Monday, 20 March 2017

Sticks and Stones…..Faith in Action??

Oh boy,  this is walking on thin ice!  Hard not to get into politics these days but I truly do not want to go there.  I have lost faith in political leaders even those who want to sell me on their inherent understanding of the popular mistrust of politicians.  GO AWAY!!!!
It never ceases to amaze me at how limited and weak we are as people.   We believe in dignity, respect, diversity and inclusion.  In the next breath we are talking trash about undocumented immigrants, ‘towel heads’, Muslims, indigenous persons, blacks.  We value life but would not mind seeing severely impaired persons eliminated ‘to ease their pain’ (and maybe our burden).  We used such terms as ‘towels heads’ because we just want to insert some humour….’didn’t want to do no harm’.  “Aw come on, I was just joking around.”  
Perhaps the events in Quebec City this past week are cause for some serious, mindful reflection.  What really are the fruits of our language?  When we use derogatory terms about others, when we ignore the bully in the room, when we label people by race, religion or cultural differences do these terms just float away over time with no consequence?  I think NOT! 
The homegrown terrorist is a complex being just like the rest of us.  Complete with emotions, past experiences and sense of place in the world that is either well integrated or holds feelings of being on the margins of the mainstream.  Simple answers are never quite enough to solve the challenges of our world today.  Nonetheless, there are some connections that can and must be made to the power of language and words in our world.    In our comfortable sense of righteousness, we ‘faith based’ people of God (however we name God) somehow lost the filter that keeps our mouths shut and our hearts open.  Is there a possibility that the words we utter that are hurtful and derogatory just might be the empowerment for one who is on the edge?  Do we accept that we are all (every one of us) linked to one another in the strangest way.  We can build community or we can destroy it.  When our hurtful language incites another to act violently, are we not partly responsible? This is not a question of blame; it is a question of choice as to what type of society we want to create and generate.  It is recognizing that each of us has a role to play in generating that type of society.   If our positive, empowering language created a new generation of peace communities, I would assume we would like to receive credit for our efforts.  WELL??
An Indigenous grandfather took his grandson out to hunt one day.  While in the woods the grandfather told the boy that there are two wolves in every person.  One wolf is evil, the other good.  All through our life the two wolves battle with one another to see who will dominate.   The boy asked his grandfather, “So in the end which wolf wins the battle?”  The grandfather said,  “The one you feed
 Is it really okay to joke about another’s religious practice or their cultural garb or the colour of their skin??  It is okay to act like a populist bully to show other ‘little people’ that I am bigger than life….above it all?    And yet we do………ALL of us!     And then we go to church???????
My Sisters of the Good Shepherd always talk about their mission as a mission of reconciliation.  Healing for a broken world, a broken people…finding balance and new hope.  Maybe it is time for us to learn the art of self-forgiveness and embrace the art of mindfulness about who we are in relation to this world.  Will we ever get it right?  Will we always make amends?  We can only keep trying to be and do better with the way we look at one another and speak to and about one another. Who knows?  I only know that if we don’t, then our world is in bigger trouble than our elected officials.

Friday, 3 February 2017

The ART of Facilitation….It’s called Hosting!

Spent a few days on Bowen Island, just across the bay from Vancouver.  God’s country, indeed and the people who welcomed me and 50 other group facilitators were God’s conduit of care, compassion, respect and leadership.  Yes, they were the team that has lead the movement toward what is rightfully labelled, the Art of Hosting.  Founded on long standing principles and the growing body of work by many on the importance of changing the conversation from problem focused to possibility focused, the Art of Hosting offers new possibilities for dialogue, decision-making and planning that can help organizations and groups go further and deeper to achieve their goals.

Simply put the Art of Hosting brings together a number of perspectives and tools that assist groups to engage with one another in productive, meaningful ways.  Tools and approaches to conversations such as Appreciative Inquiry, The Circle Way, World Café, Open Space, et al. are utilized sometimes interchangeably with the underlying commitment made to make the conversations productive and meaningful for the existing group in the moment.  The uniqueness of this approach is found in the leaders of the Art of Hosting.   Hosting is different from facilitation;  it actually helps to bring facilitation into a deeper level of leadership that empowers group members to take ownership through co-creation. 

For me the best example of this leadership came from the group of five who lead this training.  They are a group of highly skilled and experienced facilitators.  They function as a team so much so that in their process, there really is no way to tell who the ‘kingpin’ is.  They are seamless in their interaction, respectful and inviting of one another’s gifts and skills and have worked diligently to embrace a common philosophy of hosting people knowing they will do their absolute best when they embrace hosting others instead of facilitating to reach a predetermined end.

One of my most memorable learnings was found in the art of crafting the right question.  Seems simple but it is not.  When we get the question right the answer is easier to find.  This I want to learn more about.

My sense is that this is a growing movement among professional leaders who want to take their leadership deeper.  If you or your staff want to find different ways to convene conversations that matter, then follow the link below and start exploring.  If you have already started exploring and using this and want to talk with someone else, sharing a community of practice, I would be open to doing this with you.  Email:
There are trainings offered in many places everywhere.  Check out the website to upcoming trainings in Halifax and out West.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Finding Hope in Distress

For the past several months, I have had a growing sense of depression about what I was observing in so many people in relation to the recent political election.   I know, ‘spare me the commentary of the political process or opinions about who should have won’.   Beyond that there have been some deeply troubling tendencies in our world that cause me pause and, frankly, make me very sad and distressed.  I am worried about the re-emergence of the ‘us vs them’ mentality whether it expresses itself in racism, sexism, religion and/or culture.  The world has become increasingly smaller and the diversity of our society has stirred new thinking about who we are in finding our way to live and relate to one another.  The challenge for us is finding the way to resist the popular blame game that isolates us from our neighbors.  Whether that isolation infects our local community, our cities or, indeed, the global relations we have come to need, we simply cannot afford to isolate ourselves without paying a dear price at all levels.  And yet, it appears headed in that direction.
I find myself on this ‘morning after’ wondering what do we do next?  Frankly it is a bit overwhelming to experience this question in the moment.  And yet, we must deeply reflect on the kind of world, the kind of relationships we choose to have with one another.  This causes me to search for the glimmer of hope somewhere in this crazy, messy world.  

I have long believed that the fundamental secret to healthy groups, organizations and communities is discovered in building and sustaining healthy relationships.  Relationships are so foundational to our greatest accomplishments. Hi performing teams demonstrate healthy relationships.  Organizations that value their members more than the bottom line are committed to inclusive human resource relationships.  Healthy relationships can breathe life into our journey on this earth.  Healthy relationships cannot be built or sustained on the platform of isolation.  So how is it that we can move ahead?

For those who share this value, we are called upon to increase our efforts to bring people together.  Those who desire to build a better world will be challenged to come together in truly meaningful conversations about our lives, our values and our dreams for a better future.  There will need to be a renewal of our commitment to be unifiers, peace makers and healing agents among the broken.  

These conversations will only bear fruit through a profound commitment to the art of listening, without judgement, blame or shame.  In the past year, this very tough world that we live in just got tougher. Without being naïve to the violent evil of fundamentalism or the abusive power of others, we will only find hope when we are able to join with others of like mind and heart to build and sustain community.  Through sustaining this spirit of community, we can find the courage and strength to reach out to others to welcome them in.  By truly listening to one another we come to know ourselves better.  We can also come to be more keenly aware of our position of privilege when necessary and prepare ourselves to enter into one another’s space with integrity and respect.

YES, we can!

Next week I have the privilege of doing some training with a group in British Columbia on the Art of Hosting.  This could not be more timely for me….I will share some insights from this special opportunity soon.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

The War Within

Is Fear the new exploiter of the people?  Or will we find courage in the arms of Fear?

Recent events have stirred and disturbed me greatly.  The lives of innocent folks who have been profiled and inexplicably killed by police, the overflow of anger leading to police assassinations, the increase of horrific terrorist attacks and the degradation of men, women and children by religious zealots can make me feel that Armageddon has arrived!  What’s it all about?  Has the world gone crazy?

I suppose we could continue to address individual issues on a case by case basis.  Should police be given different training in managing crises?  Should the poor be managed differently to help those who feel most out of the loop to calm down and find new means of garnering hope for their future?  Should we find new and better ways to destroy terrorist groups?  The questions are endless.  Do Black lives really matter?  Should there be more acceptance and respect for the LGBT communities?  Are the physically, mentally or developmentally handicapped worth all the effort?  On and on!

Everywhere I go, I hear more and more folks talking about this in various ways, some not so unifying but all based on fear.  Fear for the safety of their children and families, fear for their jobs, fear for the world they thought they knew.  Anger mounts as corporate brain trusts find new ways to increase profits by downsizing their work forces.  Have more part time, unstable workers so there is less need for benefits and ease for flexing the size of the workforce.  Insecurity is everywhere and this rouses deep and lasting feelings of fear and resentment.

Has Fear become the new exploiter of the marginalized.  Is it reaching its vicious tentacles into the heart of the larger population of people leading us to even greater distrust and more individualized sense of survival?  Will fear eventually imprison us preventing us from becoming our freest, truest and most whole selves as both individuals and communities?

It seems to me that we are engaged in a new war.  The war is within.  No longer can we ignore what is going on around us.  No longer is the threat of over-reaction to social and emotional issues something that happens in another city or country.  Now is a time when we must both individually and collectively become a people who engage in meaningful discussion about how beautiful life is and that to sustain that beauty we must fight the battle within.  It is a battle of the times that faces our inner feelings of distrust and uncertainty through building relationships that can become open to dialogue, filled with compassion and determined to take back a spirit of unity and collective oneness.  To do this we each must face our own demons.  For one it may be afraid of unknown cultures, persons or ideas.  For another it may be re-evaluating our value base that says that gathering wealth is the only means for security.  For yet another it may be resolving and letting go of past traumatic hurts that have deeply influenced our perspective on survival -‘fight or flight’.  No longer will it just go away with time.

The time is now!  Now is the time to name that new exploitive force in our midst…FEAR!  We must not only name it but look it in the eye, confront it and say NO!  A friend once wrote that “Everybody knows that Courage is found in the arms of fear.”  Can we find the courage to ask the right questions?
Hey, how does it feel and what does it mean to you to be Native Canadian?  How is your life as a       special needs person?  What does work, long hours and more money really mean to me?  Why do       you protest for “Black Lives Matter’?   What has it been like growing up in our world knowing         that you are gay or lesbian?  Can we talk about the truths we hold in common beyond our ‘isms’?    Jewish, Evangelical, Catholic, Native Spirituality, Islam, Buddhist, etc. etc.?  What does gender         equality mean to you at its best?  Will we take the time to hear and really listen to one another’s           story?  Cause we ALL have a story and that story makes meaning for us (positive or negative)…         and it means something important to each of us.  What is the meaningful discussion you would like   to have with a stranger?

Somehow, we cannot tackle this major challenge without Faith.  I am not talking here about religion.  Religious institutions have let us down too often so now is the time to trust one another and our Creator.  Deep within each of us is that life-giving force, our spirit that keeps us in relationship with a higher power that is our life force.  We may each have a name for that higher power but while the name may be different that higher power is the same…..Creator.  Our inner sense of that relationship is what drives us to goodness.  It is that desire for goodness, truth and peace that will drive our courage to face this vicious disease called FEAR.

Courage, go forth, heal one another.

Monday, 20 June 2016

A Perspective from Rome

I just returned from meetings with an international group of sisters and mission partners within Good Shepherd.  This was a fascinating time to share thoughts and visions for the future of our mission of service and healing among women, children and families whose lives have left them outside the mainstream.  It was so inspiring to meet with folks from so many parts of the world including Africa, Asia, Latin America, Europe and North  America.  To be with such a diverse group and yet experience how much we held in common as shepherds of people, how similar our value systems were, how parallel our needs, hopes and dreams was a most inspiring moment of unity and hope for a world that can be truly diverse and yet one in our desire for peace and justice.
The week flew by with such positive messages even in the face of the many tragic events that can occur across our world.  During this week was the atrocious killing of gay and lesbian people in Orlando, the murder of a British MP in Scotland, and the ongoing atrocities against women and girls through the pervasive new slavery we call international trafficking.  I remember in my youth when we gathered at events to scream out, “NO to war and YES to peace”.  Perhaps one day this world will find itself in that communal place to proclaim the desire of all peoples for peace, harmony and fairness of right relationships.
At the general house in Rome there was a framed quote from one the truly inspiring Sisters of the Good Shepherd.  She was the author of a book called Redemption where she addressed many of our current challenges in bringing compassion and healing to this wounded world.  She talks a lot about the image of the Shepherd that we so tenderly embrace for ourselves.  In this quote, Sr. Barbara Davis says:
“To fight off the wolf, one cannot at the same time cuddle the lamb. To perform the function of nurturing and caring is very important, but there are times when it is necessary to turn attention and give our energy against what oppresses and threatens.  It is BECAUSE of the value of the sheep, BECAUSE the shepherd values them so highly that one enters into this struggle.
The Shepherd as the one who fights off the ravaging attack of the wolf, even at the cost of one’s life, is a far more daunting, perhaps less attractive image than that of the Shepherd looking for the lost sheep or lamb and carrying it on the shoulders. But surely it represents one of the very necessary tasks of anyone who calls herself a good shepherd.”

This beautiful message caught my attention in the gentleness of our spirit together last week.  It was such a pointed reminder for me how the fulfillment of our vocation to be Christian in this world is more than living a good life in faith and good works.  It is more than a warm smile and a welcoming message.  We are also called to work for change of all those structures, obstacles and people whose actions bring about the dehumanization and degradation of all people, especially the poor.  Fear must never be our guiding light in the darkness.  Faith must never be naïve and can never truly be only a personal experience with God.  We are called into relationship not only with God but with one another.  For this reason, that sometimes unspoken need for community, for surrounding ourselves with persons who will encourage, strengthen and teach us to live as we are invited, in peace, may be the very thing we need to awaken in our hearts and actions.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

“Gratitude is the Memory of the Heart”

I feel compelled to tell you the story of a very special woman.  She was the Founder of the Religious Congregation of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.  She is a saint and she lived a long time ago.  She was born in 1796 in France actually on the island of Noirmoutier, off the west coast of France.  She died on April 24, 1868.  She was baptised Rose Virginie Pelletier.  Over the years, I have come to know about her, her early life as a child and youth and she has become an interesting friend in her absence.  Sometimes it seems that she is still actively engaged with all of her friends in this broad network of Good Shepherd people that she founded.  She has become a certain special friend such that I often refer to her as ‘Rosie’.

So what was so unique about her that I would spend time to pen some thoughts about her?  Well, she grew up in a time of great upheaval.  Her Father was a doctor and her mother was a woman of great charity.  Together they served people during the French Revolution, a time of extreme violence, religious persecution and incredible social change.  While exiled to the island of Noirmoutier, they gave birth to Rosie.  As a young girl she was filled with adventure and ran free on the island.  She witnessed the routine trips of slave ships passing her homeland and was left with strong feelings about slavery that stayed with her until her death.  She was somewhat precocious as a young girl.  She had natural leadership qualities but did not attend school until she was 13.

At 14, her mother sent her to a friend who ran a school in Tours.  She wanted Rosie to learn how to be a young lady with more controlled and appropriate behaviour.  Rose experienced this separation from her mom in a very negative way.  Much like our children in care, she thought she did something wrong that caused her mom not to want her.  She experienced significant separation trauma.  While in this school, she was treated very harshly.  Even the priests there were very negative with her and she became very depressed and unhappy. Intergenerational trauma was no stranger to this young woman.  At age 10 her father had died suddenly.  She lost two siblings due to health issues.  While away at school, her mother died and she was not told about this until after the funeral.  Couldn’t even say good bye.

She had one teacher a younger teacher who saw so much positive in Rosie.  She truly believed in Rosie and Rosie experienced this significant relationship is a powerful way.  Largely due to the closeness that was developed, Rosie began to see herself in more positive ways and was able to tap into her natural resilience to find hope, new directions and a desire to help others.  She would remain sensitive to how to best serve young people by remembering how she had been treated.

She knew if she wanted to do something significant in her time, aside from just being the wife of some man, she would become a nun.  So she found the order of nuns,  Our Lady of Charity of the Refuge, who worked with young women who were from the streets.  These young girls were seen by society as dirty (because of their sexual exploitation) and low life due their lack of education and need to do anything to survive.  These girls and this work attracted Rosie in a very strong way. Her compassion was deeply stirred and she felt drawn to work in this mission.  Met with resistance everywhere, Rosie stayed the course and entered this order of the Refuge.  Within a few short years she was appointed superior of a local community (at an unusually young age) and was then sent to open a new refuge in Angers, France (The House of Good Shepherd).  It was here that she was moved to begin a new congregation that would be international and be free to serve the unmet needs of young women everywhere without local interference from the hierarchy of the local Church.  It was in this process that she began her timeless teachings of looking after young people and where she demonstrated a wisdom of the ages about what happens to the young when they experience trauma and how best to engage them to help the healing/learning process.

A trauma specialist once said, “Mary Euphrasia knew Neuro-Science long before science discovered it.”  Her timeless teachings have not only inspired the good care of young women over the years but remain as practical best practices that can give added value to youth care everywhere.  Her deep faith in her God and her deep faith in others are hallmarks of the gift and legacy of her work.  She founded 110 new missions in a short 33 years as Leader of this new congregation.  Remember this was in a time where there was no expedited mail, no phones, no email, etc.

Rosie shared numerous sentiments with her young sisters as part of their formation.  She remained humble and engaging but never forgot her own developmental years.  She was inspired to make those years for young women distinct: filled with respect, compassion and growth.  She shared once that “No matter what the color of their tears, they are always very bitter.  So above all else, always lift them up in their own eyes!”

She knew instinctively that helping young people to come to know their god would only come on the heels of having been  treated with deep love and care as human beings.  She knew it was more important to feed and clothe them properly and to plan their social time carefully so that they would feel good about themselves….so good!  Then, and only then, would their sense of being the child of their Creator be deeply experienced.

Rosie was keen about putting hopes and aspirations into action.  She was less concerned about what people said and more observant about what they did.  This spirit and attitude has been sustained in the Good Shepherd network for 180 years.  She knew that the proof in the pudding was in the experience of the young people themselves.  If their experience of self was not positive, then we will have missed the boat.  She would say,  “It is not enough for you to say you love them, they must know that they are loved.”

She was always deeply grateful for the blessings in her life.  These came from people like Ms de Lignac at her school who was the one key adult who believed in her unconditionally.  She found lessons in the painful observations of the slave ships near her childhood island.  She expanded her vision through the painful criticism and obstruction of the local bishop of Angers…she found a way around obstructions.  She found great pleasure in watching her young sisters grow and embrace a more keen way of looking after young girls.  She always taught how sustaining a spirit of gratitude was central to learning how to keep unity and to forgive others and oneself. It kept the mind and spirit in a positive mode.   A spirit of gratitude and unity would help cause great things to happen.  She knew deeply that gratitude was more than an expression of ‘Thank you’.  It was a deeply felt spirit that shaped our mind’s eye about others and the world around us…it was a more spiritual sentiment.  For that reason she would say:

“Gratitude is the Memory of the Heart!”

Thursday, 17 March 2016

What the Heart Values is what Matters Most

I am not one to venture into politics in this blog.  However, the political events occurring in these times have been food for much thought over the past year or so.  So without getting political about Canadian or U.S. governing, I’d like to share some of my own meanderings that have been spawned during these interesting times.

When I consider political representatives, it behooves me to look for Leadership that touches the heart of the people.  Naively, perhaps, I believe that good people have a way of leading us with positive stripes that will help us uncover the right choices for decision-making.  So I always remind myself of checking my critical and negative thinking and warning myself to “be careful what you wish for”.

Letting myself engage in negative, judgmental ideas is destructive to others as well as me.  Exercising my right to ‘free speech’ is not, in and of itself, a justification for this.  Don’t we try, as parents, to teach our children that when you have a certain right there is a relative measure of responsibility that flows from that right? 

Perhaps some of the most crucial questions to ask ourselves include what it is that our heart most values in this life.  Has my system of values and beliefs developed such that I most value the diversity of our nation and community?  Do I value the dignity of EACH person?  Do I desire harmony and peace among people?  Do I want to be embraced by my community as one who truly belongs?  Or has my life experience been such that my system of values and beliefs desires exclusivity, a winner takes all attitude, fear of those different from me, and/or severe punishment for those to step on my/our communal toes?  It seems to me that the only way to answer these (and other) questions is not through debate and argument, but rather, through honest and open self-examination.

Our society has become very ‘secular and pluralistic’.  We express that there is not room for religion (Church vs State) to drive our social decisions because of the diversity of our religious beliefs and tenants.  Fact is, our value system is shaped by our hearts desires which have been shaped by our religious traditions.  OH MY GOD< what a vicious circle!  And yet, we allow ourselves to spew rhetoric both publicly and privately about retribution of all kinds against others who ‘step out of line’.  Yes we allow ourselves to say we are ‘true believers’ and still embrace capital punishment, we still push aside and blame victims of violence (refugees, women in domestic violence, children in mass murders) in order to express our inalienable right to say what we want whenever we want.  We feel we have the right to make life good for me.  We do not share the same passion about our responsibility to make life good for others.

So when I hear someone else who spews populist, angry opinions about others (even if it happens to well up a feeling of resonance for this sentiment), what do I do with those opinions?  Sometimes I jump on the bandwagon and then fall off flat on my face….because, that negative opinion did not resonate deeply enough.  Instead I try to think behind those motley, antagonistic views and ask myself what it is that I truly desire and believe.  None of us is perfect…There is a degree of discrimination, xenophobia, racism and sexism in all of us.  It is what we do with this and how we manage our place on the social continuum that truly makes us whole.

Of all the tenants held among world religions, the one we truly hold in common is the Golden rule:

                Love your neighbour as yourself.   Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

If there was ever a time to bring the religions of the world together to come to an understanding of all that we really hold in common, instead of where we differ, it is now.  If there was ever a time when our fundamental belief in the Golden Rule is to be challenged and nurtured and grown, it is NOW!
Resist, my friends, from entering the fires of discord.  Resist the judgmental spit of angry, bitter persons who would rather destroy others and divide people than truly lead.  Let’s all ask ourselves what it is that is really held in our hearts, what it is that we truly value about life and the future of our world.  Otherwise, the warning I must give myself might apply to all of us.  “Be careful what you wish for”.

A faith-filled white man grew up and lived in the deep south.  He became a close friend of the great Thomas Merton.  His faith beliefs drew him to ask the question what would it feel like to be a black person, living in the south during his time (1950’s).  John Howard Griffin had his skin pigmented and he walked the south as a black man.  He then documented his journey in his book,  “Black Like Me”.  This journal brought a young, teenage jock to tears of profound compassion.  Unwittingly, I had the chance to meet him personally 8 years later.  During the wonderful times we were able to share he made a statement at one of our events.  He said:

“All that is necessary for the triumph over evil is that good men and women, living in the Beloved with integrity, do good over and over, again and again, together.”