Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Learning

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was growing up in the 1950’s, the older generation had scraped and scrabbled to survive the depression and they wanted their children to have a better life. The key to that was to get a good education so you could be someone who could make a living without working hard. Maybe that wasn’t what they intended to say, but that was what we heard. That gave rise to the question so often posed to us: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

The question implied that there was no dignity in hard work; we should to be something better than our parents had been. That meant that our parents didn’t have what it would take to guide us into being the people we should be. We would need to turn to professional help.

Some time after high school, I had a visit with a guidance counsellor. He gave me a massive aptitude test to take home. The test comprised at least 200 multiple-choice questions. The questions were on card stock, with holes punched beside each of the four answers. You used a pencil to make a circle on the answer paper below and then use the key to interpret your responses.

I did the test once, and the result showed a strong interest and aptitude for accounting. I mused on that, realizing that this choice had been in the back of my mind as I did the test. I wondered what would happen if I did the test again, thinking of how I might answer the questions if I was interested in becoming an engineer.

I created a handwritten set of answer sheets, photocopiers didn’t exist back then, and went through the test again. Lo-and-behold the answer key told me I had a definite aptitude for engineering and should pursue a career in that field. I sat back and mused on the disparate results, concluding that if it was so easy to play games with the test, it wasn’t worth very much.

Some years later I became intrigued with Mensa. They limit membership to people with IQ’s in the top 2% of the population, with the grandiose notion that people with high IQ’s have what it takes to make the world a better place. I requested a preliminary test. It came in the mail; I completed it and mailed it back. Soon there came an invitation to do a full IQ test. Thus I arrived one morning at the University of Regina and found my way to a classroom where a dozen others were waiting to do the same test.

I believe there was a three-hour time limit and after we did the test, we all went home. A few weeks later a letter  came in the mail telling me I had scored 151, placing me in the top 1% of the population. Enclosed was a membership application and a request to write a brief profile. I filled them out, wrote a cheque for the membership dues.

In due time I received a booklet with the profiles of all Canadian members of Mensa. I discovered that most of these people supposed themselves to be much too intelligent to believe in God. Yet, they were ready to believe in all kinds of occult manifestations, mystical experiences, extraterrestrials and other nebulous and irrational spiritual theories. I lost interest right there. I didn’t have the self-confidence that would allow me to dismiss God.

Still, I took another IQ test a year or two later and came up with a score of 155. So what do those test scores reveal about me? Probably just that I am good at doing that kind of test. I don’t know if there is any practical application beyond that.

So here I am, 60 years past the age of 17, thinking maybe now I’m grown up enough to say I want to be a writer.

In the mood for a little subjunctive?

I made it through high school without ever encountering the subjunctive mood. Then I decided to learn French. I fought my way through the bewildering thicket of conjugations of regular and irregular verbs, then I was introduced to the subjunctive mood. My head hurt for weeks.

I didn’t seem to have any reference point in English to help me comprehend this way of expressing oneself, yet it seemed an essential part of French. Every English grammar book I looked at devoted about a paragraph to the subjunctive. They told me the subjunctive mood was on its deathbed in English and I would never have to worry about it.

Then an amazing thing happened: I finally got my head wrapped around the use of the subjunctive in French and I realized that it is still very much a part of English.  So here I go where most grammarians fear to tread.

Subjunctive, from French, originally from Latin, means subjoined. (That little bit of information does nothing to understand it.) The best definition is from Oxford via Fowler’s: a  verb form different from that of the indicative mood in order to denote an action or state as conceived (and not as a fact), and expressing a  wish, command, exhortation, or a contingent, hypothetical or prospective event.

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Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

When used to express a wish, a phrase in the subjunctive mood normally begins with let or may, though they me be omitted. All greetings are subjunctive:
– May God bless you!
– May you have a good day / May you have a happy birthday (even when shortened to Good day or Happy birthday, they are subjunctive).
– Good-bye (drastically shortened form of May God be with you).

Commonly used expressions in the subjunctive:
– Come what may
– Be that as it may
– Far be it from me
– I wish it were over
– If he were here now
– I move that nominations cease
– I move that we elect a committee to . . .

The Sunday School lessons that are used in the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite usually contain a sentence or two in the subjunctive mood; for example:
– Let us conduct ourselves accordingly
– May we never forget . . .

Examples of the subjunctive in the Bible:
– Hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done (all three of these phrases in the Lord’s prayer are in the subjunctive mood).
– Let not your heart be troubled (let not  . . . is found in many places in the Bible, it always indicates the subjunctive mood).
– Let no man despise thy youth (1 Timothy 4:12, Paul is expressing the wish that Timothy’s conduct would be such that no one would find fault with him because of his age).
– James 5:13, 14: Let him pray / let him sing psalms / let him call for / let them pray (these are all exhortations).
– Genesis 1: Let there be light, etc. (The creation account has many examples of God expressing a wish for something that was not a reality at the moment the wish was made, but immediately became reality.)

I hope this helps a little to understand the subjunctive mood, especially when it is encountered in the Bible. The translators did not drop in all those subjunctives to confuse us, they were subjunctive in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts; may they be less confusing to us as we recognize the subjunctive mood. 

To better understand English, learn a little French

In its grammatical structure, English belongs to the Low German language family, a group of languages that developed from a common early Germanic root. The group includes Flemish, Dutch, Frisian, Afrikaans (the Dutch that is spoken in South Africa), Plautdietsch, English and Scots (not Gaelic but the variety of old English spoken by the lowland Scots, such as the poet Robbie Burns).

However, something like 40% of English words come from French. Oftentimes meanings, spelling and pronunciation have shifted to the point that the French roots are almost invisible. Take geezer for instance. This is a word that was originally applied to someone who went about in a disguise, or more simply, in the guise of someone different from himself. Since guise is a word of French origin it was originally pronounced geez. Over a few hundred years the meaning of geezer shifted to where it is now used only for an older person who has become a little different in appearance and mannerisms.

In many other words the French roots are plainly visible, though often not understood by English speakers. Take grammar for instance, which is what I want to talk about in this article.

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Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

All English grammatical terms are French, beginning with grammar itself. Grammar comes from grammaire in French, which comes from a Greek word meaning the art of reading and writing. A noun is the name of a thing, chair for instance, and comes from the French word nom, meaning name. Most other grammatical terms are spelled the same, or almost the same, in English as in French: verbe, adverbe, adjectif or adjective, préposition, article, objet direct or indirect, conjonction, etc.

It may be helpful for English speakers to understand the roots of terms like tense and mood. Both are mispronunciations of French words, which led to misspellings, making them homonyms of English words with completely different meanings.

Tense comes from temps, which means time. Past, present and future should be called times, not tenses. Obvious, eh? But the French pronunciation of temps is something that is beyond the capacity of the vocal apparatus of someone who grew up speaking English, so it drifted over to become tense.

There are three basic past tenses: simple past, imperfect and pluperfect. Perfect is another word of French origin that we often misunderstand. It simply means finished or complete, or, in the case of people, grown up or mature. Neither in grammar nor in the Bible does it ever mean faultless. Imperfect means incomplete and refers to an action that began in the past and is not complete. Pluperfect (plus-que-parfait in French) means more than complete and refers to an action that was complete in the past before something else happened.

For instance: I had gone (pluperfect) into Tim Horton’s and was ordering (imperfect) a coffee when my cousin walked (simple past) in.

Mood comes from the French word mode and should be mode in English also. Once again, a native English speaker cannot really duplicate the sound of mode in French. Nevertheless, the grammatical term mood in English refers to a mode of expressing one’s meaning.

The indicative mood (mode) is used for an action that has actually happened, is happening, or that we know will happen. The conditional mood (mode) is used for actions that could, should or would happen if some other condition is met, had been met or will be met.

Examples: The plane will be landing in fifteen minutes (indicative).
The plane should be landing in fifteen minutes if it left Toronto on time (conditional).

And then there’s the subjunctive mood, but that is going to require a whole article of its own.

The virtue of vulnerability

Last Saturday, Chris and I attended a Christian writers’ wordshop (a workshop about words). All the presenters were ladies; the attendees were also mostly ladies, plus four men and one boy.

This is cause for much pondering; why are there so few men at this level? Yes.there are many books by male authors on the bookstore shelves and they are popular. But the ladies are by far the majority among writers of self-published Christian books and in Christian writers’ groups.

Perhaps the answer lies in the fact that the ladies are more willing to expose their vulnerability. On the masculine side, we have been taught to suck it up and keep a stiff upper lip. That puts a barrier between us and our readers.

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One of the presenters on Saturday described how she gave a talk a few years ago on her struggle with depression and how God had sustained her and helped her through it. Afterwards a young lady from the audience had came up to her in tears and had been unable to speak for several minutes, sobbing uncontrollably on the presenter’s shoulder. She had thought she was the only person that had ever experienced such depression. The presenter’s vulnerability had made a connection and offered hope.

The great truth that we all need to learn is that it is the things that we don’t want to write about, the things that we are afraid to expose, that will be the greatest help to a reader. After all, we are not writing to tell the world what great people we are, we want to tell people about the great God we serve.

Good things come in small packages

Aphorisms give you more for your time and money than any other literary form. Only the poem comes near to it, but then most good poems either start off from an aphorism or arrive at one.

-Louis Dudek

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Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay

Poverty + Prejudice ≠ Hopelessness

Some years ago I read an article in Ebony magazine written by a man who had grown up in one of the worst black tenement ghettos in Chicago.Drug dealing, crime and violence were the everyday reality and the police felt the area was too dangerous to send in individual officers to patrol.

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Like almost all the other children in this ghetto, this man and his two siblings grew up in a single parent home without much money. Their mother wanted her children to escape the ghetto and the first step was not to give in to hopelessness. She introduced them to the library and to museums and did everything that she could think of that was educational and free. When they went to the store to buy something she let the children pay and then count the change to see that it was right.

All three of those children finished school, went on to university and established professional careers. And they moved their mother out of the ghetto.

The man who wrote the article was now a lawyer. He wrote about going back to visit his old neighbourhood and trying to look up the boys he had grown up with. Some were dead, others were in jail, all the rest had criminal records. None had escaped the hopelessness of the ghetto.

There are a multitude of government programs to help children escape the effects of prejudice and poverty. Billions of dollars are being spent. What are the results? A lot of well paid government jobs to administer the programs. Besides that – not much.

One mother with hope and determination made a difference. No government program can create a mother like that.

An abandoned child

In 1797 a child, estimated to be 9 or 10 years old, was seen living in the wild in the region of Aveyron. He evaded capture until 1800. All attempts to discover who he was or where he came from were fruitless. He was taken to Paris to be examined.
The leading minds were excited by such a find, expecting that this wild child would corroborate the ideas of Rousseau. Having had no adult influence or teaching, he should have been the perfect example of the innate goodness of uncorrupted humanity.

They were disappointed. The child made no sound, was not able to distinguish or understand sounds or voices, seemed to have no appreciation for the aroma of cooked foods, was not accustomed to clothes or beds and was disoriented in the presence of people. They finally concluded that he had been abandoned because he was so stupid.

Doctor Jean Itard obtained custody of the child the following year. He believed the child’s behaviour reflected a lack of human contact and teaching. In other words, he was stupid because he had been abandoned. Doctor Itard named the boy Victor and spent the next five years working to rehabilitate him.

Victor’s hearing was good, but he never was able to speak, When found he had many scars on his body, including a 4 centimetre gash across his throat. It is probable his vocal cords had been damaged when that wound was made. Victor’s progress under Dr. Itard was slow but steady and he learned to conduct himself in a socially acceptable way. He was cared for in a home in Paris until his death in 1828.

Francois-Xavier Bellamy uses the story of Victor of Aveyron to argue that it is teaching that makes us fully human. We need contact and interaction with other people to develop the skills that enable us to cope with life. A child left to himself degenerates into something hardly recognizable as human, as in the extreme case of Victor of Aveyron when he was found.

Taking this further, the teaching of language, grammar and vocabulary is essential for us to be able to describe how we feel, what we think about ourselves and the world around us. We cannot understand such things until we have the ability to put them into words.

Being taught the value system that his built our society, and the history of our society, enables us to understand why things are the way they are. It opens the door for us to become participants in our world, not just bewildered and frustrated observers.

M. Bellamy’s book is a passionate plea for us to abandon the failed theories of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau and resume the transmission to the youth of today of all that is of value from our heritage.

A disinherited generation

This week I read a book that I feel to be tremendously important. Many people are disturbed by the disorder in the world today, but we have very different ideas about the cause and an even sharper difference in our ideas about a remedy. This book shines a clear light on the roots of the problem and the remedy.

The book is Les déshérités, by Francois-Xavier Bellamy. Unfortunately there is no English translation available. The title means The disinherited and is a reply Les héritiers (The Inheritors) by Pierre Bourdieu, a book published 50 years ago which has had a profound impact on education in France.

Les Déshérités ou l'urgence de transmettre - FRANÇOIS-XAVIER BELLAMY

Francois-Xavier Bellamy is young, only 28 when this book appeared in 2014, a professor of philosophy, and possibly the leading conservative thinker in France.
M. Bellamy identifies the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu as being an important part of the problem, but finds the root of Bourdieu’s thinking in the philosophies of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. In the English-speaking world, each country has had its own Bourdieu, but Descartes and Rousseau laid the foundation for the philosophy that is prevalent in most of the world.

René Descartes (1596-1650) believed that all knowledge could be attained by deduction. The human mind has the capacity to discover all truth, solely through reasoning with no outside input.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1798) went a step further. He believed that we are all born pure and all the problems of mankind are the result of impure ideas taught by our society. Therefore it would be best to let a child grow with the least restraints and the least teaching possible. In the purity of his simplicity he would be able to discover all that he needed for a fruitful and happy life.

In France, Pierre Bourdieu taught that the inequities in society were a result of the things inherited from the past. If we could avoid passing on the antiquated ideas of civil society, morality and religion, those inequities would disappear.

Teachers in France today are told that they have nothing to pass on, their job is simply to help students discover for themselves how to read and write, how to do math and science, and to determine for themselves what is right and wrong.

As I said earlier, those ideas are not unique to France. Wherever we live, we can see the evidence all around us of that kind of thinking and what it has led to.

M. Bellamy writes that we have finally come to the era that Rousseau dreamed of. People today have been disinherited of all the values of the past, and the result is not the benign bliss imagined by Rousseau. He dreamed of the noble savage (le bon sauvage in French), an outsider who has not been corrupted by civilization and thus symbolizes the innate goodness of mankind.

What we have wound up with is a generation of savages who are not very noble. The inequities in society have not disappeared, but rather seem to have become worse. The thinking of our day goes so far as to say that it is wrong for gender identity to be imposed on children. They must be free to choose their own gender. This is not liberating them, it is setting them loose in a labyrinth with no exit.

Bellamy says we urgently need to resume teaching our intellectual, moral and religious heritage. It does not liberate children to leave them free to discover math, grammar and spelling on their own. In fact, it tends to perpetuate divisions in society. Children of more prosperous parents will get help at home to make up for the shortcomings of the education system, while children from poorer families, or immigrant families, will not be taught the skills they need to escape poverty.

When one has been taught a value system which they believe to be liberating, they are blind even to such self-evident truths. Beyond that, they are blind to the values of history, culture and religion which enabled society to function in a mor or less orderly fashion in past generations.

I found this book illuminating. It explains so much that is happening around us today. It explains why those who graduate from university with a bachelor of education degree have not been taught anything about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them. That’s not their job. Their job is to stand back and facilitate “discovery learning” in the children in their classes.

There are hopeful signs. Last fall the ministry of education in France called for a return to teaching grammar and spelling, recognizing that to not do so was simply perpetuating the poverty of those from poorer homes. The popularity of this book is another hopeful sign. As is the immense popularity of Jordan Peterson’s book Twelve Rules For Living. That book also teaches the usefulness of the values held by past generations. It was the publishing sensation of 2018 in Canada, selling over a million copies.

Just one parting thought. Francois-Xavier Bellamy mentions religion several times, but does not have much to say about it. He is a philosopher, not a theologian. But for those of us who believe the Bible is the foundation of all truth, how well have we been doing at passing on our spiritual heritage?

Lessons about writing from Claude Monet

This is the time of year when many businesses give out free calendars, with illustrations in varying shades of kitsch. As a counterbalance, I like to buy at least one calendar each year with pictures I will enjoy looking at as the months go by. This year it is a calendar with photographs of paintings by Claude Monet.
Monet is regarded as the founder of the French impressionist school of painting. He was definitely the most prolific of the group. Impressionism was a label invented by scornful critics and it stuck, no matter how much the artists themselves disliked it.

Impressionism is not abstract art, it is representational art with an emphasis on light, colour and movement, with all unnecessary details left out. Impressionist paintings are not posed indoor scenes. They were almost all painted outdoors and depict objects and people as the eye would see them. Close up, one sees only a jumble of short brush strokes and vague shapes in these paintings, from a distance, the scene is vivid and clearly identifiable.

It struck me that the techniques of impressionism apply to writing as well.

Lesson One: Leave out all unnecessary details. If a grandmother is puttering in her flower bed to calm her anxiety as she waits for her granddaughter to arrive for a visit, it isn’t necessary to describe the leafs and petals of the petunias. We are not writing a botany textbook. Show the grandmother pulling every little weed she can find, checking her watch, going into the house to see that everything is still just right, coming back to the flower bed, examining each leaf for signs of insect damage or disease, checking her watch again.

Lesson Two: Show the effects of the light. When granddaughter arrives, don’t tell us details of genealogy and history, show the love and concern these two have for each other by their hugs, tears and questions.

It takes a long time to learn the lesson that good writing is just as much about knowing what to leave out as it is about what to put in.

My first experiment a success

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Not my bread – for illustration purpose only

Marc Loiselle, a farmer from Vonda, Saskatchewan has spearheaded a revival of interest in Red Fife. The Loiselle farm also grows a selected strain of Marquis. A growing number of consumers are discovering the superior taste of bread made from Red Fife or Marquis flour.

I bought a bread machine a couple years ago and always had the dream of making bread with Red Fife wheat. Yesterday I drove out to Vonda and bought a 10 kg sack of Red Fife flour, organically grown, nothing added, nothing removed.
Marc told me that this flour does not behave quite like other flours, the dough needs to be more moist and sticky. Today I made a loaf with 50% white flour and 50% whole grain Red Fife flour. It turned out great. That was the first experiment, from here I will continue to increase the proportion of whole grain Red Fife flour until I can, hopefully, produce a 100% whole wheat loaf in the bread machine.

The Loiselle family has an informative website which includes recipes: http://sites.google.com/site/loisellema/

 

Background on Red Fife wheat and the gluten issue
David Fife arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1820 when he was 15. His parents settled in Otanabee township, east of Peterborough, Ontario. At that time Ontario farmers were growing a winter wheat variety known as Siberian. It survived the winters, but was low yielding and susceptible to rust, a fungal disease that weakened the plant.

David Fife wrote to a friend in Glasgow asking for a sample of a better wheat. His friend found a ship unloading wheat in Glasgow harbour and managed to obtain a few kernels to send to David Fife. The wheat had been loaded at Danzig and had probably been grown in Ukraine.

The package of wheat kernels arrived just before seeding time in 1842. David Fife didn’t know if it was winter wheat or spring wheat. He planted half the seeds in spring, planning to sow the rest in fall. It must have been winter wheat, as the spring seeded grain did not mature — except for one plant that produced three heads of ripe grain. David Fife planted the seeds from those three heads the next spring and continued to multiply the seed, until he harvested 240 bushels in 1848. By then he knew that he had a variety of wheat that yielded better than Siberian, matured early and was not susceptible to rust. It also made excellent bread.

Since the kernels were red and the variety was introduced by David Fife, people called it Red Fife. By the end of the nineteenth century Red Fife wheat had the reputation of being the world’s best spring wheat. Thus, Red Fife wheat is descended from a single kernel of wheat picked at random from a boat being unloaded in Glasgow. David Fife’s careful work in multiplying the wheat grown from that single kernel made it possible to nourish millions of people

In 1908 my father, his brothers, and my grandfather homesteaded south of Old Wives Lake in Saskatchewan. The wheat they grew the first few years was Red Fife. The prairie growing season was a little too short though and sometimes it froze before it was mature. Dr. Charles Saunders crossed Red Fife with Hard Red Calcutta and selected plants that were early maturing, high yielding, had stiff straw and whose kernels had the best milling and baking qualities. Marquis began to be distributed to farmers in 1912 and by 1918 was grown on 20 million acres from southern Nebraska to northern Saskatchewan. This was the wheat that made the Canadian prairies a bread basket for the world. In later years Red Fife and Marquis were supplanted by new, higher yielding varieties

I remember as a boy picking a head of ripe whet, rolling it in my hands to thresh out the kernels, then popping the kernels into my mouth and chewing them. Soon I would have a gummy wad in my mouth, somewhat like chewing gum. This was the gluten in the wheat kernels.

Gluten is the major component of the protein in wheat and this gummy characteristic is what makes bread rise. The fermenting yeast in bread dough produces carbon dioxide which the gluten traps in small bubbles.

About 1% of people have a problem digesting gluten. There is even a scare campaign being spread today that says gluten is bad for all of us. If that is so, why didn’t gluten cause as much problems in past generations?

Gluten is actually a compound of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. In old varieties of wheat, such as Red Fife and Marquis, the gluten is roughly 1/3 gliadin and 2/3 glutenin. These grains do not appear to cause celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance. Modern bread wheat varieties may contain up to 80% gliadin.

There in a nutshell is the problem. Wheat varieties have been “improved” to boost yield and disease resistance. In the process, flavour has been lost and some people have health problems from eating bread made from these wheat varieties.Gluten is also added to a wide variety of other foods and this will be gluten from newer wheat varieties with a high Gliadin count. Those who are sensitive to this need to read the labels carefully when grocery shopping.

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