Palm Springs seminar presents 'sensible' gay marriage

Palm Springs seminar presents 'sensible' gay marriage

 Will Dean, Desert Outlook9:50 a.m. PDT September 26, 2014

If Coachella Valley same-sex couples have a disadvantage when it comes to getting married — and some might say that's a big if — it's that the cultural and legal arrangement is relatively uncharted territory.

For many LGBT people, there were no examples of the practical aspects of marriage during their formative years, aside from their parents and other heterosexual couples. Because marriage between straight people traditionally has been defined along opposite gender lines, those roles were not ideal for gay men and lesbians to model in their relationships.

However, with California and a growing number of states offering gay marriage, there's now a need for marriage preparation that includes same-sex couples — or so the men behind the Sensible Marriage seminar believe. On Saturday, Sept. 27, they will offer a one-day intensive training for engaged and newly married same-sex couples. It's designed to help partners effectively communicate what marriage means to each of them and to discern how to build a mutually satisfying marriage.

"Couples spend a lot of time communicating with one another, writing it down, reading it, and getting feedback from the partner," says John McAndrew, a principal of Sensible Spirituality Associates. "The issue is discernment for yourself and learning how to do it for each other. The actual preparation is real soul work."

The Sensible Marriage approach is "defining spirituality in a brand new way," says Joseph Palacios, also a principal. "True spirituality grows out of person's real life."

The topics that will be covered include building intimacy, budgeting, cultural and ethnic traditions, children and planning the wedding. What will not be included is any religious belief system. McAndrew says the seminar in theory shatters the assumption that society is homogenous. In fact, only one assumption will be made about the couples who participate.

"We're going to assume they're in love," Palacios says.

Both Palacios and McAndrew bring to the seminar years of experience in marriage preparation and spiritual care counseling, having served as counselors at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage and attended seminary. It was at seminary that Palacios says he's learned from a professor to "never question anyone's love."

The marriage seminar will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at The LGBT Community Center of the Desert, 611 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Suite 201 in Palm Springs. The price is $150 per couple, which covers two workbooks and refreshments. Scholarships are available. To register and learn about future seminars, go to


By Dr. Joseph Palacios, Principal, Sensible Spirituality Associates

(This article originally appeared on the website of the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, University of Southern California, on May 28, 2014.)

The Coachella Valley communities of Palm Springs, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Cathedral City and Indio share a legacy as retreat centers for the rich and famous, spiritual seekers, recovering alcoholics and drug addicts, retirees and snow birds. With over 2,000 people coming to the broad desert valley each month for some kind of “treatment,” Coachella has become an epicenter for the wellness and recovery industry, dealing with a wide variety of issues such as alcohol and drug addiction, chronic pain, HIV/AIDS, cancer, exhaustion and depression.

Recovery has become a highly competitive business. Thus conventional programs in the Coachella Valley often include complementary spiritual practices like mindfulness training, yoga, equestrian therapy, adventure therapy, drumming, Zen meditation, massage therapy, Qi Gong and pet therapy.

While these are each legitimate spiritual practices, it is important to ask whether they truly support 12-Step spirituality and, if so, how they can be integrated into a lifelong spiritual program. These questions are closely connected to the evolution of Alcoholics Anonymous since AA’s founding in 1935. We might think of AA as having three “recovery” operating systems. In Recovery 1.0 (1935-1950) AA rolled out its “Basics” for a spiritual program: the disease concept of alcoholism, the alcoholic-to-alcoholic therapeutic practice, the 12 Steps and the Big Book (1939), AA meetings, the practice of having an AA sponsor and the 12 Traditions (1950). In this early period members were generally white, Christian men living in homogeneous communities.

Over the course of Recovery 2.0 (1951-2000) AA’s basic spiritual program expanded to include a more diverse array of people who were dealing with addictive and compulsive behaviors in America’s post-World War II culture. Recovery 2.0 saw the basics of AA evolve into a broader spiritual recovery movement. The first new group, Al-Anon, was founded in 1951 by Lois W. and Anne B., the wives of AA’s founders. Al-Anon addressed the needs of family members of alcoholics who were dealing with co-dependent compulsive behaviors that enabled the alcoholic’s addictive behaviors.

Narcotics Anonymous was founded in 1953 as another outgrowth of AA in recognition of the need for those addicted to drugs to have a separate organization to respond to their unique experiences. A third group, Alateen, was founded in 1957 to help the teenage children of alcoholics. Other groups adapted the 12-Step model to meet their particular needs: Gamblers Anonymous (1957), Overeaters Anonymous (1960), Sex Addicts Anonymous (1977), Sexaholics Anonymous (1979), Co-Dependents Anonymous (1986) and Crystal Meth Anonymous (1994).

Today there are about 50 different 12-Step groups in the U.S. And within AA itself there are specialized groups and meetings based on language, gender, ethnicity, age and sexual orientation. During this period the Basics were emphasized by all of the 12-Step groups. There was a common understanding of what it meant to be “working the program”: Do the Steps, have a Higher Power, get a sponsor, attend meetings, read the literature, work with newcomers. To many outsiders these groups looked like religious organizations, particularly in the rigid way “the program” was transmitted and revered.

Recovery 3.0 (2001 to present) has involved the adaptation of 1.0 Basics and 2.0 Spiritual Recovery to new medical, psychiatric, psychological and behavioral models that also deal with addiction and other compulsive behaviors. Recovery 3.0 is in some ways a reaction to the perceived rigidity of “the program” and asks the following questions: Does the 12-Step model provide enough support for long-term recovery? How do new recovery models relate to 1.0 and 2.0? Can the spiritual aspects of 1.0 and 2.0 be integrated into new recovery modalitites?

These questions frequently arise in treatment programs based in the Coachella Valley. This diverse spiritual environment has created the context for Recovery 3.0 and has often challenged the effectiveness of traditional 1.0 and 2.0 programs. Moreover, alternatives to the 12-Step model can be very attractive to busy people who do not wish devote their free time to the demands of the Basics or to those who are fundamentally opposed to participating in anything that triggers an association with organized religion.

The idea of Recovery 3.0 is to analyze the state of recovery programs today and discover best practices and interventions from the newer models for recovery that can be integrated with 1.0 Basics and 2.0 Spiritual Recovery. The task is to create accountable integrative evidence-based programs that are at once sensible and spiritual, what my colleagues and I are calling sensible spirituality for the 21st century.



By John McAndrew

“Contemplation is a long, loving look at the real.”
Walter Burghardt

Meditation is a practice, not an idea. It’s about being aware, being conscious. Though there are hundreds of schools of thought and practice about meditation, there is no right or wrong way to meditate. Worldwide, all the traditions and methods point towards a state of thoughtless awareness, less an activity than a way of being. In its simplest form, meditation invites us to be still, be quiet, and breathe. 

Dr. James Finley, a contemplative teacher and scholar, has written that meditation is “any act, habitually entered into with the whole heart, that awakens contemplative experience.” This description helps us to understand that different forms of meditation or contemplation are already present in our daily lives. As we begin to recognize the many unique ways in which we are able to nurture a quiet mind and a peaceful heart, we are encouraged to try new practices which can lead us deeper into our own heart and soul and spirit.

The practices of meditation, from every time and place and era, are designed to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves: to create a space where our minds can be changed and we can access the transformative power of spirituality. Many writers today talk about the power of meditation to literally re-wire the brain. Neuroscientists call it “neuroplasticity”. Throughout human history, communities have developed habitual practices (rituals) of music, prayer, dancing, drumming, meditation, etc. as a way to promote change and growth. Some form of meditative practice seems to be integral to an authentic spiritual way of living. We simply cannot grow without time for quiet and meditation.

Many people have been confused by popular caricatures of meditation as some kind of esoteric practice from a foreign culture. Over the centuries, Eastern and Western spiritualities have developed their own forms of meditation and this can also create vocabulary problems: What’s the difference between meditation and prayer? What is contemplation? What is reflection? What is mindfulness? 


Sensible Spirituality Associates promotes the simple practice of paying attention to what is in front of us. In a multi-tasking world, it’s often painfully difficult to focus on ‘Doing The One Thing’. All of our services include this contemplative dimension. We have worked with both novices and trained meditators to bring a contemplative practice into new alignment with values and principles.

 We offer Meditation Training and Practice in both Eastern and Western variants and specialize in helping people reclaim the contemplative dimensions of their own faith traditions. Based on our own experience, we actively promote and encourage the development of daily meditation as a singular feature of a Sensible Spirituality.


by John McAndrew

We call it Recovery 3.0, but it’s really the natural evolution of the spiritual story-telling tradition of the world. Recovery 1.0 introduced the radical notion that addiction wasn’t a moral failing, but a spiritual disease. Recovery 2.0 brought in new voices and new experiences: women, other addictions, other cultures, religions and philosophies. In Recovery 3.0, we are looking beyond belief systems to identify the values, principles and practices that open the way to spiritual experience. (Check out our 12 Step Spirituality page.) And it’s at this depth that we must face and process the many losses that are part of life, especially living with the disease of addiction.

Grief seems to be a universal entry point into the great Mystery. In my years as a Spiritual Counselor for Hospice Partners in San Luis Obispo, I learned how important it was for people to articulate their own stories as they processed the mysterious transition from healthy vibrant living, through the end-of-life mysteries, to whatever might lay beyond this consciousness.

Listen to the interview here:

Joe Chisolm's Rebellion Dogs Radio #3 explores the topic of grief, including the interview I did with him last year at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders (NCAD) in Anaheim. Joe has written a wonderful book for people in recovery entitled Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life. As a fellow pilgrim on the Road of Happy Destiny, his book of daily readings supports what I would unhesitatingly call a ‘spirituality for unbelievers’. I’ve been using it daily and find it a helpful companion to my morning meditation. Enjoy the interview and check out the rest of Rebellion Dogs Publishing’s website.

SENSIBLE FAITH: Interview with Sensible Spirituality Associate Jaime Romo on Creating Safe & Healthy Faith Environments

Jaime J. Romo, Ph.D.

An Interview with Janet Heimlich

Several months ago, Victor Vieth, director of the National Child Protection Training Center, recommended me for nomination as a board member for Child-Friendly Faith Project, a new non-profit. The more I learned about its mission and leadership team, the more I saw this as an extension of my purpose as Commissioned Minister for Healing and Healthy Environments.  I would like to introduce you to the founder of the Child-Friendly Faith Project, Janet Heimlich.

In an upcoming article, I will discuss some initiatives that the Child-Friendly Faith Project will be leading, in order to promote healing and healthy environments across the country in churches, temples, mosques, civic groups and values-driven organizations.

JJR: I have come to know you as a passionate advocate for all children. Please tell us a little about what led you to launch the Child-Friendly Faith Project.

In 2011, I authored Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment. It looks at child abuse and neglect that occurs in authoritarian faith communities in the U.S. While many have appreciated the book exposing problems related to certain ideologies and child maltreatment, I felt that the next step was a solutions-oriented approach. I have long thought that those who are in the best position to protect children from this kind of harm are properly trained people of faith, both religious leaders and congregants.

JJR: Thank you. Would you summarize CFFP’s mission and vision and how readers, especially churchgoers, might support it from a distance?

I first want to make clear the CFFP fully supports an individual’s right to worship as he or she chooses. We firmly believe that all adults, including parents, have the right to religious freedom and the right to engage children in their faith. But I think we all can agree that no one has the right to harm a child psychologically or physically. The problem is, there are folks out there who are not educated about just what defines child abuse and neglect, and so they can unwittingly be promoting harmful childrearing practices and justifying those behaviors with scripture or doctrine.

We want to educate faith communities about child abuse and neglect, but we take it further than the kind of abuse prevention that is currently being talked about in churches, synagogues, and mosques. First, we don’t only discuss sexual abuse but cover the other three forms of maltreatment: physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. Second, we ask faith communities to look at their own practices and teachings to make sure they are child-friendly.

JJR: CFF held its inaugural conference this past November. What were some of the highlights?

The conference hosted some of the country’s most renowned experts in abuse prevention, the law, and child advocacy. What was interesting was that we had people from many disciplines attend, including clergy, social workers, and attorneys. Even individuals who work with abused children (who thought they had seen it all) were pretty astounded by what they learned. Next year’s conference will be even more comprehensive. We are talking about having two breakout sessions, one for clergy and church administrators, one for professionals such as social workers and attorneys, and another for survivors of ideologically driven abuse. Attendees will not just learn about problems but how to reduce the likelihood of cases of abuse arising in their organizations.

JJR: I understand that there is a major project CFFP is developing. What is it and what do you hope to accomplish with the project?

The CFFP is developing a unique designation program that will allow a place of worship to be deemed a Child-Friendly Faith Community. The program provides a path for religious organizations to begin discussing these issues, get valuable training, and develop new and exciting programs that will benefit their youngest congregants. You know, many families are looking for a place to worship but parents are wary of joining a church that doesn’t understand the needs of children. With this program, churches can become beacons for those parents by being designated a Child-Friendly Faith Community.

JJR: Ever since the clergy abuse scandals have been exposed, and now that pope Francis seems to be calling for change, isn’t that enough? What would you say to readers who take that view?

I believe that Pope Francis has taken a huge and important step – an unprecedented one for the Catholic Church – in calling for change throughout the organization. However, as survivors have pointed out, real change will only come after the church makes policy changes, including: 1) immediately reporting suspected cases of child abuse to governmental authorities, 2) opening up records of all pedophiles who have been employed by the church, and 3) mandating that religious authorities report such crimes, even if they hear about them in the confessional box. But mind you, this reluctance (and refusal) to report abuse occurs in many faith communities. What often happens is that the faith community essentially serves as an intermediary between the victim and outside authorities or they do not involve the authorities.  It may be an attempt to help the victim, but in most cases, it damages investigators’ ability to make perpetrators accountable and help victims heal. While some states allow religious authorities to avoid reporting abuse through what I call the “confessional loophole” — in which reporting is not required when clergy hear about the crime during confession — it is unethical in my view for faith communities to take advantage of this exemption, one that has been put in place through the lobbying of powerful religious organizations. All in all, I think that many religious organizations should pay more attention to the needs of victims and worry less about, say, saving the souls of perpetrators or protecting the image of the organization. A child-friendly faith community puts the victim’s needs first.

JJR: I imagine that working with these reports and actions can be emotionally toxic or depressing or difficult on a daily basis. How do you process this or maintain balance while working with this material?

Researching my book and writing about cases was extremely difficult. I continue to get emails from survivors who tell me about the pain they are continuing to deal with. The members of our Child-Friendly Faith Facebook group talk about how they continue to struggle psychologically after having been raised in oppressive religious situations. But on the other hand, all those working on behalf of children also hear what good can come from learning and talking about these issues. I often am thanked, for example, for giving religious child maltreatment a name. There are more therapists and healing centers working with survivors. And many clergy have come forward to learn about spiritual abuse and make their places of worship more child-friendly. So I am heartened by what is going on to help survivors and protect children in the future.

JJR: What do you wish for, for those who identify with religious institutions/  groups?

I would like them to first understand that this is not a battle over religious rights. There is no faith that cannot function simply by having members learn about abuse and perhaps choosing to alter their childrearing practices a bit. Second, I would like more faith communities to work with child development experts in developing their curricula for children as well as parents. And finally, this is a partnership. The CFFP cannot do our work without the help of religious leaders and other people of faith, so I look forward to working with them as we develop our educational programs.

JJR: Thank you for your commitment to promote healing and end all forms of abuse.


Please see for more information.  I will share more about the CFFP designation project and Charter for Child Friendly Faith as their launch dates approach.

Reprinted from:

NEW TOBACCO POLICY: WHAT’S REALLY NEW? CVS’ Spiritual Approach to Policy Making

John McAndrew and Joseph Palacios

CVS Caremark has announced that, beginning in October 2014, their retail outlets will no longer sell tobacco products. At Sensible Spirituality Associates, we have been examining how individuals and organizations are addressing the challenges of an ever more diverse workforce and consumer base. These cultural changes have had a profound impact on our sense of shared values, principles and practices.

The Store. CVS was founded in 1963 as the ‘Consumer Value Store’, later refined by former CEO Tom Ryan as the ‘Customer, Value, and Service’ store. In 2007 CVS acquired Caremark and assumed, as CVS Caremark, a position as a major national pharmacy and healthcare business.

Tobacco. Ever since the 1964 Surgeon General’s Smoking and Health report, American business has engaged in a lengthy, uneasy and costly examination of conscience about tobacco. CVS has now taken a leadership role in articulating a shift in corporate values. This policy change will affect not only the company’s bottom line, but also what we look to as the ‘soul’ of the organization.

The Shift. As Spiritual Care Consultants our assessment of this move by CVS points to a possible reimagining of the ideals of the ‘Customer Value Service’ store. Today’s customer expects a more sophisticated and personal experience while shopping. In older business models, value signified something inexpensive or a bargain. Today’s customer recognizes value in the quality, origin and ecology of products and services, as well as their price. CVS appears to be refining their concept of service to acknowledge changing cultural and moral values regarding tobacco. They won’t sell tobacco because they now see themselves as a pro-active healthcare provider, complete with a new understanding of ‘Customer, Value, and Service’.

A more sensible approach— and yes, spiritual.  Much has been written by business analysts about the increasing importance of human capital, holistic care, ‘spirituality in the workplace’, and ‘doing well by doing good’. We believe that the kind of assessment, reflection, and dialogue that led to this decision by CVS can rightly be called a sensible, spiritual approach. CEO Larry Merlo stated, “We came to the decision that cigarettes and providing health care just don’t go together in the same setting”, highlighting “the paradox we faced as an organization.” Grappling with paradox exemplifies an engaged, sensible spirituality in the workplace.

CVS’ bold decision can serve as a model for corporate decision-makers willing to engage the many paradoxes of personal and corporate life. An integrative spiritual approach is good for business. 

John P. McAndrew and Joseph Palacios are Principals of Sensible Spirituality Associates based in Palm Springs, CA. They can be contacted at