Nathan Holst, 36, Duluth

What do you do? (job, community involvement)

I come alive at the intersection of song, spirituality and movement justice work. My primary work is as the faith formation minister at Peace United Church of Christ, which is a justice-focused, progressive Christian community in the Central Hillside. My role there includes a variety of things, including working with youth, small groups, planning events and adult education.

My other primary work in the community is through Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), a local chapter of a national group that organizes white folks to support larger multiracial justice work. It often takes a conversation or two for people to understand the work of SURJ (and understandably so given the history of organizing white folks in this country), but our primary mission is to change systems by doing the long-term work of culture shift in our white communities and supporting movement leaders and organizations led by folks of color by being in relationships of accountability.

One reason I'm grateful to be doing the work that I am is that there is often a lot of overlap between the justice work I do at Peace Church and what I do in SURJ.

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How do you spend your free time?

Much of my free time is with my lovely family, my partner and my toddler. We're often on walks in our neighborhood or just playing in our backyard or garden.

When I'm able, I love to cross-country ski in the winter and mountain bike in the summer. It's been a few years, but one of my favorite places to go is the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness to enjoy the beauty of the northwoods with canoeing and camping.

Because music and song is so core to who I am, I'm often singing and writing in the gaps in between whatever I'm doing, so I suppose I'd say I sing in my free time as well.

Tell us about an influential person in your life.

This last year I had a chance to spend a weekend in Washington, D.C. with Ruby Sales, who is an amazing Black theologian and long-distance runner for justice. She invited a group of 20 white Christian men from around the country to come and create together a theology of redemption for white men in this time.

It was a challenging weekend, and she pushed us to take a hard look at what she calls the "spiritual malformation" of white men; to look at our wounds (in ourselves and what we have inflicted on others); to ask the question "Where does it hurt?"; and then to do the transformation work to create a new culture and offer an alternative to the current reality of what white men can be, offering hope of truly living in communities where everyone can thrive and we all can live into our best possibilities.

She offered a kind of love and hope that I had not experienced, and I am deeply grateful for her work and mentorship.

Where is your favorite place in Duluth/Superior?

There are so many places I love in this area and I first want to say I'm especially grateful to the Indigenous caretakers of this land, the Ojibwe, for all they have done and continue to do to make this place what it is. I love going up to Hawk Ridge to see the birds and look over Lake Superior. I have always loved Hartley Park, and have many sacred places I visit to keep me connected and sustained. I learned how to cross-country ski at Lester, and have many fond memories of that beautiful place.

When I think about some of the major reasons I love being here in Duluth, the beauty of the land and water is one of the highest for me.

What have you learned in your time spent at home during the pandemic?

Like for many of us, the pandemic has been a hard, challenging time for me and my family. I'm grateful for many friends and colleagues here locally and around the country that have helped me learn some lessons in this pandemic time.

One of the biggest ones for me is how to thrive in the face of struggle. It includes a lot of acceptance and letting go, but it also has included a lot of reframing, shifting how I'm looking at my experience. Instead of simply being angry or sad at what has been taken from me or that things are not going the way I want, I have learned to ask questions like, "What is this particular experience teaching me about what it means to be human?" "Are there things I do have control over that I can invest energy into, to thrive in a different way?" "How can I remember what it's like to feel powerless and increase my empathy for other people when they are having a similar experience in their lives?"

These are not easy lessons to learn and can take a lot of emotional energy to digest and accept, but I do believe I have slowly become more empathetic and even more fully human in the process.