An interview with Ken Frank
By John Bottone
J: What inspired me to do this interview with you for Mountain Matters was something I overheard you say to someone in the kitchen at the Men’s Gathering . What I overheard you say was “The reason I keep coming back here is …” and I never heard the rest. I must have been on my way to organize something, but I did have the thought “Oh, what a great article for Mountain Matters!”
K: Interestingly, what comes up when I don’t try to remember what I said is that my life has been so transformed by my Shalom experience, and getting to be more me, more fulfilled, that I just see it happening over and over again whenever I go, even when it’s a lot of hard work. The experience is of being in touch with that transformation; being more honest with myself, as well as with everyone around me. I get to be more of who I really am because I don’t have to be anyone but who I honestly am, since there’s nobody I’m trying to please. I just am appreciated for my own particular uniqueness; and that is probably the strongest draw that Shalom has had over the, at this point, I guess its 36 years.
J: What would you say is the thing about Shalom that makes that possible?
K: The bottom line is the Skills and Principles of Loving.
J: What about them make it possible? What do they create, or what do they do that allows that kind of transformation into who we are possible? Because I think you really hit a very essential experience that does happen there, and something goes on that supports that or makes it move in that direction.
K: What’s behind the Principles and Skills is the recognition that we want to love and be loved, and in doing that it is important that we don’t put on any pretenses, that we not withhold parts of ourselves. That comes through so clearly in a Shalom Retreat and it sets the tone and background and whole environment for the connections we make when we’re at Shalom.
J: So, say more about the essential experience for you up there, and I’m also curious if it’s the same when you come there to cook, as it is to train, or do any other Retreats.
K: Yeah … there’s two parts to that … one when you said ‘say more’ and the other when you said when you come to cook or anything else.
Once I learned to be in that environment, once I learned what it had to offer, it was no longer a function of what particular issues I was dealing with, or anybody else was dealing with, or whether we were doing an Easter celebration, or a Shalom Retreat or a Men’s Gathering or a men and women coming together, or whatever. That openness, that intimacy and that trust that I would be treated openly and warmly regardless of what I was experiencing, regardless of who I was, was a big piece for me. By having good will to everyone, and not having to agree with them to intend them good will, I found I could love people who I didn’t like. That was very big for me – that I could suspend my judgment, and just stay open, see who someone was, and I found even when I didn’t like somebody, I could love them. I could honor their individuality, and the more I could do that with someone else, the more I trusted that they could do that with me. When a place is like that, its home. Sometimes it’s more home than the place I normally think of as home.
J: Yeah, that’s right.
K: And after a few years of going, I used to think I had to go the Mountain to find that environment, and then I began to learn I could recreate that environment back where I lived, and I didn’t have to travel that far. I got friends to come with me, and they understood. Before you know it, I had a group of guys that would meet every week; in fact, we’re still meeting after over 30 years. We meet every month. We went through a couple of years of seeing each other once or twice a year, and decided we wanted to get back to seeing each other more regularly. That’s been precious … and came out of that open, warm, loving atmosphere I discovered at Shalom.
J: I remember one of my first experiences of you, Ken, was meeting at a Men’s Retreat led by Jerry, and you had come with a number of men from your men’s group, and I saw you as this actualized leader of men, and I felt like such a newbie in this arena of men’s work. I’m very grateful to you for being such an inspiration to me at that time.
K: Thank you.
J: How would say Shalom Mountain has changed in the 30+ years you’ve been going? In other words, every leadership group has its own personality that it brings. They have their own interests, they have their own focus, they have their own way of seeing the world. I’m wondering if you could describe your experience of how that changed from when Jerry and Elizabeth were there, and then there was the triangle days with Jerry, Be and Georgeanne, and then there was Joy and Lawrence. Shawn, Victoria and Terry weren’t really leading; they were the owners with a group of leaders that took responsibility for leadership.
K: Over time, and when Jerry first took it over, it felt like we had a Big Daddy running the place and even if you didn’t consider him the guy who knew everything, he was the leader and had a very paternal approach to running the place, and it was a family kind of structure, centered on the father.
When Joy and Lawrence took over, they said, it’s not going to be that way anymore; we’re going to both share the leadership role, and share making decisions. They were saying each one of us had a part in it and became very clear over time that they needed to develop a leadership structure with other leaders taking responsibility, as well as people in the community taking responsibility for themselves. It was very quickly that they enrolled Judy and I, not necessarily in a very conscious way, in saying ‘we all have a responsibility for this place’ because it is creating so much benefit for us, but it’s a big thing, and it’s so big, we all need to do our part. In that way, the community shifted. We didn’t just go up there to get the benefits and just be parented, but rather, went up there to help build and enrich the place.
The transition with Terry, Shawn and Victoria, in a way, that’s what they were trying to do. They were trying to take on just their part, whatever they could contribute, and they did it in a way that was filled with a lot of trauma for them and for everybody else until enough of us got it together to say “we just have to buy the place” and then automatically everybody has to take a role. And with the grace of God, that seems to be happening at this point.
J: I remember meeting Lawrence for the first time. I was faced with a big decision, because Jerry went off and started Timshel, and at that time he was talking about leading retreats there, more on the mystical journey as opposed to the psychological journey. I was torn between following him, or staying with what I knew and loved here at Shalom. A lot of it depended on my experience of Lawrence and Joy, who I had not met.
I remember I was standing in front of the music cabinet in the Shalom Room and Lawrence walked in. Without a word spoken, I sensed “Oh, he’s a brother”, and that he is going to offer things that Jerry didn’t. You spoke of them very clearly: much more inclusive, much more ‘let’s do this together’ and that’s what attracted to my staying at Shalom. I had a sense there was a different place for me here; one I can grow into. They offered leadership training programs and things like that which were what I wanted for myself, even if I didn’t know it at the time.
K: One of my favorite stories was when Judy and I were going through some difficulties in our relationship, and we wanted to get some help so we went to talk to Joy to see if she could help us. This was before we started doing couples work. I started telling Joy what was going on, and Judy chimed in, and Joy looked at us and said, “you guys do that too?” and we just knew we were in the right place. They had something to offer us because they struggle with the same stuff we struggled with, and they opened up their journey, so that we could travel along with them, and it made such a profound difference, and it felt so good.
J: And also Jerry was involved in exploring alternative relationships and stuff like that. In my view, that was always fascinating, and opened me up to my own provincial life in some ways, but it wasn’t something I connected to for myself, whereas Joy and Lawrence were bringing a more traditional couple experiences, which I think was a big shift for Shalom, and especially for couples.
K: Very much so. In expanding that whole experience within Shalom, Joy and Lawrence started opening up to other people leading , and leading in areas where they had particular skills because of their own journey. Things opened up in myriad ways, like you and LJ looking at gender issues, work on Tantra was being done, and Body Sacred was created for those people that wanted to explore deeper issues of sexuality without necessarily being part of a couple’s relationship. That kind of expansiveness happened as the whole concept of leadership and responsibility was being expanded.
J: How would you describe it now, as opposed to then? What’s changed, or what’s different or what’s shifted? What is your sense of where Shalom Mountain is headed?
K: Well, I think one of the most special things that has happened with Shalom Mountain, is that everyone who comes in, adores the leader they started with, but as soon as you’ve been there for a while, you get an understanding that there are a lot of good leaders. It’s not just all in one person or one couple, and in fact you’ve got a whole bunch of really capable leaders. So it’s not dependent on one person. It doesn’t feel like a house of cards in that way that if THE leader disappears, what do we do then? And that feels so good, it feels more secure than it’s ever felt, and I think it’s one of the biggest differences now than it was 20 years ago.
J: Yes. Now there’s a very large experienced leadership base in place.
K: With a depth of commitment. The fact that we’ve been able to buy the Mountain, to pay the mortgage, to continue to raise money for the important things, it just feels like so much of a secure place.
J: So, where would you like this all to go? What is your hope and vision?
K: My big dream is that as my grandkids grow up, they too will not only go to Shalom Mountain saying “Oh, I love it there because I can do all the things I want to do and nobody’s on top of me to stop me”, but they will have the opportunity to deal with their emotional, psychological and spiritual issues in the same way that their parents have, and their grandparents have.
I just see the place as a wonderful catalyst for my children’s children’s children going into the future and continuing that way. Not just an opportunity to do Shalom Retreats, but for the beautiful physical space that’s up there. There is plenty of room to grow and have plenty of woods, and plenty of fields, and plenty of sunshine and moonrise and stars that have made the place so precious to me over the years.
J: Well, it’s starting to happen! On this last retreat the children of the parents that were on retreat with me are starting to come. So, it’s definitely happening!
K: Yeah, the young adult community is so close and so emotionally tied together, it’s sweet to watch. And they treasure what Shalom has brought into their lives. And that’s just the kind of thing that will nurture the core values.
J: And when you think about it, that’s not something that has ever happened, where a group of young adults grew up in the Shalom experience, and got to know each other. It will be very interesting to see how that matures, because it’s never happened before.
K: Right. It hasn’t been around long enough for a teenager to grow into an adult, and it’s wondrous.
J: Oh, my God – what did you start? I can see these young adults getting married and having Shalom children!
K: Oh, my God – imagine Shalom Children.
J: Shalom children of Shalom parents and Shalom grandparents.
So, thank you Ken for just sharing your experiences and profound vision of this place. It is clear to me that your deep love of Shalom has carried it well for all these years.