Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Are we like oxen?

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(My father broke land with oxen when he homesteaded in southern Saskatchewan a little more than 100 years ago.)

Exodus 32:9 – And the LORD said unto Moses, I have seen this people, and, behold, it is a stiffnecked people.

Stiffnecked was originally used to describe oxen who would not lower their heads to permit the yoke to be fastened in order for them to pull together. The term was applied to the Israelites a number of times during the Exodus. After forty years, when they crossed the Jordan, they were a united people, able to work together.

Matthew 11:29 – Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

If we are a stiffnecked people, we will resist with all our might having the yoke applied. Thus we will never be able to pull together with fellow believers and never experience the truth of Jesus’ promise.

Moving on, or pressing on

I really thought that spring would be here in just a day or two. The sun shone warmly on Saturday, the few patches of snow left were becoming smaller and smaller, we heard of birds coming back to a place just a few hours south of us.

Alas, it was but a dream. We awoke Sunday to a thick covering of fresh snow and rapidly cooling temperatures. Today the wind is blowing fiercely, cleaning the snow from open places and packing it into firm drifts in other places. The forecast doesn’t offer any hope of warmer weather until the 21st when spring officially begins.

No wonder the Romans named this month after Mars, their god of war. Many of the worst blizzards I have experienced arrived without warning during this month.

Wouldn’t it be better to live in a part of the world that never has winter? That sounds like a good idea on days like today. But – I have visited Arkansas and Mississippi at the end of March, when the weather was beautiful and I don’t know how I could survive a summer in those places. Besides, winter provides us with an all natural, ecologically safe barrier to things like fire ants, brown recluse spiders, Burmese pythons and other such creatures. Tornado season here is much shorter and less destructive.

I could go on, but you get the picture. I am accustomed to the hazards of living in this climate and know how to cope with the unpleasant aspects of it. If I moved somewhere else to avoid those issues, would I know how to cope with unfamiliar and unexpected aspects of the new locale?

A Saskatchewan politician visiting in British Columbia once said “A lot of Saskatchewan people move to B.C. because of the climate. Most of them move back because of the weather.” My father-in-law was one. He got so depressed by week after week of clouds, rain, and no sunshine in B.C. that he came back to Saskatchewan.

I think that applies to other aspects of our life. Someone grows frustrated in his job, his marriage, his church, the place he lives, and thinks a change will make things better. (I used the masculine pronouns because that is what I am and what I am most familiar with, not to imply that persons on the feminine side may not have the same temptations.) Most often the result is not what was anticipated.

Often a person will explain the change in one of these relationships by his need to get away from persons who are causing him trouble. Oddly enough, the same kind of persons, causing the same problems, are usually found in the next job, church, town, or marriage. And the next one after that.

If we take an honest look at ourselves, we are apt to find we have a full time job looking after the troubles caused by our own attitudes and actions. If we occupy ourselves with that, we will usually be quite content to stay where we are.

Sometimes there are legitimate reasons to move on, other than discontent with the people we have to do with. My wife and I tried out a number of churches years ago. We met a lot of fine people, but not the spiritual fellowship that we longed for. We have belonged to the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 37 years now. That doesn’t mean we have found nicer people, or better people, it just means that we are content that we are where God wants us to be.

Here in the Swanson congregation we have been trying for over a year to decide what to do about our aging church building. Such a situation provides endless possibilities for conflict. But it also creates possibilities for confession and apology when attitudes and words have been uncharitable. It feels like this process is drawing us closer together.

Attitude correction

For more than 200 years, the government of Canada has graciously extended the privilege of exemption from military service to members of religious denominations which objected to participation in warfare for reasons of faith and conscience. At first, the law required conscientious objectors between the ages of sixteen and sixty to register annually and pay a special tax. These provisions were dropped in the 1850’s.

When the Parliament of Canada passed a conscription act in July of 1917, there was some confusion at first as to how this exemption should work. The Mennonite churches advised their members that when a young brother received notification that he was being called up for military service, he should report to the place assigned and submit to what was required of him Meanwhile, a committee of ministers would present a claim for his exemption.

Before long a system was worked out whereby a member would be given a certificate stating that he was a member in good standing of a specific congregation. The certificate would be signed by a minister of the congregation and this certificate was recognized by military officials as sufficient evidence to grant an exemption.

Before this system was put in place, one young Mennonite lad in Ontario received his call, but his mother would not let him report to the military as the church had asked. She probably thought she was protecting him, but it backfired. The army picked him up and carried him off to training camp. Minister Thomas Reesor was asked to intervene on his behalf.

Thomas Reesor and the young man were granted a hearing with the commanding officer. The officer questioned the lad closely, then turned to Thomas Reesor. “I am going to grant this exemption,” he said. “But I think you are wrong in your attitudes. You are living under the protection of the best government on the face of the earth and you are doing nothing to show your gratitude or appreciation.”

Those words rang in the ears of Thomas Reesor all the way home. He shared them with other ministers and leaders in the Mennonite churches of Ontario. In November, 1917 a committee was formed to help relieve some of the suffering of the war and to express in a practical way their gratitude for the privileges granted to them. The Non-Resistant Relief Organisation set a target of raising $100 for every young man granted exemption from military service.

Thomas Reesor was made treasurer of this organisation. In the early stages, one congregation sent a cheque for $130. He returned it, with a letter saying that if this was all their privileges meant to them they might as well keep the money. Not long after, he received a cheque for $3,500 from the same congregation. $75,000 was raised by the end of the war. This was a very impressive sum 100 years ago.

The money was dispersed to the Merchant Seaman’s Relief Organisation for the relief of widows and children of men lost on torpedoed vessels, the Soldiers’ Aid Commission of Ontario for help to wounded and disabled returning soldiers and to relief agencies working in the war ravaged countries of Europe.

I believe Mennonites have always endeavoured to be good neighbours, but it took the reproof of a military officer to launch us into organized relief efforts in Canada. In the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, young men and women are encouraged to volunteer for a term of service in one of the many programs operated by the church: children’s homes, guest homes for families with a loved one in the hospital, units that repair or rebuild homes after a disaster, or Christian Public Service units in a number of cities where young people volunteer in hospitals, rehab centres, nursing homes, etc.

Reflections on turning 75

I remember the exact moment when I realized I was edging into the senior ranks. It was in 1992 and I was explaining to a younger friend how things had been when I was a boy. All of a sudden there was a little voice in my head saying, “Wait a minute! What’s going on here? It used to be that only old people talked like that.”

Twenty-five years have gone by since then; there’s no use trying to deny it any longer — I am officially an old codger. Today I am 75. And I am not 75 years young — I am not going to play that game. According to Moses, “ The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” By that reckoning I am five years past my best before date.

I have accumulated a ton of stories and anecdotes and some of them are even interesting to my grandchildren. My hope is that they will remember some of those stories in later years and realize that there are life lessons to be learned from the experiences told by the older folks. Lessons like the following:

The good old days weren’t always that great.
• Does anyone today remember tuberculosis and polio? There were epidemics of those diseases, and many others, when I was young.
• Does anyone remember dust storms that reduced visibility to zero and seeped into the best sealed houses? When I was a boy, most farmers had one piece of tillage equipment, a one-way disc harrow. They used it for seeding and for summerfallowing. The soil dried to a powder that would travel with any breeze. Today’s tillage equipment and farming methods conserve soil moisture and nutrients, making possible crop yields that were unthinkable years ago.
• Volunteer fire departments in small towns did their best, but they were untrained and under equipped. A grocery store in our town caught fire, someone rang the bell on the town hall and soon the volunteers were on the scene with the town’s fire equipment. In their rush to fight the blaze, they got the fire hoses tangled up. By the time they got them untangled it was too late.

New doesn’t always mean better
• Teachers are better trained, schools are bigger and better equipped, the curriculum is constantly being upgraded. Illiteracy rates have exploded, store clerks haven’t a clue how to make change if the computerized till breaks down, and people don’t know what country Ottawa is in.
• Thalidomide was used to treat morning sickness in pregnant women. Thousands of babies were born with missing or malformed arms and legs. Thousands more did not survive. Seldane was a marvellous new non-drowsy antihistamine. It caused me to have heart palpitations, a few people died — it is no longer available. My wife was prescribed Vioxx to treat her arthritis. She had heart palpitations while taking the drug; it also is no longer available.
• Time was when most people went to church on Sunday. The Word of God was read, moral principles and respect for others were taught. Of course there were a lot of half-hearted Christians and outright hypocrites in the churches. But has abandoning the churches made our world a better place?

Weather changes
• There is no such thing as normal weather, at least not where I live. When I was five there was a blizzard that closed roads for days and almost buried a passenger train — the town people carried food out to the train until it could be dug out. In the early fifties southern Saskatchewan had summer temperatures up to 105° F and winter temperatures down to -50° F . I don’t believe we have ever experienced those extremes in following years.
• Saskatchewan is more familiar with drought, but in the past five or six years we have had a series of summers with much higher than average rainfall.
• Forty years ago there was a suspicion that the Soviets were using nuclear tests to manipulate our weather and cause unusual storms. There were serious scientific attempts to explain how this could be done. Years of living here have convinced me that every year brings something we haven’t seen before and yet it is all part of the normal weather cycle. There is no need to look for a human cause.

There were frequent nuclear bomb tests in the late fifties when I was in high school. The media kept us informed when the cloud of radioactive dust would pass over our area. One morning Jack Dosko came to school and reported: “ The nuclear fallout passed right above us in the night and this morning I saw little pock marks all over the windshield of Charles Kennedy’s pickup. I wonder what else we will find.” Sixty years have passed and I still see windshields like that. I think it has something to do with our gravel roads.

Let’s not get too excited when we hear scare stories. This too shall pass.

Book review: Humble Roots

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Hannah Anderson is the wife of a country pastor in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia who finds inspiration for her writing in her garden and other growing things.

This book helped me understand why I have always felt uncomfortable when Christians talk about their humility. She tells us that “Show, don’t tell,” one of the cardinal rules of effective writing, should also apply to humility. If we have to tell people that we are humble, we probably aren’t. If people cannot see evidence of humility in our lives, there’s no use telling them we are humble.

She quotes C.S. Lewis: “If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell them the first step. The first step is to realize that one is proud.” Pride can corrupt our attempts at humility. We talk about feeling unworthy, about how undeserving we are, and all the while what we are really doing is drawing attention to ourselves.

In the book, Hannah Anderson says:”Humility is not feeling a certain way about yourself, not feeling small or low or embarrassed or even humiliated. Theologically speaking, humility is a proper understanding of who God is and who we are as a result.”

I highly recommend this book; it confronts the realities of life in a gentle, down to earth, and often humorous manner and leaves you with an important message to chew on.

© 2016 by Hannah Anderson, published by Moody Publishers.

Primitive Christianity and the Celts

As far as archeologists can determine, the Celtic peoples originated near the Danube River and spread east, south and west from there. Today, the only identifiable Celtic populations are found in France (Brittany) and the British Isles (Ireland, Scotland and Wales). Two thousand years ago they were all over southern Europe.

They lived along the Po River in northern Italy, in Switzerland, Belgium, France, Spain, all over the British Isles, into Bosnia and as far as Asia Minor (present day Turkey). The Greek form of Celts is Galatai. In France they were known as Gauls, in Asia Minor they were Galatians.

The Apostle Paul brought the gospel to the Galatians. Believers from there took it to the Gauls in southern France and from there it spread into the British Isles. It may have been Celtic missionaries from Scotland that carried the gospel to northern Italy, Bohemia and Switzerland. In time the gospel spread from the Celts to the people around them.

The Celts never organized into nation states, they were more a loose association of clans. As long as they were able to maintain their independent existence, the gospel that took root among them was of a purer form than the syncretistic gospel that was imposed in the Roman Empire after Constantine.

As Germanic peoples moved into the territories occupied by the Celts and the Roman Empire extended its reach, the Celtic peoples were absorbed into the majority culture. Nevertheless, evidence remained of their purer gospel among the faith groups known as Waldenses in the Alps, Albigenses in southern France and Bogomils in Bosnia. There is historical evidence of links between these groups, preachers from Bosnia appearing in the south of France, in Italy, Bohemia and other places.

These old evangelical brethren believed that Christians were citizens of the kingdom of God and were not to take part in governing earthly kingdoms. The Roman Catholic church accused them of being dualists, of believing that the God of the Old Testament was not the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. There is historical evidence of that belief in many of the same areas, but the faith groups named above did not hold such a belief. It was merely a handy accusation to justify using political power to persecute rivals to the Roman Catholic church and taint all evidence of the purity of their faith.

Eventually these churches appeared to have been persecuted into oblivion. Yet the faith proved to be more resilient than the persecutors. New churches sprang up in Switzerland, south Germany and the Low Countries, professing the same old faith. They came to be known as Mennonites. There is one intriguing last glimpse of the old churches in eastern Europe. In the 16th century, three men from the region of Thessalonika travelled to Germany because they had heard there were fellow believers there. They met with a Mennonite congregation, found they were united in all points of their faith and held communion together.

Matthew Effects in Learning

“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

In 1986, Keith Stanovich published a study entitled Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. The “Matthew Effects” in the title came from Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

The study showed that students who, at an early stage, gained a good understanding of how words are composed of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who do not rapidly develop an awareness of the spelling to sound correlation will fall farther and farther behind in subsequent years.

This concept of how words are composed of sounds (phonemic awareness) is easily taught to young children, but our public school systems are not doing it. Instead, for at least 70 years now they have been experimenting with other methods of teaching reading. The result is that about 1/3 of children quickly make the letter-sound connection on their own, another 1/3 will struggle at first but eventually get it and the other 1/3 will be labelled learning disabled. I believe a large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else that a child will encounter in school, those with poor reading skills fall farther and farther behind as they progress through the school system.

This is a perfect example of the quote in my last post: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What we need is a more flexible system that is focussed on results. In both learning to read and in learning basic math skills, a child needs to master one set of skills before being pushed on to the next level. This concept of teaching for mastery in the basic skills has long been absent from the public school system

If this sounds like an argument for home schooling, or the old-fashioned one-room school, well, yes, I believe that they are more successful models for results-oriented learning. In any case, parents need to overcome their sense of intimidation by the big school machine and be much more involved in their child’s learning, especially in the beginning stages.

Setting education free from the bureaucracy

It was the practice at one time to teach swimming by getting the learner to lie belly down on a footstool and practice moving his hands and feet in the way that would propel him through the water. That’s not done anymore, for the simple and obvious reason that it really didn’t work.

After making billions in the internet and cell phone business, French entrepreneur Xavier Niel decided a few years ago to open a school for anyone wanting to learn computer coding. The entrance requirements for the school are that one needs to be 18 to 30 years old and able to pass an online logic test. There is one more requirement: you have to be willing to work really hard.

The school is called 42, it has no tuition and no instructors; the students are just dumped in the pool and told to swim. For the first 30 days, students are required to work at the school 15 hours a day. Those who stick it out will learn as much in those 30 days as they would in a two-year university course. Then the real education begins.

In order to earn a diploma, the student must complete 21 levels of training. It is collaborative learning with peer-to-peer correcting and each one working at their own pace. Some might finish in two years, others may take longer, it doesn’t matter.
How effective is it? A study last year tested13,000 graduates in computer programming, or software engineering, from 700 universities worldwide. The graduates from 42 topped all the others.

Much of this information comes from an article in the French news magazine le Point, written by Idriss Aberkane. M. Aberkane then goes on to ask if the whole educational system wouldn’t benefit from being remade according to the 42 model.

There is an obstacle though: the educational bureaucracy. To quote M. Aberkane, “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.” If that is true of the public education system in France, it is doubly true in Canada.

Covetousness

Our Sunday School lesson yesterday was on covetousness, a word that some of us don’t know how to pronounce and none of us know how to define.

Covetousness seems quite long enough at four syllables, but some in our circles think it needs a fifth. They pronounce it cov et you us ness. That’s ridiculous, four syllables are quite enough to get the job done.  In fact, we might be better off if English had stuck with the French original: convoitise. That has only three syllables.

As for the meaning, this seems to be a slippery word, difficult to get a grip on. I looked it up in several dictionaries and didn’t find them helpful. Hence, after some meditation on the subject, I hereby propose two definitions of my own, which I think cover the gamut of what we mean to say when we use the word.

Covetousness: 1. the desire for more than what is good for us; 2. the desire for something that would lift us above the common run of people of our acquaintance.

There you have my contribution to the demystification (six syllables!)of the English language. Feel free to submit your own definitions, or to shoot mine down if you feel that is what is needed.

Quebec city shooting and aftermath

Monday evening a man with a gun walked into a Québec City mosque and began shooting those who were there to worship. Within an hour, two university students were in custody, Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohammed Belkhadir. Before long, the police announced that only Mr. Bissonnette was a suspect, Mr. Belkhadir was a witness; he was released after several hours. Mr. Bissonnette has been charged with six counts of murder. Two more victims remain in critical condition in hospital. All were shot in the back.

Mr Bissonnette did not belong to an extremist group. He had voiced some critical views about Muslims and others, but nothing that would have sent any warning signals about his intentions to proceed to such drastic actions. He is not a symptom of something terribly wrong in Québec society or Canadian society. I don’t know what can be done to stop persons acting alone who feel that they have received an illumination revealing that they can make the world a better place by going out and killing a few people.

Mr. Belkhadir spoke to the media after he was released and explained why he had been arrested. He had been leaving the mosque when he heard gunshots and went back inside. He had been providing first aid to one of the injured when he saw a gun pointing at him, thought it was the gunman, tried to get away and was quickly apprehended by the police. He said that he fully understands that running away made him appear suspect, but that the police had treated him well and he had no ill-will toward them.

The gun pointing at him was in the hand of a police officer, not the gunman. I am thankful to live in a country where police officers are not trigger-happy. The gun was not fired, Mr Belkhadir is alive and unharmed.

Government leaders and politicians across the country said all the right things about feeling sorrow that such a thing could happen and feeling compassion for the victims and all those affected by the shooting.

Perhaps Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister of Québec said it the best: “Spoken words matter. Written words matter.” He was not advocating censorship, but urging us to be careful to get the facts straight and to use words of kindness to others. He finished by saying: “We are all Québecois. Once we say this, then we talk to each other. Next time you walk past someone of the Muslim community, why don’t you stop and say hello?”

We have been tested by the hatred shown by one young man. The reaction from across the country has given me an assurance that the great majority of Canadians are people of compassion, not hatred.

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