Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: attitudes

The power of little things

My mother was 10 when her family moved from south-east Manitoba to south-west Saskatchewan. Whenever she talked about that move she would say “The thing I missed was seeing the tees and the Indians.”

It wasn’t until I reached adulthood that I asked the obvious question: “Mon, I get the part about the trees, but what’s this about the Indians?”

“Well, whenever Indians travelled through our area, they would stop at our place for a rest and a drink of water.”

My grandfather was a Plautdietsch speaking Sommerfelder Mennonite, not very prosperous, blind, and the father of 14 children, of which my mother was number 6. Apparently he was blind in more ways than one.

Before he married, he had worked at Letellier, Manitoba. One of his coworkers was a black man who had made his way to Canada from the US South. My grandfather learned some old negro spirituals from him and then taught them to his children. My mother used to sing some of them.

My grandfather learned English while working there, and later said he wished he had learned French, too, as there were French-speaking people living there. Whenever my mother told about her father’s wish that he had learned French, she would add, “And if he had, I would have, too!”

I heard those little things when my mother talked about her earlier years. They made a lasting impression, and I believe enabled me to look at other people as being not a lot different from me.

In her late teens, my mother memorized the German catechism, and the bishop baptized her. I think the teachings in that catechism found a place deeper than just in her mind. The family spoke mostly Plautdietsch at home, and some English. The church was entirely German — Bible reading, hymns, sermons, prayers. My mother was the last of the children to learn German. As she grew older, she realized that in her church the language was more important than the teachings in the catechism; it had nothing to offer her 8 younger siblings who did not know German.

She left that church and expressed no nostalgia for it. Her mother, my grandmother, appeared to believe that I needed to learn German to be a Christian. She sent me a copy of the catechism and a German primer. I was curious and made a beginning in the primer. Mom would help me whenever I asked, but never prompted me to keep on trying to learn German. She had a large English dictionary that she had studied for years, learned to speak English with no trace of an accent, had a larger vocabulary than many whose mother tongue was English.

When Chris and I started to attend the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, some members got all excited when they found that Mom’s mother tongue had been Plautdietsch. She was polite and friendly, but did not share their enthusiasm. I have wondered if she didn’t have a little fear that I was getting into the sort of thing she had left behind.

I am my mother’s son. She said nothing negative about anyone, but the impression she left was that Plautdietsch and German had nothing to do with being a Christian and were not anything I needed to pursue.

My father was from the USA, his mother was Franco-American and it embarrassed him when she spoke French to their neighbours here in Saskatchewan. I got a lot more encouragement from my mother to learn French than from my father.

That’s my personal history. I could say more about my father, but I don’t think it’s necessary. I’ll just say that my mother’s positive remarks about others had more influence on me than my father’s negative remarks.

Are there negative things that Christians say today that can have a harmful effect on their children’s attitude toward others?

How do we look at ourselves? 

We can’t change our ethnic identity, or the family into which we were born. But if we think that our family, or our ethnic group, has some innate quality that makes us more apt to be Christian, or a better Christian, than others, we are contradicting the whole message of the New Testament. Any hint of pride or exclusivity undermines our gospel witness..

How do we look at others?

Sometimes I hear Christians say that the people around us aren’t interested in the gospel. That implants the thought in the younger generation that there is no point in trying to share the gospel in our home communities.

How do we talk about people of a different skin colour, or who speak with an accent? Nigger, negro, darkie and coloured are not polite or respectful terms to use for black people. Sometimes we complain about the immigrants in our communities. It enthuses us to send missionaries to the countries they came from, but when they arrive here, we have a different attitude.

There is no 8 step program to break the problem I am describing. It’s a matter of the heart. Little changes in our attitudes toward the surrounding people, little changes in our speech, could add up to a big change in the way others see us.

Moving on, or pressing on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dementia

My mother wasn’t able to look after herself anymore and had come to live with us. One day a conversation with a visitor went like this:
—How old are you?
—What year is it?
—Two thousand and four
—Then I am ninety-six.

That was my mother; she couldn’t remember how old she was, but she wasn’t about to admit it so she answered with a question of her own. When she was given the year she instantly made the calculation in her head and gave the right answer.

My father’s dementia worked a little differently; he lived to be 86 but always told people he was 82. It seems that was how old he was when dementia took away his ability to connect with what was happening.

Some people become quite difficult as dementia sets in. They resent being told to put on clothes that they don’t recognize. The problem is that their mind has slipped back 50 years and the clothes they would recognize are long gone. Others may be just as confused about where they are and what is happening, yet they are sweetly thankful for every little act of kindness.

Some people eventually lose the ability to communicate. A familiar face, a familiar voice, may stir some sign of recognition, but they can’t quite grasp who it is they see and hear. There are those who seem altogether vacant, yet their eyes light up when a familiar hymn is sung. Sometimes they might even sing along, yet show no sign of remembering after the song  is finished. It is important for us to believe that there is still a person in that body, and even though they cannot reach out to us, they do know when we reach out to them by kind words and touches.

Some people seem immune to dementia. We visited a lady after she turned 100, she may have been a distant relative of my wife. She was bright and chipper, her hearing was good, her eyesight was good – she read a regular print Bible, had no difficulty walking. We visited her again several months later – she recognized us and remembered our names.

We met a man, a distant relative of mine, who was also over 100. He played billiards, drove his car to his country church every Sunday, pushed people in wheelchairs around the yard of the nursing home.

Both of these people had a positive outlook on life and were interested in other people. This leads me to some observations:

  • A self-centred person has a miserable life and seems to be more inclined to develop dementia, where he can make everybody around him miserable, too.
  • A person who is genuinely interested in others develops the ability to exercise their mind in following a multitude of paths his mind might not otherwise take and this may make him less apt to develop dementia.
  • A person who is genuinely thankful, and readily expresses that thankfulness will be a pleasant person to be around even if he develops dementia.

I know, these are totally unscientific conclusions and there are many other factors involved. Still, I think they are thoughts to bear in mind as I grow older so that I can cultivate the attitudes that will make life less difficult for those who may have to care for me if I ever develop dementia.

What is “the world”?

In 1 John 2:15-17, the apostle delivers a clear warning to Christians about loving the world and the things of the world: “Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world.  And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”

This makes it very tempting for well-meaning believers to compile a list of things that are “worldly” and to exercise great care to avoid such things. Much like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day. And just like the Pharisees we can scrupulously avoid things and still be motivated by lust and pride. We may be able to hide that from ourselves, but not from others.

The many repetitions of “world” in the above passage all translate the Greek word “kosmos”, which refers to the physical world and the physical things in it. There are many other passages in the New Testament that speak of the “world” where the Greek word is “aion.” This word has a wide range of meaning, but when it is translated “world” it refers not to physical things, but to spirits and attitudes that prevail at a certain era and place. French Bibles usually use a word that means “age” or “this present age”.

This brings us much closer to the root of what we call worldliness. There is no inherent evil in a physical object, but many of the ideas that seem to be in the air we breathe convey attitudes that are directly contrary to the way of Christ.

Romans 12:2 is an example of such Scripture passages and the inference to our way of thinking is often missed.  “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” “This world” is translated “the present age” in French Bibles. Even in English, the meaning should be clear if we would stop and consider the whole verse. We are not to pattern our way of thinking after the prevailing ideas of the age we live in, but allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds to know what is truly meaningful and important.

There are many other verses where aion is translated world in English and age or present age in French. Here are a few: Matthew 13:22  – “He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world  and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.” 1 Corinthians 2:6 – “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought.” 2 Corinthians 4:4 – “In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Galatians 1:4 – “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father.”

I think zeitgeist might be better understood than world in these passages.” Zeitgeist: a pattern of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.” It comes from German words meaning spirit of the times. This is the “world” that is most dangerous and deceptive for one who wants to follow Christ.

But rather giving of thanks

In Ephesians 5:4, the apostle Paul names a number of things that should not come out of a Christian’s mouth, then adds: “but rather giving of thanks.” How easy it is to forget that. In my last blog post, I mentioned the things that were stolen from us one evening almost twenty years ago. But the thief missed something – in one of the top dresser drawers there was an envelope containing several hundred US dollars. Two days later we left on a planned trip to Pennsylvania and we got to spend that money, not the thief.

Did I thank God for that blessing? I think I did, but I’ll have to admit that thankfulness doesn’t enter my mind as readily as it should. We experience so many little blessings. They seem like coincidences, but are they really? If they were only coincidences the results would be as often negative as positive. When so many little things happen that are positive, there must be an unseen hand behind it all.

I would naturally like God to do big things for me, provide instant answers to my problems. But wouldn’t that lead to confusion about who is the master and who is the servant in our relationship? If I choose to be patiently obedient, the little things do add up to something very big. I want to remember to thank God for every little thing that He does for me.

Someone who is not satisfied unless things go just right spreads discontent everywhere he goes. We are continually being told that we should not be satisfied, we are victims, everything around is going wrong. And so it seems. But joining the mass movement of discontent will not make things better. Those who are determined to be unhappy will be unhappy still.

What would our world be like if there was a movement of people determined to be happy? People who saw little acts of kindness about them and spoke their appreciation? People who woke up each morning thankful to be alive and have another day to serve the God who has planned good things for them? Giving thanks for the good we see enables us to see how much good there really is, and our thankfulness can be just as contagious as someone else’s complaining.

And out of them shall proceed thanksgiving and the voice of them that make merry: and I will multiply them, and they shall not be few; I will also glorify them, and they shall not be small — Jeremiah 30:19.

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore — Psalm 16:11

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