Monday, January 9, 2012

Why Christianity Needs to Dump Religion

Candace Chellew-Hodge (of Columbia, SC) recently interviewed Bishop John Shelby Spong, author of the book, Reclaiming the Bible For a Nonreligious World.  In her interview, which can be found HERE, she quotes him as follows: 
Christianity is not supposed to make you secure. Christianity is supposed to give you the courage to walk into an insecure world knowing that you’re not alone and to embrace the radical insecurity.
Religion is not about truth, it’s about security. The sort of thing I’m presenting is never going to be the majority view but it’s going to be the minority point of view for those who are bold enough to look at life as it really is and not to need a narcotic to get through it but as something that gives them the strength to embrace the radical insecurity of life, and I think that’s worth doing.
Christianity is not about saving people from their sins. It’s about expanding the sense of what it means to be human. That’s a very big difference. I’m tired of being saved from my sins. People say, “You don’t believe in sin.” But, that’s not true. I believe that human beings are incredibly capable of doing evil. We do that because we’re survival-oriented creatures. That means we can’t help but be self-centered—and that’s what the church called “original sin.” Christianity doesn’t rescue us from that aspect of our humanity. What Christianity does is lift us beyond the survival mentality into a kind of humanity that can give itself away in love. That’s what the Jesus story is all about.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Conflict Transformation as a Skill in Marriage

I want to share a great article I read this morning, "Are You With the Right Mate? " by Rebecca Webber (Psychology Today Online).

(This photo is from the article, linked above)

The article addresses (and seeks to dispel) the notion, common among people who are disillusioned with their marriages, that partners are just married to the "wrong person." Instead, the author suggests, doubting partners need to recognize that one can only change one's self and that one is responsible for making one's own happiness. This does not mean that disillusioned partners should leave their relationship. Rather, it means they should take more responsibility for creating a better relationship, by throwing themselves into it in a positive, healthy way: "Marriage is not about finding the right person. It's about becoming the right person."

This is not to say one should fail to be true to one's self or remain in a very damaging relationship. The article candidly discusses some make-it-or-break-it issues that can irreparably damage a relationship. These include substance abuse, serial infidelity, abuse of power, and other pathologies. But assuming a malaise less serious, when perhaps the main issue is the fading of an initial romance, the issue becomes more, how to change and grow the relationship so that it feels more comfortable in the new circumstance.

For the relationship to grow in depth requires that one make one's self vulnerable to the Other and to be open to transformation in the way one sees and does things:
Disillusionment becomes an engine for growth because it forces us to discover our needs. Knowing oneself, recognizing one's needs, and speaking up for them in a relationship are often acts of bravery, says Page. Most of us are guarded about our needs, because they are typically our areas of greatest sensitivity and vulnerability.
The response of one's partner when one reveals this vulnerable spot can be the "make it or break it" point in the relationship. If an intimate partner fails to respond with compassion or empathy, the relationship can be severely damaged, especially over time as intimacy is lost:
In other words, the inability or unwillingness to suppress negative emotions in the heat of the moment eliminates the possibility of a transformation of motivation to a broader perspective than one's own [emphasis supplied]. Eventually, the cumulative impact of negative reactivity brings the relationship down.
These transformations and conversations involve our deepest sense of self and being. Sharing those deepest requires one to become vulnerable. If a partner cannot transform their view of the relationship to accommodate change, intimacy is lost.

In the end, the article discusses explicitly the necessity of being able to communicate feelings or view that may be negative, but to do so in ways that do not harm our partner:
The art to speaking up, he says, is to transform a complaint into a request. Not "I don't like how you're talking to me," but "Can you please lower your voice so I can hear you better?" If you're trying to get what you want in a relationship, notes Real, it's best to keep it positive and future-focused.
While this article is not specifically about conflict transformation, it clearly points to the importance of conflict transformation skill as a necessary tool for survival of a long term relationship. In every relationship, partners will grow and change. In a long term relationship, viewpoints and needs will change over time. If the relationship is to survive these personal transformations, both partners will need to adapt to one another on a continual basis. Each individual must be able and willing to transform their narrative to encompass not only who they have become, but also the new "other" that their partner has become.

Finally, the article is worth reading if for no other reason but for the great photos of two very mismatched partners. Click on the link to see the photos:

Friday, January 6, 2012

Lunch Together. Right After Divorce Court?

I went to court today in an attorney role, to help a couple finalize a divorce that had been mediated by someone else.  After the hearing, they went to lunch together. 


Under what circumstances in an adversarial divorce, WOULD THAT EVER HAPPEN? 

Here’s to





Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Matter of Equity

What does it mean when a company promotes women?  Here’s one answer: 

“Companies with more women on their boards outperform rivals, with a 42% higher return on sales, 66% higher return on invested capital, 53% greater return on equity.” 

-The Davies Review, Mindful Money, Jul 2011 more


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Monday, January 2, 2012

What is Divorce Mediation?

My current favorite way to describe divorce mediation is to compare it with a New York City taxi. 

NYC Taxi from wikimedia commons
(image courtesy of wikimedia commons)

Imagine that the road  to divorce is like getting from one side of New York City (married) to the other side of New York City (divorced).  You’re not sure how to get there, so you need some help from someone who does.

One effective way to get there would be to hire a Sherman Tank to guide your way.   You would get from one side of the city to the other.  Along the way, it would be very expensive, it might require a lot of armor that you don’t really need, and there might be some collateral damage.  Better yet, add in a bit of drama.  Make it a race to get to the other side of the city.  Here's how it works:

You and your soon-to-be-ex each hire your own tank and tank driver, with the tank drivers each promising to "fight" for you so that you can "win" in the battle to get to the other side of the city in the best shape.  There will be a judge who is making everyone follow the rules, deciding what who "wins" each phase, and who will ultimately decide the outcome.  To convince the judge of who is the better player, each tank driver engages a squad of marines to assist the tank in getting to the other side.

As things progress, the driver of the tank and the marines might say and do some things, or take some actions, that you, the original player, didn’t really want them to take.  But you would end up with a "score" against your "opponent," you would live with it, pay the fees for the driver and the marines, as well as gas for the tank, and you would end up divorced.  It's effective.  You end up with things "settled," and you are divorced, even though the process may have left one or both former spouses deeply wounded and their children as collateral damage.  In my mind, this is the equivalent of a typical, litigated divorce.  Unless you think consciously and choose a different action, the model of litigation to get from once side of New York to the other is the default mode.

It works like this:   You go see a lawyer (tank driver).  The lawyer puts you in the tank (takes over your case and manages it for you).  They begin the process by filing court papers (put the tank into gear and drive it). They hire experts along the way to assist  you (marines).  To keep from getting run over by tank, the soon-to-be-ex also feels compelled to hire their own tank and tank driver and marines. (This is called "lawyering up."For each move one of you makes, the other must respond.)   The process also puts the entire decision mechanism in the hands of a judge.  In so doing, it takes away the parties' power to choose their own route and outcome.  All these moves and responses also involve a lot of legal work.  For each move that one side's lawyer makes, the other side must make a counter move.  Conflict escalates, things get lost in translation, and it tends to get adversarial whether the parties want it to, or not.

Not too many people are actually thrilled with this process.  Just ask some of your friends who have been divorced.  It's also very expensive.  The initial retainer, whatever amount it may be, often is just a drop in the bucket of what the overall cost turns out to be in the end.

Well, now there’s an alternative.  Maybe what you really need is not a tank, but a taxi!  You could hire a taxi driver who knows the back roads, the obstacles, how to avoid traffic jams.  Could it even be possible for you and your soon-to-be-ex spouse to share a taxi?  If you are both committed to principles of fairness and you are both ready to disentangle, could you jointly work through the issues that are needed to come up with a fair settlement, especially if you had a guide to help you work through the decisions respectfully and using a process that was neutral and fair?   You could still reach your objective, with a lot less cost, less collateral damage, and with matters more in your own control.

The taxi is not the right choice for everyone.  No doubt about it, if the “other side” is adversarial – if they want to go to battle with you  and fight against you – then you will need that tank (the protection and guidance of a formalized litigation process).  And sometimes you will also need the marines as well.  If your soon to be ex is not committed to fairness (including fairness in the process), then you may need to protect yourself, not just with a good and thorough attorney but also by using professionals like forensic accountants, guardians ad litem, court reporters, paralegals, private detectives, etc..  So, part of figuring out whether divorce mediation is appropriate, is to make a good judgment call about whether you can trust your soon-to-be-ex to play by rules of fairness.  If you cannot trust your spouse to adhere to principles of fairness, or they can't trust you, then the protection of the court system will be needed.

It's a bit of a paradox that for divorce mediation to work, both parties have to be able to trust each other to try and be fair and to try and do the right thing.  But, many people are able to do it.  The reward can be a peaceable, respectful and gracious ending that does not require them to become enemies.  When children are involved, the benefit increases because both parents can continue to work together as a team to parent their children. Divorce mediation, as a means for deciding the major issues that need to be decided for divorce, works best when both parties want to get to the same place (a fair resolution) and are willing to work as a team to get there, with help of a neutral mediator to guide the process.

With a mediator acting as guide, the “taxi ride” to resolving the major issues can be streamlined and cost effective.  Then, when the divorcing couple has reached a complete marital settlement agreement (that does not cut corners on the hard conversations), they take that to attorneys who can then help with the final crossing over the Brooklyn Bridge -- an uncontested court action to make it legal and finalize the divorce.

Divorce mediation is not for everyone.  It requires that both parties (1) be committed to principles of fairness, (2) voluntarily produce full financial disclosure, (3) agree to utilize outside experts such as attorneys, accountants, counselors, if that expertise is needed.  In return, the non-adversarial process can save thousands of dollars, produce a fair divorce agreement, and enable parties to maintain dignity, control, and privacy in their personal family decisions.

Would you like to learn more about mediation?  Feel free to explore the web site for my professional practice, Just Mediation, or call 803-414-0185.  

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Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome 2012: Out With the Old, In With the New!

Attorney and Mediator Victoria Pynchon tells a story of a student who went to study with a guru.

The Master invited the student to have tea.  He filled the student's cup.


Then, a bit later, the Master refilled the same cup.   As he did so, the cup overflowed.

The student exclaimed, "Why did you overflow my cup?"

The Master replied, "To make room for the new, one must first get rid of the old."

As we enter 2012, what old ideas, preconceived notions, habits, and practices must we get rid of, to make way for the new? Have we even consciously thought about what we would like to take the place of the old status quo? What would we prefer to be the new state of being?

New Year's resolutions have a way of being short lived. Short lived, that is, if they are just poured on top of an old cup. To nurture our newest hopes, dreams, and habits, we must first make room for them.

In his book The Power of a Positive No, William Ury frames the issue in terms of a tree.  The roots of the tree are our deepest values, that we tap into to determine our goals and objectives.  The trunk of the tree consists of the major decisions we must make in order to focus on our goals.  One of the decisions we must make, is to “say no” to the things that don’t move us closer to our goal.  By saying “no” to some things, we pave the way to say “yes” to the right things for our lives.  We create a strong trunk that will support our efforts. 

Moving up from that foundation of what we’ve said “no” to, we reach the point where we can focus on what we say “yes” to.  The leaves of the tree are the fruit of our effort, so to speak.  The leaves are the results we see after we make the positive decision to say no to the un-important.   The power of the positive “no” is that it enables us to focus on the things we truly value.  While the book is designed as a text on negotiation, I found this analogy to apply much more broadly in helping me discern what to say “no” to in my life as well as in my negotiations. 


In my own life, the past few years have been devoted to developing a law and mediation practice that reflects my unique values.  I decided that I wanted to have a peacemaking practice, a practice that enabled people in relationships to address challenging conflict in ways that are healthy, cost effective, and help them stay out of contested litigation.   Part of my “learning curve” has been to discern what potential clients  to say “no” to. 

Because mediation costs approximately 10% the cost of litigation, I’ve had some potential clients come to me who were only interested in the “cost” aspect of mediation.  They had no interest in finding solutions that were fair to their negotiating partner.   I’ve learned to screen out and say “no” to “cheap” clients on the front end.   For one thing, their mediation is likely to fall apart whenever they realize that my practice does not cut corners on finding measures of fairness.   If a husband earns ten times his wife’s income and she is giving up all rights to alimony, that may be a reasonable decision but I will want to know why.  If the husband has just been seeking a cheap way to dump his wife, the mediation will fall apart right there.   Secondly, a person who is not committed to reasonableness and fairness is just not an enjoyable person to work with.  So, I’m better off without them! 

I’ve also turned away potential clients when it appeared they wanted to seek emotional retribution through an abusive court process.   My bright line rule is that I won’t take a case where the parties want to go to court as a first resort. 

Both decisions have cost clients, and that’s not always an easy decision to make when one is starting a fledgling practice!   

But it has been a good decision.  The decision to say “no” to clients who are not committed to fairness has freed me up to devote my best quality energies to the folk who do care about fairness and who are concerned with finding what is “right”.  

I find that my typical “perfect client” is the person who calls me and says, “I went to see a lawyer, and he told me what to do, and I just can’t do that to my spouse.”  This person – the person who remains concerned what happens to his spouse (or brother or sister, business partner, or fellow parishioner in his church) --  is the person my practice is there to help.   My mediation practice gives this person an option that is simply not available to them in the adversarial system.   If I had never discerned this – if I had failed to say “no” to the “cheap” clients -- then I could never have focused on the “fair” clients. 

And if I had failed to take that step, I would set myself up to be nothing but the “cheap” alternative in a world of cheapness. 

That was last year’s decision, for me.   Now, what will I choose to work on this year?  What will you choose to work on? 

This is a journey I hope we will share together in the coming year.  Please continue to share tea on my blog, and let’s see where the journey leads! 












Sarah's 22nd Birthday 008

Cha Dao!

The two Chinese characters on my little tea table stand for the word “tea” and the word “dao”. Cha means tea, and the word “dao” means to arrive. Thus, a literal translation would be, “tea time!”


However, there is more to the meaning than this!  My Daoist friends tell me that this character for “dao” is also the word used to connote seeking the correct path, as in “Dao” (or Tao as it is sometimes spelled in English) .   Let us be mindful in this upcoming year, and seek a right path for 2012! 


P.S.  If you’re interested in learning more about my law and mediation practice, please visit my web page at