Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn't make any sense.
- (Sufi Poet Rumi)

Friday, June 14, 2013

Translating the Chatter into Needs - General Assembly 2013

It's that time again!  General Assembly, the annual meeting of Unitarian Universalism, begins in 5 days.  The ministers gather a few days earlier to make the whole event a week's work of networking, celebration, and sometimes uncomfortable conversations and interactions. Probably the most common unpleasant situation is that there just doesn't seem to be the time or spaciousness to really connect with all the people you'd like to! Or perhaps it seems like you don't know very many people when others seem to always have a gang of followers or peers gaggling around them wherever they go. Maybe during the plenaries, workshops, and worship services you experience envy, regret, and even sadness that you haven't accomplished as much in the past year, aren't in the thick of things or won't have the chance to have a follow up conversation with those who have spoken in the public space. 

GA is far from being a bummer, but I do know that the complex world of human relationships and heart's hope easily set's one up for disappointment and frustration.  It happens in our congregational homes every Sunday, and so too it happens every year at GA.

What then to do?

One way to keep the heart open to connection, is to keep bringing back our mind's chattering to needs.  If you feel an emotion or a shift in a body, what needs are being met? Aren't being met? In yourself?  In others?

Here's an example.

I recall several GA's back where I passed near the escalator at GA a colleague with whom I had worked in a congregation.  As we passed, we paused briefly to say hello, during which he kept looking over my head.  Without checking in with him, my jackal interpretation  ran wild. He was too busy and important to spend any time with me. Clearly he was lacking in the simple social graces of at least making eye contact!  I never really liked him anyway.  If only I was more interesting we could have connected....  If I was only a different person I could have been a contender! 

Okay, self empathy. What are my needs? What would be your needs in this case?  I'll suggest connection, consideration, friendship.

Okay, other empathy. What are his needs?  Guessing I'd say efficiency, connection, ease.

But wait, there's more!  Once we understand the needs involved we can entertain what strategies we might employ to address these desires.

I'd love to hear your strategies about how you navigate your GA experience.  Would you be willing to describe here how you seek to connect to the beauty of needs at GA, or any other large gathering of humans? 

Ah, up rises another request to address the needs of connection, mutual reality, community, fun, etc! The list goes on.

Here's the idea. During GA let's share what needs come up for us, or what we guess is going on for others, by either reporting in here, or using Twitter with the general hastag = #UUAGA, and also #UUAGANEEDS. 

Shall we?  I'll start us off today!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Speaking With Our Mouths Full of Compassion

Besides working as a consultant in Compassionate Communication for congregations, I am also active with the Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry (UUAM) where I serve on the Board and also am the Reverence for Life Coordinator.  Through these capacities I have frequently witnessed the intricate dance we do with one another as our faith calls us to be prophetic witnesses to suffering in the world.  How do we hear of another's pain, or anger, or express it ourselves, without shifting into blame and judgment, or withdrawal and disconnection?  Sometimes we step on each other's toes and all too often, individuals decide to sit the dance out entirely and resign their membership in their congregations. 

This relationship or conservation struggle can center on any one of many different justice issues or oppressions, and in the case of those involved in animal ministry, it often includes diet choices. In a week's time this will be fore front in my thinking as I go to attend the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly in Louisville, Kentucky.  Part of my work there will be to staff the UUAM booth where there will be much opportunity to speak and listen compassionately, as well as with integrity and authenticity. This won't be easy as my experiences and understanding of the world can prove difficult for others to hear, and vice versa.

So what are we as a people of faith to do?  (and by faith I mean striving to respond compassionately to the understanding that beings are beautiful, are interconnected, and are capable of both experiencing and causing suffering).

Here's my plan.  No matter the conversation I will seek to go beyond ideological assumptions, statements, and judgments. I'm with the author of  "Better Angels of our Nature," Stephen Pinker, on this one - ideologies are the cause of much of the violence in the world, and in the case of my relationships with others, can cause daily and multiple micro-instances of oppression and violence.  Now I know there is no getting rid of the ideological filters that each of us have, say for instance, whether one "should" or "should not" eat animals.  But in knowing that, I can humbly strive to go beyond ideologies, mine and others, so that we can listen and speak as honestly and empathetically as we can.

How, you ask?

The goal for me then is to always go back to the needs of those involved.  I seek to hold tenderly the needs of the person with whom I am talking, as well as the needs of the marginalized and oppressed. In the case of other species, then, I try to shift the conversation away from blanket statements about what is the right thing to do and away from lengthy discourses covering every possible rationalization about the issue. For if there is one thing our subconscious minds can do, is come up with a story about why we do what we do.  Instead I speak about my needs, listen to and guess the needs of the other human, and then speak about the needs of animals.  I'm willing to let go of specific strategies or outcomes in this complex world, but I am not willing to concede awareness about the states of others and my desire for their flourishing.

A possible conversation might go like this at the UUAM booth using classic Nonviolent Communication formulations. In person it would probably be much less stilted, but hopefully you can grasp the consciousness I seek to develop and convey through this sample dialog.

Other person: I saw your ad in the last issue of the UU World magazine and I was frankly offended. Who are you, especially as a UU, to tell others what is right or wrong for them to do?

Me:  I'm guessing you really value choice and respect, and you didn't experience that while reading the ad. Is that right?

Other person:  Yeah, you're right.  I get so tired of others playing the purity card in our congregations.  Gosh, I'm doing the best I can.

Me:  So you'd like some ease and understanding about how hard you are trying to make compassionate choices, especially given how overwhelmingly complex you see the world as. 

Other person.  Right again!  I just don't see what's so bad about eating animals when it does so much good for humans.

Me: Would you be willing to hear why I don't eat meat?

Other person:  Well, er, okay, but plenary is going to start soon.

Me:  Thanks.  I appreciate the chance to share, and I'll be brief.  It's that I feel sad when I think of the lives and deaths of chickens who are raised for meat.  I so want them to not suffer and feel pain, and to flourish in all ways possible.  I long for that for them, and for you and me too.  What comes up for you when I share this?

Other person:  I guess it's complex and maybe someday I'll have time to think about this more.

Me:  Yes, the situation sure can make one's head and heart burst open, at least it has for me.  Would you be willing to take any literature or remember us so that if you ever need a listening ear, information, or support, you can contact me or someone else at UUAM?

Other person:  Okay, sure. Thanks.  Can you also help me decide for whom to vote for Moderator?

Now dear reader, can you tell me what comes up for you after reading this blog entry?  Would you be willing to contact me here, or better yet, come by the UUAM booth at General Assembly?


In the hope of holding all needs fully,


The ad highlighted in the dialog and in the last issue of the UU World.
What needs of yours, other humans, and other species come up for you when you see this ad?

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Mission From God

We hear a lot about a congregation having a mission statement these days.  If we only had a perfect mission statement our congregation will be saved as new members come flooding in to solve our financial problems and our falling membership.  More deeply, we long that our apparent disparate lives will find common cause and quit fussing with one another.

In the past the process I have employed is "needs based missioning."  We gather members together in cottage meetings, small groups, and workshops so they can discuss the needs of themselves, each other, and the greater and even global community.  At the same time we take an inventory of our gifts.  What we essentially have done is follow Frederick Buechner's sage reasoning, "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet." The difficulty lies though in bringing people together who, although they have the same needs, prioritize them differently.  What often results then is a watered down mission statement that offends no one as it attempts to include everyone's needs and gladness.

I do believe that needs based conversations, behaviors, and relationships are key to the good life. So I'm not suggesting that we give up on sharing with one another our deepest longings, woundings, and gladness.  Instead, I'm wondering if we in our congregations can come to a place where we share a mission based on the wisdom and experience we have as a people of faith.  We know what we and others need, and we know what makes us glad.  The challenge comes in the process of determining needs and gifts.  When in our lives, and even in most congregations, do we slow down enough so that we can focus, go deep, and listen to life arising through us so that we may best serve life?

The mission then that might be widely shared with other congregations is process oriented. How can we live deeply so that others can live well? In short, the mission is a way of life.

Here is an example.

Listen, open, serve
Listen to our deepest selves
Open to life's gifts
Serve needs greater than our own

We seek to know when needs are met, and not met. We then mourn, celebrate, and act according to how life seeks the greatest possible fulfillment in our congregations.

If we can do this, we will, as in the words of the great John Belushi in the movie, Blues Brothers, "be on a mission from God."

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Transforming Church Conflict: Compassionate Leadership in Action

I have now served in Unitarian Universalist congregations for 14 years, first as an intern, then as a parish minister, and now as a community minister and consultant.  In this time, boy howdy, have I seen conflict!  For a long time, and even still, I experience confusion regarding how I and others find it difficult to see the beauty of the other and their needs when our own needs are not met.  We move into judgment and blame, and repeat disconnecting thoughts and behaviors.  Over time in a particular congregation, these patterns can become entrenched, leaving individuals desperately longing for authentic and deep relationships that can weather the diversity of human expression, experiences, and wounding.  What then to do?

My greatest hope lies in Nonviolent Communication, also known as Compassionate Communication. I am not alone.  The authors of a new book I just finished, Transforming Church Conflict, write, "We have become convinced that nonviolent or compassionate communication is the best singe resource  available for learning the complex interpersonal and pastoral leadership skills needed by today's church."  They go on to say, "Compassionate communication helps us maintain our inner clarity and sense of direction in the midst of challenging situations in which we have significant personal investment."  I love the hope and the vision of congregations, and perhaps this is why I can become disheartened when I perceive that we are not making the most of the transformational possibility inherent in conflict.  Does this resonate with you?

If so, then I recommend this book to you, as well as the practice of compassionate communication.  This authors in their writing support me in my practice, which in turns keeps me engaged with others in the work, perhaps with you too.  Please join me here in this blog, for I treasure companionship and the interdependence of sharing a way of being in the world that I cannot do alone.  My commitment is to write regularly here about compassionate leadership in congregations.  If you have any comments or situations in which we can offer empathy and understanding to one another,  I would be delighted to hear from you. 

Let us share and build upon the hope of compassion.