Find tips and resources for self-care, material to assist you in providing pastoral care, and general information to help you in your practice of ministry. Information will be updated every two weeks concurrent with the East Ohio E-news.
February 6, 2017 Edition
“We are living in exciting times, where we are teaching people not what to see, but how to see! The broad rediscovery of nondual, contemplative consciousness gives me hope for the maturing of religion and is probably the only way we can move beyond partisan politics.” - Fr. Richard Rohr
Communication and the Church: Creating Healthier Relationships
by Robert Kirkpatrick
An outreach ministry team seeks council approval to use mission auction monies for an elevator to make the congregation’s building more accessible to people with disabilities. During council discussion of this request, the pastor questions the appropriateness of using mission funds for an elevator. After all, she points out, mission monies should be used only for the congregation’s outreach ministries. Since no one from the outreach ministry team is present, council refers the request back for clarification.
This referral action seems sensible, except for an important misperception: the outreach ministry team thinks their request is rejected rather than returned for clarification. They also feel that the pastor exerts undue influence in the council’s action.
Feeling hurt, unappreciated, and ignored, the ministry team members angrily demand a meeting with the pastor. They also send her a feisty memo expressing their frustration, including a sharply worded demand that the council reconsider their request. They argue that people outside the congregation will use the elevator, including a number of organizations that meet at congregation’s building (e.g. A.A., a preschool, etc.) Their rationale acknowledges that an elevator serves the congregation, but presents compelling ways that it also is an outreach ministry.
What happens next?
When the disgruntled outreach ministry team meets with the pastor, she corrects the misperception that the council denied their request. However, rather than talk past one another, play the blame-game, let the conflict spiral out of control, further damage trust, or fracture relationships, the pastor listens to ministry team members’ feelings of anger and hurt. She also checks her perception of what she heard them say and feel. Moreover, rather than try to convince these members that they no longer have reason to feel angry, the pastor calmly acknowledges their frustration.
This pastor’s active listening and perception checking skills, together with her non-anxious presence, defuse this potentially conflicted situation. It communicates to ministry team members that the she takes them seriously. They feel confirmed, understood, and appreciated. It also communicates that the pastor tries to use her power and influence to serve and help rather than cajole and control.
However, this incident could have had a very different, all-too-common outcome.
Why healthy communication matters
Feelings of neglect, resentment, anger, blame, lack of appreciation, and frustration are often long lasting. Misperceptions, anxiety, passive-aggressive communication styles, power struggles, dis-confirming messages, cultural insensitivity, ineffective listening, and destructive conflict often have dire consequences––individually, collectively, and synergistically. In fact, these communication breakdowns can spiral out of control, leading to such disgruntlement, dissension, distrust, and division that people angrily leave the congregation.
By contrast, effectively employed communication behaviors can avert a potentially disastrous situation. Use of wise, timely, and effective interpersonal, small group, and organizational communication skills can make the difference between destructive, out-of-control, unhealthy relationships and constructive, manageable, healthy ones.
Communication in the Church: A Handbook for Healthier Relationships, a recently released Rowman & Littlefield and Alban publication by Thomas G. Kirkpatrick, targets six topics that account for the vast majority of communication breakdowns in our congregations:
It provides some simple guidelines that can go a long way in helping people improve the quality of communication in your congregation and everyday life. Hopefully, you’ll find numerous “ah-ha” moments along the way, and even more importantly, some practical skills that will enrich and deepen the relationships in your faith community and beyond.
Nonviolent Communication: Good Therapy
When our communication supports compassionate giving and receiving, happiness replaces violence and grieving!
CNVC founder, Marshall B. Rosenberg, PhD
Nonviolent communication (NVC), sometimes referred to as compassionate communication, is an approach to communicating designed to help people connect more compassionately with themselves and others. Nonviolent communication can transform interactions, as it enables people to become more aware of their feelings, needs, and desires, as well as those of others, in a given situation.
This form of communication can promote greater self-awareness and personal growth, to foster deeper interpersonal relationships, and to effectively settle conflicts and disputes at all levels of society. Those attempting to strengthen nonverbal communication skills may find the support of a mental health professional to be helpful.
Nonviolent communication was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s and is based on several core assumptions. First, Rosenberg proposed that humans are innately compassionate. The NVC model emerged from his ongoing attempt to understand the factors that influence this innate compassionate nature and his realization that language is one of the most crucial.
According to Rosenberg, it is our nature to behave compassionately, but many of us have learned how to speak and act in ways that are harmful to others. We learn to judge, withdraw, defend, and attack, all of which alienates us from others and from our natural state of compassion. NVC was designed to help us overcome these negative tendencies so that we can connect with others on a deeper personal level.
Rosenberg also believed that all humans share certain universal needs. When these needs are satisfied, we experience pleasant emotions such as happiness and contentment; when they are not, we develop negative feelings such as anger and disappointment. Our feelings, therefore, indicate whether our needs are being met.
Rosenberg's model of nonviolent communication was influenced by the principles of humanistic psychology as well as the Gandhian principle of nonviolence. The core components of NVC are outlined by Rosenberg in his well-known book Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life.
More resources may be found here:
Race Matters: How Far Have We Come?
by Ken Hardy
But while there’s been a positive shift in our awareness of race, the discomfort and awkwardness in addressing it is still prevalent. Regardless of the venue or the participants, conversations about race are difficult to facilitate. People of color fear being judged as race-obsessed, angry, and hypersensitive. And whites often fear being misunderstood, perceived as a racist, or saying something that will trigger the anger of people of color. For the most part, a fundamental attitude of mutual mistrust underlies discussions of race between blacks and whites, making meaningful interactions across the great divide of race hard to achieve. It takes both will and skill to address the issue of race, and even though the will has generally increased, the skill is still lagging behind.
Over the years that I’ve been facilitating these kinds of interactions, I’ve realized that the most successful ones must start with the soul work of seeing, being, and doing. Seeing is about our increasing ability to recognize how much the color of our skin defines our day-to-day experience. The next step is being able to engage in a process of self-awareness about what it means to be white or a person of color and what role we choose to play in addressing the racial inequities we see around us. The final step is, of course, the most difficult—to actively engage in doing something about them.
If ever there were a critical moment for constructive and courageous conversations about race, power, and privilege in our practices, communities, and the broader society, this is it. Personally, I feel affirmed in the credo that whatever our training or orientation, our work as clinicians should ultimately be devoted to healing the world, even if it means addressing that huge task in 50-minute intervals at a time.Details here ...
Another Tip from a Messy Contemplative
by Eric LeRoy Wilson
I get tripped up on the shoestrings of western thought. I read when Teresa of Avila meditated she would catch herself levitating. Get that! Unbeknownst to even Teresa she would find herself unmoored from the bonds of gravity and for a length of time she’d be just float in contemplative bliss. I’m luck if I don’t trip on my way to my meditation mat. There’s so much clutter on my way to bliss consciousness.
This is especially true as it relates to my tendency of idolizing “more”. I have been preconditioned to want more. I want more food, more stuff, more time, more space. I am driven by the notion: satisfaction is met with the acquisition of more. We are predisposed to this truly western idea that all will be made better by more.
The contemplative pause out rightly rejects this claim. Being fully present to God in sacred space says, “no”. Meditation leads us to a place where the silence between the notes of music makes the symphony rich. The space within the room has greater significance than the walls themselves. To sit in silence in the deepest part of God invites us all to disposes ourselves of the notion that more is always better.
My friend Danielle gave me a gift that reminds me of this daily. On a trip to Israel she picked up a small little cup for me carved out of olive wood. The rough-hewn cup stands only about an inch high and sits on my desk upside down. The cup represents the fifth cup of the Passover feast. The fifth cup is the cup of wrath that the prophet Jeremiah was to offer to every nation in the world. With this cup they would drink to their own demise. This was the cup of destruction. But it sits on my desk upside down and emptied because this was the cup Jesus drank which frees the world from its pending doom. The empty cup is a reminder of the hope for all humanity. It’s significance is not found in its filling but in it’s emptying.
The Bible bursts into song in Philippians 2 and sings of Jesus as the one that emptied himself and beckons us to do the same. So we enter the offered “Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God”. We make our way into the sacred pause and there we find the hope made full in emptiness. Meditation is the space where we relinquish agenda, expectation, and control. It becomes the place where we perfect the practice of self-emptying with the aid of the Spirit of Christ.
Let’s disposes ourselves of the notion that more is always better. Let’s daily practice the counter culture act of emptying. As others engorge themselves with resources that cannot be readily replaced which levy such a huge burden on the “least of these” and as others use racial bias and xenophobia to justify exploitation for more, let’s model the hope found in the empty cup. We may never levitate but in some large or small ways we can be a part of raising the compassion of the world through emptying.
Contemplative Christianity Is the Great Tradition
by Richard Rohr
I believe the teaching of contemplation is absolutely key to rebuilding Christianity, otherwise our very style of “knowing” is off base and everything that follows is skewed. Our untransformed brains are hardwired to focus on the negative and to dualistically label and divide, it seems. While rational critique and logical judgment are important for practical matters, they can only get us so far. We need nondual consciousness—the mind of Christ—to process the great questions of love, suffering, death, infinity, and divinity and to be unafraid of diversity and welcoming of union at ever higher and more expansive levels.
We will explore contemplation and nondual consciousness more in a few weeks, but for now let me briefly define the practice of contemplative prayer: In a silent posture of self-emptying, we let go of habitual thoughts and sensations and connect with an Inner Witness (Romans 8:16)—God’s presence within—that gazes back at ourselves and out at reality with an Abiding Love. Contemplation is learning how to offer “a long, loving look at the Real.”
Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy have a long but intermittent tradition of teaching contemplation. Catholics today may know the word contemplation, but that doesn’t mean we know the actual how or the important why. Instead of teaching silent mindfulness, in recent centuries the church emphasized repetition of rote, wordy prayers, and “attendance” at social prayer. Even most of the great contemplative Orders (Cistercian, Carmelite, Poor Clare, etc.) now recognize that they stopped directly teaching the practice of silent prayer to their own members. Contemplative prayer was largely lost after the dualistic, tribal fights of the Reformation and the Enlightenment. The utter vulnerability of silence did not allow us to “prove” anything and so was no longer attractive. The Protestant tradition does not have a strong history of contemplation beyond a few isolated individuals who discovered it on their own. The Orthodox tradition had it well-documented on paper and in a few monasteries, but it was far too tribal go where contemplation always leads—toward universal compassion, inclusivity, and nonviolence.
So most traditionalists today are not traditional at all! They know so little about the Big Tradition beyond their ethnic version since the last national revolution in their country. That is what happens when you move into a defensive posture against others. You circle the wagons around externals and non-essentials, and the first thing to go is anything interior or as subversive to your own ego as is contemplation. Of course this is precisely what is essential for true transformation. Without it, we have the French and Spanish Catholic hierarchies largely opposing their own needed revolutions and reforms, English and German bishops blessing all their wars, and the majority of Orthodox hierarchies co-operating with communist dictators against their own people. This is the bad fruit of non-contemplative Christianity, which Thomas Merton was one of the first to be public and vocal about in the 1950s.
Christians need to retrieve our own tradition of accessing and living from an alternative consciousness. First we have to know that the Christian contemplative tradition even exists and once flourished. We’re not simply borrowing from Eastern religions and modern neuroscience. It is very clear in the Desert Fathers and Mothers, many of whom fled to the desert in the fourth century so they could practice what they felt was authentic Christianity, unhindered by the priorities of the new imperial religion that was based largely on externals.
The alternative contemplative tradition persisted in Celtic Christianity (outside the Roman Empire); in the Eastern Church’s collection of texts, called the Philokalia; and in the monastic history of all the ancient Orders of the East and West, which only sometimes taught it directly or indirectly (e.g., Dionysius, John Cassian, the monastery of St. Victor in Paris, the Franciscans Bonaventure and Francisco de Osuna, and the final explosion in the Spanish Carmelites). Otherwise, it was more exemplified in highly transformed people who came to it through conscious prayer, love, or suffering. There were anomalies like the Jesuits, Jean Pierre de Caussade and Teilhard de Chardin, and very many women foundresses of communities who show all the fruits of a contemplative life. Women and lay people had more easy access to contemplation precisely because they were not seminary and liturgically trained. Like Julian of Norwich, they learned it on the side and on the sly and often through suffering!
Gateway to Silence:
Give us wisdom. Give us love.
7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess
by Jen Hatmaker
Seven of us at Chatham Community Church are living through Jen Hatmaker’s experiment of becoming aware of and eliminating much of the excess from our lives. It is a consciousness raising experience around food, clothing, possessions, spending, media, waste and stress. Hatmaker evaluating her life identified these seven areas of excess and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence. With her group of seven they would spend thirty days on each topic: eat seven pure foods, wear seven articles of clothing, spend money in seven places, give away seven things each day for a month, adopt seven green habits, eliminate using seven media types and taking seven sacred pauses per day for a month.
So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends social experiment to become a radically better existence.
Meet: monthly 1 ½ hours
Where and when:
Ashland Christ UMC, 1140 Claremont Ave. – Second Wednesdays, 1:00 PM
Canton Faith UMC, 00 9th St. NW—Second Thursdays, 10:30 AM
Sandusky Trinity UMC, 214 E. Jefferson St. – Second Thursdays, 2:00 PM
Cleveland Hts Church of the Saviour, 2537 Lee Road – Third Thursdays, 1:30 PM
Medina Granger UMC, 1235 Granger Rd. – Third Wednesdays, 1:30 PM
If you are interested in being part of one of these groups, it would be helpful if you let us know for planning purposes. For questions and to receive information about a particular group, please call our office 330-456-0486 or email us at email@example.com
The Program in Pastoral Care and Counseling encourages the spiritual formation of our pastors believing a strong spiritual base is the greatest resource a church leader can possess. It helps us weather the many storms of ministry and deepens the incredible joys ministry provides. Following is a list of Spiritual Directors in our area. We encourage you to take advantage of this rich resource. This listing will appear in each edition of our bi-monthly webpage updates and new names and contact information will be provided as we learn of them and have permission to include them. If you are a director or know of a director that is not included here please let us know.
Debbie Baker - firstname.lastname@example.org
Bruce Batchlor-Glader – email@example.com
Harry Finkbone - Finkbone1@gmail.com
Joyce Gordon – firstname.lastname@example.org
Karen Hollingsworth – email@example.com
Liz Nau – firstname.lastname@example.org
Jennifer Olin-Hitt – email@example.com
Sharon Seyfarth Garner – firstname.lastname@example.org
Valerie Stultz - email@example.com
Carol Topping - firstname.lastname@example.org
6 Ways to Stop Arguing and Start Listening
by Kathryn Drury Wagner
Explore ways to lay down the swords and work on our listening skills when faced with a potential argument.
Do you find yourself in a lot of arguments lately? Stormy weather emotionally? You’re not alone, so for this week’s Healthy Habit, let’s explore some ways to lay down the swords and work on our listening skills when faced with a potential argument. Here’s how.
The Two Essential Ingredients for a Loving, Long-Lasting Relationship
by John Gottman
What the latest research from my lab is telling us is that trust and commitment are both the key ingredients for being in love with your partner for a lifetime, and for having your marriage be a safe haven. These are the ingredients for not just loving your partner, but being in love with your partner. And here the work of Helen Fisher is important. Fisher studies people who are in love. When she puts them in the functional MRI tube and they look at the face of the person they say they’re in love with (versus a stranger’s face), their entire pleasure center, the part of the brain that secretes dopamine, lights up. People used to say, “How long can you be in love with somebody? It’s got to have a shelf life of maybe 18 months.” Well, she’s found people who are still in love with their partner two decades after the wedding and longer. Apparently, being in love can last forever.
I think future research is going to show that it’s based on building both trust and commitment. And we already have techniques now for doing that in couples therapy. The key element in making those techniques work is paying more attention to the moment-to-moment state of clients’ physiology. To do effective couples therapy, people really have to be calm when they talk to one another. And so the focus on conflict that pervaded couples therapy in its early years needs to be supplemented by calm, everyday emotional connection, where people can really talk to one another and listen and work on friendship.
Another thing we need to do is develop a system of shared meaning within the couple that has an existential base. When partners aren’t compromising in their essential conflicts, it’s because they feel as if the compromise means giving up a core part of themselves. Therefore, we have to get at the meaning of each person’s position in the conflict to resolve the majority of relationship conflicts. It’s also necessary to look at intentionally building shared meaning to have a connection that’s fulfilling and has some depth to it. It comes down to having a sense of shared purpose and meaning. For many couples, that includes a religious basis. William Doherty has been writing about this for decades.
If you have any questions or issues you would like for us to address or would like to get email alerts when new resources have been posted please contact Howard Humphress at email@example.com or use our quick contact form.
Or contact our office at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330-456-0486.
The East Ohio Conference Pastoral Care Office:
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Office Hours: Monday through Friday 8:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
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