Chasing Grace

This past weekend, I officiated at the marriage of my niece, Gracie Galloway, to Chase Brown. They had been dating for twelve years, meeting at my former school, Holy Innocents Episcopal School during middle school days. You, no doubt, can imagine the ups and downs of twelve years of relationship across adolescence, college, and young adulthood. Their relationship is a testimony of tenacity and love.

It’s a storybook tale…..young caddy leading the field at Augusta, Cinderella story……wait, that’s another fairytale.

Chase asked Gracie to marry him on the lawn at Cherokee Country Club, with a video production crew discreetly hidden in the hedges. So far so good.

The rehearsal dinner was stunning at Fredricka Country Club’s Boat House, which is, for the uninformed, what we call “high cotton”.

The wedding itself was at historic Christ Episcopal Church there on St. Simons Island. The church building itself was built in 1885. Prior to that John and Charles Wesley preached underneath the live oaks there, after Oglethorpe brought his crew over from England. It had a prior church building which was desecrated by Northern Aggressors…..that’s a joke, son. Actually it was in bad shape so they decided to rebuild it.

There is a charming love story behind the building, intriguing enough to beguile visiting writer, Eugenia Price, to investigate and write the first of three novels on St. Simons, eventually choosing to make it her home. Here’s the story.

Anson Dodge came to visit St. Simons when he was only nineteen years of age. He fell in love with the island and the Christ Church parish, deciding to go to seminary and return as the small parish’s priest. In the process, he fell in love with a young woman, Ellen, and married her. Obviously, Anson was a person of passion, and I assume a romantic.

After the wedding, they went on a European honeymoon which ended unfortunately with Ellen’s death in India. Anson brought her body back to St. Simons, and dedicated his resources in building the new church building in her honor. In an odd Gothic style twist, he placed her body underneath the altar so that he might be near his beloved as he celebrated the Holy Mysteries of Communion. Later, the body was moved and placed in the church graveyard, where they are buried side-by-side. And so it is with that legacy of love, Christ Church offers a holy setting for the vows to be made between two mere mortals, caught in the romantic spell of love.

It is a stunning setting, built with local heart pine boards by shipwrights whose expertiste left a navicular look to the structure, more so than any other church I have ever been in. The wood dates back to 1885, with only a natural patina giving color to the structure. Painted stained glass adds some powerful images of biblical stories, along with tasteful lighting that adds a traditional caste to the setting. The small size of the space only adds to the intimacy, and I can not imagine a better place to exchange any kind of vows, blessing new life, or marking the end of a human’s journey. It defines “holy space” for me.

Honored by Gracie’s request that I officiate, I had two pressing concerns. The first was that I not stumble coming out of the sacristy, using my cane to steady my legs functioning without a quad tendon. The betting odds were mixed between Las Vegas and my nephew, John. My son bet against me, smelling a sure thing and windfall profits to assist in the promotion of his new album. But the old boy came through, moving stealthily across the front of the church, finding the security of a podium to hold onto, thanks to the kindness of the sexton and the church ladies. My liturgical stroll was not quite like my reckless romp of abandon when I would single-hand my sailboat the Galway Harp, in all kinds of blows, with no fear of falling. Those days are long gone, but I made it. One goal down.

The second goal was to move beyond the social trappings of the moment and drill down into the bone marrow of the vows. I said it, not looking for a laugh, but emphasizing the degree of difficulty of what was going on in the small holy space….wedding vows. Two sentient beings making solemn vows to one another, in the context of God and the community. It is a covenant, a triadic commitment between two people, and the God that gave them life, and the community that surrounds them. I did not want Gracie and Chase to miss this.

In the Episcopal liturgy, it is stated that God created marriage as a way to bring joy to God’s creatures. Now, this is an important starting point: God intending joy for those in God’s creation. It wasn’t on a bad day without coffee when God thought up marriage. It was not just to subjugate the physical passions of humans as one Baptist Sunday School teacher and one coach tried to lay on me. It was for JOY….imagine that.

I think about my two kids. I was with a bunch of fellow parents at this wedding. After they were inebriated, plied by wine, champagne, and an adult elixir, brown or clear, they began to opine about their kids, children that we watched grow up together. Now these children are adults, and the question is not about their accomplishments and conquests, but it’s about their happiness. As parents, we naturally and natively care about their joy. It’s in the way we are wired, the Divine imprint that we share with our Creator. That’s a worthy starting point when you start to ponder about God and your relationship with your Creator. God wants joy for you… amazing supposition.

And so, a church full of people gathered to witness these vows. And as a part of the Episcopal liturgy, I asked them if they would do all in their power to support Gracie and Chase in their life together, and they responded, with a little help from the old priest, “We will”. And we did so because we are like God in this way. We want joy to abound for this young couple.

After the vows, we made out way to The Vine for a reception, a venue managed by my own daughter, Mary Glen, who was a nervous wreck trying to make sure things were perfect for her cousin, Gracie. My brother and I have been most fortunate to have our families in close proximity after he began his career in Omaha and I was in the Lone Star State. We both made it back to Atlanta for most of the child raising, giving “the cousins” a gift of life together. Watching the six of them at the reception brought a smile, and led me to make a note to my brother as to what a smart move it was, what geniuses we were. It’s easy for us to agree on that.

The band was killer, 1st Generation, a band out of Atlanta, got the old folks out on the dance floor with some classic Motown and grabbed the younger crowd with some Bruno Mars and Uptown Funk, my favorite. “If we show up, we gonna show out, smoother than a fresh jar of Skippy.” Words to live by.

My fabulous sister-in-law, Cathy, provided some stunning party favors that lit up the night and the dance floor. It was a party her Illinois parents enjoyed, leaving me wishing that my folks could have been there to celebrate the love Gracie has found. It was a good night.

There is a line in the prayers that always seems powerful. May those witnessing these vows find their own vows strengthened and their loyalties confirmed. That was definitely true for me on that special night on this coastal island of Georgia. I like to imagine that Anson and Ellen, and Olin and Doris, maybe even Glen and Glennie May were looking down on the events of that night and experiencing joy. Maybe so.

Blessings on Gracie and Chase as they begin their journey as wife and husband in the covenant of marriage. I’m betting on them.

What is a Coach?

I have been asked recently, what is a coach? Where to begin? First, I am one. I think I’ve always had a coach’s heart, encouraging, pushing, urging one on to one’s potential. I coached young people playing soccer. I have coached basketball, leading a wrecking crew of football players trying to find some gracefulness with the round ball. I have coached young clergy beginning their work of ministry. And I have coached leaders in healthcare and in the non-profit world. After formally studying and going through training, I have been certified as a coach by the International Coach Federation, so I got that going for me…which is nice.

Coaching is one of the helping professions. I have been a therapist, a pastor, a professor, a spiritual director, and most recently a consultant. But coaching is different. Coaching is probably most like that of a therapist in that it pairs persons in a helping relationship.

But coaching is different than therapy. When I was a therapist, there is a presupposition that people are coming to me because of some problem, be it deep in the psyche, boiling on the surface, or in many cases, both. It could be a problem in the self, in the couple, or in the family. As a psychotherapist, my focus tended to be on the presenting problem, understanding how the past affects and forms the present, and helping the person cope with living in the now.

I took on the role of consultant which is somewhat like a therapist for an organization, and I did that work with congregations, dioceses, bunches of bishops (that I call a gaggle, on my good days), a school, a non-profit, and even a city.

Therapy presumes pathology. “Houston….we have a problem.” Something has gone wrong and it needs attention. Therapy tends to focus on the past in order to get a handle on what is influencing the issues in the Now moment. I have found this work fascinating as one must excavate the early relationships and attachments, or lack of, to understand what is going on in the present.

Coaching is more attuned to unlocking the potential for the future. There is a positive attitude to coaching that presumes that persons are naturally potentiated to actualize their gifts and hopes. The mantra in the coaching world is that humans are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. That’s a mouth full, but more importantly, it fills the mind and attitude of the coach with an optimism for the future of the client. The exciting part of coaching is unlocking the possibilities for the person one is coaching. The presumption is that everything the person needs is inside, waiting to emerge, rather than the therapeutic expectation of pathology.

Pathology that needs to be dealt with; potential that needs to be developed. That is the difference in the classical way in which the literature describes therapy versus coaching. My way of doing coaching seems to be a hybrid of the two, a mix, a mash up of what seems to me to be true about the humans I have known, the people I have experienced, the persons I have encountered. There is both potential and pathology in all of us.

And I know this even more with the experience of my own damn self. As I engage in self-reflection and try to enhance my most important attribute, self awareness, I am profoundly reminded of both my gifts and my liabilities. I am simultaneously broken and whole, combined in a magical, mystery known as my self. I am connected to a past that forms me genetically and psychically in ways that I will never transcend. There are some wounds that I have received that may heal but the scars remain. This has to do with the reality of my past which is now a given. My mirthful way of playing with this determinism is that I am a six foot three inch male with a linebacker’s physique. It’s a good bet that I am not going to be a jockey next year at the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. I have limitations. It’s part of the reality that I trailer around in my body and psyche. It’s a given.

At the same time, I am full of potential. I have an amazing mind, as does most humans, that has the capacity to imagine a future that is loaded with possibilities. I have the inherent gift of a human being of being able to decide, that is, to make choices. I can exercise agency in determining how I spend my time and where I want to be. Of course, this is within limits, tally ho. My point is that we are a mixed bag of tricks that we trundle forth through our world.

The assumption in coaching is that the person to be coached is the same as the one who coaches. There is no false assumption that sometimes occurs in the therapeutic milieu that one member is sick and the other is whole. Given what I know of other therapists and shrinks, this is more than a false assumption but it is, in fact, the presumed reality brought by many patients to the therapeutic room.

In coaching, there is no advantage, certainly not an ontological one. Rather, the coach comes alongside, my favorite image of coaching, in order to add a perspective to the isolated perception of the other. This is what the coach is selling. It’s all he/she really has to offer. An additional set of eyes that grants depth perception to reality that goes beyond the flat, one dimensional look of the solitary other. The coach may have some expertise in certain areas but the gift the coach brings is a process of pausing the action, calling attention to what is going on, surfacing options that may not be evident, assisting the other that one has come alongside to make decisions, and then to offer a structure of accountability.

This description of a coaching encounter is a schema of most coaching sessions I engage in, be it a regular session with a CEO of a large two billion dollar healthcare system, a session with an Episcopal priest seeking to guide her parish to an agreed upon goal, be it an Operating Officer maneuvering his organization through a change initiative, a young pastor seeking to discover his leadership capacity, a senior clergy person who is ready to retire from parish ministry but wants to explore what’s next, or a middle aged woman struggling to write the next chapter of her life following the ending of the last. The form is the same but the content is wildly and wonderfully different. It’s probably why I love my work.

Again the process is relatively simple.

Situate: where are you now in your life? I love the Marvin Gaye existential press: what’s going on?

Search: What are you going to do with your one wild and wonderful life? to borrow an image from poet Mary Oliver.

Shift: What changes are you needing to make and willing to invest in?

Sustain: How am I going to rearrange my life so as to make this new reality possible and able to be maintained as I move into the future?

My role and my expertise is in this process, helping another human being move, stumble, fall, dance through this process of becoming. Perhaps it is to become the leader one has dreamed of being. Or maybe it’s the negotiating a change in life structure that will be more fulfilling. Finding a new path of promise in this new time of life. Working my way through the process of forming a team of colleagues that is world-beating. This in the stuff of life, and it is, indeed, what we make it.

I am associated with several groups, association of coaches. One is the professional certifying group, the International Coach Federation, that regulates this work and sets ethical standards of the work. The Clergy Coach Network is a group of trained clergy who reach across denominational lines and offer coaching to both clergy and lay leaders. The Coach Training for Leader is a group of trainers who offer learning opportunities to people interested in coaching. And then I have my own group of folks who are some of the smartest, most caring folks on the planet, who are dedicated to the development of people, building capacity, accelerating transformation, and making a difference.

If you find yourself wanting to grow as a person, to develop as a leader, or explore you next chapter, coaching may be the best way to take the proverbial next step. Write to me at and I’ll be happy to help connect to a person who can come alongside and assist you in deciding your next steps on this journey of life.

What is calling you? What prompting have you ignored that needs tending, some attention? What’s next for you in the wild and wonderful life? Coaching can offer an intentional way to move into this next chapter of your journey. I’d be honored to help.

For All the Saints….

Halloween means different things to different people. For me, it literally is the Eve of All Saints Day. That ‘s the day the Church remembers that we are connected with those who have gone before us. There is an icon that shows a wide variety of saints down through the ages who form the “cloud of witnesses” that have contributed in their their time to the legacy of the Church. On All Saints, we think of the spiritually connective tissue that links those of us in the Now to our past. And in my reflection, I also add the link to those who are to come in the future, the people who will be celebrating All Saints Day one hundred years from now, a thousand years from today. That gives me a sense of gratitude for the past and a sense of hope for tomorrow.

I come to a deep sense of that connection to the past when I visit the monastery in Conyers where there is a place behind the church where the monks are buried when they die. I have attended a number of those liturgies of “The Burial of the Dead” there in this holy plot of land.

When a monk dies, the body is washed, placed in the monk’s habit, and then put on a bier and placed in the Church where vigil prayers are kept through the night, a monk always present by the side of the deceased brother, chanting the Psalms. This vigil lasts through the night until on the next day when a Funeral Mass is held by the community. After the liturgy, the body is taken by the community outside for a blessing and then is lowered into an earthen grave, to join the graves of brothers who had also been in the community.

It is a very REAL moment as the body has not been embalmed, so there is no hiding from the gray, lifeless pallor of the skin. Rather than the heavy make-up and lighting effects that I grew to detest in Southern funeral homes, this stuff is in-your-face reality. The monk is dead, at least the body is. A simple shroud envelops the monk as he is lowered into the Georgia red clay.

The only stage prop is the Pascal Candle, which is the very same candle that was carried into the darkened church on Easter morn, a single light that proclaims that light has overcome darkness, and there is an experiential recognition that goes way beyond our Hallmark Card, Cadbury Egg Easter extravaganzas. In this moment, this simple, single candle delivers a message of hope in the middle (“midst” for you South of Gods) of ding-dong death.

One of my Flannery O’connor moments came when I was officiating at the funeral of a dear friend, a South of God minister, Hank Durham. Hank had been a part of a Bible study group that met at the monastery to translate the Gospels from the original Greek into English, even if our rendering had a distinctive drawl. I have written about this group of men, half Baptist ministers and half Trappist monks. We would meet monthly for many years, and the fruits of friendship, understanding, and scholarship were priceless. Through the time, Hank became a valued friend. I was so honored that his wife asked me to join my pastor, Dr. Estill Jones, in officiating at the funeral.

When Estill and I walked out for the service, Hank’s copper-colored coffin was in the center of the sanctuary of the chapel. All was in order until we got to the front of the casket. There before God and everyone was a flower arrangement, which is not out of the ordinary in and of itself. Such is the custom in the South of God funeral. No Paschal Candle to which I referred earlier, but a flower arrangement.

But this floral arrangement was “special” as the SNL Church Lady would opine. It was a flowered white cross. Okay so far. But in the center was a red plastic toy telephone, with the receiver off the hook, with a banner proclaiming “Jesus Called”.

Estill and I turned toward the front of the chapel so that the congregation could not see the two of us laughing. I would swear I heard Hank laughing from within the casket. We stood for some time, trying to compose ourselves in this most solemn moment. The congregation, no doubt, marveled at the deep spirituality of this short-tall mixed pair of ministers pausing in reverence., where, in fact, we were laughing our asses off.

Finally, we turned to face the congregation, with Estill muttering the opening lines of the rite. Humor, retrospectively, is most appropriate as it takes as its root, humus, of the earth, dirt. For from dust we come and to dust we shall return, comes to mind. Our bodies are ultimately fallible and will cease to function with heartbeat and breath. We are marked by death from our first breath, but the Church audaciously places the mark of the Cross, as a proclamation of Life, not death.

On this All Saints Day, my mind returned to the saints buried in the simple graveyard of the monastery, with a concrete cross to mark this person beneath, decomposing in the clay, as Christ’s own forever. Quite a claim.

It made me think of some specific saints that I knew from that group of monks, these holy persons living with a vow to follow the Christ in his way of being, servanthood.

Folks like Patrick, who was a New York cop before he heard a call to the monastery to radically seek a connection to God. His story is told in the popular travel narrative, Blue Highways.

Father Anthony, a charismatic priest who was popular among the laity of the area, who had a gift of healing. He ran the retreat house for years and did not suffer fools. Ask me how I know this.

Gus, was the abbot, an actual friend of Flannery, recorded in her journals and letters. He was the monk who allowed me to come to the monastery to write and try on my vocation as a possible monk. He is also the monk who laughed out loud when I confessed that I could not fade that celibacy thing.

Joachim was the most joyful person I have ever known It was my treat of helping Joey set up the creche for Christmas. He had a special devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary and instilled in me a special appreciation for her receptivity that I am trying to embrace.

This past year, Father James, a highly regarded spiritual writer died and is on my mind for his passion for communication. He attempted to convey the monastic spirit in a way that might be accessible to folk who live in the normal nine-to-five world.

Similarly, this year, my pastor, Dr. Estill Jones died at ninety-six years of age, after teaching New Testament at the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky and pastoring churches in Georgia. His contribution to the formation in my development is incalculable. He put up with my probing questions and encouraged my explorations of faith. For a man short in stature, he made up with his giant spirit. I loved him as a spiritual father.

And so All Saints comes and goes. A reminder of our deep connection with those who have come before us. We rest in the cloud of witnesses who have formed the larger tradition, but sense and remember the specific ones that have touched our brief lives with their care and love.

All Saints brings into sharp focus those folks who have touched us. But why not do that on a more frequent manner? Why not pause, even after the day itself, after the glucose coma of Halloween has subsided and focus on the ones that have touched us deeply?

Who are the people that spring from the rest of their graves in your memory, not to haunt, but bless your lives with love, care, even laughter? As my friend the owl outside my window prompts me, Who?

Didn’t Your Mama Teach You That?

Emotional Intelligence is a shorthand way of talking about how you get along with others. There’s lot more to it, but bottom line, it’s about how you bring the person you are into interaction with the people you deal with in business, your work environment, your social community, and even your family.

I use Emotional Intelligence in my consulting work with leaders. I have talked about it in lectures and teachings. The coaching I provide and the training I do begin and end with an appreciation for the role of Emotional Intelligence. Finally, I use a heaping helping load of Emotional Intelligence in my life, just getting through the work of the day and the tender of the night.

I am thankful to my Mama and my grandmother for teaching me these basics of how you treat other people with respect, as fellow human beings that have inherent worth. That notion of dignity and worth is forged into the Baptismal Covenant I signed onto when I aligned myself as a follower of Christ. And even the country I call “home” asserts from its very beginnings that all people are created equal, endowed with rights, even though we are struggling still to make that real in our common life. I have been able to refine that attitude and those skills in the years beyond the training my family, tribe and country gave me, but it really comes down to how you regard and treat others, just like my Mama told me.

Didn’t your Mama teach you that? Or somebody else with some common sense? The answer I get from many people I work with is “No”, either formally or by their actions as they struggle to get along. They seem baffled by the most simple interactions that some people do simply, natively.

Let me give you a flesh and blood example.

I was doing a consulting gig at a healthcare system in a large Northern city. This system was bleeding financially to the point that their viability for the future was in question. The leadership team had a Chief Operating Officer (COO) that had a bad reputation for treating his staff badly. This reputation had gotten legs, making its way to the group of Catholic nuns who ran the board. The Sisters felt that this man did not understand the mission of the hospitals and needed to have his career redirected, or in common speak, fired.

My colleagues and I found that he was, in fact, the only one on the executive team who kept an eye on accountability and financial responsibility. I find that is true in many families and teams in business: someone had to take on the role of Enforcer. Without him, the doors of the hospital would have been shut long ago. I convinced the nuns to hire me to train him how to behave in a way that would not leave a trail of blood in his wake. But I also took time to inform the Sisters that without people like him, there would be no mission. The hospital would have to shut it’s doors as it could not afford to operate. It would be shut down. Or as I taught the nun who looked like she could have been from central casting in the Blues Brothers, “No Bucks, No Mission!”. I loved it when this Sister borrowed my phrase when she spoke to a hospital leadership group assembled. She had what I call “stroke” or influence. She made the point much better than me. As the Blues Brothers had said it earlier: We’re on a Mission from God! Now, we have to find a way to fund it!

When I began working with this COO, I quickly found that he was a great guy. What was getting in his way was a story that he had been told in his business school, reinforced by many in the business academy of his industry and time. Here it is: the Chief Operating Officer should be the sternest, strictest person on the staff, cutting no slack, demanding that people tow the line, namely, the “bottom line”. Now, this speaks to part of the reality of the job description in terms of a COO driving productivity. But HOW one does that work is variable. This guy thought that it meant that he had to be the “baddest ass” in the hospital, and so he took on a persona of a hard driver without a heart aka The Enforcer.

And so I entered the scene as his coach. While the work was framed in terms of leadership coaching, I was basically working with him in the area of EQ, that is, Emotional Intelligence, which involves how one interacts with one’s peers. Basically, my work with him was about a mindset shift, plus some immediate feedback around the way he led meetings and interacted with peers and direct reports.

My intervention and input provided new options for how he might do his job, widen his repertoire of skills in terms of leadership. The feedback I was able to give to him as I shadowed him in meetings held up a “mirror” so he could catch himself and “see” how he was interacting in the moment. This magical combination woke him up to a new way of being a leader in the organization. The proof of his personal transformation was in the results as he turned around his 360 evaluations with his coworkers experiencing him as a new person who treated them differently.

Truthfully, he had been given an image of a COO as being the a person without a heart. He was natively a good man, so all he had to do was to realize he could treat people with respect and still drive for metrics and accountability.This was such a relief for him to discover that he could be himself and still make his productivity goals. The result was a much happier work place for him and his colleagues. His coworkers were pleased, the Nuns were thrilled, and he was more satisfied with his role in the organization.

When I was leaving the engagement, he seemed anxious as to how he would continue without my support. I explained how he had introjected me into his psyche as a result of his coaching, that I would remain with him in his mind, prompting him even when I was not physically present. Still unsettled, he pushed, “But what about in a board meeting, where I often get into trouble?” My advice was simple and direct, just the way he liked it: whenever you are thinking about saying something in the meeting, simply ask yourself “does this make me look like an asshole?” and if the answer is “yes”, don’t do it! He and I both laughed. When I check in with him quarterly, that is either the opening or closing comment: How you looking?

Truth is, Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is at least as important as cognitive ability, usually measured as IQ. The good news is that EQ, unlike IQ, can be trained and increased with attention to that dimension of a person. I use an amazing assessment tool to give a baseline of what is the current capacity a person is bringing to the dance. From that starting point, we begin a process of training in which the person attends to his interactions with other persons at work or in relationships. An added 360 component, which adds an assessment by one’s peers, can add a powerful reality check and a measure of progress in one’s EQ development.

Emotional Intelligence has been on the business scene since 1995 when psychologist, Daniel Goleman, wrote a book on how our emotions show up in our business and work. Now an accepted concept in business schools, EQ has been studied and received attention by academics and practitioners who are interested in how this dimension of human capacity can increase effectiveness, and therefore productivity, resulting in a very real impact on the proverbial bottom line.

Emotional intelligence looks specifically at the self perception of the person. It concerns how the person regards oneself, including an awareness of both strengths and weaknesses. EQ refers to how aware one is of one’s emotions, what’s going on internally as one enters the scene of planning and interaction. And , EQ is interested in the orientation one has as to one’s continuing development and improvement.

This sense of self is expressed to the outside world in the form of observable emotions within the context of relationships, both at work and in personal relationships. One’s assertiveness and independence is noted as well as how one shows empathy for the perspective of others, and to groups one is in, such as a team.

Further, emotional intelligence looks at the way in which one make decisions in terms of problem solving and reality testing. Notably, one’s impulse control is in play as decisions are made and actions are executed. How do you do what you do?

Again, the encouraging news is that one’s EQ can be increased with attention to certain dimensions of your self and ways of relating with others. If you are interested in Emotional Intelligence and how it plays into your work or in your relationships, I recommend an accessible text, The EQ Edge, by Steven Stein and Howard Book. If you are wanting to work with someone in the context of coaching, contact me and I be happy to help you increase your awareness of EQ and assist you in your development. It can make a world of difference. How you looking?

Till Death, Do You Part!

The traditional vows of marriage, concluded by the phrase, “till death do you part” always seemed jarring to me. Why introduce the hardest reality of life, that is, our death, our looming finitude, into this most romantic, illusory notion of endless love. Why not play along with the fluffy proposition of romantic love, riding off into a horse-drawn carriage of eternal joy?

In my Episcopal tradition, we now say “until we are parted by death” but it does little to muffle the blare of the trumpeting reminder of our mortality. And maybe that is the Church’s wisdom in injecting a smidgen of reality into the fantasy of the fairy tale…and they lived happily ever after. My play on words in my title attempts to suggest this truth: marriage is work. As a couple, you better be ready to do your part, that is, the work of relationship.

Intrigued by the new Showtime show, Couples Therapy, I began to reflect on ten years of my life consumed by offering couples therapy for those at the Cathedral who were preparing for the marriage rite as well as those who had already “tied the knot” and were now in a full-tilt struggle with making it work.

But I have a more personal prompt on nuptials. I keep looking on my calendar to a day in November circled in red, the Saturday I will be officiating at the wedding of my niece, Gracie. Last year, I did the same for another niece, Annie, who married Kevin in the historic courthouse on the Square in Decatur. So weddings are on my mind.

In a few weeks, I will have the honor of officiating at my niece’s wedding at Christ Episcopal Church on St. Simons Island. I have watched Gracie grow up, watching the infamous “cousins” play together, as my brother’s and my family lived in close proximity, go to the same church and school together. In today’s dispersed world, this is a blessing that I cherish deeply.

I got the rare chance to watch these six Galloway kids enjoy the joys and pains of childhood, play in the emerald waters of the Gulf, walk the coastline of Maine, negotiate the vagaries of adolescence, move into the tentative identities of college,.and emerge into their life vocations. I got to see Gracie take on the mantle of “teacher”, a profession most noble, one shared by my mother and wife. To my amazement, Gracie’s work as teacher is in the very building in which I went to elementary school, located in South Atlanta, formerly Tull Waters, now a Knowledge is Power charter school. Gracie has emerged as a passionate teacher who loves the children she works with in a way that make me proud.

Gracie met Chase, her fiance, at our school, Holy Innocents, and have been connected for “a spell”, as we say in the South. I love them both and am confident in their decision to take these vows before God, their families, and the community. It will be a high point for me in that historic church to witness that union and pronounce them as partners in life. It will be treat to see these two I love move even more intentionally into their joined futures. So you see, marriage is on my feeble, old mind. Did I already mention that already? God, aging is a bitch.

Very rarely in my career did I have the gift of having that deep personal connection with the couples that I joined in Holy Matrimony. At the Cathedral where I served, one of THE popular places to be married, couples would stream in after Christmas engagements to claim their spot in the marriage schedule. It was a competitive, strategic, even vicious moment getting the “right” date, meaning no home football games.

The number of weddings was overwhelming. It resulted in three weddings a week, with a service at High Noon, four in the afternoon, and seven in the evening. This translates into three rehearsals on Friday night as well. This meant around one-hundred and fifty weddings a year. That is a daunting number in and of itself. But in the Episcopal Church, a priest is required to provide premarital counseling for each of these couples being married in the church. This translated into about 600 premarital counseling sessions during that year. God, I love math.

A lot of people think the Church requires the premarital sessions as a kind of a “test” to see if the couple is “worthy” for marriage. Some old priests (back before I was one) used to tell me that the premarital counseling requirement was instituted to make fevered couples pause and think it over before they make the proverbial mistake of a lifetime…..can you say Elvis Wedding Chapel? That makes some sense, but I had a deeper purpose for premarital counseling as a unique opportunity to prepare the couple for what was on down the road, beyond the glitz and excitement of the wedding day.

I pause to note that not all priests are trained in couples therapy. The fact that most Episcopal priests are married and have some experience with the overwhelming bliss of matrimony adds some positive aspects to the counseling, as opposed to celibate priests, although my experience with priests and marriage isn’t all that commendatory.

Some priests, like myself, received specific training in marriage therapy. I was trained as a marriage and family therapist before and after my ordination and had worked as a couples therapist for some time. Other priests had no formal training and basically cobbled together some folk wisdom and bad jokes about the vicissitudes of marriage. So, to address this lack of training, as well as the sheer numbers of weddings, I came up with the notion of doing a monthly workshop that would not only fulfill the requirement of the canon law, but would provide a higher quality of counseling and training.

We offered a Premarital Workshop that was held on one Saturday per month. The priest that was to officiate the wedding could have an initial meeting with the couple to get to know them. Then referring the couple to the workshop, the priest could see the couple after the workshop to see if there were any residual issues and to finalize the plans. This worked out well for the other priests on the staff of the Cathedral but was also extended to the wider diocese of Atlanta as a resource available to them. Smart priests took advantage of this offer. I understand that the workshop continues to happen some twenty five years later.

The workshop itself was comprised of didactic material focused on a wide variety of topics. Communication, basic conflict resolution skills, and the predictable issues in the development of relationships were covered. Unique to our program was an opportunity for a number of marriage and family therapists to spend time in groupings of couples to review their family of origins. The family that one comes from imprints a memory on the children who unconsciously try to repeat some of the same styles and behavior that they learned. Sometimes, persons express a desire NOT to be like their parent’s way of doing marriage, but the power of the unconscious is not to be minimized.

I has an entire lecture based on how my wife and I tried to recreate our respective family’s way of sitting at dinner table. My wife’s family employed a more hierarchical style, seated at a rectangular table, father at one end, mother at the other, closer to the kitchen. The time of the meal was precise, based on the physician father’s return home.The kids sat in birth order, and spoke only when spoken to by the parents, with a board meeting feel. I called it a 50’s family style.

My family sat at a round table, where people’s place was determined by the time one arrived, which tended to be pretty random. The conversation was more of a free-for-all with my extroverted mother orchestrating the festivities while my introverted dad looked on. It seemed to typify the 60’s spirit, sort of Woodstock at dinner. Needless to say, Mary and I had some work to do to get ready for our family. We wound up with a hybrid of the two, using an oval table.

All couples have a difficult piece of work when they first get together figuring out how they will make their particular relationship work for the long haul. It is negotiation of the highest order and the members of this duo have had little training. I know I was shocked at the statistics that point out a 50/50 chance of a marriage succeeding or ending up in divorce, regardless of it occurring within the context of a holy space or a civic office. What does make a difference is a time of preparation which prepares a couple to negotiate the transition from a informal relationship to that of a committed marriage.

By the way, one of my greatest victories in priesthood was a marriage that did NOT happen, thanks to the premarital counseling. The couple was clearly mismatched in terms of values and long-term goals. My office became a safe place for the couple to discuss that hard reality and make the difficult decision to call the wedding off! Then the hard work began: how do we break it to our parents? Recently, I saw the intended groom’s picture on Facebook, grinning, as he stood with his wife and four gorgeous kids. I love it when it works!

I instituted a practice when I was a young eager priest to have my assistant call and schedule an appointment for any couple I married for what I termed as a 12,000 mile check up at the end of a year of wedded bliss. In this interview, I “checked under the hood”, asking about how they have negotiated independence from their family of origin, how they were doing sexually, how they were handling finances, how they managed conflict, how they continued to have fun. This was a mere list to start the conversation which might surface hidden concerrns.

You see, every couple thinks they have the perfect marriage, particularly the younger they are. No one wants to be the first to admit it’s not perfect, that they married the image, or persona, presented by the other and now it was breaking into them it is not all as planned. I always try to warn couples of this reality before they sign on the line in blood, but they never believe me. THEY will be SPECIAL!….and they are not, trust me.

I found that my “check up” sometimes flushed out some good issues in time to correct before a deathly crash. Insight, cognitive skills, and emotional intelligence helps in this work but it’s still a bit of a crap shoot.

Once people make it beyond the first two years, there are other predictable times when marriages tend to founder. One of the first hurdles is the introduction of children into the equation. First, it tends to resurface family of origin issues as each member of the partnership assumes their family did it the right way OR they are reactive with a fervant vow that they ccrtainly would not repeat the grievous error thrust on them. Either way, there is some work to be done to form a parenting partnership.

This parenting will evolve through the developmental stages, so there is constant renegotiation. For my parenting partnership with my wife, her tendency to structure and provide care was perfect for the childhood phase. What a great job and firm foundation of present care she gave our two children. I found that I, in my comfortableness in ambiguity, was better suited for the rodeo known as adolescence. I was happy that we could tag-team this work and get them through this tough time of growth.

There are other seasons of change, signaled by the major shifts of the constellation of family. Empty nest presents a whole new set of issues for the couple, who must now refocus attention on the relationship. The death of the parents present another set of responsibilities as well as a psychic reality that may be troubling. Finally, retirement and aging present a new landscape of possibilities and challenges that confront the once carefree couple with some hard notes of reality.

A parting note in my journey through the course of coupling is to remind you that there is really no place we learn how to do this. There are very few courses that help us to negotiate this challenging course of our lives together. Using an “other” with no-agenda can give a couple an invaluable eye that brings some objectivity to the issues that arise. I have seen marriage therapy save marriages, and more importantly, assist the evolution of a relationship into a healthy couple, with happy partners.

You might take a look at the Showtime series I mentioned at the beginning to see how couples therapy can go. While your relationship may not be as exotic as they ones that hit prime time, it is an important part of your life if you are in relationship. Finding a good couple’s therapist or coach can help you invest the time and energy into your relationship and make for a healthy, joyful future. Marriage is intended for joy, “mutual joy” the marriage rite says, but if you look it in the fine print, it is also work. So as I cleverly put it is the title, do your part!

Everything I Needed to Know About Ministry, I Learned At Folly Beach

For the last few weeks, I have written about Folly Beach and the youth retreat I led there for four years back in the late 70s. As I have noted, I was flying blind when I began, aided by a stellar group of adult sponsors of the youth group, and by an extraordinary group of young people who were open to the experience of community.

After thirty years of work as a minister and an Episcopal priest, I reflected on my life and work, surprised by one insight in particular that emerged. I discovered that I had been using the learnings of my first four years of leadership in youth ministry, distilled in my summer youth community work, for the entire span of my life.

As I now spend my time teaching and coaching ministers and priests across a variety of traditions, I thought it might be useful to share these insights in an abbreviated form. And for those of you who are parts of Christian communities, you might find this interesting to reflect on the state of your current group of believers. Surprisingly, these principles have been applied during my years of consulting in healthcare and other organizational development work in a variety of industries and non-profits.

I will keep the insights brief, urging you to contact me if you are wanting more specific details or additional experiential notes.

One: Vision- A clarity of where you want to go, or what you want to accomplish is the sine qua non, that is, in plain common sense, if you don’t do this, you are going to fail. Vision is the leader’s work of articulating what you are attempting to do in the work you are doing. In educational design parlance, it is your learning objective. In my break down talk it’s simple: it’s “what you want?” Keeping clear about this is important in most areas of life, a Ferris Buehler maxim, if you will.

For me at Folly, my desire was to provide an intentional experience of community while on a retreat to a beach setting. This represented a change from how this week was spent in the past, basically a free week of fun in the sun in a beautiful setting. There’s nothing wrong with a fun week of downtime, but I wanted more out of what I viewed as “prime time”. I was clear as to what I wanted but needed to sell my leaders on the notion, particularly in the first year which was to be a major change. I also needed to sell the young people as they had little expectation of the week other than a tan. I wanted to bring about a deeper change in the group and in each individual.

Making such a change happen is not an easy thing to accomplish. Luckily, I was naive and didn’t know what a long shot success was when I began this event. Obviously, my timing was just right and it came together. But in the real world, apart from Folly mojo, such clarity and planning through change is essential. And clarity of vision, its clear articulation, and careful building of a supportive scaffolding to support its execution is critical. I have spent most of my life studying the process of change in people, marriage, groups, and organizations, and there are some principles that make things move more smoothly, with the least amount of your blood on the floor when the counting is done.

Two: Always be clear as to the “Why?”. Every major change represents a movement away from the status quo, that is, what people are familiar with. Change entails moving away what is comfortable and moving to something new and unfamiliar. My experience suggests that people who can tolerate this, much less like it, are few. My mother put a sign up in the church’s infant nursery that quoted the Book of Revelation: We Shall All Be Changed. When I asked her about it, my biologist mother said that no one likes change, except babies with dirty diapers (I am cleaning her image up for you sensitive types) and even they aren’t real wild about it! I have found this to be an understatement, which was rare for my mother.

When I was teaching a group of seminarians in Austin, I would kid them by suggesting that there was a hundred year old parish, just waiting for you to get your seminary diploma so that you could come correct them and tell them how church should be done. Truth is most people are fairly content as to how it currently is going in their world. Anyone who is daring enough to propose a change had best accompany the change with a good explication of “why?”.

Communicating this “why?’ should be done early, clearly and cleanly, in a variety of ways, and repeated frequently. All five of these directives should be accomplished in your communication plan. Care should be taken to make sure that the “why?” is understood by the people and check to see how far down through the organization the message has traveled and landed. Did I mention the importance of communication?

Three: Community is the basic building block. The secret sauce to the time at Folly Beach was the small groups in which people were asked to relate to one another beyond the surface niceties. At Folly, we used basic questions that allowed the group members to say something about who they were, and what they cared about. The process banks on the fact that each person has a richness that is below the waterline of the surface. When we share with one another at this level, the magic of human intimacy takes place, and there is a chance for the experience of grace as one is accepted for who one is. Now the intimacy, the recognition of the other, the acceptance, and the grace are rare commodities in our culture. This results with the time and experience to be valued, remembered and cherished. The testimony to this is in the number of amazing responses I received from both the kids and sponsors who wrote to me after the last two posts to testify to the power of the Folly Beach in their lives, not to mention making an old broken down priest cry.

In the best example of a culture change I achieved, it was due to the role of covenant groups at Christ Church, Tyler. We gathered groups of people around a Bible study format but focused on sharing how the Scriptures touched the current issues of our life. We had trained leaders of the groups that would meet weekly for training in terms of how to form groups healthily and gave them opportunities to present questions and issues that had arisen in the group. Truth is, this was how we led our church into a time of growth, bringing in people who had never imagined that being in a church would be an option for them. This presented other problems as the “new” people started coming to worship services as well, but the “side door” to the church was to be invited into one of these small covenant groups. I first understood this critical dynamic through our experience at Folly.

Side note: With the current hunger for real intimacy in face-to-face relationships, not satisfied in cyber space, this use of small groups in church settings seems to be an easy strategic move for small churches to reach out to their community to provide a valuable service. The deep need has been lifted up by David Brooks in his recent analysis in his book, The Second Mountain, as our time in the cultural history of our country seems to be begging for opportunities for such a sacred space of meeting.

Four: The role of a covenant sets the boundaries of behavior. In the Folly Beach experience, we had a covenant, or agreement, as to what behavior was acceptable that we all agreed to. That way, our expectations were explicit and agreed upon. In the youth group, this meant being present for the group, to not go off on one’s on from our site, to have a buddy if you walked down the beach. Within the group itself, we has norms of being honest, not interrupting others when they were talking, and keeping in confidence the things said within the group.

In moving this out into a parish, an explicit covenant is healthy in offering and image of openness to all people and in maintaining a clear level of expectable behavior. It’s best to get the largest group of members to come up with a set of agreements. This can then be presented to a large group of the parish for ratification and agreement, either by a formal vote or by mutual assent. It’s good to have this covenant formally written on a board or paper, and then invite the members to sign it. Placing the covenant in some prominent display says a great deal about the spirit of this congregation and tells any visitor what to expect. It’s also a great way of onboarding new members and helping them know how we intend to live together.

Five: Make the space for celebration. We did this in a number of ways at Folly, the most pronounced was The Dance in which celebration was the main event, of enjoying our life together. The music doesn’t have to be Rumours by Fleetwood Mac, but music of such verve and excellence, regardless of genre, seems to be the grease for the wheel of community. Finding ways to share space and time in a celebratory way should be a high priority in the mind of a leader. Creativity is the juice that turns you loose, taking some chances that moves you beyond the safety of the known and expected. Moving over the threshold of danger tends to yield the most fruit in terms of spirit. Many church leaders seem risk adverse but the opportunities for fresh experience of Spirit beckon.

In the life of a church, some rituals provide the channels for this experience of spirit. I intentionally moved into the Episcopal church to make sure that I had a powerful ritual at my disposal. At the same time, I recognize that such ritual can easily devolve into routine that robs it of its power of possibility and surprise. This is the occupational hazard of ritualistic based leaders: that the form becomes the thing worshiped rather the Spirit that infuses it. The dialectical tension between Spirit and Structure is just a part of life and a good leader is always seeking an artful balance.

Communion and the Circle of Friendship are the forms that allow for the experience of both Transcendence and Intimacy. Our continuing time together in a group beg for new expressions and occasion. Creative leadership takes this seriously and looks to the horizon constantly for such opportunities. In my most creative moments, I imaged myself as an architect of human experience, planning and designing time and space for encounters between persons and God’s spirit. It sounds a bit esoteric as I write it, but it’s as simple as a moment to pause and reflect, as basic as the human embrace.

Six: Drive for engagement. The central win in any group’s life is the participation of the members. The old, infamous 20% rule states that only a small percentage of people really are involved and give to the life of the group. At Folly, there was an intentional goal to involve every person in the life of their small group. Leaders intentionally reached out to those who might be slow to engage in the life of the group. Reaching out to seek out those hanging on the edge frequently resulted in discovery and connection. The same thing was true for encouraging group participation while allowing the individual to choose to hang back. I prefer the image of “engagement” as opposed to inclusion as it signals an active participation as opposed to merely being folded in to some blob of community. Engaged people care and will go “the extra mile”, but they are also prone to not be compliant, which can seem threatening to leaders steeped in a more hierarchical model of leadership. Leaders in an engaged group need to put on their big girl/boy pants and get ready to rumble. Again, an agreed upon covenant of behavior helps us stay grounded within a lively community.

Seven: Seven is a magic number in folklore. I saved my number one factor for this last spot in my seven. Covey had his Seven Habits, I have my Seven Intentions.

Seven is the notion of self-awareness. It was the intentional goal of my entire effort at Folly. It was prompted by my study of human development, chasing down the seminal work of Erik Erikson who came up with the notion of identity, notably in his theoretical musings, an identity crisis. Adolescence is a time which is the threshold of discovering who one is, your identity. There is a way in which society and culture allow for this time of looking inward, experimenting outwardly with who one is and how you want to show up in the world. You receive prompts from your family, the stories they tell about your “folk” or kin, and the culture from which you emerge. That includes how you behave, how you interact, what you say and how you say it, what are the boundaries, and what are the obligations. The individual is embedded, like it or not, in some kind of context and has the tough work of deciding how to negotiate being an individual in the middle of being a part of the whole. Some will merely accept the identity as given, others will rebel against that very giveness and attempt to define themselves over and against those expectations.

I wanted Folly to provide an intentional occasion for this work of pausing and reflecting on who one is, this identity issue. This “self work” is not exclusive to adolescence but continues throughout one’s life as one exercises the human agency of reflection and decision as to how one will be in the world. Our culture had decided to extend adolescence into the early twenties, which includes a time in college for a hopefully more thoughtful time of serious reflection. But truth is, that important work continues throughout the course of life. Even in my mid sixties, I am pausing for reflection in order to gain more self-awareness as to who I am, what values I want to serve, and how I want to spend my time. Folly was to initiate that process in these young folks, a process that “had only just begun.” Rather than a mindless romp in the sun and sand, I was wanting them to pause, reflect in a mindful way….and then romp in the sun and sand. I think Folly was successful in that work and process.

In my book, church should continue in that process of providing moments and avenues of self-awareness. Church can be that special place where we pause from our busyness in order to assess where we are as well as where we want to go. This human act of deciding is the distinctive thing that humans have the capacity to do. Rather than going along with a prescribed program or agenda, we can decide who we will be. This includes cultural expectations, cultural trends, media prompts, party rules, and particularly religious certitudes. It is up to us to decide, the gift and burden of being a human in full. Churches have a unique opportunity in sponsoring and nurturing this process.

Finally, a word about leadership, which requires self-awareness. I have been shocked to find a lack of self-awareness among leaders, specifically in the church, but apparent in government, healthcare, business, and non-profits. Self-awareness requires persons to take a moment of pause to look in the mirror at one’s self and measure what one sees. It has to do with an honesty with one’s self as to the mixed motivations that reside in all human beings. Rather than posturing as having a “perfect” motivation, a self-aware leader is painfully aware of the mixed motives that are propelling their actions and decisions, some that can be self-serving. Some have called this Emotional Intelligence or EQ, and it is the basic requirement for a leadership that operates with integrity. A truly humble leader is not obsessed with proving one’s “purity” but rather has a firm grasp of the possibility that one might be self-delusional. Leaders who pause, who remain open to possibilities, are those that I trust to offer a style of leadership that is truly in service of something bigger than themselves. It is called servant leadership and is modeled in the person of Jesus.

I could go on and on about this last dimension as something that I learned in an experiential and existential way. My work these days is of coaching people through a process of self-awareness by which they can live their lives with more intention, with more authenticity and integrity, and with more verve and passion. Coaching is the new way that I am using to help people along the way. And most of what I learned and use in coaching, I learned at Folly. Imagine that.

Ralph Does Folly….

Last week, I wrote about about a special place for gathering the tribe of teenagers of First Baptist Church of Decatur. It’s called Folly Beach. It was fun to remember and write about an experience that was formative for me. I was in the middle of preparing for the funeral of one of my closest friends, Ron Lane, who had worked for me as a youth sponsor at Folly Beach. That made the story particularly touching to me and fueled my memory. The response after last week’s post from both kids and adult sponsors was gratifying, as well as confessionals from other former brave youth ministers.

I promised two more entries that emanate from Folly: a tale about the birth of a new person; two, my distillation of what I learned about ministry from my work at Folly. I hope you enjoy it.

My tale of birth comes from my first experience at Folly that I wrote about last week. It involves the birthing of a person whose name is Ralph.

The age grouping on my Folly trips were problematic and yet promising. It included a wide age span, including eight grade through graduating seniors. Truth be told, we also used Folly to train Day Camp counselors which included mostly college kids. So it was the definition of “wide”.

The older kids meant trying to maintain a modicum of control while encouraging the continuing development and beginning some critical thinking. Who am I? What do I believe? What do I care about? What might be worth my life? These are the questions that confront a young person, and gets filled out in young adulthood. For most of our kids, the palette of college would allow for a full portrait to be painted in striking colors.

The younger kids usually were of two types. One group had been counting down the days to be old enough to qualify as a member of the youth group. Those kids usually had older brothers and sisters who made the road ahead clearer. It was fun to watch them on-board and make their own way onto the scene, taking their God-given right to be here on this planet in this particular spot, Folly Beach.

The other group were the kids who had no clue. They defined my phrase “just loose and happy to be here”. Many times, I would get calls from their mothers prior to the event, making sure that their child would be properly outfitted for the week at the beach, prepared with doctor-certified sunscreen.

That was more than true for Ralph. Ralph’s mama called me three or four times to make sure she had properly outfitted young Ralph for his virgin week at the South Carolina beach. I remember feeling sorry for him as his mom bade him a tearful farewell at the bus there in the First Baptist parking lot. Ralph seemed to not be bothered by her attention, perhaps immune to it by now, and simply climbed aboard the bus bound for Glory.

How I can I describe Ralph without turning him into a cartoon character? I can’t. If you were wanting to go to casting central and get a young nerd for your new come-of-age movie, you would have Ralph. He was an awkwardly tall, skinny kid, with a bookish pair of classes that made him look like a prematurely born Buddy Holly. His mom had purchased a kind of formless bucket hat. She provided some slip-on shoes for his casual walking, which Ralph wore on his beach walks. Obviously, Ralph’s family beach trips were highlighted by the collecting of sea shells, a reasonable thing to do at the beach, but Ralph made it into a science. He would take long walks by himself with his bucket hat on, Buddy Holly black glasses, his slip-on Keds, his orange plastic bucket to gather his shell treasures and would carry a net on a stick. You got the picture? Full-tilt nerd.

I was so proud of my group that embraced the young, fledgling, quirky Ralph without laughing at him or making fun of him. This was my first experience with this group, and while I had laid out expectations of care and inclusion, I had no idea if this would be like most church mottoes that would become laminated slogans on a wall somewhere, forgotten, gone with the wind. Not here. They made a point to include Ralph at meal time. Folks talked with him during down time and made him feel welcome in his small group. Slowly, Ralph was lightening up on his daily regimen of shell search, and was content to talk with new found friends. It was the beginning of his long, strange trip into personhood. It was like watching an egg hatch, with the baby chick pecking his way through the protective shell. This is the STUFF of youth retreats, the birthing of a new person, and we were the mid-wives in the messy process. God, I loved it.

The crescendo came on our last night at The Dance. We had cleared the floor and set up the stereo on a table at the end of the hall. As I mentioned in an earlier article, this was the summer of Rumours, the break-out album of Fleetwood Mac, with the inimitable siren voice of Stevie Nicks and strong, pensive croon of Lindsey Buckingham. There were obligatory Motown songs, new twists by Stevie Wonder, no longer little. But what I remember from that summer was Rumours.

Pause. A musical interlude.

The first side of Rumours is arguably the best record side of songs ever produced. It begins with Second Hand News, which begins with a killer beat, that begs you to dance, invites a fall back to the Bump of the early 70s. Then a little Stevie mood music with Dreams, images of thunder, a soulful bass underlying the lyrics of dreamy connection, with players only love you when they’re playing. Never Going Back Again, with some tasty guitar licks from Lindsey, provides an acoustic break. Don’t Stop kicks ass, so much that Clinton resurrected it for the march of hope to the presidency in 92. I stood on stage with Bill in Tyler, and remembered the enthusiasm of the night at the beach with this song blasting…’ll soon be here! Ah, youth. Don’t you look back! But I can’t help it. Go Your Own Way follows, with a driving beat, and stunning vocal harmonies. The first side of the album, ends with Songbird, one of the more pensive cuts on the album, with Christine McVie’s thoughtful reflections. We generally skipped it, dropping the needle back on the first track. By the way, boys and girls, the needle is on a record player that Joe Biden is fond of referencing. The second side has You Make Loving Fun, I Don’t Want to Know, keeps the world rocking. Gold Dust Woman gives some mega dosage of reality and reminds you of life back home from the beach, even though I was loving the bass line of John. Did she make you cry, make you break down, shatter your illusions of love? Why yes….yes she did. Stevie owned this song….and my heart.

Back to Ralph.

The dance was a huge success with lights down and the sound up. Kids were on the dance floor rocking, adult sponsors losing inhibitions without the help of artificial substances. It was a great night as our hero, Ralph watched from the side. digging it in his own special way. His body bobbed in a rhythm only he knew but he was definitely getting is groove on. His drink of choice was a grape Fanta, of a recent vintage, if I remember correctly. It left a tell-tale wisp of a mustache over his lip, giving him an Errol Flynn rakish style, as he just might grab the chandelier and swing into action.

It was a beautiful set up as if the gods of adolescence were conspiring to break open this shell of life.

And then it happened. A junior girl, a cheerleader in fact from the Druid Hills Devils, to load the metaphor bases, came over to Ralph and asked him to dance. Now, where I come from, this just doesn’t happen but that night, it did. Beth rocked Ralph’s world by dancing with him to Go Your Own Way…and Ralph did! Beth ably assisted him in his dance, moving him persuasively but without scaring the horses. It was a beautiful thing. Ralph’s smile was as wide as the road from Charleston to Savannah.

Lots of great things happening that week, but the thing I remember was the birth of Ralph, on a windswept night, to the rhythm of Fleetwood Mac urgings: Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.

Not a bad mantra by which to lean into life.

We all need people to help us make our way to the dance floor. We all, in different seasons of our life, particularly when we are transitioning into a new unfamiliar zone of being, need some help along the way.

Sometimes, we need a mid-wife, like Beth, who can take us by the hand, lead us onto the dance floor of life, and let us find out beat, our particular and peculiar rhythm. For me, that is a good description of what I do as a coach with people trying to find their way through a tough transition, or trying to rediscover the deeper Spirit that they lost along the way. It’s the thrill of my life assisting in the birth of the Spirit that is waiting in all people, just waiting to be born.

We are all Ralph at heart, wondering about ther world we find ourself in, waiting to be invited to the dance. That’s why people love this story about Ralph as they know that it whispers the promise of the new, and reminds us: don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.