Monday, October 31, 2016

The Hunt for Snowy October

Snow was falling,
so much like stars
filling the dark trees
that one could easily imagine
its reason for being was nothing more
than prettiness.

Mary Oliver

Greetings from Whidbey Island, Washington. We've been "on the road" for 40 days. Half of our time was in Saskatoon, Canada, preparing for and staffing the Bartimaeus Institute focused on the theme of The Truth & Reconciliation Commission Calls Churches to Action: Building Capacity for Restorative Solidarity. 100 indigenous and white church leaders gathered together to share honestly and openly about how Christian communities can help work towards "reconciliation" (what our boss Elaine Enns calls "restorative solidarity") after centuries of pain, abuse and violence aimed at tribal peoples and lands. There were seven indigenous elders in attendance--all of them residential school survivors in Canada. Both Canada and U.S. governments have a long, mostly hidden history of mandating that young indigenous children leave home.

Literally, the script (in most of the trauma-filled stories we heard) went something like this: church or government officials showed up unannounced at these children's doors, took them from their parents, placed them in boarding schools, then trained them to "assimilate" to the dominant culture by any means necessary. After enduring (and quite courageously and tenaciously surviving!) childhoods characterized by ongoing terror, unthinkable violence, and unconscionable abuse at the hands of those running these schools, many were never to see their families again. It was an eye-opening, inspiring and very challenging time together (to say the least), and after centuries of empty words and phrases, it was certainly "a call to action."  You can read Tom's review of the Institute here.

We joined in a Canadian Thanksgiving (the second Monday in October) feast with Elaine's extended family.  They were hosting a Syrian refugee family who joined us at the long dinner table.

We traveled a couple of hours north (Emma Lake, Saskatchewan) and it started snowing.  A lot.  Snow on October 10?  Really?  We joined all these delightfully crazy Canadians around the fire.

The BCM staff (Below, from left: Tom, Lindsay, Elaine, Ched, in back with snow cap, or as the Canadians call it "a toque" and Joshua Grace from Philadelphia) visited with Vern Ratzlaff, a legendary pastor in the Mennonite Church. Vern worked for many years in the Middle East for the Mennonite Central Committee, an agency that combines mission work with peace and development work. He was also an adjunct professor of theology at the nearby Lutheran seminary (philosophy and historical theology). Officially “retired,” now, he pastors a small Mennonite congregation in rural Saskatchewan.  He is brilliant and very funny.

After we left Saskatoon, the Path led us to Banff, through the Canadian Rockies and into British Columbia, probably a couple of the most beautiful drives we've ever taken (a mix of mountains, streams, lakes and Fall colors popping everywhere).

We stopped at Grand Coulee dam in Central Washington, the birthplace of Tom's dad, Dennis (his dad owned and operated a drug store in town before they moved to the outskirts of Seattle in the mid-1940s).  We brought some of his ashes and sprinkled them off this bridge into the Columbia River below.

On one side of the bridge is the little town that was started to house workers on the dam (all white men) during the 1930s and early 40s (a New Deal project at the height of the Great Depression).  On the other side is the Colville Reservation, the space the original inhabitants of the land were corralled into by the U.S. government in the mid-19th century and then (for decades) disconnected from the "benefits" of the dam: the electricity, irrigation and the trout, now blocked from swimming upstream.  This is yet another one of the painful (mostly untold) stories that we want to work towards re-learning, reclaiming and redeeming (the hard work). This is what Elaine wrote a few months ago: "our healing as [white] Settlers depends on our willingness and ability to re-vise our stories, and re-member the stories of the land and its First Peoples."  The personal always intersects with the political.

We will be in Orange County from early November to early December.  We are looking forward to catching up with so many family and friends who have made this Journey possible the past 25 months...and into the future.  We would love to share more of our ongoing story over meals and happy hours, with small groups and faith communities. 

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