Where You Step, You Stand….

As I have said in the past, I found myself finishing college, not knowing what I wanted to do with my life.

I had purposefully tried on a lot of hats in my life. I had worked for a former Congressman in a law office. I worked in the pro shop at a golf course. I did a summer working for the city manager. And worked in an emergency room of a hospital. I had worked in a local church as the youth minister. And as I mentioned recently, I worked as a glorified bouncer/host at a hot night club. Doctor, lawyer, tribal chief.

Jethro Bodine, the cousin on the Beverly Hillbillies, once confessed a similar confusion to his oil-rich Uncle Jed, “I don’t know if I want to be a brain surgeon or a soda-jerk!” I reluctantly identified with that goof.

I had strategically planned my variety of experiences with the hope of clarification. All that left me thinking about a bunch of options, but no clear path. In fact, my curiosity widened the road I was looking down.

So I finished college early and had some time on my hands. I thought of the “gap year” before it had really been invented. I had been thinking about medicine or ministry, so I begged my way into a chaplaincy program at Georgia Baptist Hospital. All of the students were either in seminary or were already graduated and serving in churches. I here I come, twenty years of age, baby-faced, a college-educated “Jethro”, entering into a three month clinical training program. What could go wrong?

I could write a book about what could go wrong, including me trying to be of spiritual counsel to folks in crisis. I talked to a guy who was twice my age now the night before a surgery that could end his life. I talked to a young man who had an accident that put him in a cranial halo, where he would never walk again. I sat with a young husband you lost his wife and unborn child in a car accident. I met with a family whose mother died suddenly with a heart attack. And that was just the first day…..of course, I am exaggerating….it was my first week. Gallows humor reigns supreme in trauma wards.

Those stories are for another time. I want to tell you a lesson I learned from my clinical supervisor, a lesson I have cherished throughout my life. It’s a lesson I shared with a person that I coach who is looking to change his life’s work in the near future. It was the best I had to offer in the moment. And I hope it might be helpful to you.

My supervisor was from Memphis, and had a kind of country accent I had not heard before, though I knew a bunch of folks from Memphis, and the girl I had been dating was from there. He actually sounded like he had just been dropped off a farm truck in front of the hospital, and seemed to be rather proud of his home-grown sense, almost like he was playing up a Mark Twain persona.

Now, you have to have some sympathy for him, because he had the youngest clinical training student in the history of the planet, not to mention Georgia Baptist. He was trying to help me learn to be of value as I put on this role of chaplain, knowing that I didn’t know nothing about chaplaining! A crash course is not hurting the patients I encountered was in order. So he was teaching me not only clinical material on depression, and grief, and trauma, and anxiety, but also the basic stuff of being a human being.

I actually forget the context of this most important piece of wisdom that he passed on to me. I must have done something stupid, but his point was much more basic. And here it is:

“Galloway, you have to be smart like the cattle farmer who goes walking in the pasture. You have to remember: where you step, you stand.”

Moments of wisdom in a clinical setting do not need to be explained. Like a good joke, if you have to explain it….it ain’t that good.

I had been with my grandfather on his farm in West Georgia where there were cows. I had gone fishing with him at the lake at Dr. McCartney’s where his cows left piles of manure, affectionately known as cow patties, strewn indiscriminately in the field. You had to be careful walking, looking where you were going, otherwise you might step into a pile. I got it.

His lesson went far beyond the pasture. It extended its relevance into my relationships, into my friendships, into all areas of my life, including my choice of vocation. Where you step, you stand!

There are consequences to your decisions.

I recently had a discussion with a person who means a great deal to me. She has been struggling with the reality of a decision that she made, and the tight space she finds herself in.

It reminded me of my basic premise of human existence. We are decision makers. Deciding comes with the territory of being a human being.

Deciding means making a choice. Choice tends to be around how we spend out time, our energy, and our resources. Those decisions have consequences in the now, in the near future, and in the long-term.

Another piece of wisdom came from my colleague, Mike Murray, who drove home the point one day by reminding me that “decide” comes from the root “cide”, which means “kill”. Herbicide, insecticide, suicide, and homicide is about killing off something. Mike made his point sharply by emphasizing when we de-cide, we are killing ideas and future options. When we face the field of life, we have options in front of us, but must decide which ones to act upon, and which ones to set aside….”kill”.

I write this as a reminder of the weight of our human responsibility of choosing. Where you step, you stand.

As an old black preacher once admonished me:: Bear this in mind.

Sure enough. Blessings.

Change….What Are You Going to Do?

The only constant in life is change.

I once found that statement to be an interesting and clever conclusion about the experience of life. The irony is apparent, even for those who find irony daunting.

My mother was fond of saying, “Nobody likes change. Not even a baby with dirty diapers.” That saying captures the sense of humor of my Scots McBrayer heritage. One hears these words, pauses to smile slightly at the clever insight, but then furrows the brow considering the deeper truth. That was my mother, my grandmother, and I presume, my great grandfather, John Columbus McBrayer.

There is often nothing funny about change, so irony seems to be a prudent approach to the beast.

I remember shepherding a major change in my high school, as we were forced to monitor the bathrooms as the smokers were bullying the underclassmen. Mr. McBrayer, the principal, no direct relation, was wise enough to let me carry the water of making the student council’s decision known to the student body. I recall making that announcement at the occasion of the infamous gathering known as a high school assembly, and getting into a shouting match with those who felt it was assaulting their freedom to bully, an adolescent “Don’t Tread On Me”. Luckily, some of the larger football players had my back, and quelled the uprising.

In college, my group of officers in the fraternity decided to do away with monetary fines for missing work parties. We thought it would be better to inspire people to show up voluntarily to keep the house clean rather than rule by punitive order. I was thrilled that my group of leaders were willing to try something new, and not surprised when the more structure-loving members felt like it was the first step on the “slippery slope”(their words) to freedom, resulting in anarchy. But even the more loose folks wondered at the wisdom of the change. I learned a lot about leadership being the leader of a fraternity my junior year, but obviously, not enough. I kept doing it.

The paradigmatic moment in thinking about change took place for me with the major change we underwent at the Cathedral in Atlanta. The Dean, David Collins, had been in leadership for decades. The Cathedral parish had been “traditional” for years, although the influx of the Charismatic movement in the Episcopal Church, in which Collins was a major leader, created literally two different “congregations” under one roof. Collins large personality had been able to successfully sit on top of this pressure cooker for years, satisfying and modifying both factions adequately to maintain the church. But Collins retirement posed a huge dilemma for change in the future.

How could we find a new Dean that could continue this cooperative collaboration or stalemate?

Bishop Child, having formerly had my position of Canon Pastor of the Cathedral parish, approached the dilemma practically. He would appoint the “search committee” with an equal number of traditional and charismatic members. Makes sense, right?

The committee met, chaired by the President of Oglethorpe College, Manning Pattillo, who tried to conduct business as if it were an academic search. It was not.

They brought me on as a congregational consultant to conduct a congregational analysis of the parish, using the work of my teacher, James Hopewell. I conducted interviews, and ran a written survey of the leaders of the parish to discern their belief patterns. Hopewell was known and admired widely for his congregational belief survey that identified four types of beliefs: canonic, empiric, gnostic, and charismatic. If you are interested in digging into his theory and our consultative intervention methods, check out Congregations, by James Hopewell.

My study merely gave objective measurement to what most people intuitively knew. The Cathedral was composed of two congregations, one centered around a canonic center, focusing on following tradition,and one centered on a charismatic orientation, tending to the the present actions of the Spirit. I was so proud of my research, carrying my results to Hopewell himself, who was in the hospital at the time. He laughed at the results, recognizing the mess we had on our hands.

When I presented my findings to the search committee, they listened attentively, nodding their heads politely as Episcopalians tend to do. Dr. Pattillo thanked me for my work, in his halting, careful cadence of speech, with a modicum of enthusiasm, typical for the session.

The committee quickly “deep sixed” my report, burying it so no potential candidate would be hipped to the awaiting dysfunction for a new leader. Who in their right mind would want to come voluntarily into such a situation?

The committee continued in denial as to their deep differences, assuring one another as to their “unity” in Christ, that is, until the first vote on candidates. The predictable split emerged, and the committee members seemed surprised by the conflict. Meeting after meeting continued with no consensus. Finally in frustration, they went with a “lowest common denominator” candidate, a great guy and good priest, but a person who could not bring the two factions together. The result was a Cathedral parish that was split almost in two as a good number of the charismatic group found other communities to call home.

Could this have been avoided? Probably not. The split was built into the congregation’s constituency, by the accident of history and the personality of Dean Collins.

Could this major change have been worked through with more skillful means? There is no doubt in my mind.

As a result of the conflict between these two factions, prompted by the selection of the LCD (lowest common denominator) Dean, I signed on for some post doctoral studies with Daryl Conner, a change guru that had studied organizational development. Conner took the ground-breaking work of Kurt Lewin and offered a theoretical construct of “unfreezing” the status quo and moving intentionally into the dangerous land of change.

One of the most important insights Daryl shared with me was quite simple, but profound: Expect resistance.

When one is announcing change that could be seen as costly to certain constituencies, it is reasonable to anticipate some push back. But the surprise to me is that even when the change is perceived as overwhelmingly positive, one should expect resistance. This is because there is a disruption in what is considered “normal”, and people natively don’t like it. People prefer comfort. At least, most people.

So, Daryl drilled into my brain a reminder to “anticipate resistance”.

Better yet, expect it.

It has been a huge gift, this “great expectation” which prompts one to plan for change. Imagine that!

First, be careful as to how one communicates an upcoming change. So many tragic outcomes of change began with bad communication strategy, or actually, no communication at all. Bad communication betrays an assumption of command-control: you will do it because I SAY SO! Good luck with that.

Sometimes, it is born of an unconscious effort to avoid the anticipated pain of such a change. Just don’t mention it, and maybe they will not notice it. They will. The lesson here is to carefully (note the root “care”) plan your communication strategy when entering the choppy waters of change.

Second, follow the communication through the organization. After planning how the “message” is going to be cascaded down through the organization, check in to monitor if it, in fact, is making it to the people who need to hear it. Redundancy is not a bad thing when communicating in an organization, as opposed to what my English teacher taught me about writing.

Thirdly, anticipate resistance by setting up moments for that resistance to bubble up. This is counter-intuitive for most leaders as one is trained to spin things positively, avoid the negative. This was the most profound, yet difficult, insight for me to operationalize in practice. Encouraging the public expression of negative thoughts about my brilliant ideas seems stupid. But as Conner taught me, better to deal with negativity and resistance in the open than to allow it to go underground where it can poison the culture. A rather earthy image reminded me of this brilliant insight for leadership: Don’t encourage people pissing in your pool! Got it.

The three tips will not insure that your change will progress successfully, but the anticipation of resistance and careful planning make the chances of the accomplishment of the change objectives a better bet. Having led successful change, and doing post-mortems on my failed efforts, these three insights are worth paying attention to. Blessings.

Coaching…My Way of Giving Back

My long-time friends often have questions when they find out that I am spending so much of my time coaching. What exactly is coaching? Is it “life coaching” that I see advertised on social media? What is it that you coach?

Good questions.

Originally I coached clergy in their personal and professional development in their work in ministry. Over the last ten years, I have been working with leaders in healthcare as well, administrative and clinical, as they seek to become more effective in their leadership. Currently, I do both, as well as work with a few folks who are transitioning in their work life, some into new fields, and some into the world of retirement.

What is coaching?

My favorite image of coaching is that of “coming alongside” someone doing a specific piece of work, pausing for a moment of self-reflection on the past, focusing on self-awareness in the “now”, and then intentional planning for the future. The way I do it is somewhat a hybrid between consulting, which involves expertise, and therapy, which is about personal growth. Add “friend” to the equation, and the hybrid is complete.

My initial image of what it means to coach came naturally from high school, coaching from the sideline, reviewing films of past games, noting strengths and weaknesses in performance. It also involves planning the the upcoming game, both in terms of overall strategy and specific tactics. And then, standing on the sideline, bringing a somewhat objective eye on the game, adjusting to the moment, and encouraging full engagement play. The athletic coach analogy breaks down at points but gave me a workable image when I first started coaching clergy many years ago. John Wooden, the UCLA legend, was known for teaching his players to put their socks on properly, to avoid debilitating blisters. Phil Jackson, the Zen master, got into the heads of his players and created a “team” spirit that was truly collaborative. These, and others like Mac Brown were in my mind when I began this coaching thing.

When people ask why I enjoy coaching, I joke that I prefer sending in plays from the sideline, and not having to absorb the body hits that are a part of parish leadership. And that is no joke.

These days, I also spend a good bit of time working with executives and clinical leaders in healthcare, mostly around issues of leadership. While healthcare professionals are well-trained in the clinical moves, I have been surprised at their lack of training in organizational leadership. Most are trained in a command-control format, ordering change by memo. Most have learned that such a method is no longer fruitful, but don’t know what to put in its place.

I often think that I spend most of my time around making change happen on time and with the least amount of blood on the floor. I learned this method after studying change management with one of the change gurus who was leading the way in understanding that process. We were facing a profound change of leadership at the Cathedral in Atlanta and I intuitively sought out someone who had spent a good bit of time studying the process of change. Daryl Conner, who wrote the pioneering book, Leadership At The Speed of Change, still whispers insights to me about the process of unfreezing the status quo and provided a framework for my practice.

I started doing organization development coaching working with churches as they were trying to figure out how to grow. In the Diocese of Texas, we were particularly interested in growing our numbers, that is, the numbers of members. We framed this in terms of The Decade of Evangelism, which I found humorous in the Episcopal context, where we typically were not exactly enthusiastic about inviting others to join us in worship. Submit a financial report, a genealogical record, and academic transcript….and we’ll get back with you. My favorite cartoon at the time was a priest on an examination table, telling the attending physician, “Doc, I am not sure that I have a decade of evangelism in me!” Humor is funniest when close to the bone.

I found myself as a South of God refugee needing to reframe the marching orders of evangelism. I did that by reframing the charge as 3-Dimensional Growth, in three dimensions, or 3D, as I described it. The first dimension is in terms of increasing the number of members. This is how most people think about church growth, but I have expanded the meaning. The second dimension is “scope” in terms of the width of acceptance, that is, who counts and is included within the bounds of community. In my own Episcopal tradition, this has moved along racial and sexual lines, which proved to be a push for some of our members. The third dimension is also strong within the Episcopal tribe, that is, the dimension of “depth” as to their spiritual growth. The intent of church is to grow disciples, making them more transparent to the Christ that is within each person, an identity that goes with the territory of being human. We just need to discover our true nature…and the nature of all who share the planet.

These days, I find myself in the C suite, with administrative and clinical leaders trying to figure out these complex and fast times, especially in the wake of pandemic. I have particularly enjoyed helping leaders form teams of high functioning members. Casting a vision, setting realistic goals, and executing plans is the bread and butter of organizational leadership but the main work is finessing the hard work of transformation and change.

At the same time, I find that I am enjoying my work of coaching clergy more than ever. I have a number of young clergy, fresh out of the gate of seminary, hungry to learn how to be effective. Most times, these people are like me when I finished seminary, well-trained in the intellectual disciplines found in theological education, but little clue about how to lead and how to organize a group of people. My own hard-earned lessons and the organizational skills I have studied prove to be helpful in managing transitions that are the normal part of parish life.

As I mentioned earlier, the image that operates in my mind when coaching in that of “coming alongside” an “other” person. This “other” is not only trying to DO something, sometimes something very particular and peculiar to the time and place, but the person is also intending to BE someone, namely herself/himself. Both must be engaged or it is an incomplete act of coaching, in my book.

The “how to” is the actionable piece of the work, the technology of how to get something done. In my leadership model, The Leadership Wheel, the basic tension is the polarity between creating vision and getting it done. First, and primary, where is it are you intending to go? This is the visioning process, that is, the intentional direction that you are hoping to go, and as a leader, where you hope to lead your people. This process of casting a vision is critical part of leadership, whether you tend to work off building consensus or promoting your own vision of the future. There are many variations between those two extremes that can work, but the central notion if to get clear within your self as to how you are planning to work.

Of course, “context” may be the most important aspect of all in this first dimension. If there is an immediate, pressing climate, consensus building may take up too much time, time that you don’t have in a press. You may have to exercise authority in the moment just to do something, which seems to be a tendency or default for a lot of folks. Generally, there is time for consultation, in order to get other views, checking your own myopic tendencies. But there are occasions when a decision must be made NOW. Again, being self-aware of your tendencies and aware of how you are operating is primary.

Second, executing the plan, that is, making it happen is a critical next step. There are many churches and hospitals I work with who have had a history of long, involved planning processes, long-range and immediate, that produced voluminous research,, dialogue, and planning, only to wind up in a file somewhere in a back office, never seeing the light of day nor action in the field of play. At Galloway, we have used a simple process, formulated by our teacher, Robert Miles, which involves procuring Commitment to Action (CTA) from the various players in the organization, a public way to monitor process by way of metrics, and a means of “cascading” the vision down through the group, checking for completion.

This is the Texas Two-Step of organizational development, with both pieces critical to producing fruit from our labor. Simply put, Vision and Reality. A vision to plan for where we want to go, an action plan that will get us where we want to go.

It sounds simple, but I am amazed at how many people and organizations founder between those two rocks of reality. Just by paying attention to this balance, a coach comes alongside the leader to assist in both the awareness of the present moment as well as beginning to think, to imagine a future. Once a vision is captured, the coach prompts the planning as to how to make it real. And along the way, the coach presses the monitoring of the progress, the resistance that the emerges, and the supporting forces. The essence of the coaching relationship is providing a trusted “other” set of eyes, to drill down on the depth of the context, to focus on the present moment, to plan for the future, and to monitor the progress.

Coaching is all about looking deeply into the situation, and asking the clarifying and probing questions. I feel amazingly alive when I am engaged in this work with the people I am committed to, and I get such a sense of meaning when I am able to deliver this valued presence. Can you sense how much I love coaching? I feel like I am using all the experience I have had, my knowledge of organizational leadership, and my gift of encouragement. No wonder I am energized by my work of coaching! It is work that deserves my best time and energy. Blessings.

Falling in Love…Again

The Bishop of Georgia, The Rt. Rev. Frank Logue, made arrangement for the clergy of his diocese, the Episcopal Diocese of Georgia, to be on a Zoom call with the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry. I was thrilled to be on the call and listen to Bishop Curry talk about his life of faith that is recorded in print in his book, The Way of Love.

Some of you may remember that it was Bishop Curry who spoke eloquently at the last royal wedding.

In his book, Bishop Curry tells the story of his father’s conversion into the Episcopal Church. He was, in fact, in the seminary studying to become a Baptist preacher, as he had come from a long line of preachers. He went to church with the woman he was dating, who was an Episcopalian,…,the woman who would become Bishop Curry’s mother. His father watched as the Episcopal service proceeded with its culmination with communion.

He watched as his date went down front to receive communion, while he hung back, He was looking to see how it would play out as he and his date were black, and the rest of the congregation was white. He was amazed that his date drank from the chalice, and then, the white folks kneeling at the altar rail drank from that same chalice. This was in a time of segregation and such a moment was pregnant to the Spirit for this young man. Bishop Curry reports that his father was so impressed with the Christian practice that defied the cultural norm, that he thought that this might be the church that might be where he could call “home”. He did, ultimately becoming a priest in the Episcopal church.

Bishop Michael Curry’s book is a tour de force on the essential Christian message of Love. He takes a good bit of time lining out the Copernican revolution of coming to the spiritual understanding that a proper reference is to “we”, than the more natural inner, ego focus of “me”. When one undergoes a profound spiritual awakening, a person wakes up to his/her deeper identity as a person in community rather than the self-serving egotistical inward turn.

Curry smartly turns attention to the words of the apostle Paul who is addressing the pastoral concerns of a divided community of faith in Corinth. The passage he focusses on is the 13th chapter, the noted “Love” chapter. It has been used at about 80% of the weddings I have officiated at, leading me to hate the “love” chapter! It has been particularly painful to hear aunts, uncles, and friends, who are frustrated actors, using this nuptial situation to make a dramatic reading of the chapter, like Cicely Strong’s cheeky SNL parody of bad, overblown church lectors.

But in this current climate, this boy is coming around to appreciate Paul’s deep wisdom.

Love, for Paul, is placed in triad: faith, hope, and love. And all in the context of a bifurcated community of Corinth. Bishop Curry write, “Those Corinthians. Paul tells us, are fighting in the pews at church. They are splitting into factions in terms of who baptized them. People are suing each other. Sleeping with each other’s spouses. The rich and high-status folk are demanding they get communion first. Other people are getting drunk at Communion. This was some serious dysfunction. Amid all this, everybody’s arguing about who is the better Christian, who is going to heaven, and who is not.” Both Michael and I studied with family therapist, Rabbit Edwin Friedman, who taught us all about dysfunctional congregations. Corinth fits the classical clinical diagnostic designations: pretty screwed up.

But the Bishop goes one to make the critical connection. ” The behavior sounds a little familiar. Tilt your head at it, and it sounds a lot like a lot of us today on social media. Arrogant, rude, insisting on our own way, irritable, resentful, rejoicing in wrongdoing? Paul’s got it, all right. It sounds like some of our leaders in Washington, D.C.. It sounds like some of our business leaders. It sounds like some of us in religious communities. It might even sound like some heated conversations around the dinner table at Thanksgiving. The situation that occasioned the ancient epistle sounds remarkably contemporary.”

Paul’s answer, and Bishop Curry’s, is a call to love. This is a call to “turn it around” from a preoccupation with selfish concerns to taking the perspective of “the other”. Love is not a sentimental thought, but rather, love is an action which one does out of concern for and care for the “other”.

Curry helpfully suggests a GPS that will give one a sense of what love looks like in a particular situations: Is this just about “me”, or is this about “we”? Does this just serve my unenlightened self-interest or does it somehow server the greater good? Just starting to address these questions gets you “on the road again” toward love, in this current world of self-centeredness and contempt that characterizes much of our life. Selfishness excludes, while love makes room for the other in the field of attention, and includes the other in consideration.

This notion of a GPS has been intriguing to me. A Trappist monk who did our premarital counseling used something like this as he pointed to Paul’s 1st Corinthians passage to get Mary and me to consider how we might use the verbs to characterize the way we should treat one another: patient, kind, not envious, not arrogant or rude, not irritable or resentful, bears, hopes, endures. In a word, that’s what love is all about, Charlie Brown.

That was forty years ago. Forty. 40. Did I mention forty years ago? That’s a lot of water under the bridge. There weren’t a lot of people at the betting window the day of my wedding. They knew me well, my self-interest had been in full bloom. Some would claim, one in particular, would say my wedding was in fact self-interest in spades. And I would be hard pressed to object.

While I have preached my share of romantic, Hallmark Card sermons at the social convention occasion that we call weddings, I have learned my lesson well. It’s quite a business, rivaling those boys in the planting industry called funeral homes. My initial ride was doing most of the weddings at the Cathedral in the sanctified section of Atlanta, called Buckhead. I saw obscene amounts of money funneled for grand occasions with a glance given toward the spiritual meaning and even less toward the herculean task ahead of forming a healthy relationship. I did a wedding with the whole cavalcade of ABC stars, hanging with Cosell and Barbara Wawa, speaking of SNL skits. I did a wedding that was showcased and centerspread in the hallowed Southern Living magazine. I know about the wedding show business.

My time on the Peachtree wedding circuit skewed me, or screwed me, with me only killing three wedding coordinators, buried somewhere beneath the Cathedral. Dead planners tell not tales….nor take obnoxious pictures. But I emerged with a clear concept of what is really going on at a wedding. It is the beginning of a process of education, progressing from this concept of cellophane, forged through the years into the iron and steel structure of love. This is the Right Stuff, not fairy tales.

I started seeing “The Blessing of a Marriage”, as it is designated in the Book of Common Prayer, as an occasion for counter-cultural testimony. I began to refer to marriage as the crucible, the holding container of the fire of human relationship. And the success is not the number of years one accumulates. Did I mention FORTY? Rather, the fruit a marriage bears in the way it has taught its students the art of love. Marriage is one of the most powerful, experiential venues where we can learn of this thing called love.

Of course, we learn in all times and places about this love, if we choose to. It can happen in families as we learn to share time and resources. We can learn about love in school as we bump up against people from different backgrounds. One can even learn in business, as we must weigh our personal agendas with those of our co-workers and our collective. And, dare I say it, we can learn about love in the context of social media, and even church. Any place we are with others, the subject of love is in play.

This is a pregnant time in terms of our ability to live with one another. We must learn, relearn, and learn continually about this thing called love. I do commend taking the time to read Bishop Curry’s book, The Way of Love. Invest the time and energy to read, learn, mark, and inwardly digest his wise words concerning this way of being in the world. I think you just might fall in love again, I did. Blessings.

Setting An Intention

I attended a retreat this past weekend, sponsored by the Institute for Conscious Being, a group that promotes the used of the Enneagram to understand one’s self and to relate to one another. This particular group, led by clinical psychologist, Joseph Howell, has a particular interest in the role of the Enneagram to assist in one’s spiritual growth. My friend, John Adams, recommended Joe’s book, Becoming Conscious, which intrigued me with its powerful spiritual insights.

I had some exposure to the Enneagram earlier in my career as a heuristic tool of self-understanding. My daughter had explored it, with her fiance, now husband, as a way to understand their dynamic, which prompted my dusting off some old texts.

I have to admit my tendency to look skeptically at popular “spiritual” programs but this group has impressed me with the seriousness of their study of the psychology of faith, and their basic reliance of care for human beings. So while I entered the weekend with reservations, I left with good feelings about the program which prompted deepening self-awareness. If you are interested in discovering the Enneagram, and this particular training program, you can go to this link: http://www.instituteforconsciousbeing.org.

There is so much worthy stuff to share in terms of the Enneagram but I wanted to share a simple insight that was a good reminder.

On the second day of the retreat, the session leader invited us to “set intentions for the day”. By this, she referred to a practice that I teach many priests that I have trained through the years. It’s a process of planning that is intended to make one more organized with one’s time, and therefore, more productive.

I normally coach my folks to plan by the year, by the quarter, by the month, by the week, by the day. While I have found planning in a consistent manner beneficial, planning by the week, which I grabbed from Covey many moons ago, is revolutionary.

I plan the year in day dedicated to review, goal-setting, and project planning. Quarterly, I review the plan and adjust for changing contexts. Imagine the change in “context” of second quarter last year….that’s right…,.you know. I have gotten in the habit now of doing the same, but to a lesser extent, monthly. But the key for me has been weekly planning.

In my work, unforeseen interruptions happen all the time. It’s a part of the gig. So, to get long-term-projects done, I have to schedule my coming week in blocks of time. By dedicating a “CHUNK” of time, with an assigned topic of focus, there is a better chance that I will finish on time. As this is done in the broader context of life, there are NO guarantees, but as stated, “chances are better”. I plan the coming week at the end of the current week. Living and dying by blocks of time is my transposed Buffett song.

By using a daily journal/planner, I also employ this method with days. I begin my day journaling, planning, and prepping. I end the day with a journal entry, and reviewing the day. My technique usually consists of noting my “biggies” for the day, things I simply MUST get done today.

So that’s the process I teach, and use myself. There are many methods out there. Key is finding the one that works for you. My pragmatic side loves to “check off” a list, but the philosopher in me longs for meaning and significance to my day, hence my journal. It’s a good balancing act that I have grown to do fairly well for a Southside boy.

As mentioned, this past weekend introduced an “add”. It is a suggestion to add an intention at the start of the day. I liked the feel of it and am trying it on this week. I share it with you here, which asks you three questions with which to begin your day:

  1. At the beginning of the day, set your intention for the coming day. What do you intend to do with this amazing day that is set before you? I use a practice of writing down “My Three Biggies” which serves as a focus mechanism for my rabbit-chasing mind. You could start with the Main One, or the Fab Five, whatever it takes to focus.
  2. What would you like to let go of in this coming day? What have you been allowing to disrupt your concentration and focus, that nagging thought that is getting in the way of your progress? Sometimes, writing it down can give it a concrete moment that allows you to name it, and get rid of it, like a piece of trash. Try it.
  3. Who do you want to be in this next day in your life? What values do you long to live out in your life? Do you have a deep identity that powers your personality in terms of who shows up for a particular task? A friend of mine imagines a super-hero of his own design that gives him energy to face the day ahead. Mine is a little simpler, that is, getting in touch with my prophetic voice, that funds my courage in the moment.

This is a simple moment but it can have profound effects on the process of your day.

When I am adopting a new behavior, I have found it helpful to try it on for a week rigorously, using whatever prompts get you to do the NEW thing, and then review the effect, looking for and naming the positives. Make an initial assessment at the end of the week, deciding to continue for another week, make an adjustment in how you do it, or abort the practice, noting the rationale. This “limited time” framework has seemed to work for me in changing up how I do my work. Give it a try.

The Enneagram offers a fresh road into this thing I call my Self. I am thinking it is a fresh pathway to add to my self-awareness, something I consider critical in the exercise of leadership and life. Blessings.

Faith Development versus Christian Education

One of the greatest gifts I received was coming back to Emory from my sojourn working in a psychiatric hospital in Louisville and having the blessing of finding a mentor.

His name was James Fowler, Jim, who had been stolen away from Harvard by our dean, and then president, Jim Laney. Fowler’s genius had intuited his theory of faith development through listening to stories told around the “campfire” by ministers who were in retreat mode at a gathering hosted by Carlyle Marney. From that experience, Fowler applied the structural developmental theory of Piaget and Kohlberg and extended it into the human phenomena of faith, that is, how we construct a world of meaning out of our lives.

I latched onto Jim and he onto me. We were both too young for a mentoring relationship. He was looking for a son to carry on the family business, and I was looking for a daddy, something I figured out in two years of psychoanalysis. We would disappoint one another profoundly, but reconcile over long neck beers at the Country Tavern in Kilgore, Texas. We transcended teacher/student relationship and forged a friendship as we went into the end of his life.

Recently, I was on a Roman Catholic website and saw the course description of a parish, entitled Faith Development, as opposed to the way most churches denote the activity, Christian Education. It was a moment of insight, nothing new for me, but a re-minder of a truth Jim taught me long ago.

Christian education typically revolves around the task of transferring knowledge to a recipient. The image of opening up the head of a person, pouring in information from a cereal box full of knowledge is what comes to mind. You learn about the Bible, Old and New Testament, Church History, Theology, and the traditions of liturgy, in some churches. There’s nothing wrong with this knowledge transfer as it builds up your familiarity with the tradition of the religion in which you find yourself. But….., there’s a big “but”.

BUT, the more important piece is the training of how to BE. How do you “faith it” in the world? In faith development, we thought of faith as a verb. How do you live your life in alignment with the world view your community of faith is founded upon and exercising? How do you make this thing real in the moments of your life? Where do you learn to live your life in faith? How might one, in reality, develop that faith?

When I took a sabbatical from the Christian religion and explored the spiritual genius of the Tibetan Buddhists, I was surprised to find their teaching and instruction advanced in terms of the pragmatics in how one lives life. They have their well developed theories and concepts about how the world is structured, how we are intended to live and flourish in it, but the main gig is how do you “live it” in the world. As the Dalai Lama is fond to say, compassion is my religion. How do I treat others?

I can’t help but think that in the world we live in today, especially in this country, we are in need of some of those basic lessons on how we treat one another with compassion. Rather than framing our world in adversarial terms, where there are only winners and losers, a world bifurcated into a duality of right and wrong, it might be time to spend some time studying how we treat one another with respect and dignity, in a word, compassion. Rather than voting people off our island, we might discover ways of inclusion and embrace. Radical idea?…..it didn’t used to be.

And where do we go to develop that faith?

Politics? Come on now. There is no more public square where dialogue is promoted, nor even allowed. Truth telling has been outlawed in certain camps.

Education? It is defined by the task of differentiation in the halls I grew up in.

Media, electronic, social, and print? It may be the most divided and isolated arena we have.

Religion? It has become all about who agrees with my biases and prejudices, not seeking the Truth. And perhaps it’s the last place to learn about how to be compassionate.

Is there any way to change this? On this particular morning, I am not feeling all that optimistic. The democracy that I was taught and trained in is in tattered pieces, flying at half mast. We barely made it through the past election, with an insurrection that was promulgated by disinformation, made virulent with social media. Our country was attacked, violently, and our democratic process threatened. And the best we can do is talk about The Big Lie, when treason is at its heart. Lies have become our way of life, shame has left the building with Elvis.

We may be at the end of our time, after all, democracy is an experiment in our world history, a great one, but an experiment. Authoritarianism has been the option that folks who get tired of the messiness of democracy default to. CONTROL had become the coin of the realm. If you listen carefully, you can hear the drumbeat of “order” brought by a “strong man” pulsing on the horizon, whereas Spirit seems the ghost of a distant time. Loyalty to party seems to trump any commitment to Truth, and yes, I know what I did. And when that happens, where you gonna turn? Who you gonna call….ghostbusters? The cynicism of Bill Murray’s character seems to be emerging in me.

Is it possible for us to use this hellacious time to learn to be compassionate? We literally seem to be living in two separate universes, where truth is up for grabs. I have grown weary with the reminder that everyone can have their own opinion….but you can not have your own facts. In our country, the facts are twisted and turned to “fit” the argument being forwarded. In such a landscape, it is hard to see how we move beyond the split we seem to be wedged between.

My friend and fellow priest, Dr. Charlie Palmgren, has pushed the notion of creative interchange that exists in this Creation. It is our ability, our vocation, to interact with one another in order to produce creative ideas that will better our common life. The creative interchange process is based on the differences we bring to the dance, and in engaging with one another, we come away with a better grasp of the reality we are in.

There’s just one thing, one problem. The creative interchange process is predicated by the trust we have in one another. My observation is that we are fresh out of that, and bananas. To take it a step further, and more plainly, we have a heaping helping full of mistrust, looking for, expecting bad things from what we deem as “the other side”.

Is there anything to be done? A wave of hope crashed onto my brain to remind me of my first principle: never give up. (Thanks, Coach Valvano!)

I was reminded a a Buddhist image of the bodhisattva, a person who has achieved enlightenment, and is committed to being compassionate to others. In that tradition, the gateway to becoming more compassionate toward others is to begin with the practical focus on generosity. By practicing the attitude of gratitude for the giftedness of life, it is believed that it will transform the lens through which one sees the world.

As opposed to the lens of scarcity, in which one grabs what you can, seeing the world as a competitive field in which the endgame is “winner take all”, one takes the radical stance that the field is a shared space, where we all share in the abundance, freedom, and energy. This practice trains one to see the world with a different slant, a perspective that fills one’s soul, not blocks others by contempt.

The person of Jesus is viewed by Christians as an icon to that way of being in the world. Jesus becomes a way to see into this radical notion of the Kingdom of God, where all persons have dignity and worth due to the immutable reality of being a child of God. Worth comes with the territory as part of being a human, not something that is earned by wealth, power, or position. Jesus shows us what living our of such a radical notion looks like in flesh and blood.

While the traditions of Buddhism, Christianity, and other religions vary in the words they use and the stories they tell, the common denominator is that of compassion. Learning to practice that compassion begins in the maternal relationship, as the mother natively sees the child as their focus of attention, moving one’s attention from self concern to the “other”, in this case, one’s child. It’s the native, biological connection that drives this ability to transcend separation, to see the self in the other who has literally emerged from one’s own body. But that is not necessarily the end of such connective capacity.

This “mother’s love” is the primary human model of care and love, but can be extended to those beyond one’s natural family, to the “other” who shares space with you, in the neighborhood, at one’s business, or in the community. With practice, one is called to extend this unconditional regard to ALL people. But let’s start where we are.

Who are the people in your inner circle? Write down their names on a sheet of paper. Then, write down some notes as to their current situation in life. What are their current challenges? Can you imagine you way into seeing what their hopes and dreams are? Allow your mind, heart, and soul to reflect on each person, bringing into one’s mind the image of their face. What images, feelings emerge? And now, write down how you might extend compassion to this particular person in the near future. And then, commit to that action.

By practicing compassion with those in your inner circle, you are intentionally exercising that compassion muscle, literally training it for the work ahead.

The Buddhist practice then asks you to extend this focus to neutral beings, those with whom you interact on a daily basis in a social exchange. When I was practicing this method, I focused on the owner of the dry cleaning shop that I would see at least twice a week. I imagined his life, how his day goes, what his concerns might be, Am I 100% accurate in my assessment? Clearly not. But I am a hell of a lot closer to having compassion for him as a fellow human being than I was before my practice of focus. I found myself treating him differently, seeing him as a human, not just a utilitarian part of my day. A lot to ask? I don’t thing so, but that’s your call.

The heavy life is the next request. One is asked to bring to mind one’s enemy. Now, for me, this part is not hard. Several names leap into my consciousness. The trick is to do the perspective-taking of this “other” that is in opposition to you. What are the internal feelings, drives, wants, fears that makes them the way they are? What’s behind their words? Can you imagine what their world is like and why they do what they do? This is hard work, but the necessary work we are going to need to do if we want to move beyond the demonization and the contempt that exists in our current world. Again, the ball is in your court as to your willingness to do this hard work of compassion.

I want to try to exercise my faith by learning to practice the art of compassion with people who differ with my view of the world. I admit that my patience wears thin at times but I am committed to keep trying, so that we might find ways to engage that is respectful and compassionate. It’s a tall order, but the alternative is literally a dead end.

Our current world holds the other in contempt, cuts them out of the herd. What is your answer?

That Old SOB Can Shoot

Part of my spiritual discipline these days is sitting out back of my home here on St. Simons Island which is set in a nature preserve, just over from the Mackay River.

There, I am treated to an extravaganza of birds. I have two chickadees nesting in the church birdhouse my daughter gave me for Christmas, that my new son-in-law installed.

There are a pair of cardinals that hang at my bird feeder, gorgeous birds that make me think of my mother, who taught biology at Fulton High School, the Cardinals their team name. She had a particular affection for those birds and I like to think her spirit is visiting me in the moment. Certainly her memory does.

There are numerous other birds that come visiting me daily. Wrens, finches, sparrows,, a brown thrasher, and a red-bellied woodpecker. A hawk actually surprised me by landing of the top of a feeder hook, and asked me what time it was. Hummingbirds are a special gift as their flight pattern amazes. Part of my developing Franciscan spirituality has prompted my close attention to their habits and eccentricities, and to receive the gift of their presence reminding me of my connection to God’s Creation.

Today, my attention was snagged by two doves that have made the pine straw patch their home. They will land, with a steep vertical descent, and then proceed to walk around with their odd Chuck Berry strut, making their way around the patch, though I am not hearing any lyrics of Johnny B. Good. With any sudden movement within their presence, they take off with a mighty stroke of their wings. No wonder the church has used the image of a dove to personify the movement of the Spirit, coming and going quickly, and as it will.

When I see a dove, several images come to mind.

One is of a trip my friend, Wayne Brown, and I made to find and purchase a Labrador retriever puppy, driving from Tyler, Texas to outside Memphis, Tennessee. There was a breeder there who specialized in the English stock of Labs, with more laid back demeanors and the traditional blocky heads that I prefer. Notably, I wanted to see how the breeder handled his dogs, humanely or not. We wound up not being impressed with the man or the dogs, which meant it was a hell of a long way to travel for disappointment, but better to find out up front.

Wayne came from a Texas family tied to pointing dogs. His father had bred national champions, two winding up the Bird Dog “Hall of Fame”, Texas Squire and Texas Fight. The hall is located in Grand Junction, Tennessee where the national championship is held each year on the famed Ames Plantation. Wayne and I rented a cabin once we arrived and sat on a deck overlooking a pastoral hillside. Two bucks treated us to an loud antler fight around dusk. as we partook of Dixie dew, otherwise known as bourbon. Wayne also introduced me to a Texas treat of cream cheese covered with a Jamaican sauce named PickaPeppa. It will set you free! It was a good evening of friendship, stories, and nature.

On the way there and back, Wayne and I quizzed each other as to the birds we saw. Our biggest dispute came over identification of doves. Wayne had claimed that several birds on telephone wires were doves, to which I had to correct him that they were, in fact, common pigeons. We spent untold hours kidding each other about our ornithological expertise….even to this day. So when I see these doves, I am prompted to call Wayne or send him a picture by text, just trying to help this poor Texas boy out. And I get a peculiar hankering for PickaPeppa.

But the strongest memory of doves come from the Southern tradition of dove hunts. The opening day of dove season is always around Labor Day, meaning that the heat and humidity of summer was still in full bloom. “Sweat” is a word that springs to my mind whenever someone mentions “opening day” of dove season.

Typically, this event signals the end of summer and the momentous move toward hunting season in the South. In my world, we would gather with over a hundred people, men mostly, at some hunting preserve. In my case, it was Burnt Pine Plantation, located outside of Madison, Georgia, not far from the quaint spot in the road known as Social Circle. Bay, the camp cook, would render some of the best Southern cooking for this itchy group of bird hunters. After a leisurely meal, we would be taken to the field to positions that are assigned in a drawing.

The social time prior to the hunt was a major piece of the gig. I was usually hosted by my good friend from the Cathedral, John Miner. John often would invite a few other folks to the festivities, sometimes his clients and other times friends. It was always a treat to be with a group of compatible fellows. Rob Townes was often a part of our posse, a good seminary friend of mine who decided to get honest and just out right raise money from people. The 50-cent word he uses is “development” but it’s all about the money. And Pat Renn, a financial planner, would come, often with hunting outfits that were straight from the Orvis catalog, looking like a field-dressed Brooks Brothers model. We had us what they call in Texas “a time”.

One time in particular, John and I were at the opening day festivities by ourselves. John had suffered a stroke and although he recovered mostly, he had lost some of his peripheral vision. He was concerned that he would be unable to pick up the rapidly darting dove, follow them with his shotgun, and make the shot. As long as I had known John, he had been a remarkable shot as we tackled quail, pheasant, and turkey. I could sense his anxiety at being in the field for the first time after his stroke and wondering if he could still function. He had an uneasy look on his face that was new to my old friend.

The draw put us in spots near one another in the field so that I could see him and keep an eye on him. The action was fast and furious, as the dove began to fly, screaming across the field, beginning from a line of trees to our left. The birds were flying quickly across the field to our right, John being in the first position from where they were coming.

There were a raft of other hunters strewn on down the field. The problem for those guys was that John picked up on the birds so quickly with deadly aim, so much so that the birds never made it past John, leaving these young hunters never even getting a shot. You could tell that they were frustrated and wondering if this was going to be a bad day for their hunting dreams.

Fortunately for them, John got his limit of birds quickly which meant he would “retire” from the dove field, going back to the club house for some adult libations. As John gathered up his birds and begin to walk to the van to take us back, I overheard one of the young hunters exclaim, “Man, that old son of a bitch can shoot!” His friend agreed, using a rather derogatory phrase aimed at this elder marksman.

When John and I got back to the clubhouse, I was able to tell the story in front of the crowd, with John listening and grinning. I don’t think I had ever seen John smile as wide as that day. He smiled all the way back to Atlanta, and had that same grin when I saw him at the 8 AM Eucharist the next morning at the Cathedral. He made a point to remind me of the appellation that young man had conferred upon him….again with a grin.

It’s odd that the dove in my backyard were the prompters of memories from so long ago. The cooing birds no longer need fear me from hunting them, other than with my Canon camera or my phone sneaking a peep. They have transformed into a symbol, linking me to a memory and relationships that filled my life with a sense of abundance and connection. Wayne and John are two of the connections that I made that were clearly worth the price I paid.

As I am doing my Eriksonian life review work, I find myself remembering those relationships that form a broad mix of memories from my past. In last week’s article, I mentioned a number of palettes on which the colors of my life were blended and found expression in my experience through the various locales that formed my moveable playground. I have been impressed with the blessings of so many remarkable people who have been so generous with their love and energy. Names like John Miner flood my mind when I count those blessings of people I have been fortunate enough to meet along the long trail of my life.

Here’s an idea, not novel or ingenuous, but timely. As we are just a few weeks from summer, why not make a list of those folks in your life story that have made a difference. Then, during the lull of the summer, make a time to place a strategic phone call to check in and tell them how much they meant to you. It’s an easy task, and yields so much benefit to the person that you call. And, as the Dalai Lama talks about in his teachings, it becomes a case of being “intelligently selfish”. I love his ironic twist:

“If you like to be selfish, you should do it in an intelligent way, The stupid way to be selfish is seeking happiness for ourselves alone, The Intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the the welfare of others.” By being compassionate to others, you are, in fact, receiving a sense of well-being and making meaningful connections with other human beings who share this planet. So by calling up others, and thanking them for their contribution to your life, you not only make them feel good, but you are receiving a benefit yourself.

Think about how you might exercise compassion in this next week, in the next day, in the next hour. Do something good for someone, and then pause and check out how it makes you feel. There is a dynamic that occurs with compassion and I am betting you will receive an internal gift by your action.

That’s what happened when I told my friend, John, about what these good ol’ boys said. That’s what happened when I made a few calls to old friends this week. They felt good about my recognition of their gift to my life. But I got a good feeling for this human interaction as well.

I think that is what they call a “win-win”. “Intelligent selfishness”. Compassion. Or just good old care, being a friend.

It’s Just the Price I Pay

If I have learned anything, it is that there is a price to everything.

I used to measure that cost in terms of money. What does it cost me? Can I afford it?

Later, becoming more aware of a limited amount of the energy that I have within, I measured it in terms of how much energy something consumed. Is this worth the expenditure of energy?

And now as I age, and more aware of the limit of the time I have, I am finding myself deciding whether something is worth my time.

Bottom line, everything has a price: money, energy, or time.

How do you count the cost? What is the most important factor in determining the price you are willing to pay?

Recently, I have been reflective on the price I am paying on some specific things, namely on the things I care about, that I am pouring myself out for.

I have differentiated three areas in which to focus: person, parent, and passion.

As a parent, it is perhaps the most easily discerned as I see this as my primary responsibility that I have taken on. And, as a human being living in the world, my passions are those projects or causes that I have chosen to invest my time and energy in.

Let me turn in this week’s article with Person.

Relationship is that thing one invests in as you go through life. There are the “given” relationships that come with the territory, such a parents and other relatives. These relationships, by nature, are not chosen. Sometimes, you can’t believe how blessed you are in the relatives that you gifted with at birth. And, sometimes…..not so much.

I want to focus this week on the personal relationships that are chosen, starting back in the neighborhoods you grow up in, in schools where you begin life and figure out who you are, businesses that you interact with while doing life, institutions in which we live, move, and have our being. I have particularly been reviewing the relationships I had in my early life, of playing sandlot ball, afternoons on the golf course, riding bikes in the woods, lazy days at the pool.

I am shocked at how many deep, vibrant memories that swirl when I take time to remember. Last week, I was thinking back on my days in an elective class in urban geography at Briarwood High School in East Point, Georgia… my home town, found strangely, not east, but in South Atlanta. I could not remember the first name of the teacher, Mr. Cason, so I did the current American thing: I googled him. It took me down the rabbit hole into the cyber cavern of data. To my surprise, I came across a site that listed about a decade of students, faculty, and staff from my high school. I found the information I sought: his name was “Bob” Cason. But there was so much more. Senior pictures for five classes prior to my graduation, and probably ten classes beyond.

The site contained the “senior” pictures, collated for a reunion site for Briarwood, my high school that no longer exists except in our hearts and minds. The photo images prompted memories of people that had receded in my mind. As I perused the photos, smiles seem to resurrect as I would remember important exchanges that had formed my thinking and being. And yet, the years had put distance to the relationships that simply faded the value in my “now”. I have kept up with a few, in fact, taking pains to do so. But most are lost in a blur.

And there are pictures of the faculty, the teachers and coaches that made such an important impact on me. There were those specific teachers who seemed to invest time and energy in me as a developing person. Marie Day, the librarian who introduced me to her godfather, Dr. Benjamin Mays, and opened up the whole hall of African American scholarship and literature. Miss Plant (Audrey), in the office, who was from the central casting of Designing Women, who authorized my late passes to Padgett’s class, and was quick to pass along the latest gossip….those wacky teachers! Becky Hinkle, who captured my adolescent hormonal attention, with her enthusiasm for literature and her Katherine Ross looks. And Phil Hood, whose coolness made it okay to be smart and inquisitive. When I review my list of teachers and their fossilized photos, I am filled with gratitude for the investment that they placed in me.

At the same time I am struck by the notation on my class pictures of the red-lettered “Deceased”. I have noted the flood of friends who died between our graduation day (held in the infamous Municipal Auditorium that housed Live Atlanta Wrestling, iconic rock concerts that tuned my ear, the Atlanta Symphony, and evangelistic crusades) and the end of my freshman year in college. Automobile accidents, overdoses, depression are hard on transitioning adolescents into young adulthood. The impact of those deaths that initial year in college was profound, leaving me with an existential grasp of the sophomoric motto “Carpe Diem!” Retrospectively, that’s what I did, which proved to be exhausting, and led to my own post script of running on empty.

Those were the cards I was dealt, which seems meager when I listen to friends who went to Viet Nam, or grew up in poverty. But effect me it did. said Yoda.

I wound up investing energy in my college relationships, particularly those in my fraternity. Living with guys for four years tends to either forge strong bonds of friendship OR learning how to keep folks you dislike at a comfortable distance, even before a virus pandemic. I did both.

I lived at the Sigma Chi house for three years, connecting with some amazing people who had a broad variety of talents and interests. These guys came from all over the country, from Shaker Heights, Ohio to Koziusko, Mississippi…..explaining the names connected to those locales respectively, Greenbaum and Peeler.

And I have worked hard to maintain those relationships, convening a gathering each year in the first weekend in December at the fabled Manuel’s Tavern, the home of my Adjunct Political Science professor, Manuel Maloof. It was there that I met many of the movers and shakers of Atlanta, and many of the leaders of the remnant of the civil rights movement. The fact that there is a reserved parking space for clergy fills me with a bit of pride.

I have been blessed to have good friends wherever I have lived.

In Decatur, while I was learning my chops and figuring out this thing called “love”, I had an amazing group of folks who were trying to make sense out of being South of God, and yet wanting to find a faith of freedom and joy….live it every day! was our motto. My cadre of youth leaders set the pace with how I would come to define community in my future. And my group of roommates at Menagerie Farms on Medlock taught me many lessons that can not be recorded. Wendell, Russell, Eddie, Malcolm, and Bill were quite the menagerie, not to mention Brandy, my English Cocker, and Mr. Poe, the ghost of the former owner of the house.

At the Cathedral, there was a whole cast of characters that I shared my life with, beginning the day with prayer, gathering around the sacred coffee urn, meeting in untold numbers of meetings coordinating our common life, conversations with Judson, amazing evenings at the Cowart’s playhouse, and late afternoon debriefs at Gary and Vern’s penthouse roof garden. It was a magical time of Anglican formation, Southern style.

And, Tyler, Texas. Probably provided me the best male friends I have ever had. My fivesome golf group that played every Thursday, was a tribe that provided the kind of community that is hard to find these days. The parish itself both gave me relationships that affirmed the goodness of humankind and broke my heart. And in the wide community, I learned so much from my quixotic partners who joined me in tilting at the windmills of a traditional town that was struggling to become a city.

Coming back to Atlanta, I found a group of teachers who cared deeply for the children and adolescents they were charged to educate. They embodied the caring spirit and DNA that my friend, Elliott Galloway, installed in the school’s beginning. Providing leadership as the school stepped up to the upper-tier of prep schools in Atlanta made a difficult setting worth the journey. And I was blessed with a number of loyal, creative co-workers who tried to stretch the sense of stewardship to include both the parish and the school.

My latest group was a collection of engineers, consultants, physicians, and nurses who I worked with across the United States in the work on process improvement in healthcare, trying to make the care more compassionate and the work more efficient. It’s been exciting to journey to spend time in new locales such as Los Angeles, Montana, Iowa, Michigan, Winston Salem, and Chicago…to name a few. Urban, academic, and rural settings provide diverse cultures, ways and means of getting things done, and caring for people.

And now, I am on an island in low country Georgia. My friend, Pat Conroy, wrote rhapsodically about the seductive quality of low country life. COVID has slowed my entrance and investment, but the future is promising. I have been attending two different parishes here, thanks to Zoom. Christ Church, a historic parish dating back to the origins of the Wesley brothers and the English colony in Georgia, has been a long-time haunt of my time spent here in the Golden Isles. But, I have discovered another parish, St. Athanasius, located in downtown Brunswick, with a rich heritage of community and service. An embarrassment of riches, I might say.

Brunswick intrigues me as I explore my new city. The bifurcation of blacks and whites, rich and poor, raise old familiar questions. And the present, pressing issue of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery here in Glynn County freshens the winds of racism and privilege, and begs me to engage once again. I am looking forward to building relationships of trust that will allow for the kind of dialogue that is deepening and life-affirming.

Just tonight, I went for dinner with an old friend, Mark Jones. We were introduced a long time ago, his father a Methodist bishop, but his talent was an artist, and playing drums for my band and my productions of Godspell. Mark is also one of the funniest people of the planet. We actually once took twin girls on a double date to a college formal. And we both wound up marrying Druid Hills girls. I don’t think I have ever had a better friend, as he is loyal to a fault in having his friend’s back. He reminds me why the price I have paid for relationship with persons is worth it. We were in each other’s weddings, and have made a point of staying close. He has given me care when I needed it, and I have returned the favor. He has been a gift.

It’s timely that tonight, over a meal, a sacred gathering, we celebrated our connection through time. As I mentioned, I lost a number of my early relationships to death, which tinges each relationship with a note of reality. Every time we invest in a relationship, we are making a connection that promises, if but for a moment in time, to move us beyond our isolation and loneliness. The relationship is symbol, sacrament, to a deeper reality of connection, a holy, spiritual bond. And yet, the connection is interrupted by space, time, and finally by death. It’s the real price that one pays.

A line in French poetry that I learned long ago goes like this: Partir, c’est mourir un peu. In East Pointian translation: to part is to die a little. It’s the price we pay in the connection, knowing that it will end eventually. We invest our time, energy, and treasure And yet, in my retrospective view from this mirror of my investments of connection, it was worth the price of admission. It’s just the price I am willing to pay. How about for you?

Urban Geography, Spiritual Geography

As a senior in high school, I took a class in urban geography with Mr. Cason.

Frankly, it was an excuse to ride around the city in our cars, go to one of the first Chik-Fil-As on the planet, and goof off. That’s what I thought….that was “the deal”, as we would say.

But what happened during that one quarter made a huge impact on me.

I was paired with a fellow senior, Bron Rutkowski. Bron looked like what “Bron” sounded like.

He was a football player from Central Casting, who transferred to Briarwood in East Point from somewhere North….I want to say New Jersey, but I’d be guessing. Bron was incredibly bright, but he was cut from a different piece of cloth. I once found Bron banging his head against the locked locker room door right after we lost a squeaker football game, the last game of the season. Bron was smart enough to leave his helmet on as he was head-banging, so you have to give him that.

Bron wound up going to Rutgers for college, and played ball for the Scarlet Knights. Can you imagine being a sportscaster, getting to say “Tackle by Bron Rutkoski”? Me either.

My other memory of Bron was our sharing a picture in the annual as one of the Senior Superlatives, whatever the hell that meant. In the picture, I was seated next to Margaret Taylor, my long-time friend from Mt. Olive Elementary. She had done a superb job playing Mother Superior in our high school production, Sound of Music. Margaret is one of those childhood friends that you wish you had kept up with through life. I am fortunate to have a few of those.

Also in the picture was Tommy Elder. Legend has it that Tommy and I were both in the nursery together at Oakland City Baptist Church. Our mothers were close friends. Tommy had blond hair and mine, black. He and I would room together in seventh grade on the Safety Patrol trip to Washington D.C. where we ran into some fast women 7th graders from High Point, North Carolina. Discretion dictates that I’ll have to leave the details out. Funny, in chasing down some of this information, I was reminded that Tommy and my senior pictures were side-by-side in the annual. An odd connection that we maintained throughout our lives. He died of cancer a while back. His mother died early with cancer as well which prompted his deep questioning of the nature of this universe. I valued our conversations of depth and his pressing the envelope for answers.

And Bron rounded out the quartet, as we had our pictures taken in the furniture department at Rich’s at Greenbriar. I was in my Fall Muse’s suit that I put on my mom’s charge account…..I was a dangerous man in those days with a charge card at Muse’s……Hickey Freeman was my go-to blazer.

Bron and I took it upon ourselves to do our urban geography project to explore the changing demographics in south Atlanta. There had already begun to be some blacks moving into the Cascade Road area, which was a little north of our stomping ground. Bron and I were bright enough/stupid enough to do some interviewing in the neighborhood on Cascade. What I recall was that there was around 10% of the homes being owned by blacks, in a neighborhood that had been completely white, probably from the time Gen. Sherman drove through on his March to the Sea.

We brilliantly noted that there were a growing number of For Sale signs on the streets. That, my friends, is called “observational skills”, otherwise known as “stating the obvious”.

Bron and I, being naively innocent, decided to knock on doors and interview neighbors who had For Sale signs in their yards in order to ascertain their rationale for selling their homes. What people said can not be written here verbatim, but it expressed a sentiment that was captured in the sociological phrase “white flight”.

This was in the Fall of 1971, and there had begun a migration of white home owners out of South Atlanta to a locale further south, into Fayetteville and Peachtree City. Bron and I scientifically, for high school seniors, determined and projected that the introduction of black families into the white neighborhoods would result in the white families leaving the southside en masse. Bron and I were incredibly brilliant….or did I say that already.

And it happened pretty much as we called it. My neighborhood emptied out pretty quickly, although my folks and Danny Hall’s folks stayed until retirement. Even my white South of God church wound up selling the land and building to a black congregation as the membership dwindled as members moved south.

This whole experience got me thinking about demographics, and trends, and urban areas, and change. It’s amazing to find that high school actually made me think about the world in which I lived. From that point on, I paid attention to the population movements, how and why they changed. I was sensitive, that is, I was mindful of how we live and don’t live together as people.

I had been struck early on in my life by the quote attributed to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King: “The 11:00 hour on Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in this country.” The truth of this floored me, as I had a rather innocent view of how my faith had been presented to me. We are all God’s children, I remember the Sunday school line went. But I noticed that we sure as hell did not live together, eat together, and surely not worship together. In fact, my pastor was removed from his position due to his public stances on race, attempting to open up our church to blacks moving into the neighborhood. Some of the deacons weren’t too keen on that. So they made him a Rhodes Scholar, telling him to “hit the road, scholar!” I should have learned the lesson about the nature of church then. Guess I didn’t turn out to be all that brilliant, huh?

In college, I became more sophisticated in my analysis, studying Lyndon Johnson and the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, and notably its effect on Southern politics. I paid particular attention to the Civil Rights movement, and was amazed by the non-violence that seemed to follow the teachings of Jesus, the one I had been told that I should follow and emulate: “Be like Jesus!”, they told me. Why then were some of the Christians that I knew getting so angry and upset by the folks who were calling for rights for all people? To go to school, to vote, to live where they wanted? To be treated with dignity and respect seemed to be a bridge too far.

In seminary, I worked in my contextual ed. classes in the projects, working with black kids who had a tough way to grow up. In my first job in the Episcopal church, I worked with street people, finding them remarkably resilient, but who found it difficult to gain leverage in order to make it out of poverty. Later, I moved to Texas, behind the Pine Curtain, and found a lot of the same attitudes around race, and a divide in terms of where folks lived. And the old insight as to the 11:00 o’clock hour was true there too.

Truth is, that hasn’t changed all that much. While blacks have gained rights, we still are separated in many ways. An old black woman in Tyler, Texas, Miss Velma Mosely, asked me a question privately, not wanting to embarrass me publicly, as I was working hard to make progress in race relations in East Texas. She asked straight up: Dr. Galloway, how many blacks have you had to your house to share a meal? And my answer was embarrassing to my soul. She was talking about my home, and she was right. But my mind also contemplated my house of worship, and the altar/table there. My spiritual geography needed some work.

The issue of race that Bron and I sniffed out innocently some fifty years ago is still in play. This past year, with the shocking images of a knee on a neck of a black man by a white cop brought it into sharp focus again. It sparked a series of protests and marching in the streets of my city and across this country. And we still don’t seem to know how to talk about it, to enter into real dialogue, to learn from one another. We have a long way to go in this country, don’t you think?

This week, we got a verdict that signals police that they can not be careless in how they treat human beings. Cameras are recording these days and you just might wind up on Candid Camera, for all the world to see. Maybe if it’s too heavy a lift for our heart, our phone cameras may drive the change. It may have served notice that will make people think twice next time, but we’ll see. I just felt sad for this particular man, George Floyd, and his family. But there are many more.

Blaming, and feeling guilty doesn’t seem to be enough. We have to think this through. My grandfather who was an Atlanta cop on a black beat was a huge proponent of training. He was called on to be a psychologist, a social worker, a school counselor, an enforcer, and a servant leader….but he was a rare breed who loved people, and who took his faith seriously, particularly as an officer of the law. He was an advocate for training, as was his partner, Chief Herbert Jenkins, who led the way in progressive community policing.

To train our police better, to add persons who can respond mindfully to the myriad of issues that our public servants face on the street. To not allow bad cops to just move on to another jurisdiction, which happens all the time with no national registry. All this troubles me, but I am hoping this past year has taught us something. I am hopeful.

But what troubles me the most is what I find still true in my world. That 11:00 remains the most segregated time in our country. Maybe that’s just the way it is, the way it has been, the way it will always be. I remember that phrase from a Broadway musical, Purlie, as the old white plantation owner, the Captain, tries to ‘splain things to his innocent grandson. The way it HAS to be, the Captain says.

Race remains the number one issue that we still have to work out. Underneath it all, slavery is the original sin of our country, and we, being “good” people, had to come up with a rationale, a theology even, to support our decision to go along with it. You HAVE to buy into white supremacy in order to make your soul go along with the deal. Most folks I know won’t say that publicly, because it’s natively offensive. But, my soul is troubled that the church, us folks who say we believe in a God of love, the Creator of ALL, we just don’t seem to get it, do we? Why do you think that is?

I am now living in a county where Ahmaud Arbery was shot down while he was jogging through a neighborhood, a neighborhood not unlike the one I grew up in, an area just like the one Bron and I studied. But I am no longer innocent, nor am I naive. I know better.

That trial looms in the near future. And I have been moved to see clergy and laity of various races and traditions call for justice, to stand up for the rights of ALL people. But, I still see that 11:00 hour, with marked divisions that make me pause. I pause to think: what can I do? How can I be the change that I want to see happen? This is no academic question, no sociological query. It’s about my very soul.

When I drive around my neighborhood, on my little island, through the streets of Brunswick, in the county of Glynn, what is my way of living out the love I say I want to have for my neighbor? What, in the world, does love look like? I know it’s not simple, but Miss Velma’s question still stings about my spiritual geography. Where and who do you sit down with at the table? I am not liking my answer.

Around the Table

My early years were spent living with my grandparents. My mother had moved home following a divorce, and was teaching biology at the local high school in south Atlanta, Fulton High. The fact I was around testified to her knowing something about human biology.

As she taught, I stayed at 1388 Oakland Drive with both grandparents, my grandfather having recently retired from the Atlanta Police Force. He had been Sherriff in a western Georgia county, but resigned, not wanting to arrest his brother-in-law for moonshining.

And so he came to Atlanta, working a downtown beat and riding a cop bike, a Harley, that he loved. He was the Georgia version of John Wayne, with a bit less bravado and a hell of a lot of compassion that I hope I got a dose of. He would put Mr. Dial, the next door drunk, to bed most every Saturday night, after he had tried to tame his World War memories from inside a bourbon bottle. Mr. Dial just couldn’t quite make it home, passing out on the front lawn, and on a good night, his front porch. My granddad would pick him up, put him in his bed, and never say a judging word. “He’s got a lot of hurt in him”, my granddad would offer his home-grown clinical diagnosis.

On Sunday morning, Granddad and I would have coffee…yeah, coffee, Maxwell House, good to the last drop.. Sausage and biscuit was the treat. But we had to be quiet not to wake up my grandmother. She could be hell to pay, a noted Bible teacher who could pull out a Bible verse quicker and more deadly than a Smith & Wesson .38. Then, we would retire to his den, before there were “man caves”, to watch Gospel Jubilee on WSB television, featuring the Florida Boys and the Happy Goodmans. It’s where Iearned to love harmony, and a bit of showmanship.

At the end credits of Jubilee, we would get in his white Chevy to drive to Oakland City Baptist Church. Granddad took me with him to the “old men’s class” known as the Friendship Class.

Make note: Baptists South of God name their Sunday School classes. And I noted that the names give a clue to the nature of the gathering of human beings therein. This “old mens” class was called the Friendship Class, and that was accurate. There was a men’s class at Decatur First called the “Alert Class”, which is where my father-in-law, Dr. Bill Grimes, attended and sometimes taught. I always wondered what they were “alert” to, perhaps meanderings of our pastor from the straight and narrow. And there was the Pilgrims class, a middle aged group of adults who prided themselves in following Truth wherever it led. I remember teaching them one Sunday about contemplative prayer, introducing Thomas Merton to this group of progressive Baptists. They were “pilgrims” in the best sense of the word. I recently taught, via Zoom, a class in a Presbyterian church in Austin called the Lively Class, and they were, engaged and inquisitive, living up to their billing.

The Friendship Class was just that, comprised of Mr. Barrentine, Mr. Sellers, Mr. Boseman, to name just a few retired old men that were my grandfather’s friends. I was gifted by this group of men, who adopted me as their own. While I did not have a biological father in my house, I had an ample group of men who stood-in as my paternal presence, loving on me in a way that only a Baptist Church knows how to do.

This was in the mid-Fifties, a time in the world, particularly the South of God world, that divorce was frowned upon. It clearly meant someone was headed to Hell, usually a man, a rounder. The fact that the “boys” of the Friendship Class looked past any moral judgment and loved on me was my innocent primary experience of grace in the context of Church.

On my third birthday, my mother asked me what I wanted for my party. My answer, which she reported later, was that I said matter-of-factly, that I wanted to invite “The Boys”, referring to the Friendship Class. And so that is what happened on June 30, 1957, a gathering of the boys. There was the picnic table, the redwood type. There was a birthday cake in the middle of the table, along with a punchbowl. A photograph shows me in the arms of my granddad, surround by twenty something old men, circled around the table.

Now, I don’t know what sense you make out of this but for me, it was a prefigurement of what Church would come to mean to me. A place of grace that looks beyond cultural norms and prescriptions, a gathering of folks around a table to sense a spiritual presence, there with bread in the form of a sweet cake and wine in the form of Baptist punch. It’s just not surprise what this would mean for me, a proleptic experience of the heavenly banquet of God’s love, made real for this young boy in the love of a group of retirees.

I have continued to find that in a variety of settings, some deeply religious, and some profundly secular, though the demarcation has seemed to blur, blame it on aging eyesight or growing wisdom, moving beyond binary simplicity.

A circle of folks, around a fire on the beach at Folly Beach.

A circle of brothers in a fraternity chapter room on Fraternity Row at Emory.

At a table of co-workers at Churchill Arms in Buckhead at the end of the week.

At a table of mavericks at a bar named for Hemingway.

At the quintessential Texas roadhouse, the Broken Spoke, with convivial, dancing Episcopalians.

Around the altar at the Trappist Monastery in Conyers with seriously playful monks and under the altar in the crypt as we celebrated Christmas Eve with spirited Monk Punch and alternative Baptist Punch without the punch.

A virtual circle on a Zoom call on Sunday morning from St. Athanasius in Brunswick.

Seven moments of connection.

Seven moments of communion.

Where are the places where you get that sense of connection with something larger? Dare I ask, where do you get a moment of connection with a reality that is transcendent, something bigger than your self?

I would love to hear from you, either in the questions here or in a note to my email at drdavidgalloway@msn.com.

In my new island home, I have recently found a table, where post-vax, I gathered with an old clergy friend for lunch. What was to go an hour, became three, with this meeting place feeling incredibly Holy, in spite of touristas sipping boat drinks. I am hoping this is a sign of new gatherings, new transcendent events to add to my collection. I’ve got a good feeling about this, y’all. Blessings.