Of Bayonets & Grace

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Of Bayonets and Grace

Isaiah 1:17 learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

As we come to another autumn and approach the U.S holiday of Veterans day, I find myself reflecting on how we in the U.S. advocate for peace when more than half, 54%, of our federal budget, is allocated for war.

Veteran’s Day was once known as Armistice Day, a word that means “truce.” The holiday was as much to honor the soldiers of that time as to honor lessons learned through World War I, known at the time as the “War to End all Wars”. When that war ended, the world breathed a collective sigh of relief, and there was a shared, fervent wish at the time that a global conflict would never occur again. Armistice Day was designated to ensure we remembered the lesson: Never again!

The Vietnam war, I had thought, might have re-taught us the lesson that war does not solve conflicts. But today,  a budget of war drives our economy. Does this economy reflect our values? What are the costs of these choices?

I come from a military family that is also very diverse and deeply faithful. Maybe most everyone’s families were in the military if you go back far enough in our country’s history?  All four grandparents were in the army in WWI, (my grandmothers were nurses) My parents were both in WWII. They were in the Army (my mom was a nurse and lieutenant, my father a medic- their romance was a scandal).  I worked with veterans with PTSD in the VA Hospital in my community. Recently I have been concerned about the evolving understanding of soul repair in the occurrence of moral injury.  Today we see evidence that there is a high suicide rate of our veterans. As I came to understand moral injury I felt a bone deep resonance as I learned more about soul repair after moral injury. This resonance seems to have deep roots.

When I was a young child we lived in an old, old house, built by a sea captain, in a village outside Philadelphia with an unfinished cellar and an attic full of cobwebs and old terrors. My mother’s parents lived with us in those days. Her Scottish father, my grandfather, had a cabinet-making workshop in the cellar, and I would spend hours down there with him. I can remember his face aglow in the light, a furnace roaring and blazing flames, while sawdust, darkness and gloom rimmed the edges of the cellar. I wandered in those dark, shadowy edges of the cellar and discovered relics from the past: bayonets, WWI helmets, and mess kits.

I would drag these treasures out of the corners where they had been stored, and urge my grandfather to tell his stories of fighting in France, meeting my French grandmother, his feelings regarding my mom marrying my Jewish father. He would pause his work and tell me how he survived being wounded on the battlefield near Saumur and found love in the midst of that battlefield.

My father’s Dad had his own battlefield stories. He was one of the first of his kind, a battlefield psychiatrist. He was also stationed in France and recalled guns blazing and shells falling around. This grandfather, we called him Daddy Sam, kept detailed journals all his life. In 1917, he wrote of the beauty of a late-autumn sunrise, the fading colors of the autumn leaves drifting across the fields, mists rising from the warmer soil into the chilled, rain-soaked air.  Daddy Sam wrote also of the abject terror that filled the air on those battlefields. The blinding smoke and debris in the air, the shriek of falling shells, the cries of those wounded, the smells, the inescapable acrid, foul air. His work was to ensure soldiers remained at their post or returned as soon as possible after being injured. In those days, any soldier who did not want to return to battle faced immediate disciplinary action. But my grandfather looked more deeply into the battlefield injuries of mind and soul. He was part of what would be pioneering work on the effects of “shell shock”.

He likely saved many men from court martial or worse. He saw that the horrors of war wrecked souls, bodies and land. He kept meticulous case notes on the battle field, and afterwards, as Chief of Psychiatry for the Philadelphia Penitentiary and still later when he kept journals on his love of art and painting.

I read all of his journals, and was struck by the fact that after his accounts of WWI battlefield, I never heard his own voice again. His words “disappeared” into the clinical world of case notes and later into the world of the technique of writing. He never let us know what he was feeling during the remainder of his 102 years of life. I wonder now if my grandfather had suffered moral injury and what that cost his family, my family. The call to defend land, home and hearth has been a part of our human history and we have always known that we must honor those who sacrifice for what they hope is a “just war”. All of us can reflect on our priorities, on where we share our money and when we send our young to fight and perhaps die and how we honor those veterans who serve.

I read the scraps of paper Daddy Sam kept often used as book marks in treasured books. I believe he wondered a lot about the human condition and society, he wondered about God, he wondered about his own soul. I found this piece of scripture amongst the notes he kept, “I will stand at my watch post, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.” Habakkuk 2:1-4

For all my family now gone: Samuel and Clara, Bryant and Marta, Richard and Yvonne, I pray that you know the peace and the grace that is available to all of us. I pray that our nation untangles its budgets of war, ensures communities are equipped for soul repair for those veterans in need and, weaves budgets that support education, protection of our land and housing and food for people in need.

For all of us this November 11, 2018, may we know the cleansing gaze of the divine passion for mercy. May our efforts be pure, may serve justice and may we defend the helpless.

Love Across Differences Makes a Difference

R. Thomas Browning was a fighter pilot, prisoner of war for more than six years in Vietnam, a brigadier general in the Airforce and a civic leader. He had a reserved smile, a steady, measuring gaze and usually wore crisp blue suits. I am a Quaker, entrepreneur and a passionate justice worker with an eye for fashion art and, who knows, might show up with an auburn streak through my hair.

Our differences were obvious when I began working with Tom in the 1990s when he headed Greater Phoenix Leadership, a business membership organization. We united quickly, however, around our similarities: a passion for justice through equipping people to create healthy cities and towns and the importance of shared commitment to this greater vision.

Tom passed away in July 2018, and I miss him. This story is part of his story and the love story of people who, despite their differences, came together and cared. My words are dedicated to them all.

When I began working with Tom in 1992, shocking images of the Los Angeles riots filled the airwaves. Cars overturned, buildings on fire, smashed windows. The riots stemmed from issues of crime, poverty, police violence and failing schools – a troubling stew that fed a decline of confidence in the United States.

I was a young mother at the time working to facilitate the development of healthy cities and towns across Arizona when Tom Browning asked me to launch and lead a community-building organization we called Neighborhood Partners, Inc.

The work of Neighborhood Partners required us to not only examine the roots of our community distress, but also to explore the strengths of the people in who region who could join forces in the name of justice. While the struggle for quality education, economic justice and community-based policing continues to be of concern in Phoenix today, I am proud to have known and worked closely with individuals who have grown up in this struggle and who to this day remain quiet leaders still doing good work.

These people, who were neighborhood members and leaders, local school students, teachers and principals, bankers and business owners, church pastors and local police, City park and recreation as well as neighborhood planning staff, joined forces through Neighborhood Partners. Many of them had never met. They came in an array of shapes, sizes, racial, economic and ethnic backgrounds with widely different experiences in life.

We had great partners like Brian Hassett who was then president of Valley of the Sun United Way. Dan Duncan, president of the Mesa United Way, who also worked with the Asset Based Community Development Center ( abcdinsitute.org ). We learned from the best like the Dudley Street Initiative folks in Roxbury MA. ( www.dsni.org)  We had tremendous volunteers like Kathy Gerber who, as a geologist, changed remediating environmental hazards in south central Phoenix. Her work with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the EPA improved the health of thousands of residents in south central Phoenix. We had a strong, committed staff, all of whom work today for justice and health in Phoenix.

Over the years, dilapidated houses were restored to healthy homes, playgrounds and gardens were constructed, crime was reduced, and environmental toxins were cleaned up, school children learned from neighbors, pastors, and local business partners that there was a place for them in our community.

More than $300 million in community investment was captured and used to rebuild neighborhoods. Tom and I differed on how to deal with the root causes of our distress, but we put those differences aside as we worked on the most pressing problems facing the neighborhoods. Together, we honored our communities. Our work required us to look beyond polarizing attitudes and work together to inspire the young adults and children in the 1990’s, who as adults today, continue to lead.

Two years ago, in January 2016, over 100 of these people came together to honor and reflect on our accomplishments. Here are a few quotes from interviews and an image that was created from this gathering of people.

  • “It was the kids, seeing myself in the kids, they did not have hope. Bringing people and resources together we saw hope in their eyes.”
  • The trick was being together and learning about the issues facing our communities, the economy. We learned working together can make a difference. I understand the value of relationships within the community.
  • We learned about power structures, how to tap into that power. It became clear we had access through engagement with others. We learned about how to deal with environmental justice and land use”

At the core of what we did is invite seemingly disparate people to get to know each other and work together for the greater good. Today this work is often labeled, “Collective Impact” and “Radical Hospitality.” At its root, it is a form of ministry where one person calls to another in love and acceptance, putting differences aside and uniting for the common good.

We fostered love. We fostered hope. We fostered vision. These young people are social workers in inner city hospitals, teachers, business leaders, police officers, and even the Phoenix police chief.  They all maintain the momentum now by engaging the youth in their communities. This is a watershed way for changed lives and changed communities .

Figure 1. An Image of the words of the people who have worked and continue to work for healthy neighborhoods.

Tom knew that leadership was critical for this work to succeed. He leaned in and stepped up as he always had throughout his life. For Tom, this work was for love of country. This work relied on faith and strength in dark times.

Our current crisis across the U.S. cries out for this work. We need to strengthen relationships and look at the roots of our social distress. “Intersectional” is the current term used to describe a focus on where our differences intersect and then work together from that point of unity and shared commitment.  An approach that requires study and understanding of actions that improve paths of collaboration. These pathways require tough conversations on race, gender, socio-economic class while also exploring unique experiences of oppression and privilege.

Tom’s model of leadership grew from a time when “intersectional” was a word applied to streets and not human behavior. But his instincts were intersectional. He innately reached across differences and united people based on their shared dreams and visions. Tom’s community-building skills have been passed along to many of the children and youth in our partnerships who are today’s leaders.  Many of these people have shared with me that their hope is to pass these skills on to their children as a means of lasting change.

Tom’s legacy is watershed change. He will remain in my heart forever, and it brings me extraordinary joy to know his work, his legacy of change, will be carried forward by so many of the individuals whose lives were touched and transformed by his commitment and vision.

Portrait in Courage: A Celtic Warrior of a Gentle Sort

Handmade Aran sweaters in Ireland led us to her. My husband Dan and I combed charity shops to find a well-loved, handmade sweater. Our search uncovered many interesting items, but not a single shop that held the treasure we were looking for!  It took the Wi-Fi connection in our cottage in a small County Donegal village to finally lead us to the most innovative knitter in Ireland- Rosaleen Haggerty of Crana Knits.

Rosaleen was a bit surprised when we knocked on her workshop door. We were damp having walked through the town in a gentle summer rain. She gave us a smile of approval for having persisted in this search for her and took a break from her work. We stepped into the office where the women were reviewing an order of 150 Aran sweaters for a client in Japan. After a quick a quick tour of her workshop, we settled in for an afternoon of conversation and learning from this master knitter, teacher and business woman.

Rosaleen started her work life as a school teacher. Part of the curriculum included teaching young women the art of knitting. Rosaleen imbued her students with skill and confidence in their abilities. Bouts with cancer eventually kept her from the classroom, but she continued to work with the knitters. Rosaleen’s love of textiles and innovative spirit, along with the support of her entrepreneurial father, spawned her forty-year career as an Irish business owner and allowed her to spread the love of her craft to hundreds of women.

In a time and place where opportunities for women were few, Rosaleen’s legacy represents the importance of supporting women to gain agency and income through their handwork. At the height of her business she employed some 550 women. Today, she is in her early 80s and continues to employ dozens of women through her workshop. Her special passion is creating unique patterns and instructions for those patterns. Her eyes twinkle as she shares the persistence and courage that has been required of her life journey. She brings the best of her culture to the world.

Rosaleen has mastered the supply-chain equation. Her woolen yarns are produced solely in in Ireland. The sweaters, hats, and scarves are exclusively hand-made by women in County Donegal and carefully inspected before they leave her shop, being sent around the world. She speaks with warmth about how she has endured by staying true to her natural gifts while supporting the Irish economy. Her greatest regret is that so few young people are interested in learning to knit. She attributes this to the economic pressures facing youth and that they do not value working with their hands. This lament is heard in the other crafts and trades such as construction. The elders here shake their heads that the youth do not see a need to learn to build a solid house or work in farming or textile making.

I hear the same concern from Hopi elders in the high desert in Arizona. These native peoples have a history of building and art-making. While they have had some success in cultivating interest among the younger generations in these arts, a diminishing number are embracing the traditional ways.

My daughter has embraced making art with her hands. She was first encouraged by Navajo grandmothers who nurtured her abilities when she was three years old. At a local annual Navajo festival, she sat at their feet learning to card and spin raw wool. Few words were exchanged, but when she needed a tip, they leaned forward in their chairs and lent her a hand, showing, not telling, how to grip the carding paddle and how to hold the drop spindle. They taught my daughter with the same contentment that Rosaleen expresses.

Uncovering our unique gifts and talents requires careful attention and self-awareness. It takes persistence to nurture those gifts and courage to build lives on the foundation of our gifts. How often have you paused to take stock of your natural gifts and abilities? How were you mentored and how do mentor others? Are these gifts woven into your own life? If not, perhaps you might want to take some time to reflect on these questions and notice where your life is asking you to connect who you are within what you do! When you take time for this reflection you are stepping into a watershed way of living… and this takes courage!

Future blogs will bring more portraits in courage that inspire and support your recovering resonance!



Beyond the Box

At a recent Quaker Meeting where I was speaking, I offered images of liminal spaces that are forever present in our lives if we pay attention. These liminal encounters can be communion with the Divine in spacious silence, a tender moment with another person, special pet or favorite tree where time stands still, and light and love illuminate, just for an instant, what feels like a freeze-framed encounter.

What do I mean by the liminal spaces? I mean that threshold where rational and irrational meet, where the practical everyday moment, task or object becomes radiant with unexplained beauty. You know what this is when it offers itself. You cease all activity in that instant. Perhaps you have experienced it as sunlight streaming through clean windows, the gentle billow as the wind lifts freshly hung laundry on a line, the glow of fresh blossoms on a favorite plant in a garden, a kind smile or quiet tears.

Liminal spaces offer themselves up through prayer but also during times of transition in life when moving to a new location, job loss or gain, falling in love or breakups. These are spaces of creativity and change, of emptying and expanding, which are there for the taking if we pay attention and release ourselves into the awe and wonder that surrounds us that we too often ignore.

As I prepared my message, the autocorrect on my computer changed ‘liminal’ to ‘luminal.’ I liked the sound of the blending of luminous and liminal. Of course, I was quick to clarify the term since I intended the liminal. But as I shared my message, there were puzzled looks on Friends’ faces. I quickly knew that the word ‘liminal’ is not heard often in daily conversation.  There was a polite silence in the assembled community, and I realized that ‘liminal’ is outside of the box for many of us. Still, I was commended for this talk, and people noted that it made their hearts hunger for liminality. The word might be foreign but the hunger for those moments dwells just beneath the surface of our skin.

People who come to me for coaching or spiritual direction are motivated by this hunger, the vague sense that something better is available for them in life. That ‘something better’ could be directly related to their work. They want to move into a new field, or, perhaps, they have not been bringing the best of themselves to work or relationships. I see the same thing in my consulting practice, and we work together to redesign their organization or build a new coalition to improve education or health care. Inevitably, the conversation begins with how they want to really Be in the world.

Whether coaching, spiritual work or consulting, individuals come to me for a nudge toward living in the flow of the best of self, which is the finest gift possible. A nudge that helps them face the horns of the dilemma of living true to themselves in the face of the pressure of the workplace and the world.

Sometimes we imagine this pressure as a confining box. Reflect a moment. When did you most recently notice that you felt “boxed in,” or had a sense that the walls were closing in on you? What made up the dimensions of the box?  Does work deaden your soul? Was it your desire for more things that you really don’t need but you pretend would scratch the itch inside? Or perhaps a demand from the outside world that conflicts with your values?

I recently had a friend tell me, “I have never fit into the religion box even though I want to embrace aspects of many religious practices!” In my work, I blend aspects of several faith traditions. How could I not?  I am a Quaker, raised as a Catholic, with a Jewish parent and many Buddhist and Muslim friends. My practice blends the Quaker ‘waiting in silence’ with a morning yoga session and an evening Lectio Divina based on scripture. My family members are all faithful souls who have blended aspects of faith and practice into uniquely powerful expressions of their gifts of service to others.

Each of us wants to have the freedom and wherewithal to name and claim our values and to transform these values into meaningful actions in our world. We want our worlds to be congruent. We want who we are and what we do to match up, to join the silent spaces with the work we do in the world.

Our bodies know when we are congruent. Deep in our gut, we know wellness. When we are not living in a manner that is congruent many of us have some sort of upset in our bellies. So how might we begin to live in more flow consciousness?

Become available to the liminal spaces.

Start with the easiest and perhaps most challenging step. Try sitting in complete silence for ten minutes a day. Find a quiet place, inside or out, where you will not be distracted or interrupted. Sit comfortably in a position that best supports your body. Just be with this practice of silence. If your nose is itchy notice it and scratch if needed. If you are holding your breath, notice it, take deep slow breaths and exhale slowly. Notice the sounds around you and the thoughts in your head and then just let them flow past because for these few minutes you are sitting in silence, the oldest practice of the mystics, allowing time’s unfolding and heightening your ability to simply notice.

This is how you begin. Notice. Be still. Keep your heart in readiness for the moment when, through the stillness, new awareness arises.  The liminal space. That moment when your soul, heart, and mind meet for a cup of tea. When insights arise, and miracles become available. Space where time stands still, the lines thin between conscious and unconscious and hard-nosed reality touches ineffable mysteries.

Try it if you want to journey in a watershed way!


It’s an Inside Job


My first blog generated interesting questions foremost of which:  What is watershed change and what do I mean when I say watershed change of consciousness is possible?

The term has been used to describe dynamic change, turning-point moments. For instance, a major revolution in medicine was the development of modern antibiotics. This watershed moment made it possible for people to survive pneumonias and other bacterial infections. A more recent watershed moment: the digital revolution. And in our own lives, watershed moments are those time, perhaps the death of someone we love, meeting the right person or stepping up to being a new parent when we hit a fork in the road and turn in new directions.

Of course, watersheds are also features of the land. We are all connected to the earth, so this term speaks to me. A watershed is an area of high ground from which water flows down to a stream, a river or the ocean. Our lives depend on watersheds, we must take care of our watersheds. This image is central guide for working with people who want to tend their lives in new ways. Watershed change in consciousness happens inside of us, inside our minds, our bodies and spirits.

I have had a watershed moment or two in my life. When my daughter Samantha was born my life was forever changed. I developed near super-human powers in my senses of hearing and smell. I had been one of those people who could sleep through an alarm but with the birth of my daughter, I detected the slightest change in her breathing in the middle of the night two rooms away. My deepest, protective instinctual self, arose from a depth I did not know I possessed! I treasure this shift in ability and consciousness.

I do confess that when I first took up cycling, I rode through the streets of my town wishing my sense of smell was not so keen, especially on trash pickup days. But we don’t get to control the powers gained from watershed moments. We get to witness them, to be stewards for them.

Just five years after the birth of my daughter, my husband Ralph died from his cancer. Walking with this very dear man through his dying and death was a sacred watershed moment for me, as the death of a loved one often is for all of us, in very different ways.

I have little memory of the year after he died. I know my daughter started school, and I started a new nonprofit organization. I know, I sold our home to move the two of us into a simple house where I served as care taker of our Quaker Meeting house. Here is what I do remember: I was forever changed because during the time of his passage, we touched the Divine. We knew we were loved, we knew joy, grief and loss, tears and terror and ultimately serenity.

How did we come to accept all that we were given? Because we tumbled into mystery. Because there were tears, and then angels would arrive. People brought gifts of food and support. We were given gifts of new consciousness. One man, a senior teacher of Qi Gong (or Life Energy Cultivation) donated his time to us. He came to our home to teach us this practice of our true nature every week.

We learned to breathe, to be present and knew a kind of well-being that had eluded us. We read Pema Chodron, “Start where you are” and we learned about compassion and being broken open. This was the book that Ralph, who had been a book seller, named as the most important book he had ever read. And I learned to read the Bible. I read the Psalms. Book Angels (or a book that had years of many hands seeking solace) guided me when I first opened the bible the Good Book fell open to Psalm 91. … “because you have made the Lord your refuge, the most high, your dwelling place no evil shall befall you” (Psalm 91:9-10).

God abides in me, and I in God, and Ralph in God and our little girl in God and each of us in one another. We all realized True Self.

In that moment, we became a revolution of Love and possibility. Ralph who already, at an early age, had touched many lives, committed himself to caring for nature and environmental protection. Ralph said to me, “You must carry on this work. The only hope we have will come from a watershed change in human consciousness. This change is possible but not inevitable, so we must live into it. Risk losing standard comforts to grow in new ways, to work in new ways, and to care for one another in new ways. Divine presence and humanity can walk together for the good of all but it’s an inside job!”

Watershed changes in human consciousness is the work I dedicate myself to through Watershed Ways. I wish you great watershed moments – where you shed self-imposed limitations and dive into the waters of life and soul. You won’t be sorry.


Recovering Resonance: A Watershed Way

The intersection of meaningful work, personal integrity, livable income and healthy community fascinates me. In my first job, selling popcorn in a movie theater, my manager called me into the office to tell me that my aura was grey. To him that meant I wasn’t working out at the job. He didn’t fire me, but I was never comfortable at the job after that. I did however develop a lifelong love of movies and popcorn. I was a little traumatized by that observation. Unsure how to improve my aura I worked harder at being cheerful and providing great customer service. That was never good enough for him. Many years later I learned the grey aura was a color of emerging intuition and was the color of monks and mystics I better understood the dilemma in those early days of work. I brought a different vibration to work. I had a different resonant frequency from what was expected. I almost lost my resonance but learned to treasure my essential self and brought my self to work more every day.

Decades later a client assured me I was working too hard and just needed to be myself, “be a catalyst for change for those who wish to make a change for themselves and for their organizations” Well, he meant a chemical reaction kind of catalyst. I was not sure if that was a good thing. Again, I noticed feeling mildly traumatized but this time it was from being told that I could be paid for simply bringing the best of me to work. Imagine that, being paid to bring my best self to work!!

It was, and it is, a good thing to bring all our Self to our lives. Risking exposing our thoughts and feelings, being vulnerable, as Brene Brown talks about in Daring Greatly, opens the way for a sense of belonging. When we are being real and really being present then authentic relationships have the breathing space to develop. This being present includes being our imperfect selves as well as our best selves. The best gift any one can share at home and work is a listening presence. Sustained listening enables sustained being, in good times and in challenging times. Self-acceptance is grounded in the courage to show up.

Learning to show up happens when you feel the ground beneath your feet and experience a watershed change in spirit and mind. Watershed Ways offers ways for you to be listened to and to foster this change in your life. I will show up for work with you and we can enjoy the journey of your watershed change.