Jenn Fredette | Showing Kindness & Compassion When We Don’t Understand | K&C 8

In this episode Gordon talks with Jenn Fredette, LPC, MA, MDiv, about being vulnerable, being human and coping with people we just don’t agree with.  Jenn shares her experience of having come from a very conservative religious background (“cult”) and the ways in which she has grown and healed since then.  Jenn and Gordon also talk about how being present with and for people is an act of kindness and compassion.

Meet Jenn Fredette

Jenn Fredette, LPC, MA, MDiv

Jenn’s journey with others is to develop a deep understanding of themselves and the world around them.  She is passionate about connecting the curious and brave with therapeutic guides who can lead the way into the wild adventure of self-knowledge.

As a former minister, practicing psychotherapist, adjunct graduate professor, and host of “A Thinker’s Guide to…Podcast”, Jenn brings a wealth of knowledge and experience in translating the profound into everyday language. Learn more at therapyforthinkers.com or follow her on Instagram at @athinkersguide.

Growing Up With Limits

Jenn shares some of her experience in growing up in what she refers to as a religious cult.  She talks about how she was taught in very subtle ways how to think.  In particular, that the outside world was evil and that her community was the only conclave of “the good ones”.

Also in growing up, Jenn was taught that showing “kindness” was in convincing  others to see things the way that her community did. “If you will just come and agree with me, then your life will be better”.  In other words, converting them.  It was a viewpoint of getting people to think in a certain way without allowing them to have their own viewpoint.

Seeing Things From the Other’s Perspective

In many ways it is tough to be able to see things from another’s perspective, especially if we don’t agree with them.  Jenn shares some of her experience when she was working in community mental health and was a new counselor.  Her supervisor at the time said, “Jenn always treat people with kindness and compassion, and at the same time, don’t take anyone’s ‘shit’”.  In other words, it is important to set clear and healthy boundaries with people.

Jenn and Gordon reflect on the current war happening in Ukraine and how difficult it is to understand why Putin and Russia are doing what they are doing.  Jenn reminds us that even though we need to stand up to the abuse and bad behavior of others, we need to be mindful of the opposition’s humanity. We don’t need to demonize the other.

Our Internal Struggles

Jenn also calls into question some of her own internal struggle with how we show compassion for people that are much different from ourselves.  She is very honest about the fact that it is easy for her to show compassion for the refugees from Ukraine since they look so much like her.  And at the same time she struggles with the fact that when similar things were happening in Syria, a few years back, the level of compassion was not quite as intense. And this was because it was a different culture with different looking people.  She finds this internal struggle troubling. The important thing though is to simply acknowledge this internal struggle and continue to work on it.

Jenn brings up the metaphor of David and Goliath story and how we want to identify with the David of the story; the underdog.  But what is sometimes difficult is to recognize when we are actually in the role of Goliath.  When we are in fact the giant that is oppressing those that are less powerful, we need to be aware.  In order to live into kindness and compassion we need to be mindful of these times and situations.

Story of Kindness

Jenn shares a story that happened recently for her, when her husband got sick and had to go to the hospital. Jenn was stuck at home with their newborn baby and was feeling very much isolated and concerned.  Even though they had recently moved to a new home and new community, she found out that she did have some support.

A friend offered to come and stay with the baby while she went to the hospital.  And what was so kind for Jenn was the fact that the friend recognized Jenn’s nervousness about leaving her baby with a new person.  The friend called on the way to her house to find out what she needed to know about their baby, so that Jenn could leave for the hospital right away.  And even though this was a small thing, Jenn experienced it as incredibly kind.  Her friend anticipates what it might have been like for Jenn.

Getting Curious With Others

Ultimately, one of the best ways to show kindness and compassion with others is to simply get curious about how others see the world and what their lens of the world is like.  It is also important to try and anticipate the needs of others and respond based on those needs.

Being Present With People

Gordon tells the story of what it means to simply be present with people.  It was a story about a college professor who was visiting at the death of a friend and going to the funeral home.  The professor talked about simply sitting with the widow of the person who had died without really saying anything. Then when he left, he simply said, “When you need me you know where I am”.  The widow said that of all that was said during her husband’s funeral, that was the most helpful.

Again, simply being with and present with others is one of the best ways to show kindness and compassion.

Conclusion

Throughout the ups and downs of life we will all encounter people and situations that we find difficult to understand or agree with.  The key though to overcoming and dealing with these times is to do our best to put ourselves in the other’s shoes.  And at the same time, it is okay to set boundaries and limits to bad behavior; “not take any shit”.  We can still always show kindness do our best to be present with others.

Gordon (00:17):
Well, hello folks, and welcome again to the kindness and compassion podcast. And I'm so thrilled for you all to get to know Jen Fredette and Jen is somebody I've known for a little while now, and she connected with me through my other podcast, uh, the practice of therapy podcast, which is geared more towards clinicians, but welcome Jen.
Jenn (00:38):
Thanks Gordon. I'm so delighted to feedback sitting here with you.
Gordon (00:42):
Yes. And, and when I was said, when I was conceptualizing this, this podcast, the kindness and compassion podcast, Jen was exactly the kind of person I had in mind as having a guest, uh, for this podcast. Jen is, um, is a wonderful, wonderful storyteller. And, um, she has a podcast asked a thinker's guide too. That's the name of her podcast and I, I, I've probably benched to listen to it twice now, Jen.
Jenn (01:14):
Oh, good. Thank you.
Gordon (01:16):
So it's just, yeah, so it's just so, um, so vulnerable and just really, uh, I love what she did with that, but Jen is a star with everyone. Why don't you tell folks a little bit more about yourself and how you kinda landed where you've landed in life?
Jenn (01:32):
That's such a complicated question, Gordon. Um, so I think at least where I live now in the DC Metro area. So often we identify ourselves by what we do, like pre COVID. You can go to a party, people like, so what do you do? What do you do? What do you do? Um, and so I'm a psychotherapist and in some ways it's what I do, but in a lot of ways, it's who I am too, that I love having this job and this life that allows me to be very curious to ask the questions that are in polite in most settings, and to really try to get down deeper to what it means to be human. What does it mean to be alive? And, and what does it just mean to like, go about to this world that has gotten, I don't know if it's actually gotten more chaotic or we're just more conscious of how chaotic it is to be alive? Um, yeah, it's kind of a rambling question, but I think I got here cuz I'm curious.
Gordon (02:34):
Yeah. Yeah. That's uh, that's good. So yeah. Um, what, one of the things I know that Jen and I were talking about, um, uh, before we started recording and just, you know, know which I do with most folks is just think about, okay, what do we want to talk about on the podcast today? And Jen, you hit on just to think a topic that is so important for all of us is how, how do you show kindness and compassion to people that you just do not agree with? And so love to hear your thoughts on that.
Jenn (03:09):
Yeah. So, so interesting. You asked me this question, like where do I come from? It's like, oh, okay. Like, this is a good leadway to add to my answer are there. So I grew up very, very, very conservatively, um, in what I think really does meet the criteria for religious cult. As I often joke, maybe defend, like it wasn't a cool, sexy cult. Like there was no Kool-Aid there weren't like lots of, um, weird outfits to where, but it certainly was really focused on in subtle and non subtle ways, controlling what you thought about the world and really pictured the world as enemy and us as sort of like an enclave of like the good ones. And so when I think about, oh, what does it mean to, um, show kindness to others in a lot of ways growing up, what was modeled for me is you show kindness for those of you.
Jenn (04:09):
Listen, I'm like doing quotation marks. You show kindness by trying to convince people to think the way that you think that there's a sense, like if we would just agree and if you just come and realize that I'm right, therefore like that's a way for me to like, educate you, enlighten you and what I, I don't live in that very conservative mindset anymore. But what has been interesting to me as I've gone through life is that comes up again. And again, like there is a sense of I'm being, if I help you think just the way I'm thinking, as opposed to, Hey, let me share my viewpoint and we can disagree. And actually there can be something really lovely about that. And also perhaps you might find ways I might find ways to try to live in your shoes and I'll never feel it as deeply as maybe you do. And can I, can I try it out? I don't, it's kind of a rambling answer. Does that make sense?
Gordon (05:09):
Yeah, it does. And I think, um, you know, I know in other episodes of this podcast, we've talked about being able to take the time to be able to see, see things from another's perspective. And, and that's hard to do a lot of times, um, you know, we were talking about, um, you know, as we're recording this episode where in the throws of this war going on in the Ukraine and just thinking about Putin and how he's treating this and that sort of thing, it's very hard to see it the way he sees it. Yes. Yeah. Yeah. And so those are, those are tough, tough things that I think we have to, to deal with internally. And how do we treat that with kindness and compassion?
Jenn (06:02):
Yeah. Well, and it's good. And I don't know if we swear on this podcast, so I'll modify a little
Gordon (06:09):
Bit, you use, use, use whatever language is appropriate for you. Okay.
Jenn (06:14):
Um, so what I word community mental health. Um, I had an amazing supervisor Elise in one of my very first supervision. She said, Jen, here is the goal. You don't have to do this perfectly. You're still new. You're still learning. This is like the core thing I want you to focus on. I want you to treat everyone kindly, but take no one to shit. I was like, oh, OK. Like I don't like, how do I do that? And watching like this piece play out with Ukraine and the way Putin and his government, like, I don't know if it's all of the Russian people really, but how Putin's playing this out, that there is a sense of treating somebody with kindness, um, trying to step into where they might be coming from doesn't mean that you allow them, uh, in this case to commit war crimes against you, but to, to be abusive, to be malicious, to be violent, to be, um, inhumane.
Jenn (07:20):
Like that's not, I think what being kind, at least to me means being kind is perhaps reminding yourself of their humanity, even in the midst of all of this. And it can be very easy to demonize the other. Um, and the fact is Putin is a human, um, he's making decisions that are really hard for me to comprehend. And one of the things I was sharing with you before we started recording that, one of the things that I keep noticing within myself is my own visceral compassion, pain heartbreak, as I watch what is happening with the refugees from the Ukraine and something I've been asking myself a lot is like, okay, like, yes, of course this is an appropriate thing to have compassion and kindness for. And do I feel this way? Have I felt this way, watching the Syrian refugees look for a place to live, uh, what happens with Palestine and Israel, uh, with Palestine particularly, and how Israel is, um, often an aggressor, like, do I pay attention to this and show up with kindness and compassion when people don't look like me when I can't not necessarily have that same, um, instinctual, like, but those are my people.
Jenn (08:47):
Um, and that's also, what's hard about Putin a little bit is Putin also in some ways, looks like a lot of people, uh, who, who I can, I don't know that I can identify with, but, um, feel familiar when we talk about like American politics and sort of the elite. Yeah. Is that this is a very like geopolitical, but yeah.
Gordon (09:11):
Yeah. Well, I think it's a, it it's um,
Gordon (09:16):
Yeah, I think you're exactly right, is that, and, and I'm reminded of being, and as you, as you are learning, being a parent now, um, particularly as our kids grow up, there are times when you have to absolutely be firm inside a boundary and, and hold accountable, um, their actions. And as you said, not take any shit over over stuff. Um, but it can be done with kindness and compassion. Um, you know, um, and that's a, I think a hard, I think maybe a dichotomy, um, that is hard to maybe get our, our heads around sometimes.
Jenn (10:01):
Yeah. Yeah. It's hard because I think it's easier, at least for me, it's easier to go to the black and white of like, this is clearly the bad guy. These are clearly, um, the good guys and in a lot of cases, the David and Goliath, um, I think what I've been trying to pay attention to in myself is like, all right. Yeah. I'm rooting for the David in this story right now, but what about the times when I might more clearly identify with the Goliath and do I still find space in myself to root for the David and to, I mean, a lot of, I think what I'm talking about I think is, oh, like where's my own racism showing up. Yeah. Like where are those places that my unconscious biases sometimes conscious biases prevent me from really being able to feel into what the other is feeling. Yeah. And on top of that also, that is not always the healthiest thing to do to be consistently feeling and like having such a permeable, um, kind of take in other people's stuff. Like then where's that line too.
Gordon (11:15):
Right. Right. Yeah. And that's, uh, that, that's where the whole practice of mindfulness comes in and being able to be, um, learning how to self-regulate if you, if you will. So, so Jen with, I know that you're a very good storyteller and I'm gonna put you on the spot a little bit. Can you tell us a story of this and compassion?
Jenn (11:42):
Oh, you know, I can, um, I was telling you before we got on, um, that we've done a podcast before and I'm normally more prepared and try to plan for things and it just didn't get to do that in part, because the stomach flu has like raged through our household. Um, and so the baby got the stomach flu first, um, and was like shocked and like, didn't understand what was going on. And I had the experience of getting and vomited on and like, so it's not minding, like, it was not like, I, I don't necessarily wanna repeat it anytime soon. Uh, but that was just an interesting, like, oh, this is what parents mean when they're like, yeah. When it's your kid, it's just not as gross. So the baby got it. And we're like, okay, like, that's scary. We took her to the pediatrician.
Jenn (12:31):
Pediatrician was really like kind and, um, comforting. But two days later, my husband got very, very, very ill like ill enough that he ended up going to the hospital. Cause we weren't sure if it was a really bad case of food poisoning. And we live in an area where we don't have family nearby. We actually moved to our current house like six months before the, a pandemic. So we haven't like established a lot of like close, like neighborly connections. Um, cuz we've all been afraid of giving each other a deadly virus. And so my husband was in the hospital. I was so like, I don't know what I'm gonna do. I have this young child, who's not vaccinated, but I wanna go see him. But the hospital, probably not the place to be bringing a young child and potentially exposed to all of this stuff.
Jenn (13:20):
And I realized, I was like, oh, but we actually do kind of have the community. And so I was able to call on some of my husband's work colleagues. Some of my friends and people really showed up and like we was able to hand off the baby and, and just go to the hospital so I could sit and be with my husband. And so all of that, like maybe sounds like that's kindness and it certainly is. But the kindest thing that happened in the midst of all of that was our friend Trudy came over and she called me 15 minutes before she got to the house. She said, Jen, I know that you're probably gonna wanna leave right when I get there. So tell me what I need to know about the baby. Tell me what, like where all the things I want you to be able, just to leave as soon as I get there.
Jenn (14:13):
Wow. And her being able to hold to that in mind and to think, and actually put herself in my place. Not just that she was showing up and doing an extremely nice, like, um, like thing that I really needed and like meant a lot. But that call in the midst of it was like, oh, okay. Like, yeah, I really can just leave. This is, is putting herself in my shoes. Yeah. Um, and she arrived, she handed me a Le Croix. I handed her the baby. I was able to leave in just a few minutes and having that little bit of extra space was so meaningful.
Gordon (14:53):
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And that's, uh, yeah, that, and I think you, you hit on kind of a theme here that I think is, is worth it's worth worthwhile for us to kind of bullet point it or draw a circle around it or put a star next to it. And that is the importance of being able to think about others through the lens that they might see the world, you know, the words being able to just be able to, okay. I wonder how they see things or just getting curious, uh, um, with folks is, um, I think I, one of the, one of the best ways to show kindness and compassion, I mean yeah. As you, as you experienced, I mean, she really had thought about, okay, what's it like for Jen and what does she, what would she need at this point? Yeah. Yeah.
Jenn (15:51):
And like tried it out and I might have been like, no, it's fine. Like when you come, like I'll go over it. And I think that would've been fine for her. Um, but it, I think that's where sometimes people get tripped up, especially like in moments of crisis. Like people want to show up and do the thing, but they don't NEC like, what do you do? Like, what do you say? Um, I hear this a lot. Actually, when I sit with clients who have someone in their life, who's going through some sort of loss, a job loss, the loss of somebody close to them, who's actively dying. Things like that. Like, well, what am I supposed to do? It's like, well, there's probably some concrete things you can do, but let's think about what you imagine the other person might need. And are there ways for you to meet some of that need?
Jenn (16:39):
And sometimes where people go is like, well, they need for their husband not to be dying or they need to have a brand new job or they need to have like the solution. And that's often actually not what I think people need, people need somebody who can show up and, and really see what's happening and be present like that. I think almost always matters at least on an individual level. And when you have that community, who's gonna show up and see where you are and be present some of those other bigger piece of like, how do you find a new job? Or how do you grieve the loss of somebody you deeply love like that unfolds over time.
Gordon (17:22):
Yes. Um, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I love that. I'm reminded of, uh, uh, a story that I heard when I was an undergraduate at Mars hill. Um, and I had a psychology, uh, professor that also happened to be a clergy person. Um, he was, uh, he was a Baptist minister, but he had a, his PhD in psychology and he told, and I was taking a, a, an introduction to counseling course. Hmm. Uh, as an undergraduate. And I remember a story that he told about that, um, about having a, a parishioner or church member who had had a husband to die. And it was, it was a, it was an unexpected death. And he was talking about going to the funeral home to visit with the family and getting to the funeral home and everybody saying all the usual stuff. And he just went over and he said, I just sat down next to the widow.
Gordon (18:23):
And I just put my arm around her and just sat there with her, didn't say anything. And then, and just got up when it was time for me to leave. And I just said, you know, where I am when you, when you need me, you know, where I am and then left. And he, he came back later and said, you know, she mentioned to him that, of all the things that people said and did during that moment, that was the one that meant the most to her. He was just simply present with her and, and didn't necessarily try to fix anything or try to tell, say the exact right words or any of that sort of thing, but just be present. Yeah. You know? Yeah.
Jenn (19:03):
That's hard. I think we often feel better when we can do. And, and I, I think that is a component. Like it's not just always presence, but I think most people tend to, um, fall more heavily on like, let me do all of the things for you, as opposed to let me slow down. I'll just come and sit. And also what's beautiful in that story is like, he sat with her for a time. But when it was time to give space, he was like, I'm here. Like when you need me, like, I'm here for you. Yeah. There was a, almost like a continuing presence even when he left.
Gordon (19:47):
Right. Right. Yeah. Yeah. So I know we've got probably tons of stories we could tell. And, uh, I really, um, folks that, that are listening really encourage you to go over and, and listen to Jen's podcast. I was telling her before we started, um, I, I've probably B listened to it at least twice. Now, just as you can tell, just listening to Jen, she's just a very calming soul. And so Jen, I tell folks how they can get in touch with you and if they wanna somehow or another connect.
Jenn (20:22):
Yeah. So if you're interested in the podcast, I'd suggest you go over to my private practice website therapy for thinkers. You can tell, I get out there. I think it's linked there and it's on like apple podcasts and all of that. Um, you can also check me out on Instagram. Um, most of my Instagram is focusing on helping psychotherapists market, their practice with depth, with compassion. Um, so some of you might be interested in that some of you may not be. Yeah. Um, but my handle is outta thinker guide, um, on Instagram.
Gordon (20:56):
Yes. Yes. She's got some great stuff. So, well, Jen, uh, ho hopefully we'll have you back on this podcast and, and, uh, uh, I in, she's a great person to get to know. So thanks Jen for being here.
Jenn (21:10):
Thanks for having me.

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About

L. Gordon Brewer Jr., LMFT |Podcast Host – Gordon has spent his career in helping professions as a licensed therapist, counselor, trainer, and clergy person.  He has worked with 100’s of people in teaching them the how to better manage their emotions through self-care and the practices of kindness and compassion.  Follow us on Instagram and Facebook .  And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

 

Claire Brown | Embracing Fear With Curiosity | Episode 4


As counterintuitive as it sounds, does embracing our fear help us to show more kindness and compassion?  In this episode of the podcast I am joined by The Rev. Claire Brown as we discuss her thoughts on befriending and being curious about our fear as a way to show self-compassion and empower ourselves.

Meet The Rev. Claire Brown

The Rev. Claire Brown is an Episcopal priest, writer, facilitator, and spiritual director. Claire is the author of numerous articles and book chapters, and is the co-editor of Keep Watch with Me: An Advent Reader for Peacemakers and co-author of New Directions for Holy Questions: Progressive Christian Theology for Families. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School, the School of Theology at Sewanee, the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, and Still Harbor. Find Claire at revclairebrown.com. She lives in Athens, Tennessee with her spouse and two young children. She is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Athens, TN.

How Do We Embrace Fear In Our Lives?

For many of us over the last 2 years, we have all experienced fear as a result of the COVID pandemic.  As Claire put it, “fear has been driving the bus…”.   And it has impacted us at different levels depending on our own life situations.  Parents worried about their young children who can’t be vaccinated, people with chronic illnesses, and all the other people that are most vulnerable have been especially affected with the fear the virus has brought us.

As a leader in the Church world, Claire speaks about how much of this has been uncharted territory for those in leadership. After all, at the core of what it means to be “Church” is the absolute necessity of having community.   It has been about finding the balance between the need for keeping people safe and at the same time helping meet people’s spiritual needs and the need for contact with other people.

Claire tells of a person in her care that has advanced lung cancer. So for that person, getting COVID feels like a death sentence. She also sees folks who have children that are suffering in isolation. Then there are the people that fear losing their community and the church life they love so much. At its core is the fear of loneliness.

Through all these conversations, Claire is trying to stay focused on what fear may be communicating to us. After all, fear does serve a biological function in that it serves to protect us.  But when we allow fear to drive everything we do, essentially our amygdala takes over. 

Essentially, a step toward embracing our fears comes from allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.  It means acknowledging our own fear and the fear of others, because to be confrontive.

Taking A Curious Approach

“Staying curious about what fear is communicating is really important”

In those times when we are feeling fearful of others, one solution seems to be in taking a curious approach. In other words, acknowledging the fear we are feeling  and what it is communicating to us about ourselves and our community.

Find Ways to Have Reparative Moments

We need to build in reparative moments as we move through our fears.  For example, having a good laugh or a good cry are ways we can repair the damage of fear. Movement,  exercise, and breath work are also ways to repair the fear and grief we are experiencing.  

By building in these practices within the activities of our communities, we give people ways to heal from the fear they are experiencing. Being outdoors for activities helps us reconnect on many different levels.

“By building in small reparative moments of joy, laughter, and rest are the ways in which we build our capacity to stay open and curious”. 

Finding New Paths and Possibilities 

So many of us are fearful of losing our past ways of doing things. We see this kind of fear all around us. And with the COVID pandemic, we fear that things will never be like they were. With the isolation and distance we have had, we fear the change that it brings.  Claire says,  “We are out of step with old patterns that used to serve us, and still trying to build new ones”.  

Hope comes through when we think about the new possibilities of reconnecting and repairing those things that have brought us hurt and fear. By acknowledging our fears and allowing ourselves to be mindful and vulnerable, we can find healing and hope. When we curious about our fear and the fear of others, we can find new paths and possibilities in our relationships.\

Being Curious is The Key To Embracing Our Fear

In relationships we can get into patterns of criticism and defensiveness.  The way to counter act this is by learning to be curious about what is happening for the other person instead of simply defending our own point of view. When we understand the “backstory” of others, and get furious about that,  it gives us room to have kindness and compassion.

Doing this takes practice. Being curious is not a natural thing for us to do when we are fearful. But when we can be mindful enough to be curious, it opens up pathways for healing that we might have missed if we stay in our fear.

Parting of The Red Sea

Claire shares the metaphor of Moses parting the Red Sea and the connection it has with our fears. She talks about some of the incredible artwork we have seen of creatures behind this wall of water.  She says about fear, “We are going to carve out this space, that still feels quite treacherous, but yet it is still enough of a path for us to walk on. That curiosity has this power to split open the possibilities and make a pathway for us to walk on together.”

Conclusion

Ultimately our fear can be very informative.  As Claire mentions in this episode, our fear can protect us.  But at the same time it can cause us to be separated from others. When we get curious about what our fear is telling us, it can be the path to finding connection and hope.  And it can also be the path for kindness and compassion.

Claire (00:00):
Whether that's, whether that's geographically objectively true, or part of the story in that narrative, there's this image that he walks the people through and I've seen some really incredible artwork that tries to imagine what it would be like to walk through. And maybe you could look up and see this wall of water and creatures behind it, or some like that. Yeah. But almost the sense of we're going to carve out this space that still feels quite treacherous. And yet it's a, it is enough of a path for us to walk on,
Gordon (00:40):
To the kindness and passion podcast, where we will explore the intersection of psychology science and spirituality. My name is Gordon brewer and I'm a licensed psychotherapist and mental health provider. I have spent my career helping people learn how to better manage their emotions and find more meaning in their lives and connection in their relationships. Join me as we think and talk about the ways we can find happiness and be content in our lives, through the practices of kindness and compassion. We will talk with other experts in the fields of psychology, science and religion. I'm so glad you're with me on this journey as we learn how to be at peace with ourselves and others.
Gordon(01:36):
Hello everyone. And welcome to this fourth episode of the kindness and compassion podcast. I'm Gordon Ru glad you've joined me in this journey. Glad you're listening to the podcast and hope you'll take time to follow us or subscribe to the podcast wherever you might be listening to it. So I'm, I'm excited for you to get to hear from my guest today. And, um, that is the Reverend Claire brown and Claire and I delve into this whole topic of fear. And how do we embrace our fear and how do we get curious about our fear? And I think that you'll find this probably an in interesting conversation, you know, kind of the convention is, is that when we're faced with fear, you know, kind of the old adages is you've gotta conquer your fears. Well, we wanted to challenge you to maybe take a little bit different approach to that of learning, how to embrace your fear versus conquering your fears.
Gordon(02:36):
Because I think as we've all learned over this last two or three years with the COVID pandemic, is that there's a lot of fear out there and, um, not only fear around the virus itself and how it can impact us and those we love, but also there's been a lot of fear just politically and just within our society, um, on, on any number of fronts, either P politics, um, the black lives matter movement, uh, with the advent of George Floyd's, um, untimely death and murder. Um, and just all of that has created a, created a lot of fear within our society. And so Claire and I kind of tackle this, this topic, and I will say that it's from kind of the perspective of our, both of us, our clergy people within the Episcopal church. And so we have a little bit of bias in that direction.
Gordon (03:37):
And so I just want to be transparent around that. That doesn't mean that that's the only path to discovering how to live a life of kindness and compassion, but that's the context to, through which I know Claire and how we have, um, kind of entered into this conversation. So, um, I invite you to listen in as Claire and I talk about embracing our fear and how to be curious about our fear, but before we get to that, one of the things that I would like to invite you to do is to check out our Patreon page for those of you out there that are listening to the podcast. And if you'd like to support what we're trying to do here with the podcast, that is a great way for you to do it. And if you will go over to kindness and compassion.com/patreon, or you can just go to kindness and compassion.com and you'll see a, a, a, a up in the menu, a place for you to click, to get to our Patreon page. And that's just a way for you to show the love, give us your support, uh, through just a donation. We have, uh, three, three different membership levels. And I think they're set at $5 a month to $15 a month or $25 a month. So hopefully for, for people that's affordable and we appreciate the support to be able to continue to do this work and this project that has started with the kindness and compassion podcast. So, uh, without further ado, here's my conversation with the Reverend Claire brown.
Gordon (05:22):
Well, hello, everyone. And welcome again to the kindness and compassion podcast. And I'm so glad and excited to have my first guest. Well, no, that's not quite true. I had another guest, but this is my first guest outside the therapy realm to join me brown. The Reverend CLA Claire brown is joining me today. Hi Claire.
Claire (05:47):
Hi Gordon. Thanks so much for having me
Gordon (05:49):
Well, I'm, I've been looking forward to this and as I've gotten to know Claire over the last few years, um, she is just one of those people that, to me, exudes kindness and compassion, um, and not to put you on the spot, Claire, but, and I know we've had a lot of deep conversations just with our mutual work within the Episcopal church and been particularly the diocese of east Tennessee. But Claire is the rector, which is, uh, an Episcopal term for pastor, I guess, to some degree of St. Paul's church in Athens, Tennessee, but Claire, why don't you begin by just telling folks a little bit about yourself and how you've landed, where you've landed?
Claire (06:31):
Sure. Well, um, it's a, it's a delight to answer that question with you, because of course you were part of the commission on ministry when I was discerning a call to priesthood. So, um, you have a, a not insignificant role in the story of how I landed, where I landed. Um, yeah, so I'm in Athens, Tennessee, which is a small town, uh, in a rural county between Chattanooga and Knoxville, Tennessee in, and I, um, moved here and started this call not quite a year ago. And before that was serving as an associate priest in a parish in Chattanooga. And I also do some writing and some facilitation, and, um, got into all this work wrestling with a call that really emerged in childhood, um, to be somebody who asks big God questions and helps others do the same. Um, it took me many years of searching to find a home in the Episcopal church, a tradition that seemed to make enough room for the big questions I was carrying and also enough room for me as, um, a woman with a call. Um,
Gordon (07:44):
Right.
Claire(07:46):
And I should say too, I'm married to Austin sory. Who's the, uh, interim executive director of, um, statewide organizing and community empowerment in Knoxville, Tennessee. And we have two little boys, five and two who we are trying to raise to be agents of kindness and compassion in this world.
Gordon (08:08):
Right, right. Uh, yeah, I, I love, uh, yeah. It's, as I said earlier, I've love getting to know Claire and, uh, learning, learning more about her and just what she he's doing as a, as a mom, a priest, uh, you know, just a, an agent in the world of trying to spread kindness and compassion. And one, one of the things that Claire and I had kind of chatted about via email before we started, uh, this particular episode was the topic we wanted to discuss. One of the, what came up was just, and I think this is a great topic is how do we embrace fear within our lives? And, um, because I think one of the things about kindness and compassion, at least in a way that I think about it, is that an opposite of that maybe a go-to opposite of that would be anger. And I think about fear as being kind of the driver of anger. And so Claire share with folks kind of what you've been thinking about around in embracing fear and how it relates.
Claire (09:18):
Yeah. So when I think about my relationship to fear in the last couple of years, it's deeply tied to the COVID 19 pandemic. Um, I have found myself, uh, in very odd position that you are too, and others are too of being a convener of people in physical space in a time when we have not known how to do that, um, without fear. And so, um, thinking back to the beginning of the pandemic, um, I was in, and a situation of being a support in leadership in a congregation that we knew had, uh, potentially been exposed to the virus. And this was a, you know, we have to take back our, our goggles of what we know in 2022 that we didn't know then, right. But we were trying to do risk assessment with very little data and be spiritual, peaceful, loving pastoral leaders in unknown territory, um, when fear was really driving the bus for all of us.
Claire (10:35):
Um, and so that's just been a, a really alive question for me in the last two years, is, are we making our decisions out of care for each other or out of fear of the unknown? Um, and are we making decisions with the most vulnerable folks in mind, remembering that our levels of fear around this virus vary for really good reasons. Um, those of us who are caretakers of children who can't yet be vaccinated, have a different fear calculus, right? Um, those of us who live with chronic illness have a different set of concerns to consider. And those of us whose, uh, call and livelihood is to go into hospital rooms and nursing homes to go into gatherings of people and speak with them and lay hands on them and feed them the sacrament have to ask a different set of questions. So it, it's an evolving one too, for me. Um, as we learn more and as we consider where we're headed, um, and in some ways it feels like a learning lab for the kind of fear that leaders in unknown places have to grapple with all the time.
Gordon (12:05):
Right. Right. Yeah. That's a, it's, it's a, it's a tough place. And we, I think when I, when I think about fear kind of the go to maybe is to think about confronting the fear in other words, being able to just push it away or somehow, or know negate the fear, but I like this idea of being able to embrace it and accept it and that we can, we can actually, you know, it's a place of vulnerability, number one, in that, and in, and in my, and in my view at least is that vulnerability is the thing that finds us together. And that we, you know, just to going back in time in ancient history, the reason the human race survived is that people recognize their vulnerability and they gathered together. And so that was that, that's the thing that is a struggle and that being able to be kind of people that are fear.
Gordon (13:16):
Um, and I think another thing that I struggle with is how do you be kind, how are you, how can we be kind to people that have different ideas about what is safe and unsafe? Mm. And that sort of thing. And just, uh, and that's a, you know, get us again. One of my, the purposes of this podcast is wanting to kind of end that polarization. So in, in your, in your work, just in the community and in your congregation and all of that, how have you dealt with kind of differing opinions and being able to yeah. And, and even deal with people that have vastly different ideas about how to handle things.
Claire (14:04):
Ooh, that's a great question. So not perfectly is the first answer. Yeah. That's coming to mind, You know, I think staying curious about what fear is communicating is really important. Um, I hear from folks who are afraid of being infected, um, someone very dear to me that I, that I'm trying to hold, uh, has advanced lung cancer for that person getting COVID is, feels like a death sentence.
Gordon(14:46):
Right.
Claire (14:47):
On the other hand, I've got folks who are seeing their children suffering in isolation. I see folks who are worried that, um, we are losing sight of our call, or we are being excluders and those are based in fear too.
Claire (15:09):
Um, I think one of the things that I find myself talking out with my vestry in Sunday school weaving into sermons and conversations is actually probably scooting a little out of my lane into your Gordon and talking about, um, that in our psychological wellness fear is really important. It's a fear, a fear that protects it's a hardwired biological resource for us. Right. Right. And that, I think part of, well, I would say part of our call in for instance, Christ's teachings about forgiveness and turning the other cheek, uh, his teachings about the be attitudes is a call not to let our a amygdala impulse run the show.
Gordon(16:03):
Right.
Claire (16:04):
And so to stay curious about the fears that drive us, um, whether it's a fear of illness or a fear of losing our community, whether it's a fear of loss of an institution or decline, um, or a, a fear of our own loneliness and the space that has emerged for us to maybe have to confront our own selves in periods of isolation, staying really curious, so that we say, what is this communicating? And is that communication of our fear, this, this bio impulse, the yeah. The racing heart and the sweaty hands, and the, I need to take off and run is what that's actually communicating, something that we hold onto, or is it something that we filter through that and gospel of love and courage.
Gordon (17:02):
Right, right. Yeah. And it's a, you know, you know, what comes to mind for me, uh, immediately as you're describing that is just the, the practice of mindfulness and then being able to be mindful as a community, not only as individuals, but as a community of being able to say, you know, yes, we're afraid this is fearful stuff. And, but I think they, you know, the kinda the, again, using that, that language of the good news is, is that we're not alone in this and that. And I think that, you know, fear drives a lot of what people do, but also not only fear, but the fear of loneliness and being disconnected is what drives most of the not to get too, too far over into the psychological lane. But the, at least in my view, I think that any addiction, whether it be substances, sex, gambling, whatever the addiction is, is driven by a sense of loneliness.
Gordon (18:14):
And I think that people use substances and, and other things in their life to numb that feeling of loneliness, as opposed to learning, to sit with it and being able to kind of, um, you know, sit with a discomfort of those things. And, you know, when we're uncomfortable, I, you know, I'm just remind, uh, I think of this metaphor of when, um, you know, with your kids when, when they are afraid or when they are uncomfortable in some way, the go to is to, is to, is to wrap your arms around them, to cuddle 'em, to hold them and to give some sort of reassurance. And so I think at least in my mind, that's how we try to, um, practice kindness and compassion in, in our communities. Yeah.
Claire (19:12):
One of the things I've been mindful of, um, speaking of mindfulness. Yeah. Noticing, staying curious about, um, is how to, in my, in my work, in my personal life, in my family build in, um, reparative moments, um, I read a book toward the beginning of the pandemic that was super helpful for me. Um, and it was appropriately titled burnout. Um, and it talked about the ways that you can complete the physiological stress cycle. Um, and it's, it's things that I thought, well, of course I knew that I just hadn't connected the dots, you know, having a huge laugh is actually a, it, it has physiological impact on your stress, uh, letting yourself cry it out, move movement and exercise, uh, looking at all these sorts of very concrete practices, uh, breath work, and finding to weave that in again, in preaching in Sunday school, in, uh, we had our, rather than doing a week long vacation Bible school at the church, we did weekend Bible school and invited the adults and made it really intergenerational.
Claire (20:27):
And we did a lot of body movement going for a walk in the park was one of our set activities, um, trying to figure out how can we in, in whatever our daily call and life is, build in smaller moments of repair of joy of rest, um, because that helps build our capacity to stay open and curious, um, to stay connected to ourself and others. Um, yeah. And, and, uh, and, and also recognizing that at this point, many of us are out of, um, we're out of step with old patterns that used to serve and still trying to build new ones. So trying to, to weave that in, um, I have a lot more kitchen dance parties with my children than I used to cause we need, we just need to, to schedule it almost. Right.
Gordon (21:27):
Right, right. Yeah. Yeah. So yeah, the, you know, the, the, the one word that you have said as we've been talking that I think is key to being able to, um, embrace our fears is the word curious. And, um, you know, I just think about in my work with couples, you know, kind of, again, not to go too far down the therapy path here, but, um, one of the patterns that couples will get into, um, is patterns of criticism and defensiveness with each other. Sure. And one of the, one of the ways to, to counteract that is we find ourselves going on the defensive and we find ourselves kind of putting up that fear if you will, is to really begin to get curious about the other person. And so I think that's one, one kind of good take home point here with just thinking about how do we handle the fear that we experience that not only throughout the pandemic that we've gone through, um, but also just in dealing with each other through a lens of kindness and compassion is, is we have to first get curious about what's going on with other people.
Claire (22:49):
Mm, yeah. Yeah. Well, in that curiosity when it's not, uh, when it's, uh, pure, I guess when it comes from an earnest place, even if that's takes a lot of discipline for us to stay there. Right. Um, and is not a natural posture, it's still worthwhile, even if you gotta work on it, right. Maybe more worthwhile, it seems to carve out some space. Um, for some reason, when, when you were speaking Gordon, the image that came to mind was, um, this is so bizarre, but I'm gonna go with it was Moses parting, the red sea,
Claire (23:28):
And this idea of this powerful ocean, whether that's, whether that's geographically objectively true, or part of the story in that narrative, there's this image that he walks the people through. And I've seen some really incredible artwork that tries to imagine what it would be like to walk through. And maybe you could look up and see this wall of water and creatures behind it or something like that. Yeah. But almost the sense of we're gonna carve out this space that still feels quite treacherous. And yet it's, it is enough of a path for us to walk on. Yes. And that curiosity has this power to split open something that feels hopeless and overwhelming and impasable, and make a pathway that we could walk through together.
Gordon (24:23):
Oh, wow. I love that. I love that. Yeah. I love that metaphor. And that's, you know, that's, uh, as we, as we like to say in church, we church folks like to say that'll preach. Yeah. So, well, Claire, I wanna be respectful of your time. And I'm so glad we got this spend this time together, and I'm, I'm sure we'll have further conversations hopefully on this podcast, in the, in the future, if folks want to reach out to you, um, I guess, first of all, tell them about your books and some of the things that you're doing with your podcast and, and that sort of thing, and how they can get in touch with you.
Claire (25:06):
Sure, sure. So, um, I'm the co-author of two books. One came out a few years ago and it's called keep watch with me an advent reader for peacemakers. So it's for the liturgical season of advent, which is actually all about walking through the darkness for trust that God's light is on the other side. Um, and that was, uh, a collaborative work with, uh, lots of different contributors and spiritual practices and prayers all through. So, um, I, I'm still coming back to it every year and receiving the wise words from others that were part of that. And then this year, um, I, co-authored a book, um, called new directions for holy questions, progressive Christian theology for families. And, um, it's a book of big God questions and making space for wondering, and having hard talks, um, with kids about God, um, all through a progressive faith that is, um, committed to L G B T affirming. Um, and anti-racism while also being Orthodox and Christian. So yes. Um, folks can find out more about those or my facilitation work, um, or reach out, um, about spiritual direction or other things that I've got going on at rev, Claire brown
Gordon (26:31):
All right. And we'll have, uh, links in the show notes and show summary for folks to find that easily, the books and, uh, how to get in touch with Claire. So Claire, any, any quick closing thoughts that you have,
Claire 1 (26:45):
Uh, stay curious and stay open. Your fear is not your enemy.
Gordon (26:51):
Yes. I love that. So thanks Claire. We'll be talking again. I'm sure.
Claire(26:55):
Thanks cord.
Gordon (27:10):
Well, such a huge thanks to Claire for being on the podcast. I was so excited when she responded and, and decided to join me on this, uh, this journey. Uh, you know, this, this whole cast is really an experiment and I'm really doing it out of a place of kindness and compassion, not to sound too cheesy, but that's really, my hope is that that this podcast will give people things to think about and how they can kinda live into more kindness and compassion in their lives. Um, certainly with, uh, some of the guests you'll hear from me are, you know, through my church connections. And, um, but I'm hoping to, to get a well rounded viewpoint around kindness and compassion from any number of faith, traditions, psychology traditions, or those folks that are in science and, and that sort of thing. So you're are gonna be hearing hopefully a diversity of messages around this topic.
Gordon (28:09):
Uh, but you know, I, I think for me, the take homes that I got from Claire is that the importance of being curious about those things that bring us fear rather than trying to necessarily run from it or eradicate, uh, of just getting curious and mindful about those things that, that cause us fear. And, and I've seen it in my own work over and over again, that when we, when two people that maybe are in conflict can begin to get curious about the other person's story or their back story. So to speak it change the way we think about those people, because I think a lot of times we just deal with each other superficially. And I think the key to kindness and compassion is to be able to be willing, to be vulnerable and to take a deeper dive within our relationships and in our conversations with each other in interactions.
Gordon (29:04):
So thanks again, folks for being with me, um, and joining and listening into the podcast. As I mentioned, uh, take time to follow us wherever you might be listening to the podcast or subscribe, however, however they list it wherever you listen to that. I know apple podcast recently changed it from subscribe to follow. And I, I know on Spotify and Amazon and other places like that, where the podcast is located, you can just simply follow us. And, uh, thanks again for joining us and also be sure and go to the website, kindness and compassion.com, um, getting some resources together on the website for ways for people to begin to explore this topic and be able to have some resources in doing that. And you can sign up for our email list. I'm gonna start sending out regular emails, um, with just some resources and for people to connect and, and learn more about this whole topic of kindness and compassion.
Gordon (30:07):
And if you like what you're hearing, I'd love for you to be a patron and you can go over to our Paton page. And again, if you go to kindness and compassion.com up on the menu, there's a, a link there for you to a patron, or you can simply go to kindness and compassion.com/patron. Um, and, um, thanks again for being with me on this journey and looking forward to my future episodes. I've got an upcoming interview with, um, Mallory Duff and, um, McDuff, excuse me, Mallory Mallory, McDo. And we talked about her book on our last best act. And it's a, it's an interesting topic it's around, uh, just death and dying and how we can express kindness and compassion through that. Um, you know, for some that might be kind of a morbid topic, but I think given what we've been through over the last two years, last two or three years with COVID death has touched us in many different ways. And so, um, looking forward to you, hearing from Mallory in the next episode, take care folks and glad you're with me on this journey.
Gordon (31:23):
You have been listening to the kindness and compassion podcast with Gordon brewer, part of the psych craft network of podcast. Please visit us@kindnessandcompassion.com for more information, resources, and tools to help you in your journey. Be sure to follow us wherever you and to your podcasts. And if you haven't done so already be sure to sign up, to get the free kindness and compassion practices guide. Again, you can find that@kindnessandcompassion.com, the information in this podcast is intended to be accurate and authoritative concerning the subject matter covered. It is given what the understanding that neither the hosts guests or producers are rendering clinical medical, mental health, or legal advice. If you need a professional, you should find the right person for that.

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About

L. Gordon Brewer Jr., LMFT |Podcast Host – Gordon has spent his career in helping professions as a licensed therapist, counselor, trainer, and clergy person.  He has worked with 100’s of people in teaching them the how to better manage their emotions through self-care and the practices of kindness and compassion.  Follow us on Instagram and Facebook .  And be sure to subscribe to our newsletter.

 

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