First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
Corene and I have been together for over 27 years. We met in Cincinnati where she was attending college and I was in seminary. After we both graduated in 1994, me with a Masters in Theology, we moved back to the Missouri Ozarks where I grew up and began working in the Lebanon public school system. We spent that year saving money and raising support to move to China as English Teachers. In the summer of 1995 we moved to a small coastal city in China and taught English at a university for a year and then moved to Beijing to work as teachers and administrators at Peking University for two years. We taught conversational English to college students, faculty, and staff as well as working as administrators of our American teaching organization.
In 1999 we moved to Mexico MO where I worked as the youth pastor and then the senior pastor of a Christian Church. Our daughters Maddie and Zoe were born while living in Mexico.
During those seven years at the church in Mexico my theology began to change and expand and become more mystifying. I became more and more interested in compassion, contemplative practice, and unity and less and less interested in “right” belief and differentiation. When a parishioner asked me, “Why don’t you preach more sermons about hell?” I began to realize I no longer fit in the fundamentalist world I knew so well. I told my spiritual director about my disillusion and she recommended I call my friend Dan Wolpert (then pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Crookston) and ask him for a job with MICAH (The Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing). I said, “I don’t feel comfortable calling a friend and asking them to give me a job.”
However, three days later, without anyone contacting Dan, he called me out of the blue and asked if I’d like to move up to Crookston to work with MICAH. Synchronicity.
We have lived in the same house in Crookston since we moved here in 2006. Our son Jack was born in Crookston.
During our time here I have worked in a variety of capacities from retreat work, pastoral care, and campus ministry at UMC.
Art work has become a passion of mine. While living in Crookston I began developing and leading art retreats and healing art workshops, working as a graphic recorder, a healing arts practitioner, mural worker, and illustrator. I have enjoyed being involved in Chalk It Up, teaching art in the school system, creating community snow sculptures, commissioned t-shirt designs and artwork, as well as submitting a weekly editorial illustration for the Crookston Times. I am currently teaching English Literature to 8th and 11th graders at CHS. Most recently I have been working with Andy Hall and renting space from him at Sweetlight Gallery on North Main in Crookston. I continue focus on developing my artwork.
How early in your life did it dawn on you that you were an artistic person? Were you mostly born with it, or was it something that developed over time?
From a very young age I loved drawing and hoped one day to be an architect (which requires precision and attention to detail) or a cartoonist. I admired my dad, uncle, and cousins for their drawing abilities and would ask them to draw images for me. My paternal grandmother's side of the family is overflowing with incredible artistic skills.
My artistic abilities and unending creativity is ancient and flows through my veins. Although my pen and ink art comes somewhat naturally I have studied, worked, and honed the skill over time and still continue to develop it. I study accomplished pen and ink artists as well as world renowned tattoo workers for inspiration and to learn techniques and to help develop my unique style. I give myself weekly “assignments” and deadlines to keep me drawing and creating because I can, rather easily, become sloth-like.
My favorite Bible verse in college was Proverbs 26:14 “As a door turns on it’s hinges, so a sluggard turns in his bed.”
My reading interests, meditation practices, and spirituality greatly affect my art by being more welcoming and open and feeding my creativity. Listening to particular artists like Tom Petty and Josh Ritter also bring out the inspiration and creativity and helps transcribe the deep hidden stirrings of my heart and mind into visual images on paper.
I’m not exactly sure what the phrase means, but I’ve heard it several times throughout my life, that things “are going to hell in a hand-basket.” As a father, husband and representative of the faith community, do you think things are going to hell in a hand-basket? There’s a lot of bad stuff happening in the world? Can you sell us a little optimism?
Well, for me It all boils down to perspective. When I am in a healthy, open space in my life I can view our world, the US, politics, economics, disease, pain, the Corona Virus, etc. within a very, very grand scale of space and time. When I stand back and see the evolutionary curve of billions of years in comparison with, let’s say the 2020 presidential race, well… the political circus doesn’t weigh me down as much.
On a daily and more practical level I try to read just two or three reputable news sources in the morning. I’ve found if I check the news throughout the day it begins to wear on me. Keeping a distance from toxic people and spending more time with people who are compassionate, kind, and supportive really helps.
What encourages you most about Crookston? What discourages you most?
I’m encouraged by my neighbors in the Woods Addition. There are so many people in this neighborhood who bring love and compassion and wisdom to Crookston and the world. They are artists, musicians, healers, givers, activists, and wise men and women who personify what it means to be true human beings.
I’m also encouraged by the Crookston art community and the teachers, staff, and administration in our school system.
What probably discourages me most is the lack of openness and acceptance and compassion toward people who don’t fit the white, straight, Christian mold.
When it comes to the political divide in this country and the socioeconomic divide, do you envision any politician or any turn of events on a societal level that will allow any mending to ever commence?
I don’t really know or envision what may bring about mending to our country but I do think mending will happen. Who or what will bring us together or how and when it will happen is not clear to me but the “mending, tearing, mending, tearing, mending” process is our life in America and the experience of the history of human life earth.
I do think we humans are (ever so slowly) contributing positively to the universe. It’s the old saying, two steps forward and one step back. Yes there is a lot of cause for sadness and hopelessness right now, however, that is part of the cycle. We have times of peace, growth, and evidence of ‘true humanity’ and then we take that step backwards. It seems like we are in that “backwards step” right now and it’s easy for cynicism to take over. But, the fire, heat, and pain are part of the alchemical process and before long we have new insights, experience healing, and new life and unity emerges.
At some point we will enjoy more unity and peace in America, and then… conflict and division, and then mending, and then tearing, and then mending… That’s how I see it anyway.
It’s clear that the artistic, creative part of your brain is highly developed. Has that come at the expense of anything else? Do you feel you are underdeveloped in certain areas, or seriously lacking skill? What makes you feel like a fish out of water?
It is difficult for me to get out of my head at times. I am an only child and grew up in solitude and spending lots of time in my mind and imagination. I don’t really ever get bored or lonely. I can spend hours looking out the window, contemplating the mysteries of life, imagining other worlds, having long conversations with people made up and real.
The downside is that I have to work at sharing my thoughts and feelings and opinions out loud. Sometimes I’ll think I told Corene all about something only to realize the “conversation” I had with her only happened it my head! She’ll say, “You never told me this.” “Yes I did!” I reply. I’ll tell her what I told her and what her response was and the time of day and where we were standing, and on and on. It is pretty weird and disconcerting to slowly realize that that conversation never took place in the “real world.” This happens more times that I care to admit.
Expressing myself and communicating is something I am continually trying to work on and be aware of.
Do you have any skills and/or hobbies that are particularly quirky or unusual that might surprise people to know about?
I have been called The Tea Master over the years. I hold that “title” jokingly but I do brew Jasmine tea almost daily in my little yixing tea pot. Drinking green tea is not only good for you but the practice of the tea ceremony is meditative and contributes to a deeper quality of life.
I have developed a contemplative tea ceremony practice that I’ve used with many groups at various retreats for a number of years now. The ceremony helps us focus on having a welcoming attitude toward whoever and whatever life brings our way as well as being attentive to all our senses. We learn to better pay attention to the present moment and appreciate what is right in front of us. Having little distractions, no phones, no talking, and nothing else to do but drink tea for an hour is sort of mirculuous. We carefully notice the texture, color, and shape of the tea leaves, the patterns and crack of cups, and style and imperfections of the tea pot. We pay attention to slight sounds and almost imperceptible aromas as the tea combines with hot water and unfurls which is called the “agony of the tea.” We can savor the flavors and notes we typically miss because sadly we are usually preoccupied when we sit down to eat or drink. We notice thoughts and feelings and memories long ignored due to worry, or stress, or just being overwhelmed with activity. The idea of the tea ceremony is to take the Cha Dao, the way of tea, with you in your daily life.
So… we learn to not slam the car door quite as hard, we don’t bump the vacuum into the leg of the couch quite as much, we notice the taste of our food as we eat more slowly, etc. etc. I think it’s a great practice.
Let’s try a you’re-stranded-on-a-deserted-island question: You have an amazing home theater and audio system and somehow have all of the electrical power you could ever need. But you can only play three songs and watch three movies. Which three songs and which three movies do you pick?
Movies: Groundhog Day, The Lord of the Rings, Kung-fu Panda.
Songs: Girl in the War by Josh Ritter, The Temptation of Adam by Josh Ritter, Something Good Coming by Tom Petty.
I’m not asking you to list your heroes, since that term is a bit too casually tossed around these days, but could you list three people you look up to and/or admire, and explain why?
I’ll list two living people I look up to. Cynthia Bourgeault is a writer, retreat leader, Episcopal priest, and modern day mystic. She talks about and “explains” numinous, esoteric, and chthonic ideas in ways that I can sort of understand. I feel like a spiritual gradeschooler in her presence. If you don’t know her a small book to start with is The Wisdom Way of Knowing. It will rock your world!
Ward Bauman is a writer, retreat leader, chef, and pastor. He is also my spiritual director and has the ability to listen deeply with compassion and insight. Ward is an example of how to skillfully move beyond human religious belief systems and conceptual boundaries into the unknown.
Please describe yourself using no more than 10 words.
Husband, dad, friend, artist, healer, pastor, traveler, human being.