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"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Friday, November 18, 2011

Retreat: Narrative Leadership

Cross Roads Conference Center, Port Murray, NJ
I won’t be blogging much for the next few days. I’m leading a three-day retreat for a group of 20-somethings know as the Newark ACTS Interns. These are ten young people, ages 22-26, fresh out of college, who know that they want to stay in the city and work for Jesus.

To be absolutely honest, I’m absolutely terrified.

Oh, I’ve done retreats before. Lots of them. Usually Friday night and all day Saturday.

I did a one-day retreat for last year’s Intern’s group. That was one day. I thought that was enough. Turns out, one of the Interns from last year is doing another internship year. He and a few of his classmates said that this year, the whole Fall retreat should be with me.

I’m so glad they have that confidence in me, but truth is, I’ve never done a three-day retreat. With anyone. Ever before.

So, there’s that.

The thing of it is that this age group is my absolute favorite group. I love 20 and 30-somethings. Which is why I’m terrified.

What I love most about this age group is their curiosity and quest for learning. I love the fact that they have a very keen instinct for bullshit, which is accompanied by zero tolerance for it.

No one can sniff out a phony like a 20 or 30-something. They see. They know. If what you say doesn’t come from a place of truth in you – if it isn’t authentic – if it doesn’t have any integrity – well, you’re sunk.

Now, anyone can pull that off for a few hours. Even a day. But, three whole days. Well, that’s whole ‘nother story, isn’t it?

So, part of the reason I’ve been asked to do this retreat is because of the work I’ve been doing on Narrative Leadership. It’s really about looking at the stories of our lives and listening deep for the stories in the lives of others so, together, we can enter into a co-creative process of living into God’s unfolding story for the world.

I first came upon this idea years ago when I was in West Africa. We were way in the north of Ghana – in a remote village outside of Tamale – where there is an even greater paucity of what we euphemistically call “modern conveniences”.

You know, like running water and electricity.

Indeed, one of the villages I visited consisted of mud huts with thatched roofs. I thought I was in a middle of a picture right from the pages of National Geographic. Little naked kids running around. Women pounding grain. Women walking the dirt roads carrying 40 gallon cans of water on their heads and bundles of branches on their backs and suckling infants strapped on the front of their bodies.

I went with some of the women to see the newest modern device – a gift from a church in America – which was the cause for great joy. A pump had been installed at the well, so no longer did women have to lug heavy buckets from the bottom of the well before they dumped them into the 40 gallon barrels which they carried on their heads. Now, through the miracle of modern engineering, they could simply push down on the handle of the pump and – voila! – there was water.

I marveled with them and their joyful laughter as one woman gathered us all around and – like a miracle no one grew tired of seeing – paused a bit and looked wondrously around at us before she began pumping the handle. A few pumps later and – great gasps, and ooohs and ahhhs – water began flowing.

Everyone applauded!

As we talked about this miraculous sight, I began talking with one woman who awaited her turn at the pump while others engaged in their own conversation. I allowed as how we didn’t have such a thing in my home.

Oh, she said, how can this be? You are American, right?

Yes, I said, but in America, most people have faucets and sinks.

She looked confused. What is this, she wanted to know.

So I explained that every home has water that is piped in from our own wells, or from a common water source.

Her reaction surprised me. She was once part amazed and one part sad.

So, she asked, you do not have to go to the well for your water? No, I said. We just simply turn on the faucet and the water flows out.

Now, she looked perplexed, but wanting to be polite, she kept her silence.

What is it, I asked. What’s wrong?

And, that’s when she stunned me. Well, she said, clearly feeling sorry for me, if you do not go to the well for your water, how do you tell your stories?

Imagine! Here was this woman living in abject poverty, without benefit of “modern conveniences” and she was feeling sorry for me!

I’ve come to understand that listening deeply to each other’s stories is one of the key components of leadership. Our best tools of leadership are curiosity and deep listening – to the other as well as our own stories.

Truth be told, I’m both terrified and excited by what I’m about to learn from these 10 young people. What I know about the human body is that, whether one is frightened or excited, the body’s reaction is the same.

Adrenaline begins to pump. The hands get sweaty. Your pulse increases as do your respirations. The thought process is either cloudy or heightened and your perception of reality changes.

Fear or excitement will do that to the body.  It is your brain, however, that decides whether or not to be afraid or excited.

It's a choice.

So, I’m choosing excitement.

But, a few "arrow prayers" headed my way wouldn't hurt, you know?

As that quintessential storyteller, Garrison Keillor would say, "Be well. Do good work. Keep in touch."


Kirkepiscatoid said...

I have been shooting those arrows since our phone call this morning! After all, the quickest way to get over one's own stuff is to pray for someone else. LOL

JCF said...

But, a few "arrow prayers" headed my way wouldn't hurt, you know?

Pray-rows! Comin' atcha! :-)

These are ten young people, ages 22-26, fresh out of college, who know that they want to stay in the city and work for Jesus. To be absolutely honest, I’m absolutely terrified.

I would be, too. In addition to the reasons you said . . . I'd be afraid I'd spend the time leering at their beauty.

JCF, the Old Perv. ;-X

susankay said...

You know, that's a big part of 12 step programs.


(wv=duck -- as in take along a yellow ducki for good lucki)

Alissa said...

Speaking as a 23-year-old (so firmly in the age group of your retreatants), this retreat sounds AMAZING. I'm inspired just reading about it -- and, I'll be honest, pretty jealous of those folks who get to participate.

Arrow prayers, all the same.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Hey, Kirke - I've been shooting a few arrow prayers towards Kirksville, myself. It's helped.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, JCF. They are lovely, to be sure, but my heart belongs to my beloved.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

SusanKay - Yeppa

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Alissa. We did "body maps" tonight. It's been wonderful. Well, for me at least.

whiteycat said...

Thinking of you and shooting some arrows!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Whiteycat - Thanks, the prayers are working. I am learning so much from them. I'm not longer terrified. I'm in awe.