Sunday, October 31, 2010

Love, Embodied

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”  (1 John 4:7-9)

Enjoy this video: 



Skye Jethani has said:  “Judgment causes us to see the other not as a person, but as a thing, as less human and therefore less valuable. And once we do that to a person or a group of people, it opens the door to all kinds of terrible evil -- segregation, injustice, abuse, even genocide. . . . The Christian's job is to agree with God that every person you meet was worth Jesus dying for. We cannot ascribe that kind of value and dignity to people and condemn them as worthless at the same time. It's just not possible” (“Judge Not”,, accessed October 29, 2010).

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Elder Mediation Helps Families

A recent article in the New York Times (click HERE for full story) tells the story of a family who got help from an Elder Mediator with a distressing family situation.

An elderly client was calling her caregiver in the middle of the night and making unreasonable demands.  The caregiver was close to quitting her job.  At a family meeting facilitated by attorney and elder mediator Joy Rosenthal, the family discussed the issues and needs of various people affected, including the elderly person and the caregiver.  Then, the group came up with a list of things they could to to make the situation more manageable for everyone.

There are a couple of things I love about this story.

For one thing, it makes it clear that Elder Mediation is helpful in many cases that would not call for court action.  The issue of calling a caregiver in the middle of the night was not the type of thing that people go to court for.   Yes, it is true:  mediation is appropriate for situations involving very serious issues that could legitimately be taken to court.  But mediation is not limited to these types of situations.  It can be helpful at every level of conflict.  Indeed, the earlier a family calls in a mediator, the better.

When the family calls a mediator at the first sign of distress, the mediator can intervene before the family has become polarized and estranged from one another.   (In cases where family appears headed for court, early intervention by a mediator may save not only relationships but tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and court costs.)  Additonally, mediation enables families to consider options that would never be available in a court of law.  In this case, the family was able to intervene before the caregiver quit, and mediation enabled them to work together to forge a creative, win-win solution.  The result?  The elderly client was happier, everyone had a better understanding of each other, the caregiver was able to to keep her job and work more reasonable hours, and the elderly client was able to retain a trusted employee.   Even more important, the air was cleared, people understood each other better, and a better foundation was laid for future decision making.

Another thing I like about the story is the simplicity of the solution and the way the solution met the true needs of all the parties.  (To learn the exact problem and solution, read the story!)   As this story illustrates, sometimes the solution is very simple, and all it takes  is to talk it through.

As simple as the solution sounds, however, I’m certain it was worthwhile to engage the mediator.   A qualified elder mediator isn't just a person who has decided to act as a middle man and "keep the peace".  A mediator, if properly qualified as an Elder Mediator, is a seasoned professional with advanced training not only in basic mediation skills, but also in mediation of large and complex family issues, and they will have specific training or expertise in elder and geriatric issues.    The mediator will know how to set the stage and manage a meeting in such a way as to ensure that all family members are heard and all interests are on the table before  options or solutions are considered to address those needs.  The integrity of the mediation process is what ensures that once a solution is in place, it is a good solution that does meet all needs, and not just a knee-jerk, slap-a-bandage reaction.   Indeed, that is one of the best values that mediation offers.    By going through the steps in a methodical way, as led by a expert in conflict management, families who choose mediation actually address root causes.  Conflict addressed in this way offers opportunity for families to develop better systems of communicating and making decisions, and thereby have the opportunity to achieve authentic healing and reconciliation.    It's virtually  a no-lose proposition.

To find a mediator in your area, search through mediators listed on the web site, or search specifically for an elder mediator on the site  .   I've also written a guide to choosing an elder mediator, which can be accessed HERE.

[caption id="attachment_475" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The author with her grandmother"][/caption]

(My own background that prepares me as an Elder Mediator includes approximately 160 hours of study of mediation techniques (including specific study with Zena Zumeta and Susan Butterwick in mediation of Elder issues and contested guardianship cases and study with Richard Blackburn in conflict transformation in large group settings), personal study in elder law, personal experience in elder care management, and graduate level study in medical ethics.  I am a member of the Elder Decisions section of the Association of Conflict Resolution, and I am listed on both of the above sites in the field of Elder Mediation.)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Haiti: An Opportunity to Advocate and Help

Are you concerned for Haiti, and want to get involved?  A group of Presbyterians will be traveling to Haiti from November 10, 2010, to November 19, 2010.  If you are interested in joining this group, you must respond immediately.  Applications to go on the trip must be received by October 25, 2010! 

As stated on the blog of the Presbyterian Hunger program: 

The goals of this Agricultural Missions delegation are to:

-  visit rural organizations and communities

-  assess the context, challenges and opportunities that face rural Haitians in consultation with Haitian leaders

-  build relationships of mutual respect, and

-  upon return to the U.S., advocate on behalf of rural Haitians and the member organizations of FONDAMA.

The cost is anticipated to be  $350-500, plus airfare (typically $600-$700). 

For more information, click HERE



photo compliments of Biswarup Ganguli,


What’s There To Do in Columbia, SC?

Here are some suggestions from the official city web site 
See a concert at the Colonial Center. an ice show at the Carolina Coliseum. a Broadway show at the Koger Center. a national dance touring company at The Township. a regatta at Lake Murray. a replica of a three ton white shark at the State Museum. historic homes from the 16th century. festivals, concerts and an amazing view at Finlay Park. Catch a theatrical production at one of Columbia's many theatres. Walk through the tallest trees on the East Coast in the Congaree National Park. Tailgate at Williams-Brice Stadium as the University of South Carolina battles in Southeastern Conference football. Enjoy food from around the world at one of many festivals. Listen to one of music's hottest performers at the South Carolina State Fair. Play challenging golf course. Visit Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Garden, consistently rated one of the nation's "10 Great Zoos." In short, Columbia really does have it all!

You can easily spend a full day at Riverbanks Zoo. When you purchase your ticket, check to see the times for your favorite animal feedings (penguins, seals, birds, sharks) and then schedule your visit around that.
Until the Charleston Aquarium was constructed, Riverbanks was the largest Aquarium on the Eastern seaboard between Sea World in Orlando and Sea World in Williamsburg.
Depending on your preference, the botanical garden (across the river on a footbridge from the zoo) is lovely and includes a trail that goes through remnants of a pre-Civil war encampment. It was from this location that Sherman bombarded the City.

State Museum 

The State Museum is housed in a former textile mill building that at one time housed the first electrically powered mill in the USA. The building is constructed by master craftsmen using construction techniques that are no longer available in the USA. Taking up four floors, the first floor is Art, second floor is Natural History as well as various traveling exhibits, 3rd floor is Science and Technology, and 4th floor is Cultural History. The Cotton Mill gift shop has gifts and souvenirs made by local artisans and with themes unique to the state.
Columbia Museum of Art
This museum has  a sizeable collection of antiquities, as well as one Monet, in addition to some other nice work, and it often has great traveling exhibits.  
University of South Carolina 

This is the flagship university for the state. It is one of the oldest public institutions in the USA. Within easy walking distance of the State Capitol building, the historic portion of the campus is centered around the “Horseshoe,” which includes the buildings which house the McKissick Museum and the South Caroliniana library (below). The Law School is home to a Children’s Law Center. The Koger Center for the Performing Arts, Town Theater, Workshop Theater, Township Auditorium, and Colonial Center are all within a ten minute walk of the University.
Some web sites for various departments at the university: 

Finlay Park:

This is an award winning park located at 930 Laurel Street, which is near Assembly Street about nine blocks north and two blocks west from the state capitol building. Unfortunately, either due to budget constraints or simply because of winter, the beautiful fountains are not currently operational.

One of the few old growth forests remaining on the East Coast (spared because the swampy wetlands are too low for logging).  This park, which boasts some of the largest trees on the Eastern seaboard, has a boardwalk of about half mile which runs from a parking area to the river, as well as miles of other hiking trails, camping, and river access.

A lovely park with hiking trails on the shore of the Saluda River, interpretive center, as well as a children's zero-depth water playground in the summer.  A bit north and west of the city. 

Lake Murray

At one time, the Lake Murray Dam was the largest earthen dam in the world.  Lake Murray is about fifty miles long with both open water and coves, and it is a popular destination for fishermen. 
The following web site has links to find fishing guides:

Tour of State Capitol Building
 Tour of the State Capitol

The four city block area that makes up the State Capitol Complex is a very nice garden in and of itself. There are state-run souvenir shops in the basement of the Blatt Building and on the first floor of the Rembert Dennis Building.

How to Find Local Event Schedules and Tickets

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Six Principles of Nonviolence

by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 (click HERE for link to source material)


Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.

  • It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. 
  • It is assertive spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. 
  • It is always persuading the opponent of the justice of your cause.

Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.

  • The end result of nonviolence is redemption and reconciliation. 
  • The purpose of nonviolence is the creation of the Beloved Community.

Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.

  • Nonviolence holds that evildoers are also victims.

Nonviolence holds that voluntary suffering can educate and transform.

  • Nonviolence willingly accepts the consequences of its acts. 
  • Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation. 
  • Nonviolence accepts violence if necessary, but will never inflict it. 
  • Unearned suffering is redemptive and has tremendous educational and transforming possibilities. 
  • Suffering can have the power to convert the enemy when reason fails.

Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

  • Nonviolence resists violence of the spirit as well as of the body.
  • Nonviolent love gives willingly, knowing that the return might be hostility. 
  • Nonviolent love is active, not  passive.
  • Nonviolent love does not sink to the level of the hater. 
  • Love for the enemy is how we demonstrate love for ourselves. 
  • Love restores community and resists injustice. 
  • Nonviolence recognizes the fact that all life is interrelated.

Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.

  • The nonviolent resister has deep faith that justice will eventually win.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Letter to the Church in North America

This is a video blog from Kester Brewin.  I really enjoyed it.  I’m not sure if I’m more intrigued by the thought itself, or by lyrical power of the imagery used to convey the ideas. 

Brewin explains,

Last weekend saw a really innovative gathering in Toronto called ‘Eighth Letter.’ It asked the simple question: if the writer of revelation had written ‘A Letter to the Church in North America’ what would they have said? A number of people were asked to present their letters – some in person, some virtually.

Mine’s now on YouTube, and carries a simple message: if you want to find the Kingdom of Heaven, you’re going to have to abandon your pursuit of paradise. In other words, the purified utopian ideal is dangerous; God is found in the dirt of the incarnation.



Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day 2010

On Columbus day,


(Landing of Columbus, Library of Congress)

I find it fitting to remember the Trail of Tears.


Why would I choose to write about Trail of Tears on the day the Europeans first encountered the New World?  It’s simple:  because of the effect this discovery by Christopher Columbus ultimately had upon the indigenous population already in North America.  And because I could hardly believe my ears when I overheard a remark recently stated in the context of the immigration debate. 

A person rallying against the Arizona border law mentioned that every white person in the USA had at one time been an immigrant. 

A protagonist in favor of the Arizona law replied that yes, but the European settlers were all legal immigrants because they came here legally

In general, I can only be concerned with so much, and immigration is not at the top of my list.  Yet, this remark just about bowled me over on account of its obtuse ignorance.

I ask, “Legal by whose standards?  By the standards of the people who were already here?  By the standards of the people whose rules for governance of this land were already in place?”  I think not! 

The conquest of the New World involved a great clash of cultures.  If you have any doubt about that culture clash, I encourage you to read the book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.



  Or, check out the Kevin Costner film, Dances With Wolves. 


The conquest of the New World was not all sweetness and light.*  I’m not sure by what intellectual trick one could maintain the ignorance required to maintain a belief otherwise. 

It was certainly apparent when I took Florida history in the Fourth grade and learned the fate of those native Americans who encountered Fernando DeSoto and Ponce de Leon.  It was pretty obvious to me as a Sixth grader, when I learned the Seminole tribe of the swamps of South Florida was actually the refugee remnant who had taken refuge in the mosquito, alligator, and snake infested swamps of southern Florida to avoid being rounded up and exiled in the Trail of Tears.  And, well, I was really sad when I learned the story and tragic fate of their leader Asi Yahola (Anglicized as “Osceola”), who died in chains at Fort Moultrie, SC, while awaiting a hearing on his tribe’s claim. 

The pain of the clash of cultures was still apparent when I studied U.S. history in 10th grade and learned the fate of the Eastern tribes and of the nations of the Plains.  And it still hadn’t changed when I took World History in college and learned of the subjugation and marginalization of the Aztec and Inca peoples, already decimated by diseases from the European ships, to which these peoples had no resistance. 



Trail of Tears

by Robert Lindneaux


The Granger Collection, Ltd., NY


Yes, I’m aware that the feelings of animosity ran in both directions.  I’m aware that in the French and English war, the French paid native Americans for scalps of their English rivals, fueling what was a particularly grisly practice. 

But Puh-Leeze, don’t whitewash it with studied ignorance and the claim that “the White Men came here under the authority of King George”.   By what measure did King George – or any Western king – have authority to decree what rights he had in the New World?!  Perhaps by the same authority that Hitler exercised when he decided he had a right to govern France and Poland? 

Facing superior firepower, Native Americans were forced to fight the battle according to the rules of the dominant culture.  But even those rules were then mis-applied, to the great detriment of the indigenous peoples.  Land was “sold” and entire nations forcibly evicted from their homelands.  Such was the fate of the Choctaw and Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw, Seminole and Muskogee tribes.  Between 1831 and 1838, beginning during the presidency of Andrew Jackson, approximately 46,000 Native Americans were removed from their tribal lands by U.S. armed forces, thus freeing 25 Million acres for development by peoples of European descent (according to Wikipedia). 

It is generally accepted that somewhere between 20% – 25% of the Native Americans relocated out of their Eastern homelands and herded westward to Oklahoma perished as a result of the relocation that we now call the Trail of Tears.  (For the research paper where I got this statistic, click HERE, but if you don’t believe this source you can Google it yourself and find any number of other papers.) 

None of us have any control over what our ancestors did.  Nor can we take any personal responsibility – neither good nor evil -- from our personal heritage. 

But that lack of control we have over our heritage doesn’t mean we can’t take responsibility for our thoughts and actions from this day forward.  And the first part of that taking responsibility is to take an accurate view of history. 

Those who are ignorant of history, are doomed to repeat it. 


Image from HERE 

National Park Service Historic trail, link HERE


Do you choose ignorance, or knowledge? 

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to Farce or Tragedy or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance, and a people who mean to be their own Governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives.  (James Madison, 1788)


(*I’ve written before about this clash of cultures in a prior blog post HERE.)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Where There is Hatred … Let Me Sow Love

Between the bridge and the river
he falls through
a huge portion of night;
it is not as if falling
is something new. Over and over
...he slipped into the gulf
between what he knew and how
he was known. What others wanted
opened like an abyss:the laughing
stock-clerks at the grocery, women
at the luncheonette amused by his gestures.
What could he do, live
with one hand tied
behind his back? So he began to fall
into the star-faced section
of night between the trestle
and the water because he could not meet
a little town's demands,
and his earrings shone and his wrists
were as limp as they were.
I imagine he took the insults in
and made of them a place to live;
we learn to use the names
because they are there,
familiar furniture; faggot
was the bed he slept in, hard
and white, but simple somehow,
queer something sharp
but finally useful, a tool,
all the jokes a chair,
stiff-backed to keep the spine straight,
a table, a lamp. And because
he's fallen for twenty-three years,
despite whatever awkwardness
his flailing arms and legs assume
he is beautiful
and like any good diver
has only an edge of fear
he transforms into grace.
Or else he is not afraid,
and in this way climbs back
up the ladder of his fall,
out of the river into the arms
of the three teenage boys
who hurled him from the edge-
really boys now, afraid,
their fathers' cars shivering behind them,
headlights on- and tells them
it's all right, that he knows
they didn't believe him
when he said he couldn't swim,
and blesses his killers
in the way that only the dead
can afford to forgive.

By Mark Doty

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Compassion in Listening

One of the interesting things that happens when one begins to coach others is that the skill being taught becomes embedded more deeply into one’s own, personal life.  As a conflict resolution professional, one of the main things I do is to coach people on how to listen to one another.  My experience is that really listening, and really hearing, is not easy and it’s not intuitive.  I certainly can’t claim to be a perfect listener.  All I can say is that I’m learning and getting better. 

We all know, of course, that listening and hearing are required in order to understand the heart of what the “other” person is trying to communicate about their needs and interests that give rise to a conflict.  But often, in conflict scenarios, the parties are no longer in authentic communication.  Instead, they just talk past each other.  An additional challenge for a mediator, on top of getting the parties to listen to one another, is that it’s often the case that a person who is embroiled in a conflict situation and trying to communicate a general anger or other emotion doesn’t even fully understand his own reasons and needs, himself.  At such times, the mediator must listen twice as much.  Listen first in order to help the parties clarify what they mean and what they want to say.  Then, coach the parties in listening so that each can hear what the other is really trying to express and not just what they expect or want to hear.     

Listening is a skill that takes practice, practice, practice!  The good news is that we can get better at it.

What are some tips and tools for listening?

One thing a good “listener” can do is to clean their own glass, to make the lens through which we see and hear things less intrusive.  In other words, when we remove our own preconceived notions, then we become enabled to hear more of what the other person is really trying to say and less of what we are expecting or wanting to hear.  A word to describe the process of removing one’s self (and one’s own responses) is the term “mindfulness”.  When we become mindful of our own biases, tendencies, and prejudices, then we are better able to account for those and to try to filter them out.  What the insightful mediator is doing is removing himself from the frame so that the party may have a clearer image in the mirror of his conflict and his own response to it. 

The opposite of mindfulness is when we project a lot of ourselves into a conflict and hear only what relates to our own experience.  How many times have I (or you) listened to someone’s story and immediately knew what they should do?   Or how often have you heard a story and said, “The exact same thing happened to me!”  But, the exact same thing didn’t happen, and if the answer were truly so obvious the speaker would have found it already.  Personal mental responses like these are the mediation equivalent of raising a storm warning flag at a beach.  Friends who are in the position of listening to each other can be on the alert for these responses, too.  When I “know” what my friend ought to do, it means I haven’t removed myself from the story enough to really listen to them fully and presently.  If the answer is too obvious, there would be no conflict.  Since there is some countervailing view, if the answer seems too simple then it’s likely that some aspect of the conflict remains mis-understood.  

Another way of knowing when we are putting too much of ourselves into a communication is when we feel tempted to interrupt, even if we only interrupt the person mentally and not physically.  How many times, when a friend is speaking, are you tempted to think ahead in your mind to how you will answer them rather than continuing to listen to them as they speak?  For me, this mental feeling is like having two lanes of traffic.  One lane of traffic in my mind is the stream of thought that is attentive to what my friend is saying, imagining with them what their experience is.  The other lane of traffic in my mind is to be thinking about how I am going to respond to what they’re saying: How does this relate to me, what I can I say about it to give them feedback?  The problem is,that mentally I can really only be in one car at a time.  If I’m already formulating the response to my friend, then I’m not really listening fully to them in the present, here and now. 

So, next time your best friend is telling you about a situation and you’re tempted to give advice, think of this column.  Instead of projecting your own idea of “what is true,” or thinking “this happened to me,” and then telling the person what to do or giving them advice, try first to discern the reasons that their situation feels like to them.  Why do they perceive a conflict in the first place, what is that experience like for them?  What values, needs, and interests got them into the situation where they find themselves?

Most likely, there’s more to their situation than can be answered by a simple knee jerk reaction and response.  What our friend needs from us is not advice, but the feedback and mirroring to help them gain insight.  Then, with increased insight, our friend can find the answers from within themselves.  Answers that come from within and are authentic to lived experience are the ones that will be best in the long run.  So, the way to be a better friend is to help our friend develop capacity from within, not by imposing a solution from without. 

How to do this?   Ask powerful, open ended questions of our friend, as a means to help uncover some of those underlying complexities, different perspectives, and ways of increasing understanding of the experience which is being communicated.  In my next blog post, I’ll write more about that.