Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

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.

Defenceless Christians?

As Anabaptists/Mennonites we call ourselves nonresistant, or defenceless, Christians. Let’s take a moment to examine ourselves in one small aspect of what this means, or should mean.

The question is, how should we relate to persons in our congregation whose ethnic, social or cultural identity differs from that of the majority of the members? Do we expect all the adaptation to come from their side, so that they fully identify with the cultural norms of the majority? Is that even possible?

We must, of course, be fully united on all points of the faith. The problem is that when almost all the members of a congregation are of the same background, we tend to think that everything we do is based on our faith. We can’t imagine doing things any other way. It wouldn’t seem right.

When someone who is new to the faith asks why we look at aspects of daily life a certain way, we can’t understand why there is even a questions. No one has ever questioned those things before. Our reflex is to become defensive. And when we become defensive, we stop listening.

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When the person asking the question senses our defensiveness, he will often draw back and stop asking questions. But the questions don’t go away, over time they accumulate. Finding no answer to what he considers legitimate questions, he may cease to feel at home in the congregation.

The apostle Paul tells us “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits” (Romans 12:16). The modern meaning of condescend is to be gracious to those who are of a lower state than we are, while maintaining an awareness of our superiority. To read the verse with this meaning is to miss what the apostle was trying to tell us. French translations say to accommodate ourselves to men of low estate, which I believe is the original meaning. Conceits has also shifted in meaning over the years, the last sentence tells us to not think of ourselves as being wiser than others.

Adam Clarke concludes his commentary on this verse with “Believe that you stand in need of both help and instruction from others.” Isn’t that the attitude we need in order to accommodate ourselves to people of other backgrounds? If we expect that all accommodation must come from their side, we cannot be successful ambassadors for Christ.

Let’s lose the defensiveness. Let’s stop expecting square pegs to fit into round holes. If we can see Christ in people who came from a different cookie cutter that we did, our eyes may be opened to see fields ripe for the harvest all around us.

Without me ye can do nothing

The words of Jesus are blunt; unless we submit our lives, our being, to His control, we are not capable of being a Christian. We can pretend, we may think we are doing a great job on our own, but sooner or later something will happen and whatever is really in our heart will show up.

To take just one example: we read exhortations in the Bible about being humble and set about to make ourselves humble. It goes well; soon we think we have this down pat, we’re doing a much better job of being humble than most of the people around us. . .

Whoa! See the problem? We’ve become proud of our humility.

To become a Christian, we must admit that we have hopelessly messed up our life and cannot clean up the mess by ourselves. It’s pretty humbling isn’t it? That’s a good start in Christian life, the right start. However, as time goes on, we start thinking that we’ve got this figured out, we can complete the task of making ourselves Christian by our own understanding and will. When that doesn’t seem to be working out some folks wonder what the problem is. Others see that they have messed up again and turn to Jesus to make a new start.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. He has sent the Holy Spirit to help us do what we cannot do. We all know that the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace. But we don’t always remember the other qualities, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness and temperance. Aren’t they a good description of humility?

It is the work of the Holy Spirit in our heart that makes us humble. Our own work on the outer man can’t do it. Our own work can’t do anything at all that will count in eternity.

Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Saviour, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen. (Jude 24-25)

Requiem for Tuffy

Tuffy came to us unexpectedly November 17, about a week after our first heavy snowfall. Chris opened the door early in the morning, a four month old kitten walked in, explored our home and decided this was his home. We delighted in his lively presence all winter, then he left us just as unexpectedly March 26, before our snow was altogether gone. He went out the night before and never came home. I found him lying by the roadside in the morning, stiff and cold, no doubt a victim of a passing motor vehicle and his own trusting nature.

He was friendly and fearless, curious and cuddly. The other two cats in this house hissed and growled at him that first day, he took no notice. In time they realized he meant them no harm and accepted him as part of the family. He loved to explore outside, climb trees, chas mice. Indoors he came running when the computer printer began to whir and watched in fascination as sheets of paper appeared in the output slot. When his enthusiasm went too far and he was scolded, he promptly sat flat on the floor to consider this new information. He learned not to walk on the table and to wait his turn when treats were being given out.

He grew rapidly. His size, his colouring, the shape of his head, his long hair, all pointed to mostly Norwegian Forest Cat ancestry. So did his congenial nature. No matter what we were doing, he could come along, jump on our lap to be cuddled and loudly purr his appreciation.

A few weeks ago two neighbour cats were in heat at the same time and came to our yard every day, trying to attract the attention of our cats. By then Tuffy was a eunuch, like the other two. Angus avoided the two females, Pookie chased them away, but Tuffy loved the attention. Looking on, we saw that he had no idea why they wanted to be close to him and no clue about what they expected from him.

He made several visits to the Vet clinic with me: to check for a microchip; to be immunized; to be neutered; and one last time to be cremated. A little later in spring I could have buried him here at home, but the receding snowdrifts of winter still occupy much of the yard.

Tuffy quickly found a place in our hearts and brought us much joy. We miss him. Do we expect to meet him again in heaven? No. Yet I believe that all the beautiful and lovely things that bring us joy here on earth are a foretaste of heaven. The Bible may describe heaven as being made of gold and precious stones. Hard and lifeless building materials do not warm my heart or make me long for heaven. I don’t believe that is all that heaven holds for us. God has endowed the earth with wondrous living beauty: the subtle fragrance of Sweet Williams; the cheery song repertoire of Brown Thrashers; the shimmering of Saffron Winged Meadowhawks on the lawn; the purring of a cat on our lap. Won’t we find beauty and joy beyond any of these in heaven?

I wonder – if I believed an animal unworthy of my love, would I then believe that people needed to fulfil certain conditions to be worthy of my love? I have no regrets about loving a little four-footed creature. We always knew it would only be for a time, yet never expected it to be such a short time.


(The Saffron Winged Meadowhawk is a mosquito-eating dragonfly with a red body and wings of translucent gold.)

The foolishness of preaching

Singing and prayer have always been important ingredients of worship in the Anabaptist – Mennonite faith, but the focal point of a worship service is that which the apostle Paul called the foolishness of preaching. It appears to be foolishness because there are not many powerful orators amongst us, not many who make a great impression by their knowledge or wisdom, and very seldom are the effects of the preaching readily apparent. We don’t expect any of those things, but we do believe that Bible-based, Spirit-led preaching from the heart of godly ministers feeds the listeners with spiritual manna that enables them to persevere in the faith unto the end.

Many years ago we went to hear David Wilkerson preach at the Centennial Auditorium in Regina. Now there was a powerful preacher! And there were visible results, decisions made. The lady who came with us was bubbling over with new-found commitment on the way home. Her life was going to be different, she was not going to go to the dance the following Saturday night and partake of the atmosphere and beverages found there. That commitment lasted through Monday and Tuesday, but by Wednesday it was gone and she did go to the dance on Saturday. David Wilkerson’s message was good, but I question if one message is enough to make a lasting change in someone’s life.

I have heard several thousand sermons, from perhaps 200 different preachers, in the years that I have been a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. About the only things I remember of what all those preachers said was that when Wildoer Losier of Haiti was in Montreal for revival meetings 25 years ago he began every sermon with “Je vous souhait la paix,” (I wish you peace). and that when Arverd Wiggers was at St Marys, Ontario 10 years before that he told how Christian life is sometimes like a mountain climber descending the face of a mountain in the dark . He comes down the face of a cliff, reaches the end of his rope and still cannot find any footing for his feet. He hears a voice from somewhere saying “just let go.” He is certain that will mean falling to his death on the rocks below, so he keeps feeling around with his feet, desperately searching for a ledge. Finally he can hold on no longer, lets go and falls – about ten inches, and his feet are on solid ground.

Those are the only things that remain in my conscious memory, but they seem significant. There are orators who can stir a crowd to battle with one fiery speech. But Christian ministers are trying to stir their listeners to peace. To live in peace to the end of our days requires faith, love, patience, forgiveness, temperance. As we listen to sermon after sermon touching on various facets of living by faith and in peace, the Holy Spirit impresses those thoughts upon us and they find a place within us that is somewhere deeper than our mind.

There are moments in our lives when the Holy Spirit tells us to let go of something and that makes us tremble in fear. That thing, whatever it may be, is part of us, essential to our well-being. Yet the voice keeps telling us to let go. When we do, we find we have lost nothing at all, but gained a more sure foothold in our relationship with God.

A Scottish minister was visiting the members of his congregation and came to a lady who was a storekeeper. She told him, “That was a wonderful message you preached Sunday a fortnight ago.” The minister, a wee bit skeptical of the praise, asked “What part of the message was it that impressed you?” “I don’t remember,” she said. “What were the Scriptures?” “I don’t remember.” The minister now was sure she had only been flattering him, but then she said “All I remember is that I came home and took the false bottom out of my bushel measure.”

No doubt this lady had told herself for years that she needed that little dishonest advantage to enable her to make a living in her store. The minister had said nothing in his sermon about false bottoms in bushel measures, but the Spirit had taken something he had said to impress upon this lady her need to be completely honest in her business. When she obeyed, it gave her such a relief that she had to thank the minister.

The foolishness of preaching is like that. It can go beyond the words that a preacher speaks to address a problem that is completely unknown to him.

Rulers are not a terror to good works

I received my first injection of COVID-19 vaccine this morning. That means that I have chosen to ignore the warnings of well-intentioned friends who send me emails revealing the malevolent conspiracy behind the vaccination program. That means I have chosen not to live in fear.

Image by DoroT Schenk from Pixabay 

I have chosen to believe the information provided by Moderna, Health Canada, the Saskatchewan Health Authority and other competent authorities showing that the vaccine is safe and effective. I have chosen to do what I believe will protect my health and the health of those around me.

What good do conspiracy theories do? Do they help us live happy and productive lives? Do they helps us to comfort and encourage those around us? Jesus said “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 9:32). Conspiracy theories claim to be the truth, but they lock us in a prison of fear, a prison that we build for ourselves.

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