Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Category Archives: Stories from my life

How did we make it this far?

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Nothing has been heard from this corner for ten days. I don’t have a good explanation for that, except that my mind has been elsewhere. Our 50th wedding anniversary is coming up in a few days and I have been contemplating how we got here and where do we go from here. In between all that heavy thinking I have been able to get some useful things done, like finish painting the garage and clean out much of the accumulated detritus inside.

When Chris and I married on Saturday, August 1, 1970 I was 28 years old, had a good job and a place to live; Chris was 17. I think in some ways she was the more mature person. I had grown up walking on eggshells is dread of the next explosion of anger from my father. He was never violent, except with his tongue, but that left me with a fear of anything that might lead to conflict.

But I found a new Father a few months before the wedding day. In the spring of the year I was facing a crisis, several of them in fact. A feeling of doom was building up inside and I didn’t know what to do. I took a drive around the countryside to consider that dark cloud in the fresh air and sunshine. When I got home I knelt and confessed to God that all of my troubles were of my own doing, they were not the fault of anyone else, and asked Him to forgive me and help me find a way out. Then I made a very open-ended promise: I would do anything He asked of me for the rest of my life.

It didn’t seem like anything much happened, yet the feeling of doom was gone and I was able to make rational decisions. Several months later it dawned on me that my life had changed, my interests and my goals were leading in a totally different direction and that change had begun when I prayed. Up to that time I had taken a very cynical view of people who claimed to be born again; most of them were not any more honest or honourable than others who made no boast of knowing God.

But I could not deny that I had changed, was still changing. That must be what the Bible calls a new birth, the beginning of a new kind of life. It’s not so much that I know God, but He knows me and remembers the promise I made back in the spring of 1970. Every once in a while He asks me to do something, often it is a habit or an attitude that needs to go, and reminds me that this is part of what I promised. I believe that is a big part of the reason I am still married to the same lady after 50 years.

What are we afraid of?

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I was afraid of a lot of things as a boy, the two main ones being girls and dogs. Girls were different, mysterious; they didn’t look, talk or act like boys. The thought of actually speaking to one crippled my mind and my tongue.

Yet there was always a girl or two that I could talk to without stammering like an imbecile. For some reason most of them were named Joan. Thinking back, it might have been because Joan was the most common girl’s name for that era, just like Robert was for boys. There were two grades to a classroom in our school and three Roberts in my class. In order to distinguish between us we were known as Bob Dixon, Bobby Adamus and I had to be Robert Goodnough.

There were two girls with whom I never had a problem visiting and they weren’t even named Joan. But they were cousins and that was even better. By now I think I have pretty much gotten over my fear of girls, of any age. I finally plucked up enough courage to ask one to marry me. Then we had a daughter to raise and by now we have two teenage granddaughters.

Dogs were even worse than girls. Not all dogs, but any big dog that barked was surely some kin of the Hound of the Baskervilles. I had a half mile to walk to school, straight down the west side of town. Halfway between home and school there was a house set well back from the street with a dog chained up outside.

Every day, when I walked by that house, the dog would bark. It was a big, dark coloured dog. My friends said it was half wolf. I was terrified. This went on for a couple years as I passed from nine to ten to eleven. I didn’t pray much in those days, but every time that dog barked I prayed that God would protect me from that evil wolf dog and give me the courage to keep on walking.

There was a wide coulee several miles east of ton with a little creek running along the bottom called the Arm River. At most places the river was ankle deep. But there was one spot that was wider and deep enough for children to swim in. It was an old-fashioned swimming hole, completely unsupervised, the nearest house a half mile away.

I didn’t go there often, it was too far and I couldn’t swim. I was afraid of water, too. But I knew that I was in no danger of drowning in that swimming hole; if I stood up in the deepest place my head was well above the water.

One day as I was walking home from school I saw that evil wolf dog trotting down the road toward me. I took to the opposite side of the road and he went by without paying me any attention. I noticed two things as he passed – he was dripping wet, and the pupils of his eyes were rectangular horizontal slits, not like the eyes of any dog I’d ever seen before. He was a wolf dog for sure.

The next day I heard that he had been down at the swimming hole. A young boy who couldn’t swim had gotten into the deep part where the water was over his head. He was floundering, gasping for air and calling for help. The dog had jumped in, the boy had grabbed his long fur and the dog had towed him up and out of the water. Apparently the dog was quicker thinking than the boys.

Thus ended my fear of the evil wolf dog. What had I been afraid of anyway? It wasn’t the dog, it was the overheated thoughts in my own mind.

Isn’t that how it is most times? Often, the things we fear the most have no existence outside of our own minds. Those thoughts can paralyze us. I wonder if, in our present circumstances, fears like that might not be doing more harm than the virus. I don’t mean to suggest that we should act as though the virus is not dangerous; let’s take all necessary precautions. But at the same time, let’s pray to God to be set free from irrational fears that hinder us from reaching out to those who are lonely, or in any kind of distress.

Only an empty box

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Agnes grew up 100 years ago on a farm in southwestern Saskatchewan. Her parents were members of a church which called itself Mennonite and worshipped in the German language. At home the family spoke a Low German dialect called Plautdietsch, and English.  There were 14 children in the family, spaced about two years apart. Agnes was number six.

The church claimed to hold to the original Mennonite faith. In her teens Agnes memorized a summary of the teachings of that faith, a German catechism which dated from 1792 and the bishop baptized her. She was the only one in her baptismal class to memorize the whole catechism, yet they were all baptized. The catechism said that they needed to be born again to become Christians and eligible for church membership, but the bishop said nothing of that.

Agnes was the last child in the family to learn German. As time went on, she realized the church had nothing for her younger siblings. Really, it had nothing for her. The catechism told of a faith that had once been, might yet be in some other place, but had died in this church. All that remained were traditions that could only be taught in the German language.

The church was like a box with ornate German lettering claiming to be the faithful remnant of the ancient Mennonite faith. But when Agnes had opened the box, she found it empty. So she threw it away. She remembered what the catechism said about Christian life, but did not found that life in the box.

Agnes was my mother; I am my mother’s son. That is why I have never found the “Mennonite culture” to be attractive. I didn’t want the box, I wanted to find the faith. In my adult years I searched for a place where the ancient Mennonite faith was still a living thing, not just words in the ai in a language I couldn’t understand. And I found it.

Memories of the 1998 Ice Storm

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Image by cplo from Pixabay

We had been to Saskatchewan to celebrate my mother’s 90th birthday. We left Moose Jaw on New Year’s Day, 1998 and arrived at our home at Acton Vale Quebec about 3:00 am Monday January 4. There was a gentle rain falling and by the time we were up and around in the morning it had turned to a freezing drizzle.

The rain got heavier toward evening and the temperature was just right that it fell as rain and instantly froze on to everything it touched. We needed to go into Montreal the next day and the ice was building up on the highways and streets, but there were ruts to drive in.

Wednesday was when the power first went out. The electric wires were encased in a thick sheath of ice and tree branches were starting to fall on the wires. We had a wood stove in the basement that kept our house warm and we could use it to warm up our food and we had a kerosene lamp for light. We felt secure in our home, but if I opened the door I could hear the crack if falling branches and every once in a while there were flashes of light from the countryside. The power lines were so heavy with ice that finally one of the wooden power poles couldn’t bear the load anymore. When one power pole fell, it took the whole power line for a mile with it.

The rain continued for two more days. Thursday there were stories of massive steel power line pylons crumpling to the ground in a heap of twisted metal. The ice on our roof was so thick that we heard a few ominous cracks, but no damage was done. Massive hardwood trees lost branches, sometimes whole trees lay on the ground. Tall evergreens lost their treetops. Other trees bent over until their tops touched the ground, then froze there. Deer were frightened by the branches falling all around them and came out of the woods to stand on the roads.

Late Friday the rain stopped. By that time most of Montreal was in the dark and the whole region south of Montreal to the Vermont border. 100,000 wooden power poles had broken and 100 steel pylons. A Columnist for La Presse (they had a generator to keep the newspaper going) wrote of leaving work in the afternoon and walking down the centre of Sherbrooke Street during what should have been rush hour. It wasn’t safe to walk on the sidewalk because of the danger of falling chunks of ice from the buildup on the buildings.

The army was called out. In our area they patrolled the streets of Acton Vale to prevent looting. In Montreal they went door to door to see if anyone needed help. This was too much for some new immigrants. One said “I knew in my head that they were coming to see if we were safe. But our fear was stronger than we were and we went to our friends. In the country I came from, when the army knocked on your door they weren’t coming to help you.”

By Monday the cleanup and rebuilding was in full swing. Quebec has the youngest farmers in Canada and they were up for whatever it took to keep their farms running. Even before the rain stopped the farm organization had located a warehouse in Tennessee full of generators. They bought them all and got them loaded on semis heading for Quebec.

Hydro Quebec called in tree service companies from neighbouring states to remove the tree branches hanging on the wires, or threatening to fall on them. They ordered massive amounts of new wooden poles from forestry companies in British Columbia. They went to a steel supplier with warehouses all across the province. They had all their inventory in all the warehouses on their computers, but there was no electricity to run the computers and no lights in the warehouse. They improvised and found all the steel needed to rebuild the pylons.

For several weeks our electricity was on and off. We had supper company one day and the lights went out just as we were about to sit down to eat. But the food was ready and we ate by lamplight. We had an evening church service, beginning with lamp light. The electricity came on during the sermon and I got up and blew out the light. A few minutes later the lights went out again and I relit the lamp. The minister was unperturbed by it all.

It seemed during the storm that everything around us was falling apart and would never be the same again. Yet three months later a newspaper columnist wrote, “We sometimes think we are poor. But we have just built an electrical distribution system in a few weeks that a lot of countries won’t have 100 years from now.”

We moved back to Saskatchewan that spring to take care of my mother. We have visited the Acton Vale area several times since and see no sign of the trauma of 22 years ago.

We lost Rose

My phone rang this morning as we were getting ready to leave for church. It was brother-in-law Jim; his first words were “We lost Rose.”

We were with the family yesterday around Rose’s hospital bed in Moose Jaw. We couldn’t tell if she knew we were there or not, but she was still breathing. Her husband Butch was there, their daughters Michelle and Crystal, Rose’s brother Jim and three of her four sisters. Jim is the oldest in the family, then Chris, to whom I am married; Rose was the middle of five girls.

Chris grew up in the home of an aunt and uncle, the others remained with their parents. Chris kept in contact with her siblings, with Rose more than any of the others.

Rose married at 15, was still happily married at 61. Way too young for this to happen. She had cancer a year ago, was now cancer free, but not strong enough to fight off the pneumonia that was the beginning of the end.

The family talked about old times, about everything and nothing. Mike and Kevin, the sons-in-law, brought in dinner for us all. We watched the nurse come in to check on Rose, give her morphine every two hours, place a steam mask close to her face from time to time to ease her breathing. We were aware of her presence. Was she aware of ours? We don’t know.

We left for home at 5 PM; Chris said good-bye to Rose, knowing it was for the last time. She breathed her last at 2 AM this morning. Jim’s call delivered the shock we knew was coming. We lost Rose.

© Bob Goodnough, December 29, 2019

A refuge

A refuge, a place where I could escape the storms that beat around me; that’s what I needed. When one is young, many storms are more imagined than real. But my father’s anger was real. He was not violent, but when he lost his temper angry words rang throughout the house, seemed to be in the air I breathed. I needed a place of refuge where I could breathe and sort it all out.

When I was nine years old, my parents moved to a small farm that bordered the northwest edge of Craik, Saskatchewan. I discovered my place of refuge the day after we moved in. I found in a hollow, halfway up the bank at the far end of the coulee that ran through our pasture. In that hollow sat a rectangular granite boulder, shaped like a giant step or chair, worn smooth by thousands of buffalo trying to relieve their itch, over a thousand years or more.

First, I sat on the rock, then I sat in the hollow beside it and something wonderful happened—all evidence of the modern world disappeared. I was alone on the open prairie, no buildings, fences, roads or telephone lines were visible. Even the sounds did not penetrate this peaceful spot.

How long had the rock been here? Geologists say that when Lake Agassiz drained thousands of years ago, the rushing waters that carved the ravines, coulees and river valleys of Saskatchewan also swept rocks like this to new locations.  It had been here through the time the buffalo roamed the prairies and the hunters followed them. The time since the settlers had come was just a tiny blip in its history.

Through the rest of my growing-up years that rock became my refuge. When life seemed difficult, I would leave the house and find this spot, my place of refuge. In that quiet and secure place I would rest until the anxiety, the fear, and yes, my anger, had dissipated.

Eight years later I left home. Twice I moved back for a time and each time the ancient buffalo rubbing stone was there when I needed it. Later, in my twenties and on my own, I faced new anxieties and fears.  The rock of my childhood was far away, and no longer the hidden spot it once was. A four-lane highway now runs through the old pasture, the rock is visible from the highway.

It took years for me to find the rock of refuge spoken of in Psalm 94:22 “My God is the rock of my refuge.” I found the words of the Bible drawing me towards that rock. The eternal rock. I read in Malachi 3:6: “I am the Lord, I change not,” and in Hebrews 6:8: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” I heard and responded to The Spirit’s call to build my life upon that rock. I found that rock to be a refuge of peace wherever I was, whatever the circumstances.

Now I wanted to find a church built upon that rock, where I could be in fellowship with people with a living faith and lives solidly anchored to the rock, Jesus Christ. I knew that wouldn’t be the church I had attended in my youth.

I read in history books of a people who had lived such a faith centuries ago. People for whom the kingdom of God was separate from the kingdoms of this world; people for whom their relationship with Jesus Christ was more important than this earthly life. Other people called them Anabaptists, Waldensians and Mennonites. Surely there would be Christians like that today in the Mennonite churches. I visited many churches, met many good people; most were unaware of the old-time faith.

My search finally led me to a church whose members believe and live the faith I had read about; I became a member of that church 40 years ago.

© Bob Goodnough, January 3, 2019

Why I am a member of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite

I was looking for a home—a family. An inner longing was pushing me to search for a church where there would be truth and warmth. Sometimes in my mind I thought I had found it, but that inner longing told me—No, this isn’t what you need.

I met many good people along the way, picked up little pieces of truth that I hadn’t known before, but always the emptiness within remained unsatisfied. Sometimes I visited a church once, sometimes I stayed for a year or two, but each experience ended in disappointment.

I reached the end of my search, was almost ready to give up. I had never thought the picture in my mind of what the ideal church should be was a problem. Then God told me I needed to give up that picture and allow Him to show me what I needed and where I should look.

From there on it was easy. Well, at least it was easy to find the church that was exactly what I was looking for. I had known of this church for years, but never gave it serious consideration because it did not fit the picture in my mind. Once I had checked out all the alternatives, God led me to take another look at this church. This time I knew it was where I wanted to be, where God wanted me to be.

My mind was at rest, my heart was at peace. This was the home for which I had searched. The doctrines of the church were Biblical, solid and complete. Brotherly love was genuine, not an act. Ministers were untrained and unsalaried, yet better able to discern between the wisdom of the Holy Spirit and the wisdom of the world than any others I had met. All the members were born again. I did not meet any who thought they had just grown into salvation, or who thought showing the requisite level of enthusiasm, or wearing a certain unique cut of clothing, was evidence of the new birth.

God led me to my earthly spiritual home. But a spiritual family is much like a natural family. We are different people, with different tastes, different ways of doing things, different stresses in our life. Sometimes someone else steps on my toes, my feelings get hurt. I need to forgive; it wasn’t deliberate—I don’t know how many times I have stepped on someone else’s toes; I didn’t intend to, it just happens. I don’t know because they have forgiven me and got on with living.

Some are weak among us, they need help. Sometimes help comes in the way of correction, sometimes in practical help. We always offer help in kindness. Some are new in the faith, they need encouragement. Some make mistakes, they need forbearance. We are family, when one member is hurting, we all feel the pain.

Some members have come from different cultural backgrounds, some have not come from happy homes. Sometimes the help we offer is. Sometimes we don’t quite understand what is going on. But we are still family and we do our best to love and support one another as the Holy Spirit leads.

Anchored in the rock

My father’s parents came from St. Lawrence County in upstate New York. They were dairy farmers because the soil there could not support any other kind of agriculture. That area is part of the Canadian shield, where the solid bedrock is often exposed, and never far below the surface. This is the kind of soil Jesus called stony ground in the parable of the sower.

The fields have six inches of topsoil above the bedrock. This permits the growing of grass for pasture and hay, and of cereal crops for silage. Because there is no depth of soil, those cereal crops would dry up before they reached maturity. There is no possibility of grain harvest, but it worked for producing cattle feed for the dairy farmers.

Yet there are trees there, rooted in the solid rock outcropping. Seeds drifted in long ago, were caught in the rough surface of the rock and germinated in the spring rains. The tiny root tendrils insinuated themselves into fissures in the rock that are almost invisible to the human eye. Nourished by summer rains and sunshine and whatever organic material collected in those crevices, the trees grew. The tendrils grew larger, widening and deepening the fissures. Fall leaves and other organic material collected beneath the trees; eventually there were large trees, solidly anchored in the rock and drawing their nourishment from it.

Does the Bible seem hard to understand, almost impenetrable? Take a lesson from those trees growing out of the rock. Read the Bible, the whole Bible. Don’t expect to understand it all the first time you read it. But little tendrils of understanding will grow. As you persevere, they will grow and more will develop. If you are sincerely reading to become acquainted with God and His plan for your life, the evidence of those roots will become increasingly visible in your life.

This process of putting down roots into the Word of God that are unseen to others will produce fruit that is visible. This is a lifelong process that anchors us to the eternal truth. Jesus said “Heaven (the visible heavens) and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away,” Matthew 24:35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33.

Midsummer rambles and rumbles

I spent the past few days visiting the brothers and sisters of the congregation at Roxton Falls, Quebec and worshipped with them last Sunday. The purpose of the trip was to wok on the editorial revision of a church history book recently translated into French.

The other three members of the French editorial committee are members of the Roxton Falls congregation. We have frequent on-line sessions but it boosts our productivity if we can get together once a year and actually sit around the same table. We did that last Friday and Saturday.

Nature produced some impressive sound and light shows while I have been away. My plane landed in Montreal last Thursday evening just as an impressive thunderstorm hit the area. Other planes delayed their takeoff until the storm abated, we sat on the tarmac for 15 minutes until our plane could move up to the loading ramp and we could disembark. A tornado associated with that storm system hit Saint-Roch-de-l’Achigan, north of Montreal, and caused major damages.

Late Sunday evening my wife informed me that a thunderstorm with strong winds that passed through our area and produced 18 mm of rain. Later, we heard that a plow wind from that storm system had earlier struck the town of Eston, about 150 km southwest of us, destroying the hangar at the local landing strip and one house and damaging many more. Still later, we heard that lightning had struck a shed on the yard of a cousin who lives west of Saskatoon.

Yesterday afternoon, before I arrived home, another thunderstorm went through this area and left as much rain as the one Sunday evening. No reports of damage this time. Despite the destruction caused to buildings by these storms there have been no people injured.

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.

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