The church family received this charge as a gift and a privilege.

The girl passed away at home. After the proper authorities came and left, a medical doctor from our church rushed over to examine the child. There was nothing clinical or sterile about her approach. She handled the body with the gentleness of a mother examining her newborn child for the first time.

The child’s body wasn’t prepared by a funeral home. Instead, women from the church gathered at the house and prayed over her and bathed her. They dressed her in a favorite dress and her beloved red cowboy boots. And the casket wasn’t chosen out of a catalog. A carpenter from our church built her a simple pine box. This was later decorated by the children of the church and the girl’s classmates. Their pictures and well wishes were the most beautiful adornment I had ever seen.

On the day we celebrated the child’s service of death and resurrection, I stood in amazement, looking at the gathered community and at their hands – holy hands – used for touching life and death and life more abundantly.

Full sentences don’t come to me right now. Only snips of emotions and thoughts and ideas and hopes and prayers . . .

Love . . . intimacy . . . witness . . . real . . . touch . . . love . . . power . . . openness . . . honest . . . close . . . holy . . . messy . . . love . . . confidence . . . life . . . life . . . life . . . yes

Living Well

When I Sit on My Porch at the End of the Day . . .

. . . the world seems simple and tranquil; and all things seem possible.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I hear birds calling out to one another; I hear the goats next door bleating as they are fed their dinner; I hear the hum of traffic on the highway nearby.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I talk quietly with my husband, and sip satisfying wine, and process the thoughts and events of the day.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I’m awed again by the tiny birds who built nests in our hanging plants – so industrious, so focused, so deeply responding to their biological imperative to multiply that they are unaware that my plants are struggling to survive with the intrusion of nests and our reticence to water in case it harms the babies. Isn’t that beautiful?

44747When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I am sitting at the top of a hill and looking out to the hills in the distance. I see an exquisite variety of trees in full vigor, and am grateful that they work hard to transform the CO2 we so profusely produce, into O2 that we so fundamentally need.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I have time to become aware of things that I never notice otherwise: the sound of the boy across the street playing basketball; the way the setting sun casts its light on the hillside; the way the mother bird flies into her nest – just a few feet away from me – and settles in; the way the air smells; the way I feel whole.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I find it is difficult to understand why it takes the time and deliberations of the highest court in the land to figure out that people who love each other should have the joy and delight of marrying and having the freedoms and privileges that marriage offers . . . everyone.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I think about my life – my joys and sorrows; my challenges and accomplishments; my hopes and dreams. And all seems possible.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I am overcome. The world is so incredibly, exquisitely beautiful. And I get to be alive in it.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day, I say ‘thank you’ for all that has been; for all that can be; for all that is to come.

When I sit on my porch at the end of the day . . .

Living Well

Leading with Soul

How is your soul these days?

Do you feel grounded in your best self at work? At home? In your treasured relationships?

Are you seeking structure, support, and community in the development of practices and habits that will allow your spirit to soar while you are working? Leading? Relating?

Join me and my colleague and friend, Dr. Margaret Benefiel, for one or both of our 10-week programs called Soul of Leadership ‘Mini’.

The Fall program, “Leading from Within”, will help leaders develop practices to cultivate the inner life and grow in their ability to lead from a core of spiritual groundedness and compassion.

The Spring program, “Transforming the Organization’s Soul”, is grounded in the understanding that organizations, like leaders, have souls that require tending. Using insights from the field of spirituality and from management and organizational studies, this program will guide participants in assessing and developing organizational wellness, leading to growth and success defined in broad and sustainable ways.

We are encouraging leaders not only to bring themselves, but also to bring others from their organization to help develop a shared community of understanding, practice, and vision.

For more information, and to register for Soul of Leadership ‘Mini’ programs, follow this link:

See you in September!

Living Well

“We the people . . . ”

Several times over the past few years, I have had the privilege of speaking at our town’s Memorial Day Parade. Each time, I wonder how I will stand in the intersection between church and state, and speak honestly and respectfully about the sacrifices of those in the military, and my own deep longings to find a way – as a nation – to honor and celebrate non-violent conflict resolution. Here is what I said at today’s parade:

On this day of public remembrance, I want to think and talk about 3 energies: grief, gratitude and growth.

54Since the first time a fallen soldier’s grave was ‘decorated’ in the early 1860’s, our nation has come together each year at this time to remember and honor the men and women who have died in military service on behalf of our country. For many – perhaps most families, this day invites and opens up memories of loved ones. They may be ancestors whose names have been immortalized in the telling and retelling of their heroism; they may be parents or siblings, children or spouses, whose lives have only recently been lost to battle. As we remember them, our hearts bear the marks of grief and loss, and our sadness and pain is comforted by the gathering of the generations on days like this. I think it is no accident that Memorial Day occurs in the fullness of Spring – when we are surrounded by the beauty and abundance of nature and the promise that even in death, there is the possibility for new life. Our public gatherings give us the chance to stand together in grief and remembrance.

As we speak out loud the names of those from our community who have given their lives in military service, as we solemnize their memory with volleys from the Minutemen, as our bands play songs of patriotism, and as speeches are given, we have a chance to express, publicly, our gratitude for the sacrifice of these fallen ones. We have a chance to stop together and give thanks for the freedoms we enjoy, the community we share, and the abundance that is possible – in part – because we are cared for and protected by those who have chosen military service as their vocation. Our public gatherings give us a chance to say thank you.

But, I hope and pray our Memorial Day gatherings and celebrations also give us the opportunity to stop and think deeply about what the sacrifices of our military men and women ask of the rest of us. We are still a world filled with conflict. Single words like terrorism, radicalism, piracy, drones, bombings, attacks stir us deeply and easily generate fear and hatred, rhetoric and media saturation, and often pit neighbor against neighbor in disagreement about how best to respond. I am hoping – and praying – that Memorial Day, this and every year, will also be a call to us as citizens of our country, to grow in new ways. I am hoping and praying that as we gather together as one community, we will look around at one another – let’s take a minute and do just that – and see not people who stand on opposing sides of an issue, not people who come from different backgrounds and traditions, not people whose advantages are our disadvantages . . . I’m hoping we can look at one another and see human beings . . . with hopes and dreams, lives and loves, needs and fears. I’m hoping we can call one another to live and move beyond ‘what’s good for me’ toward ‘what’s good for us.’ I’m hoping we can remember and honor our fallen ones, this day and every day, by learning to live together, and grow together, in ways that honor and promote what our country’s early leaders expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America. It begins . . .  “We the people . . .”

Living Well

My Religion is Kindness

Just after Mother’s Day, a friend (thanks, Annie) sent me the link to a video of a conversation between Krista Tippett, host of the public radio show “On Being”, and Sylvia Boorstein, Jewish-Buddhist teacher, psychotherapist, mother and grandmother. I love “On Being”, but don’t get a chance to listen very often. So when I received the gift of some unexpected open time, I clicked on the link and settled in to watch and listen. It was a lovely, attentive, authentic conversation between two mothers about the experience of being a parent.

Tippett opened the conversation by saying the topic of this particular episode of her show is raising children. She had considered many possible guests – experts on child rearing, child development – but ultimately chose Boorstein – for her wisdom, and because Boorstein has lived this experience of parenthood.

558As the conversation unfolded, Boorstein regularly referred to the Buddha – the wisdom and deep, unattached presence that he taught – and how she has incorporated Buddhist practices into her life in order to stay grounded and clear on what is most important. While she is clearly a deep and experienced practitioner, she is also quick to laugh at herself and at the ways in which we, as humans, fall away from our best selves and need to return again and again to that quiet center of wisdom and grounding.

I found resonance in what they were saying in light of my own experience as a mother. But there were two things Boorstein said, in particular, that captured my attention.

Tippett invited conversation about the instinct of children to say ‘it’s not fair’ when they have an experience that feels unjust to them. Boorstein went on to talk about how we, as parents, can model this value and thus confirm it . . . or how we can model something different, something deeper, and thus nurture a broader, wider, kinder way of being. Boorstein recounted that when she had this ‘it’s not fair’ experience, she began to ask herself: In this moment, is it more important that I am pleased, or that I am able to care? Stunning. What a profound turn of heart.

The conversation continued, and then Boorstein offered a second nugget of wisdom that is still dwelling in me. She said, “a measuring stick of how clearly you’re thinking . . . is if you’re able to be kind.” She went on . . . “kindness subsumes tolerance, forgiveness, patience, graciousness.” Tippett followed . . . “It’s doable . . . and unlike those virtues that you have to cultivate . . . you can actually be kind even if you don’t feel compassion, etc.”

“You can actually be kind even if you don’t feel compassion . . . “ Boorstein went on to remind the listeners that, when asked what is his religion, the Dalai Lama always replies ‘my religion is kindness.’

What would it be like in our relationships, our families, our workplaces, communities, our world, if we held these two ideas as our grounding guides:

*In this moment, is it more important that I am pleased, or that I am able to care?

*My religion is kindness.

I’m going to write these on my heart, and pray that I can return to them again and again. What would it be like . . .

Living Well

Taco Tuesday

I have spent the last couple of days in the high peaks of the Adirondack Mountains. Our family cottages are here, and Roger and I have come here to open up, turn on the water, vacuum up dead flies, and clean up the dust and debris of winter as we get ready to welcome family during the summer months.

I have been coming here since I was born. My great-grandfather had a farm nestled into the valley; and over the generations since, our extended family has gathered here in the summer to rest and play and enjoy one another’s company in the midst of these beautiful mountains.

I have had the joy of bringing all three of our children here each summer, and even had a few summers when I stayed for a month with my younger two. And as I have transitioned from parish ministry to community ministry, I have arranged my work life so I can spend a couple of summer months here.

The population of our town up here is just a little over 1000. There is one school, K-12, with one class per grade. There is one road that runs through the town, with a Catholic church at one end and a UCC church at the other. In between, there is a small grocery, a few shops (this is a tourist destination), a few eateries, a fitness center, a small nursing home (The Neighborhood House), a library, a small art museum, and a big field where they have community gardens and the summer Farmer’s Market.

It has been increasingly surprising to me that, through all these years (I’m almost 60!), we stayed to ourselves in the family enclave and did very little to connect with the town residents and activities. While on one hand, we had plenty to do and lots of company on our hillside, it began to feel odd to me that we have been enjoying the fruits of others’ labor to keep the town going, and haven’t made an effort to reach out and get to know our town neighbors and activities.

dfsdfSo for the last few summers, I have been making connections – attending church (the best place to get to know people!), going to concerts, getting to know neighbors, signing up to receive the church newsletter and joining the local on-line social network site. As I’ve begun to develop treasured relationships, I’ve also begun to get a sense of how community happens here in this small town in the mountains. So I was delighted to say ‘yes’ when a friend called last night to invite me to join her at a local eatery for Taco Tuesday.

For the last month or two, this small, casual eatery has put a sign out front inviting people to join them for Taco Tuesday. News travels fast in this small town, so the word gets out quickly. It was a gorgeous warm night, last night, so when I arrived, there were cars lining both sides of the street. The front deck was swarming with people – babies, toddlers, teens, parents and grandparents – all sitting together at picnic tables. Inside, a line had formed at the counter where you could order as many tacos as you wanted – a choice of veggie, beef, or chicken – for $3.85 each. My friend and I ordered and headed for a small table. One our way, another friend invited us to join him and other friends at a big table. I saw the pastor and his wife; the librarian; another neighbor; a summer singing friend. I was introduced to several others who seemed to have all the time in the world to sit together, catch up on news, laugh, eat, greet others, and simply settle into the evening.

I was fed by much more than tacos at Taco Tuesday. I was surrounded by the energy and spirit of community; and even though I am a ‘newcomer’ to their circles, I felt welcomed and included, and swept into the joy of connection.

I will look for Taco Tuesday when I get back up here this summer; and can’t wait to join in the spirit and joy and pleasure of being together. And in the meantime, I’ve begun to wonder how and where Taco Tuesday might happen back home in MA. It seems to me that, more than ever, we need times and places to gather as community – simply to know and appreciate one another.