I returned to B.C. after a 30 year hiatus. The commune I grew up in spent two years there, including my kindergarten year on the Island, out near Victoria. We always just called it "the community", and it was a couple decades before I realized that Americans had a different definition for that word than we had. Every year we get together, a remnant of us, for a reunion, usually at Steve Pietella's place in S. Washington. But this year a number of people had other reasons to be on Vancouver Island this weekend, so we gathered there.
Victoria is an exceptionally beautiful city, with lots of fun for tourists- and lots of tourist dollars expected. There are sculptures of bears everywhere this year; last year it was Orca. The city is more environmentally friendly and more European in feel than most American cities, with an architecture that feels far older than one would expect of a 160 year old city.
This year was a little more disjointed than past years' reunions, as so few people were at the campground, but rather at various homes. I arrived via a very expensive ferry ride from Seattle to Victoria ($125), but really the only way to get from Seattle to Victoria in a reasonable amount of time. After the ferry ride I had my now customary extra security check with Homeland for 20 minutes ("Where have you been in the last year?" "Yemen, Dubai, Morocco." "Please go through those doors over there, sir..."). It was kind of interesting watching them look closely at my stroke medication, which I purchased in Morocco so it is all in French. In Canada, he could actually read what it was for. I of course had another 15 minute security check to look forward to on the return cruise. But disappointing- they didn't check the computer this time, and I had it all rigged up password-protected, with a background screen with a helpful quote from a previous post title.
Owen picked me up, and it was great to see him and Sandy for the first time in about 6 years. (They were guitarist and singer in Servant back in the day, which is just now releasing it's titles on CD.)
There at the house were Shaina Rose and her husband, newly temporarily moved to Bellingham, Washington, as well as the John and Suzie with their kids- and it was especially good to see them, as I hadn't since the commune ended. Unfortunately they all had to leave after the first day of wandering around Victoria, leaving only Owen & Sandie, Steve & Julie, and Kevin & Debi Gowey.
Owen gave me a ride that night to the campsite, tree-filled Goldstream Provincial Park. It was my 2nd time camping in the last few weeks, and there were some differences. Turns out most provincial parks have raised areas for camping, filled with gravel. And that is decidedly uncomfortable to sleep on. Happily Paul & Lydia (elders in the commune along with Owen & Sandie and my mom and dad) provided me with another air mattress. However, they didn't arrive until late that night, and they were the only ones camping that night with me. There are other campers nearby, but far enough away that you only see the glow of their lights and hear the strange sounds they make at night. Which if you've seen episodes of Lost recently, decidedly doesn't help when you're all alone in the middle of a foresty area.
So most of my good conversations I had were with Paul, as he was around- which is a real blessing. He has recently won the Social Worker of the Year award in Canada and was mentioned on the floor of Parliment. He cares deeply about justice, the poor, and the equality of women. And he loves stories- getting everyone to tell their story, and helping people appreciate another's stories. He is a man filled with grace.
Steve & Julie were in Victoria to compete in the Victoria Dragonboat Festival going on this weekend- which explained all the paddles on the ferry. It is truly a festival, with a lot more than just races. Seen below are some of the Chinese dancers they had on stage.
Steve & Julie have been racing for years, and their team raced 4 times today.
Dragonboats are evidently sort of like crew, but with one paddle per person, and a large drum, sometimes beat, sometimes ignored in favor of yelling. The Portland Firedragons, Steve & Julie's team, came in 2nd in nearly every race, but by an amazing photofinish, less than a second behind. In the video above they are the third boat to appear, and you can see how they pull ahead for a moment, but are neck and neck with the 2nd to the bottom team that eventually wins. They ended up winning 2nd in the 3rd division down, bringing them 22nd overall in a tournament with over 180 entries.
Our time was spent between the dragonboats and the campsite- like I said, a bit disjointed. Unfortunately we had less time to really be together as compared to the norm. But I still really appreciate the chance to get together and affirm our long standing bonds. Steve impresses me again with his commitment to the community- he says that our commitments to each other didn't end just because the community ended, and then he backs that up with his actions, in repeatedly organizing the reunions and being commited to all of us as a group.
Every year we have a time of sharing, usually Sunday morning, but this year Saturday night. We discussed some of Servant's more prophetic lyrics from Look Out Babylon, 30 years ago:
"Soldiers in Afghanistan
Sanctions to Iraq
But where the Oil flows the most
Is where the tension lies.
Look out, Babylon,
You're going to have to pay your dues!"
In the midst of the darkness our voices floated out, disembodied due to dry season fire restrictions. Paul shared some of how my brother Seth's gravesite down on our old property in Southern Oregon is now substantially cleared of blackberries, with fresh gravel laid down, new stones for him, Fred, and John, and an arbor. There is discussion of having next year's reunion down at Rouge Valley Campground near Grants Pass in Southern Oregon. It would give an opportunity to have a memorial service for those laid there, as well as visiting the land.
Paul shared about his teaching classes on community. He tells of how much the treeplanters, the economic backbone of our community, made in a day, and asks his students if they would be willing to donate that amount. Usually they are. Then a week, a month, a year, and the total time working. Over the course of 10 years treeplanting an individual could make about $400,000- all of it given to the community. The students are invariably shocked at this, and unsure if they could donate that much.
I was struck by how much God had been moving in Dylan's life of late, as he expressed a real faith and humility. Dylan, Paul's son, was there with his daughter Gracie and his niece Djambe. And I had some really meaningful conversation with Owen, who has done a great deal of work on getting the Servant CD's released. We drove out looking for the Happy Valley House that I lived in when I was 5, but too much has happened in 30 years- we found the road, but there was no way we could be sure on a house that might be torn down, repainted, remodeled, with new housing, or new vegetation.
I was impressed that there were 4 couples there who were still married, to their first wives. It's so rare these days. I asked Owen and Sandie why that was, when they had been through so much. They had a lot of good reasons. They'd never escalated an argument to the hyperbolic, accusing the other of being absolutey wrong. They said they could tell with great anguish whether a couple would stick together or not by how they argued. Did they accuse the other of "never doing" or "always doing" something? Did one partner send out peace signals in an argument, and did the other party receive those signals to diffuse the situation? Where they "for each other"? Owen & Sandie both felt they were incredibly lucky to have the other one. And they practiced "the three dailys": daily prayer together, even if angry with each other; a daily word of affirmation and appreciation; and a daily time of sharing your feelings about something in life. They attributed this to being a powerful bonder in the hard times.
In observing and talking with people, especially Owen, I realized something about our break-up. I've worked for years tring to understand why we broke up, and probably will continue to work for years on that. It's important for me, as it was my entire culture, and it died. There are plenty of reasons for it ending- we were too authoritarian; Jonestown painted all the communes of the day in the same brush; the hippie movement from which we drew ended; more of our members were ex-college students who didn't adapt well to our authority structures; the IRS decided we weren't a church because we didn't have a steeple and wanted $24,000 in back taxes; we focused too much on the band; we had visionaries and managers but no closers who reviewed what has happened and worked on fixing problems...The list goes on. But I realized something new that I think might be the heart of it all.
We were great on the horizontal relationship, between people. Honestly, far better than most churches today, where you see people on Sundays and Wednesday nights, and don't ask, if we see someone once a week, then why don't we meet each other? But we were lousy on the vertical relationship, between people and God. Oh, of course we had worship, and talked about God, and prayed and all that. And there was individual quiet times, especially with the treeplanters. But there was no training in that relationship. There was no tradition of contemplation that we built up and talked about. The leaders, often young in the Jesus Movement, hadn't had training in that, and so couldn't teach it to others. And without that vertical component, the horizontal eventually fell apart, became corrupt, dysfunctional.
I really value some of what I've learned of that from IV, Grant Goble, and the Friends. But the legacy of my upbringing causes me not to practice it enough. And I've thought of late, I really need to dwell more in God, spend more time with Him, if I'm to be at all beneficial to others, and be a moment of grace to them. I keep it as a motto, but I need to far more actually pursue being served by God in order to actively seek out and experience Joy. If I don't, I'm in danger of following the way of others who did great things, but have no staying power, for there is no vision and reason to continue. In the end, no matter what things we do for the Kingdom, it comes down to one relationship: between us and God.