Nature & Spirit

Presenter Biographies 

Week 1 – May 9

Ineffable Nature

  • American classical guitarist Xavier Jara is the 1st prize winner of the 2016 Guitar Foundation of America International Concert Artist Competition. A native of Minnesota, he studied under guitar masters at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris. After receiving 1st place in a number of international competitions, including the prestigious GFA’s Rose Augustine Grand Prize, Jara performed throughout North & Latin America. In 2020, Mr. Jara earned his Master’s degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He continues to perform around the world and maintains a vibrant studio as Adjunct Professor of Guitar at California State University Fullerton.
    • Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996) composed several hundred independent works of music, scored more than ninety films and published twenty books, and was a founding member of an avant garde collaborative that is regarded as among the most influential of the 20th century. Takemitsu was admired for the subtle manipulation of instrumental and orchestral timbre. As he approached his death from cancer, he composed a suite of works for three of the most renowned guitarists of his time based on visits to three wooded reserves in America, the last of which was Muir Woods near San Francisco.
  • Michael M. Coti is a globally-recognized filmmaker based in Boulder, Colorado. He has thousands of hours of production experience and spent nearly a decade in Hollywood learning the ropes as he honed his craft of filmmaking. Growing up and studying film in Colorado, nature is an important subject in his work. His latest independent film “The Unruly Mystic: John Muir” premiered in Yosemite National Park, and was screened theatrically over 60 times since 2018.
    • “The Unruly Mystic: John Muir” explores the remarkable life and influential works of a patron saint of environmental activism. The film discusses the connection between nature and spirituality, using the life and wisdom of John Muir, ecological preservationist and founder of Yosemite National Park, as a catalyst for how being outside in nature affects the lives of everyday people right now.

Week 2 – May 16


  • Leslie Freudenheim has been a widely respected author and lecturer on modern architecture, preservation, and city planning since 1971. Among her publications are Building with Nature, Roots of the San Francisco Bay Region Style, Building with Nature: Inspiration for the Arts and Crafts Home, and Frank Lloyd Wright: The Man Who Played with Blocks, A Short Biography for Children of All Ages.
  • Jim Lawrence is Dean of the Center for Swedenborgian Studies and Assistant Professor of Spirituality and Historical Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He spent 17 years in parish ministry in rural, suburban and urban settings, including Senior Pastor of the SF Swedenborgian Church. He also worked simultaneously in publishing ministries, contributing along the way as publisher, editor and author to more than 30 works. In 2001, Dr. Lawrence was inspired to return to academia to immerse again in the cutting edge of spirituality studies. He has special interests today in inter-religious dialog and comparative spirituality.

Week 3 – May 23

Data Informing Life & Art

  • Obi Kaufman is an artist, author, naturalist, and forthrightenvironmental advocate. He is the author and illustrator of two widely popular books: The California Field Atlas, and The State of Water: Understanding California’s Most Precious Resource. Growing up in the East Bay, Obi spent most of high school practicing calculus and breaking away on weekends to scramble around Mount Diablo and map its creeks, oak forests, and sage mazes. Into adulthood, he would regularly journey into the mountains, spending more summer nights without a roof than with one. For Kaufmann, the epic narrative of the California backcountry holds enough art, science, mythology, and language for a hundred field atlases to come.
  • Robert Salazar is a master at turning the ordinary into extraordinary, requiring only a single sheet of paper to create a work of art. Robert has been practicing the ancient Japanese art of origami for 20 years. Once homeless, Robert has earned associate degrees in physics, geological sciences, astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, liberal arts and sciences, with a goal to earn a doctorate degree.

Week 4 – May 30

A Deeper Connection with Nature

  • Dr. Paul Ivey is Professor of Art History teaching Modern and Contemporary Art at the University of Arizona. He researches the built environments of esoteric and alternative American religions and communal groups. He is the author of Radiance from Halcyon, Prayers in Stone, and his upcoming work, Building Respectability, studies the international building movement and issues of church preservation and reuse in the 21st century.

Week 5 – June 6

Transcendence Manifest

  • Adrienne Baxter-Bell is Professor of Art History at Marymount Manhattan College, NY. She is the author of “George Inness and the Visionary Landscape” (2003) and “George Inness: Writings and Reflections on Art and Philosophy” (2007). She is completing “Charles Caryl Coleman in Gilded Age Italy,” a critical study on the artist that will contain the first catalogue of Coleman’s work. Dr. Bell will talk about the artist George Inness in California and his friendship with Charles Keith, whose paintings adorn this church.
  • Ted Bosley just recently departed as director of the famed Gamble House in Pasadena, where he served as curator for 28 years. He did much to further position the Gamble House as a national and international model of heritage conservation.Ted also wrote and lectured widely on historic architecture and decorative arts of the period 1890 to 1920.

Week 6 – June 13

Building Utopia

  • Colette Walker is a PhD candidate in Art and Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley who has written and taught on the mystical in modern art. She wrote an article comparing the aesthetics of Rudolph Steiner and Vassily Kandinsky in charting a new direction for society. Her PhD topic is “The Mystical-Utopian Turn in Modern Art” 
  • Dr. Kristen Schaffer, associate professor of architecture at North Carolina State University, is a respected scholar of modern American architecture and city planning. She has written extensively on the architect Daniel Burnham. In 2010 she appeared in the PBS documentary “Make No Little Plans: Daniel Burnham and the American City.”

Week 7 – June 20

Visions & Legacy

  • Dr. Devin Zuber, an associate professor in the Department for Historical and Cultural Studies of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union (GTU) in Berkeley, California, is author of “A Language of Things: Emanuel Swedenborg and the American Environmental Imagination.”