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Conversation with a Retreatant

by on November 30, 2022

by Br. Mark Dohle

Conversation with a Retreatant

by Br. Mark Dohle

God doesn’t always bring you the entire truth.

He sometimes gives it to you in pieces, in order to learn.

Regardless, it is the piece that you got today

that will renew your faith for tomorrow.” ― Shannon L. Alde

Being a Retreat-Master (or Guest-Master) affords me the opportunity to meet many interesting people. We do get a wide variety of individuals who come here for retreats. Many (the majority) are Christians from many different communities. We also get those who follow other paths. Some are structured, others more free-flowing. All are welcome.

There was a man here this weekend, with whom I have spoken before in the past. We had the opportunity to talk about how his life was going. When he came here I think about four years ago, we discussed the crossroad that he was at. He was having what I would call a crisis of faith. Well after much thought he let go of his religion, and now calls himself an atheist. He joined a Unitarian-Universalists congregation. In this church, there are all kinds of people gathered under one roof. There are Christians, deists, atheists, Wiccans, and others who can’t find a church that will accept them. I do not know much about this group, but I did learn from listening to him that it can be a place of healing for many.

I do believe that when I think of other ‘groupings’ I can be very guilty of stereotyping, and in ways that are very unfair. As I listen to my newfound friend sharing about his community I found myself intrigued.

I can’t say that I am a fan of the Woke movement. From those who speak in public about Woke philosophy, it can come across as being angry, without mercy, or a sense of justice. It is about revenge. However, I knew on some level that those who speak out in public, more often than not, are extremists. So I believe that there was a level of not trusting those who speak for the movement. Most people belong to the silent majority who like me are getting more and more fed-up with the vitriol coming from both sides.

Let’s call the retreatant ‘Frank’. Frank talked about seeking to make those on the fringe of society welcome, to give them a place where they do not have to defend themselves because they are different from the average citizen. As he spoke I begin to understand that this man was not into making a political statement, or yelling at others, but simply treat others as they would like to be treated. He had a deep desire to help others and wanted them to find a loving community to interact with.

His past served him a very toxic understanding of God. So when he told me that he simply dumped that image, and became an atheist, I could understand why he had to do that. Yet I could see God at work in his life, and by the fact that he was not consumed with anger, but only wanted to help others, I could sense grace at work.

God is free to do whatever he wants when he seeks to bring healing and peace to others. Some may need to wander far afield, yet do they? Christians, well many of them, feel the need, or compulsion, to draw all kinds of lines with others, and to pronounce judgments. I find this interesting when Jesus told us not to. It is not from the Spirit of God but from our fallen nature. The desire to dominate and control, I believe is one aspect of this.

I find it interesting that Christians will seldom quote this verse:

Do not judge, so that you will not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)

Jesus said: Love your neighbor as yourself. Well who is your neighbor? In the parable of the Good Samaritan, your neighbor is your enemy.

To love and respect others is not the same as always agreeing with them. It does mean having enough self-awareness to ‘treat others as you would want to be treated”.

I was thankful for our conversation, and hope to see him again. He seeks as we all do and sometimes along diverse paths, but the grace of God knows the heart and is leading those who truly seek to that path that in the end leads to our true home. For Jesus said: “Those who seek will find”.-BrMD


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  1. Tilly permalink

    Thank you for this article Br. Mark. I found it particularly interesting as I found some thoughts here I really identify with. I’ve never attended church, and I am not associated with any particular religion. Over the past year, while driving by a United Church in the neighborhood I began to read the signage outside the church. I noticed that each week they posted a welcoming message of love to all different groups within the community. One week it read We love our First Nations neighbors, the next week it read We love our LGBTQ neighbors, the next week that they loved their student neighbors and so on for many weeks. It became a habit for me to drive by and see what the sign had to say each week. Another time I saw they were welcoming all in the neighborhood in for a pancake breakfast. I slowly began to imagine, as a person who has never ever attended church, that I might consider at some point actually stopping by and perhaps even attending an event. This all boils down to the constant welcoming and non judgmental messages which I found quite unexpected from a church. I’m not saying I’ll become an attendee, but perhaps I’ll check out an upcoming rummage sale or pancake breakfast! I think there might be a kind and thoughtful community of people therein!


  2. Thank you Tilly, love is the glue, fear is what keeps us apart. The Pancake breakfast sounds very good LOL

    Do believe that once two people meet, talk, and listen, the stereotypes drop and a bond an be formed.



  3. Dana permalink

    Thanks for another thoughtful piece, Br. Mark.
    In the early 1990s I visited a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Atlanta for a while. It was a welcoming, diverse community, and as a non-theist I quite enjoyed being there. I have never really felt the need for a church “family” but was curious. Everyone is welcome and I felt that was absolutely sincere


    • mkdohle permalink

      Thanks for sharing my friend. I do think that many need a place that they feel accepted, either in a church, temple, or some other group of like minded people. I guess even politics can be that for many.



  4. Michael Stamm permalink

    Very thoughtful and well-expressed. I think of myself as at best an agnostic, and for most purposes as an atheist, but that’s neither here nor there. My belief, or lack of it, does not impact what IS–whatever that may be. Many so-called Christians, and those who take pride in being of another faith, do not qualify as real believers because of how they actually behave in the world. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and Aldous Huxley’s “Try to be a little kinder” are much more important values than the entirety of any other scripture.


    • mkdohle permalink

      Thank you Michael. Yes, we can talk till the cows come home, but if our actions do not follow, the talk is useless.


  5. Thank you, Mark. I caught several glimpses of myself in what you wrote, not all of them pleasant. I do lose patience at times, and wonder how to gracefully, yet convincingly inform someone they are crossing a line with me. In some cases of ongoing relationships it is difficult to just walk away, knowing you will have to answer for that sooner or later.

    But your message, while immediately valuable on a personal level, has even greater importance on a societal level. We will continue to be at increased risk of very consequential outcomes until we absorb and internalize what you have so clearly laid out.

    Liked by 1 person

    • mkdohle permalink

      Our real growth comes through how we treat, respect, and love others. Our disintegration come from the opposite. to live out the Sermon on the Mount, or at least to try, is probably in reality the most rational way to live. It is difficult, we seem to move towards chaos easier than towards integration and a growth in love.


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