The common name of Salix sitchensis made me wonder whether there are really willows as far north as Alaska. Yes, they are. The native territory of S. sitchensis runs along the coast from central California to Kodiak Island, AK.

When I’m tired already when I sit down to drawing, I have been trying to take it as a nudge to draw fast. Being looser and less fussy, less focused on tiny details, is a frequent challenge for me. I’m liking the way it is working lately.

People I respect have called me out, and I am sitting with a big, steaming pile of unwanted self-knowledge. I feel deeply disappointed in myself (oh no, I hurt people!), afraid (oh no, people won’t like me!), discouraged (didn’t I do this work already?), angry at myself (why did it take such pointed, public criticism for me to take it to heart?), and potentially joyful (when I’ve climbed to the other side of this heap). And I know it won’t end there. Spiritual growth is hard, painful work.

Blessings and gratitude to those who consider me, and the world we are trying to create, worthy enough of their time that they have told me the problem, when they could easily have rolled their eyes and ignored me (and that choice would be completely legit). And to my spiritual director, anti-racism coach, and others whom I’ll be working with to help me grow my soul and become a better part of the solution, not the problem.

I’m not intending to vaguebook; if you’ve seen my conversations on Facebook over the past several days, you probably know what I’m talking about. I am not being more specific because I don’t want a debate about the details here, I don’t want any pats on the back, and I really really don’t want anyone leaping in to tell me that these people are wrong- – nor, honestly, to tell me more ways I’ve screwed up (though by all means, drop me an e-mail if that’s on your mind). And it’s too new. Maybe one day I will bring what I’ve learned into a sermon, or our White Folks Dismantling White Supremacy group. When I’ve learned it.

And it’s hard to write anything public without being performative and adding insult to injury. I think I am putting this down here so that those I’ve hurt might feel a bit better for knowing that their protests have not gone unheard or unheeded. It would be arrogant to expect that anyone is feeling burdened by my flaws, but just in case: I hope it helps you to know that I am working on them.

If fortune favors me, I am about midway along the journey of my ministry, and this awareness, plus a growing preoccupation with my own mortality and the dangers facing our planet, has caused me to reflect on what I want to do and be during the second half of my career. I’ve found the answer over the past couple of years: I want to be more bold in making the religious community into a prophetic force for justice.

Aside from ministry itself, art is my main spiritual practice, and re-incorporating art into my life over the past dozen years has made me a more effective minister. I am quite sure that my path to my goal of turbocharging my social and environmental justice work leads through art. So I was delighted to learn that there is a D.Min. program in Theology and the Arts at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, that it is conducted entirely online, and that United is a progressive seminary with a strong focus on social transformation. The school also gives a lot of attention to public theology, which appeals to me and is likely to be part of the mix.

I investigated via a few video calls with admissions staff, a professor, and a current student; leapt into applying; and have just gotten the word: I’ll be starting my doctoral program with United in September! I’m so excited.

Although the dissertation for the Theology and the Arts degree has to be solidly grounded in scholarship, it can be a work of art (or a body of work), and it is expected to be deliberately geared toward honing one’s professional abilities. That’s the purpose of a D.Min.

My ideas for my dissertation will undoubtedly keep shifting over the next few years as I take courses and learn from my cohort and professors. But if I had to choose my topic today, it would be to map out a practical path to using art to “reenchant” Unitarian Universalist congregational life “without supernaturalism” (to quote a title by a theologian who’s been important to me). Our movement is frequently beset by a tension between head-wisdom and heart-wisdom, with body-wisdom taking a distant third place, and I believe that this knot of tension has often kept our worship flat, and our action for transformation timid.

For me personally, making art can untie the knot and let the power flow, so I’m excited to figure out how to channel what I learn through that process (which is essentially solitary, and often private) into congregational ministry. Is it September yet?

I was just on retreat at Villa Maria del Mar for two days. It is in Santa Cruz, on a cliff right on the beach. When I texted my daughter to say that I had gone tidepooling that morning before breakfast, she asked if I had drawn any critters from the tidepools for her. I hadn’t brought either my sketchbook or my camera down to the pools, but this morning I took a photo of some of the seaweed that I love on this beach, and decided to draw it as my “leaf” today.

I looked up seaweed to see if it actually has leaves, and no, the part that looks rather like a leaf is called the blade, or lamina, and its function isn’t photosynthesis, as in vascular plants. Its functions make it just as important to the seaweed as leaves are to a tree on land, though: buoyancy and reproduction.

The camphor tree was introduced to California (and numerous other states) from East Asia, where some of us have encountered it in the movie My Neighbor Totoro by Hayao Miyazaki. Satsuki and Mei’s father says he decided to buy the house when he saw the enormous camphor tree close by, and when Mei investigates the tree more closely, it leads to the clearing where she meets Totoro. Miyazaki’s portrayal of the tree, like the family’s bows to it, is reverential.

Camphor trees can grow to be hundreds of years old and are massive, and when one 700-year-old individual was to be cut down to make room to expand a train station near Osaka, people protested and the expansion was redesigned to be built around it. One would hope humans would treat all 700-year-old or even 200-year-old trees this way, but alas, it is newsworthy when we do.

As you can tell by the genus name, C. camphora is closely related to the trees from which cinnamon is harvested. It is a different species, but both have intensely aromatic oils. The next time I smell camphor, I’m going to consider whether it has any similarity to cinnamon.

Also known as California bay, Oregon myrtle, or pepperwood. Broadleaved trees tend to be deciduous, but the laurel is evergreen.

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