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My52WOW at the Aspen Institute


The Marble Garden, The Aspen Institute, Aspen, Colorado
Image Credit: http://www.architecturaldigest.com/gallery/aspen-institute-elizabeth-walter-paepcke-colorado-slideshow/all

I had the pleasure of spending the last week at the Aspen Institute. I went, expecting to wear primarily my corporate hat, but ended up sharing the My52WOW story, unexpectedly and delightedly.

The Aspen Executive Seminar

The Aspen Executive Seminar is described as such:

The Aspen Executive Seminar on Leadership, Values, and the Good Society—the flagship offering that launched the Institute in 1950—explores the key contours of, and tensions among, fundamental values such as freedom, equality, justice, community, wealth creation. The seminar…probes the leadership dimensions of such fundamental questions as: What is a good society and what is my role in making it a reality? What are my core values, and how do they align with those of others, my organization, and my community? How do I navigate the competing tensions among the values which inform the decisions I make?

This seminar appealed to me for a number of reasons, as I knew this opportunity would allow me to focus on a topic that I have a deep interest in: values-based leadership. What drives a leader to lead, and what sustains them when times get rough or rocky?  Whether the answer is a particular spiritual practice or some other values system – I knew that the seminar experience would enable me to spend a week thinking about and contemplating this – to investigate interesting philosophical concepts, and participate in deep discussions with smart, accomplished, influential people. I also hoped that it would inspire me to become even better at facilitating courageous conversations about belief systems and traditions – and between people who may have extremely different perspectives.

The timing of the Seminar was especially notable, as August 24th , which fell in the middle of the seminar week, marked the seventh anniversary of my father’s death. Those familiar with the My 52 Weeks of Worship Project know that he was one of the main motivations for the first 52 weeks of the project, and he remains an inspiration to me as the project continues and throughout my life. Tomorrow would have been his birthday. He would have been delighted with all the pieces and parts of my seminar experience.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Friendship and Community

As part of the seminar we read several of the great, foundational philosophers of modern day, and unpacked other impactful historical voices. As part of those readings, we read an excerpt from Eleanor Roosevelt called “What Religion Means to Me.” In it, she states:

“To me religion has nothing to do with any specific creed or dogma. It means that belief and that faith in the heart of a man which makes him try to live his life according to the highest standard which he is able to visualize.”

This reminded me of the #1 thing in my list of “52 Things I Learned From My 52 Weeks of Worship”:

Most people are doing the best they can to do the best they can.

As part of the discussion, our moderator graciously allowed me to share the story of the first 52 weeks of My 52 Weeks of Worship – and I had the honor of discussing, with a group of new friends – what religion meant or didn’t mean to us…the meaning of faith, worship, and how one’s beliefs play out in the things that we do, the actions that we take, and the purpose that drives each of us. We tackled difficult subjects such as how religion can wreak havoc when extreme beliefs can exist, and whether, given the time and place we now exhibit, “only (a) God can save us now. We shared our stories, our challenges, and our beliefs, and learned from one another.

I loved every minute of it.

Resist living in an echo chambers

One of the best parts of the seminar week was the ability for all 20 of us to sit in a respectful space and discuss important concepts, bringing our perspectives and experiences to the discussion. We had a diverse group, and everyone did not agree with everyone else, but we all listened to each other and learned from each other, and that is something that is so sorely needed in our world today. Technology and social media gives us the ability to create “echo chambers,” where we only hear things we agree with and interact with those with views similar to ours…this was no echo chamber.

My52WOW, as we approach our 7th year.

As My52WOW approaches it’s 7th year, I often reflect on how long this project will continue. The original goals of healing, connection, and remembrance – although foundational, have been met. But it is in telling the story fresh that I realize its universal appeal. Everyone, at some point, grieves the loss of a loved one or a love. Everyone questions the very foundation of their beliefs and their lives at some point. Everyone considers going outside of their comfort zone to learn and grow – some even decide to do it.  Everyone grapples with the worship traditions that they have been given – to determine what to keep and what to give away. Everyone asks themselves at some point what they believe. If they believe.

This week was affirming in so many ways. I came away with some great new friends – phenomenal people making phenomenal impact, each in their own way. They gave me a chance to tell my story, and I had a chance to hear each of theirs. I appreciated both a great deal. I learned so much from every person, every reading, and every discussion, and took a moment to take a deep breath and reflect on my life.  Throughout the experience, I was often reminded of the #2 thing in my list of “52 Things I learned from My 52 Weeks of Worship:

It is about God, and community, and experience, and worship, and culture,
and family, and love.

Thank you, Aspen Institute. Thank you to my fellow seminar participants. Thank you to our seminar moderators. I have been forever changed. Forever enriched.


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