Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: books

What shall our children read?

What books are safe for children to read? Some Christian parents provide only  books about nice people who do nice things and everything turns out nicely for them. How realistic is that? Children know that there is evil in the world. There are scary things out there, things happen that they do not understand.

Other Christian parents believe that any book that turns out well in the end is sound reading material for their children. Even books where sorcery and witchcraft are used to attain that happy ending. The end justifies the means – or does it?

The Bible only promises a happy ending for people who use Christian means. Evil can only be overcome by good; in that sense the means are the end. We cannot live an overcoming Christian life by using the tools and methods of the enemy. Books that underline that principle can help to develop spiritual understanding.

In 17th century France, Jean de La Fontaine took ancient fables, many of them from Aesop, and rendered them into charming verses with a touch of humour and a clear moral teaching woven in. The fables of La Fontaine were once part of the school curriculum in all French-speaking countries. I’m afraid their moral teaching is now considered old fashioned.

In the same era, Charles Perrault collected and rewrote old folk tales and created others, all having a clear moral teaching. Almost 120 years later the brothers Grimm included some of these tales in their books of fairy tales, leaving out the moral teachings.

Perrault’s tale, La Belle au Bois Dormant, is much more gruesome than the Sleeping Beauty that I read as a child. In the end the innocent children are rescued by the return of their father and the evil woman who wanted to consume them comes to a horrible end. There is nothing here to lull children to overlook evil with the idea that the poor woman was just misunderstood. She was out and out evil and their father was pure and good.

One of Perrault’s stories does not have a happy ending. In Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, when the young lady gets into bed with the wolf that is the end of her. Perrault wrote: “There is one kind [of wolf] with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!” That lesson is lost when Little Red Riding Hood is allowed to escape unharmed from the wolf. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a copy of Perrault’s tales that has not been Disneyfied, even in French. Don’t expect clear moral teachings from that source.

In the 20th Century British writers created several series of Christian fantasy novels.  I am thinking specifically of the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald’s Princess and Curdie books and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I know Christian parents who will not let their children read such books because they describe fantasy worlds, fantastic creatures and fantastic events. Yet in these books evil is always evil and the good people do not use evil means to accomplish good. I am of the opinion that it is better for children to read books where evil exists and is overcome by good than to read books where evil does not appear to exist at all. Isn’t that a more dangerous fantasy?

 

 

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Chapter 2 – Alphabet blocks

I found the wooden alphabet block with the letter N and added it to the row that was beginning to spell my name — R O B E R T G O O D N . . . Now I needed one more O. I carefully rotated each of the blocks I had not used, but could not find another O. This was a familiar problem; there are just too many O’s in my name. Now I had to take the blocks I had already used, rotate them one by one to find another O, then find a block with the letter I had taken away. Finally it is done: R O B E R T G O O D N O U G H.

I was four years old and this set of blocks was my favourite toy. With it I could build fences, walls, barns, houses, towers. When night came, I gathered them all into the wooden box with wooden wheels and put them away for another day.

One day, I don’t remember when, my mother began to explain the meaning of the mysterious symbols on the blocks. She showed me how to spell words like M O M, D A D, C A T, D O G and then how to spell my name. Soon I began to sound out words I saw in other places and found that there was no end of things to read. My cousin Julia, 18 years older than me, had once been a teacher. She noted my love for words and began bringing me little books each time she and her husband made a trip to Moose Jaw.

The day that I began school, my mother went with me and informed the teacher, “Robert can read.” The teacher was sceptical; she stuck a newspaper in front of me and said: “Read.” I read it aloud, smoothly, pronouncing the words correctly, though I may not have understood all that the news story was about. Thus I began Grade 1, and was introduced to the mindless Dick and Jane books: “SEE SPOT. SEE SPOT RUN.” Not very interesting to someone who was way beyond that at home. After Christmas, I was in Grade 2.

How did it happen that I was already a fluent reader the day I started school? It never seemed like my mother was trying to teach me to read. Outdoors, I had a trike, a wagon and a whole big yard to explore. Indoors, my set of blocks was my multipurpose toy kit, useful for most anything my fertile imagination could dream up. The incident in the first paragraph is one of my earliest memories and it was oft repeated as I learned the sounds of letters. My mother did just enough to pique my curiosity, then forever after had to answer my questions.

My mother was my first and best teacher. Yet she had known only Plautdietsch until the day she started school. For six years she attended a one-room school run by the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church, spending equal time learning German and English. In 1920 the Saskatchewan government decided that all private schools would be closed. When Mom went to enroll in the public school that fall, they told her she would have to begin the sixth grade again. Her father decided that if that was the case, she didn’t need to go to school anymore. Despite having only six years of formal education, my mother was in many ways better educated than my father, who had considerably more schooling and whose mother tongue was English.

The explanation for my mother’s learning achievements lies in her physical handicap, her father’s disability and the special relationship between them. My grandfather was blind. Glaucoma had robbed him of much of his vision in his youth and he later became almost totally blind. He still ran a farm and raised fourteen healthy children.
My mother was number six and she was born with congenital hip dysplasia. Nowadays, this condition can be corrected in newborns without surgery. A hundred years ago, doctors didn’t know what her problem was. They thought she had a back problem, as that was where she had pain, but had no idea how to treat it. One day, long after I was grown up, she told me that she had never walked without pain. I thought back to the times that she would play ball with me, even run foot races with me and wondered if a mother’s love had eased the pain.

Because of his blindness, my grandfather needed help, and who was more able and ready to help him than this daughter who didn’t get around as easily or as fast as his other children? She read to him, letters, farm papers, books, whatever he needed or whatever interested him. She helped him with managing the business side of the farm, helping with correspondence and learning how to manage money. If her parents went away for a Sunday dinner and she stayed home, as soon as her parents came home her father would want to know what she had been reading. He would ask her to retell the whole story that she had read.

A large, well-used English dictionary was one of her prized possessions. She studied it assiduously, looking up every new word she found, learning its meaning and how to use it. Her brothers and sisters would tell her that she had swallowed the dictionary. She spoke clear, unaccented, grammatically correct English.

My parents’ home contained hundreds of books, the legacy of my father’s parents and of his brother who had abandoned the prairies for British Columbia. With a mother like this, and a house full of old, well-written books, how could I help but become a serious reader and a lover of good books?

Robins and skunks on O’Malley Road

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The songbirds are back: robins, meadowlarks and others – spring has come to Saskatchewan. Sometimes we can even tell it by the weather. Last Saturday was a beautiful sunny day with a high of 22° Celsius. That would be 72° in Americanese. This morning the ground was white again for several hours and the high for the day was 2°.

This is also tax season. The personal income tax deadline is April 30, but that falls on a Saturday which makes Monday May 2 the actual deadline. I am busy getting last years books in order for my business bookkeeping clients to take to their tax accountants. I only do a few personal tax returns, mostly for seniors. Last week that led to meeting two delightful ladies, both of them 90 years old and still going strong.

Saturday I attended a Christian writers’ “wordshop” in Saskatoon. This is an opportunity to get together with other writers for mutual encouragement and to hear talks that hopefully inform and inspire us to persevere, write and publish. It is also an opportunity to buy books from our fellow writers – I came home with five.

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For years we have been having problems with creatures resembling the cute little guy above getting under our mobile home. Most of the time they are quiet, inoffensive neighbours. There have been a couple of times when some other creature troubled them and we had to leave home for a few hours to let the resulting aroma dissipate.

I think we are dealing with one persistent pair. We have tried various means to let them know they are not welcome and/or to evict them. We try to limit ourselves to methods that will not cause unpleasant olfactory results for ourselves. Saturday we set up an ultrasonic sound generator that is supposed to drive them bonkers and make them want to escape.

Today one of them ventured out of the hole under the skirting of the trailer and into  the awaiting cage trap. They are not supposed to be able to spray when confined in this small cage, but our son-in-law had to step lively to avoid a direct hit when he came to take our guest away. One down, one more to go. At least I hope that is all there is.

 

Book Review: Dictionary of Biblical Imagery

At the ripe old age of 17 I believed I had outgrown any need for the Bible. It was almost ten years before I opened the book again. I was sceptical, but I thought there might be something worthwhile somewhere in this collection of writings. I guess I was looking for answers, but didn’t really expect to find any.

After a few months the connectedness of this “collection of writings” became harder and harder to ignore. There was no way I could pick and choose what I wanted to believe of its content, every part of it was connected to all the other parts. This was one book and I ether had to reject the whole thing, or believe the whole thing. This conviction was a major step leading up to my conversion a year later.

It is difficult for me to understand why so many Christians don’t seem to have caught on to this fact. Perhaps it is because they read here and there without ever reading through a whole book of the Bible. Perhaps it is because of outside helps that purport to explain the Bible. Reference books can be helpful, but one should never put too much confidence in them.

The Bible explains itself. There are symbols that have the same meaning whenever they appear. The more you read, the clearer the meaning becomes. There are threads of meaning that can be followed through the whole Bible. Many Bible stories are impressive and meaningful to a small child, yet there are depths to those stories that can never be fully plumbed in a lifetime of Bible study.

One of the workshop leaders at the Inscribe Christian Writers Conference recommended the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. The editors of this book attempt to trace the continuity of images and themes throughout the Bible. I like the approach of this book, yet I’m not going to say that they got everything just right – none of us ever do. This is a good book for the serious student of the Bible, and for those who have never caught on to the idea of how the themes and images of the book are woven together so tightly from beginning to end.

This is a big book, over 1,000 pages. Beware of shipping costs if you try to buy it online. I ordered mine from Kennedy’s Parable in Saskatoon. The price was higher than buying it online, but there were no shipping costs.

Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, General Editors: Leland Ryken, James C Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III.  © 1998 InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

Learning the craft of writing

The child that was myself was born with a little talent, and I have worked hard, hard, hard to shape it. Yet even this could not have made me a writer, for there is no book can tell anything worth saying unless life itself has first said it to the person who conceived that book. A philosophy has to be hammered out, a mind shaped, a spirit tempered. This is true for all of the craft. It is the basic process which must happen before literature can be created.

Talent is Not Enough, Mollie Hunter on writing for children, © 1976 Mollie Hunter, published by Harper & Row

I’ve always been writing – school assignments, letters, business reports, historical articles. I’ve always aspired to become a serious writer. I’m 73 now, I don’t suppose I have that many years left to attain that level. I’ve belonged to a writing group, attended writers’ conferences, read all kinds of books for writers. When do I stop learning and start doing? The reality is that they are not mutually exclusive, one learns more  by doing than by studying.

I’ve always known what I want to write, but it’s taken me a long time to see how to write in a way that will capture the interest of other people and not be combative or abrasive. I think I am finding my way to do that.  Part of that is what Mollie Hunter describes as hammering our a philosophy, shaping the mind and tempering the spirit.

Still, for the last while I’ve been in kind of a fog, perhaps afraid to step out and take the risk. Or perhaps confused because there are so many things I want to write. I have come to a conclusion now – I want to concentrate on two projects, one a book for children and the other a book that could be classed as Biblical apologetics. You will be seeing parts of that book in this blog in coming weeks and months.

I will do a review of Mollie Hunter’s book in the next few days, too.

The sad state of publishing

Doesn’t everybody have a dream about writing a fantastic book that will be bought by a major publisher, where an editor will be assigned to fine tine the manuscript, a publicist will be assigned to promote the book, and everyone will live happily ever after? Forget about it. It’s not going to happen.

The publishing industry has fallen on hard times, most of the well-known publishing companies around the world are now owned by a handful of big companies, mostly European. None of them are apt to publish anything by an unknown author. If they do, the editing and publicity will be the author’s responsibility.

There are many companies offering to help you publish your book, for a hefty fee. The majority of these are branches of one company which has an unsavoury reputation. They will publish your book, but the promised services – editing, cover design, book promotion – turn out to be pretty much worthless.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that it is easier than ever before for an aspiring writer to get his or her book into print. But the writer has to take charge of the whole process – editing, illustrating, book layout, cover design, promotion and sales. An author needs help in all of these aspects of preparing a book for market and then marketing it. You can spend a lot of money, or you can look for talented people who will offer their services for free or for a very small fee as a means of gaining experience and visibility for themselves.

Create Space is subsidiary of Amazon that will publish your book at no cost to you. They do print on demand, meaning that books are printed individually when an order comes in. They offer paid services to help with editing, cover design, and so on, but you don’t have to use them. Create Space is a US company and used to withhold a very large portion in US taxes and a Canadian author would have to jump through all the IRS hoops to try and recover that money. I understand that has changed.

Create Space will provide an ISBN (International Standard Book Number), but a Canadian author should obtain a Canadian ISBN. Most countries sell ISBN’s, but they are free in Canada. If you publish through Create Space it would be a good idea to create your own name to use as the publisher. Book stores are not likely to carry your book anyway, but if the Create Space name appears anywhere on your book that could pretty much guarantee they won’t touch it.

There are small publishers everywhere and one of them might be willing to publish your book if it fits their interests and their region. Another option would be a company like PageMaster in Edmonton. The owner of PageMaster did a presentation at the conference and it sounded pretty attractive. They offer all the services you need to prepare your manuscript for publishing and you can choose the ones you need. They do initial print runs of 20 to 200 copies, so that you are not stuck with a garage full of unsold books. You can probably find a business like this in other regions of the country.

The bottom line is that your name is on the book and you want to make it as high quality as you can. Don’t ask your sister in law or cousin to edit it. Find someone who will actively look for things that don’t add up, don’t sound right. If the book was worth writing, it is worth going the extra mile and making it what you really want it to be.

Memories of the Inscribe Conference

You know you’re in a group of writers when a workshop leader asks each participant to name five of their favourite books from childhood and one includes the dictionary in her list. She says she used to read two pages a day. And nobody thought that was weird.

That happened in Colleen McCubbin’s class on writing for children. Our goal in writing for children should be to charm, inform and nourish on the intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual levels. She recommended a book by Mollie Hunter, a Scottish writer for children, entitled Talent is Not Enough. I have ordered the book and will share my impressions once I have read it.

Jack Popjes was probably the most entertaining attendee. At supper one day someone chided him for taking two desserts (they were small). “I only allow myself one dessert per day,” he said. “This one is for August 23, 2016 and this one is for August 24, 2016.”

There is another side to Jack. He and his wife spent 20 years living with an unreached tribe in Brazil. They learned the language, put it into writing, taught the people to read and write. At the same time they translated the Bible into this language and by the time they left there was a thriving congregation of believers.

We were told that the conference cost $265.00 per attendee. Of this, $100.00 per person went for the rent of the space we used, travel expenses for speakers, honorariums for the speakers and workshop leaders and miscellaneous other expenses. The other $165.00 was the cost of the meals and coffee breaks. Three meals and five or six breaks with coffee, tea, juices and snacks were provided.

As is usual in meetings like this, it is not permitted to bring in food from outside sources. We live in a litigation-happy world and if anyone got sick from food that was brought in, someone would be likely to sue the hotel. At least that is the fear. The conference was held in the Edmonton South Sawridge Inn. For those of us who stayed at the hotel, our breakfast was included in the room rate. This was a real breakfast, not the “continental breakfast” that many motels offer.

That’s all for today, I will write more about the conference in coming days.

Grace for daily life

We have gone hurtling through the sky in a series of hollow metal tubes and are now safely home. We left a week ago today, flying by WestJet from Saskatoon to Winnipeg and Winnipeg to Montréal and came home two days ago by the same airline, flying Montréal to Toronto and Toronto to Saskatoon. We were seven or eight miles up in the sky and saw nothing but fluffy white stuff below us, except over Saskatchewan. Both going and returning we could see the ground beneath us as we flew over our home province. It was nice to watch the ground below, but worrisome, too. Clouds would be welcome here; we need rain. There have been a couple of little showers since we got home, but serious rain is needed. Québec, on the other hand, is a lush, dark, green. We had forgotten how beautiful it is.

This trip, the planning and the trip itself, was a whole series of grace moments. I was invited to come to a meeting in Quebec of the Publication Board of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the French Editing and Proofreading Committee, of which I am a member. It had been many years since we had visited Quebec and I was enthused, but I wanted my wife to come, too. She was unwilling at first, fearing it would be too tiring (she is coping with Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia). After a few days, Chris said she would come.

Then it was announced that there would be revival meetings in our congregation during the days we planned to be gone. The day before we left, it was announced that one of the ministers who planned to come to our congregation couldn’t make it and the meetings were postponed until further notice.

So we left, feeling the Lord was blessing our trip already. The meeting on Friday was a pleasant surprise, we found the Publication Board to be more enthusiastic about our work than we had expected. They are pushing for more books to be translated and prepared for publication. Perhaps pushing is too strong a word, we did not feel that they were being pushy, but they certainly weren’t wanting to apply the brakes. They see the need and said there was money available for more publications.

Then the visiting began. We had no definite plans before leaving home, but everything fell into place once we were there. There are congregations in Montréal and Roxton Falls. We last visited Roxton Falls 10 years ago and hadn’t been in Montreal for 18 years. We lived in Québec for five years and many of the members are old friends. Others we knew only by name. I had never met two of the members of our committee. Their voices were familiar from conference calls, and I had formed pictures of them in my mind. They didn’t look anything like I had imagined.

I considered it a special grace that this was the weekend when the Montreal congregation had an evening service and that we received an invitation to ride along with one of the Roxton Falls ministers and his family to that service. Thus we were in church at Roxton Falls in the morning and in Montréal in the evening and got to meet practically all the members. One couple is in the process of moving from Montréal to Roxton Falls and we missed seeing them.

Chris enjoyed the trip as much as I did and was no more tired than I was when we got home. It was altogether a blessed time, possibly more of a revival than if we had stayed home and the planned revivals had happened.

Natural affection

I started school in 1948 in a one-room school. The first order of business on the first day involved cutting and pasting and I recall the teacher assigning me to help a little girl who had apparently never done anything of the sort before. I was already quite a proficient reader and the Dick and Jane readers were far too simplistic to hold any interest for me. But I could always eavesdrop on the lessons being taught to the grades ahead of me and learned a lot that way.

A few years later we moved and I was in a larger school where there were only two grades to a classroom. My proficiency in reading and math made school easy for me. I’m afraid I developed some very lazy work habits because of that, but I managed to read every book in the school library.

Schools have kept getting bigger and bigger, and dumber and dumber, since those days. My first teacher probably only had a summer course before starting to teach, but she was a super teacher and managed a classroom with eight grades without any major upheavals. Teachers today need a B. Ed. degree and are held up as the experts in all things educational. Parents dare not question or interfere in the teaching program of this expert. What parents are not told is that wonderful sounding degree only attests to the teacher having sat through several years of courses on the psychology of child development. The university never tested the teachers knowledge of the subjects he was about to teach, nor did it offer any training in how to teach them.

Along the way, numerous elements of pop psychology, social activism, environmental awareness, sexual awareness and tolerance for “alternative lifestyles” have been added to the curriculum, squeezing out time that would have been better spent gaining mastery of the essential tools of learning. History and grammar seem to have pretty much disappeared.

What is going on here? Aldous Huxley’s book, Brave New World, offers a chilling glimpse of where academic masterminds want to lead our world. First published in 1931, the book depicts a world without families, a world where even long term friendships are unheard of. Sex is purely a recreational activity, with no prudery or embarrassment attached. Babies are produced in factories, genetically manipulated into five levels: Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. Those in the Alpha group are the managers and leaders. The Epsilons are slow thinkers, designed for the drudgery of any manual labour that is still needed. No one is ever sick or handicapped and everyone dies at the age of 60 without ever experiencing pain or sorrow. If anyone feels bored, annoyed or upset, they just take a Soma pill and and become blissfully unaware of whatever was bothering them.

Is this starting to sound uncomfortably like the direction our world is going? Brave New World is a work of fiction, not intended as prophecy. Yet it seems that already in 1931 Huxley saw the signs of where some idealistic people would like to lead our world.

The apostle Paul twice mentioned people “without natural affection.” In Romans 1:31 he is speaking of his own time and in 2 Timothy 3:3 he refers to”the latter days.” We don’t have to look far for evidence of that today: the value of marriage and family is being subtly, and not so subtly, disparaged. The abortion of potentially handicapped, or just inconvenient, babies is seen as beneficial.  More and more it is being viewed as a good thing to help the terminally ill, or those just weary of life, to depart this life as painlessly as possible.

Is there any hope? I would like to believe that natural affection, though greatly abused and undervalued, may be just what we need to keep us from going over the precipice. There is in every person a longing to be loved and to love. To care so much about someone else that you feel anxiety and anguish in their struggles, and joy in their triumphs. A longing to mean something to someone else, and to finding meaning in loving that person. Can that longing ever be completely erased? Even Huxley did not appear to think so.

That longing for a meaningful relationship with someone outside of ourselves is at its root a longing for God. No one else can ever completely satisfy that longing. Even though everything around us seems to want to destroy our awareness of that longing, I don’t believe it can ever be erased from the human soul. And when someone experiences the fulfillment of that longing in a relationship with God, all human relationships become more genuine and meaningful. That is the way God has made us: “It is not good for man to be alone.”

Taking stock

Things that I am learning:

– It’s not important to know what my abilities, talents, or gifts are. The only thing that matters is if I am following where the Master leads and doing what He asks me to do.

– It’s not important to know what I have accomplished for the Master, even less important that others should know. If my words and actions do not glorify the Master then they are worthless.

– It’s not important to make plans and resolutions for the future. The Master knows what lies ahead, I don’t.

Books that I am reading:

– La Sainte Bible, traduction Louis Segond – I read the Bible in French each morning and am currently reading through the Psalms.

– The Holy Bible, Authorized Version (KJV) – My wife and I read the Bible in English every evening, we are currently reading through 2 Corinthians.

– Multipliers, How the best leaders make everyone smarter, Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown. I am reading this one on my Kobo e-reader.

– The Power of Weakness, Dan Schaeffer. Paperback, published by Discovery House.

– Rise to Greatness, The History of Canada from the Vikings to the Present, Conrad Black. Published by McClelland and Stewart, hardcover. This one is over 1,000 pages and is best digested in small chunks. This is going to take a while.

– Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maud Montgomery. This is also on my Kobo e-reader and I read a little bit from time to time just to savour the writing of a master story-teller.

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