• What a Bonsai artist and Wood Carver are Teaching Me About Loving My "Craft"

    I've always been attracted to the stories of people who pursued a craft beyond repeated failures. Over the last couple weeks several of these stories have landed in my lap, which probably means it is time to pay attention. 

    The most recent was a story of a man who started a school here in Portland, OR called Bonsai Mirai, which has become known as one of the best places to learn about the art of Bonsai in the world. The creator of the school Ryan Neil started the school, but only after pursuing his love of Bonsai with a passion that superceded failure. I heard a piece about Ryan on the radio, and these lines jumped out to me: 

    "Neil wanted to move to Japan when he finished high school, but his parents insisted on college, so he studied horticulture. It was all with a singular goal: to study with Masahiko Kimura. He’s really the father of modern bonsai,” said Neil. “He took traditional bonsai and literally turned it on its head. I mean, turned trees upside down. No one even knew that was possible. And he was the one from age 12, he was the one I was going to study with.” A mentor took Neil to Japan and introduced him to Kimura, who laughed at the idea of taking on an American student. So Neil wrote him a letter. It went unanswered. He wrote another letter. Again, unanswered. He continued to write every month for two years until finally, a month before graduation, Kumura agreed to let him come. Neil spent six years under Kimura’s eye."(you can read the whole piece here: Is Portland the Epicenter of an American Bonsai Movement?)

    I am imagining Ryan writing 24 letters. He put each one of them in a mailbox in Porltand, OR marked to Japan not knowing whether it would be put immediately in the trash. After two years of rejection Neil spent six years with the mentor of his dreams, and has used all he learned under Mr. Masahiko Kimura to start Bonsai Mirai. 

    Just days before I heard this story on the radio I stumbled upon a video I had never expected to like. I don't know why I clicked play, perhaps it was just curiorisity. The video is by a man named David Bull. During the first few seconds you hear the sound of wood being carved with a knife, I don't know why, but this sound hit my ears and my brain went into a state of focused relaxation. David started talking and I was hooked. The way his voice sounds, and the care of his movements was unexpectantly soothing. I feel the same way when I watch Bob Ross videos...I cannot stop watching, it's as if my entire body enters a state of relaxation. 

    I was then captivated by the story David began to tell. In his continued pursuit of carving mastery David sought out the companionship of Mr. Susumu Ito. In the video David talks about how difficult it was to get Mr. Susumu Ito to allow him to observe him carving. David was continualy turned down. It wasn't until a TV crew approached Mr. Susumu Ito with a proposal to create a documentary series that David was invited into his space. 

    What strikes me about this video is David's commitment to his craft, and his continued pursuit of learning from the best. Also the mystery of Mr. Susumu Ito, and the way he held his craft close to his heart, cautious and careful about who he shared it with. (If you want to watch the video yourself I will embed it at the end of this blog). 

    Why had these two examples landed in my lap? What are they trying to tell me? 

    It has been both a magical, and difficult time for me. I have devoted the last eight years of my life pursuing my calling into ministry. Prior to those eight years I spent four years learning all I could about it. All together I've spent the last twelve years of my life learning about what it takes to be a pastor, what it takes to listen, what it takes to come alongside people in their spirituality. 

    In this learning I've been humbled time and time again. I've failed many times. As I've said in recent blogs, it his hard to trust the line, "you are going to learn from this!" in the moment. As a person with anxiety failure makes me feel uprooted. During times of feeling uprooted I question everything, but mostly myself. Quite frequently I enter into long periods of time where this questioning can feel paralyzing. 

    I've been thinking about David Bull and Ryan Neil the last few weeks. It makes me wonder if I am doing exactly what I should be doing as a thirty year old who is only twelve years into his "craft." 

    If I am to look at my work as a pastor as a craft, then I can look at my sixth year at my meeting (what Quakers call church) as just the infancy of my journey. Perhaps I am in a season of deep learning, where questioning everything is exatly what I should be doing. This thought brings me comfort, and it gives me joy to know that I have this incredible opportunity to continue to grow. It gives me hope that maybe there will be relief from the anxiety, of the paraylzed feeling of "not knowing." 

    What resonates with me when it comes to David and Ryan's story is a love for the craft, and the work it takes to be better. My hope is that their devotion will continue to be reminders to me that I am on my own path of love for my craft, and that the hard work and failure that comes with it are just part of the maturing process. 

    (I also just want to say that I have so much to be thankful for when it comes to my colleague Mike Huber. I look at him as my own Susumu Ito, although he has never turned me down from learning from him. There isn't a day that goes by that I am not overwhelmed with the thought that I am so lucky to learn from him.)