Saturday, December 21, 2019

Longest Night and Returning Sun

As I've been meditating on what lesson this season brings, I find there are two ways this holiday teaches us about the world and about ourselves. Most of us polytheist folks use them in tandem, but when we do this, are we truly internalizing the fullness of the wisdom being offered?

The modern Solstice practice is based on a generalized retelling from the Norse/Germanic myth cycles. When the end of the world, Ragnarok, is upon us, it will begin with the Fibulwinter when the wolf eats the sun and she doesn't return on solstice morning. In the northernmost areas of Europe, the longest night was LONG--upwards of 16 hours, it seems. They would keep the fires lit in vigil throughout the night to ensure the sun could find her way back and stave off the beginning of the end for one more year. The darkness was feared and the sun was celebrated as a rebirth.

The first lesson in this tale is that of the longest night, the night when darkness is at her height. Comparative mythology tells us of Nyx, known to us commonly as the Hellenic Goddess of Night, but she is far more than that. Nyx appears as a shroud of dark mists that obscures the light of the heavens, Aither, who is notably her daughter. Aither is the daughter of Nyx and Erebos, the embodiment of Darkness. Their other daughter is Hemera, or Day. The shroud of the night coupled with complete darkness, in other words, gives rise to the light of the heavens and the day. The lesson of the Longest Night is to embrace the darkness like a lover. Get to know the inky blackness within. In the darkness, much like a babe in the womb, lies the creative power that brings new life and new light to be.

The lesson of the Returning Sun is first, a reminder not to wallow and despair in the darkness, but to look toward the first rays of illumination that shed light on that which would be created out of the chaos of night. Illumination, to continue the metaphor, does not exist without darkness to dispel. What in your life, then, can you find in the darkness to be reborn in the light? This is truly the gift of the Winter Solstice.

May you find inspiration in the darkest night that grows more each day to the fullness of the Summer Solstice.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Leadership Lesson Bonus Edition: The Art of Delegation

Leadership Expectation: Help Others to Grow

del-e-gate: “To entrust to another. To empower another person to act.”

Delegation is an art. When managed well, those who report to you, whether directly or indirectly, will be more productive and engaged. When handled poorly, they feel incompetent and lack motivation. Delegation is a means of investing in the development of someone else by showing trust and opening communication pathways for true teaching moments. 

There are common “Thinking Barriers” we all have that hold us back from delegating: 
“It is easier to do it myself.” 
“It takes too long to show someone else how to do it.” 
“I don’t trust them to do it right.” 
“People will think I can’t do it myself.”  

Here are some helpful tips to improve your effectiveness as a delegator:
  1. Have the right attitude about delegating. Do your best to ensure they do not feel as though your delegating to them is a burden to you.
  2. Consider the skills and interests of your people. Try to match tasks to the skills and interests of your people.
  3. Delegate the right things. Consider the advancement potential and personal career goals of your people and give them duties that will aid them in moving toward those goals.
  4. Be clear about what you want your employees to do. Make sure your instructions are clear and easy to understand.
  5. Set clear expectations. In addition to clear instructions, take the time to explain the purpose and intent of the task you’ve assigned to them, including due dates and audience.
  6. Give them the authority they need to get the job done. Ensure they are capable of what you’ve asked them to do, including IT permissions, etc.
  7. Be sure to keep an eye on things. After you delegate something, check in to see how things are going. This helps people feel supported and enables you to catch any problems as they arise.
  8. Always provide feedback. Frequent positive AND actionable feedback help others to grow.
  9. Provide guidance when necessary. Helpful tips, when given with good intentions and delivered with a thoughtful spirit, help people succeed and feel supported. 

Bonus Tip: Delegating the right tasks to the right people strengthens the whole team.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Prayer for Courage

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~Jack Canfield

Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the paralyzer.
Fear holds us back.
Fear darkens our paths.

During this dark time, we light the single flame on our shrine,
Connecting us to all flames,
Reflecting the Fires in the heavens,
Uniting us as one.
We are not alone.

Kindreds, All, I call to you in the face of fear.
I call to Those Who’ve Gone Before to uphold me.
I call to Those Beside Me to stand with me.
I call to Those Above Me to shine upon me.
Kindreds, in solidarity, be with me now.

Aid me, my Gods, in finding within me
The power to lift up mine eyes to meet those of my fear
To weaken its hold on me.
Ancestors, guide me to take back my power
As I wave the banner of my fortitude
Held aloft by the pillar of my inner strength.
Let me be one with my purpose, strengthened in my resolve,
And moved to action despite the chains of my anxiety.
Kindreds, illuminate the way that I may take sure steps
Toward the future I desire.
So be it.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

The Characters of a Professional Helper

I was recently asked to comment on what some consider to be the seminal character traits of a professional helper: Congruence, Unconditional Positive Regard, Empathy, Humility, Patience, and Honesty. I have examined them through the lens of my service as a priest, but I share them here, because they are more a part of who I am than a product of my calling. I hope some of this resonates with you.

Congruence, Unconditional positive regard, and Empathy, or CUE, are what Carl Rogers refers to as the Core Conditions for listening. (Kollar, 2011, p. 142). His model is seminal to current works on how the pastor shows up in counseling space. Congruence is the way the body language matches the words the pastor speaks, unconditional positive regard is the ability to hold the client in high regard and with respect at all times, and empathy in a complete understanding of the client’s thoughts and feelings. These three core conditions must be met in the pastoral setting in order to build the trust necessary for the congregant to openly engage in the process. These core conditions speak to our personal character as well as our pastoral character.

Unconditional positive regard is a “thorough, caring acceptance of others” (Milne, 1999, p. 155). In a pastoral setting, the manner in which we receive what our congregants are telling us is as important, if not more so, because it is the unconditional positive regard that allows the pastor to refrain from judging the congregant and their issues. When the regard for others is based on conditions for acceptance, the pastor creates an environment in which they disagree with the feelings of the congregant and loses the ability to develop higher connection such as those experienced through empathy. Unconditional positivity ultimately leads the pastor to accept the congregant, just as they are, encouraging continued self-expression and earning trust. (Milne, 1999, p. 156). As Rev. Kevin Gardner (2009) puts it, unconditional positive regard means the pastor “respects the client unconditionally and genuinely cares about the client’s welfare and worth as a person” (p. 25).

Genuineness, or congruence, is the level to which the pastor’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors match what they say (Gardner, 2009, p.24). We speak far more when we are silent than we realize, but these nonverbal cues will not be lost on the congregant. Folks who are experiencing stress are often hyper-aware of their surroundings, which means they will pay close attention to our body postures and facial expressions as they are unfolding their tale. Congruence between our words and our nonverbal cues is proof to the congregant that they can trust us. If we speak words of affirmation yet fold our arms in front of ourselves, they will not believe our words to be true.

Empathy, or the ability to understand the situation, thoughts, and feelings of another as though they were our own, is the foundational principle of pastoral relationships (Gardner, 2009, p. 25). Empathy leads to both verbal and non-verbal cues that prove the congregant may place their trust in the pastor, fostering an environment where the congregant feels safe enough to share deeper, more intimate details that will aid the pastor in creating the space necessary for them to work through the root causes of their concerns. Empathy is the avenue through which the other characteristics are welcomed and recognized into the session.

Humility, patience, and honesty are the “big three” virtues we must strive to possess in all relationships, but especially in those where our folk have come to us to disclose personal information and seek assistance with difficult life choices. It is these virtues that will speak to our personal character.

Interestingly, humility is not listed in any of the resources for this course. In a pastoral setting, humility is best viewed through the lens of modesty and humbleness.  Modesty is the ability of the pastor to be unassuming in speech and behavior. A humble demeanor in which the pastor rests in a place of quiet reserve (without showing big emotion or strong reactions) invites the congregant to relax and share. After all, this is their meeting. The counselor who is arrogant and who knows all the answers will only serve to either push the congregant away or worse, to create a relationship in which the congregant is dependent upon the advice of the pastor.

Patience, as I like to tell my children, is waiting without getting mad. It is the ability of the pastor to hold space, even through cycles of repetition or silence, while the congregant parses out their situation and feelings. With the third-person perspective of someone outside of the situation, it is often easier for the pastor to see the road or decision that is most logical that may potentially lead to the best resolution. As situation-based counselors, we are not here to give people instructions on how to live their lives. We are here to create space, and wait in it with them, while they figure out what they want to do for themselves…without getting irritated.

My favorite definition of Honesty is “operating in the truth regardless of circumstances and political climate or consequences of the same” (Roberts, 2013, p. 13). To operate in the truth is to commit to speaking for the facts without harshness or criticism. In a time when our culture has grown so politically polarized, many of our decisions have been clouded by opinions and adherence to beliefs about right and wrong. Operating in the truth allows us to focus on the facts and help to open the perspective of the conversation to include them as more real than the beliefs and feelings of the congregant. The danger here is in framing or guiding the congregant to agree with us or to change their minds to what we think is best. Careful attention must be paid to focusing on the tangible parts of the situation when the time comes to approach a decision. Honesty, even in the face of someone else’s despair, must always be the policy.


Gardner, K. (2009). The pagan clergy’s guide for counseling, crisis intervention, and otherworldly transitions. New York, NY: Waning Moon Publications.

Kollar, C.A. (2011). Solution-focused pastoral counseling: An effective short-term approach for getting people back on track. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Milne, A. (1999). Teach yourself counseling. Lincolnwood, IL: NTC/Contemporary Publishing.

Roberts, Rabbi S.B. (2013). Professional spiritual & pastoral care: A practical clergy and chaplain’s handbook. Woodstock, VT: Skylight Paths Publishing.

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Choose Humanity, Choose Love

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.” ~Jennifer Dukes Lee

As I sit before this flame,
Meditating on the world around me,
My heart grows heavy with sadness and loss.
So many lives left in shambles.
So many good people fighting another’s battle.
So many without their basic human needs met.
What happened to the freedom of life, liberty,
and the pursuit of happiness?
How can we achieve any of those when the odds are
stacked against us?

In a world where competition and control rule,
In a world where the one is more important than the many,
In a world where those without are shunned and ignored,
What can we do?
Right now, we can choose kindness. We can choose love.

Kindreds Three, soften our hearts.
Show us where our hands can do
the most for those around us.
Guide our mind’s eye to see where
our efforts will make a difference.
Shine your light on what we can do,
Each of us, in this moment,
To feed the good in our world,
To protect those in harm’s way, and
To be the change we want to see in this world.
Kindreds, All, help us to choose each other,
To choose community,
To choose humanity,
To choose love.
So say we all.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Leadership Lesson 6: Building Trust

Leadership Expectation: Be Accountable

Many of us have participated in some sort of “trust building” activity. We’ve done trust falls, ice breaker questions designed for us to show vulnerability, and even attended workshops and seminars on trust. There are countless lists of ways we can show up in a relationship to help build trust with our peers, coworkers, friends, congregants, and family members. I have found that most of them center on integrity and communication: accountability for our actions in speech and deed.

We extend trust to those we “deem worthy” as we observe their behaviors. Did they complete the task they were assigned/agreed to by the due date? Did they listen when concerns were raised about something they were working on? Did they answer questions with honesty to the best of their ability, including saying, “I don’t know” when they reached the limits of their knowledge? All of these are examples of opportunities to build or to tear down trust.

Here is a useful list of behaviors that aid in building trust with others:

  1. Recognize that building trust takes hard work. Trust is something we must earn, and earning trust is borne from an investment of time and effort. 
  2. Be honest and supportive. Especially when the answer is no, honesty is always the best policy. Learning to deliver bad news with a foundation of support, EVEN WHEN someone has made a mistake, builds trust quickly after the ego-moment fades. 
  3. Be quiet sometimes. Listening to truly understand is one of the best gifts we can give to someone confiding in us. Check back frequently to ensure you are understanding what the speaker wishes to convey by paraphrasing what you just heard them say.
  4. Be consistent. Show up the same until the same needs adjusted, and then show up better. Sounds easy, right? Now, show up the same with the person who made the mistake and the one who did not.
  5. Model the behavior you seek. “Nothing speaks more loudly about the culture of an organization than the leader’s behavior, which influences employee action and has the potential to drive results” (Grossman, 2019). Be the employee you want your employees to be, including the words you use to talk about those who are not present. Finish your tasks on time, give others the opportunity to speak, speak up with firm kindness when mistakes are made, and be a part of the solution. Only then will you see these behaviors in others.
  6. Build in accountability. Acknowledge your mistakes and work on correcting them yourself instead of leaving them for someone else to handle. 

As leaders, the shadow we cast is much larger than we think. It is what we do when we make a mistake that measures our success in building trust. It is easy to display integrity when everything is going well. What about when it is not? Addressing something that needs repaired is the most crucial moment in building trust.

Tip #3: Building trust is more about what you do with a mistake than what you do with perfection.

Grossman, D. (2019). Trust in the workplace: 6 steps to building trust with employees. The Grossman Group. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Musings on "Thoughts and Prayers"

“Magic” is simply the way humanity has always explained scientific phenomena we don’t yet understand, and what can be more magical than divine intervention (or retribution, depending upon whether we view the results as positive or negative)? This is an age-old question upon which the bulk of the pre-axial religions were formed. Early cosmotheological religions such as those practiced by the Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) were sacrifice-based systems operating in cyclical time. At the appointed times throughout the year, various sacrificial reenactments were performed in order to literally hold up the cosmos. Evidence of this still exists in the early Vedic works in the Rig Veda.

The scientific revolution has illustrated how much of what we previously held as evidence of divine intervention is fueled by naturally occurring and explainable phenomena. The more we have found the mechanisms to be reproduceable in our laboratories, the less we have allowed ourselves as a society to assume a divinity is involved. Once, a solar eclipse would send everyone scrambling to hide and find ways to appease whichever divinity was offended. Now, we all go outside and take photographs with special lenses on our lunch breaks at work.

In our modern sensibilities regarding religious beliefs, we have less evidence of divinity in the mundane in a tangible way. Prayers and offerings made on someone’s behalf can help soothe the wounded spirit, but they will not bring about direct change.  Instead, offering our prayers to those who are in need helps create a sense of hope and community in a time of helplessness and isolation. As a community, offering our prayers to others is a form of emotional support that creates the conditions for the disenfranchised to be empowered to take action. ADF’s role in larger-scale events such as fires, earthquakes, and floods, begins with statements of support and community. Formal intervention, in my opinion, must take the shape of humans finding the resources for those in need. Other churches pass the plate to take donations for their congregants in difficult situations and still call the collective pool of assistance divine aid. The spirit has moved the generosity of the congregation to come to the aid of one of their own. ADF must do the same, if we are to bask in the glow of community. Afterall, it is during trials and stressful times that our character as an organization will be shown to the outside world.