A Man
Overboard

 

 

Removing Barriers - Ken Plattner, Spirit Lion


In Central Illinois the hills roll gently among beautiful farms that take one back to an earlier time. This is old Mennonite and Amish country and Ken Plattner was raised among those “good folks,” as he calls them. The values were “plainness and invisibility”. The environment was stable, ordered and caring, but the focus was not on education, “because that was for the city people”. However, Ken liked books, and in particular he liked learning about far away places. He made a pledge to himself that someday he would travel to some of these places. So, from Goodfield he left the farm and began an incredible life journey.

He headed for California where he finished with a bachelor's degree from the University of California at Fullerton. Ken’s religious upbringing and his political stance made him an opponent of the Viet Nam War. Rather than fight for a cause he did not believe in, he left the country and headed for Europe. Now he began to fulfill that dream of seeing those places in the books he read as a youth in Illinois but reality, as it has a habit of doing, caught up with him on the island of Cyprus. He found himself in the village of Kaphio without a dime. Fortunately, for him, a local barrister from Limasol, who had just lost his father, took an interest in him and asked him to manage the family farm in the Troodos Mountains. At first the pastoral setting seemed idyllic. But the days crept on and on without much to capture the imagination and energy of a young man. “I went nuts with loneliness,” he says. “I decided that if I ever got off the island I would go to seminary.” Finally, when the Turks invaded safety issues made it imperative that he get back to the states. Ken received amnesty and returned to the USA... although having been away, it would never really be his home again.

He left Cyprus in 1971 and went to the Snowmass Benedictine Monastery near Aspen Colorado. However, the rigid life of a monk could not tame the Spirit of rebellion that lived in this young man. With a desire to keep his committment to seminary he went to the Iliff School of Theology in Denver and then finished a theological education at Eden Seminary in St. Louis. Here he not only learned about scripture and homiletics, but was a student of Jungian psychology and social action. He focused on comparative religions. He wanted to be a Chaplain and a Therapist – he felt the desire to learn about the nuances of different religious expressions so that he could work with the pain and disconnection he saw in institutional religious thinking. He studied, got a doctoral degree, searched but found no home and no comfort within the Church or in society in general.

After graduation and ordination, he moved to Denver and went to work for Hope Care and Counseling Centers, a counseling and advocacy group for the mentally ill, disabled and elderly. He eventually became the Executive Director of the center. Meanwhile, he married a Quaker woman whose religious beliefs meshed well with his own. “Quakers believe in the spark of the divine that lives in each person,” he says, and this goes well with the old Weslyian notion of “Reflecting the face of Christ in everyone you meet.”

For over 25 years Ken’s work has been with the disenfranchised, the mentally ill, and with both disabled people and older citizens. His mission has been to empower people to see their strength and aliveness... to create a vibrant life of joy and service by living consciously – by staying awake!

In 2000 Ken read one of Rick Steves European guidebooks, and he began to follow the travels of Rick Steves by watching him on PBS. Ken got the idea to write a book for the elderly and disabled who want to travel to Europe, and he and Rick Steves collaborated on the effort. Ken joined the Rick Steves staff, and now Easy Access Europe is available in your local bookstore; it's in its second printing and is a barrier free guide to European travel for people with limited mobility.

In 2002 he took a position as Vice President of the Denver Mayor’s Commission for Disabled People. To him the term “barrier free” was not just a slogan but a real goal. “I want to find ways in which we, in the community, can see our connectedness. By the way,” he says, “people with disabilities often have strong warrior energy”. Ken has always seen in himself the wounds of his own “wounded healer” and the importance of "reining in" his own Warrior and King energy by creating clear boundaries and living in his own authenticity.

Ken’s work with older people primed him for doing his own work as an Elder within MKP. Ken is a member of the International Elder Counsel and has been instrumental in the development of a training for Elders called the Seven Stages of the Elder Journey. He has mentored the Ritual Elder for France, and is presently in the process of mentoring the Ritual Elder for England (as of 2008). Ken has served as MKP Colorado Center Director and the Elder Chair for the Colorado community. He is also a member of the Shadow Committee for MKP International.

He is very active in his local community and still works as a therapist and counselor. “When I’m doing my mission, it doesn’t feel like work,” he says. However, he sees himself, in the future, moving toward a “lifestyle of monastic discipline.” Since I first met him in 2004 he has moved to Arizona to help assist in the care of his aging parents. He continues to work as a Chaplain at a Hospice there helping patients and families with end-of-life-issues. After a life of much upheaval and activism, he now seeks time for more contemplation, meditation and solitude.

Ken says that he started his professional life by honoring and respecting the marginalized, the crippled, and the aging... dedicating his pursuit to eradicating the social and physical barriers for the disabled and aging folks trying to live a life of freedom. And now in these last years of professional life, Ken realizes that all the while, without even knowing it, he has been eradicating, facing, and shrinking the barriers of his own life so that he can embrace his own freedom, joy and service. He feels life is joyful, vibrant, and fun... This has been his mission and his journey. www.kenplattner.com/home.htm

© 2008, Reid Baer

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The fame you earn has a different taste from the fame that is forced upon you. - Gloria Vanderbilt

Reid Baer, an award-winning playwright for “A Lyon’s Tale” is also a newspaper journalist, a poet with more than 100 poems in magazines world wide, and a novelist with his first book released this month entitled Kill The Story. Baer has been a member of The ManKind Project since 1995 and currently edits The New Warrior Journal for The ManKind Project www.mkp.org . He resides in Reidsville, N.C. with his wife Patricia. He can be reached at E-Mail.

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