Rewilding with Todd Wynward

“Rewilding and Reconstructing” with Todd Wynward

~ing podcast Season 3, Episode 15
Full Episode Transcript

Season 3, Episode 15: “Rewilding and Reconstructing” with Todd Wynward was released on April 11, 2023. The audio recording is available on all major podcasting platforms. More information is available here.

Episode Description:

In this week’s episode of ~ing Podcast, we’re joined by Herald Press author, Todd Wynward, a public school founder, small-scale farmer, wilderness educator, and Mennonite organizer for watershed discipleship in the Mountain States region. We’ll learn more about his journey since publishing his book, Rewilding the Way: Break Free to Follow an Untamed God, and what has happened in the journey of Taos Initiative for Life Together (TiLT), a discipleship co-housing community which he helped to found in Taos, NM. During the pandemic TiLT experienced a traumatic moment, that has transformed their movement from rewilding to reconstructing. This is part one of a two-part conversation. Join us next week to hear more from Todd and others connected with TiLT.

Todd Wynward, Daniel “Ryno” Herrera, Ben Wideman

Ben Wideman  00:00
It’s season three of ~ing Podcast, a production of MennoMedia’s Leader Magazine.  What does it mean to authentically follow Jesus?

Todd Wynward  00:09
And it might have been my own defined ego. But I don’t think so I think it was God speaking that said, this place of death will be a house of life once again. So that vision, that prophetic imagination to turn this defeat, and from the ashes to be resurrected, felt like a God thing.

Ben Wideman  00:28
Join us as we talk with people of faith who are creatively thinking, growing, and being… people who are reimagining and exploring what it means to enrich faith in a complex world. Our conversation begins now. Join us as we journey together.  Welcome friends to ~ing Podcast. I am excited today to be joined again by one of our Herald Press authors. I’m joined today by Todd Wynward. Todd is the author of a book that came out all the way back in the fall of 2015, called Rewilding The Way. And at that time, Todd was kind enough to visit the Penn State and State College community, we got to know each other just a little bit there. Learning about what he had written about rewilding the way, the subtitle of that book was Break Free to Follow an Untamed Guide, and some really powerful and incredible imagery in that book. I’m excited to have Todd here with us today. Because since that book, a whole lot has happened in his world and in his ministry, in his watershed discipleship that he does so uniquely. So Todd, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us on the podcast.

Todd Wynward  01:42
Ben, thanks. It’s a delight to be here. I was… I don’t know, you crawled out of the woodwork from seven years ago. To be someone to still speak to something but yeah, I people always are like, “hey, when is your next book coming out?” And I honestly say, well, first, I’m going to try to live the values of my first book. So I’ve only written articles since then.

Ben Wideman  02:05
Well, for those who don’t know you, haven’t had the pleasure of getting to know you, either before or since your book came out, how do you describe yourself these days?

Todd Wynward  02:15
Wow. Well, you know, if they had those career aptitude, things back in high school, I wouldn’t have known what to put. What I’ve learned is that I’m a serial social entrepreneur, that I like to imagine things that don’t exist yet. And then help them be manifest. But So oftentimes… like my my son just cracks up when, when he’s like, when people ask what your dad does, what do you tell him? I laugh with him. But yeah, I’ve got on the back of my book, you know, it says something like I’m an author, a father, a small scale farmer, a wilderness guide, community activist, and a Mennonite minister. I’d say the small scale farming, I wish I had been involved. I don’t get to say that anymore. I’m just not… really a non scale. And I would say that I’m living in this tension between between the rewilding that I wrote about and reconstructing,

Ben Wideman  03:12

Todd Wynward  03:13
There’s almost a tension of the city and the wild in me.

Ben Wideman  03:17

Todd Wynward  03:17
And thinking about what the world needs most from me what I can do and what I have to do. I think the, you know, the dilemma I put forth in my book, was clearly articulating that the Jesus path was a wild, subversive, transformational path. And yet we as a society, have made it so team. Yeah, but I myself was just too much. It’s bondage and mortgage and a kid, kid in college and you know, how do you be a middle class bougie dad and try to live a wild, ferocious, transformative life. That was my, my own thesis and I’m still trying to walk that path, but I’m, I’m much more shackled to the worries of the world now than I was then.

Ben Wideman  04:02
Well, I love as a fellow ordained Mennonite Minister, I love that you’re out there in the wild west as someone ordained in watershed discipleship. We had previous guests on ~ing Podcast, Mike Martin, who is ordained by your same conference right? In blacksmithing, and in the transformation of guns in the garden tools, and I just think it’s so wonderful that in your Mennonite context out there has said, “Look, these are not traditional ministerial callings that we have named and claimed in our tradition, but we are going to name and claim them now as people think outside the box about ways to reimagine what faith and community and church can be.” So I’m glad to have you here. I think it fits well with what ~ing Podcast is striving to be as well.

Todd Wynward  04:54
Yeah, I have to say that that was just a real gift from both Jaime and Herm, who were the co-moderators of the time. I do want to put a fine distinction on that we… I am not ordained but rather licensed.

Ben Wideman  05:09

Todd Wynward  05:09
That means that they were able to say we recognize you doing something your ministry here is powerful, special and should be recognized.

Ben Wideman  05:17

Todd Wynward  05:17
But we’re not giving you more training. And we’re not ordaining you for other congregations or conferences and such. But we’re licensing you to build really that. Of course, it comes with no money. Very little audience bandwidth. But it does give me the opportunity to bug people across the conference about place based despair racing Earth honoring kind of Christianity. And yeah, Mike is a great ally. And it’s amazing that the conference witnessed and saw that so yeah, that kind of what is Mennonite? What are Mennonites today? What is Anabaptist? Today, I think the fresh voice of ~ing, and the fresh voices of this conference are aligned in many ways.

Ben Wideman  05:57
Good. So you have this book Rewilding the Way – it’s been out for a little while now -~ing Podcast wasn’t around when your book came out, or maybe we would have interviewed you then! But what do you what do you share about people who are curious about this book project?

Todd Wynward  06:11
Well, I mean, it truly I would say the first third of the book lays out the the stark – both, both full of possibility and full of crisis – the era that we live in, and how co-opted Christianity has become. How… how this path of a radical Christ has become tamed and commodified. And of course anabaptism early on, said that Constantine was the apostate, you know that there is a primitive and Radical Christianity. And I would just have to say that the early Anabaptists were why I chose to become a Mennonite as an adult. I didn’t know people when I grew up, but I was influenced by that. And the radical reform movement, culturally, really resonated. And so I felt like I was living into that tradition a bit. And but in, it’s interesting, seven years ago, I was just beginning to voice the term watershed discipleship, just beginning to be working with a nationwide ally ship around our mentor Ched Myers, who coined the term watershed discipleship. But what we would call it more Radical Christianity, and began and then the last, the middle of the book talks about attributes to live a wilder way. So things like embracing the insecurity, the idea of living the questions, of the idea of pivoting and working with change, the idea of trusting and and working from an inner authority, so much of our external authorities tell us how to live and I hope that a life centered in God, and Jesus allows us to have an inner authority that makes us be outwardly transformative. And so that was just in my own, I had a lot of life examples, starting an outward bound style wilderness and farm school with my wife, and then starting TiLT – the Taos Initiative for Life Together – are some of the case studies that I used, and I tied in biblical examples to that. So that would be maybe too long summary of my book.

Ben Wideman  08:16
No, I really appreciated it. And in it, I was struck with your story enough, I guess, to send you a Facebook friend request, which was how I learned about the story since then, too. And all that has happened, especially really, since the pandemic arrived in. And I’d love to hear a little bit more as much as you’re willing to share about the really tragic experience that you had there at TiLT. Forgetting if you said it, but Taos Initiative for Life Together. That’s the acronym, an intentional community that you helped to create. You experience something quite unlike what you were expecting. A few years ago here now.

Todd Wynward  09:06
Well, then, I guess I’ll just take one sentence more to bridge from the book to now. Yeah, I mean, to that, to that story is just that, you know, I I was very influenced when I visited Ched Myers, in person, mentor of mine who developed the term watershed discipleship. When he cautioned… and he said, “Todd, we have lots of writers and thinkers, we need more demonstration projects of the kingdom.” And that hasn’t, I mean, I was leaning… I was already leaning into that, but that just confirmed that there aren’t more words that are needed as much as deeds and really dreamers, and imagination, and I seem because I was raised playing Dungeons and Dragons and camp counseling. Those are my two, honestly, my two professional influences, I believe… I believed they could build worlds. And so I did, and I found that people resonate with imaginative spaces and I think it’s probably The creative prophetic imagination that we’re lacking the most in the world right now, to imagine what a positive future to have still to face the sober consequences of our climate crisis and economic divides and racial tensions and dream of something better. And so, TiLT is an incubator for personal change and systemic change. We want to take the idea of Gandhi and put it in our watershed of being being the watershed we want to see in the world. And so I do a lot of multicultural earth honoring, honoring of traditions and Hispanic agriculturalists. For centuries here, as well as native pueblos, they still exist here in New Mexico with 19, vibrant pueblos up and down the Rio Grande. And as a Christian settler, I need to learn how to live well with those people as guests. So I do a lot of decolonizing work, I do a lot of welcoming. And then we hope to have this place that we called tilt, be inhabited as a church for all nations as a place for all people. And we found this rundown, 13 room, handbuilt adobe from the 1930s that we started fixing up. And it’s not an intentional community, but it is a community of intention. And we try to have people have an intention about how they want to change their lives, or how to change society around them. So it’s a contemplative, active space that we hope is part catechesis and seminary and part street activism and part personal growth in the wilderness. So that’s been the hub. And we’ve had several people, small batches, a small batch artisanal space for personal transformation. And so we had some young people here in a residency. And one of them was a young woman who had lived with us for a year and had a really hard history in life, a lot of trauma and triggers. And, unfortunately, an unhealthy ex boyfriend came around and started stalking her and ended up shooting through her window inside inside our house, and then came back. Well, I guess I’ll tell the story, in that. I encountered him outside and I had the working knowledge of his name. And we had a two minute conversation outside. And it was clear, he was essentially wanting to be with Holly and I had no idea he had a gun. And I said, “Well, if you’re gonna come courting, you better come knock on the back door.” And I said, “Holly, Elijah is here.” And at that point, I heard a crack. And it turned out to be a gunshot through a window. So that then we were at the police station reporting about the shooting when the detective looked at his pager and said, I’m sorry, we have to interrupt this interview because your house is on fire. So that was two and a half years ago. And we haven’t moved fully back into our house since then. So the double whammy of COVID, while triple whammy of COVID plus being a lot of trauma and triggers from that fire, and then supply chain and the end the demolition and reconstruction is just been an ongoing slog. To be honest Ben, yeah, it has taxed my faith, my perseverance, and my optimism.

Ben Wideman  13:35
I, I’ve appreciated your transparency. I mean, all of those things have been on display, how taxing it’s been, but also that you continue to see some glimmers of new life there as well, at least in what you’re sharing in some social media spaces. Off off mic, we were talking about this transition from rewilding to rebuilding. How are those two things related? What did you learn skills in the rewilding stage of your life to allow you to transition into this rework rebuilding? Or is it really just throw out the playbook and start start something from scratch?

Todd Wynward  14:16
And I use the word “rewilding” metaphorically. Sometimes people confuse me with someone who has integrity, has figured… someone who lives out all of his values or so, you know. It’s like “No, no, I I aspire to rewild my consciousness and to unshackle myself but I gotta say I am in such freakin huge debt from this remodel. This… that I am a wage slave… like I need to monetize everything now, when in the past I felt so liberated from American capitalist economy and such. But I’m… so, I can’t say that I’ve learned skills. I wouldn’t say the the notion of building for the generations… this has been a radical… I feel like I’ve been arguing with an avocado for months and months for not being right. Come on. The time will come and funny, Ben, I’m finding out that “Todd’s will” is not always “God’s will.” I don’t know. I don’t know how that happened. But suddenly, a lot of my wishes are not coming true on the timeline that I want them to. And, and so I’m feeling like things are… this is, the irony is, I feel like things are happening to me. But more importantly, things are happening through me that I can’t control. And all I can do is let go. I mean, there’s a lot of 12 Step, addict energy, and the Serenity Prayer is coming up all the time of God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change to the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. That’s tried and true wisdom from the 12 step movement. And it’s, it’s showing my addictions to needing to be in control or in the know, or at least to manage something. And something huge has been moved through me been like that I don’t even I didn’t even want it’s like, it’s almost like we had the idea that the rebuild would be an orange, an apple to an orange. And then I thought it would be really tricky and bold, and maybe make something the size of a grapefruit. And it was as if God came down and said “Nice beginning, Todd, we’ll take it from here.” Like, I’m just midwifing so I’m just getting ripped apart in terms of small ego. But something magnificent is emerging.

Ben Wideman  16:40

Todd Wynward  16:40
It is now like if you’ve seen on my postings, like it’s a temple, it’s a it’s a generation… It’s 100 year decisions we’re making. And I’m fascinated with how will this place be used long after I’m gone?

Ben Wideman  16:54

Todd Wynward  16:55
And so I’ve I’ve sunk in I’ve decentered whether I like it or not, my ego has been decentered. to almost get out of the way to let something it feels almost like a modern Noah’s Ark.

Ben Wideman  17:07

Todd Wynward  17:07
What am I saving for the future generations? What if when the when society breaks down a lot more? What if this becomes a postmodern monastery for the ages? Like, yeah, that’s kind of where I’m going in a better way.

Ben Wideman  17:35
Trauma and how it relates to our understanding of God’s voice in our life does different things for us at different times. And I’m fascinated by this decision from you and your community to say, You know what, even though this horrific thing has happened, we are going to try and put our roots back down into this same spot. Can you speak a little bit about that? You could have easily said look, God is telling us to pack our bags and you know, close up shop, go somewhere else. We are being chased from this, this land. And yet you chose to say no, we are here and we are recommitting ourselves to this. hunk of Earth.

Todd Wynward  18:15
On two levels. Yeah, on one is that there was an it might have been my own defined ego. But I don’t think so… I think it was God speaking that said, “This place of death will be a house of life once again.” So that vision, that prophetic imagination to turn this defeat, and from the ashes to be resurrected, felt like a God thing. And so that was that was one part of me listening to that. But when you spoke of my community, I’m particularly going to speak about my wife who has my most intimate community. And she and I are the ones who own the building and are the most affected, both in positive and negative ways about what we do next. And she, I must admit, as not as much of a visionary or a dreamer as me, and she’s slower to imagine what she can’t see. And so it’s, it’s been a lot of strain on us, but also wonderful. And the question that she has boldly had to ask is, can I keep my heart open to the community? Can we even though we’ve been hurt, can we stay raw and open and trusting and an invitational the tendency and COVID for I think, for a lot of people is to close themselves to us, make the gates you know, collect our toys and have some privilege and close off to the scary world and it’s constantly there for both of us. But think about that in closed mind that always is looking for the next security alert. Always is paranoid about what might happen and I don’t want to live in fear like that. I want to live with my heart wide open, even though it’s been broken. So it’s a really wild time for many of us to keep our hearts open even when we be broken open. to say, this isn’t about me. But what is God doing in the change? So this is the rewilding part that still feels wild, even as I’m building of bougie. Personal Yeah. You know, I keep I keep thinking about moving personal wealth to commonwealth. And I think for privileged, modern day, Christians, they have to be thinking about divesting in one way or another. I don’t want to give up my power or my money, but I do want to share it in a in a big open feast table, like open communion. So building a beautiful place, investing our money and time into this place has been our choice, but it feels like a choice every day to stay open and trusting instead of closed off fearful and anxious.

Ben Wideman  20:48
And it doesn’t take gunshots and a fire for, for community life to make people close up either right? Like up there. There are lots of people who try it for a while if they you know, that’s enough for me, you’ve you’ve experienced even more and have said yes to continue on, which is just so interesting.

Todd Wynward  21:07
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not some commune. We’re, you know, in the early days, I was all into equity sharing. And like, we can do this too. Let’s let’s have sign… eight people sign on a contract like no, none of that. I’m, I’m very much into private ownership and and then sharing those resources from a clarity position that we’re not expecting people to grow old and raise children in our house. But rather, it’s a brief moment of time for transformation. But ironically, even that we’ve had to pivot. And it may be that we’re turning into an Airbnb that is a conscious Hotel. Rather than what we used to do, we need to make make revenue as well.

Ben Wideman  21:49
It seems like a posture adjustment, from security to being open to the possibilities of where this journey might lead you.

Todd Wynward  22:00
Yet. It’s also the other way around. Like I used to just be open. And now I’m needing to think more about security. Yeah. To like and kind of know that that’s part of God’s plan to I think not just being so, so open and available all the time.

Ben Wideman  22:17
Can we talk a bit about glimmers of hope for the future? What’s exciting to you about about recommitting to this space and imagining what the possibilities are moving forward?

Todd Wynward  22:30
Yeah, well, I would say that what’s exciting me right now is the strange pivot to seemingly a crass commercial platform, like Airbnb that actually offers experiences these days as a portal. And so it’s like international advertising and promotion. That might take me 15 minutes to… put a profile together, and then to platform my allies. When people come to me for residency and I say, I happen to know Kevin Whitefeather at Taos Pueblo who has been an addict and he’s a community elder and he’d like to share with you about his journey. And Daniel Herrera who has is involved with repurposing plastic, and Chris Peeper, who was doing regenerative agriculture and so like, platforming and sharing. This is what tilt has always aspired to. But we’re way out here in the wild west for all of you in the back east. It’s been really hard to find an audience, frankly, to come to TiLT and see what we have, and, ironically, working in pivoting and almost in a shamanistic, bronco wrestling sort of way. This may be a new invitation by God to do something that I never imagined through a vehicle I never imagined. Offer conscious, conscious retreats, vacations, tours immersions… We’ve got a high school group from Eastern… Eastern Mennonite High School is coming next month to spend a five day experience called “How then shall we live?” We take this, so this has been my role after an author with I’ve gotten enough bandwidth that a few groups… Mennonite Men’s group has come. And so we take them to the Earthships the, you know, made out of mud and plan trash and plastic bottles and their Hobbit homes built in the desert that are known as arks for today’s world, we take them to other simple living colonies out here we take them to the Pueblo we take them to Quest, a trailer park that’s trying to transform and we offer them examples of how to live and then come back and eat food together and say, how did that impact you? So it’s an experiential education academies. It’s at the highest level. And I hope more people would come and see as Jesus would say, there’s something interesting here.

Ben Wideman  24:51
I love that. Todd for those who want to know more TiLT has a pretty robust website. Where do you direct people to learn more about this unique space that you’re trying to create?

Todd Wynward  25:04
Well, right now TiLT has a robust museum-like website have not been touched in three years. I’ve had some trauma and discernment and indecision, but it is – TA O S – for Taos, New Mexico, and then So is the website. My name is [email protected] is my address. So it’s all one word, you can find me that way.

Ben Wideman  25:35
And this is a unique thing that I don’t often get to do. But since this is kind of a two part episode, and we’ve got the participants in our next episode of ~ing Podcast, maybe you can tell our listeners why they should hang around here. For the next part of our conversation. Todd’s gonna join us again, but we’ve got a friend as well here, who actually just just walked in. So we’re, we’re really excited to have Daniel “Ryno” Herrera here with us on ~ing Podcast. Can you guys share a little bit about what you’re hoping to talk about in the second half of our conversation?

Todd Wynward  26:11
Ben I think, you know, in the first podcast here, we seem to be focusing on rewilding and then reconstruction. And so reconstructing… and so in terms of the things of what this podcast is about, a little bit of what what Rhino and I do together through TiLT, is we do a lot of what we call replacing ourselves, learning to be people of place. We work on the watershed way together. And then we especially work on repurposing plastic and repurposing lives. And so those are the themes. I thought that Rhino would join us in on its repurposing, so I do a lot of re- and ing, I think, got

Ben Wideman  26:51

Todd Wynward  26:52
Rewilding… replacing…

Daniel “Ryno” Herrera  26:55

Ben Wideman  26:56
So awesome. Friends, we are so glad you are here listening to this episode. But please stay tuned next week. We’ll have more. Come back for more conversation with Todd and with Ryno. Thanks for listening. As always we’d like to thank our guests and all who support ~ing Podcast. Thank you for joining us on the journey. If you enjoyed the show, please leave us a review in your favorite podcasting app. And if you have something to share, send us a message at [email protected] or by leaving us a voicemail. ~ing Podcast is hosted by Reverend Allison Maus and Reverend Dr. Dennis Edwards. And produced by me, Ben Wideman. Views and opinions expressed on ~ing Podcast are those of our hosts and guests and may not represent that of Leader Magazine or MennoMedia. ~ing Podcast is a production of MennoMedia, a nonprofit publisher that creates thoughtful Anabaptist resources to enrich faith in a complex world. To find out more, visit us online at