Just Who is Sabotaging You?

I’ve never been too interested or convinced in conspiracy theories….which means I am SOL in today’s current culture. There’s a new conspiracy theory every day, it seems.

In the middle of all the hucksters who populate the social media midway, I have actually found a sane voice that is talking about a conspiracy that makes sense to me. And the reason it makes sense to me is that it has been revealed that I (me, David A., my own damn self) am the chief conspirator! And it turns out that I am conspiring against myself.

I always suspected it, myself, that is. Or as my Texas grandmother would quip, “You are your own worst enemy!” But, she was only partially right.

I came across this “conspiracy theory” a few months ago while working with a bunch of United Methodists…. back when they had at least the premise of being that. I was speaking to a session of UMC pastors of a midwest conference, on Emotional Intelligence and the use of coaching as a modality of continuous improvement. In preparing for the event, I was informed by one of their leaders that they had been using an assessment tool that identified one’s inner “saboteurs”, a term used for defense mechanisms that one has adopted as a part of one’s efforts at survival and fitting into the social setting. These are internal voices that appear to warn and chastise us as to our “proper” behavior, or in my world, voices that tell us how to gain an “atta boy!” affirmation. These mechanisms have served us well in the past but they become default settings that we go to without conscious assent. Without our noticing it, we slowly become inauthentic.

I researched this tool and found that this Saboteur assessment was developed by a Stanford professor, Dr. Shirzad Chamine, who works primarily in the business world. He engages with business types who find these saboteurs blocking and frustrating their efforts to achieve high levels of productivity and satisfaction.

Dr. Chamine has identified ten types of saboteurs. He has framed some accessible terms for these ten: The Judge, The Avoider, The Controller, The Hyper-Achiever, The Hyper-Rational, The Vigilant, The Pleaser, The Restless, The Stickler, The Victim. The names of each Saboteur tips his hand as to what is implied. Which one feels familiar to you? Which one makes you cringe with reluctant self-recognition? Truth is, we all have pieces of these, but two or three tend to dominate our thinking.

He counsels people to embrace the thing that I have called the “superpower” of leaders….Self-Awareness! By becoming aware of these Saboteurs, you can discover ways to identify them in your everyday interactions, and then stop them in their tracks. In working with my group of United Methodist pastors, they found this assessment to be revealing of their tendencies of reaction when they are interacting with others. So, they got that. Now, the trick is coaching them up on what to do when they see the Saboteurs coming for them.

This brief exposure to the incredibly profound insight of Dr. Chamine led me to contact the good doctor. Typical of my personal proclivity to follow my curiosity, I have managed to get connected with him, studying with him to master this paradigm of human behavior that has much promise. His popular book, Positive Intelligence, outlines his theory and gives some practical suggestions of how to change your behavior to your benefit. In my way of thinking, this “conspiracy theory” is a hell of a lot more useful than the ones that tell you about a global kaballah plotting the world takeover, or a pizza parlor in Baltimore with Democrats in the basement defiling children. But, hey….that’s just me.

If you are interested you can go to the website, http://www.positiveintelligence.com to access the free Saboteur assessment. And, you can check out the larger theory concerning the role of positive intelligence in one’s success and happiness. While the Saboteur angle was my initial attraction, I found myself captured more by his positing the notion of a Sage that is within each of us. This Sage is able to be activated in one’s encounter with the world in order to deal more creatively with what is happening in the present moment.

The Sage has five specific attributes that become a gift to us:

  1. Empathy- the ability to “feel with” the Other, affording you insight into the perspective of another human being.
  2. Explore- the ability to follow one’s curiosity into the depths of what is going on, rather than a mere casual apprehension based on past experience.
  3. Innovate- the capacity to imagine new solutions to problems that are presented.
  4. Navigate- the ability to make conscious, intentional decisions among a variety of options.
  5. Activate- the capacity to move into action that is focused on a strategy and plan of action.

These five “superpowers” of the Sage sounded a lot like the work I have been doing on Creative Interchange. What fascinates me is the capacity to recognize the Saboteurs that we are dragging behind us from our past and the promise of gaining the awareness of our capacity to creatively engage with our Sage in the present moment, the Now. This is actually the strategy that Dr. Chamine is proposing: to identify the Saboteurs that can hijack your best intentions, to interrupt those typical response patterns, and then to engage your Sage in order to creatively get at your goals and initiatives. Sounds like a plan!

I am currently in a eight-week process of operationalizing this process in my own life. I am, of course adding my spin of Creative Interchange to see how that might fit and enhance this strategy. It is using a high-tech app on my phone to prompt me throughout the day, reminding me of my particular Saboteurs, and encouraging my development of new habits that will raise my Positive Intelligence. Again, if you are interested, check out the website and give it a shot.

And, just for grins, what did your Saboteur just whisper in your ear?

Island Girl

July 29th, it’s Friday and I am getting ready for a major change in my life. I am hitting the highway to Atlanta to our new apartment near the Schenck School where my wife is returning to teach. So, I will be becoming bi-locational, between the island and my birthplace of Atlanta. I find myself thinking like Sheldon Cooper, longing for a space transporter: Beam me up, Scotty! Alas, for now, it will be my ancient Tahoe transporting my Southside self between these two residences.

But more importantly, July 29th, it’s also my daughter, Mary Glen’s birthday, a date that proved to be another red-letter day signaling a huge change in my life…I became the father of a baby girl! My life would never be the same.

For now, I am writing in the present moment. I was leaving that morning for the drive to Atlanta. I had called her the day before to see if she could come over and help me move some boxes and duffel bags full of books to put in my new office in Atlanta. With my torn quad tendon in my left knee, I am restricted in my movements with my trusty Bat Masterson cane. With one hand on the top of the cane, and one holding the handle of a canvas bag stuffed and heavy with books, the physics of the moment confounded my brain, and laid waste to my knee.

She graciously agreed to help and showed up early with her cheerleader strength to assist her aging daddy. She brought with her a 2 lb. jar of the freshly harvested honey from her husband, Michael’s first hive here on the island. Beautiful. More importantly, it bought us some time together alone, to reflect on life, and some changes for both of us.

I tend to get nostalgic on my kids’ birthdays, remembering precise moments of how things went down. I mean, after all, this is salvation history. No virgin birth, as opposed to some of my critics’ speculation, but big stuff. I can get pretty weepy when I think about those magic moments of watching the messy mystery as life began for my two, each with a particular and peculiar feel.

The first one, Thomas, was a long delivery, with my wife’s water breaking at a Friday night dinner party with our close friends, who were destined to become godparents. Many hours later, Thomas crowned and was delivered by my close friend, Steve Moreland. Being the first child, it was an amazing sunrise, calling my mentor, Jim Fowler, and weeping together about this miracle.

The second pregnancy had me praying for a girl. I so wanted the experience of being a father to a girl. It was on a Sunday, and I had been at the Cathedral that morning. After church, I went to the Cowart’s home in Ansley Park for a reception/party for new members. It was there I got the call from Mary that it was time to get to Piedmont Hospital. This time, the delivery was very fast. When Mary Glen emerged, I screamed, “There’s no penis!” which was great news for this Southside boy. I got my girl. That’s exactly what I said when I went out into the waiting area to greet my parents with my good news.

These two have been the highlight of my life, giving me so much pleasure in watching their childlike wonder, evolving into growing, developing children, devolving into adolescence, and then the extended adolescence of college. I’ve gotten to witness my son’s courage in chasing a dream of music that vicariously fulfills my own longing. Every time he climbs courageously on a stage to sing songs that he wrote, I am filled with pride. And my daughter ventured out to St. Simons Island after college to begin a career in fashion, subsequently meeting a great young man, Michael. He grew up on this island and, now married, they are building a life together. Every so often, I am struck by the gift I have been given. This is one of those halcyon days.

This particular morning, before hitting the highway, I pulled off at Striplings to text my daughter on her birthday. I thanked her for her kindness in assisting me early in the morning. I thanked her for the honey Michael had harvested from his initial hives of bees here on the island. And, as she told me that she had made a special request to go fishing on the river for her birthday, I wanted to tell her how proud my grandfather and my mother would have been with that choice. It was one of those parental moments that happen every so often, when the sense of connection across generations was palpable, and to think that Henry Louis Gates was nowhere in sight.

It got me to thinking about the magic of birth, and the very gift of human life that we can tend to take for granted. My friend, Charlie Palmgren who wrote the book that I have been talking about for weeks, Ascent of the Eagle, often reminds me of an enigmatic phrase that Jesus said to his disciples: You must become like a child if you want to enter the realm of God.

What the hell does that mean? The images of my children flood my mind as I remember their fresh awareness of life, of the thrill of discovering everything that was new and fresh. Those wide-eyed looks, the unrestrained laughter at the surprise, their quizzical stares of wonder. What I can glean from my memory about becoming childlike, on this day of the celebration of the birth of my island girl.

The context of the comment by Jesus was a question about greatness among his students. Who will be the greatest in this new reality Jesus is inaugurating? This won’t be the last time this question of “standing” emerges among his followers, and seems to be as perennial as the wild flowers in the life of the church.

Rather than launch into a conceptual treatise on ontology, Jesus beckoned to a child and pulled him to his side as a living example. “Unless you become like a child, you will not be able to enter into my new way of being.” Obviously, Jesus was reading the lay of the land of his team. There were and would be disputes among them about which of them was the MVP, or MVD as the disciples might have framed it. But rank, or position was not the order of the day, the coin of this kingdom. The GOAT, or “greatest of all time”, that we hear a lot about “all da time” simply wasn’t in the vocabulary of Jesus or in his vision of the realm of God.

Let’s just admit, right here and now, this competition stuff is still hard for us. It goes against the way we are formed, the way we are raised. We want to be the favorite, the best, the top of the heap, to be at the head of the class of whatever organization we are in, be it a family, a classroom, a corporate team, even our churches. The vision of bishops gathered in those pointy hats called mitres, at Canterbury, reminded me of rank and hierarchy in my tribe. At one point in my so-called career, I longed for one as a validating symbol of my greatness, but I got over it, forcibly or through gained wisdom. Position is over-rated while the attitude of servanthood, under-valued.

Actually, the church can be THE worst in terms of competition. I know that for sure, as I have participated and traded in that stuff (cleaning it up for the sensitive). And I have witnessed it, suffered under it and can name names! What a wonderful surprising moment this week at Canterbury when Presiding Bishop Micheal Curry seemed to signal an unusual, perhaps miraculous. spirit of cooperation among the diverse constituency there assembled, even on the disruptive issue of sexuality. Holding my breath.

Back to Jesus’ admonition recorded in the first verses of Matthew 18. It really is in there, look it up….unless you become like a child.

Jesus is signaling to his followers that they should not be grasping at honor, much less power. They should take on a child-like presence, content with and relishing in the moment of being alive. My “best” current way of describing this state of being is being “110% present”, a gift given to me many years ago by my friend and colleague, John Scherer, who re-minded me of it a few weeks ago. 110 %. Really present to the moment. Leaning into the moment. When’s the last time you did that, or more accurately, “were” that, 110%? When I first heard John use it, it struck me as clever, a pithy way of getting his thought across to a bunch of leaders in training. But through the years, it has become a mantra for me, 110% present, something I say to myself before a session or a conversation, a “touch” stone that I rub, in order to re-mind me of being present….like that of a child.

A child’s eyes are wide open as they are taking in their environment, observant of sounds, movements, colors, tastes…an extravaganza of sensory experience and awareness. Through cultural formation and schooling, we have this awareness “ordered” and made proper, turning our wild, open, awareness into a careful, controlled consciousness. We are domesticated, civilized, so that we “fit” the roles, chosen and assigned. We become focused on survival, and are formed in the competitive code that is inserted into our psyche. We trade our birthright of a feast of awareness for porridge bowl of consciousness.

For us, the call of Jesus to return to childlike awareness seems fanciful, a throw-away line that we do exactly that. Rather than embracing Jesus’ admonition to take on a childlike awareness as a spiritual koan to be contemplated and or wisdom saying to be used as a prompt for wonder, we remove it from our canon of applicable scripture.

What does becoming childlike mean to you? How might you take this seriously? My daughter’s birthday prompted me to remember her as a child, and the freshness of awareness that somehow gets misplaced in the scramble. Try it on this weekend, this week ahead….hell, try it on now. Can you lean into the moment, opening your eyes to see, your ears to hear, to behold the miracle and mystery of the present moment? Jesus did not pull his punch here. Rather, he framed it pointedly…..UNLESS. Unless you take on this childlike mindset of presence, you will miss it. And what is “it”?

It’s simply everything.

“Tenacious” is the Word!


The quality of being able to grip something firmly. To be persistent. Determined. The moral strength to resist opposition. To be courageous in the face of resistance. Tenacity!

I think that I first borrowed the word when I was beginning to study the process of change and transformation. My mentor in change management, that is, how one plans and executes change, was Daryl Conner, the writer of Managing At the Speed of Change, a form-setting book. While Daryl introduced me to change in terms of organizational development, or OD, he taught me several lessons in terms of human behavior. The most important was the simplest and turns out to be the most prevalent: EXPECT RESISTANCE!

Now, this seems simple, but it turns out to be profound. Think of the many times you made a decision to change something in your schedule. Or, recall a time when you decided to alter the schedule of your family or organization. The unavoidable truth is that we humans tend to prefer “the way things have been”, that is, what is familiar to us, namely, what is comfortable. We prefer “homeostasis”. which refers to our inclination to maintain a “steady state”…..and by the way, this is not a reference to the laws of Florida.

Daryl taught me that lesson to apply when I was making a change in an organization’s life: to expect resistance. Some of the resistance will be obvious, as people resist the change explicitly in oppositional behavior. That is the easiest resistance to confront and deal with. The more insidious form of resistance is the unconscious decision to oppose the change that goes underground, undetectable. The image I have used with my students is a clever phrase framed by my biologist mother: “the P is silent, as in swimming.” I am a bit more explicit in my image of unconscious resistance to change: it’s like letting people piss in your pool. It goes unnoticed but it is real, and messes with things. And that’s where the real danger resides… you don’t see it coming. It’s sneaky.

Daryl had some counter-intuitive advice: Surface the resistance. Rather than allowing it to go underground, force it into the open where you can deal with it. You actually invite the negativity which runs counter to my natural inclination to be a positive “spin doctor’. But, I have used this powerfully in my attempts to change relationships, marriages, congregations, institutions, and even cities. It is a strategy that I have followed with specific tactics, leaving me bloodied at times, but standing on the other side of change on most occasions. Surface the resistance,

This organizational insight is applicable to the individual person as well. In attempting to change one’s self, one may begin with a flurry of resolve to make “big changes in the way I do life!” and yet, there exists resistance to the alteration of the structures that you have created which makes your life comfortable, manageable. When we really wish to “make a change”, as Michael Jackson would implore, we have to watch for both conscious and unconscious ways, shrewd and stupid, to block the stated desired change.

Charlie Palmgren, the writer of the book I have been reviewing, Ascent of the Eagle, puts the dimension of tenacity as the last of the five conditions for Creative Interchange, and it is critical in terms of dealing with the inevitable resistance to the change it implies. It is worth noting that I first met Charlie at a conference I was attending which was presented by Daryl Conner as I was trying to figure out how to best manage the change in leadership at the Cathedral where I was serving as the Canon Pastor. Charlie was working as Daryl’s main assistant, focusing on the phenomenon of synergy within organizations, which turns out to be a dynamic of creative interchange, that can assist or block the process of change. Charlie and I have continued our relationship through time in a variety of incarnations, including now as he serves as my faithful guide entering the Franciscan Tertiary Order, and as a colleague in a study group of the man who first named the process of Creative Interchange, Henry Nelson Wieman.

As I have noted in my last four articles, Charlie has identified a number of conditions that make the Creative Interchange process possible. The process is about the interaction between people that are authentically engaged with one another to create something new. I don’t think I have to spend a lot of ink convincing you that this kind of interaction runs counter to what has become the norm in our world. We have become divided in unprecedented ways. In such an adversarial ethos, how is any kind of fruitful interaction possible? It is my belief that Charlie is offering a model of authentic interaction that respects the other’s perspective while opening the possibility for an integrative possibility to emerge.

In review of the conditions requisite for this dynamic possibility, let’s remind ourselves of the necessary components. First, a conviction of one’s intrinsic worth is fundamental, as one is not forced to engage in an existential quest to gain worth by what one does or produces. Worth is a “given”, which liberates, unleashing one’s original self’s power. And, simultaneously, that worth is accorded to all other creatures as a part of this creation. This starting point is critical to what follows, freeing the acting parties to engage without the press of competition.

The condition of trust is the next, that is, relying on the engaging actors to be operating with the best interest of all, while also trusting the process to yield fruit. Next, is curiosity which initiates a willingness to look afresh, ask probing questions that might produce new insights. And then there is a spirit of connectivity by which one sees linkages, makes connections between a variety of perspectives that before seemed disparate, at odds.

The final piece in this bag of tricks is tenacity, although it is not “late” in the process, as it must be employed from the word “go”. Tenacity seeks to describe the attitude as mentioned before, a deep commitment to engage in this creative process. Allow me to borrow a term., “dogged”, which was used by famed golf writer, Dan Jenkins, in his humorous account of the terrible fate of becoming a golfer, His book, The Dogged Victims of an Inexorable Fate, describes the addictive type devotion of golfers in trying to master the ancient game of golf. In a similar line, to pursue the lofty work of creative interchange, one must be “dogged” or relentless in pursuit of that event. To add an element of play into the mix fits my demeanor precisely as one is invited to be seriously playful and playfully serious in this interaction between others in the hope of producing results that would be unimaginable otherwise.

Let me quote the master precisely to put a fine point on the project, Charlie writes, “Tenacity is the fifth critical condition on the road to reclaiming the original self. We honor our worth, trust that there’s value in pursuing it, use our curiosity to explore the possibilities, imagine new ways of being, and then practice, practice, practice to turn new skills into sustainable habits.”

Here is my confession. I am in the process of being intentional in my practice of these habits. I think that I have worked hard to grasp the elements of Creative Interchange conceptually, but now comes the hard part of putting it all on the field of my relationships. Charlie includes a final section in his book, “prescribing” a regimen of practice to be approached daily. I have written his instructions down, in my way of understanding, printed it out, and now keep it poised strategically in my well-worn planner for review before my scheduled interactions. Unscheduled are a higher degree of difficulty, but they come, regardless, relentlessly. I rehearse the list, interact with an “other” or group, and then review it for correction. It’s slow going, but I can see improvement in my interactions.

Here’s my “cheat sheet”:

  1. Authentically Interact, sharing the best you now know, with clarity about your intention in the interaction.
  2. Appreciatively Understand by listening to the “other” with humility, being conscious of the “other’s” unique perspective, using paraphrase to “check” your understanding.
  3. Find hidden positives in the perspectives of others.
  4. Integrate differences by using both/and thinking.
  5. Reframe issues, differences, and problems in order to discover better ways to integrate those differences and find creative solutions.
  6. Make a commitment: act with courage, patience, and Tenacity!
  7. Practice….a lot. Don’t worry…..you will have plenty of opportunities if you simply look.
  8. Observe and remember…RE-mind.
  9. Celebrate success.
  10. Correct your mistakes.

As I have said repeatedly in these five articles, this is a tall order. You are swimming against the cultural tide of the adversarial attitude that has defined our common life over the last few years in this country. It does take commitment when it seems easier to just keep on doing what it is you do. And yet, I would pose one of my favorite questions taught to me by my rock jock mentor, Don Imus: “How’s that working out for you?” If you are anything like me, you find yourself hungry for a better way of interacting.

Charlie Palmgren offers us an option, a realistic way of changing the way we interact, with the promise of recovering a fresh look at our world, with the side benefit of creativity. Check out the full story in Charlie’s book, Ascent of the Eagle. available through Amazon, or better yet, your local bookseller.

See you on the field of Creative Interchange. Play ball!

Making the Connection

You are in the shower, enjoying the cascading water on your face, and suddenly a phrase, an idea pops into your mind that makes sudden sense out of a problem you have been wrestling with for days. How did that happen?

You are driving in your car on that endless stretch of highway between Macon and Savannah, Interstate-16 to be precise, or Hell in my personal Book of Life, the most boring stretch of highway in Georgia, and an idea comes to you in a flash. What’s up with that?

Sitting on the porch, watching the clouds approach, listening to birds sing, smelling the salt air, feeling a breeze that gently moves the moss hanging from the live oak tree, and there it is, an idea for a piece of writing. And you wonder as to where the thought came from.

This is the amazing capacity of the human brain to make connections. And for me, when it happens, it is a moment of joy that leaves me with a familiar grin….. smiling, man….beautiful (thanks, Dr. Hook and The Cover of the Rolling Stone). My brain is making connections that I could not force into being by my logic and rational, linear thinking. I experience this moment of connection as a “gift” from somewhere beyond myself. And yet, it emanates from my awareness, and my consciousness in a creative connection that feels magical, even mystical.

Researchers are now able to hook us up to functional MRIs to map this kind of brain activity which differs from our normal state of thinking. You can literally see neurons firing, neural pathways streaming, blood flowing, synapses synapsing, as if that was a word created by Dylan. Connections are being made within the network that exists within our brain. Turns out, we can train our brain to make those connections by exercising it, just like you would build quad muscles in your legs or biceps on your arm. Pausing from our usual rush of consciousness, focusing on this or that, we can take a “pause for the cause”, to breathe deeply, allowing our minds to become open to the moment, aware of simply being.

We innately have the capacity to make such linkages from the moment we are born. Infants have an amazing gift of making connections both in quantity and quality from the start. With that ability, they learn language in order to communicate, discover object permanence, and even learn to imagine solutions to problems as they interact with their world. We slowly add linear, rational patterns of thinking and logic as we develop structures that assist us in making connections with our environment. The world becomes more predictable for us as we can anticipate certain patterns, certain things that predictably follow certain actions. And that’s a good thing, for it enables us to move more easily through our day.

And yet, there is a price to be paid if we forget our capacity to imagine what “could be” rather than stay within the easy comfort of patterns. Last week, I pointed to the ways that our typical education process tends to squelch that creative capacity. These patterns that we learn and are trained in are referred to as “boxes” that organize our thinking and perception of reality. Again, that’s a good thing as it helps us negotiate the world in which we find ourselves. And it remains a “good thing” until it blocks our capacity to simply be aware of our world, capable of seeing new connections rather than just going conveniently on auto-pilot, following the familiar, comfortable, and acceptable patterns. For some of us, these patterns, or boxes, become traps that lock us into a particular way of seeing reality, preventing us from seeing things from a fresh perspective.

These “boxes” often come from the particular and peculiar worlds that we live in every day, such as our educational institutions, our culture, or the worlds of our occupations, with a trained and accepted way of seeing the landscape. We look at the world through a particular lens, or glasses, that determines what we see, and more importantly, what we don’t see. This is a splendid example of how something can be both helpful and limiting simultaneously.

My friend, Charlie Palmgren, who has written about Creative Interchange in his book Ascent of the Eagle, makes this issue clear by differentiating consciousness from awareness. We build conscious structures, boxes, that provide us a lens through which we can see and decipher the complex world. Through these helpful lenses, we decipher and interpret reality, making sense of what is there and helping us to figure out how to move and act in that world. But, we can become “stuck” in our perceiving, missing other aspects and dimensions of reality that we simply don’t or, perhaps more accurately, can’t see. So consciousness gives us the gift of perception, but at the same time limits our ability to see those things that don’t fit our patterns.

At various points in our lives, we become pregnantly aware of this “stuckness” in the patterns of predictability. Life becomes stale, stagnant. We find ourselves with a strange but familiar longing to return to the original gift of awareness that sees connections rather than simply differentiating one thing from another. Both capacities, awareness and consciousness, are useful skills. The problem is that as we develop our logical cognitive skills, our awareness seems to be used less than our consciousness. Differentiation is a critical skill that we need to live in the world, but so is our capacity of awareness, that provides linkages, imagines creatively, and brings connectivity.

That connectivity becomes essential as we join together with others in human interaction. When various participants are engaging around a problem or a dilemma, each with their own unique perspective, it’s connectivity that makes fruitful connections possible, resulting in creative solutions and fresh opportunities that were not apparent on the surface. When we listen to another person expressing their unique perspective, it is our awareness that provides the connective power to link the “other’s point of view”, with our own, integrating the two creatively. And when the group is even larger, awareness is the juice that provides the connectivity that imagines, sees the possible linkages that could yield unthought-of benefits and synergy.

Speaking of connections, allow me to make two. One is a documentary I just came across on Netflix, a four-part series by Michael Pollan, based on his book, How To Change Your Mind. I commend both to your attention. In the book and documentary, he is looking at consciousness, namely in terms of expansiveness through psychedelic means such as psilocybin and other natural plants. He quotes his colleague, developmental psychologist, Alison Gopnik’s differentiation of consciousness that is somewhat like what I have been talking about in terms of the differences between awareness and consciousness.

For Gopnik, adults employ what she calls “spotlight consciousness” that narrowly focuses attention on a specific goal. This focus is required to get certain types of work done efficiently and correctly. She notes that young children use a different means that she terms as “lantern consciousness” which is more widely diffused, allowing the child to take in a broader scope of information from anywhere in the field of awareness. I love these two images, spotlight and lantern, which helpfully illustrate the different ways that we humans take in information. One can readily see the advantages, and disadvantages, of both. In Creative Interchange, we are offering the hopeful proposition that both ways, spotlight and lantern, are available to us as human actors and that the situational circumstances might suggest which of the two ways are more useful in certain work and settings. You can read Professor Gopnik’s intriguing perspective in her book aptly titled, The Philosophical Baby, available at fine booksellers near you. This will require the exercising of your “spotlight” function. You’re welcome.

Awareness requires more of the “lantern” function, allowing us to connect various components in our field. Connectivity derives its power from a human capacity known as imagination. Many years ago, studying the phenomena of human faith, I came across the German word that means “imagination”. The word is “einbildungskraft”, which powerfully gets at the real work of imagination: the power of making many things into one. Joining together multiple perspectives, a variety of agendas, connecting a constellation of values, takes some work to bring the seemingly disparate into unity, creating a new reality of “one” out of the many. It occurs to me that our country is desperately in need of some imagination.

Last week, I called up Harry Chapin from my memory basement to help us remember our innate capacity of curiosity, to see all the colors of the rainbow, not be limited to the conventional colors of red flowers and green leaves. It’s an act of my own odd capacity of connectivity to remember Georgia soul singer, Gladys Knight, and her song about imagination, I’ve Got to Use My Imagination. ” I really got to use, my imagination, to think of good reasons, to keep on keeping on!” In my own imaginary world, I was once a Pip onstage with my friends David Fikes and Rob Townes,,,,thankfully there were no cell phone cameras at that party, or I would be in a heap of trouble.

Preach it Gladys! In our polarized world, when one of us sees reality in one particular way, and another of us sees reality another way, it takes imaginative creativity to find a “way out of no way”, as I’ve heard a black preacher frame the situation. This is where the rubber meets the road in Creative Interchange. Can we follow the guidelines I have been pointing to from my brilliant friend, Charlie? Can we meet the conditions necessary for Creative Interchange to have a possibility of working? Think of Fox and MSNBC. Do you believe in miracles? With Charlie Palmgren’s proposition of Creative Interchange, even that is possible.

Again, in review, do you accept that you have intrinsic worth? If you do, it means that you are not trying to prove your worth by being “right” in some existentially desperate way. You can come cleanly from egoic needs to our engagement of interchange.

And do you grant that same worth to the “other” that you are engaging in Creative Interchange? If you do, you will treat the other person with respect and dignity, not holding them in contempt because they have a different perspective than you. You will listen with appreciative understanding.

Are you entering into the engagement in a spirit of trust, believing that both you and the other parties are trying to come up with a creative solution? Trust turns out to be the setting that allows Creative Interchange to happen.

Are you curious? Do you have a native desire to look beneath the surface, beyond the obvious, to seek out the intricacies and complexities that make up most problems and situations? Are you willing to ask questions, of yourself and others?

And today, we are adding another dimension to the gig: connectivity. Are you in touch with your childlike awareness, to turn up your lantern of awareness, to be open in order to find connections and imagine integrative ways to bring differing perspectives together?

Like we have said, Creative Interchange is a tall order. Intrinsic worth, trust, curiosity, and connectivity…..all required to lay the foundation for the amazing work of creative relationship.

There is one final component that Charlies calls us to if we are committed to Creative Interchange: tenacity. It should be obvious, but I’ll give it my best shot at bringing it all together for a conclusion next week. Just call me Tenacious D!

Are You Curious?

One of the first aphorisms I remember hearing was “curiosity killed the cat.”

I remember as a boy wondering what in the world that meant. I am pretty sure it was my McBrayer grandmother who uttered the phrase and I recall a vague sense of warning and foreboding…… be careful. One of my caretakers was giving me a signal as to what was acceptable behavior and what was not. Fortunately, I did not heed the warning.

A pie safe, that my daughter now has, had a special drawer where that same grandmother kept things she wanted to keep safe. There was a treasure trove of objects in that special drawer. There were pencils, pens, an old flashlight, political campaign buttons, church bulletins, photos….. things that were kept “in their place”. Little did I know that the same thing was true for people.

It was not where she kept her “rheumatism medicine”, an elixir made by Dr. Jack Daniel, not prescribed by her doctor and not legal for Baptists South of God. She kept that, I knew from looking, in the top cabinet of this pie safe. She didn’t bother to tell me not to open the cabinet because it was out of my reach. She did not know that I could drag a chair over and climb. I was content to simply look at the mysterious bottle, at that point, which was daring enough.

She warned me not to “meddle”, as she told me that people, the ubiquitous group of unnamed authority figures that were “out there”, would not like it if I did. She obviously thought that would stop me from exploring. It didn’t. She used other strange words to define outlaw behavior, words like “pilfer”, “skulk”, and “snoop”, words that disappeared in my world other than the hip emergence of Snoop Dogg, and that surely wasn’t in her head at the time.

The day she caught me looking through the “what’s it” drawer, she slapped my hand and sternly reminded me, “I told you not to meddle.” The slap stung, but her words and look hurt more. I was exploring, curious as to what was in the forbidden drawer. As much as I wanted to know what was in the drawer, I wanted her to love me, to give me the approval that I craved even more. I had broken a rule by going beyond the boundaries she had conscribed. I had done “bad” while I wanted to be “good”.

I tucked the lesson inside my heart, and moved onto the porch, trying not to skulk, which would be a double sin in her book. It wasn’t long before I heard her call, “David”. She was summoning me back to the kitchen, this time not to scold me, but ask me to help her “flour” the cubed steak for dinner. I would take each piece of meat, put it in the dish of flour, flip it to make sure the other side was properly dusted, and then put it on a plate. She would brag on each one that I completed, and then later, tell my mother and granddad that I had helped her cook supper, that I was a good helper. Another lesson was tucked away.

That was my laboratory early on. That is where I began getting the lessons of life. Scolded and slapped when I violated the boundaries, praised and celebrated when I did what I was told. That was the early script my director handed me as I took my place on stage, and began my act. The play was entitled, “The Dichotomous Dance of David”. I have spent my life trying to transform that dance into a dialectical two-step, with some success.

Now, I know that my upbringing is not unique. Each child is brought up with rules to follow, partly to keep them safe, but in larger part, to control. As a parent, I know intimately both sides of that behavioral equation. Each child gets rewarded in a variety of ways, some verbal, some physical, some with deep love. And every child winds up being corrected, some verbally, some corporally, and some with “that look”. You know the one.

This is the normal start to life for us humans. We have an innate desire to explore, to learn about our fresh world, to discover new things that are beckoning to us with colors, sounds, and smells. What might that taste like, how does this feel, what is that smell? The world is begging us to take a bite out of its apple and experience what is waiting for us. And it’s not some devil tempting us….it’s Creation itself.

And yet, people who are charged with caring for us are nervous, anxious, scared that we might hurt ourselves. They want to protect us, and so they “child proof” our environment, and watch us care-fully, hoping to avoid those bumps and scrapes. And their anxiety is contagious, as we sense their fear, which can restrict our exploration. The intrepid explorer is sentenced to a “play pen” where we can be safe,, so that mommy and daddy can take their mind off of that fear for a needed respite.

Later, we go to school, mixing it up with other children, a disaster waiting to happen. And so, control becomes paramount as just about anything could break loose. Noble teachers man the barricades, trying to bring order to the chaos. The child explorers are taught to sit straight up desks, walk in straight lines, not talk out of turn, color between the lines. Harry Chapin’s song always comes to mind when I think of the loss of the native creativity of kids:

The little boy went first day to school, He got some crayons and he started to draw. He put colors all over the paper, for colors was what he saw.

And the teacher said, “What are you doing, young man?” “I’m painting flowers” he said. She said it’s not time for art, young man. And anyway, flowers are green and red. There’s a time for everything, young man, and a way it should be done. You’ve got to show concern for everyone else, for you’re not the only one.”

And she said, “Flowers are red, young man, and green leaves are green. There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way than the way they always have been.” But the little boy said, “There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in a flower, and I see every one.”

The teachers said, “You’re sassy. There’s ways that things should be and you’ll paint flowers the way they are. So repeat after me”
And she said, “Flowers are red, young man, and green leaves are green, There’s no need to see flowers any other way than the way they always have me seen.” But the little boy said, “There are so many colors in the rainbow, so many colors in the morning sun, so many colors in a flower and I see every one.”

In writing this piece on curiosity, I rediscovered the power of these lyrics of Harry, as he described the drama that is repeated too often in our education experience. I met him when I booked him into Emory for a World Hunger concert which he performed on a flat-bed in a field that served as a stage. I never will forget his spirit. It was just before he died in an automobile crash. He had been working on the songs for a musical, Cotton Patch Gospel that would open in Atlanta. His brother, Tom, saw it through, and that production had a huge impact on my life and my sense of what the Gospel means in real life. Harry’s playfulness was like that of a child, that native curiosity that takes a fresh look at life. And Harry took that playfulness as he engaged his audience.

Harry was always brimming with hope in spite of his honesty in calling out the rough edges of life. He ends his story/song Flowers Are Red, with the little boy moving to another town, to encounter a teacher who sees things differently, encouraging her students to see all of the glorious colors in the world. And he leaves the question open as to which teacher wins the day and mind of the boy, but you are left hoping the second teacher transforms the boy, returning him to his original spirit of curiosity. How was that educational experience for you? Were you forced into compliance, or were you unleashed to your creativity? For me, it was a mixed bag.

Following Dr. Charlie Palmgren on his thinking about the transformation process of Creative Interchange, curiosity is one of the critical conditions that allow creativity to happen. The intrinsic worth of one’s self along with the according of intrinsic worth to all others is the starting point, the foundation for the creative encounter. Last week, I wrote on trust, which is a basic willingness to lean into the encounter with others, relying on the authentic intent of the other. And now, we add curiosity as another component in the mix. It’s that natural child-like capacity to explore, to discover new options, to be curiously open to what one does not know.

As I have tried to show, the obstacles that life puts in our way, namely our educational system, can rob us of that childlike curiosity, to follow our inquisitive impulse. With self-awareness of that blockage, we can practice the intentional exercise of curiosity. It’s curiosity that propels us to seek the new, to leave the old and comfortable behind for the promise of the new. The work entails freeing oneself from the constrictions that we have accumulated from parents, schools, churches, and cultures. But that’s when the fun begins, rediscovering that childlike awe and wonder in the world that is around us.

This week, we have been presented pictures of our universe by the amazing James Webb Space Telescope, the product of years of careful work by scientists and engineers. The project was spurred by our native curiosity, looking up, and wondering what is out there. And now, for the first time in human history, we have some fantastic photographic images of the vastness of space that make Star Trek and Star Wars look tame. What an opportunity to pause and look afresh as a full moon comes our way, as we look up into the night sky and wonder. What a rich and glorious opportunity to refresh our childlike curiosity!

But, I would remind you, as you are looking up, that wonderfully glorious things are all around us, not light years away, but within reach. The creatures, human and otherwise, are there for observation and interaction. When we join with others in the dance of relationship, there is even an open opportunity for the outbreak of Creative Interchange. And the question that poses itself to us in this Now Moment is simply: are you curious?

Who Do You Trust?

As promised, over the next few weeks, I am attempting to give you an overview of a process called Creative Interchange, following the work of my friend, Dr. Charlie Palmgren. Charlie explicates this concept of CI in his book, Ascent of the Eagle, available through Amazon.

Creative Interchange is a way through which you live out of your true original Self to engage with others in an authentic way. This process bears both the fruit of creative collaboration as well as enhancing one’s sense of satisfaction in this thing we call “life”. As Martha Stewart would say, “It’s a good thing.” Her partner, Snoop Dogg would add “Bow wow wow!”

As I wrote last week, the foundation of this process is the notion that all of us are endowed with intrinsic worth. You have value and worth by way of your being in the world. This is not dependent on what you produce, or what you do, but rather, comes with the territory of being human. It’s important to note that this is a radically different version of value than that of our dominant culture which says our worth is tied up precisely in what you do. So this version of life, Creative Interchange, is presenting, and promoting an alternative vision of reality, a sub-version of the way things really are. And with that said, this vision of the world is subversive.

It was subversive when Jesus presented a vision of life that promoted a covenant relationship between each person and God the Creator. The triadic nature of reality is talked about by Jesus when he explained “the way things are” to the people who came to him for answers. He radicalized the notion of loyalty and allegiance to God, as opposed to political systems, even the Roman Empire, and religious systems, even his own Jewish faith. He called it living in the realm of God, or in perhaps more familiar terms, the Kingdom of God.

He also radicalized the notion of our commitment to other persons who share this Creation and are also in relationship to God (whether they know it or not) as our neighbor. This is what makes it more than a mere transactional relationship, in which we are in a convenient arrangement of reciprocity, “I’ll do this for you IF you will do that for me” making the relaltionship “conditional’. That transaction is a contract. Jesus was talking about a covenant that runs deeper, a primal connection of the Creator with persons.

Not only is the primary commitment vertical to the Source of Being, but also, in a horizontal connection, a primary relationship to one’s neighbor. Again, Jesus pushes out the boundaries, the walls of definition, by extending that commitment to all people, ALL, regardless to gender or tribe. He even goes so far as to extend that connection to those who have done you wrong, those who have betrayed you, even to those you may have applied the name of “enemy”. Not in Jesus’ realm of God. “Neighbor” is the operative designation. It is unconditional.

I would pause to remind you that this vision of Jesus, the realm of God, was subversive, to the point that the government and religious leaders of his day, sensed the adversarial nature that his vision posed to their control of things, and so they sought to crush it, to kill it. This cosmic drama played out on a historic stage, winding up with this vision-bearer being ignominiously crucified. We tend to try to forget that part of the story, and soft-sell the “cost” part, with emphasis on the benefits. And so, we act surprised when things turn on us when we finally get serious about this Christ thing, this faith thing, this realm of God thing. If we pause and consider deeply and honestly, we should not be surprised at all. It goes with the gig.

This vision, the realm of God, is what Jesus had trust in. He had faith that this was the Way that led to Eternal Life, and he was willing to lean into life with that trust, even unto death.

Trust is one of four conditions, or values, that make the Creative Interchange process work. It’s part of the alchemical magic that powers a process that is embedded in Creation and is waiting for us to discover it. The other three conditions, or values, are curiosity, connectivity, and tenacity. I’ll be writing about those three in the next few weeks, but today, it’s trust in the spotlight, with the provisional recognition that it’s all four in an synthesis that produces the very juice of life.

Trust. It’s what Erik Erikson named as the basic building block of human development. We begin with our maternal others, in what ever form they take, be it biological, substitute, or absent. The mother is biologically tied to the infant, somatically wired to respond to their baby’s needs. It is within that matrix that the child begins to form an inchoate sense of this strange world he or she has entered. Is this world I am entering trust worthy….or not? That initial image evolves throughout the rest of the person’s life experience.

Here’s a pregnant question: Do you consider yourself a person who natively trusts others, or are you a person who begins your relationship with the assumption that people are not trustworthy? It’s an important question to ask yourself, a moment of possible self-awareness.

For many of us, it’s a mixed bag. One might begin with a guarded trust, and wait and see if the other proves to be trust worthy. Or, one might take a more suspicious starting point, trusting no one until they earn it, perhaps even tossing in a few tests, consciously or unconsciously, along the way. I think it’s important to “come clean” with your self, so that you are not deluded about who you really are. It’s helpful to know your starting point, regardless as to what it is. And, it’s beneficial to know the “cost”, hidden and otherwise, to your being in the world the way that you are choosing to do it.

One of the basic “tests” of one’s trust is whether or not you are willing to expose your true self to the other, that is, are you trusting enough to allow your authentic self to be seen? Most of us are fearful of being rejected by others if we allow them to see the “real me”, and so we construct a mask, or persona, that we present in order to be accepted, valued, even loved. We take our cues as to what “good” looks like from our parents, our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, our religious organizations, and the businesses we work in. The word “culture” is used to describe the cumulative atmosphere of the world in which we live, the assumptions we make about life, and the values that drive us. As we develop, we pick up on the atmosphere in which we live and breathe, and for most of us, it is a developmental process of adapting to that culture, fitting in as we can.

At some point, we may sense that we have been playing a “game”, defined by our families or larger culture, having constructed an inauthentic self that will gain us acceptance. We may get cues, experience stress, sense our inauthenticity to a point that we are troubled. For many people, this moment happens at mid-life, a point that Jung said that a person becomes acutely aware that the time left to live is not as much as one has lived. Succinctly stated, time is running out. It prompts an examination of how one has invested their precious time up to this point, and may bring some changes. Others do it earlier, prompted by tragedy that rubs their noses in the finitude of their humanity early. Others catch on later, some much later. And still others never wake up to the game that they are playing, which is, in fact, a game that’s been played on them.

It then comes down to trust in order to be open with one’s self to another. Trust is fed by the sense of worth that is innate, sometimes buried deep, sometimes hidden. Trust is what funds the courage to lean into life with a kind of confidence that relies on the nature of life itself. This trust shows itself in the way in which you are willing to be with others. Do you trust others enough to really be authentically present, or are you just sending your false self as a “stand-in”?

This really plays itself out when two people, or a group of people are meeting together for an intentional purpose, such as solving a problem, working on a strategy, or trying to creatively engage a dilemma that is confronting a group. Trust is your “ticket to ride” in this playground of human interaction that has the potential to yield fruit for the group’s common life. The odds of innovation increase exponentially when the participants bring an attitude of trust to the engagement. And, similarly, the chance of creativity decrease when people are guarded, playing it safe, risking little, for they do not choose to exercise their capacity to trust.

This is the first of four conditions that make Creative Interchange possible. Without trust, I am not sure the other three matter much. We look at the other three, curiosity, connectivity, and tenacity in the next few weeks. Until then, I invite you to “trust” this process by asking your self, am I a trusting person? Does trust come easy to me, or not? Why might that be so? This is a good starting point to move into the waters of creativity as we explore the phenomena of Creative Interchange.

Trust me.

What is the Lay of the Land?

What do you think about people? Not just your nosy neighbor, or that fellow who won’t use his turn signal on his BMW.

I am talking about people in general. What are the assumptions that you make about people as you begin your day? How do you think they are wired? What makes them tick? What motivates people? What gets in their way of achieving what they desire, what they dream of?

I have been thinking about the assumptions that I carry around with me. I paused and started reexamining some of my basic premises about human nature as I have been working through a book that my friend, Dr. Charlie Palmgren, wrote, entitled, Ascent of the Eagle. Over the next five weeks, I am going to be writing about the five values that he thinks drive creativity in human beings….that means “most of you”. There are a few zombies out there that may not qualify, but most of you are like me, a human being, born of two parents, carrying the genetic make-up that Henry Lewis Gates could trace, linking you to some ancestors.

On top of genetics, sometimes referred to as “nature”, there is also the notion of “nurture” or how you were raised in your family of origin and in the mire of culture from which you emerged, or escaped. Here, we are talking ’bout your experiences in childhood that form you in certain ways, marking you with particular and peculiar tendencies, some lovable, some maddening, some cute, some off-putting. If you are honest, and self-aware, you know what I am talking about.

We emerge from the womb, that safe space of embryonic fluid/water, into the light of the world, fully exposed, as Eric Burton sang, “naked to the world”. We immediately begin our interactive, interpretive process: what is this thing called life? What am I feeling, what are my hungers, what are my needs? The infant begins from the word “go” to form ways, patterns of behavior that have intentionality, based on my experience of the world. I form an evolving ego that becomes my vehicle to carry myself in this world that I find myself “in”, or as Jim Morrison wrote, the world in which I am thrown.

Erik Erikson, the psychoanalytically-based developmental psychologist, names the first task we face as figuring out if the world is trustworthy. Can I get my needs met? Are my needs provided for by significant caregiving figures? This leads to the formation of trust, or mistrust, the basic building block of our way of making sense of the world. The good news is that most of us get those needs met to some extent by “good enough” parenting, so that we have a basic starting point of trust in the world.

Other developmental tasks emerge as we grow, shaping the person that we are becoming, skills like being creative, imagining, making things, sensing our own identity as separate from our parents, and then learning how to share that self with another self in this magical dance of intimacy. These are the human skills we must learn by doing, even though the capacity seems to be pre-wired. We each experiment, trying on the different tasks along the developmental path, getting it right and getting it wrong, in a process of learning.

Underneath it all, there is a basic task that is unique, distinctive to the human creature. We “make sense” of our world. As meaning-makers, homo poeta, we are forging an image of what we think of this world. Although this early time is critical in the basic funding of our sense of self, we will have additional experience that may alter positively or negatively how we think about the world and how we think about ourselves in it. Like our skills, this meaning-making is learned along the way, disrupted by events, prompted by seemingly unconnected moments linking us to a larger narrative.

The initial matrix is our family of origin, sometimes two parents, sometimes one parent, sometimes an extended family, and sometimes an institution. All of us start somewhere, and it’s that place that will provide an initial impression and answer to the existential question: What in the world is going on here?

Later, we will make the fateful move to engage a larger world. For most of us, it is school in which we encounter new adults in parental-type roles making demands on our behavior, and other children who we must interact with in ways that are healthy. By “healthy”, I mean ways that do not threaten your being, or survival. One of the toughest things to learn is to share our attention, our time, and our toys. By the current behavior of some adults, we find that some remedial work is necessary in this basic human task of being and caring.

For me, kindergarten at the Lakewood Baptist Church was an easy introduction to the social reality of “others”. I actually remember my half-days of leaving the security of my mother’s presence to spend with a group of other children. It was great preparation for the rather stark introduction of elementary school.

My first encounter was with Max. What a perfect name for a person of my initial peer conflict. I rode a school bus from my home in Lakewood Heights to the red brick structure of Tull Waters Elementary. There were a few children that I knew from my neighborhood, like Brent and Kay, who climbed on the Blue Bird bus with me at the bus stop, which was at the beginning of the route. Mr. Brumbelow was the driver, funny that I remember that, and the bowl of half-eaten oatmeal stashed under his seat. It was pleasant at the start of our journey, but the environment of the school bus changed dramatically when Max got on board.

Max was my age but much bigger. He wore a crew-cut hairstyle that seemed right out of Nazi Germany, blond, and always in a plaid shirt. He scared the hell out of me, almost from the moment I first saw him, pushing kids around even as a first grader. The safe world of my home, and the haven of my grandparents’ house had not prepared me for war. I was an innocent onboard, to riff on Twain’s adventures.

It was in this primal mix that I was discerning the nature of the world. I had experienced affirming love from my mom and dad, as well as my grandmother and grandfather who added an additional layer of regard. Also, I had a group of older retired men in my grandfather’s Sunday School class, who seemed to make special time to love on me. My grandfather would pick me up and put me on a table in front of the old men’s class, to lead the singing. I later learned that this is referred to in psychoanalytic circles as premature identity formation, but that another psychodrama.

Back to the Nazi on my bus. This introduction of this new element of Max disrupted my sense of safety. He never messed with me individually but one fateful day did pick on Brent, which touched my Scots defiance, demanding that he leave my little buddy alone. Max got right up in my face that morning, bringing a feeling of fear, but I was not sure why. Nothing happened, Brent was unscathed, but my sense of peace has been disturbed. And for the rest of that first year, Max’s boarding of the bus raised my anxiety just a bit in the morning, and his departure off the yellow bus was always a relief. That was my initial experience of a bully. I didn’t like it then, and I still react to it.

Fortunately, the rest of elementary and high school days did not bring any other Maxes my way. Mt. Olive Elementary in the Atlanta suburb of East Point was idyllic, and I pretty much had an environment much like that of the movie, The Sandlot, filled with a cast of characters, me in the role of Smalls, and Danny Hall cast as Bennie the Jet, a year-older who taught me patiently to play baseball. There was no Goliath theBig Dog, nor black former major leaguer. And Karen was my Wendy Peppercorn. We had us some “times” in our very own sandlot playing ball and taking a break for a swim at the community pool during the magical summers of my childhood. I was blessed.

One of my playmates these days, Dr. Charlie Palmgren, who I mentioned earlier, says that the basic stuff of the human enterprise begins with the notion of “intrinsic worth”. That’s a fancy, University of Chicago way of saying that we are good, just as we are. It goes with the territory of being human. Charlie, also an Episcopal priest, points to this goodness as coming to all creatures who are part of God’s Creation. He calls it our “original Self”, the one we are born with, Our worth is not up for grabs. God’s love and acceptance and valuation of us is a “given”. Charlie calls it self worth, which is differentiated from a term that is rampant in popular psychology, self-esteem.

“Worth” comes from a Germanic root (try not to think of Max) ‘worthen’ referring to “becoming”. “Esteem” comes from the Latin root ‘aestimare’, meaning estimate, which involves measuring to a standard. Charlie pushes the notion that self-worth is about your original Self which is of value by nature of your being. And self-esteem is based on comparing yourself to others to see how you measure up. And that differentiation proves to be crucial to the way in which we live. In fact, it makes all the difference.

If we start with the notion of our own sense of worth as part of our being, we are not setting up the game as defined by measuring up in some kind of competition. We are aware of our own intrinsic worth, and extend that same valuation to others. It is the nature of things as they are, This is in distinction to the competition that is set up by our society, beginning in school, in which our worth is dependent on some measurement, such as our test scores, our productivity, our net monetary worth, where we live, what car we drive, etc…. Don’t act like you don’t know what I am talking about!

If we are not in a competitive mode, trying to “best” the other by beating them in some way, making them a “loser” so we can be a “winner”, it frees us to simply be. One is able to recognize how this is more conducive to cooperation and collaboration. That changes the whole “game”, that is, the way we do life. Funny thing is, there is always someone or some group trying to convince you that there is a “game” going on, and you should be busting your ass to win. Sound familiar?

Now, let me be real. I believe that Charlie is right. We have intrinsic worth, and we share that identity with other creatures. And more importantly, this notion of “intrinsic worth” radically changes, alters, transforms the way we look at life. And concomitantly, how we live life.

By the way, it’s not Charlie’s original idea, even though Charlie is older than God. It’s in the teachings of Jesus who affirms the connection of every human being as our neighbor, worthy of love. Jesus pushes the envelope of the concept by imploring us to love our neighbor even if he/she wrongs us or persecutes us, or betrays us. That’s a tall order, but that is what is embedded in the Sermon on the Mount, which is sort of a “best of Jesus” teachings for those of us who weren’t around for the original show.

We try to make that explicit in my tribe of Christians, Episcopal, where in our baptismal vows, we pledge, promise, commit to “love our neighbor as ourselves, and respect the dignity of every human being.” This is no bargain-basement commitment, going for a casual compliance but an honest-tp-God ‘sign your name in blood’ commitment. That Jesus sure drives a hard bargain.

Now, again, let me be real, and even honest. The schools I went to at Tull Waters and Mt. Olive, even in my elementary school days were based on competition. What were your grades? Who was placed in the highest reading group? Who was chosen for a hall monitor? Who was named to the Safety Patrol? We were already in the business of sorting folks out. Our teachers did it, and we did it our own damn selves.

And it only got more complicated in high school, which would define where you went to college. And in college, it was amped up by who could get into med school, law school, or grad school. And that’s just the academic side. There’s the social climb as well. It was all about competition, measuring up, with your worth up for grabs at just about every turn. There’s very little you can teach me about competition. I knew what the game was, and played it well.

But along the way, I got momentary glimpses, sniffs of a deeper reality. At one particular moment, the “game” of rising in the ranks of the Church, my chosen “game”, it became more than apparent, lined out by competition and betrayal. As painful as it was, it was a moment of revelation for me. Looking back at the wreckage in my rearview mirror, I can be thankful for the grace of the moment at the clarity of my worth that was beyond my measure. For a guy like me, that is nothing short of a miracle.

Dr. Charlie teaches me that this thing of “intrinsic worth” is the starting point for great things to happen in life. It liberates, frees you to become more creative, more open to a Spirit that connects us in the act of being itself. He calls it Creative Interchange. It involves a sense of trust in ourselves and others, an unbridled curiosity, the art of connecting seemingly disparate things, and a furious sense of tenacity. It all comes together like a summer peach cobbler to make for a life that is pretty tasty.

I am hoping to write about each one of these in the four weeks ahead. I hope you will join me in this exploration of our native creativity. If you catch a sniff of insight along the way, drop me a note to share it with me. I might even pass it on to Charlie, just for grins. Here’s to the brave journey. Blessings.

Spanning Boundaries, Building Bridges

How do we get about the hard work of crossing over the boundaries that separate us?

Most observers today note the deep divisions within our country. It’s not exactly a courageous thing to point out, as it’s all too evident as our long-time culture wars are heating up. Name the issue: racial reconciliation, gender issues, education issues, and the coming abortion rulings. We are divided. That isn’t news. We divide by red and blue, listening to news from a source that confirms our own opinions. As states make rulings that define those issues on one side or the other, people are even moving to states that are more comfortable. We are moving into silos, isolated from those who don’t agree with our position. This doesn’t look promising for a lively democratic republic that depends on laws and respect.

The pressing question is what are we going to do with such division, with ideological boundaries that seem to be breaking us asunder? It happened years ago around the issue of slavery, driven by economics, resulting in a war that divided our country. The normal messiness of democracy has people talking of a more simple solution of a totalitarian government, led by a strong leader who acts decisively, rather than the complexity of a country that values freedom of expression from a diverse population. How do we get reconnected as a country?

I’ve been thinking about this pressing issue over the past few months. It’s way too big a problem for a broken down old preist to solve. I’m not even sure there is a solution on the horizon. But I am thinking about beginning with myself: what can I do to make things better? And my response, simple as it may be, is to begin with my own damn self. How can I help in this reconnection.

Strangely, my thoughts turned to some work I’ve been doing in the last decade. I got some good lessons in “things that separate us” while working with hospitals, but the lessons apply to other areas of our life in community, and maybe in our country.

An enlightening experience happened for me when I started paying attention to social networks.

My healthcare consulting firm would be called upon to do assessments of hospitals and systems of hospitals. We had variety of tools that we could employ in a deep dive into an organization including the interview of the players to discover what was going on. My favorite tool was taken from some research done by Dr. Rob Cross, at the time out of the University of Virginia. Rob is one of the pioneers in the discipline of assessing social networks.

Rob and his team would go into various organizations and conduct an online survey, asking members of the organization to sift through the list of employees, noting who they felt connected to, who they relied upon for expertise, who they valued. But the fun piece for me, and by now you know that I love fun, was an assessment of where they got energy. The question: does this person give you energy when you interact, or do they take it away from you? The results of this analysis is fascinating, and valuable to leaders of the organization in assessing how information is shared, or not.

We took this methodology into healthcare organizations, conducted an online survey with a large portion of the employees, analyzed the connections, and then gave feedback to the individual employees as well as to the broad organization.

Interestingly, we would identify those members who had strong connections, someone we called a “connector”. These were the people who the data showed had the most extensive ties to people in the organization. This was important information in terms of “seeing” the network within the hospital, where relationship flowed easily, and where they were blocked.

But we were also interested in identifying those who had the ability to “cross boundaries”, that is, they related across the natural boundary lines within the organization such as departments, or hierarchy. We called these particular folks “brokers” as they provided the grease that helped the organization to move nimbly across the natural tendency to silo into individual departments.

Strategically, we would identify those high-performing connectors and brokers at a gathering of employees. We would playfully talk about the value of such connections and how “boundary spanning” contributed to the organization, using it as an opportunity to raise the awareness of the value of networks. We found that it gave positive feedback and value to those members who were making connections and spanning boundaries. And, we would “mine” those star players by asking them how they did what they did, usually in front of the organization gathered. The aim of the meeting was to accentuate the power of networks and gain “buy in” from the members of the organization to pay more attention to connections, particularly across boundaries.

Imagine that you are the leader of an organization, say of a hospital, and that you now have a map of the organization, telling you who has the most connections, as well as who is providing the connective tissue across departments. Is that information that you would want to know? Of course it is.

We were able to give an incoming CEO at a hospital a social network map on the day that she began her tenure. She was able to see how information cascaded down through the organization through both connectors and brokers, as well as where bottlenecks were occurring and siloed departments were out of the loop. She was able to use this information to populate teams for change initiatives even though she was new to the hospital. It provided leverage in learning about how the organization was working well, and where it required attention. She said it was an invaluable piece of information in her entrance into the organic reality known as a hospital.

One other story illustrates the phenomena of network blindness due to prejudice. Working a system of hospitals in Iowa, we ran the social analysis assessment on seven different hospitals in a system. I gathered the CEOs and executive teams at a conjoint meeting in Des Moines. To drive my point home, I asked the CEO of the largest hospital who he thought had the most connections as well as the most cross-departmental connections. He guessed that it would be the Chief Medical Officer. Good guess, but no. Next guess, the Chief Nursing Officer. Again, good guess, but wrong again. I let him guess three more times, and was wrong on all three. I revealed to him that the Head of Building Maintenance had not only the most ties, and cross-connections across boundaries, but he was also assessed as the most energizing person on his team.

The CEO could not believe it. I showed him the data sheets but he would not believe that this leader in building maintenance could possibly be the most connected. What was happening was that he was blinded by a prejudice that thought the more intellectual, “degreed” folks would natively be more connected. He could not see, even when the data proved it, that his particular person could be a great resource to him in the future of this hospital. He was missing a bet, and was not open to observe and own his limiting perspective. He was blind. Other CEOs in the meeting “got” my lesson and couldn’t wait to see the results of their surveys, as they looked for connectors, brokers, and energizers, regardless to where they were located in the org chart.

I have played in my mind about applying this to a church congregation. If one were to do a network analysis of a church, what would you discover? My hunch is that you could quickly see the heartbeat of the group in terms of who is connecting and who is not. Who are the people who are able to broker across generational divides? Who are the connectors who are putting the energy and time in reaching out to members? How are new members finding avenues of connection as they make themselves at home, or not? Imagine how valuable this could be to a new pastor coming in, not knowing where the energy flowed, or where it was blocked.

In my work with congregations, it has been typical for people to have their “group”, be it defined by a Sunday School class, comprised of similar age or situation. That is the place where people find comfort and care, which is a natural way to be connected. The tendency is to “take care of myself” by putting my energy and time into what is familiar, what feels good. This can become problematic in “growing the church” as we become self-satisfied with our own needs, forgetting about the needs of those who may be new, trying to enter into the life of the congregation.

My best lesson in this came from the only cowboy in my Texas parish. Jimmy ran a ranch of cattle and had the folksy feel that I loved about real Texans. He was not the typical “all hat and no cow” poser.

Knowing that I loved horses, he put me on his favorite cutting horse, an animal trained to “cut out” cattle from the herd by moving quickly from side to side, isolating the particular cow for some special attention, generally some sort of veterinary intervention. These horses are amazing, moving with lightning speed. While I had developed a pretty good “seat” in the saddle, I was left hanging in midair, like a cartoon character, as the horse “cut” right out from under me. I still remember Jimmy laughing as I got up out of the Texas dust, and climbed back on.

Jimmy had been a long-time member of my congregation and was on the governing board. I was doing an exercise, asking the board about the changes that had happened in the church after I had arrived. I was dutifully writing down the positive things on a piece of newsprint in green magic marker. The smell of magic marker is unmistakable in my work, different than that of the corral.

After we had filled the newsprint sheet, I put the green marker down, and picked up the red. I moved to the empty sheet of the adjacent easel. Now, I invited them to note the negative aspects of the changes that had occurred since my arrival. The smell of the marker was the same, but the color was no longer that of grass, but of blood.

Being polite, more Southern than Texan, they were reluctant to name the negative, the cost of the changes that I had initiated since arriving. I pushed them to name the friction points but they seemed reluctant.

Finally, Jimmy took the bit. “Well, David, back when I first started coming here, I knew just about everybody in this church. I could sit and watch people come in at the front of the church, or at the back door. I could pretty well name everybody. I could tell you about their family, who their grandmother was, what had been the history of that family. I knew them. Nowadays, half the people in the church, I couldn’t tell you who they are. I don’t know them. I miss knowing everyone and don’t much like having all these strangers invading my church.”

I told you he was a cowboy, and he cut right to the chase. He was expressing a sentiment that was shared by lots of folks who felt the pinch of a change in the composition and demographics of the congregation. Others were too polite to name it, but Jimmy called a spade a bloody hoe.

His comment seemed to hang in the air, a pregnant pause if ever there was one. My response came from beyond me, beyond my ability, beyond my expertise. Perhaps it was from God, or the Spirit, or from a demon. But I said it nonetheless.

“Jimmy, I guess we have to figure out if we want to make sure you are comfortable, or do what Jesus asks us to do in inviting strangers to join us.”

Looking back on it, it was a simple, even simplistic thing to say. He could have gotten angry, upset in my comment. But he didn’t. His face paused, and then broke into a slow smile as he said, rather quietly, “I get it.” And he did.

For me, it was a pivotal moment in the life of this traditional Episcopal church. I trace the change back to this moment in time. This congregation had made a collective decision to be connectors, reaching out across the community to people who needed a spiritual connection. People became brokers to invite folks outside of their familiar circles to join them at a place where they got their spiritual needs met. And Jimmy became one of the leaders in that work. But there was a furniture store owner who provided a friendly smile and handshake to greet visitors who came in our doors. There was a judge, who had not been in a church for years, invite his colleagues to join him in the church school class or in the pews. There were young couples who reached out to neighbors to connect them to our church.

These folks were connectors, brokers, going beyond the comfortable position of staying with their “familiar”. They were spanning the natural boundaries that tend to separate us by socioeconomic lines.

It seems to me that this “connecting” makes good sense in business, in churches, in neighborhoods and communities. Rather than luxuriating in the “comfort zone” of those like you, can we put in the effort to reach out to folks that are not already connected? As people return to churches, post-pandemic, hungry for community and connection, might we make a special effort to reach out to those that might not be exactly like us.

People who study churches that grow tell us that the tendency is to go with what we know. We tend to gather in groups that are homogenous, “like each other”. Today’s political landscape is like that in spades. But is there a more fundamental identity that provides the bridge, the boundary spanning impetus to draw us beyond the knee-jerk political lines that divide. Political operatives and media heads, looking for numbers and revenue, are betting that we can not.

I have always believed that a deep commitment to ultimate values could provide the base for gathering large groups of people, from across boundaries. One of those deep values for me is a faith perspective that views all people as children of God, with intrinsic self worth. That vision of reality unites us all, across the divides that differentiate so-called “in” and “out”. It’s a tall order, but our country, as we head toward July 4th celebrations, was a great experiment in this idea, united in a democratic community, inhabited by free individuals. We have lived the polarity of an emphasis on individual rights while balancing it with a commitment to community in the form of an “union”.

We have done this before, particularly in crisis, in the threat of war, in attack such as post 9/11. I’ve seen it happen, even in by-God Texas. It’s harder. It demands that it be more intentional, more deliberate, but it is doable.

Think about your communities, your neighborhoods, your associations, your congregation. Might you make an effort to reach out, spanning the boundaries that tend to divide us, and connect? Maybe you might transcend your blindness to those that are different than you, and make that connecting move that draws us together as intended.

I confess that we may be beyond redemption. Our divide is bleak, and seems to be worsening. But as I began, I am going to do what I can, where I am, to try to make a boundary spanning connection. How about you?

To Look and See What God is Doing…

My friend, colleague, and spiritual guide, Dr. Charlie Palmgren, asked me a rhetorical but probing question that prompted some ponderous thoughts for me: Are children capable of learning on their own? Do they have an innate capacity to learn?

My mind went to my study of Piaget, back in my developmental psychology work. I distinctly remember us using the phrase “undifferentiated” as applied to the infant. There were cognitive structures that needed to be formed within the infant, and then child, so that they could comprehend the world, notably other objects. Piaget in cognitive development and Kohlberg in moral development had a very limited view of what infants and children were capable of grasping. Recent studies on the innate psychological and empathetic capacity of infants calls this prior theory into question. (See Gopnik, The Philosophical Child)

When Charlie asked the question, an old story from my days in Texas bubbled up from my memory. It was a Saturday morning, and I was seated in my study. Thomas, age of three and a half came ambling in, cocked his head to the side, a characteristic that we both do, and then offered his question, “Can you take me out back?”

“Out back” referred to our backyard that had a beautiful formal garden that the previous owners had maintained meticulously. At that point, I had not neglected it sufficiently to take the bloom off the flora. It also had a swimming pool, that was a major concern for me with a three year old son and an infant daughter. My nightmare was of one of them falling in, unattended, having wandered outside. To insure that would not happen, the backdoors were double-locked so that we could accompany them when they went outside. I had drilled this message into Thomas and so I was pleased that he had come to ask me to go with him.

But I was curious as to why ‘now’, and what was on his mind. So I asked him a pregnant question that was ready to burst open in the mind of a three year old, “Why?”

His response has stayed with me for thirty years, and still makes me smile, the kind of smile that explodes on a parent’s face, and has something to do with pride, but more to do with sheer delight.

“I want to go see what God is doing.”

That’s my son who said that. Where are the priests and teachers in the Temple? (oblique reference to Jesus in the Temple at the fresh age of twelve)

Thomas was enraptured by nature. His love affair began in our old backyard in Atlanta. There was a virgin forest that went all the way through from our house on Glengary to Peachtree-Dunwoody. We had a creek that ran over a granite outcropping, producing a constant lyrical gurgle. Thomas and I would cross the creek and sit and listen. I don’t know it as a fact, but I am betting that his sense of music and lyrics were birthed right there in those primal waters.

We had left our Atlanta Garden of Eden to find a more formal display of azaleas and jasmine in the Piney Woods of East Texas, and Thomas was seduced by the colors that played in our new garden setting. Birds and squirrels served as companions, along with our Springer Spaniel. I felt like a guest spectator in that primal Garden as Thomas discovered new beauty in God’s world. It did not occur to me to think it odd that he would talk casually to a plant or tree, remembering that I had been told that such a conversation was a practice of my teacher, Howard Thurman, a true mystic and civil rights pioneer. It was a gift to me to witness this primitive connection of my son to God’s Creation, before schooling, society, and I had a chance to mess it up. It was glorious, primitive, simple…..and fleeting.

I am pretty sure, and getting clearer, that this is what I am trying to get back to in my own spiritual journey. In my current backyard on St. Simons island, it is a nature preserve linked to the marshes of Glynn, the muse of poet Sydney Lanier. Here, in my own corner of the planet, a live oak tree stands to the left. It is draped in the very present Spanish moss, which I fell in love with many moons ago as I first traversed the wild beauty of Cumberland Island. I now have a ringside seat to nature as she moves, ebbs and flows, in my view each day. The moss seems to pick up the slightest wisp of breeze and accentuate my sense of the mysterious wind. I am fascinated by the oscillation of direction and its sudden gusts of what feels to me like Spirit. Have I mentioned that I have started talking with it?

I have been impressed by a call to get more in touch with my connection to the world. It’s part of the spirituality of St. Francis who saw the Creation as revelatory and, by the way, worth protecting. Rather than performing mental gymnastics in my brain, running mental marathons within my prefrontal cortex, can I connect with my embodied self, feeling and sensing my being within my physical body? To be honest, after all the years of academic training to center myself in the mind, it’s a big ask.

Just yesterday, I had a “Thomas moment” of sensing God’s presence. I had been sitting outside in my wooden chair, angled in relation to the railing on my deck. We have placed bird feeders just off the deck, surrounded by irises that are sporadically blooming, trumpeting the summer season. I was meditating as I do and have done for years, employing a method taught to me during my college days by a Trappist monk in Conyers, Georgia. My practice involves a focus on breathing, with a slow inhalation driven by the diaphragm descending, followed by the exhaling of the breath, slowly.

The rhythm of “in-out” has become familiar through time, embodying the native polarity in our very physical being, inhaling and exhaling, a primal rhythm that gives life. That practice settles my “monkey mind”, a term I learned from a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, as it chases any rabbit, or squirrel, of a thought. This “settling” then allows me to focus in a moment of sheer and blessed awareness of just being, freed from the furtive chase of my thoughts. To be in the moment, free from the clutter of thinking, is the promise of this Centering Prayer method. I try to do this twice a day for twenty minutes,

On this particular day, I had been sitting for my twenty minutes, sensing the humidity on my skin, the heat of a south Georgia day, and sounds of birds chirping in the lull before a coming thunderstorm. The breeze was refreshing, and quickening, as the summer storm approached, registering on my face and back of my neck.

With my eyes closed, I sensed a presence there with me. It was odd. It felt much like I experienced the presence of a wild horse once on Cumberland Island, looking at the back of my head as I sat in the inner dune area, I felt the stare of another creature.

I slowly opened my eyes to see a cardinal perched on the arm of my chair, directly to my right. He, with his bright red plumage, cued me to his gender, looking from side to side, much as I had observed the cardinals that inhabit my backyard and frequent our feeder filled with safflower seeds. No bird had ever come this close, literally at hand.

I kept my head still, trying not to blink, finally trying not to laugh at my surprise. My cardinal friend remained perched for three minutes, finally making his move to the feeder, grabbing a few seeds while I watched. And then he was back off to the wildness of the marsh. What a gift to me.

It sent me into a reverie, remembering my mother’s favorite bird. It provided a somatic connection, a feeling of closeness to her, even though she’s been gone for years. And yet, in that moment, she felt strangely present, connected. Is this just the crazy stuff that goes on in the mind of someone getting older, grasping at straws of ties to a past that is slip-sliding away, or is it more? Honest-to-God, I don’t pretend to know.

This is not my first rodeo with this sense of awe, of connection. As a young child, like Thomas, I had a sense of awe and mystery that I clearly remember in the backyard of my grandparents home, connected with a thunderstorm and a sweet-smelling, cleansing rain in the late afternoon. That’s when I first has a sense, a somatic sense of God.

Later, I remember a stained glass window at Oakland City Baptist Church, at the front. Baptists weren’t real big on stained glass. It was the only one in that brick church cavern. It was the scene of Gethsemane, of Jesus kneeling at the rock, praying for the cup of his death to pass him by. And I was shocked as I heard the story told, him sweating blood as his disciples slept, and him fatefully deciding to give himself to death on a cross. And the hymn testified that it could make a soul “tremble”, and I did. It has served as the icon in my life, at my Gethsemanes, even on a stage in Godspell.

In adolescence, after a tremendous rip-roaring storm, there was an sense of joy and connection I felt while walking in my front yard in East Point, the atmosphere feeling electric. There was an underlying bed of awe, something bigger than my weak-ass adolescent self. The sense of peace was palpable and profound, though I did not understand it. I still don’t.

And then, one evening, deep into the dark night, the gold-gilded box, referred to as the “sanctuary” containing the Reserved Sacrament, the priestly blessed Body and Blood of Jesus from the morning’s Mass, placed at the front of the Trappist church, seemed to glow as I sat before it, praying, emitting a feeling of peace and joy that I had not experienced prior. Ever since, I have felt that sense of the Holy present in these mere elements of bread and wine when blessed by the community, transformed into symbols of connection.

Were these moments of psychotic break, intuitions of an oceanic connection, an acute sacramental sensibility, or just something I ate? Again, I do not know.

Rudolf Otto called it a sense of the numinous, of the Holy. My Celtic ancestors referred to “thin places” where you sense a sheer, thin separation between this physical world from the spiritual realm of being. My McBrayer relatives found it in the Pentecostal fervor of unbridled praise. Mystics call it ineffable from within their solitary cave of contemplation, that which can not be put into words, defying description. I think I know something of this thing, and yet, it is clear that I know nothing.

One thing I do know. People in our time, in our world are hungry for a taste of that spiritual experience. No longer content to construct intellectual suppositions and propositions about God, or argue over dogma, or doctrine, they are more than ready to leave that to religious bureaucrats that seem satisfied in talking ABOUT God. They are desirous of an experience of a spiritual reality that gives them meaning and connection and purpose. I’m hoping that the disruption of this pandemic may prompt a moribund church to wake up, to unleash a Spirit that resists control and management and program. Control seems to rule our religious kingdom. Truth is, we were never really good at that, letting go. And yet that kenosis, that kenotic love of not grasping is the signature of the one who profess to follow. It hard to open one’s Self to this new way of Being in the world, and yet we have an incarnate example that shows us how to do it….as well as the cost.

And there was that cardinal. There was the wind, And, there was a felt sense of connection through the communion with this amazingly red bird who shared a seat with me, who re-minded me of my larger world, a creation of which I am a part.

I can’t wait to tell Thomas what God was doing.

How Are You Wired?

A June wedding always causes me to think: What are you doing?

Now, that could be self-referential as once again, I am cast in the role as Marrying Dave, officiating at a wedding.

Back in the 80’s, when I was the Canon Pastor at the Cathedral, and the youngest priest on staff by more than a decade, I tended to do three, THREE, count ’em (3) weddings each weekend. That meant premarital counseling, rehearsals, and weddings. That pretty much took my weekend. So in terms of weddings, my karma is paid up in full. I gave at the office.

My question these days is more directed at the couple. Are you sure you know what you are doing?

These days, those occasions are rare, with weddings for either family or close friends. Such is the case with this past weekend when I traveled from my island fortress to the ATL to officiate at the wedding for the daughter of two of my closest friends, Janet and Marty.

I had come out of retirement to do the wedding for their oldest daughter, Katherine, one of my daughter’s best friends and college roommate. She was marrying Alex, who is Jewish, which pushed me to get schooled by Rabbi Alvin Sugarman, see Driving Miss Daisy. Alvin prepped me on the proper glass stomping by the groom, tourniquet lessons should it go south, and how to mazel the tov! I passed on the circumcision lesson, which costs extra. I’m a quick and eager learner, but I have my limits. Their marriage looks like it’s going well, so the Quirk Irish clan went to the Galloway Scots well again with the sister, Allison.

Allison the youngest Quirk, was engaged to Jake. The first Quirk wedding was in the pasture behind their house, with tent borrowed from Ringling Brothers for the after party. This time, the wedding was to be at the famed Piedmont Driving Club. A number of friends have inquired, as inquiring people do: What exactly is a “driving club”? You will have to guess as to my various responses, because the Club has good lawyers.

The last time I was involved in a wedding at the PDC (that’s how WE in the know refer to “the club”), something unbelievable occurred. The maid of honor was murdered the morning of the wedding in her hotel room across from Lenox Square, during a failed robbery. I was called off of East Lake golf course to go to the hotel to tend to the mother of this poor girl. When I informed the bride of the murder, without blinking, she responded, “Well, Sissy can fill in.” I learned a lot about brides and weddings that day. The show must go on, as they say, or as least this bride said. As I said, unbelievable.

So I had that ghost in my brain flying around. I remember almost every inch of that entrance hall and ballroom after that horrendous experience. I kept a special eye out for Catherine, the matron of honor, and especially on Alex.

Fortunately, the wedding was not in the former memory haunted location. Rather, it was in the courtyard, that’s right, outside at 5:30 in the afternoon. Did I mention that this is June? JUNE? It was hotter than hell. The sun perched at 30% on the western horizon, blinding me, daring me to wear my Joe Biden Aviators, even in Republican territory, to allow me to see. I did not, since it would break the decorum, plus I was fearful that I might use “Folks” repeatedly, and say involuntarily to the couple getting hitched, “Here’s the deal.”. As my Episcopal friend, H. W. Bush might have said, “Wouldn’t be prudent…”

The service program was ingeniously printed on a fan, for Southern belles to fan themselves, Scarlett-style. The couple’s dog, Charlie, made the procession, well behaved, at least better than Marty, the father of the bride. Various children served as flower persons, adding to the degree of difficulty of the dive. And Catherine and Alex’s child rolled in a wagon down the aisle to make it complete. It was truly a family event, with Jake asking his father to serve as Best Man. It reminded me of my similar selection of my Dad, who was truly my best man, causing me my only moment of becoming verklempted during the ceremony.

I have been working with couples preparing for marriage, couples transitioning into a committed relationship, couples hitting the proverbial “midlife” boogie, and all points along the way for what seems like a long time. My work as a marriage and family therapist formed the centerpiece of my psychotherapy practice early on. So I’ve done a lot of reflection on what attracts people to one another, and how they are able to stay together, and grow, through time….or not.

My big insight came from my teacher and therapist, Dr. Tom Malone, who taught me that the natural attraction is of opposites. One intuits that the “other” somehow brings strengths and characteristics that one needs. This is mostly unconscious but results in a pairing that has “creative tension”, which is the dynamic necessary for continued growth. And of course, it also brings tension. Humans seem to require that for growth, to move them from their normal penchant for comfort.

I once got into trouble playing with the term “homo marriage” at a marriage conference where I was speaking. I was not referring to same-sex unions, which I had blessed prior to the official sanction of my particular religious tribe. I was talking about the problematic nature of relationships when one is attracted to someone that is so much like you that you are basically marrying a mirror image. The attraction is understandable as you feel comfortable with someone “like” you. That was my experience with my adolescent “sweetheart” as she could have been my sister, and in many ways, was. We “fit” but had we gotten married, which had been in the back of our minds in our nine year odyssey, we would have gotten along famously for a while, but then would have become bored, no doubt. Loving your mirror image is clinically referred to as a narcissistic tendency.

A real marriage is “hetero”, meaning “different”, whether you share the same gender or not.

Get it?

I thought about that as I was reminded of Pride month, and the Pride parades I had been to in Atlanta, as I made my way from my hotel to the club in midtown. My Episcopal tribe led the way in accepting and blessing marriages between same-sex couples, and we have taken the hit from that explicit commitment, which was a bridge too far for some. I am personally thankful for this openness, and have counseled with many same-sex partners that live into the creative tension that exists in their committed relationship. I celebrate and bless any relationship that emerges from love.

Any marriage gets the good news-bad news that they are joined by the naturally creative spirit of nature which draws them together. The good news is that there is that native attraction. The bad news is that there will be tension. Count on it.

The real work of marriage begins, hopefully, before any ceremony at the Cathedral, a country chapel, or even the PDC, and it consists of getting to know, really know, the Other that you are connecting with.

This romantic connection has a long pre-history that is crucial. From the time of our emergence from our mother’s womb, we are interacting with the world around us. It may start with the glare of the examination lamp in the surgical suite, blinding temporarily the infant making his/her entrance into the world, The child moves to the warming table if the birth happens in a clinical setting, or it may find the warmth of mother’s chest. From the word “go”, the child is wondering what in the world is going on here? “I was just in a warm, cozy environment, and whoosh, out I go, without so much as a ‘by your leave’!” And from the beginning, the newborn is interpreting this environment.

The basic question is whether this world in which I find myself now is trustworthy, or not? Will my needs get met, will my hunger be assuaged by my mother’s milk? Having lived in utero, a dark watery cave, fed by this magical umbilical cord, I am thrust involuntarily into this new environment, pushed from darkness to light. From the beginning, I am interpreting but also figuring out how to get my needs met.

As the infant becomes a child, who becomes an adolescent, becomes an adult (maybe, developmentally defined), the same two tasks continue: 1. the interpretive task of determining the shape of reality and 2. what must I do to get my needs met. No one is exempt, even members of the Driving Club.

Truth is, we develop an ego structure that becomes the vehicle that carries our Self into this reality. Through time, we construct a persona, that literally is a “mask” that we put on to make ourselves presentable, even winsome, to the important others in our life. The persona is developed through time to please others, to enable our survival, and get what we need. That “what” varies from person to person, resulting from a number of factors. A pregnant question for adults to wrestle with, play with, is “What is it that you need?” What are you spending the best energy of your precious life to get? For many persons that I have worked with as a therapist, coach, or priest, who find themselves far into the stages of life, this proves to be the key to understanding where they are and how they got there,

My point in bringing the persona up in this discussion is that when we are in adolescence and young adulthood, the persona is carefully guarded for fear that someone might discover who we really are and reject us. Our persona is what we present to the world to announce subtly, and brashly at times, just who we are. Listening to fourteen male groomsmen and fourteen female attendants make substantial toasts at the rehearsal dinner, ranging from soulful confessions of deep friendships to stand-up comedy routines, I was thinking about the persona each person was presenting, and what they were trying to get by way of their “performance”. You can tell a lot about a person through the persona they present in such moments, maybe not who they really are, but what they are desperately needing. By the way, the same thing is true for the priest!

In a real relationship, one dares to drop the persona, the mask, with the hope of connecting with the other. In relationships of romantic love, amore, the couple let their masks down and connect at a deep level, between souls. That is what happened between Allison and Jake as a family friend had tried to play matchmaker, arranging the initial connection through the dreaded “blind date”. Both Allison and Jake properly rejected such a medieval play of an arranged relationship and refused. But the Spirit of Amore is tricky. They just so happened to meet at a Halloween party in midtown Atlanta, the place where dreams are made, and fell in love. They told me of slowly letting down their “guard”, their persona, and connecting at a deep level. Allison poetically described Jake as the “light of her life”, the “fire in her heart”. Ahhhh, Amore.

That’s how love starts. It involves following your bliss, making a commitment to this One who promises to be with you, even unto death. That’s when you book the club, arrange the caterer, plan the honeymoon, and ask some old priest if he can show up. It’s a good start, an auspicious beginning….but then the work begins.

Building a life together with two individuals, each with a dream and career, is daunting. Maneuvering through epic transition, changes, disruptions, is just par for the course of life, with unknown bumps and obstacles when you are embarking on this marital road trip. The “creative tension” that drew you together will sometimes prove to be the “pea under the mattress” that disrupts the bliss in this fairy tale. A “Fall” is inevitable and the question will be one of commitment and tenacity, all beginning with a simple, innocent meeting of two human beings. It’s epic, Shakespearian in drama, this thing we call love.

I was convinced that the two, Allison and Jake, knew exactly what they were doing. I even asked them that question during the course of the liturgy, “Are you sure?” in so many words, and they both said “yes”.

We got them launched! The ceremony went well, no blood was shed, no one died (this time!) and the priest did not fall down, a small victory for this Southside boy cavorting in high cotton. And they were off to Greece, a proper mythological setting to begin their odyssey, carried away by Marty’s Bronco chariot that I covet.

Every wedding re-minds the witnesses so gathered that there is magic to do, that love and romance exist, in spite of deadlines and budgets and taxes. And, endings occur too, like the family of origin that will never be the same after this wedding…why do you think folks cry at weddings? And everyone remembers a moment of bliss that sparked in their heart once upon a time, and wonders, dreams, wishes that it might come again. Such is the stuff of weddings….it’s how we are wired.

Blessings on Allison and Jake as they begin this new way of being in the world. Godspeed.