Browsing the blog archives for May, 2010

Is Life Better Because of You?

Is life better because of you?  Are you aware of how your own life is better because of others? A blog conversation between Robert V. Taylor and Ginny Hutchinson.  Ginny is the Co- Author, along with Cathy Haffner, of  BETTER BECAUSE OF YOU.

RVT: Since first reading Better Because of You, I have become more mindful about the relationships in my life.  I’ve become intentional in telling someone that my life is better because of them.  Is this what you hoped to create for your readers?

GH: Thank you for sharing how our book has impacted you.  Our hope is that Better Because is a helpful reminder to readers about all seven facets of their life – health, wealth, wisdom, work, play, others & service.  Depending on what areas may need tending or polishing, we’ve found our readers share varying viewpoints.

RVT: You say that the book is about making life “just a little better”.  That’s quite a contrast from the books that promise to change or transforms lives.  Can you say more about what “a little better” means to you?

GH: Cathy & I believe in taking life in small, bite size pieces.  Taking one step at a time and focusing on small  interactions each day, help make life a little better and gradually improve the quality of your life for you and for others.   For example, as a mountain climber, I can easily feel overwhelmed in reaching a high peak.  However, if I break it down into preparation, practice hikes, gradually get stronger climb and keep moving steadily toward the goal, I enjoy not only the view at the top, but the journey along the way.  The same principles apply to life.  

RVT: Was there some circumstance in your lives when you thought of this book with wisdom and hope for ordinary, everyday living?

GH: Cathy & I are self proclaimed “rat racers.”  We’ve enjoyed a tremendous amount of blessings in our lives and both were Fortune 100 executives prior to founding Better Because.  Each of us faced a time in our life when we could have either had – A Mid-Life Crisis or A Mid-Life Awakening.    For me, it was hearing the His Holiness The Dali Lama in Seattle speaking about compassion and action that struck me.  After that moment, I vowed to re-think where I placed importance in my life decided to gain a more balanced approach.  A similar epiphany struck Cathy during a similar timeframe.  As it turns out, we quit our jobs on the same day, and from our long-standing friendship of 25 years, decided seek ways to inspire ourselves and others.

Ginny Hutchinson

RVT: Who was the first person to tell you that their life was better because of you?  How did it impact you?

GH: The first person who mentioned their life was better because of me was my friend, Aaron.  He’s a close and cherished friend and sent me a note immediately after we published our book.  He purchased 25 books and explained how he wanted to spread his appreciation not only to me, but other friends and colleagues in his life.  Since then, Aaron’s bought over 100 books and says he gets more joy back with every book he gives.

RVT: For many people, life is experienced as something to endure or survive.  What would you say to such a person?
 
GH: It pains me to hear this.  My hope is that people see their lives as a sparkling gem.  Not to survive, but to thrive and enjoy.  Life can be difficult, tough at times, and a struggle.  Often these times, make us stronger, wiser, more appreciative.  One of our favorite concepts is ‘the world is in you’  and you can choose to be inspired or not.
 
RVT: Over the years I’ve worked with countless numbers of people who seem stuck in negative energy and a sense that nothing will make their life better.  Your book invites positive energy and is hopeful.  What feeds that good energy and hope in you? 

GH: There are three things that Cathy & I believe help fuel our spirit. Firstly, Happiness is contagious.  Research has proven being around happy people helps you be happy.  It’s that simple.  Second, looking up.  Looking up for us offers a new perspective  – spirituality, faith, hope, Nature, and looking up to people we respect.  Third, sharing Better Because …  stories.  By sharing why you are “better because” with someone else has a tremendous impact for you and them.  Every time I do this with my family, friends, co-workers or students, I literally feel better!

Robert V. Taylor

RVT: As people respond to Better Because of You with stories of their own you are encouraging the art of storytelling and finding meaning and purpose in stories – our own and those of others.  Has there been a story that has surprised you? 

GH: One woman called and purchased a number of copies of our book for her ‘gift closet’.  She planned to give our book to her nearest and dearest girl friends.  A few days after later, she emailed me with a surprising story never expected.  Her son, at college, called to say a close friend of his committed suicide and he devastated.   At a loss for words, she remembered words of wisdom from Better Because of You and shared a poem on Death (page 26) by David Hawkins.  The poem helped them grief together and hear comforting words to help them mourn their loss.  Cathy experienced two sudden deaths of young people in her family.  The section on Death has helped us both cope with losses in our lives.

RVT: What do you hope to still discover about life being better because of others?

GH: One of the stories that surprised me was a high school student who mentioned, “I’m better because of my hardships and struggles.”   I thought this was quite insightful that she’s better because life is hard.  She described recent athletic injuries she faced which were debilitating and how she now views life and her health with more appreciation than ever before.  Remembering that life is a series of circles, spiraling up and down and that feeling down is okay.  The key is to learn from the down or dark periods, which can often lead to higher highs! 

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Discover Better Because of You by clicking here

Join Robert’s YouTube conversation, Saying Yes to Your Own Life, by clicking here

Ginny Hutchinson & Cathy Haffner

 

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Good for Goodness Sake: A Fool’s Errand or a Way of Life?

Mpho Tutu, Robert V. Taylor & Archbishop Desmond Tutu

A blog conversation between Robert V. Taylor and Mpho Tutu about her new book Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference co-authored with her father, Desmond M. Tutu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town. Mpho Tutu is the Executive Director of The Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage.

RVT: So many people feel overwhelmed by daily life. What was it that prompted you and your father to write about your belief that we are Made For Goodness?

MT: We wrote with two thoughts in mind: my father is often asked,given his life, what accounts for his joy? In our ministries each of us has encountered people who struggle to make sense of their lives; we wanted to tell the source of my father’s joy. We wanted to share what we have learned of how to make some sense of life, how to hold on to hope, how to be incurably infected with joy.

RVT: I know that individuals often test my core beliefs and practices for daily life.  You write that each day brings an opportunity to practice goodness.  Is there a defining moment for you when you thought, “Yikes! Is goodness possible here?”

MT: No. I never wonder “is goodness possible?” I do wonder “how is goodness possible? What am I not seeing? How can I learn to see rightly that I may act aright.

RVT: Since reading the book I’ve found myself imagining new ways in which goodness can change the world and our daily lives.  Is there an experience which transformed your life choices about goodness?

MT: I would love to be ale to say “one miraculous day I got it and ever after I have been able to live solely out  of the best that is in me” But, for me, goodness, like prayer, is a practice. I must turn often and again to rediscover my best self. There are still days when I argue with my husband, still moments when I snap at my children, still times when I am thoughtless or unkind. I take no joy in those experiences and the joylessness does its own work of transformation.

RVT: Someone recently asked me if it was possible to be good and not have the ability to forgive someone.  What wisdom would you offer that person?

MT: Forgiveness is a gift we give to those who have harmed us. But forgiveness is,first, a gift we give ourselves. It is a gift of healing. We can refuse healing, picking at the wounds to ensure that they fester and grow; we can refuse to forgive, deliberately reanimating the hurt whenever it shows signs of ebbing. We can wish ourselves healed, we can do all the things that promote healing but, ultimately, healing takes grace and time. It is not a matter of goodness or deserving.

RVT: You write that we should stop “being good” and live from our goodness.  So many people beat themselves up for not being “good enough”.  Are their practices that invite a shift from not being “good enough” to living from our goodness?
MT: “Being good” comes with a train of “shoulds” in attendance. It brings few joys in its wake. Living from our goodness crams joy into every corner: not happiness, that thing wreathed in smiles, but true joy the thing ringed around with deep satisfaction. The practices of looking for joy, of living mindfully, of becoming and being self-aware are those that help us to shift from the desperate struggle to be good enough to the true peace of living out of our goodness. It is living from the inside out rather than from the outside in.

RVT: I work with groups exploring the truth of each person being made in the imagination of the Creator.  Is there a way that this imagination infuses the truth that we are made for goodness?

MT: We are made, so scripture says, in the image and likeness of God. God is the very definition of goodness. God engenders goodness. Goodness is the whole imagination of God. We cannot compass or fathom God. Yet each of us contains God, holds God in the center of our being. This Godfulness, this goodness is our defining characteristic.

RVT: When someone lives with negative energy, anger or discrimination directed towards them, what would you say to them?

MT: I do not want to sound flippant. I know that many, many people live in the firing line. They are the targets of violence, oppression, abuse, anger and discrimination. None of us can choose the circumstances of our life. Each of us can choose how to respond to those circumstances. Each of can choose to be a victim or a survivor. Each person makes the choice with each challenge that faces them. For some people the challenges are daily and grinding. For some the challenges are intermittent. But none of us must face any challenge alone. There is a God who stands with us in the fieriest of the furnaces that we face

Robert V. Taylor

RVT: Concepts of goodness, kindness and compassion are consistent themes in many traditions, inviting us into living lives of integrity and wholeness.  Has your own experience been enriched by the wisdom that several traditions speak to?

MT: I have friends of many faiths. They teach me from the wisdom of their traditions. Practices of prayer and fasting and meditation that I have learned from Christian teachers have been enriched by teachings on those subjects by friends of other faiths. The Buddhist practices of mindfulness, the Jewish concept of shalom that encompasses more than peace and reaches out to include wholeness, the Muslim understanding of  Halaal right relationship rather than only  dietary purity these things and  more deepen my understanding of my own faith. They send me home to Christianity with sharpened vision.

RVT: What was your most surprising “wake up” experience of goodness?

MT: In January I co-lead a group on a pilgrimage to South Africa. On one of our first days there we visited a community center in the informal settlement of Kliptown. SKY is a non-profit youth center in the middle of a squalid township. There was an old woman there, a retired nurse, who came each day to prepare breakfast and lunch for children who might not otherwise have a meal. Her face was creased with smile lines. She was leaky with joy. Her warmth spilled over onto anyone within hailing distance. She had found her vocation and standing near her one was infected with the sense of possibility. That is the surprise of goodness, finding and living from our goodness can help other people to find and touch their own goodness.

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Buy a copy of Made for Goodness: And Why This Makes All the Difference by Desmond M. Tutu & Mpho Tutu – click here

Visit the Made for Goodness website by clicking here

Join the YouTube conversation with Robert on Spirituality and Ethics – click here

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Harvey Milk & God Terrified Me

Harvey Milk and God each terrified me.  In that order.  I was a young white anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the nineteen-seventies.  To be openly gay filled me with more fear than the fight against apartheid.  Yet I knew in my bones that Harvey Milk and anti-apartheid activists were pointing to the same truth about the magnificence of each person.

As a young man I rejected the theological and political notion that apartheid was divinely sanctioned.  It was inconceivable to me that humanity could be denied to another person based on race.  Yet that was the moral and religious justification claimed for a system based on the superiority of whites in South Africa.

My activism was strengthened by the courage of religious leaders like Desmond Tutu. They insisted that God loves every single person.  Equality, justice and human rights were expressions of that love.  As a young man I was certain that our differences were less significant than the oneness of our humanity. Except when it applied to me.  

Learning about Harvey Milk’s election to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1977 was shocking news. It seemed impossible to conceive of an openly gay elected official in South Africa where legislation gave impunity to the police to act against LGBT people.

I was a candidate for ordination to the Anglican priesthood in South Africa in the nineteen seventies.   I’d witnessed the witch hunt conducted by the church against gay seminarians.  I used to go to Mass each day to get on my knees to plead for God to change me; to take away my sexual orientation. 

Following Harvey Milk’s assassination in 1978 I experienced an epiphany.  If God had no use for hatred and exclusion based on race, surely the same was true about sexual orientation.  The truth of this filled me with terror.  Was Harvey Milk’s courage an invitation for all LGBT people everywhere to stop pleading to be changed?

The possibility of Harvey Milk and God offering an invitation to get up off our knees was an exhilarating truth.  It would take me years to live fully into that liberating notion of becoming fully human.  In the process I discovered that the root word for courage is the same word for love.  Maybe Tutu was correct that the Holy loved all people without condition. I imagined God smiling on Milk’s courage.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Mpho Tutu & Robert V. Taylor

Fifteen years later I asked Desmond Tutu when he would add LGBT people into his compelling vision that we are all “made for oneness.” He assured me that it would be after the fall of apartheid.  This iconic leader has been true to his word.  To the ire of many and the delight of others, Tutu is insistent that there are no outsiders with God or the human family. 

The shadow side of Milk’s invitation to courage was violence.  To be physically harmed or killed because of who you are is not something that most people seek.  My experience of threats directed against me over the years because of my openness as a gay man remind me that we have a long way to go in the United States before LGBT people know that we are viewed as outsiders.

But Harvey Milk’s life continues to have a ripple effect.  The young videographer who recently filmed me for a Seattle Men’s Chorus video unexpectedly told me that I’d been a hero of his.  I could not imagine why.  He said that as a high school student my prominence as an openly gay leader had given him courage in grappling with his own sexuality.  It was a simple moment.  In every encounter like that one I give thanks for the courage of people like Harvey Milk.  A young millennial man took for granted his ability to be open about his identity.  It seemed like reason enough to celebrate!

In the rural farming community of Eastern Washington where my partner and I spend time, we know that the politics is not as progressive as it is in cities like Seattle or New York.  But we hear the stories of families who accept, love and include their LGBT members.  For these families it is not a struggle, but a given.  I imagine Harvey Milk and God smiling on such inclusion.

The terror that Harvey Milk and God instilled in me have long dissipated.    Terror has made way for courage.  My own experience of exclusion is a reminder that it is dangerous to dismiss or exclude any person or group of people.  Harvey Milk’s courage is an invitation to celebrate oneness with our own self and others.

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Join Robert’s YouTube conversation about the Holy who includes and delights in each person – Exclusion in the Name of God – by clicking here

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What in God’s Name…? The Thin Place

Andrew Russell

Andrew Russell

A blog conversation between Robert V. Taylor and Andrew Russell about the world premiere of a play in which Robert is one of the characters.

Andrew Russell is the Conceiver/Director of The Thin Place and Associate Director of the Intiman Theater.   He has worked with Tony Kushner.  Andrew’s credits include directing for Jazz at Lincoln Center, the Public Theater and the Sundance Theater Laboratory. He was assistant director to Kate Whoriskey for the premiere of Ruined and The Miracle Worker on Broadway.   

RVT: The Thin Place is an intriguing title for the play you have conceived!  In Celtic and other traditions the thin places are those borderlands where human life, the Holy and creation meet.  They are openings into new insight.  How does The Thin Place offer such an opening?

AR: We’ve interviewed over a dozen individuals of varying faiths who have encountered their own deeply personal Thin Place. What’s interesting is that the borderlands where human life and the holy meet, as you put it, aren’t always places of grace or bliss. As you’ll see in the play, encountering your version of the divine can be rough, complicated, frustrating and difficult to endure — but often it’s because of this complex journey that one is able to arrive and embrace one’s own Thin Place. We’ve also expanded on the traditional definition of this term. In our play the term can also mean the specific moment when someone’s belief enters a very thin and fragile state, or the moment someone reaches awe-inspiring bliss within their mind. Our hope is that by sharing all of these real stories in one play, we will create an actual Thin Place in the theatre where audience members will be able to step outside their comfort zone, consider things slightly differently, and potentially rethink their opinion of themselves and others. It’s funny that you refer to this idea as that of an “opening” because in one of the final lines of the play the central character references this idea — and talks about how all of these perspectives and voices he’s encountered from Seattle’s community create a new opening for him, a dawning awareness.  

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

RVT: What sparked something in you to conceive of this play?

AR: I’ve always had a complex, and often frustrating, relationship with the idea of faith and religion and was fascinated with Seattle’s rumored pride in being “Godless” or “one of the least churched cities in the country.” Kate Whoriskey (the new Artistic Director at Intiman) and I listened to Dan Savage’s podcast on This American Life about his fraught relationship with the Catholic Church after his mother died, and became curious about exploring the depth of faith in Seattle. I worked briefly on a film called Questioning Faith with director Macky Alston and producer Leonard Cox many years ago and Macky’s quest to question God’s presence after losing a friend from AIDS stuck with me — and this also influenced our quest to explore the subject. We were also looking for a project that embraced Seattle and acknowledged something special about the city — its open- mindedness and unique spirituality. Personally I’ve been very moved and enlightened by this process, and consider my outlook on God and faith, and those who believe deeply in any form of dogma, to have matured. 

RVT: The ads for the play ask the provocative question, “What in God’s name is Seattle thinking?”  It’s been said that the Cathedral of the Pacific Northwest is the splendor of the environment.  Have you been struck by unique expressions of the spiritual quest in the Northwest?

AR: I grew up in the mid-west where church attendance is incredibly common. When one moves to a new city the first thing they’re often asked is “have you found a church” or “would you like to go to church with me?” When I first came to Seattle to start work on this project I began to ask people where they went to church, and the responses were more along the lines of “I don’t go to church,” “I’m spiritual,” or “we don’t really go to church much in Seattle.” But, I’ve also listened to many stories about the power of faith in this region. There’s this deep hunger for the truth, or a personal truth rather, in this area and it seems to result in a diverse and very authentic group of people. People seem less interested in conforming to something that exists and more interested in exploring, questing, and discovering a path of their own. This manifests itself on stage in The Thin Place, as all of our characters are on a religious and spiritual journey yes, but they are also simply searching to find their voice, their identity. 

RVT: The number of Americans describing themselves as spiritual rather than religious keeps increasing.  It’s around 25% of the population now.  Does The Thin Place offer a way for people anywhere to engage in conversations about the nexus of spirituality, meaning and purpose?

AR: We’ve had an outreach team that’s been visiting many different religious institutions over the past weeks and through this process we’ve realized how interested religious (and non-religious) communities are in the subject of our play. I should also say that we’ve got a website called TheThinPlace.com, which was constructed so that people can share their own stories of journeys to and from The Thin Place. Also, we will keep the bar open every night after the show’s opening performance for a post-play discussion and conversation.

The goal is that we continue the conversation that is already naturally percolating in this city onto the stage, and that the conversation continues after — even more intensified.  We feature personal stories from individuals from very different backgrounds — varying religions, ages, sexes, races, sexualities — and in the end our main character embraces these diverse stories as his new power, his opening, his own voice. There’s a lot that happens — and therefore a lot to discuss! 

RVT: The play weaves the stories of ordinary people talking about defining moments that have shaped their spiritual journey.  How did you think about whose stories to include, and why?

Sonya Schneider

Sonya Schneider

AR: We wanted to include as diverse a group as possible, and so we set out with simply that mission in mind. And, we wanted everyone to be from Seattle. Then we layered in the need to find individuals who have questioned, confronted or discovered their faith, and who have been through their own personal struggle. Through speaking with Board members, friends, churches and organizations the stories started to trickle in. Then Marcie Sillman of KUOW interviewed over 15 people and we handed those raw transcripts over to playwright Sonya Schneider who has sculpted them into the story that’s onstage now.  

RVT: The Thin Place invites people into the practice of telling the stories that have shaped and formed each of our lives.  It becomes an invitation to engage in story-telling and see the sacred in our own stories.  Will this be a shocking revelation to audiences? 

AR: Theatre, much like church, has the ability to remind people that their lives are sacred, that there is a deep meaning to their being on earth. A group of people in a dark room, listening to a story, becomes a very sacred and beautiful event. Theatre asks people to reexamine their version of normal, and asks them to look at their life (and the lives of others) through a different frame. Will this be shocking? I don’t know. But, I do hope it will act as a reminder that the depth and texture in our lives is incredible — sometimes we just have to look a little deeper and listen to ourselves. It has been very moving to hear the responses from the people we interviewed — they’ve all read the script — they have had reactions that might verge on shocked. They’ve commented on how well we’ve crafted their story, or how exciting we’ve made it, or how they cannot wait to see it on stage. This gives me goose-bumps because meanwhile I’m thinking “You can’t wait to see it on stage? I can’t wait to meet you. This is your story, this is your truth — that’s even more profound.” Theatre is as real as the people that make it.  

RVT: One of the characters in the play says that her religion was hijacked by terrorists.  I often hear similar comments from people who feel that institutional religion hijacks the essence of a spiritual message.  Is this something that the play sheds light on? 

AR: Well, yes, but it should be clear that the play is merely an examination of a lot of real personal stories, and we are only reflecting those stories back to an audience. So in that way yes, almost each of these stories touches on the idea that an institution can interrupt one’s personal quest. There is also a great deal of questioning authority, which is something I think is very interesting. Whether it is religion or any belief or organized life system, I think people should question authority and really examine what it is they’re told to believe. If something is that meaningful and filled with truth, shouldn’t it be able to withstand the scrutiny? 

RVT: What have been your greatest surprises in taking this play from conception to the stage?

Gbenga Akinnagbe

Gabenga Akinnagbe

AR: Working with Gbenga Akinnagbe has changed the evolution of the process in an exciting way. He’s an incredible actor and he brings an energy and charm to the stage that is essential in carrying a 90 minute show with one actor. Sonya has sculpted the show with him in mind, and we’ve weaved the stories around a protagonist (based on one of the real interviews, someone going through their own current Thin Place) who encounters all of the other people we interviewed. This evolution of plot and construct for the story was a big surprise and healthy shift. Also, we’ve been working with Donald Byrd as a choreography/movement consultant and that has made for all sorts of surprising and insightful moments in the play.

I’m also surprised, and moved, at how much the “real” people have embraced this story. I thought they might be shy or be skeptical but they’ve all come forward and participated in outreach, and some have agreed to have their photos in the program and most of them will be at opening night. 

RVT: How has The Thin Place shifted or affected how you think of the spiritual and everyday life?

Honestly, it has had a profound effect. I look at people on the street and think how each of us has a story that is deep and worth exploring on stage. Deeper than that, I’ve become less rigid in my fundamentalism as an atheist. I realize that fundamentalism of any belief system is dangerous and one must always take in and consider everything else being experienced in the world. I’ve also enjoyed researching the history of religion, and that’s put everything in a new context for me. Much of the debate about God and Faith and Religion (I use capital letters on all those because they become loaded words very quickly) is really a debate about definitions. We use different words and prayers to explain and explore the same things, and different stories to make similar points, but we embrace the notion that our worlds are so incredibly divergent. I challenge that they aren’t.

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Join Robert’s YouTube conversation Opening Your Heart to the Universe – here

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Chely Wright – Contagious Courage!

Chely Wright’s courage is contagious!  Today she came out as a lesbian.  This County and Western star is gutsy!  Her voice of truth will inspire and give courage to millions.  The journey to becoming fully human is one that she embraces.

On Sunday night, members of her family and a small group of friends gathered in New York to celebrate and surround her with love.   We all knew that Chely’s decision to speak her truth was a risky one.  Never before has a female Country and Western singer publicly acknowledged her sexuality.  Some wondered whether she’d ever be invited back to sing at the Grand Old Opry, Country and Western’s revered temple of music.

chely wright

Chely Wright

A luminous spirit radiates from Chely Wright.  Her music, like her life, is filled with hope.  No wonder she was the first artist to go to Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein to sing for and encourage the troops.  Her Reading, Writing and Rhythm Foundation in Nashville works to encourage music education in public schools.  In the same way that her life and work gives hope and voice to others, her coming out is a lifeline of hope and life-giving spirit to those who want an authentic life.

We love celebrities.   We’re used to the imperfections of their lives picked over by the media.  Extra-marital affairs, sexting, substance abuse and ugly family dramas are the diet we’re used to being fed about them.

Chely Wright & Robert V. Taylor

Chely Wirght & Robert V. Taylor

Chely is a celebrity whose truth-telling invites people to think about living a life of integrity.  She has claimed the truth that she is loved by God and herself for exactly who she is.  In addition to her music, she has learned to trust her own voice of who she is as a person.  That is a courageous step on the path of any person becoming fully human, fully alive.

My brother-in-law and his friends are millennial country and western fans in a farming community.  They break the nasty stereotypes of Country and Western fans being bigoted rednecks.  Most of his generation thinks that the obsession with sexuality in some quarters is an “old persons” issue.  My guess is that most of these Millenials, far from scorning Chely Wright, will admire her for being real, truthful and authentic.

Her love of God, self, country and others suddenly became even more real!  That’s a life being lived well.  It is an invitation to have the same integrity about who we are as individuals.  Kudos to Chely Wright for her faith, hope, trust and love – in herself, God and her fans!

It is contagious courage – even the Grand Old Opry will surely continue to honor one of its own?

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Read Chely’s memoir Like Me and enjoy her new CD Broken

Robert V. Taylor – Learning to Say Yes to Your Own Life!

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