Shedding Burdens & Trying Softer; Aundi Kolber [SSL 250]

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– Lisa
Feb trip to Puerto Rico. Want to come?

Today on Spark My Muse I’m featuring some of the work of Aundi Kolber and her much celebrated book Try Softer: A Fresh Approach to Move Us out of Anxiety, Stress, and Survival Mode–and into a Life of Connection and Joy

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ESP 23 The hidden “family rules” that have shaped you (and still impact your life)

familyfightDid this ever happen to you? You think the way your family (of origin) does something is normal, and then, suddenly, you find out it isn’t?

Usually, this happens when you form close relationships outside your family of origin. Fireworks can ensue!

How your family dealt with conflicts, problems, shame, secrets, and tragedies shaped you and learning relational and loyalty dynamics from the previous generations in your family can bring relational repair, health, and hope.


That’s what today’s show is about. I’m glad you can listen, today.


Today’s guest is graduate school professor and marriage and family therapist in private clinical practice, Janet Stauffer, Ph.D.



Dean of Students, Evangelical Seminary

Professor of Marriage and Family Therapy

In addition to her work at the seminary and her clinical practice, Janet is vice president of the Board of Directors at Philhaven Behavioral Healthcare facility. She has led retreats, presented at professional conferences, and published articles in a number of journals. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and approved supervisor and clinical member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. She also holds membership in the Christian Association for Psychological Studies. Her research interests include genuine meeting through dialogical engagement, loyalty dynamics between and across the generations of the family, and the intersection of faith and therapy.





Each person is born with an inherent longing to connect.


Early childhood experiences shape who we are and how we relate to others.

Our ancestors deliver ways of being to us across generations:


What can be done if the early years weren’t filled with dysfunction and problems?


How relationship can alter the wiring and re-patterning of the brain.


Jim Coen, UVA – The Hand holding experiment.


In close relationships, we end up feeling–not only are you here with me–but somehow you are me. Somehow we are here together.


Before we can help others, we have to be open to ourselves and our own healing. Our wounds can remain as vulnerabilities and our greatest resource.


“I because who I am through my relationships with other people, so that more of me gets called forth as I respond to others in my world around me.”


The still face experiment:


“Foo-Poo” (FOO = Family of Origin) influences our current relationships.


The interconnectedness and “loyalty dynamics” between and across the generations and how during all our interactions we are holding something that has been passed down across generations and in the larger cultural dynamics.


Example from life (Janet, her husband and the Ford Fiesta). Naming the truth in our interactions and being curious about what we hold from generations before us.


Janet explored what anger was like for her mother and grandmother and discovered not just a family secret and the shame that was carried on, but also a a family norm relating to how pain is dealt with.


Family secrets and ways of interacting waiting like land mines that can sabotage our other relationships.


We can also end up carrying or holding visibly or invisibly things that our spouse (or other close relationships) hold as well.


There are options for growth and healing if we can be open, aware, curious and can find courage to turn and face [the other] and remember where our weakness are and admit them.


The power of naming what is happening for us emotionally.


“Honoring my personal truth, personal awareness, my being, and made a claim for myself has a profound impact in my own knowing.”


“Every one of us experiences terror at the thought of finding the courage to turn and face the other in a painful situation at some point in our life.”


A defend or fight mode should be superseded by the prevailing message “You and I are on the team team ultimately. We have a reason to connect and I long for you. But it’s been hard between and here’s something of how it’s been for me… and I want to know what it’s like for you.”


Yet, we cannot think what we say will always help because we cannot guarantee the other person’s response. So there is vulnerability in saying the truth.


Being calm, curious and compassionate even in the face of wounds and vulnerability.


Emotionally self-regulating and contending with emotional triggers.


(In marriage or close relationships) Learning self and other in a whole new way…in a kind of sacred space to grow through the most tender places that we hold.


Telling the other what would help in what feels like an unsafe place emotionally.


Learning to soothe one another.


On core lies we can believe about ourselves.


Honoring when emotional safety is just as important as physical safety.


What to do when it’s not safe to have important conversations.


Martin Buber-We live with an armor around us and bands around our heart and being closed off and unaware and unaddressed.


Asking questions of ourselves to create more awareness and realizing our thoughts and memories are not us.


We limit our imagination about the capacity each of us holds to respond the other, the world around us and ourself.


We can test our assumptions and plant seeds that bring new possibilities for ourself and others.


When we can’t yet name or isolate our feelings.


Giving permission and a soft demand to know what is going on with someone else and helping them find their voice.


The biblical tradition of the garden where God says “Where art thou?” a story about hiding. God’s longing for humankind.


King David in the psalms is modeling openness and receptivity…asking “What is in my heart?” “Who am I?” “What do I hold?”


Being open and still safe. Giving yourself warm, regard, and leaving the self-judgment out.

“Judgment limits the knowing.”


Being present to and growing in recognition of “here’s what I hold” or “here’s what freezes me” etc and asking “how can I be more free?” and then exploring new pathways and practices that go somewhere.


On the spiritual practices and things can people do to move forward.


These ways of understanding what it is to connect, grow and be human are universal and offer hope to those with varied religious tradition and no religious affiliation too.


The spiritual and the Other when it is not defined as “God”.


“God doesn’t limit God’s self to the church or the synagogue or the mosque and we can never fully describe God because God cannot be contained and is always more than what I can fathom or grasp”


Asking, “How do I understand the call before me and how do I invite others and find the place where they are experiencing call and longing and where is this work happening within them. What is being invited forth?”


How we can pass down the best of our generational dynamics and loyalties to our children.


On the invisible family rule of perfectionism and how it made Janet think she could be the perfect parent and how that idea was shattered.


How she approached her son after that point to understand what he was experiencing and being surprised by his reply.


We can never get it all right, but we can be willing to go to our child and ask them about their experience.


Inviting others to know themselves in whatever capacity to do that they can and hold what they say with care and honor.


Enacting moments and accumulating themes and transactions and happenings and asking “Is their a burden they carry or an injury of disregard or diminishment that was not theirs to carry?” which deserve address and caring and honor.


On having a commit to “I will be there for you, and I will be here for me, and I invite you to be here for me,” is a profound act that helps us for the long run.


Despite our efforts, outcomes are not guaranteed and each person has an opportunity to respond uniquely.

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on Waiting…

This Sunday marks the start of the season of Advent 2015.

The predominant theme of Advent is WAITING in expectation.
It’s a timeless theme.

(Before mobile phones, if a bus broke down you had to find a pay phone and wait your turn to call for rescue. These folks don’t seem too upset by it.)


Waiting makes up a big portion of our lives, doesn’t it?

Whether it’s waiting in line or in traffic or waiting for an occasion or certain situation–we do a lot of waiting.

For me, a focus on waiting pulls me out of the present moment to a moment that exists in theory. It involves hope or anxiety. Or both.

The prisoners I minister to have a life centered on waiting for their freedom. They routinely tell me that keeping busy is the best way to conquer the burden and stress of waiting.


But a closer interaction with the experience of waiting can unearth and reveal deeper spiritual longings that can both call us into a richer walk of faith and engender the growth needed to more fully surrender to God.


If we just stay busy we can miss the gifts that come only through waiting.

Because waiting is such a huge part of the human experience, it’s no wonder that Christianity has long interacted with this theme as a entry point into bigger spiritual conversations and concepts. It is through this struggle we gain growth and maturity in our walk of faith.

Patience is rarely, if ever, attained by any other means than practice.

Waiting is that practice.

Waiting on the Lord is a vibrant theme in Scriptures too, right?

Most of the stories in the Bible include the aspect of waiting. Abraham and Sarah (and many others) wait for offspring, David waits on the Lord for deliverance, the prophets wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled, Paul and the other apostles do a lot of waiting in prison, and in the season of Advent we acutely encounter Mary’s waiting for the Savior, Jesus. She is the vehicle God has chosen to birth the Prince of Peace. It’s a nine month process–on the heels of thousands of years of waiting for the Messiah.

This delivery involves a lot of anticipation and waiting.

And so too does most anything else of worth. These many stories echo our own pain and struggle.

I appreciate Mary’s expression of gratitude during her wait (a.k.a. The Magnificat-see the video below to hear “Mary’s Song” sung my John Michael Talbot). We can use her example to help us along.

Gratitude produces joy that makes waiting easier.

Waiting aptly exposes our traits of impatience, also. It works to refine us.

Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. ”

Rev Adele Ahlberg Calhoun recently wrote,

Waiting is how God gets at the idols of our heart. Waiting addresses the things we think we need besides God to be content: money, comfort, expedience, success or control.


It’s a powerful lesson we find in Advent. Meditate on the longings of your heart and cultivate the seeds of advent there. Expectantly wait for God to fulfill his promises with a heart of trust and gratitude.

“Power of Image, Play, and Identity”: Thoughts from Len Sweet

Success Kevin T. Houle via Compfight


This is the last bit of reflection on the Leonard Sweet event hosted by Evangelical Seminary this week. (Here’s the first one in the series. Here is the second post.)

 Sweet claims we are living in TGIF times.

Thank God It’s Friday?






Sweet leaves out YouTube which is huge omission. I sense that slipping a V into his acronym wouldn’t be as nifty. (But, I think he’d agree with me that it’s worth inclusion in any assessment of how our current culture learns and is entertained.)

Notice this: All but one of these vehicles of media prominently feature images instead of text. Twitter is driven by 140 text characters (and usually less than that) and this apparently is enough to be radical. Though Twitter is often used for tiny newsy bursts and quotes, tweets tend to include internet links to articles or videos which include visuals.

A new image driven age emerged with televisions in every home in the 1950-1960s. Film? It got super popular and this has never been more true in our current age. Can you think of any other time when you shut off your phone for 3 hours? No. People hate that, but they will sacrifice what that love for something they love even more: Cinema. Nothing solidified the domination of our image age more than the advent of images on the internet. Add to that, the innovative ways of sharing Videos and Images on devices we routinely carry (laptops and smart phones) a major and permanent shift in how we prefer to engage the world occurred. Period.

So what?

Well, we haven’t adjusted, and that is going to really matter. And soon.

Protestants have a substantive Identity crisis because they have lost the story. Disciples have stories: Guiding narratives that set them apart so they don’t have to discover who they are; they can just move forward and be innovative and transformative.

Sweet used the example of Identity in the Jewish culture and ethic group:

• There are about 7 billion people living in the world.

• There are only about 13 million Jews (How much of the world’s population %? is that? Scant.)

• Those with Jewish heritage make up  whopping 25% or so of Noble Prizes winners, Oscar winners, Pulitzers, Tonys, and many other commendations for exceptionality in a variety of fields. How can this be?

A bunch of social science research projects tell us that what lies behind the wild success is namely a firmly formed Identity.
By 12 years old they know who they are, where they come from, and they see themselves in the larger Story (by religious imperative and rites actually: it’s mandatory).

• Jewish culture also has many times of “play”, that is, festivals that tell them who they are. The sit around the table speaking about and interrogating the Story also. This creates a solidified Identity for flourishing.

The last tidbit from the Len Sweet event: Play Ethic

In our mad rush to work and do we have forgotten how to play. God was wasn’t working during Creation, he was making mud pies. He was Creating which isn’t work really. He still is. Labor came hit corruption entered the world and things got messed up. Jesus is always at a party or eating or cooking or making food out of thin air. He loves Martha’s cooking, but when caring for Jesus became work he told Martha of a better way. He didn’t want her to work, but to enjoy. “Sit down and let the rest go.”

If ministry is soul-killing, if it’s a heavy burden and labor, you’re doing it wrong. Ministry shouldn’t be [slow] suicide, says Len Sweet. “Worship is the playground of the Spirit.”

So, really the question remains: Will Protestantism stand the test of time? Signs point to “no”. But, critical to its survival and virility is the concept of creating a lasting and potent Identity that starts with a Story well-told.

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The Strange case for Meek Leadership

franciswashesAs new Pope Francis makes bold statements through actions (washing the feet of inmates, taking residence in the papal guest house, etc) the word I hear tossed about concerning his leadership is MEEK.

Too often lumped as a quality of weakness, Meek Leadership has secret powers!

So what is the word “meek” about and how can it be so influential?

My leadership professor, Tim Valentino, wrote some comments I’d like to share with you.

(You can read more of Tim at his blog)

Leadership and Meekness?

The biblical word for this is “meek” (praus). A related word is “gentle” (prautes).

The semantic range of this word cluster includes the following: humble, gentle, considerate, unassuming, courteous, and restrained. In some contexts it means, “the absence of pretension.” By way of contrast, it’s the opposite of harsh, arrogant, or braggadocios.

As used outside the New Testament, this word has in it the idea of “lying low.” It was a word originally used, for example, to describe a low-lying river—one that cut through a valley. A river, of course, is a powerful thing, but a low-lying river is one that doesn’t impose its power on you. You have to go out of your way to go see it because it’s unobtrusive.

It’s important to keep in mind, I think, that “meek” does not mean “weak.” Unfortunately, these two words rhyme in English, but they are not synonymous. Nor does this word mean timid, shy, bashful, cowardly, indecisive, or unwilling to serve. Perhaps the best definition comes from William Barclay, who defined meekness as “power under control.”

Again, as used outside the Bible in the first century, this word referred to:

• Tame animals (cf. an elephant with its foot on a circus lady)
• Soothing medicine (cf. buffered aspirin or anti-anxiety drugs)
• A gentle breeze (cf. not a tornado, but wind that is refreshing to the body)

All of these items can have tremendous, destructive power, but “meekness” brings them under control to serve a good purpose. Significantly, Jesus, who has all authority in heaven and earth, quintessentially displays meekness. He said in Matthew 11:29:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Jesus, of course, was a great leader. He was also meek. Apparently God thinks the two should go together.

Questions to ponder:

§ Do you know anyone who is powerful yet meek?
§ Do you know anyone who is authoritative yet gentle?
§ Could your leadership be described as “meek” in the sense used here?
§ How would our work environments improve if our leaders were meek?