Saturday, December 8, 2012

School for Living: December 20

The next meeting of the School for Living will focus on the question of how we maximize and accelerate our personal transformation into the fullest possible expression of our potential.  As with any project, we need a plan, or a set of plans.  We need a map by which to see where we currently are, imagine where we might be, and select a course for moving from where we are to where we might be.

This map is what we call the Orders of Self.  Everything that grows, grows through set and predictable stages.  The conceptual framework that is the Orders of Self gives us a way to know what we need to work on now and it will provide a skeleton for understanding each of the Disciplines we will explore through the winter and spring meetings of the School for Living.

If you missed the first meeting on the 6th of December, let me just lay out a bit of the foundation we are building upon.

Our choices matter.  When we focus on the things we cannot change and wish they were different or even try to change them, we become frustrated and hopeless.  When we focus on the choices we can make that will move us toward what we need, we discover just how immensely powerful we really are.  It is in that moment of choice that we create our lives and participate in the creation of the world.

Creativity is conflict resolution.  When we encounter a problem we don’t yet know how to solve, we experience it as a conflict.  When we resolve the conflict, we create a new and better way of being.  While we all do this all the time, we sometimes think a conflict has no resolution and we give up.  All conflicts can be resolved when we consistently avoid what doesn't work and use the tools we know that do work.  We must be confident about our competence in conflict resolution.

The center stage for most of us is our relationship with significant others.  Outside of the issues of serious physical illness, it is the quality of our relationships with others that most dramatically affects our sense of well-being.  Whatever we do to improve the quality of our most significant relationships is effort well applied.

We are in conflict with ourselves.  The transformative power of conflict resolution is most easily apparent in our relationships with others but it is also present in the relationship we construct with ourselves.  Indeed, the conflicts we have with others are always, at least to some degree, a projection of a conflict we are having internally.  When we use the conflicts with others to identify our own work, address the internal conflicts and resolve them, the conflicts with others dissolve.

Friday, November 23, 2012

School for Living starts December 6th

gathered around the world
The School for Living starts December 6th so I want to prime the pump a bit by distinguishing the School for Living from the School for Contemplative Practices which begins January 26th.

Contemplation is a process of becoming more aware of own interior with the goal of a deeper connection with the Divine. We sometimes refer to these contemplative practices as esoteric, meaning that they take us within. Many assume that esoteric practices are the most effective if not the only way to encounter the Divine.

The School for Living disputes this notion and observes that we find evidence of the Creator in the midst of our lives in the everyday world of consensual reality. We can harness the insights that come from living in a consensual world to deepen our relationship to God. For this reason we speak of the School for Contemplative Practices as one that teaches esoteric disciplines, and the School for Living as one that teaches exoteric disciplines.

Exoteric practices are sometimes in the form of rules for how we relate to the physical world, as for what we eat [no meat on Friday, keeping kosher] and how we dress [shaving heads, covering heads, removing shoes]. The focus of the School for Living is on the relational world. It attends to how we behave with and toward each other.

By way of example: we have been told that we should forgive each other as God forgives us. We sometimes think that means to “forgive and forget.” Actually, the admonition is to “forgive and remember not,” but even so, just what does that mean? So one of the meetings scheduled for this spring is on the twin disciplines of apology and forgiveness.

To start we are going to take a long view of the nature of significant relationships and what we do to strengthen them and heal them [December 6]. Then we will consider whether we are finished with our own development or whether there might be more for us, what that more looks like, and how we might bring a fuller experience of living into our awareness [December 20].

I hope you can join us. Please sign up by following the link on the calendar tab at or by going to and signing in there.

Monday, November 12, 2012

School for Living: Winter-Spring 2013

The School for Living starts up in a couple of weeks. Click on the Calendar tab for a complete schedule.  There is no fee for the school but a donation is requested to honor the teaching.

The larger vision of this program is to provide support for addressing the problems of living that naturally arise in everyone's life.  The premise is simple.  The application can be difficult.  That is why we come together to support each other.

The "Simple" Premise

The first most important task for any organism is to care for itself.  This is true for humans as well.  But there is a difference between being self-centered and being centered in our Selves.  When we take good care of ourselves we are able to care for others.  But our first responsibility is to create what we need.  When we do so, we also create what others need.

Some of our needs are things we can create all by ourselves.  We can feed and dress ourselves and we can learn to look both ways before we cross the street.  But some needs can only be met in the context of our relationships. To meet these needs requires that we develop intimate relationships with others.

Others don't always do what we want.  We don't always do what they want.  We have conflicts.  When we name, address, and resolve the conflicts, we strengthen the relationship and create a stronger context in which to create what we need.

Resolving conflicts may seem to be impossible because we can't make them do what we want and we aren't willing to abandon our own integrity to do what they want us to do.  Fortunately, resolution doesn't mean doing what the other wants.  It means doing what creates what we need in the context of the relationship.  This always means changing ourselves.  Addressing conflict is a vehicle for our own transformation.

The School for Living is a classroom for using the persistent pattern of conflicts that inevitably arise in any significant relationship as an opportunity for our own transformation into persons who can create what we need without either the demand or the expectation that others change.

School for Contemplative Practices: Winter Spring 2013

Tentative Schedule of Events for Winter-Spring 2013

January 26: Contemplation and Meditation – Presenter: Jon Yaffe
Jon Yaffe has practiced Insight Meditation since 1999 and been a Dharma teacher with the St. Louis Insight Meditation Group (SLIMG - since 2006. A student of Matthew Flickstein (who produced the "With One Voice" documentary we watched recently), he has completed two of his intensive programs: Teaching as a Form of Practice and The Two Year Training. In addition to his teaching with SLIMG Jon has been on the Board of Directors of Mid America Dharma (MAD - since 2005, currently serving as President.
He leads meditation groups regularly for SLIMG, recently taught a 10 week committed practice class on "Right Speech" and leads retreats for both SLIMG and MAD on an annual basis. He is especially interested in the ability of meditation and Dharma practice to alleviate intense emotional distress. He has created and is refining a program at the Jefferson Barracks VA Hospital to bring these skills to veterans recovering from PTSD.
Basic cost is $15 with a request at the event to donate for the teaching.
To sign up, click here.
Future Events
February 23: Chant
March 9: Lectio Divina (reading scripture with heart and imagination)
April 6: Embodied Spirituality (Qi Gong, yoga, labyrinth walking)
May 4: Contemplative Prayer (Centering Prayer)
June 8: Intentional Intimacy

All events are on Saturdays and begin at 10:00 and include a light lunch in the dining hall at noon.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"With One Voice" - Thursday, November 8

With One Voice brings together mystics from fourteen different spiritual traditions to share their perspectives on the unifying truth that transcends all religions. In this seventy-eight minute documentary, these awakened teachers address profound questions about life and love, the existence of God, the path to spiritual awakening and the way to true peace in the world. Through their words and compelling presence, they ask us to look within our own hearts and listen deeply, so we too can join the conversation and speak With One Voice.

We will begin to gather at 6:30 and start the video at 7:00.  We will have time to discuss before we adjourn at 9:00.  More info and a map on the calendar link.

Thursday, October 18, 2012


I just purchased an installed a new URL for this site.  We are now at though it may take a few days for the new address to be installed on all the servers.  I know that as I write this the redirect is not in place for the one that serves my ISP.  Google says in can take up to three days.

Sacred Soup Community Gathering

October 11, 2012
Present: Allen Grothe, Adam Hasz, Janet Katzenberger, Kathy O’Leary, and Mark Lee Robinson

Gathering began and ended with silent meditation

Agenda was to review a number of structural changes in Sacred Soup and to consider the implications of those changes.  Here is a review of the conclusions of these changes.

Types of Programmatic Offerings

There are three kinds of programs that we offer.  These are spelled out on the blog.  They are Gatherings, the School for Contemplative Practices, and the School for Living.


This is a kind of catch-all for whatever we do that doesn’t really fit into either of the schools.  It includes gatherings like what we used to do in Danforth Chapel (and may do again) as well as meetings for business like the one that this documents.  It may also include events to experience and discuss relevant music and videos.  For example, Kathy mentioned a documentary video of conversations with spiritual leaders called, “In One Voice.”  That is something we might plan to meet to view and discuss.  We might also begin a tradition of meeting once a month to view the monthly offering from the Spiritual Cinema Circle.  These events will either be at Pilgrim or Center for Creative Conflict Resolution depending on the size of the crowd we expect.

School for Contemplative Practices

These are events held at Pilgrim on a Saturday for from two to six hours depending on the nature of the event.  They will be spaced out to meet not more than one a month with sensitivity to other events at Pilgrim and in the larger community.  We will cycle through a series of topics but then may repeat ones we have done before seeking to deepen our experience and to reach out to others.  Each event will focus on a contemplative practice or group of similar practices.  These will include meditation, chant, contemplative prayer (like Centering Prayer), lectio divina (a way of using scripture as a focus for contemplation), embodied practices (like yoga, qigong, or walking a labyrinth), as well as consideration of how intentional intimacy can be a spiritual practice.

School for Living

These are events held at the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution at least until they grow too large for the space.  They will be twice a month (something like second and fourth Wednesdays).  Each event will have a topic from the canon of Creative Conflict Resolution and will invite reflection and conversation from those who gather.  We expect there will develop and fairly consistent community but this will remain an event anyone can comfortable join.


Sacred Soup is a collaboration by Pilgrim and the Center.  The administrative connection is through Mark as the Minister of Reconciliation and Evangelism at Pilgrim and as the Executive Director of the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution.  Each institution needs to get income from the activities of Sacred Soup in order to maintain its support for the program.

There will be significant costs to putting on the offerings in the School for Contemplative Practices and indeed these will be the signature offerings.  Pilgrim will be the site and we will use at least the chapel and the dining room and kitchen.  We will need a custodian for the day.

To develop the financial backing we will charge a registration fee for all events for which we have fixed costs.  We will need the hourly for the custodian and rent for the use of the space and for the utility costs.  Some events will include a meal. We will calculate in advance what these costs will be and will set the registration fee accordingly.  We want to keep the costs low so anyone can attend and yet have neither institution lose money on the venture.

We will also need to support the Center (primarily Mark’s time) as well as provide an honorarium for teachers we bring in for specific events.  We will cover this by an offering we will collect at the event.  Promotion for the event will make it clear that the registration fee only covers fixed costs and that the teaching itself will be honored by a donation collected at the end of the event.  Those who are not able to pay will not be expected to.  Those who can pay will likely honor the effort and support the program.
Donations will be payable to the Center for Creative Conflict Resolution which is a 501.c.3 and those donations will be tax deductible.  The registration fee will be payable to Pilgrim Church.  As it is a fee for services received, it will not be deductible.  The Center will track the donations and generate tax letters for donations which exceed $100 a year.


Web based marketing will be the norm.  We have a web site at which we will upgrade soon to a dedicated site ( using WordPress to power it.  It will be the central source for information, but, as Kathy pointed out so eloquently, having a Web Site is a bit like having a billboard in your basement.  There will have to be ways to drive people to the site.  These will include:


We will construct a simple handout on card stock which gives enough information to invite folks to go to the web site to find out more.  It will mention the two schools but will emphasize the School for Contemplative Practices and may include topics and dates for the coming year.  This will date it and will make it necessary to reprint every six months or so.  We will hand these out at Association and Conference events and make them available to other judicatories and to people who attend a Sacred Soup event and want to promote it within their own faith community.

Social Networking

We have a Facebook account and will also be on Google+.  People will be invited to joining the group and to “like” it so that their friends learn about it.  Each of the events in the School for Contemplative Practices will be promoted separately as a Facebook event.  Once we are generating income we may also purchase ads on Facebook and Google Ads.

Web-based events calendars

We will get listed on the Conference newsletter but also with community events calendars on radio and TV sites and with other denominations.

Email outreach

We will continue to develop an email list of those who have attended a prior event for promoting future events.  There are several ways that this list may be structured including the Facebook or Google+ groups, a dedicated group like a Yahoo or Google group (like the one Pilgrim uses), a dedicated social networking site (like Ning), or a commercial email service (like Vertical Response or Constant Contact).  We have yet to choose a route and will need to do that soon.

There is no reason to not get the School for Living up and running right away.  It takes very little work to create and it gives us a bit of momentum.  The School for Contemplative Practices will take a bit more planning.  We will have to develop a contract with Pilgrim so we know what the fixed fees will be and will have to set dates and find the teachers for each event.  We can do a public launch of Sacred Soup to coincide with a Service of Installation for Mark in late January.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Agenda for our meeting on Wednesday evening, October 10

We will begin and end with meditation (as I intend that every Sacred Soup gathering will) but in the middle we are going to function as a kind of Sacred Soup focus group.  Following on the excellent conversation we had back in August I have been having a series of conversations with people who have not been affiliated with Sacred Soup and those conversations have contributed to a somewhat altered and expanded vision of what Sacred Soup might become.  That vision is becoming evident here on the blog but parts are missing and it will be really helpful to hold the whole vision together and get responses about what this is and will be.  In particular there are some issues I want us to address, some of which I hope we will actually resolve.

Larger questions of Mission:  
One common framework for a mission statement is that it says who we are, what we do, and who we do it for.

Who are we?  There a number of issues under this heading but the one I want to most directly address is the question of religious identity.  We are clearly not of the mind of what most folks in this society will think of as Christian but we are also keen to follow Jesus.  To what degree do we fight to reclaim what it means to be “Christian” and to what degree do we put our energies elsewhere?

What is it that we do?  We have gathered routinely for shared contemplative practice but there are not a lot of folks who are so confident in their own practice that they get much out of joining us.  Maybe we are more about teaching those practices. But we are not just about how we each do contemplation; we are also about how we form relationships with each other.  To what degree are we also teaching relationships skills?

We clearly want to speak to Pilgrims and we are reaching out to the other communities in Union Communion, and maybe we want to minister to UCC folks in other congregations and maybe folks in other main-stream Protestant denominations but what about those who are not active in a church or even those who have never been a part of a faith community or even those who identify with another faith tradition?  Who are we reaching out to?  Are there limits?

We will name the issues and begin to explore them but I doubt we will fully get to resolution on any of them.  But we need to have a somewhat more solid footing to begin to do programming in this new vein.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Depicting Sacred Soup in visual images

I have been giving considerable thought recently to how we promote and explain Sacred Soup.  As I have stated elsewhere, Sacred Soup is not really very much like anything else of which I am familiar.  When describing it to someone I can't say, "oh, well, it is pretty much like this other thing that you know of."  I have been trying to beef up this site so that it says more and says it more clearly.

Early this week I was at a retreat at which the presenter is a sculptor who is especially skilled at simple bass relief depictions of Biblical scenes and stories.  He is Charles McCullough and a UCC pastor.  You can see examples of his work here.  I am going to discuss with him the possibility that he might fashion one of his works around the theme of Sacred Soup.  We could then use the work in part and in the whole as visual way to tell what we are about.  I invite you to explore his site and offer feedback.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Light Lunch – Heavy Talk

Each Sunday, after worship and after fellowship in the parlor, a small group of us gather in the chapel for a light lunch and conversation, usually starting from the issues raised in the morning’s sermon.  This past Sunday we started with a consideration of how we cling to our grievances and before we ended we were sharing our thoughts about the durability of the soul and whether we maintain a “separate self sense” after our death.  This week there is no telling where the conversation will go.  Will you join us?