Originally published in the January 2022 Drumbeat.
At the end of 2021, Brad Pickel, our beloved Illuman Administrator for the past 8 years, stepped down from his role. It’s my pleasure now to introduce the new Illuman Administrator, Mike Clawson.
Mike will be supporting Illuman with general administration, event management, and marketing and communications—areas in which he has extensive experience. Most recently, he co-founded the New Story Festival, creating transformational events for creativity, spirituality, and social justice in Austin, Texas and online. He also holds advanced degrees in religion, has been an adjunct instructor at several seminaries and universities, and, before that, was a church pastor in the Chicago suburbs. He and his two teenage daughters live in Austin, Texas.
The Board is grateful and excited to have Mike in this role and looks forward to all the great work he’ll do with it. Welcome Mike!
We also wanted to give Mike the opportunity to introduce himself. Read on below!
Chris de Lastic
Vice Chair, Illuman Board of Directors
Greetings men of Illuman,
It’s an honor for me to be taking over this administrator role from Brad Pickel, whose shoes will, indeed, be very hard to fill. When I first learned of the position from a friend at the Center for Action and Contemplation, my first thought was, “Wow, what a perfect fit!” Not just in terms of my skills or experiences, but because the spirit and purpose of Illuman—fostering the kind of inner work that makes a difference in the world around us—resonated deeply with my own personal vocation to work at the intersection of spirituality and social change.
My Journey to Illuman
Illuman’s particular focus on cultivating healthier, more spiritually grounded forms of masculinity has been a major part of my own personal journey as well. As a youth pastor and then founding pastor of a new church in my mid-twenties, I found myself struggling with ill-fitting expectations of what it meant to be a man—from society, family, and especially the church—even as I attempted to guide and mentor other young men myself. The models of masculinity I was given appeared trivial to me and, in some ways, even toxic, yet I didn’t know any alternatives. From my adolescence in the northwoods of Michigan, “manhood” had seemed a superficial thing, merely about sports, guns, cars…and excluded anyone who wasn’t interested in these things. Meanwhile, the evangelical subculture in which I was raised offered a similarly superficial spirituality that cared more about controlling behavior and reinforcing patriarchal norms than any deeper matters of the spirit. As a result, I struggled for years to relate to other men (and to my own inner self), lacking the spiritual language or emotional tools to even diagnose what was missing.
Thankfully, after a move to Austin, Texas in 2008 to begin work on my PhD in contemporary religion, I had the great good fortune of falling in with a group of men who introduced me to spiritual teachers like Richard Rohr and to the ManKind Project, a men’s work organization very similar to Illuman. Through their influence and example, I discovered a far more life-giving version of masculinity than I had previously known. Here were men who went deep, both spiritually and emotionally; men who learned how to be vulnerable and authentic with each other; men who balanced the King archetype with the Lover and the Warrior with the Magician; men who didn’t define themselves over and against women, but who embraced and cultivated both the masculine and the feminine sides of their nature; men who celebrated rather than shamed the beautiful complexity of gender identities, expressions, and sexualities. Thus began a journey of personal growth and radical transformation that continues to this day: a journey that has now led me to you fellow travelers here with Illuman.
Our Journey Together
This journey we are on together through Illuman inspires me and gives me hope for the world, despite the increasingly anxious times in which we live. In truth, my path of spiritual growth over the past three decades has coincided with a growing awareness of and engagement with the deep needs of the world. Matters of racial justice, gender equity, and LGBTQ+ inclusion directly impact my dearest friends and immediate family. Meanwhile, the pandemic exacerbates a sense of isolation and disconnection, our fragmented political landscape heightens feelings of dread and dismay, and the escalating effects of climate change present a looming threat to our entire way of life.
And yet it seems to me that many of these challenges stem, in large part, from exactly the kind of unhealed, toxic masculinity that I experienced in my earlier life, and that Illuman works to transform. This means that the work we do as Illuman to cultivate self-awareness, emotional vulnerability, authentic relationships, and radical belonging might just be one of the very things the world needs most right now! We are privileged, then, to be in this moment, with this enormous opportunity to help tip the scales back toward healing, wholeness, and collective liberation.
That’s why I’m excited to be a part of helping Illuman evolve and grow into this potential. I believe that Illuman is at the cusp of even greater impact in the world and in the lives of hundreds and even thousands of new men. I’m looking forward to seeing what impact it has in my own life as I get to know you all better, serve alongside you, and experience Illuman’s transformational practices for myself.