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Soul Teachers

Soul Teachers

By Steven L. Denlinger
Conversations that reach deep into the soul.
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Episode 6 - Catherine Johnson: Discovering Mercy as a Doorway

Soul Teachers

Eulogy of Joseph Overholt by his brother and twin, John Overholt..
Here is the eulogy John Overholt preached at his twin brother Joe's funeral on November 5, 1995. The two were born on April 23, 1918, and Joe died on October 31, 1995. It's a mix of sermon and memory, actually. The eulogy is brilliantly structured around John 's own apology -- which is the only reason I was interested in hearing it -- woven with memories that show their deep love for each other. John refers to the role Joe played in helping John find his way to God. John also added a brief call for repentance at the end -- encouraging people to avoid the lure of becoming the proud, elder brother John himself felt he had become during Joe's life. This emphasis on repentance is consistent with Joe's own life. My sister Marcia, once Joe's student in high school, recalled to me earlier this morning that Joe believed no choir service should be given without an invitation. Finally, John concludes his eulogy with a few verses from the book of I Samuel, comparing his love for Joseph to that of the love shared between David and Jonathan. As I edited with the original cassette tape, I became aware that since the men were twins, I was listening to a voice that sounded hauntingly like Joe himself. Having read Joe's Master's Thesis, written at the end of his studies at Kent State University, I recognized Joe's apostolic vision within John's eulogy. John was just five years away from his own crossing when he delivered this sermon. If you'd like to read about Joseph's life, please click on our Soul Teachers story, published our Soul Teachers website.
May 17, 2020
Episode 4 - Ira Wagler: Learning to Walk Free
The NY Times bestselling author of the memoir Growing Up Amish reflects on the difficulties of severing ties with his past, and the writing of a follow-up memoir. Few writers have had the opportunity New York Times bestselling author Ira Wagler claimed: telling his story of flight from the Old Order Amish home he knew in Indiana. It was an excruciating choice. In the last decade, similar stories have been glorified in an avalanche of romance novels. A random search will turn up a wide selection. The Bridesmaid, by Beverly Lewis. Lydia's Charm, by Wanda E. Brunstetter. The Amish Bride, by Mindy Starn Clark. The titles evoke a simpler world, a place where a Hallmark Christmas movie could be set. The stories allow readers to imagine what it must be like to live in a tight-knit community that embraces you with its timeless values. But the choice to leave that community wasn't quite so romantic for Wagler. In part, this is shown in his memoir as he leaves home, struggles to survive, returns home, and then leaves again. Rinse and repeat. Now eight years after the book's publication, Wagler opens up in our podcast, talking about how difficult that choice was. In fact, he admits that if he had the choice to redo his past, he's not sure what he'd do. It's been a difficult journey. After his marriage exploded, he began writing a blog in which he began exploring the pain. That blog turned into the memoir. Within a year, that blog will once again spit out a second memoir, Broken Roads. Of course, perhaps "spit" isn't quite the descriptor for the process of writing this second memoir. As Wagler notes, the second book didn't come easily. He was offered the opportunity five years ago, but wasn't ready. He needed to go back to the blog, he told us, to figure out what he had to say. But eventually, he did. Wagler's struggle to find authenticity — as he puts it, to "walk free"— is the most moving aspect of this interview. His decision to forgive rather than turn to bitterness, he told us, is what made it possible for him to write his first memoir. He is releasing his second memoir on May 12, 2020. You can find our review of Broken Roads: Returning to My Amish Father here. So pour a cup of java, pull up a chair, and let Ira's words move you as much as they moved us. Originally published at Soul Teachers on August 10, 2019.
May 05, 2020
Episode 6 - Catherine Johnson: Discovering Mercy as a Doorway
She's a writer, a pilgrim, and an old soul whose wisdom and faith guides her life.           "I've always been a writer," Catherine Johnson says in our podcast. But what took her writing to another level -- and led to the publication of her book, as Julie Goetz Morser reports in her article published in in the Vashon Beachcomber, "Island author pens moving memoir" -- was a tragic moment in her teen years, the moment she was involved in the death of her close friend.           Johnson's memoir is called "Finding Mercy in this World."           It came out of years of struggling through the miasma of guilt and grief that haunted her for years. She eventually started working on a memoir, set it aside, went on a pilgrimage in Spain, eventually returned to her childhood faith -- and ultimately published her memoir, which in 2018 was named a gold winner in the annual Sarton Women's Book Awards.           It took Johnson 30 years before she could talk about the incident that caused her so much pain and skewed the direction of her life. But her honesty, her willingness to write the truth about what really happened eventually led to spiritual healing, transforming her life.            "Forgiveness is a very healing thing to receive," Johnson says. "It brings a kind of closure to an experience where there's been pain or suffering, Mercy is more of a doorway -- it's just beyond forgiveness."           I found this interview powerful, and we hope you do too.
May 04, 2020
Episode 5 - Paul Colwell: A Life Spent in Music and Community
The founder of Up With People sits down to talk about the group's Super Bowl appearances, the great love of his life, and his quest to create inclusive community.  And, he says, he's "still becoming" It's hard for me not to be biased when it comes to talking about musician Paul Colwell.  I love this man.  Everyone in the small community of Vashon loves him.  A talented musician, he's been using his musical skills to reach special education students who need his kindness, who need his ability to listen. We recorded this interview on November 27, 2018.  Hard to believe it's been over a year, but sometimes life interrupts our plans.  I'm glad to be back. There's a moment you don't want to miss on this podcast.  It has stayed with me all year, even during the four-month break Soul Teachers took from September through December of last year.  It's the moment when Colwell sings one of the songs originally produced by Up with People:  "What Color Is God's Skin?" Why is this significant? That song brings back a flood of memories.  Me lying on our puke-green living room carpet, listening to our ancient record player spinning out that tune.  Our family listening to and singing that song back in the 70s.  My three sisters, the Denlinger Trio, singing that song. That song meant something to my father, especially.  He had a strong conscience when it came to race.  That song expressed exactly the belief he held -- that no one should be judged by the color of his skin.  I saw that in the friends he made, in the way he sternly condemned racist language. So it's just crazy to me that I finally got a chance to interview the song's writer and composer.  And that he agreed to sing that particular song for me. Somewhere, my father is smiling as I write this.  He'd have been so excited to meet Paul and listen to him play.  Earl Denlinger would have whipped out his harmonica and played along with him. You'll just have to imagine that as you listen. Can you hear him playing it, off in the distance? But here's what's even crazier.  That amazing artist -- Paul Colwell, founder of Up with People, composer and writer -- I got a chance to work with him for eight years at Vashon High School.  It's where he met me, befriended me and introduced me to his beloved wife, Catalina Quinn. But none of that matters, really.  What matters is that you get to listen to Paul's performance at the end. Wow!  My family and I have sung that song many times across our lifetime. And now you get to hear it, too. Originally published at Soul Teachers on January 14, 2020.
May 04, 2020
Episode 3 - Journeymen: Fighting against the Shadow
The two founders of this transformative organization grew concerned about how society is losing boys. So they took action. How do you save a life? Nicky Wilks and Alex Craighead, who have been friends since school days, have been asking that question for a long time. In fact, it's the question that caused them to found Journeymen, an organization whose "vision is to regenerate modern society through the inspiration of young men." The 501c3 non-profit organization works out of Vashon Island, WA. During this interview with Journeymen's founders, we dove into their mission. According to Wilks and Craighead, they combine ancient initiation rituals with modern thinking about the concept of masculinity. Best of all, they don't rely on stereotypes and bromides. They know about MeToo. They know about school shootings. They know about what Wilks calls "The Shadow." And they're determined to reverse the tide of male violence — one young man at a time. These two teachers have reflected deeply upon their past experiences — and what it has taught them — to create Journeymen. By the time I finished listening to the final draft of this podcast, I was energized and refreshed. It's wonderful to talk to people who care about the future, who know how to strategize to make it better, and who have thrown their lives into changing society. Originally published at Soul Teachers on July 12, 2019.
May 04, 2020
Episode 2 - Eric Ling: The Power of Empathy
As a musician, he tempers a powerful drive for success in the classroom with hard-earned empathy — transforming the lives of his students. Eric Ling has been teaching school in Ohio for a decade. He’s a certified Rock Star, first as a member of the folk band Bethesda with a “rootsy rock vibe,” and now with an “indie pop band”: By Light We Loom. He’s also married to his creative partner in music, Shanna Delaney. Eric says he's "just a teacher," but his insights on what it takes to empower young people — who are working with genocide survivors from Rwanda — have helped him create a business philosophy that inspires young people to take risks. It is, as Eric says, "hypermotivating," getting his students into college, and helping them create meaningful careers. Shanna Delaney is Eric Ling's partner, musically as well as in marriage. In his interview with Soul Teachers, Ling noted that Shanna's honesty is what makes their music (and relationship) work. "We knew that we still loved doing music and we really loved that full band sound," Delaney said in an interview on, "so Eric locked himself in a room for seven hours and learned the entire Ableton electronic program, and we started writing really bad songs. And then, we eventually got better." Of course, what drives Eric is his love for music, his past childhood experiences of "unabashed freedom" in a family of eight, and most of all, Eric's passion to change the world and his love for people. Originally published at Soul Teachers on June 22, 2019
May 04, 2020
Episode 1 - Martha Woodard: The Call to Authenticity
She is a retired history teacher who spurns the fake and the phony. To her, teaching only works when the instructor lives a life that is genuinely real. Martha is also a lover of humanity, a supportive friend, and a mentor to many other teachers. She inspired those who worked with her. But most important, she is just ... folks. Good people. Real. Authentic. Today, Martha is retired and living with her husband John on Vashon Island. She loves retirement, and is playing with the idea of publishing her father's book. He passed before he could publish it. In this interview, we discuss what it means to be a teacher, and to be human. In the next week, you'll be able to find this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, Audible, and Soundcloud. For now, you can only find it here. So pour a glass or a cup, pull up a chair, and join this conversation. Check out Anneli Fogt's original article on Martha Woodard, as well: "'Legendary' Vashon High School teacher retires after 30 years." Originally published on Soul Teachers on June 7, 2019. 
May 04, 2020
Episode 0 - Podcast Host Steven L. Denlinger: Storyteller and Teacher
The core of Steven's work and life is as a teacher and storyteller, whether he's in front of a classroom or theater audience. In all areas, Steven works to speak from his heart, in an ongoing commitment to service to his communities, be it a school, theater group or audience. In this video he talks about how this path emerged from his early times as part of a large Mennonite family in Ohio. Steven's struggles to find meaning are every person's battle. Watch the video of this episode.
May 01, 2020