An Artist’s Healing Journey

It was a privilege to meet Isadore Charters a few months ago and hear his story.  It is gut wrenching and saturated in the pain of a residential school experience but a pain navigated with humility, reconciliation, joy and brilliant ‘soul formed’ artistic expression.  This is his story.  Well worth the watch.  It’s 3 minutes long.  (HT to Brander McDonald).

What part of Isadore’s story struck you?  How do youexpress yourself when you are on a ‘healing journey’?


My son Asher, carving the “Healing Pole” Isadore brought to our church. The “Healing Pole” is a way to participate together in reconciliation activity for the atrocities of the Church/State run Residential School’s that were scattered throughout Canada.

Carving a New Story: Of Residential Schools and First Steps


“To kill the Indian child” was aimed at severing the artery of culture that ran between generations and was the profound connection between parent and child sustaining family and community.  In the end, at he point of final assimilation, “all the Indian there is in the race should be dead.”

Professor David A. Nock, “A Victorian Missionary and Canadian Indian Policy: Cultural Synthesis vs. Cultural Replacement.”

The dark side of Canadian history which festers to this day is the continued marginalization of the First Nations people.

Starting in the 1840’s the Canadian government developed a policy called “aggressive assimilation” to be taught in church-run, government funded industrial schools which later became known as ‘Residential Schools.’  The hope was to ‘kill’ the ‘Indian’ so that ‘they’ could be better prepared for mainstream society.  The government decided that it would be easier to mould children as opposed to adults, and to put those children in a boarding school environment to reach this goal.


The final ‘Residential School’ closed in 1996.

There has been some mild progress in recognizing the atrocities of this time.  Yet, it is high time for our churches to make a significant effort to enter into purposeful reconciliation with our First Nations brothers and sisters.  It is not possible to say with integrity that we will engage our neighbours or neighbourhoods if we continue to be disconnected from our First Nations people.

We need to be forgiven, but before we can even ask the question of forgiveness we owe our First Nations brothers and sisters the respect and dignity of mutual human relationship where we  listen.

Our church chose to participate in a first step.  The beginning of a new story between the church and our First Nations people.

The whole weekend focused on a “Healing Pole” which is an in process totem pole.  It offered a first step in carving a new history.

The weekend was full of story, of learning to understand what the horrible impact of the Residential Schools had on countless generations of First Nations people.

One woman shared her experience. It was brutal. But as she begun she told us that her husband was waiting in the car outside because he could not bring himself to enter a church.  The pain runs deep.

A totem pole speaks to the history of a people.  As we were invited to participate in carving the “Healing Pole” we begin to shape a new story as we listen to the anger, hatred and pain that is the result of the ‘Residential Schools’ and seek a new reconciled reality for the future.  Carving of the healing pole is to work together in this special way.  We together create a new history.  I am thankful for Isador Charters, Don Klaassen and all the other collaborators for initiating this all important first step.

It was a beautiful moment for me to see my almost 3 year old son carving.  A live and living colour participant in a ritual of redemption and reconciliation.  He was not completely aware of what was going on, but to expose him to this kind of reconcilatory environment, to tell him of this moment when he is older is to remind him of Jesus Christ’s nitty gritty participation right in his backyard.

Much more is to be done.  Much more.  But these kinds of relationships and rituals which point us to divine redemptive realities are a place to start.  This “Healing Pole” will be headed to other churches in the province.

May we continue to pursue relationships with our neighbours in humility, compassion and may it be grounded in Christ.

How can you and your community build relationship with First Nations people in your neighbourhood?  In what other ways can we pursue forgiveness?  What other rituals can we create?

For those interested, Mennonite Church Manitoba is collaborating and creating long term partnerships between Mennonite congregations and First Nations people in Northern Manitoba. They are simply building relationships. Check out one example here.

Malcolm Gladwell on Mennonites and Forgiveness

This past summer, author Malcolm Gladwell went to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to connect my wife’s aunt, Wilma Derksen whose daughter was murdered 20+ years ago.  He was exploring the story of the Derksen’s and their particular pursuit of forgiveness.  But in the bigger picture, he was and is wondering ‘where the culture of forgiveness in the Mennonite world comes from.”

Interestingly, Gladwell makes the link between the history of persecution Mennonites have faced with the ability to forgive.

In brief, it is quite true that Mennonites have a propensity for social justice, and within that is a seemingly inherent capacity to forgive.  But deeper still, it must not be forgotten that this ‘capacity to forgive’ is facilitated by the Anabaptist Mennonite spirituality which persistently and consistently pursues the presence of and peace of Christ.

Start watching at the 3:50 mark.  (Forgive me, it is not embedding properly.  Click on the link below.)

Where did the Mennonite capacity for forgiveness come from?  Can being entrenched within the devastating experience of persecution have the potential, in the long term, to build something beautiful?

Forgive because it is the ‘Christian’ thing to do?


Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.  So watch yourselves.

“If your brother or sister[a] sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. 4 Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.”

Luke 17:1-4 (NLT)

Ok.  It is a little weird to think of someone coming back to me seven times in a day asking for forgiveness.  But the message is clear.


Sure, it is good to be a Christian who forgives.  Because, well, we believe that as we are forgiven, we are to forgive others.  It could even be said that it is the good Christian thing to do.

When someone steals something, or says mean and nasty things in the various ways in which that kind of slander can occur, it could be considered easy to at some point in time, forgive.

Yet, when the barbarity digs deep into the soul as if to violate the humanity within it, forgiveness is not easy.  Our human history is full of these atrocities.  Atomic bombs, genocide and some of the worst stories anyone could ever imagine have happened to more than just a few people.  When one comes to them and says ‘forgive’ because it is the Christian thing to do, forgiveness is given the value of being found at the bottom of a discount bin in the dollar store.

Forgiveness needs the dignity of the human experience.  The experience of the violated soul needs the dignity of recognition and understanding.  In finding that dignity, the loved and valued child of God dignity, even asking the mere question, “can I forgive?” suggests a different, redemptive reality.

So one of the many messages taken from this text points us to the importance God puts on human relationships.  Work towards forgiveness.  Let it orient you because forgiveness is redemptive.  Our world doesn’t see enough of it.  But it is not easy.  It is not cheap.  Which is why it is beautiful.  We have an example in the’ not at all cheap’ forgiveness in the saving life of Christ.

May we, in our pain and agony come to ask the question “can I forgive?” with a costly dignity with which it deserves.

What do you think?  What is forgiveness worth?  Is there anything, particularly as we think of the atrocities littered throughout human history, that is unforgivable?

Thirty Two: The ‘F-You’ Pastor

I am preaching this Sunday at my church.  I would be lying if I told you that their wasn’t a little piece of me that wishes I was able to preach like this.  I don’t know if it would get me in trouble or not, but that is not the point, cause well, I’ll never be able to preach like this anyway.   

While this short little clip may trivialize forgiveness, it certainly points to the messy reality that forgiveness is an essential dynamic of faith.  We are forgiven, so we forgive. 

I love the lady that is giving hi-5’s in the front row near the end of the clip. 

This has been around for a while, and I certainly don’t mean to offend, but I hope you crack a smile with this one.