Friends That Carry On Podcast
Ep. 41 – April 14, 2020 | Transformational Leadership with Jeff Patnaude
January 30th, 2017
At Varrow, we grew the business at approximately 80% per year, compounded, for the five years that I was part of the team. When we needed to develop leaders who could maintain alignment through that kind of growth, we turned to Jeff Patnaude. Since then, Jeff has served as a teacher, coach, mentor, and role model for many who were on the Varrow team… including me. His teachings are integral to the work I now do with my clients. Read More…
Click the player below to listen to this podcast:
Eat, Play, Love
Though this title sounds almost like the popular book and film, it is a different twist and my version of the new spiritual community. I am the product of a church “organized for establishment” and remain a licensed, canonically legitimate priest of the “institutional” Church. Though formerly referred to within the parochial setting as “The Irreverent Father Jeff,” I continue to remain inside the container just enough to not relinquish a role and assignation that is not easily achieved.
Called to be “a (parish) priest” at the early age of 15 and serving as a “Merchant Priest” for the past three decades, the priest in me is the fabric of my being. With a life’s work being rooted in the Gospel (Luke: 4:18) to: “comfort the afflicted” (preach good news to the poor and heal the broken hearted) and to “afflict the comfortable” (sight to the blind and freedom to those who are oppressed), I have sought the fulfillment of that calling inside and outside the religious climate.
But with American religiosity now in a rapid decline that may be incontrovertible, extremes continue to range from mega-churches that promise abundance and conveniently ignore the cross to a moralistic, therapeutic Deism where God helps you be nicer and feel better about yourself without requiring obedience or devotion.
There also remains the “church in a bubble” that just tries harder at old models and believes it is still 1950. Evangelism mean more people instead of deeper people and clergy creep remains a comparison of size – budget, staff or congregational numbers – and continue the ministry of endowing funds for fixing the roof when pledging is minimal and maintenance is maximal.
Although the fastest growing religious group in America is those who claim no religious affiliation, the remaining “Church” seems to ignore their disinterest. 65% of that population believe in God, yet 88% indicate no interest in joining a religious organization. The hope for the “younger generation” to “return to church” is moot. They have never been so how can they return?
As the recipient of such disregard, (having offered my services pro-bono that included a unique program valued at almost $1,000,000.00), I can feel the pain of a vision impaired organization so caught up in the trees of survival that it could not see the forest of plenty. I, like the majority walk away from the focus on money, power, form and politics to instead, think of fresh ways to answer the most basic desire of the human heart – for a safe place to land: to eat – to play – to love.
Eat: Next to sexual intercourse, eating together is about the most intimate act in which, even strangers will engage. We willingly subject ourselves to parsley in our teeth, noodles that languish outside the mouth, gaseous regurgitation or, for God’s sake, using the wrong utensil or someone else’s butter plate. And Jesus must have thought this through when he said to his “friends,” “let’s eat.” Taking a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, he translated the meaning of eating as radically as he defined leadership with a bowl and a towel. Eat me – drink me – not much is more radical than that! Eating together is the entry exercise of the new church that gathers for bread and wine, certainly but also for health. Eat well, live well. If the new church could be focused on how we eat and what we eat, the Body truly becomes a showcase for Spirit.
Play: Losing the ability of child’s play by around the age of 13, the new church can re-engage deeply established muscle memory in the ability to “play without a why.” Laughter is next to godliness – play is the product of a soul at work – creativity is evidence of the Divine. The liturgy that follows eating with play is the congregation now ready for its final expression, Love.
Love: How we love one another is the challenge of our Christ to “be” in the world. It is the natural expression of how marriages can become a symbol of a unified field of the energy of faithful devotion; true friendship becomes the symbol of discipleship; caring is the distinguishing factor of great leadership and compassion is the focus of communities instilled with love.
If fear of moving outside the bounds of tradition is the obstacle for this beloved institution in need of agility, then the words of the Chronicler becomes the mantra for a new and emerging Church:) “Be strong, take heart and do it; the Eternal is with you.” (1 Chronicles 28:20
Georgia became pregnant at the age of 14. Since many in our society deemed this morally unacceptable, she was isolated by her predicament. She sought the assistance of an adoption agency to make plans for the child’s delivery, as well as help in finding a home for her baby. Unable to depend upon her mother—who not only worked three jobs but was also completely unaware of this well-kept secret—Georgia traveled this path alone and afraid. When the time came for her to give birth, she took a bus to the center where she was to deliver her child—a child who would soon after bless the lives of a young couple unable to conceive a child of their own.
The delivery was difficult, during which Georgia screamed away some of her guilt and shame that were far more painful for her than the actual act of giving birth. With the child’s birth, she had hoped she could “get on” with her life and return to being a regular, yet much wiser 14-year-old. But then it happened: she saw him; she heard his cry; she smelled her own blood that covered him. As she reached out for him, the midwife placed the squealing infant into her arms, and at that moment, everything changed. This was her child, her baby—a creation made out of her very cells . . . her blood . . . her being. She was a mother, and he was her baby. As she held the child close to her breast, tasting the sweetness of the moment, he quieted and fell asleep.
Georgia’s mind began to race as she thought, how could she keep this child? How could she tell her still-unaware mother? What would she do to support him? Knowing that these thoughts were not rational, she was overwhelmed with despair. She had made a promise, she had even signed an agreement to relinquish the child after birth. She had given up the right to be her child’s mother—to watch him grow and to nourish him with her love. She then began to sob so hard that she awakened her son, who joined in the symphony of sorrow.
The exchange was rather simple from an outsider’s viewpoint. Georgia gave her child to an attendant, then she took a shower, was checked out by a physician and given money for a cab ride home. It was over. She had put a troubling life-chapter behind her and in so doing, had given an incredible gift to a young couple. She wondered, would they love him, as she would have? She would never know, but she had to assure herself that they would.
As she walked toward the waiting taxi, she experienced a feeling of great insignificance. She had merely been a vehicle for someone else’s joy. Like a garbage can that held the remains of a once-great dinner party, Georgia felt spent, unappreciated, and demoralized by her “gift-giving.” She went home and crawled under the covers, where she cried many more tears.
The story does not end here, because Georgia was not your average 14-year-old. Pondering the pain and demoralization she felt, she knew how others must have felt as well, when enduring the insensitivity of such a sterile process. So she set out to devise a way of changing the process. Today, that childbirth center has a very different ritual for completing the birth and subsequent adoption process.
The biological mother becomes the center of a circle where everyone participates. The circle includes the mother and her child, the family of the mother, the adopting family, the medical staff, and agency personnel. With the mother and child in the circle’s center, every other member of the circle has the opportunity to express appreciation to the mother for the gift that she has created. The mother has the same opportunity to share with others what this process has meant to her and what her wishes are for her child. The child is eventually and ceremoniously handed from the arms of the biological mother into the waiting arms of the adoptive family. Applause and signs of appreciation follow, and the adoptive family is blessed for the challenges of parenting that lie ahead. A brief reception follows, then people depart, everyone’s life goes on.
Where would that center be today without that young mother? Her senses awakened her to a fire within that would not be quenched by the typically sterile routine. She wanted more, and so she created it.
One of the most powerful awakenings of my life occurred at a hospital bedside in the small village of Bethany, several miles outside Jerusalem, Israel. In 1982, I was on a personal quest to experience God in a land considered “holy” by three world religions. Like any tourist, I visited all the “must-see” spots, looking for whatever it was that I was seeking. Unfortunately, what I first discovered was the visual clutter of memorabilia salespeople hawking “Empty Tomb T-Shirts” or “Wailing Wall Watches.” These “lasting reminders” of The Holy Land were a true testimony to the acrimonious power of capitalism and its ability to infiltrate every nook and cranny of a potential market. Although the ancient city of Jerusalem was most stimulating—with open markets and thousands of intriguing people milling through narrow, hallowed streets—I could not feel what it was that I sought to experience. My personal faith wanted renewal and my spirit needed a jolt, yet such an encounter with the Almighty was escaping my sensual grasp. At least until Bethany.
Walking the two-mile road to this ancient town, I recalled that Bethany had been the home to the Biblical Lazarus—another human being who required an awakening from a permanent grip of unconsciousness. Arriving at the outskirts of town, I eventually found my way to the intended object of my visit, a hospital where a woman named Alice had been a patient for 18 years. Because I had donated money to the all-encompassing work of this hospital (that also served as an orphanage and home for unwed mothers), the hospital’s director wanted to thank me personally, and entertain me for lunch. However, first she asked that I visit Alice, one of the hospital’s longest- term patients who had indicated that she wanted to meet me.
Making my way down a long, dark hallway toward Alice’s room, I was moved by the sight of many children—all of them sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall while eating a most unsavory-looking gruel for their midday meal. My Emotional Intelligence was on full alert since I did not care for either the smell or the sight of this house of refuge on, for them what was just an average day.
As I was led into a small room at the end of the hallway, my first impression was that of a single, bare light-bulb, hanging from the ceiling on an exposed wire. While certainly a dramatic departure from the quality of health care we in the Western world have come to expect, this dark and dank room also had a small window that invited in some natural light. Under that window, in the bed where she had been for 18 years, lay Alice.
My first reaction was one of shock at the sight of Alice, who had only half a body—both of her legs had been severed in an accident many years earlier. Instinctively, I made my way toward her, even as every fiber of my being wanted to bolt. As I approached her bed, she extended her hand in greeting and said, “Oh Jeff, it is so good to meet you.” Taking her thin-yet-strong hand, I began to formulate a cordial response, but before I could return the greeting she asked, “May I sing for you?” Once again startled, and confused by such a confrontation, I managed to utter some nearly unintelligible response that must have sounded like “yes.”
With the go-ahead, Alice began to sing. Contrary to what I expected, one of the purest sounds I have ever heard began to emerge from her half-body. She brought into this darkened room a quality of music that seemed to come from another realm. The words were simple, yet they still remain in my mind to this day. They were a prayer of thanksgiving for how blessed her life had been and an expression of the gratitude she felt for her hospital home and her family of patients residing there. Although my natural inclination was to thank her for her song and ignore what seemed to be the ludicrous nature of this event, I instead began to weep. Unable to control the well of emotion that began to fill me, my weeping reached a level so deep that it felt as if it were an outpouring of every ounce of judgment and cynicism I had ever entertained. I began to feel as pure as the songbird who had rejoiced, who now offered no response to my weeping except a loving gaze.
Why had this occurred? What was the reason for this uncharacteristic emotional display from me, in front of two people whom I had met only minutes earlier? The reality that suddenly came crashing into my awareness—like a 747 landing on my rooftop—was that I was standing in the presence of God. Residing within this frail being, who exhibited more patience and joy than anyone I had ever encountered, was the very spirit that I sought. The paradox itself became humorous. Despite all my efforts to find the Divine in the Holy Land through weeks of investigating holy ground, I became keenly aware that the Divine was neither confined in expectations nor corralled in monuments of the past, but was more often discovered in the most unlikely places, at the most unlikely times, and in the most unusual of characters
Two years had passed since Sara Pratt’s father died. “Two years!” she thought, as she arranged the fresh Iris just the way he had always done. Oh, how she missed him—his laugh, his willingness to listen. He had always been there for her—a marvelous friend. The memory of her father brought tears to Sara’s eyes, and she put down the pruning shears to replace them with a handful of tissue. Wiping her eyes, she—almost ceremoniously— walked toward the large dresser in her bedroom. She must have made this ritual trek a thousand times over the past two years; it was her way of remembering her father.
Reaching for the top left drawer, she slowly pulled it open and watched as its contents were revealed. On the left was the ring her mother had given her when she was sixteen. It had been her grandmother’s engagement ring, worn thin by the years and now too fragile to wear. It glistened in the morning light and highlighted more memories of days gone by. Although she had loved her mother, she didn’t miss the tension that always seemed to have surrounded their relationship. Perhaps her mother was threatened by Sara’s relationship with her father. He always treated her as “his little girl.” “Mother couldn’t handle that,” she thought. “Everyone wanted his attention. I just happened to be the one who received it.”
James L. Pratt had been a man the world would refer to as “successful.” He loved his work and he lived life with passion and purpose. Starting his own business at the age of 19, he had a way of knowing the needs of humanity before they became evident to the rest of the world. Inventor, artist, and creator of “something out of nothing,” James was successful at everything he did. He moved as if in sync with the Universe, flowing from one phase to the next. Although he never sought to make money, money seemed to make its way to him. Untouched by material gain, he lived a simple, yet elegant lifestyle.
Sara reached for the object she kept hidden in the back of the drawer. It was a curious memento of her father— not one others would cherish. But she thought it was so like him. It was a fine, elegant, thread of seamless weave that represented his very life. Perhaps from China, the object blended the fabric of East with West, a perfect reminder of her father, whose life knew no bounds. Moving aside a small card that covered and protected her reminder, she lifted a white handkerchief and lifted it toward her as if it were a small dove. Ceremoniously raising it to her nose, she drew in a deep breath, inhaling the reminiscent scent of her father. The fragrance of the man she so admired and loved still remained intact within this piece of fabric that had become, for her, a sacred object.
Carefully folding the handkerchief and placing it on top of the dresser, Sara rearranged the family pictures as a tear rolled down her cheek. Most prominent in the picture collection was a photo of Sara and her father, taken when she was only seven years old. He held her in his arms as the two laughed and posed for a shot that would become a lasting centerpiece in her collection of memories. Yet the fragrance of the handkerchief was the most important reminder of the best friend who was now gone.
Sara’s ritual was something she shared with no one. Performed in the privacy of her bedroom, she would have been embarrassed if others knew of her devotional act. Her mother had “let her father go” long before her own death, and she counseled Sara to do the same. Unwilling or unable, Sara did not let go, but continued to invoke his memory through the lasting fragrance of Bay Rum cologne.
The ringing of the doorbell interrupted the silence of her private ritual. Sara left the bedroom, quickly closing the door behind her. The cleaning service had arrived for their weekly task, and Sara decided to leave the house so as not to interfere with their work. Returning home several hours later with her two children, the remainder of Sara’s day was filled with family activities. It was not until bedtime that she returned to her freshly cleaned bedroom. Noticing that the family pictures had been rearranged by the cleaning service, she returned them back to their familiar positions. “I like things to stay the same,” she thought. “If only they could,” she sighed as she glanced at the photograph of her father.
Opening the drawer for just one comforting breath of her father’s scent, she lifted the protective card that guarded the handkerchief from any curious intruder. Panic suddenly overcame her and her heart pounded furiously. The handkerchief was not there. Frantically she searched the drawer, removing the contents in case she had carelessly misplaced it. “Where could it be?!” she cried aloud. “What could have happened?” Sara continued her frantic search, scrutinizing every corner of the bedroom. Hoping that the handkerchief might have fallen behind it, she moved the dresser away from the wall. But her effort was fruitless.
Falling back upon her bed, she began to cry deep tears. Fear overcame her as she was forced to accept that the last remnant of her father was gone forever. Reaching for the pile of clean towels on her bed, she instead lifted a clean, pressed handkerchief to her swollen eyes. At that moment she realized what had happened: when she abruptly walked out of the room to answer the ringing doorbell, she had foolishly left her father’s handkerchief on top of the dresser. It had simply become a part of the weekly laundry, with a detergent scent like any other newly washed family fabric.
The only remaining memento of Sara’s father was gone forever. In its place she instead could hear her deceased mother’s lingering words: “Sara, you have to let him go.”
Stranded in a Cloister
Thirty five ago I started a six-week sabbatical with the intention of beginning with a week—in silence—at a Camaldalese Monastery near Big Sur, California.
Leaving behind all the details of a very busy life, I happily drove southward from my home to begin this journey of silence and reflection with the notion of achieving peace and solitude. Sustained periods of silence were unfamiliar to me, and it would be more than challenging to live among monks for whom silence was a way of life. A quieter life seemed to call me, and I was responding. However, Mother Nature had other plans: one of the worst storms to hit California in over 100 years raged as I traveled south along the beautiful-but-precarious coastal route. Although it started as a very typical winter storm, it soon matured into a torrential rain- and windstorm that pelted the coastline with unimaginable fury. Committed to my goal, however, I continued onward. As I turned one of the myriad sharp corners that encompass that route, a wave suddenly came across the highway that normally only offers a perpetual ocean view. As the wave of water washed across the front of my car I thought, “This can’t get any worse.” It did.
Just then, the hill to my left—once a strong, proud, upright collection of stone and gravel—suddenly became mush, and slid downward. As I looked into my rearview mirror, the roadway where I had been only seconds earlier was now a slush farm. Halfway to my destination, I pressed on—only to encounter three miles later the first of several “Road Closed” signs, complete with flashing lights. Knowing what I had just left behind me, I was forced to continue forward. Miraculously, I arrived at the Hermitage and Brother Isaiah, the only monk allowed to speak, welcomed me with, “I can’t believe you made it!” “Oh, Great,” I thought, “a doubting Monk.”
Escorted to the “cell” where I would stay, I ate a light dinner and waited for the height of the storm to hit. With 100-m.p.h. winds battering my tiny cabin, it was easy to imagine the plate-glass window that faced the ocean shattering and decapitating me in the middle of the night. Not wanting to lose that member of my collective parts, I did what any courageous person seeking silence would do—I slept in the windowless bathroom. Just as I got comfortable somewhere between the toilet and the sink, a tree decided to visit the “cell” next to mine, making a crashing entrance. This was my first night of peace and relaxation.
The next morning, with Brother Isaiah nowhere to be found, I tried to find out about storm damage from the other monks. They listened intently, bowed politely, and walked by this babbling visitor. Noticing a road-crew at work 1000 feet below this cliff side retreat, I made my way down the tree-strewn roadway. When I reached a crew member standing next to his distinguished Caltrans-orange truck, I asked about the damages. “Pretty bad,” he said, “worst I’ve ever seen.” “That was comforting,” I thought. Now for the real question: “How long before you think I can drive out of here?” I asked. “Oh, maybe four or five . . . months” he replied, seeming to enjoy the increasing look of fear on my face. “Months?” I replied, loud enough to startle him. “I’ve got to get out of here by Friday.” “Well,” he mused, “you could walk north about 30 miles.”
“I could do that,” I said, “thirty miles is no big deal.”
“Of course, you’d have to swim about a mile and a half, where the road drops into the ocean,” he continued, now fully enjoying my increased panic.
“What about if I walked south?” I inquired frantically.
“Nope, the road is all gone down there.”
“There must be a way out,” I said defiantly.
“There is,” he said, “if you take that road right over there, up over the mountain and walk to King City. It’s pretty clear, except for the one big mud slide.”
“How big?” I asked.
“About 30 feet deep. ‘Course, even if you were lucky enough not to disappear into the mud, the wild boars will probably get ya.”
“Wild boars?” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, they travel in packs up there in the mountains, and if they corner ya, they can chew your legs to the bone.”
That did it. I was finished with this conversation with the Attila-the-Hun of roadwork, who delighted in every second of this roadside torture. Thanking him for his time and sound advice, I headed back up to the retreat center.
Brother Isaiah appeared with a big smile, and asked how I had fared the night. I muttered something resembling civility, and then asked if he knew of a way I could get to Carmel. “Yes,” he said. My heart quickened. “Brother Thomas has a dentist appointment in Carmel in August.” Since it was then January, the offer was not terribly helpful. Feeling as though I had just signed up for a life sentence, I did what any person trapped in a place committed to silence would do—I made my way to the retreat center’s sole public telephone.
Why was I having such a difficult time facing the very experience that I thought I was seeking? Had I lived so long in a world of noise that I didn’t know how to be silent for a long period without the bliss of interruption? I was troubled by the reality of my stirrings, but I forged onward toward freedom.
Twenty phone calls and four days later, I was informed that a helicopter had been enlisted to airlift me out of the center. On Friday morning, as the storm that had started five days earlier finally seemed to be breaking up, I could hear the sound of whirling blades in the distance. As the skies opened up for what seemed like only a few seconds, a helicopter appeared, swooped down into the parking lot, and retrieved me from my respite of peace and solitude. Looking up from the center down below, all the monks waved goodbye and probably broke their silence just long enough to utter, “and good riddance.”
How do we practice the lost art of silence in a world that creates so much noise? The task is not easy, but it is essential. Creating silence where noise traditionally lives may mean simply turning off the car radio and basking in the silent space of our mechanical hermitages. It may require finding an empty conference room, closet or bedroom that becomes our own temporary respite and renewal station. It may be that we discover that the background noise of television or radio is not as rewarding a companion as the generous comrade of silence.
And the call to silence may mean attempting the uncomfortable practice of being alone and forgoing the endless invitations of noise.
Humphrey the Whale was a visitor to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1984. Although whales are most common to western waters, Humphrey was an adventurous grey whale that strayed from the vast playground of the Pacific Ocean into the confines of the San Francisco Bay. Newscasters followed Humphrey’s daily escapades and the Bay area became mesmerized by its journey. Stopping traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge as Humphrey played in the bay waters, the whale seemed content with its new digs. But as it traveled north into the shallower waters of the Delta, Humphrey’s life became endangered. A massive effort began to turn it around and encourage the whale back to sea. Weeks passed as Humphrey’s life became more threatened. Eventually, it wisely turned and began the journey back to the space where it could thrive.
Like the great whale, we are meant to live in territories that are wide and deep. The moment we are confined to a space that is narrow and shallow, our souls begin to die. We thrive upon the spacious love of unlimited space and the gift of acceptance.
When we create an inner space for love, we create a place for trust, honor and reverence. These energies become a wondrous alchemy that reminds us of the sacred nature of life and how we can live a life fully expressed. From the context of such a full experience, we build a foundation for all that will be created in our outer world of symbols and cities. As our outsides reflect our insides, we create what we are. Who we are then, is a most important work. It is the work within our work, it is the contribution to relationships, and it is the primary focus of self-care. We are a seamless fabric, a weave of the intricate threads of meaning and purpose.
My grandmother had one sister who lived with her when I was a child. We called her “Aunt Nellie,” probably because Nellie was her name—but more than that, she really was an Aunt Nellie. To begin with, she looked the part. There was one chair in the middle of the living room where she always sat, and I mean always. I can never recall a time when I visited my grandmother when her sister Nellie was not plopped in “her” chair, the image of which created a rather frightening sight for a young boy. With her large body wedged into her “throne,” she would somehow chew on the side of her tongue and smoke cigarettes at the same time. My dear, but rather proper grandmother, must have just abhorred this presence, but “family was family”—at least back then.
I do not remember Aunt Nellie ever saying anything; she just grunted and made animal-type sounds. These sounds seemed to emerge deep from the bowels of her massive frame, and always scared me to death. If I had to use the bathroom—and this would be only when I was desperate— I had to make my way past “the chair” and risk being grabbed or eaten by this vast and frightening character. As a consequence, I developed strong bladder skills in those early years.
The most memorable of all Aunt Nellie’s attributes was the smell associated with her. Never could the term “pure fume” be associated with this lady of immobility: she reeked of a fragrance that was a combination of stale cigarettes and the scent of a body that seldom moved. And, not surprisingly, so did “the chair.” When the inevitable occurred and Nellie was called to a “higher” throne,” the “lower one” still remained in my grandmother’s living room. Perhaps it was sentiment. Perhaps my grandmother actually missed her sister, my rather beastly aunt. Whatever it was, “the chair” remained, almost as if a symbol for a lifestyle not to imitate.
However, even though her physical presence no longer dominated the living room, her aroma did. And though able to now enjoy the luxury of using my grandmother’s bathroom without fear, the fragrance still emanated so strongly from “the chair” that it made me look twice to see if she really was gone.
Every once in awhile, I can still catch a whiff of Aunt Nellie. The memory of her is everlasting and always startling when it resurfaces. Perhaps she is visiting from the other realm just to protest this public revelation. Or maybe I have been sitting in front of this computer for too long in my own “chair.” Maybe my dog Bear needs a bath or my sweat clothes—which are daily donned in the dark early morning hours for the practice of writing—need to be tossed into the washing machine.
Whatever the reason for those “blasts from the past,” my sensory Intelligence reminds me of the wondrous ability of our senses to tap the storehouse of memories that have helped shape some of who we have become through the fragrant power of “pure-fume”.