Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Canada

Chapter 3 – My father

The time has come for me to write about my father, but I don’t want to. I’m afraid that I’m going to make him sound like an ogre, and he really wasn’t. Most of the time he was a pretty decent sort, but I grew up living in dread of the times when his internal volcano would erupt. He never physically harmed my mother or me, he was kind to animals and polite to others. His anger was only words, but those words would peel the paint off your self respect and wither your soul.

You see? I’m already off on the wrong foot if I want to portray my father in anything like a sympathetic light.

Let’s start over. My father was of New England Puritan stock, had high moral ideals and strong religious convictions. He was a tireless worker, he could fix anything mechanical and build most anything of wood with just a few hand tools. Sometimes he could laugh at himself, but only once did I hear him come close to admitting he’d made a mistake. He’d always had cattle and chickens on the farm and one time when he was about done with farming he said it might have been better if he’d kept a few pigs, too.

His mother was Franco-American, the granddaughter of a man who settled in New York state after serving as a maître d’armes, a master swordsman, in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. My father believed the world would be a better place if everyone spoke the same language, namely English. He only learned a few words of French from his mother, but had a warm spot in his heart for his French heritage because the USA could not have won the revolutionary war without help from France.

My grandparents were from St. Lawrence county, New York and moved to the Newell, Iowa area shortly after they married. Five children were born to them there, then they moved to Pipestone county, Minnesota. In 1908 they came to Canada and homesteaded near the south-west end of Old Wives Lake in Saskatchewan. My father built a house across the road from the estate house where his widowed mother lived and cared for her until her death.

He was 49 when he married and 50 when I was born. Perhaps that half century between us was too much to bridge. Or perhaps he expected a son who would be just as robust as he was and was disappointed to find himself the father of a sickly wimp.

There were good times. Our farm at Bishopric had rows of trees between the yard and the road on the west. All our kinfolk in the area would come once a summer for a family gathering and picnic in an open area among the trees. In the winter, the snow would accumulate in the trees and our driveway became impassible. Then we would travel by team and sleigh with horsehide robes to protect us and maybe a big stone or two at our feet that had been warmed in the oven.

One ice-cold Monday morning, when walking the mile to school was not an option, my father hitched up the sleigh and took me across country to the little brick schoolhouse in the village of Bishopric. When we go there, there was not another person there, no foot prints in the snow. Then I remembered: “Uh, Dad, I forgot. Today is a holiday.” The ride home was quiet, but Dad was not angry and never mentioned the incident.

Once when I was in my teens, Dad started talking about the evils of a white person marrying a black person. “Their children will be mixed colours, one leg white, the other black.” I found that a little hard to take. “I don’t believe that is possible. Did you ever see anyone like that?” He didn’t answer, but that was the last I heard of people with Holstein markings.

I was maybe 15 when he got me to change the water pump on the truck. He told me what to do, then I crawled under the truck and went to work. He wasn’t anywhere near to answer questions, so I figured out what tools to use and which way to install the pump, and it worked. Another time, he got some grinding compound and had me grind the valves and the valve seats on a Briggs & Stratton engine that had lost power. That worked too. But usually Dad didn’t have the time or patience to teach me how to do all the things he could do.

Dad was a Wesleyan Methodist whose church got sucked into the church union fever, eventually being incorporated into the United Church of Canada. Dad talked of attending a United Church in Edmonton, sometime in the later 1920’s. As the preacher spoke, it became evident that he was getting his direction from somewhere else than the Bible. The creation, miracles, virgin birth of Christ and the resurrections were only fables meant to teach a lesson. And the lessons this preacher drew from them bore no resemblance to Bible teachings. Dad walked out into the street, tears streaming from his eyes.

Soon he visited the Calgary Prophetic Bible Institute and become an ardent follower of William Aberhart. When Aberhart created the Social Credit Party and led it to power in Alberta in 1935, Dad was convinced that this was the way forward. The churches had become corrupt, what was needed was to elect Christian statesmen to office.

As a true believer of Social Credit principles, it was hard for him to listen to someone expound a contrary philosophy. Occasionally I would see him clench his jaw and tremble in striving to maintain an outward civility when the fire inside was on the point of bursting forth.

I guess it didn’t always work. One day he came walking home from Mr Harlton’s. Mr Harlton was David’s father and a member of the CCF party, at the opposite end of the political spectrum from Social Credit. The Harltons lived two miles from us; I’m not sure why my father stopped there on his way home from town, but they got into a political discussion. My father became so agitated that Mr Harlton decided it wasn’t safe for him to drive and took his keys. Dad walked back the next day, in a somewhat calmer frame of mind, and got his keys back.

The Social Credit movement never got close to political power on the national level and eventually declined. When we went to Moose Jaw, Dad would go to Charlie Schick’s barber shop for a haircut and a religious discussion. Mr Schick was a fervent Lutheran and his influence gave Dad the impetus to start looking for a church again. That led to us joining the Anglican Church when we moved to Craik.

Dad’s eyesight began to fail in his 60’s and pretty soon he let me drive the family half ton to church. There was an RCMP officer attending the same church and I’m sure he was aware that I was nowhere near old enough to have a license. I wonder if he thought it might be safer to let me drive those short distances around home than to have Dad drive. When I turned 16 and got my drivers license, Dad gave me permission to drive the truck to school and to band practice.

My father was really a decent man and he meant well. He would accept advice from a few people, but for the most part he was the judge of what was right and wrong. One evening when we had family devotions he prayed that God would show others that he was right.

Every once in awhile the volcano within would come spewing forth and for three days, every time he came into the house, he would rant about all the things my mother and I had done that he didn’t like. We walked on eggshells to avoid triggering such outbursts, but never actually knew when they would happen. Most of life was normal, but I grew up with an overriding fear that anything I would say or do might be exactly the wrong thing to say or do at that moment.

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The significance of Canada Day

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July 1 is Canada Day. This year we are celebrating the 150th anniversary of Canadian Confederation. Canadian history goes back much further than July 1, 1867. Why has this date been chosen as the birth of Canada as a nation?

A quaint notion has arisen today that before the coming of white people the aboriginal peoples lived in perfect harmony with nature and with each other. Their own oral history does not bear this out. There are many different ethnic groups among the First Nations people, which led to constant rivalry and conflicts over territory and hunting grounds. Wars and rumours of war are not exclusive to people of European background.

The beginning of white exploration and settlement introduced new sources of conflict. European settlers were divided between those who spoke French and those who spoke English and each group sought alliances with neighbouring aboriginal people.

The largest European settlements were established in the Great Lakes area, along the St. Lawrence River and on the Atlantic seaboard. The English speaking area north of the Great Lakes became known as Upper Canada and the French speaking area along the St. Lawrence was Lower Canada.

Both were ruled by governors sent from England, assisted by a small , self-perpetuating coterie of local dignitaries. In Upper Canada the Anglican Church was the only legally recognized denomination and the ruling group was known as the Family Compact. When Mennonites from Pennsylvania began settling in Ontario around 1800 they had freedom of worship, but no authority to perform marriages. Lower Canada was officially Roman Catholic and the ruling group was called the Chateau Clique.

In 1837 there were armed uprising in both colonies, led by William Lyon Mackenzie in Upper Canada and Louis Joseph Papineau in Lower Canada. Both rebellions were quickly snuffed out, yet they resulted in a move towards more representative local rule. In 1841 Upper and Lower Canada were untied under a single government, with the two parts now called Canada West and Canada East.

The first election resulted in a majority for the Reform Party (the precursor of today’s Liberal Party) led by Louis Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin. This was the beginning of democratic self-rule. Baldwin and Lafontaine were reelected in 1848 and enacted a number of laws over the next three years that replaced British decrees that were felt to be unjust, another step towards self-determination.

In the 1860’s the Liberal-Conservative Party (precursor of today’s Conservative Party), led by John Alexander Macdonald and Georges Étienne Cartier, formed the government of what was then Canada. These men had a vision of a greater Canada that stretched from sea to sea.

They found kindred aspirations in Leonard Tilley of New Brunswick and Charles Tupper of Nova Scotia who agreed to a confederation of their colonies. On July 1, 1867 the new Dominion of Canada came into existence, consisting of four provinces: Ontario (Canada West). Québec (Canada East), New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The title Dominion came from Psalm 72:8, “He shall have dominion also from sea to sea.” In recent years the title of Dominion has been dropped.

Manitoba was admitted to Confederation in 1870; British Columbia in 1871, with the promise that a transcontinental railway would be built. Prince Edward Island joined in 1873. The building of several intercontinental railways led to a massive influx of settlers to the prairies and the formation of the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. And in 1949 Newfoundland became the tenth province.

The significance of July 1, 1867 is not that this was the beginning of responsible, democratic government, but that it was the first step in uniting widely separated colonies into a united nation that stretches from sea to sea. (Nowadays we say “from sea to sea to sea” as we border on the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic oceans.)

Attitude correction

For more than 200 years, the government of Canada has graciously extended the privilege of exemption from military service to members of religious denominations which objected to participation in warfare for reasons of faith and conscience. At first, the law required conscientious objectors between the ages of sixteen and sixty to register annually and pay a special tax. These provisions were dropped in the 1850’s.

When the Parliament of Canada passed a conscription act in July of 1917, there was some confusion at first as to how this exemption should work. The Mennonite churches advised their members that when a young brother received notification that he was being called up for military service, he should report to the place assigned and submit to what was required of him Meanwhile, a committee of ministers would present a claim for his exemption.

Before long a system was worked out whereby a member would be given a certificate stating that he was a member in good standing of a specific congregation. The certificate would be signed by a minister of the congregation and this certificate was recognized by military officials as sufficient evidence to grant an exemption.

Before this system was put in place, one young Mennonite lad in Ontario received his call, but his mother would not let him report to the military as the church had asked. She probably thought she was protecting him, but it backfired. The army picked him up and carried him off to training camp. Minister Thomas Reesor was asked to intervene on his behalf.

Thomas Reesor and the young man were granted a hearing with the commanding officer. The officer questioned the lad closely, then turned to Thomas Reesor. “I am going to grant this exemption,” he said. “But I think you are wrong in your attitudes. You are living under the protection of the best government on the face of the earth and you are doing nothing to show your gratitude or appreciation.”

Those words rang in the ears of Thomas Reesor all the way home. He shared them with other ministers and leaders in the Mennonite churches of Ontario. In November, 1917 a committee was formed to help relieve some of the suffering of the war and to express in a practical way their gratitude for the privileges granted to them. The Non-Resistant Relief Organisation set a target of raising $100 for every young man granted exemption from military service.

Thomas Reesor was made treasurer of this organisation. In the early stages, one congregation sent a cheque for $130. He returned it, with a letter saying that if this was all their privileges meant to them they might as well keep the money. Not long after, he received a cheque for $3,500 from the same congregation. $75,000 was raised by the end of the war. This was a very impressive sum 100 years ago.

The money was dispersed to the Merchant Seaman’s Relief Organisation for the relief of widows and children of men lost on torpedoed vessels, the Soldiers’ Aid Commission of Ontario for help to wounded and disabled returning soldiers and to relief agencies working in the war ravaged countries of Europe.

I believe Mennonites have always endeavoured to be good neighbours, but it took the reproof of a military officer to launch us into organized relief efforts in Canada. In the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite, young men and women are encouraged to volunteer for a term of service in one of the many programs operated by the church: children’s homes, guest homes for families with a loved one in the hospital, units that repair or rebuild homes after a disaster, or Christian Public Service units in a number of cities where young people volunteer in hospitals, rehab centres, nursing homes, etc.

Quebec city shooting and aftermath

Monday evening a man with a gun walked into a Québec City mosque and began shooting those who were there to worship. Within an hour, two university students were in custody, Alexandre Bissonnette and Mohammed Belkhadir. Before long, the police announced that only Mr. Bissonnette was a suspect, Mr. Belkhadir was a witness; he was released after several hours. Mr. Bissonnette has been charged with six counts of murder. Two more victims remain in critical condition in hospital. All were shot in the back.

Mr Bissonnette did not belong to an extremist group. He had voiced some critical views about Muslims and others, but nothing that would have sent any warning signals about his intentions to proceed to such drastic actions. He is not a symptom of something terribly wrong in Québec society or Canadian society. I don’t know what can be done to stop persons acting alone who feel that they have received an illumination revealing that they can make the world a better place by going out and killing a few people.

Mr. Belkhadir spoke to the media after he was released and explained why he had been arrested. He had been leaving the mosque when he heard gunshots and went back inside. He had been providing first aid to one of the injured when he saw a gun pointing at him, thought it was the gunman, tried to get away and was quickly apprehended by the police. He said that he fully understands that running away made him appear suspect, but that the police had treated him well and he had no ill-will toward them.

The gun pointing at him was in the hand of a police officer, not the gunman. I am thankful to live in a country where police officers are not trigger-happy. The gun was not fired, Mr Belkhadir is alive and unharmed.

Government leaders and politicians across the country said all the right things about feeling sorrow that such a thing could happen and feeling compassion for the victims and all those affected by the shooting.

Perhaps Philippe Couillard, Prime Minister of Québec said it the best: “Spoken words matter. Written words matter.” He was not advocating censorship, but urging us to be careful to get the facts straight and to use words of kindness to others. He finished by saying: “We are all Québecois. Once we say this, then we talk to each other. Next time you walk past someone of the Muslim community, why don’t you stop and say hello?”

We have been tested by the hatred shown by one young man. The reaction from across the country has given me an assurance that the great majority of Canadians are people of compassion, not hatred.

What on earth is a “Canadian Black Friday” sale?

I hope my readers will forgive me as I go off on another rant. I promise to soon get back to more normal posts. (Normal for this blog, at least.)

Today is the second Monday in October – Thanksgiving Day in Canada. Thanksgiving is not quite as big a deal in Canada as it is south of the border, but it is still a holiday and a day when families get together to face a mountain of delicious food to which they cannot possibly do justice.

I have done enough travelling in the USA to know that US Thanksgiving is the fourth Thursday in November and the following day is the day that Christmas sales start.  I suppose it is called Black Friday because it is the day that people rush into stores, elbowing and trampling anyone that gets between them and the sale item they want. It is also the day with the highest dollar volume of sales in the year.

A few years ago, some stores in Canada decided to try to emulate the success of Black Friday in the US, holding Black Friday sales on the fourth Friday of November. But that day has absolutely no significance in Canada.

This year, I see that some stores are advertising “Canadian Black Friday” sales for the Friday after Canadian Thanksgiving. But that is the fourth day after the actual holiday, not part of a long weekend, and really much too early for most of us to be doing Christmas shopping.

The stores where I have seen “Canadian Black Friday” signs are part of US owned chains. I suspect the inspiration comes from the far distant US head office where the marketing geniuses are thinking “This works in the USA, why can’t we make it work in Canada?”

To which I offer two questions to my US readers. Do you have Boxing Day sales in the USA? Do you even know what Boxing Day is?

I rest my case.

 

Unto the hills around

Unto the hills around do I lift up my longing eyes;
O whence for me shall my salvation come, from whence arise?
From God, the Lord, doth come my certain aid,
From God, the Lord, who heav’n and earth hath made.

He will not suffer that thy foot be moved: Safe shalt thou be.
No careless slumber shall His eyelids close, who keepeth thee.
Behold, our God, the Lord, He slumbereth ne’er,
Who keepeth Israel in His holy care.

Jehovah is Himself thy keeper true, thy changeless shade;
Jehovah thy defense on thy right hand Himself hath made.
And thee no sun by day shall ever smite;
No moon shall harm thee in the silent night.

From ev’ry evil shall He keep thy soul, from ev’ry sin;
Jehovah shall preserve thy going out, thy coming in.
Above thee watching, He whom we adore
Shall keep thee henceforth, yea, forevermore.

John Douglas Sutherland Cambell, 1877

[John D. C. Campbell, Marquess of Lorne, Chief of Clan Campbell and later 9th Duke of Argyll, was Governor General of Canada from 1878 to 1883. His wife, Princess Caroline Louise Alberta, was the 4th daughter of Queen Victoria. She gave her name to Lake Louise in B.C. and to the province of Alberta. Queen Victoria really would have preferred for her daughter to marry a European prince, to which Mr. Campbell is reported to have quietly responded: “Madam, my forefathers were kings when the Hohenzollerns were parvenus.” Despite his aristocratic heritage, Campbell was a fervent Christian and a supporter of Dr. Barnardo’s homes for homeless children. The above poem is sung to a melody composed by Charles H. Purday.]

A new cruiser for the information highway

owl-158414My wife has been in need of a new computer for some time, hers was still running Windows XP. She has been receiving warnings about XP’s obsolescence for several years, but it continued to work. More or less, anyway. Now it seemed the time had come to replace the old clunker.

So we went around kicking tires at computer shops and found what we wanted at the shop closest to home. A little shop in a little town (pop. 2,200) not too far from us. They had a number of gently used computers, in good shape and with all the accessories we needed (especially Windows 10). For a modest sum they would transfer data, install programs and send it home ready to go. At least the sum seems modest if you average it out over its expected five year life span – then its only a few dollars a month.

We had to do a little more set up at home, like getting it to recognize our printer. Apparently a five year old printer is too old for a newer computer to recognize. By now the new jalopy is running smoothly, and a little faster than her old one.

On her old computer, she was using a pair of speakers that I bought at Dollarama. The sound quality was excellent and they had an on-off switch and a volume control. The new computer will not recognize those speakers, but it does have an internal speaker that is a lot better than most.

I bought the computer I am using a few years ago from a national office supplies retailer. I don’t think I’ll do that again. They are just too big, with too many people involved. The person who sold me the computer was not the one who set it up for me and that technician wasn’t available when I went to pick up my computer. I found that I had to transfer data and install programs myself. It would have been too much hassle to keep hauling the computer back and forth to the city. With a small town shop you always know who you are dealing with. And who to complain to if something isn’t right. I think that makes them feel a lot more accountable to the customer.

I told the young Nigerian lady at work that we had replaced my wife’s computer because it was still running Windows XP. “XP!” she said, “that’s what I used in junior high!” Let’s see now, XP first came out in the fall of 2001, and this lady is, well I’m not going to say but it sounds about right that XP would have come out just before she started junior high. So Nigeria was right up to date and my wife was using this ancient version until the day before yesterday. Nevertheless XP was pretty much problem free, which is more than can be said for most Windows versions between XP and 10.

Happy Canada Day!

Today, July canadian-flag-1174657_12801, 2016, is the 149th anniversary of Confederation, the union of Ontario, Québec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island to form the nation of Canada. It soon expanded to the west – Manitoba was added in 1870, British Columbia in 1871, Alberta and Saskatchewan in 1905. In 1949 Newfoundland became the 10th province. There are also three territories – Yukon, Northwest Territory and Nunavut.

Iconic Symbols of Canada

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tim-hortons-takeout-cup

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hudson’s Bay Company is Canada’s oldest business, founded as a fur trading company in 1670. Nowadays, it is Canada’s largest department store chain. The Hudson Bay point blanket, pictured above left, is an all wool blanket that has been manufactured in England for the company almost from the beginning and is an icon both of the company and of Canada.

Tim Horton’s is not nearly as old, only dating to 1964, but it is far and away the favourite coffee shop and fast food eatery of Canadians. There is a Tim Horton’s restaurant for every 10, 000 Canadians, they have over 20% of the fast food market and 75% of restaurant baked goods sales and coffee sales. Most of us frequently hold in our hands a cup like the one pictured above to drink a Tim Horton’s “Always Fresh” coffee.

How to tell if someone is Canadian

  • Ask her what comes after kindergarten. If she says Grade One, she is Canadian, if she says First Grade, she is American.
  • Ask her what is the last letter of the alphabet. A Canadian will say zed, an American zee.
  • Ask her what to call a multi level parking facility. A Canadian will call it a parkade. I’m not sure if Americans have a specific word for it.

What makes a church attractive?

Church attendance across Canada has been declining for years. Yes, there are new churches being built, some quite large. Many more are being torn down, or re-purposed. I suspect the majority of the people in our country have never set foot in a church. Nowadays, most weddings and funerals do not take place in a church. What would it take to change this decline?

Christian churches have always been engaged in helping widows and orphans, the poor and neglected. They called it charity, which means love, and most of it was genuinely motivated by love. A new idea came along – charity is demeaning to the poor. Churches could make themselves more meaningful by advocating for the government to take care of the poor, the sick, the needy. So now we have the nanny state, a security net to catch all those who fall, or are pushed, from the ranks of those who can care for themselves. But government agencies operate by rules and regulations and there is precious little love involved.

Meanwhile, people in droves have bailed out of the churches that advocated this system, feeling that if social reform is the important thing they can accomplish more through politics and other secular means. What these churches are really preaching is the gospel of money; and money can’t buy love, can’t buy happiness, can’t hold a church together.

More recently, many churches have re-jigged the way they do church in order to become more seeker friendly. This manifests itself in many ways – small, very informal groups with unstructured worship forms, all the way to mega churches with lots of pizzazz. Very often there will be coffee available before, during or after the service. New and different intrigues people for a while, eventually they weary of being fed only dessert, never a substantial meal. Is the gospel of new and different still the gospel of Jesus Christ?

The core of the gospel of Jesus Christ is: ” Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.”

Isn’t this what people are longing for? How do we make our church more like this? The answer is that we can’t. The essence of a real, live, dynamic church is not in doing, but in being. We can try to persuade our church people to be more friendly, more welcoming, to care more about the people around them. These are all things they should do. But if the doing doesn’t come from a real love kindled in their heart by the Holy Spirit, their actions will cry out hypocrisy to all who see.

The ideal is a church where every member is keenly aware of God’s goodness, loves God with all his/her being and isn’t embarrassed to let others see that love. That means I need to start with myself and stop prodding others to do what I know I should do. None of us ever do things quite right, so we need to discern the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our brothers and sisters and not judge them by their awkwardness and clumsiness in following the Spirit. We need to love our neighbours enough to want them to know the same love and peace that we have.

If we try to do the things a real Christian should do, without being a real Christian, it will not work. If our goal is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and strength, we will find endless opportunities to do and say things that will demonstrate that love to others. The more of us who do that, the more attractive the church will be.

Will Harriet Tubman appear on the Canadian $100 bill?

Earlier this year, the Bank of Canada asked the public for suggestions for a woman to appear on the $100 bill. The woman selected must nor be fictional, must have died at least 25 years ago and must have played a significant role in Canadian history. Harriet Tubman was one of the names proposed.

You see, Harriet Tubman’s main claim to fame was as a conductor on the Underground Railway, leading black people from slavery in the U.S south to freedom in Canada. She once said  “I wouldn’t trust Uncle Sam with my people no longer, but I brought ’em all clear off to Canada.” St. Catherines, Ontario was her home from 1851 to 1861, the height of her activity as a conductor on the Underground Railway. This covers most of the time between the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which made life risky for black people anywhere in the USA, and the Emancipation Proclamation.

Bethel Chapel BME church

This church, the Bethel Chapel British Methodist Episcopal Church, was Harriet Tubman’s home church in St. Catherines. It is considered to be the oldest black church in Canada and is still home to an active congregation. It has been designated a National Historic Site, due to its connection to Harriet Tubman.

York University in Toronto is home to the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diaspora.

It’s unlikely that Harriet Tubman will be selected for the $100 dollar bill. For one thing, I don’t believe she ever became a Canadian citizen. Yet she is well known in Canada and played a prominent role in our history. I suspect it is more likely that she will turn up on a Canadian postage stamp. I’m a little surprised that it hasn’t happened already.

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