Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Pray for them which despitefully use you

Job didn’t know why this was happening to him. All his children and all his livestock were suddenly gone, then his body became covered with oozing sores. He used dust and ashes in an attempt to calm the itching.

His three closest friends came to commiserate with him and at first had no words to say in face of such a calamity. It seemed logical to them that Job must have somehow brought this on himself. The more Job protested his innocence and his trust that God would vindicate him, the more his friends became convinced that he was hiding a great sin.

“Miserable comforters are ye all,” Job responded. “No doubt but that ye are the people and the truth will die with you.” In frustration, Job demanded an explanation for his suffering from God.

The three friends ran out of accusations and fell silent. Another person, Elihu, began to speak, saying “God is greater than man. Why dost thou strive against him? for he giveth not account of any of his matters.”

In the end Job repented of asking for answers, but his trial was not quite over. God spoke to Job’s three friends and told them to bring animals for a sacrifice to Job and ask him to pray for them. It was only when Job prayed for these men who had spoken falsehoods against him that God set Job free from his troubles.

That is still the only way to experience peace and freedom. Jesus said “Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven.” In other words, when we face criticism and unjust accusations, rather than thinking of ways to cut our accusers down to size, let’s pray for them.

What is Christian mission?

Do we think of mission as a structured work of the church whereby we elect a committee, choose a location to do mission work and then choose people to go there and be missionaries? What are the missionaries supposed to do when they get there?

The starting point for all Christian outreach is to tell others what God has done for us. Do we need a committee to tell us to do that? I hope not. It is possible for every person who has experienced the forgiveness of sins and freedom from the power of sin to tell others about what they have experienced and are experiencing daily as they walk and talk with God.

Sometimes organisation is needed to share the gospel in places far from home. But people are ill-equipped to be missionaries far from home if they have never been missionaries close to home.

Let’s not make it complicated. This is not an intellectual exercise, it is a matter of sharing from the heart about the most important thing in our life. Let’s encourage one another to freely tell what God has done for us.

The art is in knowing what to remove

Michelangelo, when asked how he managed to create such a lifelike sculpture of David out of a block of marble, replied “I just removed everything that was not David.”

Chaim Potok, who wrote novels such as The Chosen and My Name is Asher Lev, said something much the same: “I think the hardest part of writing is revising. And by that I mean the following: a novelist has to create the piece of marble and then chip away to find the figure in it.”

Yearning for more red rhubarb

Image by Di Reynolds from Pixabay 

What is a yard in Saskatchewan without a couple of rhubarb plants? But this yard did not have any when we moved in 13 years ago. Ten years ago I bought one plant from a garden centre and planted it in a back corner of the garden. It grew, but never produced enough stalks that we dared cut any for eating.

I finally had to admit that I had planted it too close to the trees. They were thriving, the rhubarb just surviving. Last spring I dug deep to get all the root and transplanted it to a more open area. We didn’t expect much the first year after transplanting, but the rhubarb surprised us. It loved the new location and produced enough for us to have a few good desserts from it.

And was it ever good! In other places where we have lived we planted rhubarb that promised to be redder and sweeter than the old-fashioned rhubarb and could barely discern the difference. This stuff is different. Well, you can’t exactly call rhubarb sweet, but it is much less bitter than others. We look forward to treating ourselves to more this summer. Now I wish we had two plants. But how can I find another plant like this when I have no idea what variety the first one is?

Connecting the dots

In our small town school, there was a two shelf bookcase in the Grade 11 and 12 classroom. That was our library, and I read every book in those shelves during my last two years in that school. During the reading of one of those books, a historical book, I had a moment of enlightenment. This was over 60 years ago, thee name and subject of the book have vanished into the mists of time, but I remember that it dealt with the same period of history that we were studying in class. It named the same people and places, the same events, but the narrative was different. That was when it dawned on me that the way history is told depends upon the point of view of the writer.

After that I looked on historical research as a page covered with dots, some small, some large. Different historians studied the information provided by those dots and each one connected the dots he felt to be most important to produce a recognizable picture. Some may do it with the intent to deceive, but I believe most are honestly trying to create a clear picture for their readers.

Even the Bible has examples of histories told from different points of view. There are two histories of the kingdoms of Judah and Israel. The first, 1st and 2nd Samuel and 1st and 2nd Kings, was written before the Babylonian captivity by Jeremiah, or by someone else under his direction. The unity of purpose linking these books with the book of the prophet Jeremiah is underlined by the fact that the same four verses form the conclusion of 2 Kings and Jeremiah. Jeremiah consulted the records of those kingdoms and pointed out the episodes of disobedience and idolatry that led to the judgment of God.

The second history, written by Ezra after the people returned from their captivity, is drawn from the same records as the first. But Ezra points out how God was faithful and had often poured out blessings upon His people. He tells how King Manasseh, the most evil king Judah ever had, repented and spent the last years of his life labouring to undo the evil he had done. The link between 1st and 2nd Chronicles and Ezra is evident in that the two final verses of 2 Chronicles are repeated in the beginning of Ezra.

In the New Testament we have four accounts of the life of Jesus. The Gospel of Mark is an eyewitness account, generally understood to have been told to Mark by Peter. Matthew was writing for Jewih readers and pointed out in great detail how the life of Jesus fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah. Luke, wrote as a Greek historian and told a coherent, well documented story of Jesus’ life from beginning to end, including the resurrection. John put more emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit. Each writer told the story in a different way, sometimes choosing different dots. There is no contradiction, we are enriched by having all four.

We need to be very careful in accepting all that we read in the news of current events. News reporters often choose the dots that fit a predetermined point of view. Here is one instance. We are often told that the income disparity between black people and white people in the USA is positive proof of racism. But if you look at the incomes of married black people and married white people, that disparity disappears.

That should cause us to look for the causes of the difference in the number of stable marriages among black people and white people. Then we see the same forces working among all groups of people to undermine the family. There is a war on the family in the world today. This war is not going to be won on the battlefield of politics. It is a matter of faith.

Quebec: from Ultramontanism to nationalism

Ultramontanism was a word invented to describe the Roman Catholic church in France which taught that people owed a greater loyalty to the man on the other side of the mountains than to their own government. The man on the other side of the mountains was the Pope who resided across the Alps in Rome.

The French Revolution, beginning in 1789, severely limited the influence of the Pope in France. By this time Quebec had been separated from France for 30 years, due to the English conquest and ultramontanism continued to be the orientation of the Roman Catholic church of Quebec. After the conquest, it was able to pose as the sole defender of the French Canadian language and culture. They were aided in this by a tacit agreement with English Canadian business interests that left financial affairs in the hands of the English, while the church looked after the educational, health care, religious and social needs of the population.

After two centuries this came to an abrupt end with the election of 1960 which brought to power the Quebec Liberal Party, led by Jean Lesage. In a few short years the new government had turned education, health care and social services into government responsibilities. This era is known as the Quiet Revolution.

The Roman Catholic church, stripped of most of its power to control the people, also lost most of its religious influence. Church attendance in Quebec is now the lowest of any North American jurisdiction. Churches which used to hold three or four masses Sunday morning now have one service with the church half full. Many churches have closed. Evangelical churches have grown rapidly. So have groups with bizarre and esoteric beliefs.

The people of Quebec are still determined to maintain their cultural identity, which includes but is not limited to the French language. They see themselves as a unique nation, that is, a people sharing a common language, history and culture. Not all Québecois are of French ancestry, many are English, Scottish, Irish, German, Hispanic, Italian, etc. Not all Québecois believe that as a nation they need to be a separate country. Though some politicians still promote that idea, most Québecois are nationalists, not separatists.

One effect of Québec nationalism is that woke thinking which has become the only correct way of thinking in educational institutions, media and politics in English Canada has not been able to gain quite the same foothold in Quebec. Ultramontanism is dead, but respect for prominent persons and events of the past is an essential part of nationalism.

WASP to Woke

In my school days, over 60 years ago, I learned that anyone who wasn’t a WASP was less than the ideal Canadian. WASP stood for White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. I could check all the boxes, and felt good about it.

What I received in school was an indoctrination into the Orange Order perception of Canada and Canadian history. The Orange Order frequently resorted to riots to get their point of view across to governments. They believed that people who were not white, Anglo-Saxon protestants should have no influence on Canadian society. They did not share the moral values or the nobility of character that was characteristic of WASPs. Perhaps it was not stated so blatantly, but that point of view permeated our curriculum. The books we read portrayed WASPs as noble and true, other people were shifty-eyed and untrustworthy.

There is a segment of our society that still thinks that way; I don’t anymore. One reason was my mother’s quiet influence. She was much more open-minded and that gradually undermined my tendency to be dogmatic in my attitudes. I read a lot, from many points of view, including books in French, that challenged the Orange Order view of the world that I had learned in school.

Woke is the correct way to think nowadays. The woke perception of Canadian society and history now permeates our educational system, the media and the political parties. The term originated among African-American people in the 1940’s to refer to those who were awake the the social injustices inherent in the structure of society.

The meaning has grown to encompass every perception of injustice and the need for a revolutionary restructuring of society. To those who are woke, it seems imperative to erase all prior history. The views of those who are not woke should not be allowed to be disseminated in any form to the public. In other words, we are now facing an ideology that is every bit as intolerant as the Orange Order, right down to the riots.

As Christians, we must not let ourselves be drawn into such ideological strife, either for or against the prevailing attitudes. We are part of the heavenly kingdom, a kingdom of peace and love; we serve the Lord Jesus Christ. The devils must laugh with glee when Christians get emotionally involved and make statements that do not come from the Spirit of Christ.

Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth. This wisdom descendeth not from above, but [is] earthly, sensual, devilish. For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace. (James 3:13-18).

Half-baked writing

If I remember correctly, this happened 40 years ago when we moved into our house in Fullarton, Ontario. This was before the days of 220 volt plugs, I had to hard-wire the kitchen stove. Then wed put a couple of frozen pizzas into the oven to feed those who helped us move.

Pretty soon we were all sitting down, chatting and waiting for the pizzas to cook. It seemed to take a long time. I checked the oven; it was only warm. What was wrong?

I flipped the breaker, pulled the stove out, looked at the connections and decided I had fastened the wires to the wrong terminals. I unscrewed the clamps, switched the wires around, tightened the clamps, pushed the stove back into place and turned the breaker on. The aroma of cooking pizza wafted from the oven and soon we could have our lunch, just a little later than planned.

Well, I never pretended to be an electrician. I do pretend, however, to be a writer, though still in the learning stage. Half-baked writing has no more appeal to me than tepid pizza, and I’m sure readers feel the same. That’s why I am still studying how to get the connections right in my writing so that the story flows as it should.

But they don’t speak the same French!

I don’t know how many times I have been told that there is no point in trying to learn French. You see, they say, the French spoken in Québec is so different from the French spoken in France that they cannot understand one another. If you study Parisian French in school, people in Québec won’t understand a word you say. For proof, they may recount some story from years ago of a group of students from Saskatchewan who had studied French in school and then visited Québec with their teacher. They couldn’t understand a word that was spoken by Quebeckers and the Quebeckers could not understand them.

There you have it, irrefutable proof that it is no use trying to learn French. A large number of English Canadians have been told this so often that they know it is true beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Permit me to introduce some doubts. If such a language barrier exists, why are there plane loads of people going back and forth between France and Québec every day? Entertainers, politicians, tourists, all kinds of people, they don’t seem to have any difficulty understanding or being understood. Why is it that immigrants from France, Belgium, Switzerland, Lebanon, Algeria, Morocco, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroun, Congo and many other Francophone countries, have no problem living and working with the French-speaking people of Canada?

I took French for five years, grades 8 to 12, in a small town school here in Saskatchewan. I did not learn to speak French, nor to read it. I could understand a few words of what was said on French language radio, but I was nowhere close to being able to speak it. That takes a lot more than a couple of hours a week studying the basics of French. Years later, when I became more serious about learning French, I found that some of those basics had stuck with me.

A teacher cannot just pour French into the brain of a student, that student has to be able to practice as he learns. That is why French immersion works. Students are taught all subjects in French, except English. They speak French in the lunch room and on the playground. When they graduate, they are able to communicate freely in French in any situation.

By the way, studies show that students who learn to be bilingual do better in English and all other subjects than those who speak only English. Learning a new language appears to wake up areas of the brain that we might not otherwise use.

Seeing French as a Bridge

Some languages are walls, some are artefacts, a few are bridges. A language used only by one tribe or ethnic group is useful for communication within that group, but it is also a wall that prevents communication with, and assimilation by, another group.

Some languages are no longer in daily use but are studied as artefacts for understanding and preserving a heritage. Examples are Gaelic in Nova Scotia and Michif in Saskatchewan. (Michif, a blend of French and Cree, was once widely spoken by the Métis people.)

A member of one tribe wishing to communicate with members of another must either learn their tribal language or yet another language which can serve as a bridge between many tribes. For example, Kiswahili, a blend of Bantu tribal languages and Arabic, is spoken in many East African countries.

There are two world-wide bridge languages, English and French, spoken on every continent and learned as a second language by people in almost every country of the world. I assume that readers of this blog know quite a bit about English, but perhaps not a lot about French as a bridge language.

A generation or two ago it appeared that French in Saskatchewan was on the verge of extinction. It was only in the 1980’s that it became possible to establish French language schools. French immersion schools began in the 1990’s. Today the Conseil des écoles fransaskoises operates 15 schools in communities across the province. These are open to children from homes where at least one parent speaks French. In addition, there are 85 French immersion schools, for children with no prior knowledge of French. Enrolment in these schools is increasing every year.

Non French-speaking parents see French as a bridge to new opportunities for their children. Among those parents are many of Hispanic and Asian descent. French-language radio and TV is available everywhere, the internet gives access to unlimited French-language resources.

The last census showed that there are 750,000 people in the four western provinces of Canada who consider themselves fluent in French. Not all are people of French ancestry. On several occasions a few years ago I dropped in on meetings of a French Toastmasters Club in Saskatoon while my wife was at medical appointments. The secretary of the club at that time was a young lady whose last name was Reddekopp.

The situation in Louisiana is much like Saskatchewan 25 years ago. After trying to suppress French for many years, the state has decided to celebrate its French heritage. There are now French-language schools and French immersion schools. The state has placed billboards at entry points proclaiming Bienveue en Louisiane, and joined the international Francophonie organisation. The state of Maine is making tentative steps to encourage the learning of French.

There are currently 300 million French-speaking people in the world and it is estimated that by 2050 there will be 500 million. The Church of God in Christ, Mennonite has congregations and/or missions in seven of the French-speaking countries of Africa.

Personally, I feel there are two reasons for Anabaptist/Mennonite Christians to be interested in French. We are accustomed to dating the history of our faith from the activities of Dutch and German speaking people in the 16th century. But for a millennium prior to that the heartland of Anabaptist Christianity was found in the south of France and among the French-speaking people in the Alpine valleys. Much of that history was obscured by intense persecution, but I feel it is worth investigating and attempting to sort out the true from the false that history books tell us of those times. The second reason is that there are so many French-speaking people throughout the world who need to hear the gospel in a purer form than what is being told by many evangelists today.

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