Billie’s blog :: March 2021

The invisible, insidious world of biases and how it affects your life

by Billie Wade

March 2021 — Life is full of isms, labels used to describe philosophies. Many isms are hurtful, harmful, or downright dangerous. But isms are not the issue. The underlying foundations of isms are biases. They can be mistaken for values and used to govern your life, eliminating room for differences of perception and perspective.

In her TED Talk, How to Overcome our Biases?: Walk boldly toward them, Verna Myers defines biases as the stories we make up about other people before we know who they are. Biases can be rooted in truth, semi- or pseudo truth, or in nothing at all and are explicit or implicit. All people harbor biases.

Explicit biases live in your awareness. You may be vocal about your stance on issues important to you, from the death penalty to the best ketchup. You may qualify your opinions— “I have Black friends, but they shouldn’t marry outside their race; it’s too hard on the children.” That is a bias wrapped in an excuse.

Open-mindedness and compassion feel good in the moment. The instant a similar person appears in a different set of circumstances, the bias emerges unannounced, uninvited, and usually, unconsciously. Example: Complimenting the cashier whose ethnicity is different from yours on her beautiful hair or great smile changes tone when people of that ethnicity move in next door.

Implicit biases live outside your awareness. You act and speak from your cache of default responses. They are invisible to you and may or may not be visible to others and they are insidious. Example: “I don’t use those words myself. I’m just telling you what someone else said.” sounds as if you are absolved because you “monitor” your usage. The truth is: If those words come from your mouth, you use those words. Another bias wrapped in an excuse. That is the power of implicit biases.

Melanie Funchess, in her TEDx Flour City talk, Implicit Bias—how it affects us and how we push through, shares three heart-breaking scenarios, one of which was psychologically devastating, and one of which was almost fatal because biases clouded the ability of people to see the truth.

Here are some ways to recognize and address bias to get you started:

  1. Notice how you respond or react to various people and situations. How did the beliefs form? Do they hold up against proof? Are they biases or values? Be honest with yourself and own them.
  2. Ask others about your biases, then listen. Ask for examples. Write them out. Explore them.
  3. Conversations are the most effective means of forging relationships that build connections between people, especially when beliefs conflict.
  4. Research cultures different from yours. Seek out cultural centers, museums, and historical sites when you travel.
  5. Call out others when you hear or witness harmful behavior.
  6. Watch what you say and do in the presence of children. Teach your child(ren) about biases and the harm they cause others. Take your child(ren) to cultural events. Help them to become critical listeners and question the basis for what they hear and see.

Once you become aware of your biases, you are responsible for acting accordingly. As Verna Myers says, “We don’t need more good people. We need more real people.”

As we envision an equitable, just world for all people, we can look first to ourselves to determine how our beliefs and behaviors contribute to or hinder accomplishment of that vision. How we view each other and how we treat each other draw the trajectory of our future. Change begins individually. Individuals standing in solidarity create a groundswell. A groundswell makes a difference.

for more blogs by Billie:

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Chris’ Blog: Whatever the Question, The Answer is Grace

Whatever the Question, The Answer is Grace

by Chris Waddle, Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life, Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

February 2021 — “Whatever the question, the answer is grace.” I was about 19 when my pastor said this to me. I was a mess. I was worried about being accepted by God. I was worried about being alone for the rest of my life. I was worried about not being good enough in about fifty different ways. I was “freaking out!”

“Whatever the question, the answer is grace.”

Does that sound too fluffy and simplistic to you? Sometimes it does to me. But not that day. It was exactly what I needed to hear. It cut to the core of everything that was driving my fear and anxiety, perfectionism!

It did not help that I belonged to a denomination that constantly talked about how God was always moving us toward “perfection!” The goal was “perfection in love,” to become the kind of person that responded out of love no matter what the situation. Now my pastor seemed to be completely removing the goal line, “Whatever the question, the answer is grace?”

More and more I am discovering the deep truth of Jim’s words that day. Grace in my faith tradition is the unconditional love and power of God at work for good in our lives and in creation. Grace comes first, not sin, not belief in God, not repentance. . . grace for ALL creation. The Word that called all that is into being and sustains that being in every moment is Grace.

My worth. . . your worth. . . is not ever earned, diminished, or up for grabs. It is a given and a constant. It does not change with my performance or my situation. Trusting in this sacred worth God grants to ALL also helps me with that “perfection in love” part of my tradition.

“Perfection in love” does not mean I do not make mistakes. It means that my initial response in any circumstance is to do what is most loving. That is a very large and compelling vision, and, I really do want to be that kind of person. . . but I am not. But here is the catch. . . I can’t do it, at least, not as a force of will. Such love must be a transformation of my very being.

I am not saying that it does not involve my actions or that it does not involve my choices. What I am saying is, I do not do it. God’s grace is always acting on me and I can choose to work with or work against that movement of love in my life. I choose and act, but God is always the one urging, directing, empowering, and transforming.

Sometimes I experience Grace as providence. Sometimes I experience Grace as warning. Sometimes I experience Grace as forgiveness. Sometimes I experience Grace as a kick in the butt to take a risk get tough and/or be more vulnerable.

Grace is the Love that holds me and adores me. This is something that the mystics, people of deep prayerful connection with God and creation, from many different religious traditions have in common. When they stop, allow themselves to be open to the mystery of life and being they speak of experiencing a deep connection to a Love that delights in all of us and all of creation.

Grace is NOT God “getting over” or “looking past” our sin, or imperfections, to “Love us anyway.” I cringe now when I realize how many times I must have used this “God loves us anyway” phrase as a pastor. When I realized how pathetic it was I vowed never to do it again. I am convinced God does not need to “get over” anything to love us. . . God adores us period.

Why am I so convinced? Because, as I said, it is a consistent experience of deeply prayerful people across religious traditions. It is what I find most compelling in the most loving people I know. It is the way I have experienced love from those who have loved me most deeply, and it is the way I love my own child.


If this is true of my experience of love, then how much more must it be true of God! Please give up the the image of God “getting over stuff” to love you “anyway”. . . that image of love is a thousand times too small to fit The Ground and Source of All Being. Frankly, It does not even fit my love for my dog, who I certainly do adore.

Speaking of my dog, Harvey does have some growing edges. So do I. Harvey steals shoes and chews them up. I do not steal shoes but I do have some self-destructive tendencies, unhealthy attachments, prejudices, and bad habits.

This is part of what Christians call “sin.” As a teenager someone told me “God cannot use you if there is sin in your life.” That is part of what was troubling me when I was 19. How could I ever know that there was no sin in my life? There was so much to work on and in some cases I was not even sure what was and what was not a sin! I even thought not thinking correctly about God might be a sin! No wonder I was freaking out!

Of course, now, I realize that even a casual reading of the Bible, history book, or newspaper, will demonstrate God using people ‘with sin in their lives” doing incredibly brave, faithful, and loving things.

Still, I do not like to admit my faults, sins, or even bad habits. However, this is where grace helps me. This is why saying “Whatever the question, the answer is grace” is not a “pass” on growth or accountability but an empowering proverb.

If I feel I have to work on everything at once. The weight of it all is simply too overwhelming and I can easily become demoralized and stuck in guilt and shame. This makes it hard to be vulnerable, to feel loved, to give love freely, or to take a leap of faith, which is precisely how we become our true selves. Grace takes much of the pressure off. Grace says “Your worth as a person is not at risk. You do not have to work on everything at once. Let the same Love that called you into being sustain you as it also transforms you.”

I am guessing that you, like me have growing edges, unhealthy attachments, bad habits, fears, resentments, and other garbage. You may or may not use the same “sin” or “God” language that I do. However, I believe this experience is universally human.

Might it be true that you cannot work on everything at once? Might that be ok? Might accepting this actually be empowering to actually make a meaningful change? If so, what would be most healing or helpful to you at this time in your life?

Perhaps it is time to take a leap of faith? Or, perhaps you need to take a small step first? From a place of grace, knowing you do not have to do it all at once, what next step does your spirit long to take? Who might support you as you take this next step?

Likewise, where do you sense your spirit inviting you to be ok with not being perfect? What is a waste of energy? What is an unrealistic expectation? What might need attention, but not right now?

“Whatever the question, the answer is Grace.”

Your partner in hope and healing,

Chris . . . and Harvey!


Leadership in 2021: Ministry Under the Shadow of a Pandemic

Take a break in the action/reaction of 2021!

No preparation!  No home work!

You are not alone in what you are facing and feeling today!

The emotional process of leadership through transitions, trauma, anxiety, conflict, and challenging conversations.

Hosted by: Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center

Facilitator: Rev. Bill Selby, President, Center for Pastoral Effectiveness (scroll down for bio)

Program details:

  • Program: In this webinar, Rev. Bill Selby, the founder of the Center for Pastoral Effectiveness will help us understand congregations as emotional systems, the impact of anxiety on us and our faith communities, and some implications to consider as you, the leader, respond to parishioners, colleagues, and the anxiety in which we live. (see below for more webinar details)
  • Date: April 13, 2021 Zoom meeting
  • Time: 9:30 -11:30 a.m. Central time
  • Format: Zoom
  • Cost: $25 per person
  • CEUs: We will offer .2 units (point two) of CEU credit for each event (webinar, group 1, group 2, group 3) for a total of .8 (point eight) CEU credits.
  • For more information, please contact Chris Waddle, Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life at the Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center,

  • Follow-up intensive option: For those who would like to go deeper and integrate this process, you can join a small coaching group, of no more than eight people, in three 2-hour sessions. Total cost for the three sessions is $174. (Payments can be negotiated) .6 CEUs. Details about registration for the intensive will be shared at the webinar on April 13.

More about the webinar:

Leadership Webinar:  Leadership in 2021: Ministry Under the Shadow of a Pandemic

Times of anxiety and uncertainty also hold rich possibilities and opportunities for ministry. You as pastors, leaders, and Conference leaders play a significant role in helping congregations find their way forward constructively.

The intention of this webinar is to offer a way of understanding your congregation during these anxious times, and help you identify a process to cultivate the opportunities and possibilities in your congregation. What are some best practices for helping people be at their best as Christians and human beings? What are your needs as leaders/pastors to lead in such times?

By best practices we are not suggesting a leadership technique of a management style.  Best practices in ministry is an art form, an emotional process.

In this webinar, Rev. Bill Selby, the founder of the Center for Pastoral Effectiveness will help us understand congregations as emotional systems, the impact of anxiety on us and our faith communities, and some implications to consider as you, the leader, respond to parishioners, colleagues, and the anxiety in which we live.

Moreover, as we find our way into our new hopes and possibilities for ministry, challenge and conflict, transitions and trauma, is part of the landscape. Bill will offer some insights and best practices for addressing anxiety and conflict in constructive, generative ways that invite people’s (our own and others) best self—the Christ within us.

Hope and possibilities are on the horizon, and you play a part (a midwife if you will) in helping the hope become lived out in our congregations and larger community.

Horizons too abstract exhaust;

concrete, tangible, close to the heart,

the horizon gives life

from the vast edge beyond itself.

Our gaze keeps drifting toward the horizon. . .

inviting us to take the next step.

(excerpt from a poem by W. Craig Gilliam, Horizons)

We invite and hope you can join us for this journey and opportunity to reflect, learn and grow together.

Facilitator bio

Bill Selby is an Ordained United Methodist Minister since 1974 who has led both small and large churches in Indiana, Wyoming, and Colorado, including a new church development in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Prior to ministry he was in research and development designing small arms for the military during Vietnam and later taught in the Mechanical Engineering arena at the Eau Claire Technical Institute, the University of Wisconsin – Stout, and finally at Indiana State University.

In 1995, from his experiences especially in the church, Bill created a new ministry resource for churches and leadership, Growth with Integrity Resources, in which resources were created to empower the local church and its’ leadership. One of the resources developed, The Center for Pastoral Effectiveness of the Rockies, became so important that it became a separate ministry. The Center based on Family Systems Theory now has Centers in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas helping to maintain ministers in ministry with over 1000 clergy alumni. He is sought out by leaders of churches, non-profit organizations and corporate companies for his work in empowering leadership to be less reactive to the natural reactivity of their organizations as they seek to become more self-differentiated non-anxious leaders.

He grew up in a very small town in Illinois and married his childhood sweetheart from across the street, Sherilee, with whom they celebrated their 55th anniversary and count as their greatest gifts, their son Christopher and three chosen daughters, Carla, Nancy, and Kim, and their grandchildren. They make their home in Highlands Ranch, Colorado.

Blog: Media review for hope and healing: I Am Enough by Grace Byers

You are enough — tell the children, remind yourself

by Terri Mork Speirs, director of community relations

February 2021 — When I was 50-something years old I read a line in a poem that changed my life. The first seven words in Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese reads: “You do not have to be good.”

This book serves children and families served through the Center’s C.O.O.L., with thanks to the BWA Foundation

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to be good.

I’m sure I’d been taught in many ways from many people including teachers, family and friends. Yet that line in that poem finally convinced me in my sixth decade of life. I need reminders.

And so now I notice such lines when they happen by me for example:

  • Wherever I am, I am what is missing. ~ Mark Strand (posted as a reminder on my phone)
  • I’m imperfect and I’m enough. ~ Brené Brown (I’m all in for Brené Brown)
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings ~ Maya Angelo (my response: because it can! and: good book)

I think words and books have the power to heal.

As part of the community relations team at the Center, it is my privilege to engage with generous community members, and learn from esteemed colleagues. I get to help ask for donations and thank donors. And, I get to learn how the clinicians utilize the resources. It is especially fun discovering resources used for the kiddos served through C.O.O.L. (Children Overcoming the Obstacles in Life).

“I Am Enough” by Grace Byers is one of the recent purchases by our C.O.O.L. clinicians, with thanks to generous funding from the BWA Foundation. The book is used in telehealth sessions with children and families, and has been added to the Center’s lending library. (We hold the hope for a post-pandemic world when we can all access the lending library again!)

The book cover stood out to me for being so very cute, in addition to the wisdom of the title. And how awesome to teach “I am enough” to young ones, and to remind us old ones. 🙂

The video reading by the author, Grace Byers, is delightful.

You do not have to be good. You are enough. Repeat.

Billie’s blog: February 2021

An invitation to sit with your discomfort, allow it to speak to you

Billie Wade, writer

by Billie Wade, PrairieFire graduate

February 2021 – This post heralds a new dawn: addressing the cold, hard reality of racism. I use the term “dawn” to signify the raw truth that for over four hundred years, we remain at the gate of facing and reckoning with racism. Racism, fueled by hate, greed, and fear, is firmly entrenched in our country’s DNA like the pink stain in a plastic refrigerator dish after the spaghetti sauce is removed. We begin where we are, which is always a new place even if we have had a similar experience in the past. Our feelings are cumulative. It is how wisdom is earned.

Since July 2017, I have enjoyed the honor and privilege to share with you a variety of topics and my experience and perspective. As a Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center client for many years, I feel the mission, vision, and values in the environment every time I enter the doors. Now with our interactions on Zoom, those tenets continue to shine through. The Center seeks to understand the clients they serve, and to reach out to underserved demographics. With that said, I now turn my focus to the insidious organism of racism and the trauma of intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that remains alive and thriving in 2021.

On May 30, 2020, in response to the brutal, flaunting murder of George Floyd and the attack that murdered Breonna Taylor, the Center put voice to their compassion and solidarity with the Black community. The antiracism statement on the landing page of the website announced formation of the Antiracism Learning Group*. I am delighted and humbled to cofacilitate the group with Terri Speirs, the Center’s director of community relations.

I will use several terms often in my writing. My working definitions are:

  • Racism—a system consisting of rules, laws, policies, and practices designed to disenfranchise nonwhite people. The organism systematically perpetuates the unfounded belief that Black people are inferior and, therefore, suitable for subjugation and exploitation.
  • “I, we, and Black people”—descendants of slaves brought to this country in 1619.
  • “White people”—the collective of members of the privileged race in the United States.
  • White privilege—perks given to White people because of the color of their skin.
  • Appropriation—the use by one culture of the accoutrements of another culture, particularly while forbidding the appropriated culture to enjoy those accoutrements.

Racism began when White people laid eyes on native Africans and deemed them nonhuman. They kidnapped the people and brought them to this country stripped of everything—clothing, dignity, rituals, language, spirituality, family, friends, culture, all human rights—in chains stacked like ears of corn in the holds of cargo ships. Those who died were unceremoniously thrown overboard. Upon arrival in America, families were separated, never to see each other again.

Black people face a plethora of stressors every minute of every day. We are hated, hunted, and profiled. We live in a country where Black and Brown bodies are killed on suspicion of criminality by walking on a street with our hands in our pockets. Where a “routine” traffic stop may end our life. Where laws and policies directed at oppressing us are enacted without our knowledge and input. Policies and laws enacted to support and liberate Black people are swiftly met with counter laws that cancel out the advancement. Case in point: The so-called “war on drugs” is a war on Black people. The drug war is waged only in Black communities. The shop owner called police because he suspected George Floyd may have been attempting to pass a counterfeit $20.00 bill. Why did the situation call for four officers?

The medical and mental health fields acted with remarkable swiftness to address the opioid crisis. Middle- and upper-class White women comprised the largest demographic. They were offered treatment, mental health services, and resources. Their plight was blamed on a highly addictive drug. Black people who are addicted to drugs are labeled criminals (because they are in possession of the drug), drug addicts, and morally deficient.

Some of the material may be hard for you to receive. I encourage you to try to sit with your feelings and discomfort and allow them to speak to you. The discomfort is there for a reason. “What belief is this revelation rubbing up against?” The most potent question to ask yourself is, “How can I see this differently?” If you have a spiritual aspect in your life, you can ask that Power to help you see differently. Once we know something, we can no longer ignore its existence. Then, we bump into the question, “What can I do? I’m but one person and the landscape of racism is enormous.” This appeal is not easily answered. I hope to offer you resources you can explore.

Black people in the United States exist as a “gray” caricature of two disparate societies with clashing ideals and rules. The White collective expects us to adhere to their established cultural norms but to never make the mistake of forgetting our “place” on the human hierarchy—on the sidewalk leading to the ladder, not even close.

I have spent my life trying to maintain balance between the worlds of the Black collective and the White collective. Black people accuse me of imitating White people, of trying to be White. On the other hand, White people see me as friendly and intelligent—and Black. I have been denied raises, promotions, job flexibility to return to school, and subjected to blatant lies.

Everything I share does not apply to all people in every situation. Humans are hardwired with their own set of idiosyncrasies, perspectives, and ways of receiving new information, derived from experience. I make no attempt to address all White people as racist nor all Black people into a single category. With that said, I hope you use discernment to consider the statements I offer and examine your beliefs rather than dismissing a point as “it doesn’t apply to me.”

Much has happened during the past nine months—giant corporations drafted public antiracism statements and policies and enacted procedures to follow through; ordinary citizens created book clubs and discussion groups; people backed “Black Lives Matter” with yard signs, sweaters, and other wearables; churches hung banners on their exterior walls to declare their solidarity; we elected Kamala Harris, the first female, nonwhite vice president of the United States. Black people do have allies who sincerely offer compassion and generosity of time, energy, and resources. People who listen to us, really try to hear what we are not saying as well as what we do say.

We need White people to take the time to ask what we need. We need White people to become sensitive to the intergenerational effects of PTSD. Yes, we desperately need equal opportunities for and access to education, employment, housing, medical and mental healthcare, political and governmental participation and representation, and beneficial networks. We cannot attain these human rights and privileges without help. The media exposes us to the symptoms rather than the disease. As such, I commend all of you, and everyone on the front lines of supporting Black people. Please know you are appreciated.

There remains much to do to address more than four hundred years of racism. While we can view the glimmer of hope, to exhale and say we have arrived is a mistake. A quick fix does not exist. White supremacists push back to maintain the oppression and marginalization. They wait in the background ready to pounce at a moment’s notice.

Over the next month, I challenge you to the following exercise:

  • What do I believe about Black people—not what you want to believe? Write your answers in a notebook to get them out in front of you, out into the open, where you can see them in stark reality.
  • How did I arrive at those beliefs?
  • What proof do I have as the validity of those beliefs?
  • You need share your responses as you feel comfortable. I do not recommend doing so if you feel unsafe.

May your days, weeks, and months unfold in health, safety, joy, and peace.

More from Billie’s blog:

*If you are interested in joining the anti-racism learning group, please email

Jim’s blog – February 2021

Black History Month and the Center

“Start where you are, with what you have. Make something of it and never be satisfied.” ― George Washington Carver


February 2021 – We are surrounded by reminders that February is Black History Month. It’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how communities of color have contributed to our understanding of what it means to be human so that we might maintain justice as a core value.

I begin my reflection with a favorite quote from George Washington Carver. Many know pieces of his inspirational story. I came to appreciate him and be inspired by his legacy through my many years working at Simpson College, which accepted him after his being rejected by other institutions because of the color of his skin. The above quote drives me and informs my understanding of leadership. My interpretation is that we have all received gifts from our maker and we have a responsibility to leave the world a little better than we found it.

On a micro level, what does that mean for the Center?

Our mission is to walk with people through counseling and education to find hope and healing, and to live a fulfilling life.

Note that we meet people where they are and that we walk alongside them through counseling and education as we explore together how one navigates the path to the fullness of life. There is an inherent mutuality in that exploration. It’s not as though our staff have it all together and we are kind enough to deign to help others. That feels like a whacky power dynamic. Instead, we walk together as we seek hope through a healing process that soothes the pain we all share. As our accrediting agency, the Solihten Institute, puts it, we do so as we “Respect, value, and affirm the sacred dignity of each person.”

Lots of big words in the above paragraphs. How does all that work as we commemorate Black History Month?

Looking at our world, nation and city, we recognize that there is much work to be done in order for all people to experience justice, hope, respect, dignity and healing. George Washington Carver understood that and made it his life’s work to go beyond the rhetoric and never be satisfied.

The tragic death of George Floyd in 2020 led to a seismic reaction that shook all levels of our culture. 8 minutes and 46 seconds became a symbol that cried out for us all to reflect on where we are with issues of race, what gifts are at our disposal for change, and to make something of it and never be satisfied.

The response of our staff was to set up a number of goals on how we might use our gifts to face the issues of diversity and inclusion which require our attention as an organization. Among the initiatives that have resulted from our efforts thus far:

  • We received an outstanding training from Kayla Bell-Consolver, LMHC. She helped us to explore the roots and history of racism from a trauma-centered perspective. Her insights inform the work of our therapists as they work with clients from communities of color who may have suffered from such systemic trauma.
  • Through some work with an outside consultant, Nate Harris, LISW, we began a process of exploration on the work we need to do in order to be more hospitable to communities of color at all levels of our organization.
  • An immediate reaction to the training and consultation was to set up a diversity, equity and inclusion committee to keep these issues in front of us well beyond the crisis caused by the death of Georg Floyd and so many others.
  • Billie Wade and Terri Speirs took the lead and set up a book club to help us explore the history of racism and how we might join in anti-racist efforts.
  • Diversity has become one of the central objectives for our strategy as we face the future. What this means on a concrete level is that the people we serve align with the demographics of Central Iowa. There are too few places like us that provide services to as many as we can regardless of their ability to pay. In order to achieve this goal, we also need to diversify our board and staff so that the voices of communities of color are represented at all levels of our organization, particularly when it comes to decision-making. Please refer good candidates who are passionate about mental health as we work to achieve these goals.

Gratefully, this is not just the work of the Center, it is work we all have to do. We’re grateful for partners like NAMI, who advocate for such change in the area of mental health. NAMI provides a number of resources that might be helpful to others should you like to pass them along:

We seek partnerships with other mental health organizations in order to achieve our lofty equity and inclusion goals. I am eager to have conversations with anyone who wants to walk with us in these efforts.

Black History Month reminds us that such work is impossible in isolation. It takes a community effort. As so many leaders in the Civil Right Movement remind us, this is also holy work dependent upon redemption that is beyond human effort. As another inspirational favorite of mine, Anne Lamott puts it in Traveling Mercies:

“I do not at all understand the mystery of grace — only that it meets us where we are but does not leave us where it found us.”

My hope is that this month will remind us that we have much work yet to do as we explore the path to hope and healing together and that grace continues to move us to the place where all will be satisfied. Thank you for all you do to make our work possible!



more from Jim’s blog:

Chris’ Blog – January 2021

Self-Care, Sanctuaries, and Playgrounds

by Chris Waddle, Director of Leadership and Spiritual Life

January 2021

I like to fish. Fishing combines so many things I love. I love to search for things. I love to use well designed equipment. I love being outdoors. I love a surprises, and I love fish. They fascinate me. I love them so much I find it hard to keep them. I almost always catch and release. Some of my most cherished memories of my family and friends involve fishing.

When I find myself saying “I have to get away for a while.” My preferred “get away” is almost always fishing. Fishing is where I go to just be in the moment and have a good time. Fishing is were I lose all track of time. Fishing is my playground.

We all need “playgrounds.” I have heard that some people don’t like fishing and prefer other playgrounds like baseball, or playing guitar, or scrapbooking, or reading, or even running. Yes, some people run just for fun. Nothing is chasing them. No one is making them. They just get up at 5 AM and start running. Amazing!

Playgrounds are great. Play is important for people of all ages. Sometimes, all I need is a day on the lake and some hungry fish. However, sometimes I need a different kind of “get away.” Sometimes what I really need is not a playground but a “sanctuary.”

I often think I need a playground. I think to myself “I have got to get away.” I head to the lake, but part of me is not really there. I am fishing, I am catching fish, it is beautiful, but I am not enjoying it. Today, when this happens, I understand what is going on. But the first time it happened, it confused and even frightened me.

I had taken the day off. I knew I needed to take care of myself and get away. I was ready to have some fun, but I was not having fun and I could not figure out why. Fortunately, fishing is not like eating pizza, which I also love. If I had been eating pizza, I might have thought, “Well I must need to eat more pizza and then I will be happy!” But I could not fish any harder and the fish were biting and they were good sized. So, I did the unthinkable. On a beautiful day, with fish biting, I stopped fishing. I found a quiet and secluded place on the bank and I paid attention to what I was feeling. Only then did I realize that I was sad. I was not even sure why, but I cried for a while and soon I began to understand.

At the time, I was a local church pastor. Pastors and other care givers listen to many painful stories. We walk with people through some exceptionally sad experiences. Even today, I do this willingly and I feel good that I am able to be a part of God’s work of healing in the world. I have learned, in such moments, to be emotionally present and not become overwhelmed by other’s pain. However, this does not mean I am unaffected.

My pain in caring for a grieving parent, is no way near as intense as her or his grief, but neither is it insignificant. I hurt too, and that sadness stays with me. So, I need to get away, not to avoid that pain, but to acknowledge it, to respect it, and to feel it. When I am hurting in this way, no playground will ever be helpful to me. In these times, I do not need a playground, I need a sanctuary.   need a safe place and sometimes even a safe person with whom I can feel all of the feelings that need to be felt and say all of the things that need to be said. Yes, big boys and girls do cry and yes, sometimes crying does make things better. Often, after a good cry I am ready to go fishing again.

Sanctuaries are safe places to cry. They are also safe places to doubt, dream, wonder, sing, be honest, and be vulnerable in any way in which our true selves are longing to be acknowledge, welcomed, and loved. Playgrounds are safe places to relax, play, and enjoy life, others, and ourselves just for the sake of being. Sometimes these different movements of the spirit happen in the same physical space, with the same trusted people, or even in the same activity. Sometimes the feelings may even be similar, but they are also unique experiences.

So, how are you today?  hat do you need so that you can take care of yourself?  top. Think. Feel.  Do you need a sanctuary? Does something hurt? Do you need to wrestle with some big questions?  Are you seeking a vision? Or, perhaps, you just need to be still and notice yourself and the world around you?

Perhaps you need a playground? Are you tired of pondering, performing, and producing? Have you been too long in seriousness and wrestling for the answers? Is it time to trust that right now you do not need an answer to that nagging questions and the world and the people you care about will be ok without you for a while. Perhaps it is time to just have fun, to fish, or paint, or play video games, or play guitar, or read, or sing karaoke in your pajamas using an ice cream cone as a microphone?. . . Yes, that is a thing.

Your partner in hope and healing.


Leadership and Spiritual Life home page

Virtual Clergy Pods: Clergy Leading and Learning Together! 

Virtual Clergy Pods: Clergy Leading and Learning Together! 

January 16, 2021 – This is a challenging time to be a religious leader.  Clergy and congregations have been pressed to adapt and create new ways of caring and staying connected. At the same time, the level of anxiety of nearly everyone around them has been amped up to eleven! 

Yes, this is a difficult time. However, there is no need to keep pushing ahead alone.

The concept of the “pod” has emerged as a way of safely connecting with others during the pandemic.  The Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center would like to take this concept into the virtual realm and invite clergy from all faiths and denominations to support each other and share what they are learning about leading and living during this challenging time.

Is a Virtual Clergy Pod for me?

  • Does your personal leadership style integrate your core values and personality?
  • Are you open to learning new skills and perspectives guided by a skilled counselor in a group setting based on what you are actually experiencing in your present context?
  • Would it be helpful to hear the experiences of clergy in other denominations and religious traditions?
  • Are you willing to trust and share your own experiences in a group with other clergy committed to supporting each other as they share the challenges of being a faith leader at this difficult time?

Virtual Pods will be adaptable:

  • Discussions and content will be guided by the needs of each virtual pod.
  • Pods will meet for 6 weeks for 1 1/2 hours each meeting. Initially, pods will meet weekly.  However, in time, the group may decide to meet every other week or even extend their time together.

Virtual Pods will be contextual:

  • Pod members will support each other practically and spiritual from their own traditions and life experiences.
  • Pods will be led by Center staff who will bring skills and resources that are uniquely helpful to members in each group.

Virtual Pods will be safe:

  • Pods will be virtual
  • Pods will be confidential and supportive
  • Pods members will not change
  • Pods will be limited to 6-8 participants in order to foster unhurried discussion.

If you are a faith leader and would like more information about being a part of a Virtual Clergy Pod with other clergy, please email Chris Waddle at

Leadership and Spiritual Life home page

Media review for hope and healing — Notes from a Trip to Russia by Audre Lorde

Armchair adventure in pandemic

by Terri Mork Speirs, Director of Community Relations

Purchased from Beaverdale Books

Notes from a Trip to Russia is the first chapter in a collection of essays and speeches by Audre Lorde called “Sister Outsider.” The 23-page essay is actually a travel journal of observations from a two-week trip she took in 1976. Much fun. Delightful. I laughed out loud at some of her musings as it reminded me of the oddities (odd to me) I’ve noticed in faraway places — the sensory overload, the brain puzzles, the joy, the unexpected self-awareness, the attempts to write it all down.

This first chapter of “Sister Outsider” seemed almost unexpected diversion from the main reason I’m reading this book. It is the current choice of a book club my friend Billie Wade and I co-lead for the Center’s Antiracism Learning Group. We join together through stories and discussion. If you would like to join our group, please send me an email ( and I’ll add you to the list. (We  started this discussion cycle April 19 and there’s plenty of time to hop in to chat up the rest of the book together.)

The late Audre Lorde is a celebrated and influential writer, authoring 12 books and serving as New York State’s poet Laurette 1991-1993. Her searing line “Your silence will not protect you” is oft quoted. The respective essay is also in this book and it opened me up as though the author was my personal spiritual director and somehow knew what I needed to hear.

But the essay at hand is different. It’s raw like how you might journal while riding a cheesy tour bus. It is Audre Lorde, American gawker. That’s what makes it fun: the fairy palace skyline, the reverence of old people, the lack of men, the higher ceilings, the “vodka, which flows like water, and with apparently as little effect upon Russians.” Surface travel observations are usually huge generalizations, of course, yet somehow the reader knows that she knows that. She’s just writing what she immediately sees and thinks.

To me, one of the most downplayed observation was how cotton is picked in Russia: “It feels strange and familiar at the same time. This is cotton country. Miles and miles of it, and the trainloads of students were coming south from Moscow on a two-week vacation to party and pick coon. There was a holiday atmosphere all around.”

Stunning. Like we did it all wrong in the U.S.A. Why didn’t we make cotton-picking a festival of friendship instead of brutally torturing dark-skinned people to get free labor for centuries? She does not ask that question. All she does it tee it up for the reader.

Audre Lorde is not passing off Russia as some kind of utopia. All countries have their shortcomings, she concludes. However, she also notes that Russia has the largest reading population in the world: “Everywhere you go, even among those miles of cotton being harvested in the Uzbeki sun, people are reading, and no matter what you may say about censorship, they are still reading and they’re reading an awful lot.”

Happy travels!