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 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.


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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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.


Jody & Gracie Davis | Growing Kindness & Compassion Through Shared Camp Experiences | K&C 7

Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

In this episode Gordon talks with Jody and Gracie Davis about the influence of camp experiences for children and youth along with meeting challenging situations in life. Summer camp experiences have, and continue to be, extremely important to helping young people form meaningful relationships. These camp experiences model what it means to live in community and gives space for vulnerability. And when young people get outside their comfort zone and are treated with kindness and compassion, it is truly a life changing experience.

Meet Jody and Gracie

Gracie and Jody Davis met while working at summer camp in college. Their love for the outdoors and the camp community inspired their work together. After working for the Episcopal church in varying capacities, Gracie and Jody were honored to accept the job of Directors at Duncan Park, Colorado. Now, they spread the spirit of kindness and compassion through hospitality, adventure and community. Gracie and Jody split their time between the Texas Hill Country at Camp Capers, and the Colorado Rockies at Duncan Park. They love road trips, diner food, hiking, and their two dogs Lincoln and Moose.


Visit Duncan Park on Facebook

How Camp Impacts Young People’s Lives

For anyone that has had a positive summer camp experience, needless to say it is life changing. There have been numerous developmental studies around camp experiences for children and youth. The research is clear that camp experiences have the ability to increase self-esteem, autonomy, social skills, and positive spiritual values in children and youth with the right camp experience.

Getting Outside The Comfort Zone

The impact of camp experiences comes through vulnerability. When youth are put in situations where they experience activities and interactions that they would not normally have, it creates a great opportunity for growth. The supportive atmosphere of camp allows them experience new things they would have never even dreamed of doing before.

Jody tells of an experience with a camper that had never been backpacking and the impact it made for him. He talks about the encouragement and challenge that this camper from the inner city had and the courage he had to show in doing something totally new and different.

Gracie talks about taking some of the campers rock climbing and how intimidating it is for many of them. And it is through this experience that they are given the opportunity to demonstrate courage which is totally life changing for most of them.

Building Relationships

Although camp experiences teach young people a lot about courage and self-confidence, the biggest impact comes through building relationships with the other campers and with the camp staff. There is something transformative that occurs for people when met with encouragement and unconditional positive regard. Camp experiences provide this. When young people spend a week or two with people that simply love them and give them a way to try new things without any fear of rejection, it makes an impact.

Getting Outside Their Comfort Zone in Africa

Jody and Gracie tell about the trips they have both made to Tanzania at different times. Jody said they were not there to help or change the people in any way. The whole purpose of the trips was to build relationships. It was about interacting with people that were of a totally different in their life experiences and culture.

Through this experience they not only learned so very much about other people and another culture, but also learned so very much about themselves. Being in a foreign country and away from the normal comforts of home made a big impact on both Jody and Gracie. They gained a greater appreciation and gratitude for the life they have.


As we grow and develop in life (and yes it’s a lifelong pursuit), it requires getting outside our comfort zones. As Jody and Gracie have learned in their work with young people, the most life changing and transformational experiences come out of a place of kindness and compassion. Particularly when there is support given for new experiences and challenges, people can develop self-confidence and feel a sense of pride in themselves.

Gordon (00:20):
Well, hello folks. And what welcome again to the kindness and compassion podcast. And I'm so excited to have these two people, husband and wife team Jody and Gracie Dover, who I have known a long time. Um, and I was so excited that they agreed to be on the podcast. So welcome Jody and Gracie.
Jody (00:42):
Thank you.
Gracie (00:43):
Thank you so much.
Gordon (00:44):
Yes, it's uh, they are two of my, I'll have to, uh, little disclaimer here. They are two of my daughter's best friends and so they probably know more about my daughter than I do so, um, and, and, and they're sworn to secrecy, but that's okay. That's okay. That I can and treat that with kindness. So, uh, Jody Gracie, why don't you tell folks a little bit about yourself and where you are and how you've landed, where you've landed?
Jody (01:15):
Sure. We'd love to. Um, so right now, we're we service as the directors at Duncan park, uh, which is an Episcopal can and conference center, um, just outside of Boulder, Colorado, uh, but it is owned and operated by the diocese of west Texas, which is a very, very interesting concept. The di of the west Texas has three very unique camping sites under one camping ministry. Um, so they have camp capers in the hill country of, of Texas just outside of Santa Antonio, Mustang island down on the coast. Um, and, and then our site Duncan park up, up in the mountains. Um,
Gracie (01:51):
Yeah, so Jody serves as the director of Duncan park and I'm the food service director. And I also kind of am responsible for general hospitality retreat kind of stuff. So we kind of tag team the camp and retreat side of things. Um, we split our time evenly between San Antonio and Colorado. So right now we're right outside of San Antonio and wearing Texas. Um, and we just travel a lot and head back and forth. Um, we spend summer and fall in Colorado and winter spring here in Texas.
Gordon (02:24):
Yes, yes. Live in the dream. I, in my, in my, in my opinion, so, I mean, it's awesome. But one, one of the things I know that we wanted to talk about today on the podcast is, um, just about the influence of kind of camp experiences and that sort of thing for, for kids growing up. I know for you all, and also my daughter, Rebecca she's probably will be on here at some point if I can talk her into it. But one of the things I know is that being part of just camp life in general has been a huge influence in just kinda shaping who you are and, and just kind of your whole world view. And I know that it's a, it's a world view that is very much tied to kindness and combat, particularly for the, for the kids you serve and that sort of thing. So, yeah. So talk about that. I think that that's just really what I'm interested in hearing about, and I know the audience would be interested in hearing about that too.
Gracie (03:32):
Oh, for sure. Um, so we met working at grace point in east Tennessee, which is the Episcopal camp of the ISIS of east Tennessee. And we were on summer stock there for like four summers. And after we left camp, we continued to work for the diocese of east Tennessee and just kind of kept in that vein. Um, but really, you know, the thing that stuck out to us the most is when we got married, it was like everyone that was at the wedding was somehow connected to us through camp. And you know, that community just always lifted up our relationship and supported us, um, and you know, really encouraged us to communicate with one another and really grow alongside one another. And so there's this, like, I guess this facet of working at camp where you're like hyper aware of relationships and how you can deepen them and how to like meet people where they are. Um, so it makes for, you know, lifelong friendships like us with Rebecca and obviously, you know, we ended up getting married. So that was really helpful and the development of our relationship and yeah, it's just a place where you can really meet people where they are based on the fact that everyone has kind of let their guard down.
Gordon (04:47):
Mm. Yeah.
Jody (04:49):
And for me, um, everything that Gracie said, it rings true for me as well. But, uh, for our young people that we serve something that's, that's kind of our main consistent, um, is it really gives young people, especially in the Christian community, their first example of what it looks like to be part of the wider body of Christ. Um, they, they they've been a part of their parish. They've been a part of maybe their youth group and that small community that they're very, very comfortable with. Um, but, but for a lot of the kids that we serve, this is their first experience with that larger community and, and, and learning how to live intentionally, um, in, in a way where we model how, what it means to love each other, what it means to lift each other up and encourage one another. Um, and that, that's something that is, that rang true for me as a, as a young person, as a camper. But it's something that, that I think so special. Um, we can do all the activities and have all the fun we want, but really when it boils down to, to what it means to, to truly live in to camp ministry, um, it it's the bond that, that is formed between the campers within a, a, a four or five day period. It's an incredible thing to watch.
Gordon (06:03):
Right. Right. Well, one, one of the things that I know, I, you know, kind of a little bit of my history with that is that one of the things that I did, uh, few summers was to serve as kind of a two Caplan for the camp. And one, one of the things that I noticed is, is that it gave by, you know, taking, taking gig young people, people, and putting 'em in a situation that was totally kind of new to a lot of 'em. They had never really, I, I remember one of the camps that we had, it was really kinda some of the inner city kids that had never really been outside their neighborhoods or where they lived and, and bringing them into a situation where it was totally foreign. And they had to be totally vulnerable to the situation. And when it was met with kindness and compassion, and really just acknowledging the uncomfortableness of it, of it all, um, it really changed the way that they saw themselves and ch saw each other, um, in that they, it, it was a safe place for people for kids to be,
Gracie (07:15):
Oh, for sure. And we deal with a lot of that kind stuff at Duncan park, because we're primarily an outdoor adventure camp. So we get kids from, you know, all walks of life that are coming out and sleeping in a tent for the first time and going on a hike for the first time and putting these, putting themselves in these very vulnerable positions. But, you know, with the support of the camp community, they end up really enjoying it and like really coming out of their box. And they have a great time, man, who wouldn't we're in Colorado, but like, yeah, yeah. It, it's really interesting to see that transformation happen throughout the course of the week. They just totally let their guard down and, you know, feel comfortable with us and the staff and their fellow.
Gordon (08:00):
Yes. Yes. So, um, to put you on the spot a little bit, um, can either of you maybe think of a story of a particular kid or whatever that was just that you saw being totally changed by their camp experience? I mean, just an, a big, the pack that it made for them.
Gracie (08:22):
You do more with the campers one.
Jody (08:24):
Yeah, yeah, sure. Um, there's one, I mean, honestly, there are, there are lots of, of, of examples of that, um, working in camp history for, for a long time, or even a short time, you see it, uh, weekend and week out, but there's one example in particular, um, from this past summer, we, we were hosting a, a group that was specifically a backpacking group and they, they came up to, to Duncan park and we, we host a, a lot of sessions that have, have a variety of activities, but this in particular, we were going to be on trail for four nights, uh, or four days, three nights. Um, and, and so it was an intensive, uh, back country trip. And it was a, it was a group of 12. Uh, and, and when they arrived, we, we provide all of their gear. We provide everything for them.
Jody (09:12):
Um, so we were pull out the gear, getting everything ready to go. And I hand one of the youth a backpack, and he says, what's this, what's this, this, this is a backpack. This is what we'll use. Uh, as we work through our week, this week, he said, where are we going? We're not staying here. Um, he had no idea. He had no idea that he was going on a back country trip. He was told that he was going on a trip to Colorado. Um, and that, that he, and he didn't realize that, that, that it entailed, uh, actually going into the woods and living in the woods. Um, and, and there was, he, he took it somewhat well, but, but you could tell that there was this sense of, of panic, this sense of, of unknown. Um, and, and he didn't really, he, he wasn't used to anything like that.
Jody (10:04):
Um, and, and it was very interesting because the first couple of days, it, it wasn't that he didn't wanna be there, but you could tell that he was unsure. You could tell that he wasn't comfortable. Um, and, and as we continued on the up, uh, the staff and the campers alike, uh, J just kept trying to support him and kept trying to encourage him, um, to, to live into it. We're, we're here. Uh, let's be present, let's be together. Let let's really make this, make this the best situation that it can be. And he came out of that week, um, really enjoying and, and, and really he pushed himself way, way out of what he ever imagined his comfort zone be. Um, and, and, and when I talked to him at the end of the week, he not only let me know that he, he was so happy to make friends, but he, that he was so joyful that he was able to have that experience.
Jody (10:57):
Um, and, and that, that it was something that he'd remember through us, his life. Um, wow. And, and I may never see that camper again, I may see him year after year. Um, but, but for him in particular, it was this, it was this moment of realization that he was able to do something that he never even thought that could accomplish. Um, he did it well. So that, just that, that sense of transformation of, of not only being able to physically do something that you didn't think you could do, but also spiritually and emotionally, um, being able to, to put yourself out there to make new friends, uh, people that you, you, you've never really spent time with, you get on a plane and travel a thousand miles and then go into the back country with them. Um, that that's an intimidating thing. Yeah. Um, especially for our young. And so just, just to be able to kind of take it by the horns and, and, and really make it the best trip that he possibly could of. I was, I was just so proud of him, uh, to, to do that.
Gordon (12:01):
Yes, yes.
Gracie (12:03):
Sorry, what were you saying, Gordon?
Gordon (12:04):
No, I said I was, uh, I was just thinking, uh, as you were telling that Jody, I was reminded of, uh, of Bernie NA brown, who you guys might be familiar with. Who's done a lot of writing on courage and on vulnerability and that sort of thing. And one of the things about that is that I think that, um, she, she says essentially that you cannot have courage without vulnerable. In other words, you, you courage doesn't even occur without vulnerability. And I think when we can create the space for people to be vulnerable, they experience courage for the first time. And the, and, and when we do that, it's it's life changing.
Gracie (12:54):
Oh yeah. And prime example of that at Duncan park is like, so we do a different activity each day. And the last full day of camp Thursday is rock climbing day. And we'll go rock climbing in Boulder canyon, which is, you know, very popular rock climbing spot. And it's always like, everyone is terrified on the outset because it looks like this very big, crazy daunting thing. Um, but you know, our guys are awesome. They work with them. They're very honest with them. And it's always the kids that are the most afraid they wait until like the last probably 30 or 45 minutes. And they're like, okay, I'm gonna get up on the wall. I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna do it. And then they're the ones that get all the way up to the top. So it's like what? And given the opportunity to be really courageous, they're like, all right, going in, I'm doing this. Yes. And it's so cool. Watch that happen. They just totally, yeah. Take it by the horns and like go with it. It's great.
Gordon (13:48):
Yes. Yes. I love it. I love it. So, yeah. So to, to change gears a little bit, um, um, I know one of the things I know about, um, Gracie and Jody is, is that they had a pretty life changing event a few years ago when they went to Africa. So you wanna say some, something about that and just, uh, what, what impact that made for you in your lives and how that, how that changed you?
Jody (14:20):
Absolutely. Um, so the first time that I went with the diocese east, Tennessee, um, I was 19 years old. And, uh, it was, it was an experience that on the front end, I thought, well, I didn't know, know what to think. First of all, um, I'd been out of the country, but obviously Africa is, is a totally different animal. And, um, I, I kind of blindly trusted, uh, some people that, that I really, um, really respected, um, and, and, and really looked up to, and they said, I, I really think that this is something that, that would be beneficial to you. Um, and so I went and not knowing what to expect, not knowing what we were going to do. Um, and, and what I realized was that we were just there to build relationships. We were there to trust one another. We were there to listen to the people, um, and, and we weren't there to change anything.
Jody (15:19):
We were, we weren't there to, to be any kind of savior. We weren't there to, to really do any, any tangible, physical work. Um, but, but the work that we did, um, what was more letting, letting us know that we have brothers and sisters in, in Christ all across the world, um, letting, letting our, our friends in Tanzania know that, that they have brothers and sisters and friends all across the world and, and being able to be a part of, um, a part of something even bigger than anything that I could do myself, uh, was huge. It, it, it really kind of resembled part of the camp community, but on a much bigger level, um, it, it's still an intentional community and it's still, uh, kind of what I mentioned earlier. It, it exemplified what it means part of the wider body of Christ, not just your home community, um, and, and camp kind of gives you a taste of that, but going to Tanzania and, and being a part of the Anglican communion there really solidified that this is, this is much bigger than me. Um, and, and, and I'm so happy to be a part of it. It, um, but there is good work being done all over the globe. Um, it's, we're, we're just a small piece
Gracie (16:40):
For sure. And, well, my experience in Tanzania was more, cuz we both went separately. Jodi went twice and then I went once by myself and, um, my experience was more about letting go and not, cause I love to be in charge. I love a plan. I love to know what's going on. Um, and that is the opposite of the experience that you have in Sannia. So for me, it's like, I guess the best way to describe it is every day you get in this Rover and everyone's just kind of piled in there and then you drive on these roads for like hours, these roads that are like, obviously not super well maintained cuz you're in the middle of Africa and you know, you're just kind of like bouncing along things are bumpy and the guides Pascal and Steven will be like, Hey, listen, you know, just don't fight it.
Gracie (17:27):
Like let your body just kind of move with the Rover. And like you won't have a sore back at the end of the day. And so I think that's the best way to describe it is if you just kind of, you know, roll with it and exp let it, let the experience happen, you know, you're gonna get the most out of it. Um, but the second you try to control and try to micromanage that's where you're gonna run into problems. So that was the biggest takeaway for me was just like, you know, listen, like you can just ride in the Rover, you don't have to be driving like it's okay. You don't have to know what's going on at all times.
Gordon (18:00):
Right, right. Oh, I love that. I love, I love that story because I think that just has so many implications just across, you know, just thinking about mindfulness and thinking about, uh, being able to, um, to let go of things, forgive all of that kind of stuff. Ties, ties into that. And I think the thing that, um, I think for, for one thing that I would guess that you both got out of going place like Tanzania is that you really did have to kinda let your guard down and, and you also, it, it takes away a lot of judgment that people tend to have about other cultures and other way people's, people's way of living or, and, and that sort of thing that when you understand the backstory of someone, um, it, it gives you room to have more compassion for what they're going through and what their, what their life is about. So I love that and I love that. I love that metaphor. It, that just a writing in the, in the, the land Rover and trying to fight all the bumps and all of that sort of thing and just going with it. I love that.
Gracie (19:16):
Oh yeah. And I mean, thinking back on it, I think going to Tanzania really prepared us for our experience at Duncan park because, you know, there's a lot of just like going with it, making and do, um, figuring things out as you go again, meeting people where they are understanding people for who they are as people and not for like you have, and, you know, at Duncan park, it's so similar because you know, you're up in the wilderness, you're like an hour from any kind of like definitive care. You're just kind of like isolated and you know, so many things happen and people have to trust you like that. And being able to be on the receiving end of that helps you be the agent for that so much more, I think.
Gordon (19:59):
Awesome. For sure. Yeah. Yeah. Well, uh, guys, I know we could probably talk all day and I wish we were in person because I'd love to give you both a hug, but I just, uh, we're in two different places, but, um, tell folks how they can get in touch with you all, if they want to find out more about Duncan park and also maybe connect with you guys.
Jody (20:23):
Sure. Yeah. So, um, like I said, Duncan park is, is owned and operated by the diocese of west Texas. Um, so, uh, if, if anybody's interested in Duncan park or any of the other camps here, uh, D is, is where you would find us. Um, and like ay said earlier, you know, this is something that, that we truly have a passion for that, that we love to do. Um, so if anybody ever has any questions, that's not necessarily Duncan park related, but just camp related. Um, it it's something that, that we, we love to talk about. Um, so if anybody's thinking about pursuing something like that, or even just youth ministry in general, um, we'd love to talk about it.
Gracie (21:03):
Yeah. You can reach out to us via email Duncan dot park. That's D U N C a N dot park D Um, Duncan park is also on Instagram at Duncan. Um, so you can see kind of, you know, the natural surroundings that we're in and all that kind of stuff. Um, but yeah, if you're interested in youth ministry or camp ministry, or like just, you wanna have a deep combo about whatever, shoot us an email and we'll chat with you, we love that kind of stuff.
Gordon (21:31):
Awesome. Awesome. And we'll have, we'll have links in the show notes and the show summary for people to access that easily. So well, Jody and Gracie, I'm so glad to see your faces and, um, um, good to see you. Yes. Um, for, for, I was listening to the podcast, we do this by zoom, so that's what I meant. So, um, anyway, I hope to be able to get out there. I was close to coming out there last October, but I think you guys have probably already left, but I didn't get to Colorado after all, but anyway, gonna hopefully get out there and get to hang out with you guys.
Gracie (22:07):
Oh, please do. Yeah, we would love to have you we'd love visitors. We'll show you around. Take you hiking, all that good
Gordon (22:12):
Stuff. I'd love to go on that three night backpacking trip. That sounds like my thing.
Gracie (22:18):
Oh yeah. It's awesome.
Gordon (22:20):
Awesome. All right guys, take care.
Jody (22:23):
Thank you.
Gracie (22:23):
Thank you, Gordon. Say Hey to Sister and the Kitties for us.
Gordon (22:26):
Okay. You sure? Thanks.

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About Gordon

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.


Brian Cole | The Work of Reconciliation | Episode 6

In this episode, Gordon talks with The Right Rev. Brian Cole, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of East Tennessee, about reconciliation and how we can mend broken relationships. We explore what it takes to be able to use the act of reconciliation to create greater kindness and compassion through our interactions with each other in our world.

What is reconciliation?

Reconciliation is the ability to take a deep breath and recognize that we have differences and that we might not always see things in the same way. There is an acknowledgement of our differences and at the same time a willingness to be able to make things right with each other.

Meet Brian Cole

A southeast Missouri native, The Right Rev. Brian Cole graduated from Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration in 1989. In 1992, he earned a Master of Divinity at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, with additional studies in Anglican Church History at The University of the South School of Theology, Sewanee, in 2001. He also pursued studies in Art and Prayer at General Theological Seminary (GTS), New York City, in 2006, and studied liturgics In Asheville, N.C., from 2002 to 2005.

Brian was ordained and consecrated fifth bishop of the Diocese of East Tennessee on December 2, 2017. He is married to Susan Weatherford, a poet, musician, avid gardener, and graduate of Berea College and University of Kentucky. They have one son, Jess. Brian and Susan live in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Ordained a priest in 2002, Brian served as vicar at Church of the Advocate, a worshiping community of the Diocese of Western North Carolina for homeless in downtown Asheville, North Carolina. From 2005 to 2012, Cole was sub-dean at The Cathedral of All Souls in Asheville. He served as rector at The Church of the Good Shepherd in Lexington, Kentucky, from 2012 until his election as bishop of East Tennessee.

Brian has also served as an instructor in Appalachian Religion, Faith and Practices, and Appalachian Religion and Culture, at Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa. N.C.; Wake Forest University School of Divinity in Winston-Salem, N.C., and Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minn. Prior to his ordination as a priest, he served for seven years on the staff of the Appalachian Ministries Education Resource Center (AMERC) in Berea, Kentucky. Much of his work then involved teaching seminarians, listening to Appalachian leaders, both in and out of the Church, and learning how to read and appreciate the culture of the region.

Brian has five times been a featured preacher on the Day 1 weekly radio broadcast/podcast. His articles, sermons and other writings have appeared in The Gospel and Our Culture; Natural Saints: How People of Faith are Working to Save God’s Earth; Sacred Acts: How Churches are Working to Protect Earth’s Climate; Green Pulpit Journal; Appalachian Heritage; Heartstone; Aging and Spirituality; Lutheran Seminary Review; Iron Mountain Review, and Creation Care. His reflections were included in Lent 2017 Living Compass Series, and an essay was included in Merton and the Protestants.

Find out more and/or contact Brian at the Diocese of East Tennessee,

Reconciling vs. Tolerating

In the context of kindness and compassion it is important to draw the distinction between reconciling with someone vs. just tolerating them. After all, there are times when we can show kindness by being tolerant and polite with people. In other words, as Brian put it, “just holding our breath through the interactions”.

The other thing is that reconciliation requires a commitment to a continued relationship with the other person. Whereas, toleration only requires interaction in the moment with no commitment to continue a relationship afterwards. Reconciliation is a commitment to engage and continue deeper conversations.

Reconciliation is Reparative Work

When we engage in reconciliation, it is the work of making amends and making our relationships right. Gordon mentions that in his work with couples, one of the key ingredients of having a healthy relationship involves the ability of a couple to repair things when there has been a hurt. It is about staying engaged and commitment to continue the relationship. It means taking things in a new direction.

Reconciliation Requires Imagination

Brian mentions an article in Harper’s Magazine by Garret Keizer, a writer and Episcopal priest, that describes a situation where we might think or say, “I can’t imagine how you could think that…”. When we think in this way, we are really showing a lack of imagination. Because if we were to fully understand the other person’s life experiences and back-story, then we are able to understand how and why they see things differently. Their point of view becomes abundantly clear.

Brian goes on to say, in this whole practice of “loving your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-44) means trying to fully understand the other person’s story and background. You might not fully agree with their point of view, but you can at least understand why and how they see the world as they see it. This in turn opens the door for the other to begin to understand your point of view and perspective.

Deeper Work of Reconciliation

The work of reconciliation is ultimately a willingness to engage in deeper conversations and understanding other people’s life experiences. Kindness and compassion begins with showing a reverence for other people’s trauma, wounds and life experiences. So many times we do not know what other people are carrying. But by allowing them the space to share that without judgment or disdain, gives room for healing. It is deep work.

This deep work only can happen if people can feel safe and know that they are seen as human beings that are loved despite their flaws. It means being present with people in a non-judgmental way.

The deeper work of reconciliation is also an ongoing process. It is not a “one and done” proposition. It requires ongoing conversations and dealing with our own internal struggles. We also need to know and understand ourselves well.

Reconciliation Means Responding vs. Reacting

Brain tells of a conversation with his son about a disagreement his son was having with a friend. Brain was impressed by his son’s wisdom in being able to “turn down the temperature” of the disagreement. In that he slowed things down enough to respond vs. just react.

In our interactions with others, it is important to learn how to give thoughtful responses to things rather than simply go on the defensive. It requires being curious about the other person rather than simply reacting.

Reconciliation also requires emotional maturity. We need to engage in the work of learning to be in control of our own emotions and inner worlds. It is the ability of a person to know when they are emotionally flooded and then take control of that for themselves. It is the key to emotional intelligence.


As was said, the work of reconciliation is an ongoing process for us as individuals but also in our various communities across the world. It means having a willingness to have deep conversations and listening. Reconciliation is an intentional act of kindness and compassion. At least in my view, it is the path forward in ending all the polarization and dissension in the world. We need to understand at a deeper level the people that we disagree with the most.


Brian (00:00):
A part of a part of how we get to a place of deeper reconciliation is to appreciate how it is people are made and shaped over time, either the trauma or the blessing, the nurture, or the neglect, you know, that, that those things together, um, end up making us who we are. And then, then you put us in relationship. Uh, and so we bump up against each other. And I think, you know, the, the saying about kindness and compassionate being kind and compassionate, you know, that so often we don't know what people are going through. You know, while at times that might feel like kind of an old cliche, it is so true.
Gordon (00:42):
Welcome to the kindness and compassion 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.

Hello Everyone. I'm Gordon brewer and welcome again to the kindness and compass podcast. And this is episode number six and glad you're joining me glad you're with me on this journey. You know, when I was, uh, first conceptualizing, uh, starting this podcast, uh, which has been couple of years in the making, at least in my mind, or at least in my head, one of the people, but I knew I wanted to have as a guest was the person you're gonna hear from today. And that is Bishop Brian Cole. And Brian is my Bishop, uh, have shared in other, I think in earlier episodes. Part of my, one of the many hats that I wear in addition to being a psychotherapist is that I'm a, a deacon in the EPIs church, which is a, a clergy clergy person. Uh, one of the three orders of clergy in the Episcopal church, Bishop's priests and deacons.
Gordon (02:34):
I'm a deacon and a deacon's role in the Episcopal church has really ministry in the world. So in, in many ways, this podcast has become part of my, a ministry and just trying to reach people and, uh, communicate maybe a new way of thinking about the world and how we interact with each other. So Brian is the Bishop of east Tennessee, and he's gonna tell you a little more about himself, but I, I feel so privileged to have him in my life and it being in relationship with him and my role in the church. And, um, I think when you hear from him, you're gonna really, uh, understand why he is so liked and so loved by so many people in our area and just really what an intelligent and thoughtful person that he is. And, um, he is certainly the kind of person that at least for me, um, really demonstrates a lot of kindness and compassion and in all of my interactions with him, that is how he has approached things.
Gordon (03:37):
So, um, looking forward to you, hearing from, uh, Bishop Brian Cole, um, but before we get to him, one of the things I'd like for you to do is first invite you to check out the website, kindness and And if you haven't done so already sign up for email list, I'm gonna be putting out some emails in just a newsletter type format to give you more resources and ways to think about kindness and compassion. Um, and so invite you to do that by just going to the website, kindness and, and you'll see some forms to sign up, to start receiving our newsletter. Um, also I'm putting together a guide called the kindness and practices of kindness, compassion guide. And so when you sign up for the email list, you'll be able to get that PDF of just a way to begin to think about different ways you can practice kindness and compassion in your life.
Gordon (04:34):
Um, the other thing too is if you are enjoying what you're, you're hearing here on the podcast, um, and you would like to support it in some way, we do have a Patreon page set up and you can find out more about that by going to kindness and And it's just a way for people to support the podcast. And when you become a sponsor or a patron of the cast, you can get some little perks there's, uh, some stickers and coffee mugs and t-shirts, and that kind of thing for the different levels of, of Patreons or patrons for the, for the podcast. So I wanna invite you to check that out. So, um, so, um, having said all that without further ado, here's my conversation with the right Reverend Brian Cole, AKA Bishop Cole, AKA Bishop Brian, Hello, everyone. And welcome again to the podcast. And I'm so glad and been looking forward to you all, getting to hear from a person that's near and dear to my heart and that's Bishop Brian Cole. And as I shared in the other episodes, I'm part of, one of the hats that I wear, not only as a, as a psychotherapist, but I'm also a clergy person in the Episcopal church. And so I belong to Brian. And so, Brian, welcome. I'm glad you're here
Brian (06:14):
Important. It is good to be with you and it's good to, well, I think that we belong to each other. So, uh, it's good to be a part of, uh, your work, uh, knowing both your important work as a psychotherapist and also as a deacon in the Episcopal church.
Gordon (06:28):
Yes, yes. And so Brian, as I start with most everyone, why don't you tell folks a little bit about you and kind of how you've landed, where you've land?
Brian (06:38):
Yeah, so I grew up, uh, in Southeast Missouri and, um, church has always been a big part of my life, but I grew up in the Southern Baptist tradition and, um, and it's, it's wild for me to think about that little Baptist kid who now serve as an Episcopal Bishop in east Tennessee. Um, I didn't leave the central time zone until I was 19 years old. So my world was pretty small, uh, geographically, but, um, it's a world where I felt loved by all kinds of folk and, um, and a part of, you know, it would take, uh, several podcasts to get me from, Hey time, Missouri to Knoxville, Tennessee. I think the main thing I would say is just, uh, again, to think about your topic, um, lots of folks have been really compassionate and kind to me as I've kind of continued to make sense of my spiritual journey.
Brian (07:39):
And it's a thread from that boyhood to who I am now, that makes a lot of sense to me. And, uh, so, you know, a part of me being an Episcopal Bishop is not somehow a rejection of those people who loved me in that little Baptist church in Missouri, as much as, um, the story they first told me has continued to unfold in my life and has brought me here. I'm married to Susan Weatherford and we have a son Jess who lives in Birmingham, Alabama, he's in his mid twenties and we have a dog named Jerry Lee. Who's the world's luckiest rescue. Uh, he's a Sue. And, um, he, he brings a lot of delight and love, uh, into our world.
Gordon (08:23):
Yes, yes. The, the canine of the ordinary, which I'll, uh, maybe explain that later, but that's, uh, yeah, that's, that's, that's great. So, uh, you know, the topic we had just kinda landed on, which to me is just very befiting of bro Ryan, because when he became Bishop of the diocese of east Tennessee, this theme came out about reconciling and, and being able to reconcile. And I think for some folks, when they think of the word reconcile, they think, okay, that's something I do to my checkbook, but you wanna, you wanna talk about what that means and maybe how that ties into kindness and compassion?
Brian (09:07):
Yeah. So, um, you know, I had been a parish priest in Asheville, North Carolina, a parish priest in Lexington, Kentucky. And when I was elected Bishop of east Tennessee and was moving to Knoxville, um, I was really mindful that I wanted my ministry as a Bishop, which is sort of an overseer and an encourager of parish, clergy and parish ministry. I wanted to make sure whatever I offered to the diocese is what help us all pull in the same direction. And that as a Bishop, I never sort of offered some idea or program that was a distraction or got people off course. And, um, in the book of common prayer in the catechism, which is sort of a, a place of teaching, uh, there's a question about what is the mission of the church. And the answer given is the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ, and also in the letters of Paul.
Brian (10:07):
At some point, he talks about this ministry of reconciliation to which we've all been called. I remember thinking reconciliation then is, is to be a core value in the Christian tradition and in the Episcopal church. And, you know, I, I grew up in a, what is now a very red part of America, and I have served in a place like Asheville, North Carolina, which, you know, if a place could be any more, uh, bluer than that, I don't know. Uh, and I am Ken to people across the political divide and theological divide. And, you know, if in Christ, there is no Eastern or west, uh, if in Christ there's no neither Greek nor Jew slave nor free male, nor female, all are one in Christ. You know, somehow the idea that in this place of the Christ, we can all be who we are and somehow all belong to each other, uh, in a time that feels so deeply polarizing and deeply fractured.
Brian (11:10):
Um, I thought if I offer anything, it would be to invite people to say, this is gonna be our work, knowing that at, uh, once you say that people have a whole lot of questions about, well, so how do we do that? Do we do that by simply avoiding any topic that we might disagree on, which is not helpful? Cause I think at some point that becomes a really thin sort of just, we're all gonna be nice to each other, but knowing that, that sort of deep reconciliation work, um, only comes with trust, right? And so part of the work is there's a whole lot of work you have to do before you get to the place of the real breakthrough of some reconciled people, uh, knowing this is a long answer to your good, good question, knowing that for us, you know, that that act of reconciliation is really something God has done, uh, with Jesus on the cross.
Brian (12:03):
If you think about how radical it is for Jesus to forgive his perpetrators while he is being killed, I mean, that sets high bar for what it means to be able to forgive. So really all that we're doing, you know, if you and I have a real falling out with each other Gordon, if you, and I find a way to somehow say, we need to, we need to admit this wrong that we have between each other and what would it take to make it right in order to be reconciled? All, all that we're doing is really in many ways, echo in response to what we've experienced, uh, with Jesus on the cross. So, um, you know, I think, I think you, and I can never say, you know, we could never be reconciled if we have that example of just a radical global and cosmic, uh, work that the Christ did on the cross.
Gordon (12:52):
Right. Right. Yeah. The 1, 1, 1 thought that occurs to me and this maybe is another, another question here, you know, what, what do you, what do you see as maybe the difference between reconciling versus just tolerating? Mm. Um, you know, uh, because I think we all run into, we're all gonna run into people that we don't necessarily see, see things as they see them. And we, we, by virtue of our values and our background and how we're raised and all that sort of thing, we're gonna have different kind of viewpoints of things. But what would you say about that?
Brian (13:34):
That's a great question. Um, when I think of tolerating, I think of holding my breath and you and I are like, okay, we're about to have lunch with this really difficult person. And we know they're gonna say, you know, outlandish things or offensive things, but we're all, we're just gonna tolerate old Joe. So we're just gonna go in there and hold our breath and hold our tongue and know that we can run out the clock and get back in the car and, and say, man, I'm glad that's over. I think true reconciliation is the ability to, to take a deep breath and really say, I, I am you and I are different. You and I have had some hurt in the past, but there's been the real work of trust, building of truth, telling of how do we make this right. And then that covenant to say, now in going forward, there's a place of reconciliation with us.
Brian (14:37):
So I think, I think also toleration is, again, just in the moment I'm gonna hold my breath and get through this with you. True. Reconciliation is both an acknowledgement that you and I have a past where there's been a brokenness. We had some moment in the present where we made, made it right with each other, and then you and I have some future relationship going forward. Right. Where I think toleration is just, let's just get through this. And once we get through it, we'll have nothing else to do with this particular person or issue. Right. So it, it really is a sort of, um, yeah, it's, it's a different, different level of connection in a sense of, can we get through this as opposed to, can we grow deeper together?
Gordon (15:22):
Right. Right. I'm reminded of, you know, in my work as a, as a therapist in working with couples, one of, one of the keys to a healthy relationship is being able to do, um, reparative work in, in previous episode. I know that that was one of the things I talked with our friend and colleague, the Reverend Claire brown, how do we do that? Repair work? Where we not just, okay, we're gonna agree to disagree and just move on, but actually begin to repair things. And I think part of the work of that is really taking the time to get to know people, get to know their backstory of truly understanding who they are and why they are like, they are kinda thing.
Brian (16:15):
Well, cause you know, yeah. I think sometimes, you know, you'll hear someone say about someone else, you know, I can't imagine how you could ever think that. And a friend of mine wrote an article in Harper's, his name is Garrett Kaiser. He's an Episcopal priest in Vermont. And he said, you know, when you say, I, you know, I can't imagine how Gordon brewer could ever possibly believe X or Y or Z. He says, and you say that in some ways you're expressing a real lack of imagination because if you really put yourself in Gordon Brewer's shoes and you maybe had experiences that Gordon brewer had, you would understand why Gordon believes that. And, and so I think a part of loving the enemy or praying for the enemy is at some point, being able to appreciate if I was that person, I might understand why he or she holds this opinion or holds this, uh, um, uh, approach are, uh, has this take on that.
Brian (17:18):
And I would understand that I might not agree with it, but I'd at least I, I understand how Gordon got there, which if, if I can do that, then maybe as I speak my truth, my piece say my history, maybe then Gordon will be able to appreciate eight. Oh yeah. If I was, if I was from there and I'd had these experiences, then I could UN I could also imagine how you got there. And I think for me, when I hear people and it's, it's funny, cuz it's so often meaning Episcopalians, who I think of themselves as being open, open people. But when they say this sort of, I can't imagine how you could ever think that it sort of immediately limits their vision or their imagination. And so I think a part of a part of how we get to a place, a deeper reconciliation is to appreciate how it is people are made and shaped over time, either the trauma or the blessing, the nurture or the neglect, you know, that, that those things together, um, end up making us who we are.
Brian (18:22):
And then, then you put us in relationship. Uh, and so we bump up against each other. And I think, you know, the, the, the saying about kindness and compassionate being kind and compassionate, you know that so often we don't know what people are going through, you know, while at times that might feel like kind of an old cliche, it is so true. Right. So true. I know you probably, you, you obviously have had this experience as a therapist. I've had this experience as Turkey person, you know, people tell us their stories. People give us insights on their stories that we, you know, we can't go around and share. And so it's a, it's a, it's a important Revent thing we hold for them. And what's interesting is then when you see them in the community or see them functioning, realizing yeah. A lot of people don't know what they're caring, but you maybe know as a therapist or I know as a clergy person and, and to, and to watch people sometimes with quiet dignity or quiet confidence, navigate the world where we will, we know, man, there's a burden in them or there's a wound in them.
Brian (19:29):
And yet they're able to somehow out carry on. Yeah. That I think to be able to see people with compassion and kindness, uh, it's only when you create that sort of environment, that's in the deeper work of reconciliation of truth telling of so, so how do we make this right. And, and how much time will that take that only happens if people, I think, feel the safety, um, that they're being seen as, as real genuine people.
Gordon (19:58):
Right, right. Yeah. To, to, to me, one of the things that, um, has, has really been kind of a, kind of a guiding thing for me in my own ministry, as a deacon in, and a therapist and that sort of thing is the importance of just being present with people and being present in a nonjudgmental way of just you, you know, I think about the times in my life when I've gone through struggles and had down times and that sort of thing, what has always meant the most to me is just somebody being present. It wasn't that they had any magic words or anything that it was just that they were there. And, um, yeah. So I think that that is so key, uh, coming around full circle to this whole idea of kindness and compassion is just to be able to, to be present, just be genuine with people and, and do our best, not to judge what's going on with them.
Brian (21:07):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah. And yeah. And I think also too, the, the it's I, you said earlier about toleration versus reconciliation, um, I think the awareness of that in so many settings, we do get to choose, right? That, that, um, you know, the invitation to be a truly re saw people that does take work right. And it's not done quickly and it's not done and, and it's not done and then done forever. I mean, it's an ongoing work. And you know, to me, a part of the joy and the, and the grace of being in a, in a community, how of worship and intentional Christian community, part of the joy and the grace of that is also connected to and its work. Right? Cause over time you are gonna, you are gonna fail that person over time. No matter how much you think, no matter how great a person you think I am or how helpful I am to you, if you and I are in real relationship, at some point someone's gonna disappoint someone or there's gonna be some sort of falling out, right.
Brian (22:14):
And, and only then do we get to make the choice of, is this worth continuing to work together? Or is this why I'm gonna now leave that church or leave that community? Or I don't do that anymore. You know, there's the old, the old Joe about they've they find this person he's been stranded on this desert island and he's been there for years and they say, you know, how did you get through, how did you, how did you survive? And, and so they're talking to him about how he did that. And they noticed there's three dwellings that he had built. They said, so tell us about these three dwellings. He said, this first dwelling, this is where I live. He said, and the second dwelling that second dwelling is where I go to church and said, well, what, what about the third dwelling? And he said, well, that's where I used to go to church.
Brian (23:03):
And, um, you know, so even by himself, you know, there's the inner conflict that he faces. And so to me, you know, to be a reconciled, people is not one and done, it's an ongoing work and it, and to me, the gift and the grace and the reason to do it is the belief over time, the more, the more you and I really work out our work together, we ultimately end up going to a deeper place. You talked earlier about working with couples, you know, to me, I have experienced divorce. Um, but I've also experienced remarriage and marriage. And, you know, a part of the gift of that marriage that endures over time is there's just hopefully more that I know about what the person I'm married to, but also more about myself, right? That over time, that kind of ongoing relationship hopefully reflects a deeper maturity, deeper capacity for love and for forgiveness. Uh, and if I, you know, if I end that marriage, you know, I might end some sort of pain or in some sort of hurt, but I'm also gonna end some kind of wisdom that, that hopefully grows in us with that ongoing, true deep, um, vulnerable relationship.
Gordon (24:15):
Right, right. Yeah. This is great stuff. Um, and I know that we could spend hours talking about this 1, 1, 1 final kind of question for you. Brian is, you know, we've been kind of talking about this in the context of just kind of church kinda stuff. What, what do you think we can do outside just in society in general, to be more reconciling with each other?
Brian (24:46):
I learned a lot of good things from my son and Jesse's a wise person and we were together several months ago now where he got a text from a buddy and Jesse read the text to me. And he said, you know, this friend of mine, he's, he's asking me about something that isn't true. I think it was like, Jesse owed him some money on a rent or there, there was something. And Jesse realized there was a misunderstanding in the text and Jesse sort of fought out loud in front of me and he to the young man's text and sort of lowered the temperature. Right. And so he responded, he didn't react. And I said to Jesse, that day, I said, I'm so like, I'm impressed with you because I think a lot of people would've gotten to X like that and would've, you know, flamed them back with some sort of reactive statement, you know, and, and would've, would've increased the temperature and increased the potential conflict and then created some hurt simply because the way in which you re responded and reacted to each other.
Brian (26:08):
And, and it was, it was great to watch Jess sort of experience the misunderstanding and realize there's a way to, to, there's a way to make this right now, as opposed to a, and so I think what I notice in political discourse or discourse in a community or in a neighborhood is how much we react to each other, you know? Yes, you put up, you put up a political sign that I don't like. And instead of thinking, you know what, that's your right to put up that political sign. I don't agree with it, but you know, I'm not gonna lose sleep over it. Um, somehow I take great delight and I'm gonna put up a, a reactive sign that says, you know, I think you're not only wrong, but I think somehow you are, you know, not human or, and so, so how quickly it goes from what might be mature conversation to at best kind of elementary school, if not junior high behavior.
Brian (27:07):
Yes. So I think, I think if people breathed more, I think if we, if we counted to 10 before we responded, um, and, and again, to think about a response, not a reaction, uh, I think there are all kinds of ways we could turn down the tempera, you, in order to say, what does it mean to really belong to each other? Because you said earlier, you know, that you as a deacon, you belong to me. I mean, I think I would say people who wanna live in a civil society at some point we belong to each other. And if I think I belong to you that I'm gonna make decisions, not only do they impact, but also hopefully impact you and, or be aware that my decisions do impact you. And I think when we think, you know what, it's my land, it's my decision. It's my salary. It's my whatever. And I don't care what Gordon thinks. I think when we, when we, when we, when we limit ourselves and limit the impact of what we decide, we begin to be reactive people, not responsive people.
Gordon (28:08):
Yes, yes. Yeah. That, that, that is some truth. That is absolutely some truth. I know that, um, again, not to go too far down the, the therapy trail, but that is one of the things, again, in just working with people in relationship hips, when we can, when we can teach ourselves to be mindful enough, not to go on the defensive with others and oppose to going on the defensive, just become curious about what's going on with them. It like, it does exactly what you say. It turns the volume down, and it's a, it's also a, it's also a, a good practice of emotional intelligence when we do that, of being able to be mindful of, okay, they're doing something I don't agree with, but let me just get curious about that and not react, but just respond. And hopefully we can respond in a, in a kind, in a compassionate way, uh, which is not always easy, but I think that's, that's the start.
Brian (29:13):
Well, yeah. And there's also, you know, there's, there's this new word that people have started using about adulting. I'm gonna do adulting a, a U L T I N G. Yes, we think, oh, that, you know, if I buy a house and I have a mortgage that's adulting, or if I, if I open a retirement account, that's adulting. I think the main thing I would encourage folks to think about is, again, mature behavior, responsive care of each other, deep listening, compassionate kindness for, for, you know, for that to be adulting. Yes. Yes. You know, that, I think a part of a part of what allows us to, to work well together is to all grow up, you know, and to be mature for people and, you know, St. Paul, St. Paul, I think it's in the letter to the Ephesians sort of says, you know, I need y'all to grow up.
Brian (30:08):
You know, don't just keep eating baby food forever at some point, grow up and, and, and allow things to change, allow things to grow, allow your mind to be open your heart, to be open, grow up. And I think, I think a part of what would also help us as a society is if we were a society of grownups and, and some self-discipline and some self-restraint and the compassionate heart and the kind heart and the openness to change, and, you know, all those things that, that are in many ways, um, quite elementary and obvious. But for so many people, you would say it's a, it's a impossible task. And I think the more we can adult, the more we have hope for a, yeah.
Gordon (30:51):
I love that. I love that. I, I immediately think of my daughter, Rebecca, that we both, uh, and that's, that's how I describe her as adulting now she's adulting now, so yeah. That's great. Well, Brian, I wanna be respectful of your time. Um, tell folks how they might get in touch with you if they have more, wanna somehow another connect with you.
Brian (31:14):
Yeah. So our do and website, um, D I O E is where you will find more about me and the work I do, uh, in the Episcopal diocese of east Tennessee. Uh, I tell people, I also like to call it the, the diocese of best Tennessee. Uh, I just love, uh, you know, Susan and I were in Asheville, North Carolina before going to Lexton Kentucky. So living in east Tennessee, we live in the heart of a region that we really care about. So to reach out to me, D I O is our website. And you'll find ways to contact me directly or folks on my staff and learn more about what we do in our work of reconciliation, uh, in east Tennessee.
Gordon (31:55):
That's awesome. And we'll have links in the show notes and show summary, so people can find us. So Bishop Brian, thanks for being on the podcast. And I'm sure, I, I know I'll be seeing you here soon.
Brian (32:08):
Yeah. And Gordon, thank you for your, uh, not just a podcast, but the way you live out, a kind compassionate, uh, ministry and vocation and heart. Thank you. Good to
Gordon (32:18):
Gordon (32:32):
Well, I really love that whole thought of being able to respond rather than to react and, uh, absolutely agree with Brian that it, the more we can learn to be responsive to people rather than to reacting to people. I think that is gonna, as he put it, turn the volume down on kind of the, the discourse that we're in right now around polarization and really being so adverse, sir, with people and, and too is I, I said in that is just being able to get curious with people about what's going on with them, I think is a, is a place to start in in being able to practice kindness and compassion. So again, big, thanks to my good, my dear friend and, uh, Bishop Brian Cole for on the podcast. And you can find out more about him by just going to D D I O E
Gordon (33:28):
Or you can look here in the show notes and find out more about the diocese of east Tennessee. And, and if you're curious about the Episcopal church, you can just go to Episcopal and, um, L love for you to learn out more about this tradition, this faith tradition that we're in, and, um, find out more about that because it's, it's part of our core values. At least we try to, we try to live into that. So anyway, I'm glad you were with me on the podcast. Do take time to visit and be sure to follow us or to subscribe to the podcast wherever you might listen to it and leave us a review. I'd love to get some honest feedback and, uh, get a response from you on, on, on things that you might have heard and, uh, be sure and share with your friends. And also if you're interested in supporting the work that we're doing, we set up a Patreon page and you can find out more about that by going to kindness and And that's a way for you to support us financially if you choose to do so or listen and listening to the podcast. So take care of folks, got lots of great guests, us lined up for future episodes. And we'll talk to you in the next one.
Gordon (34:49):
You have been listening to the kindness and compassion podcast with Gordon brewer, part of the psych craft network of podcast. Please visit, more information, resources, and tools to help you in your journey. Be sure to follow us wherever you listen 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, the information in this podcast is intended to be accurate and authoritative concerning the subject matter covered. It is given with 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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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.


Mallory McDuff | Our Last Best Act of Kindness and Compassion | Episode 5

Photo by Tomas Trajan on Unsplash

Death is a subject most of us tend to avoid.  In particular, thinking about our own death or the death of loved ones.  But as most of us know, death is a reality of life and it touches us all at some point.  In this episode we tackle this topic with Dr. Mallory McDuff a professor of environmental studies  and author of Our Last Best Act; Planning for the end of our lives to protect people and places we love. We explore how kindness and compassion can be practiced even in death and with our end of life issues.

Meet Mallory McDuff

Mallory McDuffMallory McDuff teaches environmental education at Warren Wilson College where she lives on campus with her two daughters. She’s the author of four books, including her most recent: Our Last Best Act: Planning for the End of Our Lives to Protect the People and Places We Love. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, WIRED, and more. Find her at: 

Kindness and Compassion When Death Comes

For the average person, thinking about death is difficult.  It is one of those topics that is considered morbid and somewhat taboo.  But the reality is that it is something we all will be confronted with at some point in our lives.  Either the death of loved ones or even our own impending deaths. So where does kindness and compassion come into this? 

Some of the most significant times of transition for anyone is when we lose those that are close to us.  The death of parents and family members is part of the natural order of life. And there are those times when death comes tragically or in an untimely manner. Nonetheless, to be with someone at the time of their death is truly a sacred space and one of the greatest’s acts of kindness and compassion.

And throughout these last few years through the COVID pandemic, there have been so many untimely deaths.  There have been so many stories of medical workers and strangers holding hands and simply being with people as they pass from this world.  It is a true act of kindness and compassion.

Why We Need Rituals Around Death

One of the reasons that death is such a difficult topic is because of the emotional impact of grief.  Grief is one of the most, if not the most, painful of life experiences and emotions. Anytime we experience a loss, we experience grief.

In this conversation with Mallory, we touch on how our final acts with people who have died becomes part of the kindness and compassion we not only offer to the person who has died, but becomes an act of kindness and compassion in our own grief. 

Throughout history we have known the power of funerals and memorial services.  It is one of the necessary things we need to heal in our grief.  We see it all the time when people die.  It is our go-to. Rituals and ceremonies around death also give closure and resolution.

But our traditions are changing. As we have become more aware of environmental issues and the need for sustainability, the way we care for the dead and what is done with the body is changing.  We are truly getting back to the basics and becoming much more practical in our rituals and customs.

Our Last Best Act

In this episode, Mallory shares some of her family story and about the loss of her parents, who both died tragically.  Her mother died in an automobile accident involving a teen driver under the influence of alcohol.  And then her father died two years later, much the same manner being hit by another teen driver while riding his bike.

Mallory shares how following her mother’s death her father sat the family down to go over his final wishes. And part of his wishes were to somewhat break from the tradition of using a funeral home, by having the family prepare his body and do the burial themselves.  His wishes were for him to not be embalmed and just simply wrapped in some linen tablecloths and placed in a homemade pine casket.

“In some weird way, this was like an act of kindness from my dad to us…”

Mallory shares how helping prepare her dad’s body for burial was in many ways, even though she did realize it at the time, an act of kindness from her dad. Her dad was very much an environmentalist and his final wishes were very much befitting of him. Needless to say, this life experience had an impact for Mallory and was really the catalyst for her book.

Alternative Options For Burial and Cremation

As an environmental educator, Mallory began to research and explore more sustainable and environmentally friendly options for final disposition of our bodies. She wanted to find what options people could use to help sustain the environment and be more climate aware around death and burial options.

Traditional earth burials in perpetual care cemeteries, vaults or concrete containers are used to place the casket in. And a big majority of caskets are made of metal.  And in addition to this, most bodies are embalmed with chemicals to slow down the decomposition process.  Needless to say, all of this is not all that environmentally friendly. And with cremation, there are the greenhouse gasses that are produced during the cremation process.

The alternative to this is simply burying the body directly in the ground in biodegradable materials (aka, pine box or wrapped in blankets or cloth).  Another alternative is “aquamation” which uses water and alkaline to break the body down into a powder. These two options are becoming more and more prevalent around the country.


Ultimately our rituals and customs around death and how we handle the dead has a lot about our culture.  Death is the one factor that levels the playing field for us all.  We all will die regardless of our status in the world.  Grief and the experience of death is universal for people. And because of this it gives us the potential to show more kindness and compassion to others because we all understand the pain of grief.  It is easy for us to have compassion for people in their grief.

In my conversation with Mallory I am reminded that our acts of kindness in death are some of the most meaningful and life changing.  I know that in my own experiences in being with people when they die has been a sacred and holy place for me.

Peace,  Gordon

“Death may be the greatest of all human blessings” – Socrates.

Mallory (00:00):
And the difference with my experience with my dad's death is that I, I had it's, it was a sensory experience, you know, like I know what his body, what it felt like to pick his body up, um, to wrap it in these linens, um, that we mom, you know, Lennon's, my mom had admired years before. Um, and, and, and so that, you know, but so, so that in, in some weird way was like an act of kindness from him to us,
Gordon (00:43):
Welcome to the kindness and compassion 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 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 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 (01:40):
Well, hello everyone. And welcome to this fifth episode of the kindness and compassion podcast. And I'm so glad you're joining me. And, uh, you know, as, as life has it, um, we're kind of delving into a really kind of heavy topic here at this fifth episode. And I didn't necessarily have that in the plans, but it, it just happened that way. And so I'm really looking forward to you, uh, joining me and listening in, in my conversation with, uh, Dr. Mallory McDuff, who is the author of the book called our last best act planning for the end of our lives to protect the people and places we love of. And so it's a very, uh, a very timely book. I think particularly here we are hopefully kind of on the tail end of the COVID pandemic, but I think death has touched us in very significant ways over the last couple of years.
Gordon (02:41):
And I think most all of us have been, have no own somebody or maybe had somebody in our lives that we have known have died from, from the virus. And, um, so to me it's a timely subject. And also I think it ties in really well with this whole concept of kindness and compassion and acts of kindness and compassion. So I'm looking forward to you hearing from, um, Mallory, as we talk about this, uh, this topic. One thing I mentioned in this particular episode, and just kind of a, maybe a hidden gem, I don't know if it's a gem, not, uh, but one thing about me in my background is, is that earlier in my career, I spent over 18 years working in the funeral industry. I was a funeral director and embalmer as strange as that might sound. So I've had a lot of experience around death and dying and in, and in part of my therapy practice as a psychotherapist, I really kinda specialize in grief therapy and working with people that are going through, um, significant grief.
Gordon (03:47):
And so, um, it's a, it's a, it's a good topic. It's a difficult topic. And I think maybe for folks that are listening to this that might have recently experienced the death or a loss, this might, uh, hopefully you'll find this maybe a little bit healing, but also this might be a tough, tough episode to listen to. So I wanna treat that with kindness. Um, as you listen into this particular episode, um, before we get to Mallory, though, I'd like to invite you to go over and check out our website, the kindness and compassion site, which you can just And I'd like to invite you to maybe support the podcast in a small way, by becoming a patron. And you'll find that listed on the website. There's a link there at the top in the menu to become a patron, or you can go to, um, kindness and
Gordon (04:44):
And that'll get you to our Paton page where you can become a sponsor or a patron rather of the podcast. And, um, that'll help me to continue this work and to keep it going. Um, got some other great guests lined it's, it's amazing. I was looking at my calendar and we've got, um, oh, probably I've got half a dozen guests already lined up and I'm looking forward to you all hearing from them as the next episodes come out. So, so without further ado, here's my conversation with Dr. Mallory McDuff and her book, our last best act. Well, hello, everyone. And welcome again to the kindness and compassion pod cast. And I'm so happy for you to get to know Mallory McDuff, who I've become acquainted with here recently, and really recognizing some common ties that we have, but Mallory is the author of the book, the last best act. Did I say that correctly? Mallory,
Mallory (06:02):
It's our last best act,
Gordon (06:03):
Our last best act. And so Mallory, welcome to the podcast. I'm glad you're here.
Mallory (06:09):
Thank you. And I'll share the full title of the book just because, um, it reflects what the book's about the is our last best act planning for the end of our lives to protect the people and places we love.
Gordon (06:23):
Yeah. Yeah. I love it. I love it. And as I was sharing with Mallory, um, one, one little tidbit for me is that I used to be a funeral director and was worked in that kind of that whole realm at one, one point. But I got familiar with, um, with Mallory through our mutual friend, Brian Cole, Bishop Brian Cole, who happens to be my Bishop in the diocese of east Tennessee, but Mallory as I talk, um, as we start out, why don't you tell folks a little bit about your and kind of where, how you've landed, where you've landed?
Mallory (07:01):
Sure. Well, I'm a professor of environmental education here at Warren Wilson college, which is right between black mountain and Asheville and North Carolina. And, um, I've been at Warren Wilson for, uh, 21 years, a student me yesterday, wait, you've been here longer than I've been alive.
So I've passed that threshold. Um, I live on campus in a little 900 square foot campus rental, um, with my two daughters and one is now 22 and one is 16. So the 22 year old is finishing up at Bea college, um, in Kentucky and, and I've raised my children on a college campus, which is, you know, a story and unto itself. Um, I grew up though in a small town in Faroh called Faroh Alabama it's, um, on the coast of Alabama, right on mobile bay, um, and really grew up in a that where our faith and environmental stewardship were super connected and, and that's been an influence on me and continues to influence on my writing in including this book.
Gordon (08:10):
Right. Yeah. I'm sure. I'm sure it's, uh, I don't think, uh, shared my, my daughter is also an environmental educator. She's, uh, she works at the forestry school in Chattanooga. She's one of the teachers teaches preschoolers about nature and all that kinda stuff.
Mallory (08:29):
Wow. Well, we'll need to talk so I can direct my graduates that way too. Yes. So that's
Gordon (08:34):
Yes. So, well, um, Mallory, I know one of the things that, um, this, uh, you know, the whole topic of death and dying and, and all of that is, um, I think for some, a tough topic, but what got you interested in this and how did you kind of come up with the concept of the book and, and that sort of thing?
Mallory (08:55):
Well, the concept of the book really stemmed from my own personal experience. My parents' deaths, um, my mom died when she was 58 and I'm 56. So it's, you know, interesting. I'm getting to close. Well, I am close to the age she was when she died. Um, my parents were very at, they threw hike, the Appalachian trail, Pacific press trail, almost all the continental vodka trail. They biked everywhere, um, as opposed to using cars as to the extent that they could. And she was killed, um, by a teen driver, um, when she was 58 and what the, a lot of people have people that die. I mean, that's not unique to lose a parent. Um, but what was unique was that what it was, was what happened in the aftermath is that my father, um, sat all of his adult children down and basically documented what he'd been talking about.
Mallory (09:58):
All our lives was really his funeral, his final wishes. And he wanted a funeral that relied on family and friends and not a funeral home. He wanted, um, shovels around the grave site. So young and old could close the grave. His bluegras gospel ban. If they were still around, he wanted them to play. He had a playlist of, you know, what he wanted, um, the songs that he wanted. And he, he had always talked to us that embalming, you know, was not required by law. And, and he had found out his neighborhood cemetery where we grew up did not require a vault. Um, the concrete, typically concrete, you know, box that lines, the grave. And so he had, he had been very proactive, um, and he just wanted to codify those wishes and articulate them to us. And at the time we thought that I thought that, okay, this is just kind of how he's dealing with his grief.
Mallory (10:59):
You know, he was, he was, you know, in the best shape of his life, um, he was not ready to, you know, we, he, we needed him. Right. But he also wanted us to be prepared. And so the short of the lung is that we said, sure, we'll do all that. No problem, you know, out. And, and then he died two years later in a, almost exact same manner. He was biking to this farm, um, the CSA where he worked in exchange for food. And, um, as in his, as he was retired and was hit and killed by a teen driver. Oh, wow. So, you know, it, um, the congruence of their deaths was what was so shocking. Like I, I said before, it is not shocking for people to die. I mean, it's horrific, but it's not like we don't know that those things happen.
Mallory (11:59):
Um, but what was shocking was just the, the, you know, parallel nature of their dust. Um, and it wasn't like they were reckless bikers. You know, my dad was on the shoulder of the road. He was wearing a, a fluorescent fast, you know, it was a teenager who was, um, impacted by or influenced, you know, by drugs and alcohol. Um, but what the, the lesson from that was that his, um, the detail of his directives were really what allowed us, you know, really carried us forward, um, in a way that we were even in, you know, three days, um, we were able to honor his wishes and have this very much, um, you know, literally hands on experience with his body, preparing his body for burial. Um, put it in his body in a podcast casket that was made by a friend and a who pulled an all nighter.
Mallory (12:56):
And so all these things had happened. And years later, I had, you know, finalized my, um, directives and had said like many people that I wanted cremation to be, you know, my form of disposition and I'm single mom don't make a lot of money. So cost was, is a big issue for me or variable. And, and so I like made that fi that decision and then, you know, went on with my life, you know, I kind of thought, okay, you do your final wishes and then, you know, that's kind of it, but the, what became apparent in the years after was that in this region, in Western North Carolina and Tennessee, actually, um, there are a lot more options than I had known about when I chose flame cremation. And so the purpose of the book was for me to spend a year exploring other options for sustainable end of life, to see for our bodies keeping climate and community in mind as, as our priorities, as well as cost.
Gordon (14:03):
Right, right. Yeah. It's, uh, you know, as I think about this in the, in the, in the, um, context of kindness and compassion, you know, uh, for those of us that have to, to me, uh, and might sound weird of saying this now, certainly when someone dies in a traumatic, unexpected way, as, as you experience with your parents, that's a, that's one whole aspect of grief. That's a different kind of thing. But I would imagine that being, being able to prepare the body and being able to, to go through that, if you will, ritual of doing all of that has a way of, of helping with the grief. I know in my, my own experience with my dad's death, which was, he died from in stage dementia, and we were expecting his death and the progression of Alzheimer's and that sort of thing. And, you know, and, and sitting with him in his last hours to me, was to put it in kind of, um, kind of my faith terms was really holy ground of being able to, to be there and sit, be with him when he died, um, was really as the title of, of your book, suggest really kind of one of my last best acts with him of being able to do that.
Gordon (15:37):
And then when you have a situation like you were faced with, without the benefit of knowing that it was coming, um, to be able to do that last, last had to have been kind of healing in a way I would think.
Mallory (15:56):
Yeah, well, I, and I, I think it's, um, you know, at the time you're not like, oh, I'm being healed in my grief.
Gordon (16:03):
Right, right. Yes,
Mallory (16:05):
Exactly. But at, at the time you're just doing the next thing. Um, but he had like difference, you know, I was just as close to my mom as to my dad, you know, there's like, they're very different people, but like, um, I had very strong relationships with both of them, the, the difference with my, and my dad was able to be with my mom's body, but I, I wasn't. Um, um, and, and the difference with my experience with my ads death is that I, I had it's, it was a sensory experience, you know, like I know what his body, what it felt like to pick his body up, um, to wrap it in these linens, um, that we, you know, linen, a mom had admired years before. Um, and, and, and so that, you know, but so, so that in, in some weird way was like an act of kindness from him to us, you know, and, and he also was very, um, intent about what our faith, I was raised Episcopalian, um, what our faith compels us, how our faith compels us to, um, you know, treat the earth with reverence and turn.
Mallory (17:30):
And for him that was often involved cost. And, you know, like, I mean, he, he had be the person that was like, okay, we're gonna wait to see how long we can go without turning on air conditioning, you know, in the Alabama, coastal summer, you know? Um, and so, so for him, this was like, like costs and, um, and care for the earth were a part of kindness and compassion. I, I think you, you know, and I'm, I think I'm really, I try to be really clear in the book that, like, I don't think that my one death, um, is going to like, change the climate crisis. So I'm, you know, I'm not naive about that. Um, but, but I do, I am watching the, this whole, um, kind of the ethos of how people think about death and dying and, um, and that is changing.
Mallory (18:24):
And so my decisions and my conversations that I have with people that has the capacity to, to galvanize, you know, person by person collective action, that that can make a difference. Um, and I wouldn't be an environmental educator if I didn't think that, you know, that individual actions are, can be a part of something larger. Um, you know, and with, with a lot of, um, decisions around climate, it can feel really hard cuz there's these big structures, there's the fossil fuel industry. There's, you know, so, so it can be hard to figure out where do we, um, kind of dial in like what's our lane. But the interesting thing to me about decisions around our death is that it's like the, one of the few decisions that really is only like nobody else is gonna make it, but me and then if I don't make it, somebody else will. So,
Gordon (19:24):
Right. So you,
Mallory (19:24):
So you do have some, the capacity to affect change and, um, and the conversations to me, the whole, the, you know, talking about what the options are. Like, I wasn't talking about it before I started this book, even though I, you know, had this experience with my parents. But once I started talking about it, I discovered I had no idea. There were so many resources like in this region, like I did not, I had no idea and it wasn't that I had to, to be some brilliant person. I just had to like ask a few questions.
Gordon (19:56):
Right, right.
Mallory (19:57):
And I found out these amazing movement of, of interconnected people who are just doing fabulous work and then realize, okay, wait, this is happening. Not just here, this is happening, you know, across the country.
Gordon (20:10):
Right. Right. Well, you, you know, um, Mallory, as you, as you have thought about this and done to your study and work in this, uh, I'm sure there are some listers out there that are thinking, well, this sounds really morbid, sounds really kinda creepy kinda thing. How do you, how do you think people are able to kinda get past that and thinking about do death and dying and what we do with our people's bodies and people's remains and that, that sort of thing.
Mallory (20:41):
Well, I had, um, in, in, in the book, I, a lot of the, a lot of the book is like me, like going to places. And like I volunteered at a conservation cemetery outside of Asheville. Um, like I was a parking attendant so that I could, you know, be present at burial barrels of cremains and of, uh, of, of, of the body. I went to the body farm in Western Carolina university. And of course the first body farm is, was in, it is still in Knoxville and body farm is where you can donate your body for free. Um, so for the study of decomposition, so I was having all these experiences and then I was like coming home and, and who was at home, but my 14 year old daughter. And, and so a lot of these, a lot of these conversations I was having, you know, were like through the lens of friends, but also through the lens of, you know, a teenager who like the last thing she wants to talk about is like death.
Mallory (21:50):
Um, just much like, you know, but, but yet when we, when I talked about it with her, you know, she would, she would have an opinion. And, and so, you know, I, I think it's kind of this, I've been asked a lot in the pen. The book came out in December, I've asked a lot like, oh, how do you get people to talk about death? And, you know, this must to be a really hard thing. People don't wanna talk about it. And I actually found the opposite. I found that like, people don't have the opportunity to talk about it, unless they're someone is imminently dying in their family, which happens, you know, that is a reality of, for so many people, including, you know, many people that I love are facing that and they have to talk about it. But for people who are not in that position at this point in time, um, just the opening, the space, like what are, what are your plans? What are your final wishes? You know, that people, I actually want people actually engaged and, and, and sometimes didn't wanna stop talking because just hadn't been, hadn't been asked.
Gordon (23:00):
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. That's a, you know, it's, it's been several years since I was in the funeral business. Um, but I remember that usually when I would share with people, that was my, that was my profession at the time. It was, it was, I would say the vast majority of people approached it with real curiosity and that they were really interested in what, okay, well, what do you really do? You know what, yeah. What happens when you involve my body and, and all of kind of thing. Um, you know, and I, I think ultimately the reason I got, you know, not, not too surprisingly now that I'm an, a, an Episcopal clergy and, you know, the different stage of life. I really, um, one of the reasons I got out of it was is that I found that there were some, some, um, there, it didn't really align with my internal values around things.
Gordon (23:56):
Yeah. And so not, and I've still got some really good friends in the, in the business, but it's, um, it, the title of your book though, is, um, is really, to, to me, was just really compelling and I'm I'm, um, and, and it just of being able to approach this whole idea of, okay, we've got this person that we're connected to and, you know, spiritually or physically, we're no longer connected to 'em. So what can we do do about that? And I think that is the power of, of funerals Memorial services, those kinds of things. We need that closure at the end. And I think throughout we've seen that. And then I just, uh, the, I love the fact of tying it, uh, tying it in what you've done with the environmental sustainability and all of that sort of thing, which is, is great. You,
Mallory (25:01):
Well, it's funny because part of, um, part of the research was me interviewing funeral directors. And, and there was one in particular who allowed me to like shadow during, you know, during a couple days. And let me invited me to go to a home funeral with her. And, and she also called me out in a kind way on some of my preconceptions about the industry, some of which were not necessarily inaccurate, but some of which, um, yeah, I think maybe she felt like I needed calling out
Gordon (25:45):
On. Okay. Okay.
Mallory (25:46):
And, you know, and because it's, it's, um, I, I did have some, I did go into this with some preconceptions of some influence by, you know, my dad's like self-sufficiency, um, and like the worst thing to him, would've been to have fake grass and a 10, you know, like that he would've did that. That was just like, and, and what did that represent? Um, it represented, you know, unnecessary expenses, um, you know, not a reflection of how he had lived. Um, but, but I think the irony is that some of the most, I think innovative collaborations that are happening now, you know, sometimes are between like, let's, for example, conservation cemeteries and funeral homes who've agreed, Hey, we can both help each other out like a funeral home might say, look, I'll, we'll cut the prices and just deliver, you know, transport the body, keep the body cool.
Mallory (26:44):
And then you at the conservation cemetery take care of the rest. And, and so they provide services to each other and to the families in a way that feels like super respectful and collaborative. Right. Right. Um, and so, so that was really good for me. I mean, it's painful to be, nobody wants to be told they have, you know, uh, whatever assumptions that might not always be accurate, but, but when somebody tells you that, you know, it's, it's also a time to listen. And, um, and so I learned a, I learned a lot, um, from the Fu from the funeral directors that I did yeah. That I did talk to. And, and I think, you know, I think things will, I think it'll be interesting to see how things change. I was on a panel yesterday for a webinar yesterday with a company called the natural funeral and they're in Colorado and they do, they offer, um, green burial, then a Aqua mation, which is a, um, a form of cremation that uses water and lie.
Mallory (27:49):
So it doesn't have the fossil fuel, um, interesting outputs of flame cremation and Aqua mation is, um, is available now in 20 states. And it will be available in more, um, you know, and so, so this natural funeral is a holistic funeral home and they offer a to back up green burial, Aqua mation, and then body composting. So, and that is a process that's legal now in Colorado and Oregon and in Washington state. And it literally is what it says it is where you, you know, the body is, you know, brought to, um, the funeral home or the, in Seattle, it started in Seattle, the company there is called recompose. And so, and essentially in a month with organic matter added, your body is transformed in and to, to organic compost wow. That, that you can use, you know, and you can use it or you can donate it to a regional conservation project.
Mallory (28:56):
So there's all these different, um, yeah, just O there will be different options. I mean, there's, there's there there's legislation introduced in several aids right now for, for body composting. Um, but it's interesting just this, the panel I was on, um, the folks with the natural company, you know, are interested in branching out and, you know, Asheville's one of the places that they're looking at cause you know, off right. Um, Aqua the closest place you can get Aqua mation now is in Shelby, North Carolina. Okay. So it's whatever 45 minutes away. But, um, yeah, I see this also as, you know, not just like a spiritual question and a, a, um, you know, a question about the climate and about community, but also like for my students, I see this as a, um, you know, a green business, a green industry that they could go into.
Gordon (29:54):
Right. Right. Well, it's, uh, you know, one of the, one of the things, uh, about, um, in starting this podcast is this is exactly the kind of conversations I wanted, want us to have to, um, not only think about kindness and compassion towards humans, but also kindness and compassion towards our environment in, into the world. We live in on a greater scope. And I think this is where it, the, this kind of grassroots kind of thing I think is where it starts and where it, where we really need to, where we can really make a difference individually in just thinking about the cycle of life and, uh, and death. And, and what we do do in the end, I think is significant. And I think it's, uh, the other thing that I see that I've kind of, we've kind of talked, touched on a little bit, is I think this could be, has the potential for people finding a whole lot more meaning in their life when they can, when they can approach it in this way.
Mallory (30:53):
Right. Well, the, the one thing I would, I have talked about a lot is like, how do we align the values that we have in our life with those and for our death, you know? And, and I, and I think that I, I watched for, for people who were able to, you know, find that congruence, um, in the planning, there, there was a sense of, I don't know, liberation in a sense like, yeah, okay. I know this is how this is gonna that, I mean, not, you don't know anything, but I have, this is how I've planned it to happen. And then whatever happens is out of my control. Um, but you, you can, you know, say, this is what I want to have happen with my body. And then, um, you know, then the rest, as, as my younger daughter said, well, if she's dead, she won't really know what, right, right.
Mallory (31:50):
Yeah. We could try to do this stuff, but like, you know, she, she won't be, she won't know. Yeah. The, the, the funny thing that became, you know, kind of a part of the book that I really hadn't anticipated was, um, that related to just compassion yourself and to the land and, um, and to, you know, family and community is, um, I I've often asked this question like, Hey, how do we carry the love of people who have died? You know, that are close to us. So like, that's, that's for me, like why I talk about, you know, any, I'll just say my parents, but anybody that has died, that's close to me that I, like, I, I want to embody their love. I want my life to carry their love forward. Right. And my college roommate, who is, um, she's actually in the discernment process, uh, in the Episcopal church right now, but she's the city planner, um, for, um, for Waynesville. And, um, she is also a musician. So she has this song called Carrie in my love. It's an original song. Um, and it's a beautiful song and it's one that you can really sing along with easily. And so at some of my book events, she's been able to play and then, you know, everybody sings along and it's just this, um, yeah. It's like the, the song that becomes like a metaphor yes. For, for the, you know,
Gordon (33:20):
Well, we'll try, I'll try to look that up and, um, maybe, well,
Mallory (33:23):
I can, I'll send it to you.
Gordon (33:25):
Yeah. That'd be great. Well, well, Mallory, I wanna be respectful of your time and I'm, I'm, hopefully we'll have some more conversations like this because I think this, um, again, uh, uh, I think about kindness and compass being all of life, and even at the end of end of life, this is, uh, this is truly an act of, uh, kindness and compassion and how we, how we carry through with people's final wishes. So thanks again for being on the podcast, tell folks how they can get in touch with you and, uh, where to find the book and that sort of thing.
Mallory (34:00):
Sure. Um, my website is Mallory Um, and the, you can find the book there as well as I have a lot of essays related to the book from the New York times. So the Washington post, um, and so you can find as my essays there, the book is available, sign copies are available at ma props, Asheville. If you're in this area, it's also available online, um, wherever you get your books,
Gordon (34:26):
Right. And we'll, we'll have links in the show notes and show some for, for all of that for folks. So again, Mallory, thanks for joining me on this. And, um, hopefully we'll have another conversation here soon.
Mallory (34:40):
That sounds great. The thank you.
Gordon (34:55):
Well, big thanks to Mallory for being with me on the podcast. And I was so thrilled to have her as a guest, and I really, really enjoyed getting to know her and just kind of, uh, look at some of our common ties and common bonds just around people that we know and our connections within, um, different circles and, uh, be sure and check her And we'll have links here in the show summary and show notes, um, for you to connect with her easily and also be sure and check out her book, our last best act, uh, planning for the end of our lives to protect the people and places we love. It's a good book. I've been reading it and working my way through it. And she really gives some thoughtful consideration about how we think about the end of life and how we, how we handle that.
Gordon (35:47):
And just, um, what we can do to be not only environmentally sustainable, but also treat those around us. We, with kindness and compassion through the end days of our life or our, uh, our end of life issues. So thanks for joining me for this episode, be sure to follow us wherever you might listen to the podcast, whether it be on apple podcasts or Spotify or Amazon, or, uh, or any, any other number of podcasters out there. I think you can find us on all the major ones, so follower subscribe to the podcast. And also if you think about it, leave us a review, uh, um, that that will be just helpful in kind of boosting our rankings and, um, helping other people find this and be sure to share with your friends. And you can also find us on Instagram at kindness and compassion podcast, and also on Facebook. Uh, at this point, those are the two social medias we're on. So take care folks and, uh, be sure to, uh, join us next time for the kindness and compassion. Oh, and you can find us
You Have been listening to the kindness and compassion podcast with Gordon brewer, part of the psych craft network of podcast. Please visit for more inform and resources and tools to help you in your journey. Be sure to follow us wherever you listen 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, the information in this podcast is intended to be accurate and authoritative concerning the subject matter cover. 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 the right.

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About Gordon

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 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.”


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.
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.
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, or you can just go to kindness and 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):
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 up on the menu, there's a, a link there for you to a patron, or you can simply go to kindness and 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 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, 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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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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