Monday, November 25, 2013

I Built A Sauna

Over the past couple of months I have finally taken on and completed a project I have thought about and procrastinated on for years….  I built a sauna.  8’ x 10’ with a small porch, wood-fired stove, and an interior complete with cedar benches and tongue-and-groove paneling, it’s pretty much everything I (and my sauna-loving friends!) dreamed of…..

And, in the process of building my sauna, I discovered something that once eluded me but now seems so self-evidently clear…. Saunas are not “built;” they are formed.  Formed out of the collective human labor of those who construct it, formed out of the collective human sweat of those who bathe in its heat.  Formed, because at its very essence, a sauna is not a building or a room but instead, a community.  And, more often than not, a community of men.

I didn’t understand this until my friend Chris and I began to build, and I began to read a book he loaned me, The Sauna, by Rob Roy.  Yes, the book is all about the varieties of construction methods employed to build these peculiar little places made sacred by the Finns.  But, behind all of the details about cord wood, stone, sod, glass and cast iron and heat, the book is really about a relationship that develops between the people and the space of their creation….  and about the relationships that develop out of that created space being shared. 

This understanding was confirmed when I was then introduced to a PBS documentary movie entitled Steam of Life .  A couple of on-line film synopses:
From a land of long, dark winters comes Steam of Life, a moody, comic and moving study of Finnish men as framed by the national obsession with the sauna. There, they come together to sweat out not only the grime of contemporary life, but also their grief, hopes, joys and memories.

Both physically and emotionally naked, the sweaty men talk in detail about their experiences, their ambitions, their failings, their darkest secrets and biggest fears, often with a few drinks handy to keep the conversation flowing. The result is a film that offers a look into a unique side of Finnish culture as well as an insight into the male psyche that's universal.

Could my sauna be a place such as this?  Could such a space help even we American men to reconnect to our common humanity, to our common destiny, and to each other?  Perhaps, with this in mind, one of the film’s viewers posted this comment: “May I suggest that Congress, the Senate, and the Administration might benefit from taking weekly communal saunas.”


You can view the trailer to Steam of Life at

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Power of Rumor

The Power of Rumor

Many of you may know that I spent a year of my undergraduate schooling in Canada, at a small private junior college just outside Vancouver, BC….. It was a year that changed my life direction. It was there that I learned something about the possibility (necessity!) of meaning and purpose beyond myself, about the value of an advisor who was willing to mentor me (priceless!), and it was there that I also learned something about the power of rumor.

While in BC, I developed a deep (but platonic) relationship with another student, a woman whose name I cannot now remember but whose face I can see as clearly as I did 40 years ago. We shared stories of life and love and our dreams yet to be realized, and we were both just “geeky” enough to be able to draw close to each other without it ever turning to romance…. what a privilege to have a true female friend!  Finished with my year there, I returned to the US and she went back to her Canadian home somewhere in Alberta (I think), and that was the end of it…. until I got a letter from another friend telling me that my female friend was pregnant under less than idea circumstances. Oh, I remember how distressed I felt at thinking about what she must be going through and it didn’t take more than a minute before I was writing a long letter to her, telling her how much I believed in her and would support her in any way I could….. About a week later I received a letter in response to mine, explaining that she wasn’t pregnant, never had any reason for her (or anyone else!) to believe that she was, but nonetheless so very grateful for the support that I had extended to her. Boy, was I embarrassed (and relieved!)

So, what did I learn?
  • I learned that the half-live of a rumor is directly related to the scandal associated with it.  No one even thought to spread a rumor about the platonic nature of the relationship I had with my friend, or about how we were learning so much about ourselves by sharing our thoughts and experiences with each other.  But a rumor about an untimely pregnancy spread like wildfire, even without the aid of social media!
  • I learned that not every rumor is true.  In fact, most of them aren't.  The truth of our lives is seldom as interesting as the stories that can be made up, and reality seldom lends the strength of support that we seek for our purposes.
  • I learned that, as weird and uncomfortable as it might feel, going to the source is the best way to know the truth.  Inquire instead of assume.  Not only do we learn the truth, but we build clearer lines of communication and stronger relationships in the process.  Rumors are the product of “talking about” instead of “talking with” and have a corrosive effect on both relationships and community.  
So, what rumors have we heard lately?  

Monday, October 7, 2013

Mentors and Moments

Ronald Ray Hamann
July 24th, 1933 – September 22nd, 2013

It has been said that boys do not grow up to become men on their own, but instead are prodded and guided by people and events that demonstrate to them that the change is worth its while.  Adult male mentors are a key to a boy’s maturation process, as are those critical moments that cause a boy to wonder about things beyond themselves….. things like purpose.   The death of my father brought mentor and moment together.

What did I feel when my dad died?  What thoughts have I had when I think about who he was in my life and the void that is now there in his death?  The best way for me to make sense of my feelings and thoughts is to write about them, so I volunteered to write his Eulogy……
- - - - - - -

Born on July 24th, 1933, Ronald Hamann was the first child of Henry and Loretta Hamann, older than his identical twin brother, Donald, by only a few minutes.  Over the next decade the family grew with the addition of two more sons, Gordon and Arlyn, forming the workforce for the family-run dairy farm in Hardwick, Minnesota that they and the generations after came to see as the Hamann homestead.

It was while still in high school that Ron met Gerri DeVries.  Football player meets pep band trombonist, and the rest is history.  On August 5th, 1952 and at the tender age of 19, Ron and Gerri were wed.  Nine months and three days later their first son, Greg, was born.  Then, following a familiar family pattern, over the next decade Ron and Gerri added three more sons to their family, Bob, Randy, and Rich.

While Ron and Gerri started their life together on the Hamann homestead, they were not destined to be farmers.  Over the years, the growing family moved from Hardwick, to Minneapolis, to Mohall (ND), to Redwood Falls (MN), to Minneapolis again, and then finally – in the spring of 1964 – to Bloomington, while Ron went to school, became a Medical Technologist, went to school again, became a high school teacher, and then went to 3M as a quality control engineer and teacher/trainer.  He retired from 3M after 29 years of service there.

Throughout all the years, all the moves, all the careers, and all the changes, the two constants in Ron and Gerri’s lives have been their love for each other and their love for the Lord.  Always active in church and making a daily practice of family devotions and prayer around the dinner table, they demonstrated to their four sons their firm conviction that God was the anchor and guidepost for their lives.  And, over time, each of the four sons came to accept and acknowledge this for themselves.

There is a long list of people by whom Ron is “survived,” but here’s the short version:
  • Gerri, wife of 61 years who proclaims that “Ron was the only man I ever loved,”  the truth of which has been evident throughout their life together.
  • Greg, who went on to marry Rita, and have been blessed with their adopted son, Mike.
  • Bob, who went on to marry Kathy, and they have been blessed with a son and a daughter, Zach and Erin.
  • Randy, who whet on to marry Peggy, and they have been blessed with four children, Kristi, Mike, Brandon, and Ryan.
  • Rich, who went on to marry Deb, and they have been blessed with two sons, Trevor and Nathan.
  • Nine grandchildren, two great grandchildren, brothers Gordon and Arlyn, and a cat named Stash.

Ron is also survived by memories that his wife and sons hold dear:
  • His famous sayings like “If a little is good, a lot is better,” and “Oh, my achin’ back,” and “That’s not good for your gizzard.” (His sons would come to question their dad’s knowledge of human anatomy as they grew older….)
  • Images of him walking around the house in his “tighty-whities” with a hair comb stuck under the elastic band.
  • Wrestling with him and being tickled until we cried……..

And finally, and perhaps most importantly, Ron is "survived" by more than a list of people.  He is survived by the indelible mark his faith has made on those around him.  His wife, his sons and their families, the family at Oxboro Church, and other friends and neighbors too numerous to count, all saw something of Christ in Ron and, at least in part because of the example of his faith, many chose to join Ron in a journey of life that survives even death.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

Recently I finished reading another book on Leadership, this time one written by Sandy Shugart and entitled Leadership in the Crucible of Work.  I've read dozens of books on leadership and, hopefully, have learned a thing or two from each..... but this book was different.

Not that I didn't learn from what I read in Sandy's book - quite the opposite, in fact - it's just that what I learned is so distinctively different from what I have read before.

Instead of the usual leadership theories, models, and "how to" checklists, this book approaches leadership from a more experiential - maybe even spiritual - perspective.  It's about the "heart" in leadership.... and it was just what I needed.

How does a leader handle the fact that he isn't always right, that he makes mistakes, and that even when "right," the decisions that a leader must make and the actions he must take often hurt people that he cares about......  people that I care about?  Sandy writes about his own leadership, and he writes about the role of forgiveness:
"Every day I need the forgiveness of the persons I may hurt by even my best decisions.  Every day I need the forgiveness of those who care for these persons.  And every day I need to forgive myself.  If I don't, my only real alternative is to pretend not to care, or to learn not to care. . . We can be deformed by choosing not to care, shifting responsibility to the ones we wound, growing tough and calloused.  Or we can be formed, even transformed, by forgiving ourselves and others." (p.125)
There are a lot of other really powerful - and maybe paradoxical - messages in this book.  Ones about the necessary role that failure plays in our leadership, about the damage we can do when we over-identify with our institutions, about maintaining hope when there seems to be no rational basis for being hopeful, about "doing good," which is different than doing our jobs well........ and Sandy writes about the role of forgiveness.

Eagles singer/songwriter Don Henley writes in his lyrics to "Heart of the Matter":
"I've been tryin' to get down
To the heart of the matter
Because the flesh will get weak
And the ashes will scatter
So I'm thinkin' about forgiveness
I need to listen to the song again.....
I need to read the book again.....

Monday, May 6, 2013

Heart on My Sleeve

Well, it's not exactly "my" sleeve (and it's not exactly a "sleeve" either!), but this picture of my friend Paul does inspire me to see the Roadrunner in so much of our lives....  in so much of my life.

Perhaps you all know the history of the LBCC Roadrunner better than me but, just in case....

The original LBCC Roadrunner was not a mascot in the usual sense, nor was it in reference to the Warner Brothers cartoon character that I LOVED as a kid (although I secretly hoped that Wile E. Coyote would catch him at least once!). Instead, the LBCC Roadrunner is in reference to the students of our early years who, because our first "campus" was spread throughout a scattered collection of buildings in downtown Albany, had to "run the roads" between their classes so as not to be late.

LBCC Roadrunners were then, as they are today, students who are running to get ahead, to build a better life for themselves and their families, to "participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the cultural richness and economic vitality of our communities."  Thanks Paul for reminding me of this, and for reminding all of us of the privilege and responsibility we have to run with them.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Beethoven and Bucket Lists

Beethoven's 9th Symphony is the one piece of music I want with me in heaven.....  It’s that big.

Rumor has it that, when the compact disc (CD) was developed for commercial use, its 74-minute recording capacity was established so as to be able to hold a performance of this bigger-than-life masterpiece… specifically the Berlin Philharmonic’s recording under the direction of Herbert von Karajuan.  With this in mind, it’s not much of an exaggeration to suggest that, both technologically and artistically, "The 9th" is the measure of all other music….  It’s that big.

I own no less than four different recorded interpretations of this music, two on CD and two on vinyl, from the neo-traditional (Roger Norrington) to modern expressionist (George Solti).  I love sitting in the dark and listening to each of these recordings, letting the music take me to places where only my spirit can see.  And, I've listened for years, dreaming that one day I would have the opportunity to hear and see this music performed live…. You could say that this has been on my “Bucket List.”  So, when I saw the announcement that the Oregon Symphony and Chorale were joining forces to amass the 200+ musicians and vocalists  necessary to perform Beethoven's 9th, there was no doubt in mind but that my wife Rita and I needed to be there….  and then we were.

In the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall – a space almost as majestic as the music we were about to hear – two among 2,698 other celebrants, waiting to be enveloped in an oration of sounds that would crescendo with an “Ode to Joy” itself…..  and I was not disappointed.  When the music began I was immediately transported, drawn deeper and deeper into that space where spirits have visions, led through movements of both pastoral calm and wild passion until arriving at the fourth movement, where I found myself holding tightly to my wife’s hand and, with tears rolling down cheeks, hearing the words in German but comprehending them in English, a celebration of the bonds of friendship that we humans were made to share:

Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join in our song of praise.

It was then that I realized I had no intention of crossing this off my Bucket List.  Instead, I intend to experience it again, and again…..  It’s that big.

Monday, January 28, 2013

"What's Going On?"

So, What’s Going On?

If you know me at all, then you know that I believe that almost every important truth can be illustrated by quoting some snippet of dialogue from one of my favorite movies…. and I have many favorites.  And, while the phrase “What’s going on?” is most certainly included within the dialogue of 100’s of movies, the one that sticks in my mind is from “The Lost Boys,” a 1987 campy, sort-of-funny-sort-of-scary horror film about young boys and vampires (and some think was an allegory about young boys and the drug culture) that has become one of my favorite cult classics.  Michael (the lead boy) asks the vampires (who he does not yet know are vampires) “What’s going on?” and from there he, and we, go on to learn the answer.

“What’s going on?” is an apt question for us in higher education.  In fact, as was true for Michael in “The Lost Boys,” it may be the most critical question for us if we are to thrive in the world to come.  There’s a lot going on “out there” in the world that has a direct bearing of the future of what goes on “in here” at our colleges, and I want to make sure we’re ready.  And, while the “goings on” have been going on for quite some time now, in just the past few weeks I have had a number of friends send me snippets of that dialogue to make sure I’m paying attention, and I want to pass the favor on to you.

First, Tim Nesbitt, a key player in the initial implementation of Governor Kitzhaber’s Education Reform policies and now with The Oregon Idea, an advocacy group of the advancement of education in Oregon, sent me this from the e-Publication, The American Interest:

The End of the University as We Know It
By Nathan Harden
From the January/February 2013 issue

“Big changes are coming, and old attitudes and business models are set to collapse as new ones rise. Few who will be affected by the changes ahead are aware of what’s coming. Severe financial contraction in the higher-ed industry is on the way, and for many this will spell hard times both financially and personally. But if our goal is educating as many students as possible, as well as possible, as affordably as possible, then the end of the university as we know it is nothing to fear. Indeed, it’s something to celebrate.”

(You can read the full article at:

Then Curtis Johnson, co-author of one of my favorite books on the future of education, Disrupting Class, and Senior Associate for Evolving Education (, sent me this from The Chronicle of Higher Education; an article about how the Carnegie Unit of Credit Hours has come to be used in ways that are actually impeding us:

              The Curious Birth and Harmful Legacy of the Credit Hour
             By Amy Laitinen
             Published: January 21, 2013

“As higher education becomes increasingly necessary and expensive, measuring time rather than learning is a luxury that students, taxpayers, and the nation can no longer afford. While Carnegie's free money for pensions [the original purpose of the credit hour unit] dried up long ago, the federal government is spending hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars to pay for time-based credits and degrees of dubious value.  Paying for what students learn and can do, rather than how or where they spend their time, would go a long way toward providing students and the nation with desperately needed, high-quality degrees and credentials.”

(You can read the full article at:

 And then most recently, my friend and Executive Director of the Whitewater Institute (, Marilyn Lane, sent this to me from The New York Times:

Revolution Hits the Universities
             By Thomas L. Friedman
Published: January 26, 2013

“I can see a day soon where you’ll create your own college degree by taking the best online courses from the best professors from around the world — some computing from Stanford, some entrepreneurship from Wharton, some ethics from Brandeis, some literature from Edinburgh — paying only the nominal fee for the certificates of completion. It will change teaching, learning and the pathway to employment.”

Then, quoting M.I.T. President, L. Rafael Reif, Friedman concludes, “There is a new world unfolding, and everyone will have to adapt.”

(You can read the full article at:

Add to these two of my favorite pieces for stirring up a conversation, the somewhat apocalyptic EPIC 2020 video ( and the Ken Robinson piece on Changing Educational Paradigms (, and I think we begin to have a picture of “what’s going on.” 
To use Clayton Christensen’s term, “Disruptive Innovation” is "what's going on."  The combination of radical advances in technology and the fiscal dynamics of a competitive world that is no longer constrained by time or distance creates for us a new educational paradigm that we can choose to see it as either threat or opportunity…. and our place in the future depends on which we choose.