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At Holden Village, retreats and art can bridge divisions

Chuck Hoffman and Peg Carlson Hoffman share leadership at Holden Village.

Holden Village resumes a full summer of education, interaction, art, dialogue and theological reflection, after a hiatus from on-site programs for remediation of mine waste since 2012 and surviving a wild fire in 2015. 

In the safe space of a wilderness landscape that is being reborn, guests will explore their faith and issues in today’s societal landscape. 

The 2017 theme for programs from June 12 through mid-August is “Beginning Together,” based on Revelations 21:4-5.  Guests will look at what “Behold I make all things new” means.

Artists, poets, musicians, theologians, writers, sociologists, environmental scientists, storytellers, interreligious leaders, pastors, peacemakers, authors and participants will engage in dialogue about walls and divisions, reconciliation and healing, social discourse and justice.

Holden’s co-directors Chuck Hoffman and Peg Carlson Hoffman will incorporate their ministry of reconciliation, community building, group artwork and prophetic ministry.

 “In our culture and world, we can’t talk to each other on issues that polarize us.  Many are entrenched in a black-and-white world,” Chuck said.  “How can we have dialogue unless we can see God in the other?  We will only change when we are aware of the divine in each of us.”

As the United States talks of building a wall on its border with Mexico, Chuck and Peg have invited peacemakers from Northern Ireland and South Africa to bring their wisdom to conversations on how they made progress amid walls and divisions.

“We can’t come to any resolutions unless we can talk in the same room.  We need new ideas, not repeating one side or the other, but completely different ideas we might agree to,” said Peg, noting that there are diverse perspectives among Holden’s guests.

“In the forest and wilderness, we can find a common language through art, music, poetry, science and theology to see what is important and gain understanding of the world,” Chuck said.

Chuck and Peg believe art helps people bridge opinions and embrace people who are quite different.

“Everyone has something to offer.  We need a new way to communicate so rhetoric and buzz words about religion and race do not divide us,” he said.  “People need to see what they share in common so they can find community and common ground.”

Dialogue can build relationships and understanding to help resolve divisions and isolation, Chuck said.

Chuck and Peg started at Holden June 27, 2015. On June 29, a wildfire started in the forest and surrounded the village.  Peg and 20 staff evacuated down to Lake Chelan with the 300 mine remediation workers.  Chuck and four staff stayed in the village with two hotshot fire crews.

“We did not lose any buildings.  The hotshot teams prevented the fire from reaching the village and staff kept the buildings wet and moisture in the air for six weeks with a giant sprinkler system,” Chuck said.

In 2016, staff had a “Forerunner Summer,” as the Forest Service monitored the aftermath of the fire and remediation continued.  Chuck said in 1961 a group, called the “forerunners,” transformed buildings of the mining village into a retreat center. 

Last summer, about 50 people came each week for nine weeks, and volunteers worked another four weeks on landscaping. This summer, a small remediation team will conclude their work by planting 100,000 trees. 

“We’ve learned patience from the fire and remediation,” Chuck said.  “We are discerning what the forest is saying.  Beyond the drama of the fire, we watch the rebirth of the forest and the rebirth of Holden Village.”

The 2017 program reflects gifts Chuck and Peg bring from years as design and creative directors in the corporate world, and years with their studio, Genesis + Art.

Lifelong Lutherans, they began to pursue peacemaking and dialogue through art and mural painting in short-term social justice projects in Northern Ireland, Israel-Palestine and India.

Chuck and Peg, who both grew up near Detroit, met at an art show in the large Kansas City church they attended.  She was an illustration and hand lettering artist with Hallmark.  He directed a design team creating TV ads.

Peg earned a bachelor’s degree in art and elementary education at Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill., in 1977.  Chuck earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, in 1979.

She worked with Hallmark eight years in Kansas City, seven years in Orlando, Fla., when Chuck was creative director for Walt Disney World, and eight more years in Kansas City.

“Hallmark’s values were close to what I thought was important at the time—family, relationships, caring and celebrating moments,” said Peg.

With the United Methodist Church they attended while they were in Orlando, they first went in 2001 to Belfast, Northern Ireland, to be present and learn about lives of Catholics and Protestants. They returned several times to engage people in creating art together as a means to develop reconciliation.

“Art is a language that connects people and builds communication for social change,” Chuck said. 

After leaving Disney, he earned a master’s degree in art and theology at Luther Seminary in St. Paul in 2011.  A professor invited them to teach at Holden Village in 2012.  They also taught 10 years at the Grünewald Guild in Leavenworth. 

From 2012 to 2014, while teaching as an adjunct at the University of Kansas, he took seniors in spring semester art-for-social-change classes to Northern Belfast to design murals.

In 2012 and 2013, Chuck and Peg participated in two-week workshops at Dar Al Kalima, an art school in Bethlehem started by a Palestinian Lutheran pastor.

In 2014, with Lutheran Partners in Global Ministry, they joined 80 people of different faiths from 20 countries to create a global prayer canvas at the Quo Vadis Interfaith Dialogue Center in Tiruvannamalai, India. 

“In Ireland and Palestine, we learned that walls are not positive.  Politicians may seek to mitigate violence with a big wall, but ultimately walls divide neighbors and make matters worse,” said Peg.

 “In Northern Ireland, walls dividing Catholics and Protestants isolated people from relationships needed for dialogue,” Chuck said. 

Jerry Adams—a terrorist to some and freedom fighter to others—once said walls will come down “when the communities are ready to come together and get to know each other.”

Artists have painted murals on the walls in Northern Ireland and Israel/Palestine.

“Art is a powerful voice for social change,” Chuck said.  “Art helps build relationships, accesses our spirits, moves us in ways information cannot, brings us to tears and transforms us.

“Art brings the creative nature of God in all of us to the surface and connects us to the Divine,” Chuck said. “Destruction happens when creativity is suppressed.  Creativity connects us to beauty and gives us words and means to express what troubles us.”

Chuck said that Holden’s context in the wilderness off the grid, outside the conveniences of cities and civilizations, is important to facilitating dialogue.

In the midst of the wilderness, Rio Tinto mining company has built a water treatment plant that is a reminder of the damage to the environment from years of extracting minerals.

Chuck expects that reminder will bring into conversations the need to care for the earth and be stewards of creation.

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Copyright © May 2017 - The Fig Tree