In Flanders Fields — A Call to Remember

The Remembrance Day ceremonies that I’ve most enjoyed over the last 15 years have been the ones that took place on a small island, Bowen Island, British Columbia. Often I’ve been there with my friends Chris and Caitlin, who live on the island. It feels like so many of the islanders make effort to participate. They gather. For prayers. For appreciations. For a bit of silence. Some for a whiskey toast to honor family and loved ones. Huddled in winter jackets, rain coats, gloves, mittens, hats. Huddled as community. Remembrance Day in Canada honors loss, hope, indignity, and dignity — it calls people to remember war and invoke a possibility of added peace and community.

This year for Remembrance Day, yesterday, I was at my home in Utah. It is Veteran’s Day in the United States. I listened to a program at 11:oo a.m. and joined in moment of silence to offer appreciation, and a bit of grief, and I suppose a bit of courage for how so many of us are trying to evolve the human community.

I’ve always loved the poppies that are common in Canada and other Commonwealth Countries for Remembrance Day. Pinned on lapels, colors, bags. And I’ve always loved this poem, written in World War One by a Canadian soldier and surgeon, John McCrae, that speaks of WWI battle grounds near Northern France and Belgium.

Here’s to remembering. Loss, and hope, and simple commitments that mark us.


In Flanders Fields
John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.





I find myself a bit speechless this morning. I find myself relishing the strength of feeling for which words, even good ones, just don’t simply do. It’s a strength of feeling that comes from discovered community. It’s a strength of feeling that comes from deep friendships and welcome in rather inviting landscape. It’s a strength of feeling that comes from being in flow and abundance, that feels like in flow with life itself.

I’ve returned yesterday from five days with 19 people, the first of three face-to-face gatherings that are Fire & Water: A Leadership Journey and Rite of Passage. It was deeply human, people readied and hungering to lean into both mystery and to leadership. The part of me that offers / seeks to get to the deeper story of work, community, teams, causes, organizations, self — this part of me is very satisfied and speechless today.

For much of my working life, I’ve been lucky to work with good people in good causes. People who knew much. People who were smart enough to invoke a greater sense of holism and wonder. I’ve been able to host and convene in many forms of gatherings for dialogue and participatory leadership and change over these last 25 years. This Fire & Water group feels exquisitely in the direction of speechless, and of awe and wonder together, that so matters in the day to day of tasks and in the timeless moments to moments that is a much much bigger picture.

Oh, so grateful. And a bit speechless. As it should be.

When Community Needs To Be Your Strategy

I’m a volunteer treasurer for my local home owners association. There are two buildings. We are six versions of family living in six units. We are small as an association. Each of us has an assigned garden area to tend in the spring, summer, and fall. Each of us has a section of sideway to snow-shovel in the winter. We help each other take the garbage bins to the street every Friday. Every now and then we have a meeting to talk about things needed among us. Someone usually brings cookies.

Recently, a few of us noticed some stucco damage on the exterior of one of the buildings. It’s a kind of decorative trim. The exterior appears worn, exposing an inner plastic netting. This damage, seemingly small, is dotted around the building. The risk appears to be that if not repaired, water and snow could get in the trim and then into more of the interior walls. Best guess is that it is from years of sun. Summer temperatures here will often top 100 F and 38 C. Best guess of action is to get to it for repair.

We have insurance, thankfully. Because we are a small homeowners association. I make the call to our local insurance agent, the person listed on our bill. It’s a polite hello. She directs me to the national carrier of our insurance to file a claim. OK. It’s procedural stuff. I call the national carrier, and explain our situation to a friendly man. He thanks me. He expresses his support. I’m glad to be in connection with him. He gives me a claim number and tells me that an Adjustor will be calling me soon to get more information. OK. Again, procedural stuff. I’m assuming this is pretty straightforward — it’s the first claim we’ve every made in the 13 year history of paying this insurance.

Here’s where it gets rather non-communal. The Adjustor calls me. Asks if he can record the call. OK, I’ve got a bit of spider sense in me that this is oddly protective, but I tell myself it’s just a way to gather information. We talk for 10 minutes. He stops the recording. I reiterate what I’ve heard from the first friendly man that I spoke with — “It’s OK to proceed with repairs right, to do what is reasonable to prevent further damage.” Yes. Good.

A couple of hours later a receive a followup up call from the Adjustor. He’s citing policy about “wear and tear” and possible “faulty initial work.” Hmm. Spidey senses are seeing quite clearly that Adjustor is highlighting policy that protects the giant corporation rather than communal right-relations that helps us with our first time claim. Grrr…. Adjustor assures me he is only implementing their policy. Of course that’s true. And I’m sure that Adjustor is not a bad person.

What I sought in this relationship with first local agent, and then, national carrier, is more of a sense of community. I wanted a communal feel and fulfilled trust. “Why do we have this insurance?” I asked myself. Of course, it covers us (I hope) in the event of more serious catastrophe. Yeah for that. But what I was really seeking, and surprised to have contradicted, was a more communal approach. I didn’t want to be read policy that “unfortunately renders us with nothing we can do.” That kind of avoidance of communal right-relations adds a very destructive tone to the simple and brilliant primary relationship of having insurance.


OK, back to the point. I get policy. I get that it’s complex. I get that this incident of the powerful imposing policy without regard to nuanced community is a bit triggery for me. Community must be part of the strategy. Some layer of connection beyond scripted politeness must be part of the commitment. For me, in this instance, it would have sounded like, “I’ll tell you what we could do. Let’s get someone out to your place to look at it. Let’s also review your claims record — I see that you’ve never filed a claim. I think there is something we can come up with. Thanks for being a customer.”

Some personal connection is needed. I would suggest for the long term health of any organization and the people that it serves. Community and right-relations is inherently the point that infuses not just the transactional but a way of being together.





When I think “sip” one of the first images that comes to me is sipping tea. I come from a tea family. Some of my earliest memories of sipping tea were with my grandparents. I was likely six years old. Me and my cousins would visit for our two weeks of summer holiday. In Saskatchewan. Grandma and Grandpa had routines over tea. Often it was afternoon tea, to cap off a lunch. Sips. Comfort. Warm or hot. Not for gulping, like I might with iced tea on a hot summer afternoon. I like the thought of a sip. There’s enjoyment and fulfillment in just the gentle taste.

Last week in working with community organizers, I found myself seeking a framing with the group of 25, cohosted with my friend and colleague, Quanita. These are people that value tools. They value frameworks. They value a sense of connection. They value a spirit of family, working together. They value action and commitment — they do a lot that requires adapting on the fly. They like to learn together. The framing that I was looking for was to help contextualize what they might learn and use from such a broad set of tools and things to try. Quanita and I were not just teaching. We were convening them in their work. We were holding them in exercises that moved their work along.

“SIP” is the encouragement that I offered to help improve the learning. “Look for SIPs,” Quanita and I encouraged.

S — Simple. What are the simple things, the essence?

I — Impactful. What matters? What do you think will matter? What do you have a hunch about that, from all that we are doing, that will have impact on your work and your community?

P — Portable. What can you take with you? It might be a simple phrase. It might be a tool. It might be seemingly insignificant piece that stays with you. What can you take with you and use?


Quanita and I were encouraging people to be good noticers of what was happening in the training and retreat environment that we were creating together. I would suggest that all of these gatherings have some learning in them, some relationship building, and some getting to work together. I’m glad these were all present. However, in today’s learning climate of learning, to go together with one another, the individual and shared noticing of important things — this is the engagement as a living system part — SIP is what we offered to help shape some direction of meaning making.

I appreciate sips of warm tea. I appreciated being moved by loved ones. Tea. And sometimes, just the right sips to stay simple, to improve impact, and to apply with ease.