When Running On Empty Is Just Right

When it comes to watching the needle on your gas tank compressed against an upper-cased “E” and no fill-up station within sight, most of us find that to be a rather stressful kind of running on empty. Having been there a few times, I’m glad car makers, or at least car makers for the Honda Accord that I drive, have been generous about the reserve tank that invisibly remains even when the empty icon is at it’s brightest orange.

Though there are other connotations for empty that are rather stress-inducing, there are some that are just right. Like the kind of orange and the kind of empty in this photo that I took on the weekend, just outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico. I loved the color of this sunset, seen from walking with my friend Charles and his dog Kai on a path bordering a nearby farm. I loved the spaciousness of a bit of time with a friend in which doing less was absolutely doing more.

I experienced a reminder of another kind of empty last week in working with friends and colleagues in the United Church of Christ. There were five of us gathered to connect face to face for a day of planning. Some of it was for organizing further the Ignite Leadership Initiative that we are all stewarding. That means designing meeting formats, imagining exercises, and holding ourselves to the deeper purpose of “the thing behind the thing.” As my friend Erin spoke, “It can be a revolutionary act just to slow down.” Just-right empty.

Or there is the empty of preparing for the online class that I’m cohosting with Amanda Fenton, starting this week. It’s a four week class that meets for two hours each Tuesday. There’s a lot that we want to put in to those classes. And to be clear, a lot of good stuff that are absolute inclusions for us. But there is also an emptiness that is important in that class and in that design. Emptying is being willing to stand for a deeply centered purpose and selecting just a few stories that help hold the class in good learning and right-pacing together rather than cramming in even too many good things.

Or there’s the kind of empty that many people seek and experience in meditation. I so value the 10-20 minutes in my early mornings when I practice a slow and long breath of detachment that seems to create extra room in my heart and soul, as if I’d just moved into a bigger home with a much wider sofa. That empty of meditation stabilizes and recontexts a whole lot of full or even over-flowing on most given days.

So here’s to the empty that is just right. Whether stumbled into in a moment. Or deliberately practiced as personal soul growing. Or remembered as an access point into the good work of a team in planning. Or just walking among fields plowed but yet to be planted, near cottonwood trees basking beneath New Mexico’s utterly compelling skies.




Taking Part

“Sun, moon, mountains, and rivers are the writing of being, the literature of what-is. Long before our species was born, the books had been written. The library was here before we were. We live in it. We can add to it, or we can try; we can also subtract from it. We can chop it down, incinerate it, strip mine it, poison it, bury it under our trash. But we didn’t create it, and if we destroy it, we cannot replace it. Literature, culture, pattern aren’t man made, the culture of the Tao is not man-made, and the culture of “humans” is not man-made; it is just the human part of the culture of the whole…The question is only: are you going to take part, and if so, how?” ~Robert Bringhurst, Canadian Poet, Author, Activist

I appreciate a friend for sharing this Bringhurst passage with me. I love the invitation to look to a different scale, a geographic scale that repositions the temporal gaze.

I also love the fundamental question — Are you going to take part, and if so, how?

“Taking part” is a pretty good header for most of the work that I’m engaged in. I help to create containers for people to be able to take part together. It’s more than the razzmatazz of good facilitation, though that is interesting, isn’t it. For me, it’s more about re-storying how we even conceive of ourselves as connected and belonging together. Perhaps this has been relegated to the domain of poets and philosophers for many a years. I love it now that contemporary life — the workplace, government, education, systems — are learning to lean in to the “taking part” story (in a “power with” narrative rather than a “power over”).

I don’t like to overstate it — it’s easy to get unintendedly cheesy — but a key part of the work these days is about how to learn to go together. Not as obligation. Not as indulgence. Not as what you tolerate before getting to the real work. Going together, taking part together — this is the story that I would suggest contemporary society is daring to reclaim. Beyond obligation, indulgence, or tolerating is awakening to the added life field that is only activated when we are together. Yes, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. That’s the cute way of saying it. And, reclaiming a reliance on wholeness, daring to lean and feel our way into that — well, that is the game these days.

I’m excited about a few projects that are attempting to change the “taking part” story. One is with my friends at the Rocky Mountain Conference of the United Church of Christ. Together, we’ve created a 9 month leadership initiative, IGNITE, that is about helping ordained clergy and lay leaders deepen their own being, amplify relationships and connection, and be church in a different way for times like these. We’ve created this program to help people reanimate in the spirit that is only found together — as we make stories and questions the central strategies for our learning together. We are two months into it, having met face to face, and now supporting monthly and weekly practices.

Another project is with a group of educators at University of North Texas in Denton. I love the daring invitation from their VP of Academic Affairs that has created two three day trainings to learn participative leadership together. It’s deans. It’s department chairs. It’s support staff. It’s senior leadership. It’s a few wild cards. They want to interrupt the silo behavior that has become part of so many large and complex organizations. They want to reclaim the way that education occurs at large universities. They want to reclaim how “taking part” can improve. It takes courage, guts, and a willingness to explore the unknown, doesn’t it.

I’m glad to be a part of such good work. I’m glad to be a voice that encourages the simple narrative of taking part, and with reminder from a few other good people that we can remember with the generosity of sun, moon, mountains, rivers.

Do Not Hesitate To Leave Your Old Ways Behind

My friend and colleague Erin Gilmore recently shared the poem below in the context of the UCC Ignite Leadership Initiative that we are cohosting with others. It’s a doozy. I love the threads of letting go and moving to the new. Bozarth-Campbell was one of the first women to be ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. Enjoy this one. Fully.

Passover Remembered, by Alla Bozarth-Campbell

Pack nothing.
Bring only
your determination to serve
and your willingness to be free.

Don’t wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey,
but eat standing, be ready
to move at a moment’s notice.

Do not hesitate to leave
your old ways behind —
fear, silence, submission.

Only surrender to the need
of the time — to love
justice and walk humbly
with your God.

Do not take time
to explain to the neighbors.
Tell only a few trusted
friends and family members.

Then begin quickly,
before you have time
to sink back into
the old slavery.

Set out in the dark.
I will send fire
to warm and encourage you.
I will be with you in the fire
and I will be with you in the cloud.

You will learn to eat new food
and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely to that place
you have not yet seen.
The stories you tell
one another around the fires
in the dark will make you
strong and wise.

Outsiders will attack you,
and some follow you,
and at times you will get weary
and turn on each other
from fear and fatigue and
blind forgetfulness.

You have been preparing
for this for hundreds of years.
I am sending you into the wilderness
to make a new way and to learn my ways
more deeply.

Some of you will be so changed
by weathers and wanderings
that even your closest friends
will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.

Some of you will not change at all.
Some will be abandoned
by your dearest loves
and misunderstood by those
who have known you since birth
and feel abandoned by you.
Some will find new friendships
in unlikely faces, and old friends
as faithful and true
as the pillar of God’s flame.

Sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
You may at times grow confused
and lose your way.
Continue to call each other
by the names I’ve given you,
to help remember who you are.
You will get where you are going
by remembering who you are.
Touch each other and keep telling the stories.

Make maps as you go
remembering the way back
from before you were born.

So you will be only the first
of many waves of deliverance on these desert seas.
It is the first of many beginnings —
your Paschaltide.

Remain true to this mystery.
Pass on the whole story.
Do not go back.
I am with you now
and I am waiting for you.