Interested in a week-long Writing Retreat on beautiful southern Vancouver Island with personal coaching by a professional published author?
Here is an opportunity to sharpen your skills, deepen your passion, learn a few new writing tricks, and practice your craft – plus enjoy good company, amazing food and wine, all in a spectacular setting.
Mark Buchanan will lead a “working retreat” for a small group of 5 writers from June 17-22, 2018 in a beautiful private home (which usually rents at over $1000 per night) just outside Victoria, BC. Mark is the author of 8 published, award-winning books, including the bestseller The Rest of God, has 3 more books on the way, and has published over 100 magazine articles. www.markbuchanan.net
The retreat begins Sunday, June 17 with dinner and concludes Friday, June 22 with lunch.
Our time together includes:
5 nights in a spectacular home overlooking Patricia Bay in Saanich, British Columbia, minutes from Victoria. The home features a large covered deck, a large sunning deck, an infinity pool and hot tub, beautiful gardens, luxurious rooms, private beach front, kayaks, and breathtaking views in all directions. For further information, go to https://www.homeaway.ca/cottage-rental/p1192559vb
All snacks and meals.
Shuttle to and from the Victoria airport or Schwartz Bay ferry terminal, if needed.
The option of bringing your spouse (see below; sorry, no children or infants)
45 minutes each day of one-one-one coaching from Mark.
One hour each day of group instruction from Mark.
Several hours each day to write.
Several hours each day to rest, relax and enjoy your surroundings.
Opportunities each evening to read and discuss your writing.
This event is limited to 5 writers at any skill level, so please register quickly.
Ocean-front room with private bathroom (4 rooms available) – $1500 ($500 extra for spouse) by or before May 1; $1600 + $600 for spouse after May 1.
Garden-view room with private bathroom (1 room available) – $1400 ($450 extra for spouse) by or before May 1; $1500 + $500 for spouse after May 1.
Not included in pricing: travel costs to and from Victoria; cost ($32.60 per person) for an (optional) visit to the world-renowned Butchart Gardens; alcohol (wine will be served with our evening meals); personal food items.
To register (with a $200 non-refundable deposit) or for more information, please contact Cheryl at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Rabbi, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Once again Jesus is interrupted. It must happen to Him a dozen times or more. There He is, preaching some jaw-dropping piece of good news, and next thing the roof is coming apart, or a demoniac is shouting Him down, or a teacher of the Law is standing up to test Him, or Sadducees are lining up to trick Him, or Pharisees are cooking up a trap to ensnare Him.
But many people just want something from Him. Most who interrupt Him are simply preoccupied with their own stuff. They’re caught up with some earthy, urgent, agonizing matter that can’t wait for the sermon to end. They want answers to vexing questions, and they want them now. “Who is my neighbour?” “Good Teacher, how do I inherit eternal life?” “Son of David, have mercy on me – cleanse me, heal me, restore me!” “Lord, tell my sister to help me in the kitchen.”
That’s the story in Luke. A man crashes into the middle of Jesus’ sermon with his urgent demand. “Rabbi, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:12). Well, that man does have a point. It’s hard to listen attentively to a sermon when your brother just bilked you out of your share of the family estate. A thing like that tends to consume all your energy.
A thing like that is powerfully distracting.
Many of my First Nations friends have difficulty listening to sermons. There are many reasons for this – some personal, some cultural, some historical – but much of it comes down to the issue of justice. They got bilked out of their share of the family estate. Land. Language. Children. A way of life. All and more were taken from First Peoples. And sometimes they itch to interrupt all our ethereal business about heaven and love and God and such with a burning request. “Jesus, tell my white brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
Well, they do have a point.
But actually that’s not quite what First Nations people, at least the ones I talk with and listen to, are asking. Dividing the inheritance is not exactly their request, or not the things they ask first. Almost every First Nations person I know wants something else, something deeper. “Jesus, tell my white brother to reconcile with me.”
I suggest this is worth interrupting our sermons.
And yet, is reconciliation even the right word? Many First Nations people don’t think so. Many observe reconciliation implies restoring the relationship to a former level of mutual warmth and trust and affection and intimacy. In most cases no such former relationship ever existed between Indigenous people and European settlers in Canada. In most cases our relationship has been marked by suspicion and distrust. In most cases we were never close.
What we need is a new story. A fresh beginning. A do-over. But to get to a new story, all of us must first become keenly aware of – and, I suggest, deeply troubled by – the story we actually have.
That was the hope that launched Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was established to examine the history and legacy of Canada’s “Indian residential schools” and bring some closure and healing for those who suffered there.
The TRC was struck in 2008, launched in 2009 under the leadership of Justice Murray Sinclair, and wrapped up in 2015. The commission issued a seven-volume report which contained 94 Calls to Action. The work of the commission continues through the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation housed in the University of Manitoba.
In the seven years the TRC was active, the commissioners, along with many participants, heard the testimonies of more than 6,000 residential school survivors. These testimonies, taken together, are devastating, and yet strangely and profoundly inspiring. They narrate a long tale of abuse, neglect and evil, but also tell a story of resilience, courage and grace.
But note this: the TRC was initiated by First Nations people, featured the testimonies, almost exclusively, of First Nations people, and was attended mostly by First Nations people. It was the idea and work of First Nations people from start to finish. All with the aim of reconciliation. Not blame. Not restitution. Not score settling. But reconciliation – of getting the story straight so now, hopefully, we can begin a new story.
Non-Indigenous people in Canada should stand amazed and grateful and humbled by this. After all that’s happened, First Peoples still hold out a hand of friendship to us.
But many of us have just ignored it.
About 14 years ago, I started a small effort to get Christians to start caring about the Church’s relationship with First Peoples, and to inspire Christians to be at the forefront of creating a new story. I’ve talked to hundreds of people about it. I’ve spoken in dozens of churches on it. I’ve lectured at colleges and universities regarding it. I’ve been involved with several conferences dealing with it. I’ve written a number of articles focused on it. I have helped organize local initiatives around it.
One of these initiatives is even called New Story. It’s an all-day teaching event to help Christians understand the history and culture of Indigenous peoples, both nationally and locally, and what we as churches and individuals might do next.
I am seeing some things that give me hope. A growing number of churches, for instance, now open their Sunday services with an acknowledgement of the traditional lands on which they are situated. A few churches welcome, at least in small ways, some form of Indigenous worship in their Sunday gatherings.
More and more Christians are learning the beautiful and unique contributions First Peoples bring to the reading of Scripture. Genesis 1, for instance, depicts not humankind’s superiority over everything in creation, but our dependency on everything in it. Humans need air and water and light and fish and flocks and fruit to survive and flourish, and yet none of these things need us. Everything else in creation flourishes independent of our existence.
But I am also seeing in our churches many things that cause me distress. Continuing bigotry. Abysmal apathy. Deep contempt. Condescension. Resentment. Defensiveness. I would love to see all this change. And if you would too, here are a few things that can begin that change – a few steps toward a new story.
LEARN THE HISTORY
I am still astonished how few people in our churches know about the Doctrine of Discovery (the papal bull from 1493 upholding the divine right of Christians to take land from its “savage” inhabitants), Terra Nullius (the legal claim that “empty” territory belongs to the state that occupies it), the history of treaties, the history of colonialization, the history of the Indian Act, the history of Indian residential schools, and the current struggles and achievements of Indigenous peoples and communities in Canada.
And still fewer know anything about the local tribes and bands within driving distance of their church and home.
Why not strike up a church study group that, over the next few months, becomes well informed on all these things and then informs others?
DISCUSS THE SITUATION
There are many things the group might read and discuss, but I suggest you start with three things – Volume One of the TRC Final Report, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which is underneath much of the TRC’s work and recommendations), and the 94 Calls to Action that emerged from the TRC. I suggest your group focuses on Calls 58 through 61, which specifically address the Church and its supporting educational institutions. (On a side note, I find it stunning Canada’s First Nations people issue 94 Calls to Action, but ask only four things from the Church.)
MAKE A STRATEGY AND TAKE ACTION
The next step might be to come up with a strategy for your entire church to respond to one or two of the Calls to Action. For example Call # 60:
We call upon leaders of the Church parties to the Settlement Agreement and all other faiths, in collaboration with Indigenous spiritual leaders, Survivors, schools of theology, seminaries, and other religious training centres, to develop and teach curriculum for all student clergy, and all clergy and staff who work in Aboriginal communities, on the need to respect Indigenous spirituality in its own right, the history and legacy of residential schools and the roles of the Church parties in that system, the history and legacy of religious conflict in Aboriginal families and communities, and the responsibility that churches have to mitigate such conflicts and prevent spiritual violence.
One local church I know gathered a group of about ten people who spent several months discussing how their church might respond to this one Call to Action. That led to an evening where the group hosted a Blanket Exercise (www.KairosBlanketExercise.org) for the entire congregation. They also invited several elders from the nearby First Nations community.
This one initiative broadened the conversation, and soon several members of the church were meeting regularly with some of the elders to discuss ways they might work together. That led to several youth from both communities meeting every week, sometimes at the church, sometimes at the community.
That led to real friendships and that led to transformation.
What might your local church do?
That last story brings us to the most important thing – real friendship. It still surprises me how few people in our churches have even one Aboriginal friend.
That was me a few years back. Indeed it was me for most of my life. Until about 15 years ago, I didn’t even know a First Nations person.
Then I became good friends with one First Nations man. That opened the way for other friendships. And the more First Nations people I got to know, and the more I learned their stories and came to know their hearts, the richer I became. My First Nations friends are funny and kind and generous and wise. And they are hurt and sad and wary and angry. But they still want to be my friend.
I have gained and grown much from these friendships. I discovered I need my First Nations friends more than they need me. I need my friends to be my teachers and examples and guides. I need them to show me how to live out my faith more fully and authentically – to pray with deeper faith, to share with greater joy, to stand up more bravely under trial. I have learned from them what it means to forgive from the heart. And I have learned from them the true meaning of resilience.
Every new story is rooted in friendship and leads to deeper friendship. That’s where the real transformation happens.
Canada’s TRC, intended to address the history and legacy of RSs, followed the pattern set by other country’s TRCs, such as the one in South Africa. The South African TRC was intended to address the history and legacy of Apartheid. But there is a significant difference between Canada’s TRC and those of other countries. In South Africa, as in other countries, the TRC was tribunal in nature. That meant that it included the testimonies of over 2000 perpetrators – those who engineered and carried out the policies of Apartheid, those who benefitted from it, but especially those who enforced it, often by brutal and illegal means: police, for instance, who committed extra-judicial murders to silence political dissent.
In Canada, for various reasons, the TRC was non-tribunal. In practice this meant that it heard virtually no testimony from anyone who “ran the system”: no government agent who scooped a six-yearold from her home and dragged her away from her wailing mother, no priest who summoned a 12-yearold boy to his study and sexually abused him, no nun who broke a little girl’s neck throwing her down the stairs, no teacher who publicly mocked and humiliated a student for peeing his bed, no school administrator who saw all this and turned a blind eye.
None of them said a word.
Which is a problem. Because – well, think about it. What if you suffered deep harm at the hands of another person, told your story publicly, and all the while the person who harmed you seemed neither to notice or care, and just stayed silent?
It would, at the very least, be hard after that to reconcile with that person. And it would be hard to reconcile with anyone associated with the system in which that person operated. It would be hard to begin a new story. Which is why this all comes down to you and me. Will I too stay silent? Will you?
It was plea. His insides burned, and he craved even just a drop to ease it.
It was a declaration. Jesus stood with us in our humanity, beginning to end. He felt, all the way down, what we feel: I am thirsty. He knew the wanting in us that is never fully quenched, never quite satisfied.
My dad was thirsty.
For many years, from his late teens to his early 30s, he had a bottomless capacity for scotch whisky and, when that wasn’t on hand, rye whisky. I don’t know the difference between the two, but he did. Put 2 or 3 drinks in him, he was funny, charming, witty. Put another 2 or 3 in him, he was sour, mean, belligerent. And he never stuck with just 2 or 3. It gradually took over his whole life. He squandered all the money. He couldn’t hold a job. He couldn’t keep friends. He was about to lose his marriage.
And then one day, a miracle: he stopped.
My dad was home sleeping off a bender. My mom was often home, too, but she’d slipped out while he slept and took the bus downtown to meet with a divorce lawyer. But she got turned around – she never had a good sense of direction – and went to the wrong lawyer, who listened to her anyhow and who, without charging her a dime, told her go back home and tell my dad that either he stopped drinking or she would leave. While she was gone, a Fuller-Brush man (ask your grandfather) happened by the house and found my dad in his drunken stupor. The Fuller-Brush man had recently sobered up through the help of AA, and he forced his way into the house, against my father’s loud and foul protests, and read my dad the riot act.
When my mom got home, she said, “Bruce, I have something I need to tell you.”
And he said, “Joyce, I have something I need to tell you.”
“Okay,” she said. “You go first.”
“I quit drinking,” he said.
He told her what happened, and then said, “What did you need to tell me?”
She said, “That I love you.”
That was all in the early part of the 1960s. My dad never touched liquor again. Not once. He could serve it to others – he kept a well-stocked liquor supply in his home office, and routinely poured and mixed for others. He just never indulged.
But he was always thirsty. Always trying to fill some dry empty place in himself, slake some wild dark craving. I am so thankful for that Fuller-Brush man, who himself slipped back into active drinking 6 months after he met my dad, and died from liver failure 2 years later. But for many years I was also bewildered by my dad: if he wasn’t a drunk anymore, why could he be sometimes so funny, charming, witty and then, with no warning, sour, mean, belligerent?
It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I started to figure that out: he was still thirsty, always thirsty. And he kept reaching for something, almost anything, to fill it.
In my early years, I judged him for that.
In my later years, I got it.
I’m thirsty, too.
It’s actually how God made us.
Jesus doesn’t judge our thirst. He gave it to us. He experiences it with us. Goodness, Jesus wouldn’t know what to do with us if we ever lost our thirst. Our thirst is how he’ calls us to himself: “Is anyone thirsty?” he says. “Come. Come to me. And I will give you real drink.”
No, Jesus loves the thirsty, and he honors our thirst.
It’s just that many things we turn to, often over and over, don’t satisfy it. Some things we turn to even destroy us, though usually at first they show us a fine good time. The well we keep going at first thrills us, then poison us. Retired seminary professor James Nelson in his book Thirst, about his own struggle with alcoholism, puts it this way: “the more I drank, the thirstier I became.”
When Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well (John 4), the topic of his thirst, and then hers, thirst drives the encounter. “Can you give me something to drink,’ is how Jesus starts. I am thirsty. But very quickly, he turns to her thirst: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Give me this water!” she says. She loses all politeness. All decorum. All dignity. Thirsty people tend to do that.
One of the things that older Christians – such as Augustine, Ignatius, Chesterton, Lewis – understood but more recent Christians often forgot (though thankfully are starting to remember) is that our hunger and our thirst – our desires – are not all carnal. Indeed, at root they’re all spiritual. One writer calls our desires, even our worst and darkest ones, “the ruins of our search for lost transcendence.” They’re hieroglyphs of our deepest longings.
C.S. Lewis writes:
The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.”
Jesus doesn’t intend to take away our thirst. He just wants to give us a drink. When he goes to the the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem (John 7) – a carousing week-long whoop up of eating and drinking like none other – and does this:
On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”
And then John, helpfully, adds this “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.”
I am thirsty. You are thirsty. It’s okay: it’s how we’re made. But sometimes we go to wells, over and over, that don’t satisfy. But if you knew the gift of God, and who it is who meets you at your well, you would ask him and he would give you living water.
This past summer, rummaging through a table of used books, I found Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Last American Man. It’s her 2002 biography of Eustace Conway, a modern-day Daniel Boone who lives on a thousand acres of pristine land in the hillbilly country of the Appalachian Mountains. He has made himself an expert at everything he puts his hands to, which is mostly recovering ancient ways of farming and building and cooking and concocting remedies from tree bark and forest plants. I had not, until reading the book, heard of Eustace Conway, though he’s something of a legend, nor had I read anything by Elizabeth Gilbert, though she’s a well-known writer.
But I was captivated from her first sentence: “By the time Eustace Conway was seven years old, he could throw a knife accurately enough to nail a chipmunk to a tree.”
Thus begins a tumbling, wheeling, radiant portrait of a troubled and prodigiously gifted man, equal parts tyrant, visionary, romantic, adventurer, entrepreneur and utopian dreamer. He can drive a real estate deal with snaky cunning and hard-fisted resolve, then write sheer mush to yet another idealized woman for whom he’s fallen hard, then lose himself in some grand ambition to make or remake history. He wants to save America from itself – its flabbiness, laziness, ineptitude, wastefulness, consumption – and teach everyone to live free and wild. But his own compulsiveness keeps him in a perpetual state of disappointment and frustration.
Eustace is a complicated man. Many influences shape him, and much about him remains a mystery. But one theme that Gilbert returns to over and over is his relationship with his father, Eustace, Sr.. Eustace has never lived up to his father’s impossible, inscrutable expectations. Repeatedly, through childhood on, he’s tried in every way to make his father proud, and in every way has failed. When Eustace, Jr. was still at home, Eustace, Sr. had three modes of parenting him – scowling silence, withering mockery, and pummeling lectures. A typical tirade: “You are stupid. I have never met a child more dimwitted. I don’t know how I could have sired so idiotic a son.”
Never has the man reversed his verdict.
Eustace has been in every inch formed by this. He’s spent his entire life trying both to escape his father and to win him. As Eustace’s fame and influence and skill has grown, as he’s been sought and admired by more and more people, he’s remained the boy desperate for his father’s approval, crushed by his father’s contempt. In many ways, he’s accomplished so much because he’s been damaged so deeply. His success – his perfectionism, really – has been a massive gesture of compensation, a thing he’s used to try to fill a void that has no bottom. It’s been his lifelong and mounting effort to hear just one thing: You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well pleased.
Three things emerged for me reading all this. One is a deep thankfulness for my own father, now gone 20 years. Though my relationship with him was strained at times, he was a kind and good man, with a generous heart, and I never doubted his love for me. After his death, I found among his treasures all the tacky or homey little gifts I ever gave him – a metal key chain with his initials crookedly stamped into it, a wooden letter opener made from black oak and ash, and somesuch. I held them and wept.
The second thing is a fresh resolve to be a good father to my three children. To speak words to them that are kind, and true, and hopeful. To call them to be their best selves, but never impose on them my own version of that. To tell them often that I love them. That I am proud of them.
The third thing that emerged is renewed wonder at God’s love. My favorite memory of my own father was a Saturday in June 1976. I had just turned 16. We rose early and drove through the Fraser Valley, outside Vancouver, looking for a U-Pick blueberry farm. We never found one. But the whole day we talked, and laughed, and sang. We had lunch together in a 50’s style diner. We arrived home late afternoon, empty-handed but full-hearted. When I think of God’s fatherhood, I always think of that day: the gift of his sheer presence. He gives many good gifts, but always, with all of them, he gives himself.
Perhaps had Eustace Conway known a father like that, he wouldn’t have had the drive to succeed. Or maybe he would have, but with it also the capacity to enjoy his success, and yet not to define himself by it.
I want to succeed. I want my children to succeed. I just hope that what gets any of us there is not someone’s impossible, inscrutable demands, but this alone: the father’s love.