Secrets hidden in plain sight: accounts to treasure in the heart


If I create from the heart, nearly everything works; if from the head, almost nothing.  Marc Chagall, who created the stained glass window at the Chagall Museum in Nice.

There’s counting and there is counting. There’s bean counting, and there is what counts as “ourstory”.

In an interview with UC Observer, on his book Healing the Heart of Democracy, Parker Palmer has this to say:

I once worked with a group of Episcopal churches in Texas. They were mostly small, rural churches, and collectively they felt like they were dying. Their budgets and membership had fallen off. I listened for a while, and then I said, “You know, it’s interesting to me that the only books you’re keeping have to do with dollars and numbers and members. Can you imagine another kind of book that has to do with the resourcefulness of the people in your congregations, the gifts they have to offer, the needs of the communities they serve in, and how those gifts and those needs might intersect?” I said, “You could actually do an inventory of that.”

There are accounts of measurable items, and there are accounts of wonder. The former are required reading for our “managers” and are lodged in safe places. Jobs, futures and political gain are staked by these measures which are often massaged into a healthy glow. Where is that other kind of book kept, as spoken of by Parker Palmer?

They are kept in the hearts of people. Luke rounds the story of the Annunciation with the beautiful expression, “and Mary treasured these things in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Things treasured in hearts are full of wonder, love and heart-felt story. Such stores are never emptying and never exhausted. They sustain communities and help them to thrive.

The accounts we are asked to keep of pounds, numbers and members are heartless and don’t change a thing. That is book-keeping for managers and survival. There is a different book-keeping and accountancy which takes account of gifts and needs, memories and longings. These are the accounts that are worth having. These are the accounts which give fresh heart to communities and churches. Our leaders need to treasure them in their hearts. They are “secrets hidden in plain sight”.

The problem with effectiveness

We have become obsessed with effectiveness which, according to Parker Palmer, means that we take on smaller tasks. For the bigger tasks, like love, mercy and peace we need a different measure. That measure is faithfulness.

From effectiveness to faithfulness from Center for Courage & Renewal on Vimeo.

Generation chasm

You can tell a culture is in trouble when its elders walk across the street to avoid meeting its youth.

Quoted by Meg Wheatley in Finding our Way and attributed to Malidoma Some from Burkino Fasso and Parker Palmer. Meg Wheatley’s has written a very appreciative and moving essay Maybe you will be the ones: to my sons and their friends.

Spring Learning


In my own life, as winters turn into spring, I find it not only hard to cope with mud but also hard to credit the small harbingers of larger life to come, hard to hope until the outcome is secure. Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility; for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.

Parker J. PalmerLet Your Life Speak

Holding hands and climbing

Exploring the habits of the heart crucial for sustaining a democracy Parker J Palmer, in Healing the Heart of Democracyhighlights this poem by Hafez, a 13th century Persian poet . The poem is called Out of a Great Need

of a great need
we are holding hands
and climbing.
Not loving is a letting go.
the terrain around here
far too

One day we will be open hearted

From today’s reading, Parker Palmer‘s Healing the Heart of Democracy: the Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit . Palmer repeats this Hasidic tale:

A disciple asks the rebbe: “Why does Torah tell us to ‘place these words upon your hearts’? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?”

The rebbe answers: “It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.”

Social capital & a man in a hat

Parker J Palmer (worth following) shared this link from the public square of Sadabell in Spain. Turn the sound up, watch, enjoy.

It made me think ……

Public gathering, public square, ode to joy and delight
brings life to creases in old faces
Hands wring pleasure.
Young hands wielding innocent batons
conduct the mood of the moment
Public gathering background noise
Baby face smiles first music to the ear
Girl scales lamppost entranced
public square
ode to joy. Heaven.

The Fourth of July

There are already “safe spaces for respectful conversations across partisan divides” which have been developed with great care through community development. They are shockingly liberal and discomforting, but need treasuring and multiplying. The above sign is from St James’ Church, Piccadilly in which rough sleepers mix (and sleep) with other worshippers (gathering from across many partisan divides) under one roof.

Parker J Palmer, in the Huffington Post draws attention to a project organised by the Wisconsin Council of Churches (with backing from Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities) initiated by a call from thirty-six religious leaders from across the state have called for “a Season of Civility“. Amidst “partisan rancour” they realise that they “must create ‘safe spaces’ for respectful conversations across the partisan divides. And we must move beyond the walls of our congregations to include everyone in our local communities in this dialogue.” They are using Parker Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy to help guide their thinking, focusing on five “habits of the heart”:

  • understanding that we are all in this together (where have we heard that before?)
  • an appreciation of the value of “otherness”
  • an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
  • a sense of personal voice and agency
  • a capacity to create community

Palmer’s Huffington Post article is written with American civility (or, lack of) in mind, but the issues he faces are universal. They transgress partisan divides. “The powers” have ways of discouraging us from rattling cages and discouraging conflict. In workshops (safe spaces?) I have seen that conflict has negative connotations for most people. But Palmer reminds us that conflict has a real place in the development of civility, community and society. “America was founded on the historically novel and radical premise that conflict and tension, rightly held, are the engine, not the enemy, of a better social order.” “The civility we need will come not from watching our tongues, but from valuing our diferences and the creativity that can come when we hold them well.”


Harrowing experience !
There are some words you just want to roll around in your mind isn’t there? “Harrowing” did its work on me when I saw this poem by Parker Palmer, which he describes as “taking form” within him.


The plow has savaged this sweet field
Misshapen clods of earth kicked up
rocks and twisted roots exposed to view
last year’s growth demolished by the blade.
I have plowed my life this way
turned over a whole history
looking for the roots of what went wrong
until my face is ravaged, furrowed, scarred.

Enough. The job is done.
Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be
seedbed for the growing that’s to come.
I plowed to unearth last year’s reasons –
The farmer plows to plant a gleaning season.

This poem from Let your life speak by Parker J Palmer.

The photo is from Biltho’s photostream

Friends Meeting


Witton Church Council had their first “awayday” yesterday and used marbling to learn about  flow, influence and interaction. We decided that it doesn’t take much to make something beautiful – just a lot of flow and some interaction. We used straws to blow the ink, and we realised that in our lives there is a time to blow, and a time to refrain from blowing. For everything there is a season. Though marbling may seem a bit random, it actually isn’t. It’s just that the outcome is unpredictable, and is, thereby, a good reflection of life which refuses attempts to control and regiment it.


It was a great pleasure to be involved with facilitating the day. Together we explored “the ground on which they stand” – a question that had more significance than I was anticipating. Northwich is a place undermined by salt works in which subsidence has been a problem. St Helen’s Church, apparently, is the only house built on rock. The day was full of encouragement as they explored how they would step out from the ground on which they stand – and they built up a good head of steam.

This was a cheerful group of “friends” who met at the Friends’ Meeting House in nearby Frandley. The house dates back to the early days of George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends. George was born in 1624 (at Fenny Drayton, near Leicester) and travelled the country preaching as a dissenter. Along with other dissenters Fox had several periods of imprisonment as he challenged religious authority and the attempts to crush the movement that he had started.


Fox appears to have preached at Frandley at 1657, when he was 33. He resisted the idea that religious experience was limited to ecclesiastical buildings. He refused to call them “churches” and referred to them as “steeplehouses” instead. He knew that God meets people in their heart of hearts, and preferred Friends’ meetings to be in the open air. There is a plaque at Frandley of the oak tree at which Fox preached to the gathering of Friends.

William Gandy is reputed to be the founder of the first local “society”. He farmed at Sevenoaks in Frandley. Interestingly there is a plaque on the meeting house commemorating the planting of seven oaks to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 (sounds like the local Friends had become friendlier to the monarchy with the passage of time).

The PCC decided it was their spring. The “Witton Spring” may not have the same ring to it as the Arab Spring, but we did have some thoughts from Friend and Quaker, Parker Palmer.

In my own life, as winters turn into spring, I find it not only hard to cope with mud but also hard to credit the small harbingers of larger life to come, hard to hope until the outcome is secure. Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility; for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.

Some quotes from George Fox – maybe from under the oak:

The Lord showed me so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people’s hearts … his people were his temple and he dwelt in them.

Why should any man have power over any other man’s faith, seeing as Christ himself is the author of it?