Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

The Visible and Invisible Poor

I believe we in North America have a problem in the way we see the poor. We are acutely aware of the poor people in Africa and Asia and believe it is up to us to do something to relieve their poverty. We are blind to the existence of poverty in our own countries, because our countries are rich and there is no excuse for anyone to be poor.

Isn’t pride the principal motivator in both cases? We think ourselves better people than those who are poor; as if it was our superior wisdom that caused us to be born in prosperous countries and stable homes.

We send enormous amounts of used clothing, mosquito nets and other goodies to Africa and pat ourselves on the back for our kindness. It is not kindness – these are poisoned gifts that take jobs away from those in Africa who would be fully capable of manufacturing them.

Some years ago there was a surplus of rice in the USA. The government decided that they could help US farmers and the poor people of Haiti by donating the rice to Haiti. It did help US farmers, but before the free rice came there were farmers in Haiti growing rice and plants to process the rice. Those people all lost their livelihoods.

Our supposed generosity is a display of contempt for people in those countries; we are telling them that you are inferior people, incapable of providing for your own needs. Does that sound harsh? Aren’t we just trying to help? We may think we are helping, but we need to step back and look at the gap between our supposedly noble intentions and the damage our gifts are causing. There are voices in Africa telling us, “For God’s sake stop helping us!” We should listen to them.

Contempt is a harsh word, but isn’t that what is really behind our thinking about poor people in North America? Have they truly had the same opportunities as those who are most prosperous? The same respect, the same educational and employment opportunities?

There are many factors that can’t simply be brushed aside. There are the lingering effects of slavery in the USA, the white race riots in the Red Summer of 1919 when white mobs in two dozen US cities rampaged through black neighbourhoods, vandalizing and looting businesses and homes owned by black people, the Detroit riot of 1943 when several black people were offered supervisory jobs in the Packard plant and many other incidents. My father and his brothers grew up in the USA. Anything they ever said about black people indicated that in their minds the inferiority of black people was an unquestioned fact.

In Canada, the residential schools for indigenous people, with supposedly benevolent intentions, undermined the family structures of those people. That brings me to the principal cause of poverty in North America – the lack of fathers. Most young people who get into trouble, most members of street gangs, most petty criminals, most prostitutes, most of the poor people, have not had a father who loved and cared for them, who gave them a sense of security at home.

A friend of ours in Montreal 25 years ago, grew up in Beirut during the Lebanese cic=vil war that lasted from 1975 to 1992. Almost all the buildings in Beirut showed some damage fro the bombs and shooting. Her father, a retired military officer, told his sons that if they enlisted in the army he would not allow them into the house. He did not want to bring the turmoil outside into his home. His sons obeyed their father’s wishes. Our friend told us that whatever the strife around them, she always felt safe and secure at home.

If all men could give their families that level of security, that would go a long way to eliminate the disorders and dysfunctions of our time,.including poverty. If you have grown up with a father like that, thank God for him. And don’t despise those who live in poverty because they have not had the same opportunity.

Change and decay in all around I see

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” – C.S. Lewis

It surely does seem that God is shouting at us right now. But what is He saying? Is he telling us to repent? Most likely that is part of it for most of us. But I can’t tell you what you need to repent of, that is a matter between you and God, No one else knows exactly what your need is.

What should be clear to everybody by now is that we have been trusting the wrong things. Money, jobs, health care, our own plans, all seem shaky now, not at all so sure and solid as we thought. One thing, one person, remains unchanged.

For I am the LORD, I change not (Malachi 3:6)

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will remember the name of the LORD our God. (Psalm 30:6)

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me (Psalm 23:4)

The following hymn, written by Henry F. Lyte almost 200 years ago, is known throughout the English-speaking world. If anyone is thinking of singing something meaningful to strengthen and comfort folks in nursing homes, this hymn should be at the top of your list.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.

Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Caveat Lector

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Image by Ahmad Ardity from Pixabay

Let the reader beware. These are my own contrarian views on the COVID-19 situation and not grounds to take things lightly. I am not a scientist or medical expert. Even if I am correct in what I say here, it still remains that elderly and infirm people are in danger and we need to take seriously the restrictions imposed by our governments for their protection.

With every communicable disease there is a point where enough people have developed immunity to it that health experts talk of herd immunity. That means that enough people are immune that there is almost no chance that one infected person can spread the disease to others.

That number varies according to how easy it is to catch the disease. Estimates for COVID-19 vary, but 70% seems to be a ball park figure. That is, once 70% of the population develops immunity, then there will be no more danger of an epidemic. Most epidemiologists are saying we cannot reach that level without a vaccine. I believe that development of a vaccine is urgent to protect the aged and infirm, because as many as 20% of them could die if they contract the virus.

What about the rest of the population? Do they have to wait for the vaccine before they can feel safe? What proportion of the population has already been exposed to the virus and developed immunity? No one knows. We are going on the assumption that the percentage is very low; but the only people being tested are those who display symptoms of infection by the virus or are known to have been exposed to it.

How many people have been exposed to the virus and shown no symptoms at all? We really don’t have a clue. I do have training in statistics and I would have confidence in the results of random testing of perhaps 1% of the general population. There is some talk of conducting such a study. What if it showed that 50% of the population has already been exposed to the virus and is now immune? That would mean that we are not too far from the number needed for herd immunity.

I have no more idea than anyone else where we are at in Canada. I believe there are more people who have contracted the virus than the present numbers indicate. If they were free to circulate during the first 14 days after contracting the virus they may well have spread it to others. But after that they are immune, even if they never showed any sign of sickness. Our whole medical system is in crisis mode right now, but it would help us to better understand the future if there were enough test kits available, enough personnel to administer them and enough lab time to analyse them.

Maybe that’s asking too much. Maybe we just have to wait and see how things play out in the coming weeks.

5 ways to fight for contentment during lockdown – Premier Christianity

As the coronavirus pandemic forces us to stay at home, many are lamenting the loss of freedoms they enjoyed just days ago. Jennie Pollock explains how Christians can hold onto hope and fight for contentment during these difficult days

Source: 5 ways to fight for contentment during lockdown – Premier Christianity

Where will the puck be?

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Image by skeeze from Pixabay

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Wayne Gretzky

That’s a great quote. One element of Grtzky’s success as a hockey player was his ability to read how the action around him was going to unfold and put himself in position to take control of the puck.

With that in mind, here are my best guesses of how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out in Canada, and where the puck will be a month from now. Remember, I am not a prophet, I claim no divine inspiration for these predictions, and even Gretzky wasn’t always right.

  • This week will see the peak in the number of infections. There will still be some deaths of those already infected in coming weeks, but new infections will hit zero by the end of the month.
  • People will be cautious at first when restrictions are lifted, but the pent-up desire to get out, walk the malls and go to a coffee shop or restaurant with friends will make those places busy again.
  • The rush to reschedule everything that has been postponed: medical appointments, surgeries, meetings and events will keep everybody scrambling to catch up.
  • Farmers will be seeding, construction projects pushing to meet deadlines, factories and distribution centres going full out to keep up with demand. Unemployment will drop to low levels.
  • Globalism has been wounded. We are going to rethink the advisability of having essential goods manufactured so far away, especially medical goods. This will lead to more jobs here in Canada.
  • The tools for teleconferencing already existed but their implementation in the medical and educational fields has expanded at breakneck speed during the pandemic, especially in Quebec and Ontario. These changes will remain and spread. Online medical consultations and online teaching will make specialized services available anywhere.
  • I hope that we will lose our taste for electronic church when this is all over and rejoice in being able to physically gather together to unite in worship.

Who is in charge here?

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A friend, thinking to reprove my affection for cats, told this little fable:

A dog, upon being given shelter, food and lots of affection, begins to worship his master, thinking to himself: “Wow! this man must be a god!”

A cat, upon receiving the same kind of treatment and affection, thinks to himself: “Wow! I must be a god!”

My reaction to the fable was the opposite of what was expected. “So, if I don’t want to get a swelled head and start thinking of myself as a god, I’m better off not having a dog. A cat will keep me humble.”

OK. Dogs and cats don’t have that kind of reasoning ability. But there is a distinct difference in their attitude towards humans. Dogs are dependent on people, having lost the hunting abilities of their wild kin, wolves and coyotes. Dogs who go rogue seem to kill for pleasure rather than because they need a meal..

Feral cats have remarkable survival skills; they are excellent hunters, stealthy and patient. Perhaps for this reason they are more independent in nature. There is reason to suspect that cats became domesticated of their own volition, way back when people began to farm. Stored crops attracted vermin that provided an abundant source of food for cats. A special relationship developed from there, with farmers providing protection for cats in return for services rendered.

However it happened, any cat owner will tell you that the cat believes he is the one in charge. In return he appropriates the best chair in the house, expects to be fed and groomed on his schedule and to be let in or out a dozen times in a day.

Yet he can be affectionate when it suits his mood and has a genius for cuteness, and appears to think he is taking care of us. My cat, who looks much like the one at the top of the page, gets a little antsy when it is time for me to go to bed. When I finally get under the covers, he lays down beside me until I am asleep, then gets up and goes somewhere else. At the first glimmer of dawn he come back to wake me up.

School at home

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Man homeschooling young daughter – shutterstock_283575290 (2)

It looks like children will have to learn at home at least until the end of April. Does that seem overwhelming? Here are a few thoughts that might make it easier.

  • Begin the day with God. Read from the Bible and pray with your children.
  • Children have more time in the day now, since they don’t ride the school bus. Don’t let them sleep in. They should get ready for the day as usual, do their school work, and have more free time later.
  • If Mom is now the teacher, the children should help more with the meal planning and preparation, house cleaning and laundry. Home Ec is a legitimate life skill.
  • If there are multiple children, in multiple grades, the older ones should help the younger. This is also a valuable life skill.
  • Improvise. Age segregation is not needed for all subjects.
  • Don’t try to replicate the setting of a school classroom.
  • Do establish a schedule.
  • Don’t let Dad off the hook. If he is home, the children will be thrilled to have him help with their school work.
  • Learning to learn is an essential life skill. Let the children figure things out for themselves and do their own research as much as possible.
  • Don’t forget to have fun; children need recreation and physical activity to keep their minds clear.

Mennonites: ethnic group, culture or faith?

In the first few centuries of the Christian era the faith spread far and wide through Asia, Europe and Africa. Then came the time when the Emperor Constantine professed to espouse the Christian faith. For a time persecution ceased.

But the church that made peace with the Imperial power became corrupted by peace and power. Many Christians refused to be part of such a church and maintained the original purity of the faith. So persecution began once more, this time by a church that had become earthly and pagan, yet still called itself Christian. From the records of the persecutions by the Imperial church it is evident that the network of pure churches still stretched across much of the known world.

By the late Middle Ages there was still a network of churches that stretched from Bulgaria to England. They were known as Cathars, Bogomils, Waldenses, Albigenses, Lollards and many other names, but there was communication between them all. The Inquisition, a major, systematic escalation of the persecution almost succeeded in destroying those churches.

In the 1500’s the remnant of the persecuted reorganized and are known to history as Mennonites, after the name of Menno Simons, one of their more prominent leaders. Churches were organized in Flanders, the Netherlands, Switzerland and the Palatinate. The members of these churches spoke Dutch or German. Some of the members in Flanders also spoke French.

Mennonites today are often thought of as a unique Dutch/German ethnic group. Many among them have lost the faith but held on to their Dutch/German culture, leading to confusion as to what it means to be a Mennonite.

I am a Mennonite by faith, but not by culture. I think that should be considered the norm. Our faith goes back to the Apostolic era, it did not begin with Menno Simons (he strongly denied being the founder of a church).

I am a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. A large part of the membership of this church in North America is made up of people of Dutch/German ancestry. This causes confusion, within the church and without.

Yet when it comes to sharing the gospel in other lands, there is no confusion. It is the gospel we are endeavouring to share, not language or lifestyle. There are members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in 40 countries around the world. Some are indigenous, not under the tutelage of a mission organization, others are moving in that direction as quickly as local members are ready to take leadership positions, some are new missions.

Much of the international growth has come as a result of tract distribution. Gospel Tract and Bible Society, an agency of the church, distributes millions of tracts, in over 100 languages. In the last few years this has been accelerated by their website. You can find the website here. People can read tracts online, print them for reading at home, order copies for distribution, and ask questions. Some of those with questions may ask “Where is this church? Why isn’t it in my country?” Enough questions like that, ones that show a serious spiritual longing, and a visit is made and a mission may begin.

We are told that the website reaches a new demographic. Previously, many of those who ordered tracts were church leaders or evangelists, now it is more individuals who are searching to understand what Christianity is all about, what Jesus means for their personal life, their home.

Another change in recent years is a great increase of inquiries from French-speaking countries. There are members of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in six French-speaking countries in Africa and a new mission in a seventh. Visits have been made with interested people in France and there are plans to place a family there for at least a few months.

I also have a French blog, on which I post articles about the Anabaptist faith in history and today. The readership isn’t all that big as yet, but so far this year there have been people from 51 countries who have taken a look at that blog. The top five countries were, in order, the USA, Morocco, Canada, Bénin and France. Do those first two countries surprise you? There are French-speaking people all over the world.

Electronic church today

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Image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Five weeks ago 2,500 members of an evangelical denomination in France gathered at Mulhouse for five days of prayer and fasting. This was before any alarms had been raised about COVID-19, but it was present. It is estimated that 2,000 of those who gathered caught the virus, then took it back to their home communities all over France.

Around that same time there was a convention of dentists in Vancouver, where 2,500 were gathered and many were infected. Then there was a curling bonspiel in Edmonton for doctors and medical personnel. It was not a big gathering, but half of those who were there went home with the virus and some saw patients before they realized they were infected. More recently there was a snowmobile rally in Northern Saskatchewan where many of the participants were infected with the virus, not while on their snowmobiles but at the dinner that followed.

Someone has estimated that 39,000 people could be infected with the virus, beginning from a single infected person. Young people are not in great danger from the virus, but that is not reason to take it lightly. Their grandparents might not survive a bout with the virus.

For that reason we will be having electronic church again this morning, and every Sunday until we are given the all clear to gather once more in church. Electronic church is definitely second best, yet let’s rejoice that we have the technology available to connect and listen to the preaching of the gospel.

More signs of spring

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Image by WikimediaImages from Pixabay

Ever since I was a little boy I have had this urge to get outside and do something on these sunny spring days: dig a little trench to drain a puddle of water or clear snow and ice off walkways. It probably speeds things up by about a day.

Today I cleared our front walk, and we saw our first robin! Others nearby have reported song sparrows and bluebirds.  No wonder I feel energized.

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