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As I recall I was ‘officially’ introduced to the concept of ‘Mentor’ when I was twenty-one.  I was a participant in a Great Books seminar (one of my favorite higher educational experiences); there were twelve of us in the seminar.  Basically, we read great books (or parts of them), reflected upon them, wrote a one page response; then we sat around for two hours and engaged in a searching conversation.  What a gift. 

We read Homer’s writings and I was introduced to the concept of ‘Mentor.’  It was a three credit course without the pressure of ‘grades’ (it was ‘Pass-Fail’) and each student had been personally invited by the professor.  He had chosen well – we were a diverse group when it came to ‘majors’ (some in science, some in the arts, some in business and some who were in the law school).  The richness of the experience continues to feed me fifty-seven years later (talk about impact).  The professor listened and guided us via questions (in two hours he might ask four questions).  His infrequent questions helped us ‘go deeper.  Throughout the 16 weeks we were together we all learned to frame more intellectually stretching and challenging questions, we learned to listen intently and receptively, and we learned to value diverse thinking.   

This morning I will briefly share with you, Gentle Reader, another of my mentors.  This mentor entered my life when I was 27 years old. I had been holding an intention for a time that a mentor appear, that I recognized him/her, and that I then had the courage (heart) to receive him/her. 

Lowell Colston.  I live in Indianapolis.  I moved here in June, 1971 (the reasons are many).  In late September, 1971 I met Lowell Colston.  A new friend of mine, Mark, invited me to attend a lecture.  The speaker was Lowell Colston; he and I met and chatted briefly that evening.  The next morning I called Lowell and asked to visit with him in his office.  As I settled in his office the following day I said: ‘I don’t know why but I think you are to be in my life.’

Lowell was a soft spoken man; a quiet man.  His gaze was warm, welcoming and intense.  He was more quietly reflective than verbal; his silence spoke volumes. His listening was invitational and affirming; it was also stretching and challenging.  During our conversation we explored a number of topics.  As we began to conclude our conversation Lowell suggested a ‘trade-off.’  I would help him and he would help me.  Thus began an eight year journey with Lowell as my mentor.

I co-led several groups with Lowell (human potential groups).  After each session we would meet and ‘debrief’ the session.  He would inquire and I would reflect and respond.  He would then inquire regarding my response and I would reflect and respond again.  This pattern would continue for an hour or so.  I learned.  I learned via his questions and via my reflections and via my responses.  One of the things I learned what that I possessed innate gifts that enabled me to guide others in searching conversations.  Lowell did not teach me.  He ‘educated me’ – ‘educare’ = to call forth.  When he served me (the other part of our bargain) the roles would be reversed.  I would inquire, he would reflect and respond.  He affirmed my innate curiosity.  He affirmed my ability to learn to ask questions that would stretch and challenge.  He called forth my innate ability to listen to all sides. 

Often he would give me a book that we would read.  I would then emerge a few ‘burning questions’ – he would do the same.  We would then meet and spend 2-3 hours talking and exploring together. In early March, 1975 he handed me a 38 page booklet to read. He had been given this booklet a year before by a colleague of his.  I cannot count the number of times I have read this essay since then; thirty times at least.  The essay – and the concepts written about – helped frame my thinking and my very being.  

In 1979 Lowell Colston announced that our ‘mentor-relationship’ was over; we remained friends and colleagues until his death.    As my mentor Lowell taught me the difference between ‘teaching’ (the expert putting stuff in) and ‘educating’ (calling forth the gifts, talents, abilities, insights, and wisdom that resides within each of us).  When asked, ‘What do you do?’ I respond: ‘I am a depth-educator; I call forth one’s voice and story’.  Thanks, Lowell. 

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First, I need to be clear: Words, whether, as in this blog, few or many will not capture the impact that each of the following mentors had – and still have – upon me. In addition no words can begin to capture the deep gratitude I have for each of these mentors, so at this point a simple ‘Thank you’ will have to suffice.  Here are two of the four mentors as they appeared in my life.

Larry Kelly.  I was 11 years old and in the 5th grade when Coach Kelly walked down the hall, stopped and greeted me.  I was ‘big’ for my age, had a birth defect which enabled me to run with a limp, I was in Coach’s words ‘agile without speed.’  He invited me to join the 5th grade basketball team.  For some reason I decided to give it a go.  He saw talents in me and natural abilities that I did not know I possessed – he insistently called these forth.  He was gruff and kind, intense and caring.  He loved kids.  For four years he discerned, called forth, challenged, and affirmed ME and my latent and developing abilities.  For example, Coach Kelly identified that I had great eye-hand coordination; he called this forth, helped me develop it, and found ways to help me make a contribution (both to the basketball team and to the softball team).  I sit here this morning, I close my eyes and I tear up as I savor his face looking at me smiling his affirming yet challenging smile. 

Stan Swast.  I was 12 years old.  It was early May.  Because of his birth defect my dad did not think he could play golf.  He did belong to a country club however.  My dad came home early that Tuesday afternoon, told me to get in the car as he and I were going to go for a drive.  He drove to the country club and as we parked he announced that someone in the family was going to learn to play golf and I was the one.  He then announced that I was about to have my first golf lesson.  I did not want to do this.  Stan Swast showed upon on the range with a bucket of golf balls and a five iron.  He handed me the five iron, threw a ball on the ground and said: ‘Hit the ball!’  I had been thinking about this.  I replied: ‘I am left handed and this is a right handed club, I cannot hit the ball.’  Stan did not miss a beat.  ‘All great golfers are left handed and play golf right handed; hit the ball.’  I did and within three tries I was hooked.  Stan was my coach for six years.  I cannot recall his ever criticizing me.  He called my abilities forth by naming them and by encouraging me and by building on what was going well.  He helped me accept that although I did not have a ‘killer instinct’ that I could play great golf by focusing on the course, then on the hole I was on, then on the shot I was about to hit.  Image it and hit it!  Simple.  He affirmed my quiet nature and my caring about my opponent and to focus on the shot I was about to hit. I could easily write pages about the hours I spent with Stan off the practice tee in and around the pro shop, but space is limited. 

Perhaps the real gift in all of this was that my dad, who insisted on taking me to my lessons and who sat in a chair and watched me as I practiced announced after my first year of lessons: ‘I can do this!’ And he, at age 52, with a disability, took up the game (as then did my mother).  He did have a killer instinct — as did my mother; folks did not want to play them in match play.  Stan Swast gave us a triple gift – he gifted Me, he gifted my Dad and he gifted my Mother.  I close my eyes and I hear his calm voice affirming me; again, my eyes tear up.        

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A few weeks ago I was immersing myself in Homer’s writing.  Homer had introduced me to the concept of ‘Mentor’ via the person ‘Mentor.’  As I thought about Homer’s ‘Mentor’ I began to think about the Mentors that have been my guides.  After some more reflection I decided to write a bit about the concept ‘Mentor’ and provide a few examples from my own life.  ‘Mentor’ is a word that is bandied about these days; like ‘coach’ its meaning has become so general that we seem to have lost its original meaning. 

Consider the root of ‘Mentor’.’  Homer tells us that Mentor was an ‘elder’ and a wise man.  As Odysseus was preparing to leave for the Trojan War he chose Mentor to guide his young son, Telemachus.  Thanks to Homer we have a name for a wise elder that calls forth the potential in another.  A mentor is wise.  Becoming wise is no easy feat, hence a mentor is ‘old’ and has ‘lived a full life’ and has learned and continues to learn; too often the modern mentor is not wise, and is often too ‘young’. 

Traditionally, a mentor is not a bringer of comfort or solace.  A mentor challenges one’s thinking and one’s self-perception.  A mentor ‘sees’ the gifts, talents, abilities, and potentials that lie dormant within the person and then calls them forth (sometimes the mentor even names them).  A mentor is not assigned.  A mentor shows up and it is up to the person to invite the mentor into his/her life.  If the person is not ready the mentor will not be recognized – if the person is not seeking and searching and if the person is not open to meeting his/her mentor then the mentor will not be revealed.  The person often ‘resists’ the mentor’s ‘calling forth.’  The mentor, however, is adamant and continues challenging the person by ‘naming,’ ‘calling forth,’ and ‘challenging’ – the mentor is also affirming and strives to help the mentee build upon his/her strengths and develop or develop more fully the mentee’s potentials. 

The relationship will eventually end (my mentor relationships have lasted, on average, six years).  The person might terminate the relationship – prematurely.  The mentor might terminate the relationship – ‘I have provided all that I can provide.’  Once in a while the person will discern that the mentor has provided all that he/she can provide.  I have never had a mentor relationship that terminated because both of us agreed ‘Now is the time!’

I continue to hold a question: ‘Does my mentor have to actually be in my life?’  I have, for example, been deeply affected by 3-4 authors; through their writings they have called me forth and have helped me identify ‘potentials’ that I was not fully aware of possessing.  The mentors who were living human beings in my life – who interacted with me face-to-face – and are now no longer present to me as fully human beings – continue to guide me when I reflect upon how they called me forth.  This is a question I will continue to hold.  

Next time I will begin to briefly describe four of my mentors.  Two appeared in my life when I was young and two appeared later in my life (one when I was in my late 20s and one when I was in my late 40s).  Each saw in me ‘potentials’ that were dormant and each called them forth.  Even today they continue to ‘gift’ me in surprising ways (or in ‘reminding ways’).  Here are their names: Larry Kelly, Stan Swast, Lowell Colston, and R.T. Williams.  By the by, a few of the authors that continue to call me forth include: Henri Nouwen, Douglas Steere, Robert K. Greenleaf, Eric Fromm, Leo Tolstoy, and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. 

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The way we learn not to commit evil is to experience an event from the perspective of the victim. –Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Consider, Gentle Reader that the ‘Joseph Story’ resolves the tensions that exist within sibling rivalry.  Moreover, the Book of Genesis teaches us about failure and about learning from failure – discovering that we can, indeed, transform.  Jacob discovers this after his long night of wrestling with the ‘angel.’  Jacob’s sons discover it after a long period of fear and challenge.  The learning: The defeat of tragedy in the name of hope.  Remember, Gentle Reader that the Greek Tragedies ended, not in hope, but in tragedy.  The ‘hope’ engendered by Genesis also replaces the ‘rage’ residing in ‘tragedy’ with the hope AND the experience that we can transform. 

What is one of the tap roots that nurtures transformation?  Consider: Role Reversal.  A fundamental reality about consciousness is that one cannot feel the other’s pain.  One is only able to feel his/her own pain. 

This limitation is a major reason why we humans have a tendency (or is it a compulsion) to divide the world into brothers and others, into kin and non-kin, into friends and strangers, into ‘We’ and ‘Them’ and into those who belong and to those who do not belong.  Consider: The covenantal family, the children of Israel, began their life as a nation in Egypt as slaves.  Why?  They needed to experience from the inside what it felt like to be ‘on the other side.’ 

In the ‘Joseph Story’ that is what Joseph is striving to get his siblings to do.  He is striving to educate them in ‘otherness’ via ‘Role Reversal.’  Joseph’s brothers must experience what he experienced – becoming a slave in a foreign land; a land far from home.  Now, Gentle Reader, this is not revenge.  Joseph has no desire for revenge.  It is, however, the only way his brothers will have an opportunity to understand what evil feels like from the side of the victim.  This experience, this opportunity, is needed for it is the prelude to repentance.  Repentance is one of the most compelling proofs that we are truly free to choose – in this case, to choose to transform as a sign of repentance. 

Cain was able to kill his brother, Abel, because he was not able to feel Abel’s pain and hence he focused on his own pain – the pain of being rejected.  As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reminds us: ‘The way we learn not to commit evil is to experience an event from the perspective of the victim.’  In the ‘Joseph Story’ Judah’s repentance – his transformation – demonstrates that he is, indeed, his brother Benjamin’s keeper and thus he is able to redeem his earlier sin of betraying his brother Joseph. 

Consider that the central question of Genesis is: Are we human beings friends or strangers, brothers or others?  This question has been lingering with us since Cain and Abel.  Genesis is about recognition and non-recognition in the deepest sense, about our willingness to accord dignity to the other rather than to see the other as a threat.  Genesis is a sustained exploration of recognition and estrangement, closeness and distance, acceptance and rejection. 

Genesis reminds us (or teaches us) that if only we were to listen closely to the voice of the ‘other’ then we might find that beneath the ‘skin’ we ARE, indeed, brothers and sisters and that God is truly the God of us all. 

When others are transformed into brothers and conflict is transformed into conciliation THEN we have taken a few steps on the journey to repentance and reconciliation and to becoming the global-family that God wishes us to become.  All of this, of course begins with ‘ME’ and not with thee. 

Become the change you want to see in the world. –Gandhi

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An apology offered and, equally important, received is a step towards reconciliation. –Margaret MacMillan

Greetings Gentle Reader.  As I noted as I concluded PART I, ‘Few things have been denied more often, and more variously, than human freedom.’ 

Consider ‘Fate’ – the Greek concept of ‘ananke’.  Fate is in the hands of the gods – an ancient concept (well, perhaps for some today a current concept).  With ‘progress’ it was attributed to divine (Calvin) or physical (Spinoza) determinism, or economic forces (Marx) or the experiences of early childhood (Freud) or genetic determinism (the neo-Darwinians). 

The Hebrew Bible (for us Christians and Muslims, ‘The Old Testament’) stresses that if our behavior is no more than the effects of causes over which we have no control, then we, indeed, inhabit a world that is tragically configured.  Against ‘Fate-Determinism’ the ‘Bible’ stresses faith – God’s Faith – in ‘Freedom’ [Freedom to… Freedom from… Freedom for…]. 

Given this, consider that ‘Repentance’ is the proof that we can freely choose and thus transform (transform = a fundamental change in character). 

For example.  In the ‘Joseph Story’ in Genesis the Judah who offers to sacrifice his freedom so that Benjamin can go free is not the same man he was two decades earlier.  IF, each of us (or enough of us) can change ourselves (think, for example, ‘Repent and Reconcile’) we can, indeed, change the world. 

Consider that the ‘Joseph Story’ tells the story of man’s faith in God – AND – more significantly it tells the story of God’s faith in man. 

The ‘Joseph Story’ brings Genesis to closure by demonstrating that sibling rivalry IS NOT a given in we human’s story.  We humans can transform, repent, reconcile and grow physically, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. 

Joseph’s brothers demonstrate that they have transformed when they concretely show that they are no longer willing to let Benjamin (the ‘Joseph-Substitute’) become enslaved (physically and spiritually).  And, Joseph, by his act of reconciliation demonstrates that he is not captive of his being sold into slavery (his past) and he is not captive to ‘resentment’ (an ‘eye for an eye’).  Joseph’s statement: ‘You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good,’ demonstrates the power of a religious vision that can then reframe history (remember, Gentle Reader, the root of ‘religion’ is ‘religio’ which means ‘to rebind, to make whole, to heal’). 

‘Freedom,’ in a real sense, includes the freedom to reshape our understanding of the past and provides us the opportunity to heal from our legacy of inflicting pain upon one another (and from doing violence to ourselves). 

For me, this could not be more significant in the context of the sibling rivalry between Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Truly, the past does not dictate nor predict the future.  ‘Repentance and Reconciliation’ are available to us siblings.  We three siblings have the opportunity to love one another as our God loves us.  We have the freedom to choose.  God is patient.  God is hopeful.  God is merciful.  God models for us, His children. 

In PART III we will revisit the ‘Joseph Story’ and, perhaps, learn more. 

Repentance and Reconciliation are decisions that you take in your heart. –Ingrid Betancourt

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