habits of the heart

parker palmer quote

through an awesome friend’s connection, i recently became part of an inter-faith group here in denver, faith leaders from many different traditions coming together once a month to share and learn together. i am new to it so just kind of getting the groove and listening as much as i can, but it has been a really interesting experience and something i have been wanting to do for a while.  my favorite part of it is that each person there can speak from their particular tradition with truth and honesty. i do sometimes think inter-faith dialogue can be a little easier than intra-faith dialogue, but i am always amazed at how lovely it is when a container can hold many differences together in love.  there are so many differences in the room, but what’s most apparent is how much we have in common, too.

i have written a lot here about dignified dialogue and deeper dignified dialogue and becoming safer people who can have safer conversations (and please remember safe doesn’t mean comfortable!). these principles have come to mind a lot in the past several weeks during some difficult conversations with friends where we see some things differently.  i really want to learn to ask more questions than make more statements, but i’ll admit, that is sometimes really hard for me because i just want to make my point!  this weekend is the denver faith and justice conference, too, and so this topic is fresh on my mind as there will be a workshop track there for dignified differences on some hot topics–race, same-sex marriage in the church (we’re doing that one), and health care (another refuge friend will be on that panel).  i get a little pit in my stomach thinking about all of them because they are so hard to hold space for.

but i know we can do it.

i know that we must do it.

we have got to learn to find ways to talk about these hard things in safe and respectful ways and hold our differences in tension. to create spaces & places of unity not uniformity. 

for the past two months at the inter-faith gathering, we have been talking about parker palmer’s 5 habits of the heart, which are core principles to help hold this kind of space.  while the dignified dialogue guidelines are specific, i love these 5 habits as core values and practices that will challenge and strengthen us and help us learn how to listen and love and act together in greater unity. i want to keep figuring out ways to weave these into my own life & community.

here are the five habits of the heart:

1. an understanding that we are all in this together
2. an appreciation for the value of “otherness
3. an ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
4. a sense of personal voice and agency
5. a capacity to create community

you can read more of palmer’s descriptions here, but my own personal quick summary of them are:

1. that we’re all intertwined. our freedom is all tied up together, and we’re all part of the problem and we’re all part of the solution. even though we might think we’re independent, we’re really not.  we’re part of humanity together, an interdependent living system that needs all of its parts.

2. when we appreciate others, it means that we see others value, contribution, and differences and respect that.  as a person who always talks about no us & them, what this really means is that it’s not us vs. them but it’s okay to acknowledge our differences because they are real. as we do, we find what we have in common, too.

3. holding tension means living in the reality of our differences in our own lives & in the lives of others. life-giving ways means that it draws us toward love and hope and peace instead of anger and division and violence. a big part of holding tension is respecting paradox.

4. a sense of personal voice and agency is stepping into our own voice, perspectives and strength. this is so hard for so many of us but an important skill to develop. it’s okay to own what we think, feel, believe. so many of us have been silenced or hold back out of fear of rejection or disapproval so we need to practice owning our stories.i also believe we are called to help others stand in their strength.  it starts with us, though; we have to learn to participate and engage instead of shrink back.

5. without community, we’re toast. i think the call and challenge here is to create connection and interdependence and relationship with each other because when that happens, it changes everything.

one of the things i loved was reading how the sacred texts of each of the different faith traditions support these principles.

violence and division is the easy way out.  it’s far easier to label each other as this or that and dismiss each other completely, to split a church than to keep one together, to draw lines in the sand and create camps, to talk smack on facebook to prove our point, to have “what’s your position on?” be our first question, and to find ways to divide.

every time i re-read Jesus’ call in the beatitudes i am struck with how difficult they really are in real life.

i re-read romans 12 the other day and thought the same thing.

these habits of the heart are a step toward healing the divides between us.

our nation is in crisis. our churches are in crisis. our cities are in crisis.

we need a better way.

God, help us cultivate these habits of the heart. it will take a lifetime of work, but it’s worth it. 


if you are new here, a few months ago i did a series called “healing the divides week” that help flesh out some of these things a little more, too:

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


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