"The only way that you can accept life is if you can accept death."
By training, I am a theologian and an artist. By happenstance, curiosity, and perhaps hubris, I am a photographer, adventurer, home builder, and custom motorcycle seat manufacturer. I hold a M.A. in Christian Thought from Bethel Seminary and a PhD. from Luther Theological Seminary, both located in St. Paul Minnesota (though they could hardly be further from each other in other respects!).
I have delivered talks on a number of geeky theological topics and have published papers on prayer and salvation in adventure travel, the latter of which began as a talk delivered at the Ertegun House at the University of Oxford. But, let's be honest, it was really more of an excuse to use my stopover in Iceland to hike the Fimmvörðuháls Trail. 🙂
I am married with two children who are both smarter and more creative than I ever was... in spite of the fact that they have grown up in an age of near constant access to video games and Youtube! We live in a small town in north western Minnesota where we recently built our own home.
For a significant portion of my life, I've worked my art in a dimension of human life especially prone to being fearfully walled off, but also one that bears the potential to be the source of the most intense vitality possible: the dimension of faith.
Under the hot July sun, sometime during the late 1980's, my grandmother chastised my father. "Don't be too hard on him." she said, "he thinks deeper than other children." I didn't learn of this story until much later, of course, but it has helped me learn to own a part of myself that for quite some time had become the source of tremendous guilt: curiosity and a desire for fearless honesty.
During the years surrounding 2006 I underwent a crisis of faith. I was already questioning the foundations of my evangelically formed faith when two events occurred that shook me at a level deeper than my questions had yet probed. I witnessed the emergence of new life by becoming a father, then, a few months later, my own father died unexpectedly.
I was in no mood for bullshit.
I quit my job, and for the next nine years worked my way through graduate school with an aim to understand what was happening to me. It was the most lonely period of my life. Regularly I was pitted against religious students and faculty for whom curiosity and fearless honesty had very definite limits. Beyond that limit the defense of cherished securities took center stage.
Trust me, I get it. Especially in the early days, I was one of them. I was deeply afraid of what too much honesty would mean for the love of God revealed in Christ in which I desperately wanted to live. But then, from sources beyond the walls of that institution, I was introduced to a new understanding of faith. In this way of thinking, honest doubt was not something that could be in conflict with faith. Instead, honest, radical doubt was seen as a gift of true faith, not a sign of its loss.
At first I was not able to receive it. I had too many fears about where this honesty would lead. Two more pieces of the puzzle had yet to be placed, beginning with a better understanding of the underlying dynamics of my crisis of faith.
The crisis of faith I went through was not a random event that some people just happen to go through. It was a very specific symptom of growing up. In studying stage theories of developmental psychology, I learned about the dynamics of transition between stages. In doing so, I felt like I was understood for the first time! The crucial point is this: Stage transitions proceed in the form of a paradox. To move from one stage to the next, one gains the ability to look AT the lens that one previously was only able to look THROUGH.
This may sound simple, but it is not easy. It is in fact a kind of death. The lens we are talking about is not just a concept. From inside this transformation, it is experienced simply as YOU.
"One day these beliefs and feelings are simply the world you live in, the next day you are looking at them, which means... What world are you standing in now?"
What happens, then, when you gain the ability to critically reflect on the images, stories, and emotions that had once simply been the contents of your faith? One day these beliefs and feelings are simply the world you live in, the next day you are looking at them, which means... What world are you standing in now? Seen in this way, growing in the life of faith is more like a perilous adventure or a hero's quest, than what might usually come to mind.
It all came together for me with a final realization: the image we have of Jesus as the Christ in the gospels is the very embodiment of both fearless honesty and the paradoxical growth towards which that honesty leads.
Jesus' followers wanted a divinely empowered king to liberate their people and purify the land. Instead, his love led them through the streets we'd typically prefer to forget, among the sick, dying, and despised. Rather than taking a throne, he was killed by the state for challenging a system that profited at the expense of the least of these.
Jesus led his followers (and he continues to lead us!) to look at the lens they'd previously only been able to look through. The fearless love he gave to all was not a means to some other end. The love was the thing itself. Jesus blew open the small worlds in which his followers had been living. In doing so, he demonstrated a new world in which to stand, one so luminous, so powerful, that nothing in this world could touch it... not death... not even doubt.
"We are to become, first, honest, then cosmic."
After finishing graduate school, my wife and I decided a life of chasing short term teaching opportunities around the country was no way to raise a family. Instead, we bought seven and a half acres on the edge of the glacially carved hills and lakes of north western Minnesota. There, over the course of nearly two years, I built a small home on a hill above some wetlands.
Since moving in, my time has been spent splitting wood and planting trees. I've gotten a job as a utility meter reader. It's a good fit. On those days I run twelve to twenty miles through the backyards of small towns in northern Minnesota and western North Dakota.
It's a good life. But it's been missing something. I am most alive when I am helping others work out sticking points in their life of faith. Since there is no ready made context here for me to do that kind of work. I've decided to make my own.
With that said, I'm glad you're here and I look forward to setting off on this new adventure with you!