Sunday, September 29, 2013

Seeking for What's Next

So I am looking for what's next. Many of my blog posts over the last six months have been focused on wrestling with questions about vocation, letting go of the past and moving forward as I have been seeking to listen to where I am called to serve.

After doing some great work with my coach, Dave Kaiser at Dark Matter Consulting (who I highly recommend!), I have a much clearer vision about the type of work I both most enjoy and I am good at, the type of place I want to use my gifts and the kinds of people I both want to work with and serve.

So this blog post is a networking request. I am looking at some specific places and I am open to exploring others I have not yet identified. I am looking for a new full time position and I am looking for short term projects. I love to guest preach! I love to do consulting and can consult on a wide range of topics like being a healthy congregation, faith formation, campus ministry, multi-generational community and others. So please share this post or if you know someone at an organization that might be a good fit, and you are willing, please provide an introduction. If you have a job and think I could be a great fit, let me know I would love to talk to you.

Scott Varney is continuing to work on this site for me. Again Scott is a great musician, graphic designer along with being a good friend and awesome dad! Right now under the "Work" page there is a video of me preaching and then audio file with then Powerpoint of a workshop I did at the Unitarian Univeralist General Assembly. Other video and audio files are coming. Also a pdf of my CV will be up there.

I am looking for a position working in an educational institution, either a foundation, non-profit or college/university that utilizes my teaching, facilitating, organizing, and program management skills. I am particularly interested in multi-faith or ecumenical programs or ventures. In an ideal world, the position will be mid to upper management/program level with the ability to stretch and challenge me. Positions that would create or manage Interfaith Initiatives at a college/university or manage a regional, national or even worldwide program(s) or project(s) focusing on education, ethics or religious pluralism would be ideal. I would prefer the Southeast ... someplace like Atlanta or to stay here in Virginia... but I am also willing to look at other locations with the right opportunity though moving north much beyond DC would be last on the list. I would be interested in international locations as well especially in the United Kingdom.

Secondly, I am looking for ways to expand readership of my blog and traffic to my Facebook page. So please share my posts, comment, give me suggestions for topics!  It is a way to get my name out there and I also hope to use it to generate some short-term projects like guest preaching, writing/research, teaching or facilitating workshops. If you hear of appropriate short term projects that might be a fit, please pass my name along.

Have you liked my Facebook page yet?  Are you following me on Twitter?

What is up next for you?  What are you seeking?  How do you know what you are looking for? 
Who is helping you find what's next?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Shame, Guilt and Fear are Poor Teachers and Motivators

I recently posted a comment on a friend's Facebook status that "shame and guilt are poor teachers and motivators" and since I wrote that I added fear and I realized how often we use shame, guilt and fear thinking they are the most effective ways to get people to change their lives, change their behavior and do and be the things we think they should be doing and being.  We believe that these are the most effective tools to use with children and then we extend it to the most vulnerable - the poor, the marginalized, those in prison.  We love shame, guilt and fear and in fact one will often hear comments about the lack of these particular qualities in today's children. That children are too coddled and they need to have the "fear of God put into them." Think about that for a minute:  we need to "put the fear of God into" a person, a vulnerable child.  Just a tad inconsistent with the message of God's unconditional, all forgiving, love or the notion that "God is love."  It is either one or the other - it can't be both.

I encourage you to think about the role fear, shame and guilt have played in your life. Now I am not talking here about the guilt one feels when one has genuinely hurt another person and wants to make amends. Guilt is a part of that process. It is not that all guilt, all fear, or all shame are bad - it is that when they are the only ways we think someone can change or learn that we run into trouble.  How many things have you avoided out of fear, shame or guilt?  I can't go talk to that person - I am just too embarrassed, I feel guilty, it has been too long.  So instead of guilt giving us the impetus to heal a relationship, it becomes a barrier.  So we continue to avoid it.  People have died not speaking to another person, or reconciling with one they loved because guilt or fear or shame have kept them from reaching out.  How awful is that?  How sad is that?

What about things like body image? We love to fat shame. When we see clothing stores refusing to stock larger size clothing or stories like this

promoting a vision of average size women and  the response is that they are promoting obesity.  As someone who has been labeled fat and shamed literally her entire life, I will personally testify that shaming someone into your vision of their body never works.  It actually results in the opposite affect - the more shame and guilt and disgust one feels for one's own flesh leads to negative behavior either through over-eating and under-exercising or by starving oneself.  Yet over and over again we see people looking to shame as the ultimate tool for promoting "healthy bodies."

Some of the worst cases of shame, fear and guilt come when it comes to those who are unemployed, receiving public assistance of any kind, the poor.  When I mention the word poor what other words come to mind? Are they hard working, industrious, innovative, ingenious?  Because to be working class or poor in this country requires that you be all those things.  Often people are working more than one job, they are spending time looking to stretch every single dime of their food dollars (read some of the accounts of those who have taken the SNAP challenge), they are going hungry so their children won't, and they are dealing not with praise but with disdain and scorn.  Because if your image of the working class and poor is coming from newspaper, popular culture or politicians the answer would be no. The words that come to mind are lazy, parasitical, unmotivated, and the list goes on.  We hear about people receiving SNAP buying high-price steaks, gaming the system.  Over and over, someone, knows someone who doesn't really need financial assistance or disability but is receiving it.  It motivates the humiliating, intrusive interviews for assistance that assume the very worst. It even permeates our faith communities, where even there assistance is given with the assurance that we would never just give a person cash directly or help a person more than once.  Now some of that is trying to make a small pot of money stretch as far as one can - particularly in an economy that has been in the state ours has been in really a very long time yet it also perpetuates the assumption that poor people are likely to scam faith communities.  It motivates legislation like not allowing people to feed the homeless in public parks or requiring drug testing before receiving assistance.  The assumption over and over again is that people would rather just be given a hand out rather than earning an adequate pay check with health care, retirement and be self-sufficient.  So we use the tactics of shame and guilt. We think surely if we shame them enough they will cease to be poor or if not that, they will at least stop asking for help.

I grew up on stories in my family about welfare recipients having more babies just so they could stay on assistance or get more.  Stories of food stamps going to buy expensive food.  I grew up believing that the poor were lazy and unwilling to work.  Of course as the middle class has eroded and the paths out of poverty have become fewer and far between, more middle class people have slipped into poverty.  The statistics tell a grim story.  Literally millions of people in this very rich country are experiencing hunger, economic insecurity and coming closer and closer to the dreaded label of poor. Yet we somehow are led to believe that all these millions of people are looking to deceive the system.  We would rather believe that they all don't want to work and they could have a job if they just looked harder rather than admit that our entire economic system works for only about 5% of the population.  Shame, fear and guilt are powerful but they don't create positive change.  In fact the more we shame people, make them feel guilty and instill fear, the less able people are to find that better job, be motivated to go back to school, learn a new skill, network with people who might be able to give them a job.  Job seeking is work, hard work and those who have done know that you need inner confidence, hope and drive to keep seeking, to keep trying in the face of rejection.  Fear, guilt and shame will only provide more barriers, making people less able to help themselves.

I could turn to many other examples in education, health care, our criminal justice system and over and over we would see that we continue to believe that shame, guilt and fear are the best teachers and motivators. Yet over and over we see their failure.  True motivation and effective teachers are those that offer praise and constructive feedback.  The best teachers do not just pass you along not believing you can do any better (and they make sure you know that) or yell and publicly shame you.  The best teachers will keep finding ways to teach you, show you until you get it  My best teachers are the ones that inspired me to do my best. My best example of this was in graduate school.  My second reader for my final project was the one who first encouraged me to get an MTS instead of an MA, was the hardest critic of my papers but always available to read a draft and give feedback, and looked at me when I was doubting I could finish and said "Margaret, you can do this."  That meant the world. I did finish.

The reason my coach has been so powerful is because he believes in me. He asks me each time we talk what success to celebrate from the last week. Let me tell you having someone celebrate your success with you, even if it is a small one, can keep you going.  It can give you the strength to reach beyond what you thought you could do.  Fear, guilt and shame will never do that. Fear, guilt and shame will put you in a box and make sure you never venture beyond it.  They can only keep you locked in fear - they can't free you.

I actually find in my life that it is not until I clear the guilt, the shame and the fear away that I can actually do what needs to be done. Take the deep breath, face whatever it is and do my best.  Over and over again in both the Hebrew and Christian scripture, God's messenger's or God's first words are "Don't be Afraid." Maybe we need to take those words to heart and offer support, love and the reminder to those struggling "Don't be Afraid."  Maybe we need to celebrate their success (no matter how small) with them and to stop critiquing and berating them for the mistakes of the past.  Maybe we need to keep believing in them, the way God keeps believing in us.  It is not that we don't get more than we can handle in this life, that is not God's promise, God's promise is that God will always be there, no matter what happens.  God will always take us back, take us in, loves us and forgives us. Wouldn't be wonderful if God's people modeled that in our world? Now that is reason to hope, that is a reason to change!

What are your best motivators and teachers?  How have shame, fear and guilt kept you from leading a full life?  What have you put off out of shame or guilt? What would make it possible for you to live your most authentic life?  Who are the people in your life that you can count on to be there for you?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Reclaiming What We Knew

The process of discovering and living into our authentic selves is one that takes us both forward to learning new things and also backwards into re-claiming those things that have been lost. Often as children we have a better sense of who we truly are and then life, parents, schools, and other people, without malice or meaning to, often lead us to distrusting these early truths.  "The Logical Song" by Supertramp captures this perfectly:

Yet sometimes in the journey, we discover something we knew, something from our past that we realize at some point we let go of, we forgot some essential piece of ourselves and now we are able to reclaim it anew.  Somehow we break through being "logical, sensible and reasonable" to remember something we knew to be essentially true for us.

For me a realization of something left behind occurred this week although in reality I had been re-claiming it for awhile and on some level I never forgot.  I had the deep pleasure of taking a friend of mine and her children to Georgetown University for an introductory session and tour. Her son is considering Georgetown and it is the first time I was able to share my love of Georgetown with someone I care about who is considering going there.  As a bonus, my daughter is now considering GU.  I had never taken the introductory session or tour.  My parents and I didn't do the visiting colleges trip before I applied to college. I had, however, seen Georgetown with a friend of my parents who was an active alum and whose children had all attended Georgetown.  My introduction was through friends of my family.

I learned a lot on the tour, things that will be helpful as I continue the joy of interviewing applicants as part of the Alumni Admissions Program.  What I realized on the tour was how deeply Georgetown is a part of my identity - a core part of who I am. I remembered how much I had wanted to go there, that Georgetown was my first choice and how right that choice felt when I finally got in my sophomore year as a transfer student. I did not get accepted to Georgetown for my freshman year of college so I went to another Jesuit school - Marquette University - but I never lost site of the goal of getting to Georgetown. My years at Georgetown were transformative ones. Some of my closest friendships are those I made at Georgetown.  Intuitively I knew at 13 years old, when I first toured Georgetown, that this was where I not just wanted to go but that I was called to go and even though the path to get there was not smooth, I never gave up on that call.

Yet somewhere along the way I had forgotten.  For many years I was not involved, I didn't contact alum for networking.  I have never joined an alumni club although I did attend a couple of events in San Francisco. Somehow I had an image of my current self not matching with the self that loved and went to Georgetown. It is not really important why, the point is that in the journey to figure out who I am, mostly by trying on other identities and looking to outside sources, I had lost a key learning from my past.

Being back on the campus, brought it back ... the love of place, my own tenacity when I feel called to something and even something about reclaiming a sense of pride in my academic abilities.  There was just a moment where I stopped and looked around and remembered again how much I love this place and continue to love it.  Over the years I have become more active.  For the last 8 years I have been an alumni interviewer - which I love doing!  For my current job search I have been actively using the network and my coach is a Georgetown alum who graduated only a year or so behind me.  I continue to keep in touch with my friends.  When we see each other we pick up where we left off.  I am amazed at all the work they do in the world - from serving in the foreign service, to other branches of government, to non-profit work, to academics and the for-profit corporate world.  Their work lives are as diverse and wonderful as they each are.

Sometimes our intuition guides us while we don't even know it.  How could my 13 year old self know that Georgetown was absolutely the right place for me?  I am so grateful she did.  I am so grateful I did not let go of that dream.  I am so grateful that now so many years later I can affirm the importance of Georgetown in my life and in shaping who I am. It is a symbol of listening for the call and being faithful to that call once heard, a symbol of deep connection across space and time and a reminder to believe in myself.

I want to seek more ways to connect with my Georgetown roots.  Maybe I will take the plunge and start that alumni group here in Williamsburg/Hampton Roads.  I know this, I will never forget that Georgetown is part of my authentic self - the self I want to continue to discover, shape and live out in all areas of my life.

Georgetown states that one of the goals of its Jesuit education is prepare women and men for service to the world! Yes, that is my goal, to live my life in service to the world!

Sometimes in the road to discovering our authentic selves, we need to go back and reclaim what had been left behind.  Thank you Georgetown for once again shaping me into the person I am meant to be!

Hoya Saxa!

What hidden gems might be in your past that need to be remembered and reclaimed?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Relationships - The Heart and Soul of Ministry

This past Saturday I attended the memorial service of a long-time and beloved member of my former congregation.  It was my first time back to the congregation since leaving my position and I am grateful that the minister and I agreed that I could attend memorial services.  For those of you who do not know, the professional guidelines for Unitarian Universalist ministers and religious educators states that we will not attend events and services or be involved at our former congregations for two years following our leaving a position.  The idea behind the guideline is to allow the congregation and the religious leader to move forward and also to give the new religious leader in a congregation a chance to settle in and form their own relationships.  As I walked in the door, I greeted the widower.  He hugged me and held on, I could feel him crying and in that moment I knew how much it meant to him that I came and how right it was that I was there.

As I always do at memorial services, I learned new things about this amazing woman.  I learned about her professional life, met her son. I heard stories from all sorts of people who knew her.  It is one of the blessings of this kind of celebration of life - you hear so many stories that you would not have another chance to hear.

What I also realized as I sat in one of the back rows of the sanctuary, looking around at the members of the congregation, I was filled with a profound sense of love and care.  I came to realize that what I missed most of all from my work at the congregation, were the people, the relationships and friendships that had formed over the past five years.  Yet I also realized all the ways I held myself back from fully entering into these relationships and that was because of the strong messages that are out there in seminaries and professional organizations about boundaries.

Now I am all for good and healthy boundaries. I can't imagine a circumstance where a minister and congregant having a sexual or romantic relationship is healthy.  There are no circumstances in which any kind of sexual contact with a minor is acceptable.  Being a minister, whether ordained or religious educator or any other person where someone is the professional and paid by the congregation for their expertise, comes with an expectation that they have a role of authority (even if the person thinks that is laughable) and that they must be aware of the particularity of the role they hold in the community.  That being said, much of the way boundaries have been discussed, at least in the UU Circles where I have spent much of the last eight years, have created barriers to relationships, where ministers and others feel isolated and lonely and have in some ways, threatened the heart of ministry which is relationship.

What I realized as I sat there, is that I often held parts of myself back, that I didn't just let the relationship happen rather I worried about maintaining boundaries.  Yet the ministers who have touched my life most deeply were the ones that I knew and not just as priests or ministers but as people. They were the ones that my parents had over to the house for dinner, the one that threw me into a pool fully dressed when I was being a snarky tween, the ones that have stayed in touch with my family over the years.

Boundaries need to be permeable for good relationships to happen. If the religious professionals are holding themselves back, not being open, not sharing, then how can it be expected that the members of the community will open themselves and share themselves?  How can we model healthy relationships if all we can think about is not getting to close, not giving an appearance of favorites, being somehow perfectly connected and perfectly removed which is perfectly impossible?

Having good boundaries is first and foremost about knowing yourself.  Are you self-aware?  Do you understand your own needs, strengths, weaknesses?  The truth is that in a community there are going to be people that are your people, relationships with them will be easy and come naturally, there will be many people who you will have a good relationship with and then there will be those who you will not like (and may not like you either), who will be difficult and your job is to be in relationship anyway.  Will it look the same as it does with the people who really like and easily get along with - of course not.  You are a human being and relationships are imperfect. However if you know yourself, if you pay attention then you are more able to enter into relationship in healthy ways.

Now the other pitfall is realizing that you are attracted to a member of the congregation.  Now there was a time that young ministers were almost expected to find a wife from within the congregation he served (since they were almost all men and of course they were all straight) and it would have been an honor to have one's daughter marry the minister.)  Times have changed and with it our understandings about sexual relationships between ministers and congregants.  Just because one has feelings or attraction to someone does not mean one must act on them - contrary to every Disney movie and romantic comedy. Again self-awareness, the very heart of good boundaries, is key here.  Being aware of the feelings and managing one's own behavior is key.  I am not saying it will be easy but feelings and attractions are very often temporary and fleeting - it won't last forever. However if one is not being self-aware, not realizing any issues in one's marriage or relationship if one is in one, can lead to boundary breaking. This is a place where having professional guidelines can be very helpful to keeping one's behavior in check.

Another key to healthy boundaries and self-awareness is having a life outside the congregation and outside one's professional colleagues.  Now I confess I did not do this very well.  Join a book club, a bowling league, the Rotary.  Yes if one is serving in a smaller community that may mean one will encounter members of the congregation but the goal here is to have life outside the congregation.  Sometimes that life will intersect with life within in the congregation, just let it be. Letting someone know you in different contexts is part of life.  Each of us has different relationships with different people and then some of those intersect. People have professional lives, families, hobbies, interests and faith communities - people understand that each of us multi-faceted.

I think we do a profound disservice to our members when we assume they can't hold boundaries.  When we assume they can't handle a person in different roles we are not giving them a chance.  When we don't get involved in certain things because members of our congregations may be there too or we work so hard to only have our friends outside the congregation, then we are saying to the members of our congregations "we can't trust you to hold the complexity of this."  That is insulting!  Yes, there are those who never will be able to do that - they are in the minority. When we make rules about boundaries assuming the worst then we will get what we assume.  If we do have friendships with those in the congregation or work with them in other contexts then we need to be honest and direct with them as to where the lines are in our relationships ... when we do this we show our own ministerial maturity and our respect for them as well ... and perhaps more importantly we honor relationship. Guidelines can help us as we learn about ourselves and what ministry means but when the guidelines hold us back from fully entering into relationship then the ministry suffers.

So I am sorry I held myself back and didn't let my congregation get to know me as well I could have.  I am sorry it is too late for that now.  I am grateful to have the permeable boundary that allows me to come to memorial services.  I am also deeply and profoundly grateful for the relationships I have had with members of the congregation. Please know, even though I didn't find a way to say it before, I loved the people of WUU and I know I was loved in return. Ok let's be honest, I found it easier to love some of the people at WUU more than others and some of them found it easier to love me than others.  Yet each one of them touched my life, changed it and I am better because they came into my life.  So thank you!

The lesson I take away is that I just need to love more deeply and more openly and surely that will serve me well wherever I end up next! Isn't that at the end where our guidelines hope to lead us?  That we may have ministries filled with healthy relationships of love, care, witness and faith!

May it be so!