On May 27th, I posted a letter on my place-based Facebook page, We're ALL Lynn. My letter was also posted at LynnHappens.com, the great online Lynn community news site curated by Seth Album. My immediate and passionate response was fueled by the depth of my commitment to my city. I am excited about, and worry, about what'll come of the multifaceted initiatives to "improve" Lynn, which suffers from economic and race issues. My hope is that innovators and leaders have the whole in mind. I share my letter below.
It's about Lynn, but it could be about any community. It's about our emotions; it's about the need to be curiosity (and kind); it's about coming up with creative solutions to problems (and asking questions); it's about a plea for collaboration (which is the most creative and holy of acts); and it's about how we make meaning of each part and the whole. It's about how we, as spiritual leaders, might take timely time and share our voice towards the greater good. Please let me know your thoughts. I am open to learning what I do not know and thinking divignly.
You don’t know me but some of you do. I’m around town, usually at Brothers Deli or cheering soccer games on the common. I’ve been around Lynn longer than my childhood home. Thus, Lynn is my homeland. I care about where I live and have dedicated myself and my actions to contributing to it’s well being.
I write as a plea for the people of Lynn to resist any trend toward hateful speech. The experience of being a community can never be a zero-sum game of winners and losers. It just doesn’t work that way. The greatest civilizations of all were those that came up with innovative solutions to enormous challenges. We marvel at them and are inspired and learn from them. How is our living becoming wisdom for the next generation? How have we alchemized abundance from scarcity? What is the story of discovering the talents in our diversity?
As an artist and a minister, I believe the more we can inspire each other to use our sincere curiosity and creativity to view ourselves as community, the more the living in this community will feel good. Community-based thinking and living is a critical facet to harmony. The more people are doing it, the more we create a worthy history of living together in a particular time and place.
It’s easy to make fun of, complain and blame a group of people. We humans often first put down what we may not understand (because we have not had the same experience). It’s a common way we try to prevent ourselves from falling apart over the fact that we have no control in this world. We want personal progress but won’t support another if it is different. We want new business without allowing in new ideas. We want to be cool but guard institutional tradition. All I know from sitting with people in their pain, and my own, that diagnosis is always the same — something prevents us from seeing the humanity and worth and possibility right in our midst. “It was there all along,” we will be reminded. I tell you, says I — a professional story teller to the children — all great wisdom stories are the same. Our existence, no matter what we believe in, is about re-enacting a search for the truth. It’s never the war, struggle or deficit in itself that becomes the holy. It’s the surprising innocence and value and hope that makes us listen. In the end, we learn time and time again, more often than not, we can get through adversity when we discover something inside ourselves that leads to peace for more than ourselves. Our struggles are hard. We’ve all had some. And some of us quantumly worse than another.
If you disagree, then I will ask you to teach me your stories, your wisdom tales. I will listen. There’s just one thing.
I have a personal rule that I assume you could agree to — we listen to each other’s truth and ask questions and respect each other and who we talk about. It may be true that I am naive. Actually I am more afraid than naive. I can barely get used to the suffering that has surrounded me my whole life. The sadness. Here and then. Yesterday and tomorrow. I took vows to do no harm. And while I may not do enough, I will not make fun of or hurt anyone because I think they are less worthy than I. I don’t think anyone is less worthy than I am. Less lucky, yes. I try to give up unearned privilege or use what I should.
I am sensitive (like my dad) and sometimes a badass (like my mom). With both these qualities, I continue to bear witness to the process of being community, together. I’m not doing it to have more friends. I’m not doing it to save anyone. I’m doing it because I believe that is what my faith and all faiths require of me.
I am grateful for the opportunity to learn how to get along better. Will you join me? How do you it? What is your most inspiring idea? How will you speak up and out with your lofty vision of everyone in Lynn getting along?
~Rev. Anne Principe,
curator of “We’re ALL Lynn”
Next time you have an opportunity to go walking, bring your blurry gaze with you and notice what your "third eye" perceives.
I am a Youth Worker, once again. But this time and like every time, it's different and the same. After years and years of guiding teens of liberal families to develop moral, ethical and spiritual voice, relationship and action, I took a break. It was not for long even though I knew I needed to learn more before I attempted this work again.
In October of 2015, I walked into a Center for Refugee Services in my community and offered myself as an interfaith, minister who was capable and interested in supporting teens in developing leadership skills. I was greeted openly and warmly by the Director, Natasha. The next week, the Director introduced me to the Youth Coordinator, Becky. As a way to gauge interest, the next week I began spending time in the after school space meeting and chatting with the teens who congregated there to use computers or to be coached through their homework. I was greeted openly and warmly by the teens and was swiftly introduced to over a dozen who came to know me as the Leadership Circle Lady, Anna.
By mid-November, the New American Center Teen Leadership Circle had was a Thing. Already, this group of teens was different than any other I had encountered. While they came from many different lands, with an array of stories, wearing differing fashion, and claiming inherited faith, as a whole they had a few profound elements in common:
...their way of being in committed, caring community
...their constantly expressed gratitude and respect for the adult guides around them
...their initiative to be there and openness to new experiences
This is not to say we didn't have some pretty typical, loving tussles -- eating habits, cellphone use, and group think that was sometimes less than the sum of the parts. These challenges initiated me into a familiar relationship of love, nagging and respect. It was not long before they trusted me to challenge them to do better for themselves, each other, and the worlds in which they lived.
Some of the themes in the first month of weekly NACTLCs (New American Center Teen Leadership Circles) were:
By and by, attendance varied depending on school schedules, weather, and holidays. To date, 24 teens have been occasional to frequent members of the Circle, with two middle schoolers regularly trying to slip into the mix. (I try to be stern in the "no," but their persistence is impressive.)
By February, two key events happened:
First, I had planned for a February vacation-week leadership days for the NAC Teen Leadership Circle. Two of my wise and creative comadres from El Paso, Texas joined us group as guest leaders. They brought their lived experience of walking with others that comes from living on the border. It was fun, formative, and fantastic.
Second, a dear friend and colleague in faith, Sally, hosted a mid-winter gathering of families who gather yearly for a week of summer church camp. The teens present asked if I would talk to them about what I was doing in my Community with teens. I did so and before I thought I had finished, one of them asked if they could come in April. Others nodded. I agreed.
Throughout March, the NAC Teens and I talked about the guests who would be visiting us in April. They were not visibly excited and seemed nervous. Perhaps the thought of it -- that teens from other communities might want to come and spend time with them learning cross-cultural leadership skills -- was too abstract or too soon. And besides, this was not their idea. Other obstacles surfaced like deciding on the actual dates for this with our out-of-town friends, guiding the NAC teens to engage in this new idea, and justifying to their families the need for commitment in the face of work schedules and family responsibilities. And last but not least, at all, was trying to find a local organization willing to let our group sleep on a floor for two nights. At last, we were given the keys to a kingdom -- a large gymnasium that would double as our sleeping quarters and playground.
Fast forward to one week before this Friendship Trip. The plan was not exactly coming together for the NAC teens. In a sincere but exasperated state, I asked the group,
"who here has been a stranger in a new land and experienced generosity and hospitality?"
We shared stories.
These teens have not always been treated nicely at all. Still, they shared the best of the best stories of kindness of being welcomed as a stranger in this country, and other countries. Being the stranger was an identity many were born in to. When the stories died down and before diving into boxes of pizza, I asked,
"Well, it's your turn. Are you up for it?"
"Yes, yes, YES!" they chanted.
They sketched out a schedule with time blocks that would allow them to manage their responsibilities while participating in group activities. My key support and lifeline in all of this -- the Becky, the Youth Coordinator -- and I upped the ante and devised a point system that motivate their learning in planning, showing up on time, and participating fully. (After all, teens sometimes sleep late, get distracted or allow their teenagerness to interrupt their listening.)
This video captures four days and two nights of cross-cultural fun and sincerity. I invite you to notice all the ways that this one group of new friends came together with ease and excitement. Such joy is not hard and it is not easy because of the ways our lives and communities are separated. When we go out of our usual way to discover what we have in common, we awaken to really good feelings, new perspectives and visionary possibilities.
In the end, as in the beginning, it begins with earnest desire to connect with another. I am grateful for the hospitality of strangers who invite me into their community.
Many thanks for family, friends, and believing bystanders who have provided sustenance of many kinds on many levels. May your generosity be returned multi-fold.
My Comadre led me to a Safe House in El Paso, TX -- in the largest bi-national community in the world. Since then, I have returned to this place again and again with my compadre, my family, and small groups to provide some modest support and relief for the volunteer staff – mostly a hot meal. I am grateful for being welcomed into Safe House when I had little to offer. My presence might have less than null value if it weren’t for my companion, who is fluido en espanol and who takes people into her heart and life.
From a practical standpoint, let me be clear – “places like these” need prayer and material support. However, the presence of sincere yet removed and well-meaning volunteers is counter to a spiritual mandate of humility.
When we are part of a group/community that shares beloved values, there comes a time when the group activity is collective action. Collective action is the most complex and sophisticated of acts in community. Collective action is only possible when collaboration (mutual discernment; co-creation; prayer; visioning) is a routine spiritual practice (that is redundant). Annunciation House is a place and a way of being that manifested (decades ago) as a result of small group bible study and prayer (that is redundant). My understanding is that a sacred question that bound the people sitting in start-up faith community was, "who is the poorest of the poor......HERE....where we are?"
And so they went out and into the community they were already in. From the beginning and decades later, the lived works of Annunciation House is more than a great story. It is a way of life. It is not a program. It is not a day of action. We can’t just walk in all smiley – or looking sympathetic – and offer our help. The commitment necessary is more than a day, is more than occasional, is more than a large group of many people who decide to tend to a few. What began as arithmetic becomes math. What is thought as theory must transform into actionable theology (or pick the word that has the same import).
With the steady hand, and sometimes pinching grip, of spiritual teachers, I have learned to practice sitting alone for a while in the middle of the field that surrounds me. It. Is. Hard. Scary too. Everything spins and everything I know is too blurry or blocked to access. It feels like I am falling and that the fall will last forever. Have you ever felt this way? If you have been lucky enough to crash and survive, then you know that something reminded you you are sitting, the drop wasn't forever, and finally you could just lay down – awake. For me the spinning thus far keeps stopping. The renewal of faith is a jolt that does not come in a can. Humble is hard to be and sometimes hard to recognize as we live our post-modern days. Imagine you are living without comfort and love around you. Imagine you are still grateful for your life. Do whatever it takes to be able to imagine this. Spend all your time with children if you need help getting your imagination back.
I have inherited an adage from my Life Partner’s family of deeply conscientious friends – Get Down Town. There you will be doing the math correctly – you to many. Bring a friend and it is You Two to More. Bring your friends and family and it’s All Y’all in Beloved Community. Eventually you will learn that you have to be there, live there, claim that whole community as your own, not the object of your charity or generosity.
And if have the impulse to do something now, before you feel ready, ask someone you respect how you might begin. If that feels distant or hard, join me in sitting the middle of a field, alone.
On Mother’s Day last year, my adult children, my sister and I created a potluck brunch. It was a beautiful and sunny day. As we set up our cozy spot in a courtyard, I tripped on an uneven surface and the plate holding a frittata smashed down on the pavement. The frittata stayed together well without it’s plate and we continued with our picnic.
It was one of those moments for all of us and we were grateful -- family and love and food, one more time. It was the celebration of sorts. There would be no holidays for Mom in the next four months, except for some legal holidays which changed the pattern of her caretakers.
Mom was in a mood that day, one year ago. Such moods would happen for no reason, I had come to understand. Though Mom always had to find a reason. I think the fervor kept her alive. Being all bright and sunny that day, we all just kept talking gaily while she looked on.
But Mom chose ME to give The Stare. I smiled just shy of neutral. Then I smiled and stroked her face. She jerked away a little but she did like the touch. Her confusion was visable.
“You’re no goddamned good,” she declared to me for the first time. I had heard her tell others this very same thing.
I was sincere in asking her a respectful question;
“What do you think I should be doing in my life?”
There was no delay amidst her waning executive function;
“Keeping your mouth shut.”
I burst out laughing and lay my head on her lap.
“Oh Mom, I can’t do that. I’m just like you now.”
Her eyes flickered. She looked down and clucked her lips. She met my gaze again and said without emotion,
“I will take that as a compliment.”
* * *
To say she was sassy is a rookie understatement. To say the apple didn’t fall far from the tree would not be the best metaphor. I am quite meek and mild, comparatively. And I am made of more than one biological and cultural systems.
My Mom did a lot of good in her life. There are pieces I am still discovering as I slowly wade through her files: notes, clippings, drafts, copies. She did not equip me with certain skills. I would have liked to explain to her that not everyone is brave like she and that being nice (and truthful) was a worthy life purpose. I would have liked to talk about the other facets of confidence and justice – namely, the people we meet along the way. She was both process and goal based. She was both traditional and revolutionary. I think I would finally be ready to insist that we talk about subjects like kindness in the face of hatred.
There was one thing that was constantly true even though the presentation of it could be quite confusing – she loved children. When I became a parent she said, “you know Anne, you will never truly love your own children unless you love all children.” This confused and worried me.
But how, Mom?
Time has taught me this, bringing it from an adage to actualized. My notes, clippings, drafts and copies are an intimidating mess, and I’m mindful to consider their usefulness to the next generation. Actually I am more than mindful. I am diligent, committed and fervent.
Mom was a gardener too. She poo-pooed annual plantings saying they were a short-cut and unimaginative. She collected, pinched and stole seeds wherever she went. She sowed them and gifted them also, and would teach anyone how to raise them. She would say, “you’ve got to feed them with what’s in your environment.” She would help me collect buckets of seaweed.
Peonies and tomatoes (principe borgese); lily of the valley and angelica; Siberian iris and rose: some years ago she planted a tree, fertilized by a placenta. I cannot visit the tree or see how it’s growing because where it lives is no longer our family’s home.
Unless it has been knocked down or cut down, I have faith in that tree even though I will likely never watch a child climb it.
But a tree it is – roots and tips, leaf and bark, rings and stories.
MOM!!!.....how much salt should I put in the sauce?
The latest Podcast from Divign Thinking: DTCup002INNOVATION
From Julia Cameron to Matthew Fox and now, Austin Kleon to Elizabeth Berg -- these are some of the many pop culture mentors who have influenced me to live into a life defined by creativity and ultimately -- innovation. I don't give them all the credit, though. It is the reach back to childhood, and the practice of keeping it fresh, that informs my story of being a Creative and Innovator.
When I was in interfaith seminary at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine, my cohort had the opportunity to spend the day with Matthew Fox at the time he was discussing his latest work, The Hidden Spirituality of Men. Apart from his riveting presentation on this important work, he spent time with us students in creative process. I will never forget one of his many conversational statements: "People in the struggle have the wits and the skills to innovate because it is a matter of survival." Years later, I have not stopped using this piece of wisdom as a point of reference, truth, and purpose. And since then, I have been a self-directed student of creativity and innovation. There may seem to be a missing word in there -- invention. Social media innovator Tom Grasty's capture of the different between invention and innovation:
In its purest sense, “invention“ is the occurrence of a new concept or product for the first time, whereas “innovation,” occurs if someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service.
This distinction matters when embracing the practices and skills required of effective, ethical spiritual leaders. No matter what venue we serve -- community, congregation or corporation -- it is incumbent upon us to understand the origins of ideas and things to substantially honor and improve on what has preceded our current creative/innovative task.
Innovate we must in order to remain relevant and to be equipped to respond to the most pressing challenges of our times. What are we changing? What are we improving? What are we creating? And why? As an important add-on wondering question, with whom are we collaborating? By definition, collaboration is a required discipline and act of spiritual leadership.
Innovation is exciting because it points to something different than the usual kinds of art. It happens within our historic models of institutions (aka, not only "start ups"). And most importantly, I posit, the relationship between the most crucial innovations and the source of the innovator's skill set is rarely found in credentials. Why? To understand the living source of the innovators skill set, we might only take a moment to consider our own response to a new idea (when we think everything is working just fine as is OR we recall our own experience of excitedly suggestion a new way of doing what we've always done). The life and work of a Innovator is not easy. It is important to honor that fact that this archetype can do no other than to create. Trying to compel a Creative to stop creating is tantamount to suggesting to a child to stop using their imagination. May none of us be so foolhardy.
This concludes, but will never complete, today's contextual framing for the second DT Podcast. My colleague and co-creative-conspirator, Joy Berry and I talk about innovation. Your curious questions and thoughtful ideas are en/couraged!
In the meantime, some questions for reflection and discussion: