Tuesday, August 31, 2010

An Anti-Semitic, American Jewess
Embroiled In Controversy

Excerpted (edited and unedited portions) from a manuscript in progress, “The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard” by Anastasia

The story I "promised" (in 2008) not to tell (at least for a year or two), the tale of --

"The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard"

(A tale of an experience of local Jews and Muslims that hurts my heart still -- because we had to "settle" without a hint of genuine awe. At the same time it provided me with the opportunity to re-claim my Jewish heritage with pride.)

Begins tomorrow in some kind of unfolding progression.

I have fulfilled my pledge -- and then some. Now seems a proper time for my tale.

It is a tale of sorrow and discovery and re-discovery, offered with hopes for a better tomorrow.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard:
An Excerpt

What makes Anastasia run? 

Community-life as a Foundation Have you wondered, yet, what it is that fuels the Small “Zones of Peace” Project – and – these blogs? What it is that makes Anastasia so --
  • stubborn about the importance of people conversing as a fundamental element of peace-building;
  • focused on the essential need for small “zones of peace;"
  • committed to the importance of one-on-one, person-to-person (as Brittany suggested in the essay she wrote that won her our first prize) as essential facets of both local and global bridge-building.
If you pay close attention you will notice that “what makes Anastasia run” is consistently intertwined with actions that correspond to the words of Gandhi (from which our organization takes it name)
"We do best to begin by carving out territories or zones of peace in our personal relations where violence and deceit won't be used."
If you want to see me -- Anastasia, the lion goddess in a roar -- watch what happens when my lion cubs and/or my closest ties; family, friends and community, are threatened by social inequities. Here is a personal story of mine that accounts for some of my passion for social justice; i.e. building "zones of peace" -- 

(If you ask the right questions about what is missing for your understanding of the relevance of the story, I will give you the answers to fill in the blanks.) 

(Following excerpted from the Frederick News Post, June 14, 2008 -- "The Middle East Crisis In Our Backyard" by Anastasia.) "When I was a little girl, as far as I knew there were no strangers. To me, a community was a place where you knew everybody, and everybody knew and cared about you. With three movie theatres on our main street, one of my favorite adventures back then was a Saturday afternoon double feature. 

 When I was old enough to go by myself, a directive from my father went something like this – “When you’re done at the movies, go to Joe Gardner’s store (or someone else’s). Tell him who you are (meaning my father’s daughter), and use his telephone to call me to pick you up.” Certainly I was known here. My family was known. I belonged to everyone around me. We all belonged to one another. I was safe and secure, and I knew it. We were a “community.” 

(One main point behind this story is that a secure community-life in childhood becomes a foundation for life. Every child deserves one.) 

(Following excerpted from "The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard" (manuscript in progress by Anastasia) 

 Those of us who have been blessed to grow up in a place we can call “community” carry the gifts of this good fortune throughout our lives. Growing up in a small mid-western town with a close-knit Jewish community provided me a sanctuary as a child that did just that; blessed me with gifts beyond measure. Unfortunately, this idyllic life of mine was aborted before its full-flowering. 

At eight, family circumstances; (my baby sisters death, my mother’s “nervous breakdown” (as they called women’s distress in those days) and the scandalous divorce of my parents, resulted in my losing this bountiful and stable community. The loss was so wrenching, and the early years so sumptuous, that while I've spent most of my life exiled from that early community (until recent, almost ceaseless, storytelling with a cousin), I have, also, always sought to heal from that loss and transcend it. 

Through the work of the New Horizons Small "Zones of Peace" Project, I am accomplishing that (in a community re-building manner -- and -- so much more. (Eventually, the story will come forth and you will see how important my involvement with the "Middle East crisis in my backyard" -- and -- the "Saving Centennial" mission were in helping me bring forth an enormous treasure chest full of gifts -- for me as well as others. That is the personal aspect of my dedication to this manuscript in progress. 

The words my deceased friend, Rabbi Edwin Friedman, offered in his noteworthy book, Generation To Generation: Family Process In Church And Synagogue, are useful in shedding light on how this bounty could come about --
"There is an intrinsic relationship between our capacity to put families (groups or other systems) together and our ability to put ourselves together."
So – call it “beshrt” the Yiddish word for destiny or – what? I know of no other way to express it; I serendipitously ended up becoming a psychotherapist who specialized in creating therapeutic communities. And, when that career had run its natural course (including my eight year sabbatical being blind and recovering from it) -- and -- I bumped into a "beshrt" Jewish/Muslim controvery in my backyard, I birthed the New Horizons Small "Zones of Peace" Project that changed the course of my life. Not alone, mind you, but with my "right arm," board member, Sue deVeer as midwife.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Storytelling As Healing

Pastor George Earle, Jr., senior pastor of the Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church, welcomed me into his office on a spring day, 2009. I remember it vividly.

He had heard the story of New Horizons’ successful reconciliation efforts that had healed a local Jewish/Muslim controversy (See Frederick News Post,August 18, 2006). And, that I had been directly responsible for it. You would have had to have had your head buried in sand not to have known the conflict part. It had filled the pages of the county newspapers for months.

"Wherever two or more are gathered,"
informal conversations can become
healing medicine for systemic change,
However, few knew the story of how it had been resolved. Only that our community-at-large had breathed a collective sigh of relief when "peace" had been announced, right after Thanksgiving that year (Frederick News Post, November, 2006).

I knew the behind-the-scenes story full-well. I had been the one to orchestrate it, bringing together local Jews and Muslims at a time of crisis. Nonetheless, I had not been at liberty to freely discuss what had occurred. And, was willing to speak only cautiously of it then, as we sat that day in Pastor George’s cozy office. It was April, 2009.

The particulars of that story are still yet to be told, And, then only when they can be offered, judiciously, in the service of advantage for the greater good. They await, yet, a more propitious time, not too far off. The behind-the-scenes story is an important one, offering valuable lessons from my personal experience and professional perspectives. Particularly given the present escalating controversy over the NYC mosque. To tell the whole of it requires a full-length book, (“The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard” is in process) to tell it as it just deserves. There are many particulars to the tale.

As with the “Saving Centennial” mission, resolving our local Jewish/Muslim was a process, played out for me on a day-to-day basis like a gigantic chess game. All about strategy. And conversing!

The point in my telling even this part of my story here has to do, not with Muslim and Jews. Or, indeed, any other of the myriad current facets and factions of American life that encourage daily media reports as pulp entertainment, the voyeurs that presently make up society – and our collective obsession with the so-called news.

Rather, my objective is to make the point that storytelling became the essence of the “awe;” the overcoming of polarization in a congregation that was divided. And, led to a congregation-wide systemic change that was "as good as money in the bank.”

The journey began as I shared my, rarely told, story about how I had orchestrated the resolve of our local Jewish/Muslim controversy. Pastor George’s story was about the division presently occurring in his church. By telling our stories, he and I crossed a bridge to one another with a hope that whatever I (and my volunteer team) had done to help our local Jewish and Muslim communities could be done for his church.

This was the beginning of a congregation-wide, strategically guided story-telling process. It went on for almost nine months. It centered on Pastor George, the key leaders in his church, his congregation-at-large -- and the New Horizons’ Small Zones of Peace” Core Volunteers.

During that time, everyone told their stories; stories about their love of this church, their hopes and their dreams for its future. And, of course their concerns. In formal group conversations, at the local coffee house -- and -- anywhere else where two or more were gathered. Storytelling became their medicine.

It caught on – and – became the thing to do to save Centennial. It would heal what was presently broken in his church. And, lead a church that had "little left to give" to money in the bank. It was just that simple. But not easy.

Often it was almost heart-wrenching. Yet, you could -- successfully -- do it yourself, if you are willing to take the time. And, care enough about something or someone.

The divided congregation of Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church did!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard: Excerpt

A Thought For Today On Conversation As Art 

 Excerpted from a manuscript in progress, The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard, by Anastasia 

Dialogue, conversation - the space where we cross the great divide that separates us to meet the “other” with our hearts and our minds, the place where we discover the truth that “an enemy is someone whose story we haven’t yet heard.” 

In an edited transcript titled “On Dialogue,” David Bohm, noted physicist and explorer of the outer limits of dialogue as the means for transforming the nature of consciousness, socially and culturally, also reinforces the importance of dialogue stating – "The sharing of mind, of consciousness, is more important than the content of our opinions." 

People sometimes respond to what I say with offside comments or thoughts such as -- "What is Anastasia trying to say? What does she mean by what she says?" Well, I admit to having been an enigma almost since the day my adulthood began. 

Should I change that now so that folks will stop thinking about what I say? 

I know they are, at least, doing that. Nonetheless, rather than trying to figure out what I mean, how about contemplating and/or sharing the thoughts or questions of what I say calls up in you. Create a conversation with me about it on this blog or by email (as others are now doing). Though it is not my first choice, it is far better than silence. There are serious issues to consider these days. 

 What have you got to say about them? Or, about what I say? 

In person I know that what I say evokes story telling from others. That is what I want back from you from my efforts to share. What is your story that relates to what I am offering? For example, what do you think about the NYC mosque upset? How would you like to see it resolved? The desire to share one's thoughts and feelings is an essential part of "conversation as art." Let's have a conversation, you and I -- and -- the rest of us. 

Conversation is an essential part of building "zones of peace." I come to you as a storyteller, wanting to hear your story as much as to tell you mine. Come on out with it! Out from behind the bushes of lurking! If you haven't shared, at least, one story today, preferably more -- and -- with someone new (at least once a week), you are missing out on a whole lot that is needed from you to help build "zones of peace."

Celebrating The Local: Concern About The Global

At this time of our one year anniversary of the inspiring success achieved out of our "Saving Centennial Mission" project (and Centennial's 110th anniversary), it is time for expressions of gratitude for a job well done and celebration of a congregation of people who truly exemplified the dedication it takes to find elegant solutions to pressing problems such as the dire financial straits as well as the organizational distress they were experiencing.

While the specifics of the "Saving Centennial" adventure to awe are still being revealed -- if they ever are (and maybe they are none of our business) -- let us enjoy and appreciate the wonder of the mystery.  
Centennial Methodist Church
Downtown Frederick, Maryland


Concurrently, a new, critical situation, the NYC mosque controversy, has arisen, prompting a shift in focus for myself and the New Horizons Small “Zones Of Peace” Project. I hope you will check out my expression of rousing concerns on this issue by visiting today’s posting on our other blog. The blog article, Chaos On Ground Level Aborts Climb, not only gives voice to the present distress (re: the NYC mosque controversy), among New Horizons "Zones of Peace" volunteers, but is hopefully an invitation to you to please converse with us.

Conversation may be all that we can presently do about this serious challenge. Nonetheless, if talking could put money in the bank for a church in trouble, what might we now be able to co-create, if cultural diversity difficulties are successfully overcome by dialogue. Why not give conversation a try, if you haven't already? Tell your stories. Make a new friendship bond over coffee, especially with someone having a diverse background from yourself. 

As we gather people -- in greater numbers -- together with the hope of collectively finding elegant solutions to this pressing issue. I am encouraged that readers of our blogs have quickly -- in the last few hours -- already sent in emails voicing their personal views and concerns. 

Please join with them -- and -- us. "Irreconcilable differences" are not an option for a global village in response to an issue of this magnitude of conflict.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

As Good As Money In The Bank

Two Pastors, Two Ministries, One Church And An Experience Of Awe

How did congregational conversations lead directly to money in the bank?

This is the story I am sure you would most like to hear. People's ears perk up when I suggest that this is what occurred that tangibly affirmed the power of the "awe" I witnessed at Centennial.

So -- "tell us, Anastasia, how can simply talking among congregants – in a facilitated, organized fashion -- lead directly to money in the bank?

(A welcome corollary (for me) is -- "Anastasia, will you next help us do the same?)

Though I am still connecting the dots myself, I assure you that "money in the bank" is what resulted.

How fun!

I saw it with my very own, beautiful new eyes. I promise to keep you posted as my wrap-up of the project -- and -- its accompanying questions are answered.

However, the general, overall answers to the "how" of Centennial's success are tied to the power of conversation, geared toward bringing two very polarized congregation, operating in one church, into unity with one another. It was a challenging endeavor. And, both congregations rose to the occasion (with many stories yet to be shared, both poignan,t and profound, from the intense adventure we had.

The most telling results of our efforts were observable in the following ways --

1. Systemic change; and
2. Organizational dysfunction set aright.

Maybe that's all anybody really needs to know.

We, at the New Horizons Small "Zones of Peace" Project have a successful model designed to accomplish just these outcomes!

Called "Campfire Conversations" for our metaphoric climb to the peak of the Mountain Of Awe, they have more frequently been identified as "Coffee House Conversations." At Centennial we called them the "Saving Centennial Conversations."

Point of interest: This highly successful model of the New Horizons Small "Zones of Peace" project originated out of my/our partially successful, partially abortive efforts to reconcile differences between local Jews and Muslims.

The story of the models evolution out of that controversy is the essence of my manuscript in progress -- "The Middle East Crisis In My Backyard."

I will be posting excerpts frothat mss in progress in posts to follow. The essence of that controversy is almost exactly replicated now in what we are seeing regarding the NYC mosque controversy. How can we now use what we have learned?

Please stay tuned in -- or -- whatever they call it these days.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Two Pastors, Two Ministries, One Church And An Experience Of Awe

I want to tell you – whoever you are -- my stories about an exceptional congregation of people. Congregants who were – almost to the person – willing to transform any – and all -- of their own personal darkness into Light in the service of a mission I headed, the “Saving Centennial” mission.

I want to share my collection of stories about this congregation of people who were so willing to be fully accountable – in every personal and collective action -- that they saved their church from closing.

I want to talk about the systemic change that occurred within that church. I want to talk about organizational dysfunction set aright.

I want to talk about congregants whose love for their church and their pastor, their faith in prayer and their willingness to surrender to Divine Guidance is allowing them to continue to build a ministry to profoundly aid the disenfranchised.

The local newspaper can tell you that this church went from “Little Left To Give” (Frederick News Post, June 27, 2009) -- on the brink of being closed down – to a renewal that allowed them – in a period of nine or ten months to achieve their essential fundraising objectives (Frederick News Post, April 3, 2010).

However, the words of a reporter cannot do justice to the “awe.” Awe is just not the language of daily news, even in a smallish community such as the locale of Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church (Frederick, Maryland).

But how does one convey the wonder that might be found in "seeing” beyond the ordinary?

The words that make ideas, concepts and experiences easily understood do not come easily to me.

And, “awe,” even defined is not an adequate explanation.

Lisa, my loyal and generous board member who has designed this blog (and the other) and helps me continue to develop it – with beauty – tells me (as have others) that I write like an esoteric, graduate school professor. They say I need to write in the language of a #101 class.

I think I used to be able to do that. But it was a long time ago. Before I was blind; the state in which I first found the natural highs of “awe.” So am I, now, more limited in the mainstream world? Perhaps that is the case.

So how can I, now, tell you about my experience of "awe" in working with the congregation of Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church and its esteemed leader, Pastor George Earle, Jr.? And, convey the fundamentals of “how” with Pastor George’s guidance, my willingness to lead for a time and an exceptional congregation of people – we reached the peak of the Mountain of Awe – for awhile?

A few of the clues as to “how” what was accomplished came about are: personal accountability, prayer, synergy ( a high step above cooperation) – and – the almost lost art of Conversation which we all did almost non-stop for a time, even those who usually love to text!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Conversation As Art

The word “conversation” seems to be on everybody’s lips these days. But is “conversation” really the balm it is touted as being? Or, is it a dying art that my generation -- that of the ‘60s and ‘70s -- beamed up high when we were busy being “high.

Hangin’ out was a big part of the pause that refreshed us back then. We had a great deal of conversation. But conversation takes time. Who takes time today?

(Besides, almost no one remembers what anyone said back then, including themselves. And, unfortunately – while we truly did “pause,” some of us got hooked on the art of pausing and didn’t do much else.. But that’s a story for another time.)

A story I picked up from a recent Washington Post article brought the question to mind for me; to converse or not to converse. In an article headlined as – "Texting Generation Doesn't Share Boomers' Taste For Talk" (Washington Post, Sunday, August 9, 2010) -- Deborah Tannen, age 65, “a linguistics professor at Georgetown University who studies how people converse in everyday life,” voiced her concerns over an area of “polarization” between the younger and older generations.

She noted the strong inclination to misinterpret one another between the generations, arising over cell phone communication. To make her point, Tannen stated that “her generations feelings” –

“…are perfectly captured in a recent New Yorker magazine cartoon that shows two older, balding men sitting at a bar. The caption reads: "I used to call people, then I got into e-mailing, then texting, and now I just ignore everyone."

The New Horizons Small “Zones of Peace” Project has as one of its main initiatives a four part conversations format called “Coffee House Conversations.”

(Perhaps, as one volunteer suggested, we might just need, at this point in time, to put some of our New Horizons’ Small “Zones Of Peace” Project conversations talents to work bridging the communications gap between the older and the younger generations.)

In the three years our conversations project has been active it has been rewardingly successful. One project, the "Saving Centennial Mission,” was particularly impactful, moving a church -- Centennial Memorial United Methodist Church, Frederick, Maryland -- from threatened closure (Frederick News Post, June 23, 2009) to a congregational revitalization and an organizational turnaround, including their achieving direly needed fundraising objectives.

In honor of the coming one year anniversary of the conversations that led to this victory, I think it is time, now, for me to begin sharing tales from the adventure of --

"Two Pastors, Two Ministries, One Church And My Experience Of Awe"

Coming soon!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Finding Light In The Darkness

Occasionally I am asked, "What was it like to be blind?" (1998 -- 2008) Very occasionally! Though I am not sure why people do not inquire more frequently. (Perhaps blindness is just too scarey to even consider out loud.) I generally answer, "It is still rather difficult for me to describe. However, I can tell you that recovering from being blind was a great deal more difficult than being blind."

Today someone with my eye disease sent me a message on an internet forum. That posting -- somehow -- enabled me to write some about the subject, if only approaching it from the edges. Another one of my 1,000 masks comes off. today, I think; one of the many that has to do with "being a blind person." I hope you will read what I have posted.

I am particularly encouraged because in this posting of my own, I have made a beginning, at least, of a central message I want to convey on this blog -- in blindness I discovered the "awe" that has shaped me, personally, and has provided the foundations for what has now become the Small "Zones Of Peace" Project.

(With gratitude beyond measure for my spiritual mentor, Murat Yagan* as well as my opthamologist, Dr. John Gottsch. I credit both of them with helping me to "see." * Murat is the author of "Ahmsta Kebzeh; The Science of Universal Awe," a challenging and profoundly moving work for the devoted student of world peace.)