Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Canada

But they are different from us

When I was a boy I read historical novels by Canadian and English writers. The hero was always English, honest, brave, generous and kind. Other people were shifty-eyed, dishonest, traitorous scoundrels. As I was an English Canadian, I accepted this as self-evident truth.

Later I learned to read French and found historical novels in that language were exactly like the English novels – except the kind, generous, honest and brave hero was French and the dishonourable scoundrels were English. I have learned that there is at least as much, if not more, evidence to support this latter point of view as for the first. We absorb the attitudes of the time and place we live in, and it is good to examine the attitudes we take for granted.  

Plantation owners in the southern states needed workers skilled in growing cotton, or rice in coastal areas. They found the people they needed in Africa and brought them over as slaves.

Plantation owners were Christians; to own another human being didn’t seem right. But they already had beliefs about class distinctions and it was just a short step for apologists to explain that below the lowest classes of humanity there were these animals that looked almost human, but had no soul.

Even though the Africans had skills in the cultivation of cotton and rice that their white owners lacked, the owners seized on the idea that the Africans were domestic livestock and treated them accordingly. Still, they did their best to ensure that slaves would never see poor white people or free black people. The tragic effects of these false ideas linger on in the lives of both white and black people.

Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory taught that there are different races of humanity and the white race is more highly evolved than the others. He taught that the white race was destined to supplant all the other (inferior) races. Modern science agrees with the Bible that there is only one human race, yet ideas of white superiority still linger.

The people of the area that is now Rwanda and Burundi are Bantu who all speak the same language. The Tutsi were the governing aristocracy, the common people were Hutu. There was intermarriage and social mobility between the two groups. When Europeans, first Germans then Belgians, became colonial masters of this region, they saw the Tutsi as more European in appearance, therefore superior, and governed the colonies through them.

The Tutsi found this agreeable, the Hutu not so much. The upshot was a Hutu uprising in Burundi in 1972 which ended in the killing of 80,000 to 200,000 Hutu by the Tutsi army. Then came the Rwanda genocide of 1994 where the Hutu set about to eliminate the Tutsi from their country, killing 800,000 to 1,000,000. 

Both countries have made strides towards reconciliation. From the first, the distinction between the Tutsi and Hutu existed only in people’s minds, not in physical, linguistic or religious difference.

Before the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, there was little friction between Jews and other German citizens. Hitler was an evangelist, inspiring German people to believe in a revival of their nobility. From 1933 to 1939 the Nazis flooded the country with propaganda about the danger the Jews were to the welfare of the nation. Research institutes published glossy books with pseudoscientific information about the degradation of the Jewish race. Popular movies, novels, comic books reinforced those stereotypes in the conscience of the German people.

Hitler said next to nothing about the Jews during those six years. Then in 1939 he spoke forcefully about the need to eliminate the Jewish danger. By then the propaganda had taken effect on the conscience of the German people. After the war many Germans, although they deplored Nazi atrocities, believed the Jews had brought them upon themselves by being so different from other Germans. The Nazi propaganda machine created that perceived difference.

The Roman Catholic Church dominated Quebec for generations, telling people it was their protection against the hordes of Anglos around them and if anyone left the mother church, they would also abandon the French language. That was a self-fulfilling prophecy; the church ran the schools, hospitals and pretty much everything else. If someone joined a different church, the priests would ensure they became pariahs to their catholic neighbours.

That era ended with the Quiet Revolution of 1960. Church attendance in Quebec is now the lowest of any province or state in North America. Yet a suspicion of other denominations remains.

We English Canadians have no such problem, do we? Or are we just ignorant of our own prejudices and their roots?

The Orange Order dominated politics in English Canada for generations; they believed that only WASP’s (White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants) were worthy of being citizens. Other people were second-class citizens, and should have no influence on government, nor any consideration from government.

After the union of Upper and Lower Canada (Ontario and Quebec today) in 1841, Orangemen fomented a series of riots in Toronto to cement their influence. They were the inspiration behind the 1847 riot in Montreal that culminated in burning the parliament building.

When the prairies opened for settlement 100 years ago, Clifford Sifton, an Orangeman, was minister of immigration. He scoured Eastern Europe for settlers who would assimilate to the English language and submerge the French already settled in the west. Orangemen in government were behind the decision a few years later to close all non-English schools. French schools were the target, other schools were collateral damage.

I attended public schools at a time when the curriculum taught the Orange Order’s perception of Canadian reality. The influence of the Orange Order waned over the years and French schools were once more allowed to operate. But when a concept of the superiority of one group of people guides government policy for so many years, prejudice does not soon wither away. We are going to be suspicious of people whom we think different from us until we get to know them. We will have to step outside of our comfortable, familiar, bubble to do that, but we are apt to find that other people are pretty much like ourselves. Can we call ourselves Christians and still try to maintain ethnic and linguistic divisions?

More than one side to history

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My Grade 11 and 12 classroom had a library — a two shelf bookcase. I read all the books in that library, in class time, during those two years. One book was a history of an era we had recently studied in Social Studies, but gave a different version of that history than our textbook. That was when it dawned on me that history depends on the point of view of the one writing the story. The people and events may be the same, but the causes and results quite different. Not to mention the identities of the heroes and villains.

I also read historical novels, in which the English protagonists were noble, honest, kind and all round wonderful guys. Other people, especially if they were French, were portrayed as shifty-eyed, dishonest and cruel miscreants. Later in life I learned to read French and found that historical fiction in French was exactly the same as in English. Except that now the French were the noble, honest, kind and wonderful heroes and the English were double-dealing, arrogant, dishonest and pitiless villains. No doubt both the English and the French writers believed they had the facts on their side. Certainly, the French felt they had good and sufficient reason to refer to England as perfidious Albion.

I recall a Canadian federal-provincial conference of almost 50 years ago, a meeting of the heads of government of the provinces and the national government. Shortly before the meeting started an English-speaking reporter got a glimpse of a list brought by the Quebec delegation. He could not read the French-language list, but saw that the headings was Demandes. He began to hyperventilate and soon it was headline news all over English Canada that Quebec had come to the conference with a list of DEMANDS. A few cooler heads pointed out that in French demande means question, but the damage was done.

History is not only made by well-intentioned people defending what they believe to be noble principles. Bone-headed stupidity also plays a role. So does propaganda. During the first five years of Nazi rule in Germany, they carried on a pervasive propaganda campaign through books, movies and all media to depict the Jews as the cause of all that had ever gone wrong in Germany. By the time Hitler launched his final solution, a large part of the German population believed that the Jews had brought it on themselves.

An older brother spent several weeks in hospital. The man in the bed beside him was constantly complaining about the faults of his wife. Our brother told him, “You know George, there are three sides to your story. There is your side, there is your wife’s side, and then there is God’s side.”

How do we discern what is God’s side in current history? The first step is to cast aside all thoughts that God has a preferred nation in the world today. The time of an earthly kingdom of God came to an end 2,000 years ago. The only kingdom that is of interest to God today is His spiritual kingdom. As we consider political events today, in our own country or on the international scene, our question should not be which party or which country God favours, but how these events affect the spiritual kingdom.

Let us remember, above all, that our physical and financial well-being is not a prerequisite for the welfare of God’s spiritual kingdom.shutterstock_736401193

Scales of Justice Call for Balance

Majed El Shafie was born in Cairo, Egypt. After converting to Christianity he was arrested in 1998, tortured and sentenced to death. He managed to escape to Israel, where he was once again arrested. In 2002 he obtained political asylum in Canada and became a Canadian citizen in 2006. He lives in Toronto and is the founder of One Free World International (OFWI) an international human rights organisation which advocates for oppressed religious minorities.
Earlier today he posted an excellent article on the reaction to the murder of George Floyd. The article supports the need for change, but warns against forces that seek to destroy rather than to improve.
The article is entitled Scales of Justice Call for Balance. You can find it here.

Hand in Hand – Book Review

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Canadian author Jean Little wrote over 50 books, mostly for and about children. Many of them featured children who were newcomers to Canada, orphans or in other difficult circumstances. The books all have positive outcomes, often through discovery or rediscovery of the value of family.

She was born in 1932, the daughter of medical missionaries in Taiwan, and died April 6 of this year in Guelph, Ontario at the age of 88.

Almost all her books have a Canadian setting. Her last book, Hand in Hand, illustrated above, is set in the USA and is about the childhood of Helen Keller. It was published in 2016. The photo is obviously of a library copy and will have to go back to the library, whenever it opens again.

The book is fiction, but almost all the people and many of the events in the book are real. The subtitle, partly covered above, says, The real-life story of Helen Keller and Martha Washington. Helen Keller mentions Martha in her autobiography, The Story of My Life, written when she was 21. Martha was the young daughter of the Keller family’s cook and Helen’s only playmate.

All the servants of the Keller family were black. This was after the days of slavery, but conditions for black people in Alabama were not vastly improved. Yet Martha Washington learned to understand Helen Keller’s wishes and signs and played a role in her early years.

Based on the facts available, Jean Little has written a believable story of how it might have been, from the viewpoint of Martha Washington. The book ends at the point when Helen finally grasps that the lines Annie Sullivan is making with her finger on Helen’s palm form the word for the water that is pouring over her hand.

Jean Little herself was blind all her life. Her recounting of interactions between sighted people and a little blind (and deaf) girl have an authenticity that grasps and holds the reader’s attention. The book is written for younger readers, but this old guy found it a fascinating read.

Hand in Hand, The real-life story of Helen Keller and Martha Washington. © 2016 by Jean Little, published by Scholastic Canada

Swan sightings

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Image by Detmold from Pixabay

There is a pond 15 km north of us, near Frontenace Road, where swans pause every spring on their northward migration. I saw a dozen there on Thursday, Chris saw 20 yesterday and today the number was up to 30.

I was disappointed when I looked on Pixabay for swan photos. They have very few photos of Trumpeter and Tundra Swans, but page after page of orange-billed swans. Those are Mute Swans, native to Europe and Africa and considered an invasive species in Canada. The swans in the photo above, with all black bills, are Trumpeter Swans. Tundra Swans, which we also see in our area, have black bills with orange close to the eyes.

Where will the puck be?

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Image by skeeze from Pixabay

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.” Wayne Gretzky

That’s a great quote. One element of Grtzky’s success as a hockey player was his ability to read how the action around him was going to unfold and put himself in position to take control of the puck.

With that in mind, here are my best guesses of how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out in Canada, and where the puck will be a month from now. Remember, I am not a prophet, I claim no divine inspiration for these predictions, and even Gretzky wasn’t always right.

  • This week will see the peak in the number of infections. There will still be some deaths of those already infected in coming weeks, but new infections will hit zero by the end of the month.
  • People will be cautious at first when restrictions are lifted, but the pent-up desire to get out, walk the malls and go to a coffee shop or restaurant with friends will make those places busy again.
  • The rush to reschedule everything that has been postponed: medical appointments, surgeries, meetings and events will keep everybody scrambling to catch up.
  • Farmers will be seeding, construction projects pushing to meet deadlines, factories and distribution centres going full out to keep up with demand. Unemployment will drop to low levels.
  • Globalism has been wounded. We are going to rethink the advisability of having essential goods manufactured so far away, especially medical goods. This will lead to more jobs here in Canada.
  • The tools for teleconferencing already existed but their implementation in the medical and educational fields has expanded at breakneck speed during the pandemic, especially in Quebec and Ontario. These changes will remain and spread. Online medical consultations and online teaching will make specialized services available anywhere.
  • I hope that we will lose our taste for electronic church when this is all over and rejoice in being able to physically gather together to unite in worship.

But God Can Save Us Yet

[This is an excerpt from a Canadian Classic, Roughing it in the Bush, by Susanna Moodie, first published in 1852.  At the climax of the crisis described here, she buries her head in her apron. It was her custom to  pull up her apron to cover her head for privacy when praying.]

The winter and spring of 1834 had passed away. The latter was uncommonly cold and backward; so much so that we had a very heavy fall of snow upon the 14th and 15th of May

A late, cold spring in Canada is generally succeeded by a burning, hot summer; and the summer of ’34 was the hottest I ever remember.  No rain fell upon the earth for many weeks, till nature drooped and withered beneath one bright blaze of sunlight; and the ague and fever in the woods, and the cholera in the large towns and cities, spread death and sickness through the country.

Moodie had made during the winter a large clearing of twenty acres around the house. The progress of the workmen had been watched by me with the keenest interest. Every tree that reached the ground opened a wider gap in the dark wood, giving us a broader ray of light and a clearer glimpse of the blue sky. But when the dark cedar swamp fronting the house fell beneath the strokes of the axe, and we got a first view of the lake my joy was complete: a new and beautiful object was now constantly before me, which gave me the greatest pleasure.

The confusion of an uncleared fallow spread around us on every side. Huge trunks of trees and piles of brush gave a littered and uncomfortable appearance to the locality, and as the weather had been very dry for some weeks, I heard my husband talking with his choppers as to the expediency of firing the fallow. They still urged him to wait a little longer, until he could get a good breeze to carry the fire well through the brush.

Business called him suddenly to Toronto, but he left a strict charge with old Thomas and his sons, who were engaged in the job, by no means to attempt to burn it off till he returned, as he wished to be upon the premises himself in case of any danger. He had previously burnt all the heaps immediately about the doors. While he was absent, old Thomas and his second son fell sick with the ague, and went home to their own township, leaving John, a surly, obstinate young man, in charge of the shanty, where they slept, and kept their tools and provisions.

The day was sultry, and towards noon a strong wind sprang up that roared in the pine tops like the dashing of distant billows, but without in the least degree abating the heat. The children were lying listlessly on the floor for coolness, and the girl and I were finishing sun-bonnets, when Mary suddenly exclaimed, “Bless us, mistress, what a smoke!” I ran immediately to the door, but was not able to distinguish ten yards before me. The swamp immediately below us was on fire, and the heavy wind was driving a dense black cloud of smoke directly towards us.

“What can this mean?” I cried. “Who can have set fire to the fallow?”

John Thomas stood pale and trembling before me. “John, what is the meaning of this fire?”

“Oh, ma’am, I hope you will forgive me; it was I set fire to it, and I would give all I have in the world if I had not done it.”

“What is the danger?”

“Oh, I’m terribly feared that we shall all be burnt up,” said the fellow, beginning to whimper.

“We must get out of it as fast as we can, and leave the house to its fate.”

“We can’t get out,” said the man, in a low, hollow tone, which seemed the concentration of fear; “I would have got out if I could; but just step to the back door, ma’am, and see.”

I had not felt the least alarm up to this minute. Judge then my horror, when, on going to the back door, I saw that the fellow, to make sure of his work, had fired the field in fifty different places. Behind, before, on every side, we were surrounded by a wall of fire, burning ferociously within a hundred yards of us, and cutting off all possibility of retreat.

I closed the door and went back to the parlour. Fear was knocking loudly at my heart – I felt stupefied. The girl sat upon the floor by the children, who had both fallen asleep. She was silently weeping; while the fool who had caused the mischief was crying aloud.

A strange calm succeeded my first alarm; tears and lamentations were useless; a horrible death was impending over us, and yet I could not believe that we were to die.

My eye fell upon the sleeping angels, locked peacefully in each other’s arms, and my tears flowed for the first time. Mary, the servant-girl, looked piteously up in my face. The good, faithful creature had not uttered one word of complaint, but now she faltered forth, “The dear precious lambs! Oh such a death!”

I threw myself down upon the floor beside them, and pressed them alternately to my heart, while inwardly I thanked God that they were asleep, unconscious of danger.

The heat soon became suffocating. We were parched with thirst, and there was not a drop of water in the house. I turned once more to the door, hoping that a passage might have been burnt through to the water. I saw nothing but a dense cloud of fire and smoke – could hear nothing but the crackling and roaring of the flames, which were gaining so fast on us that I felt their scorching breath in my face.

“Ah,” thought I – and it was a most bitter thought – “what will my beloved husband say when he returns and finds that poor Susy and his dear girls have perished in this miserable manner? But God can save us yet.”

The thought had scarcely found a voice in my heart before the wind rose to a hurricane, scattering the flames on all sides into a tempest of burning billows. I buried my head in my apron, for I thought that our time was come, and that all was lost, when a most terrific crash of thunder burst over our heads, and, like the breaking of a water-spout, down came the rushing torrent of rain which had been pent up for so many weeks. In a few minutes the chip-yard was all afloat, and the fire effectually checked. The storm which, unnoticed by us, had been gathering all day, and which was the only one of any note we had that summer, continued to rage all night, and before morning had quite subdued the cruel enemy whose approach we had viewed with such dread.

The imminent danger in which we had been placed struck me more forcibly after it was past than at the time, and both the girl and myself sank to our knees and offered up our hearts in humble thanksgiving to that God who had saved us by an act of His Providence from an awful and sudden death. When all hope from human assistance was lost, His hand was mercifully stretched forth, making His strength more perfectly manifested in our weakness.

“He is their stay when earthly hope is lost,
“The light and anchor of the tempest-toss’d.”

Winter grumbles

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Image by WordWarrior2 from Pixabay

It was -36° when I got up this morning, wind chill -47°. Those numbers are on the Celsius scale, but the Fahrenheit numbers don’t look any better: -33° and -52° wind chill. This is the depth of winter, the whole week is supposed to be like this.

There can be advantages to days like this.  Several years ago we were renovating our kitchen, dining room and front bathroom and the time had come to pick out new flooring. We drove into Saskatoon on a day like this and checked out the selection in four stores. In each place the parking lot was close to empty and  we had the undivided attention of the sales person. We found something we both liked, and it was on sale.

First thing every morning when I get up  I go to my office and  plug in my phone. This morning it was charging very slowly. After an hour and a half I unplugged it, took it to the kitchen and plugged it into my wife’s charge cord. In half an hour it was fully charged. Must be the electrons were flowing sluggishly in the office.

Or maybe the charger is dying. Does that mean it’s time for a new phone? The protective case I put on this phone when it was new is now missing two of its corners. Maybe that’s another sign that it’s  time to trade it in. Or maybe not. Maybe these are just idle thoughts on a frosty morning.

Even our cats have shown no interest in going outside this morning. They were out for twenty minutes yesterday afternoon and that seems to have satisfied their taste for adventure.

Nevertheless, we have reason to hope for better days. Today we have two minutes and 15 seconds more daylight than we did yesterday. Tomorrow will be two minutes and 20 seconds longer. Soon the daylight hours will be increasing by more than three minutes a day.  We know the sunshine is going to win this battle, but we will have to endure weeks of cold and snow before the glorious springtime.

Where is global warming when you need it? Some very smart people are saying that the temperature in Canada is rising twice as fast as the rest of the world. I hadn’t noticed. The first summer we were back in Saskatchewan we had a few days when the temperature reached 37° (that is body temperature in Celsius, 98.6° F). That was in 1998 and we haven’t had temperatures that hot since.

Turns out that the temperatures in Kazakhstan, Nicaragua and every other country in the world are also rising twice is fast as the average for the rest of the world. How is that possible? The rest of the world includes the oceans.

© Bob Goodnough, January 14, 2020

Why wait for spring – Do it now!

I first posted this five years ago. Readers enjoyed it, and nothing much has changed.  So here it is again.

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Image by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay

A few days ago my wife and I got to talking about a catchy advertising jingle of fifty years ago that was heard incessantly at this time of year. My wife even remembered all the words and sang them. It was the theme song of a government of Canada campaign to help building trades people keep working year round.  It started with promoting the idea of homeowners doing interior renovations during the cold months, when carpenters, plumbers and electricians were readily available.

The idea of winter construction work took off from there. Nowadays the construction of new houses hardly slows down in wintertime. With the use of plastic sheeting and construction heaters it is even possible to pour concrete in sub-zero temperatures. The innovative campaign that began 50 years ago has been a resounding success, there is hardly a blip in employment for people in the construction trades during the winter months.

On another front there is still a need for some innovative thinking. It is said of Saskatchewan cities that they have the world’s most efficient snow removal system: it’s called spring.

It might have been better if my wife and I had never lived in Montreal. But we did spend four years in that city, which is reputed to receive the heaviest annual snowfall of any major city in the world. And they knew what to do when it snowed. It took an average of four days after a major snowfall to have all the snow cleaned up – major traffic routes, commercial streets, residential streets, sidewalks included. City crews and subcontractors worked in shifts around the clock; small tracked snowplows pushed snow from the sidewalks into the street, the snow in the street was plowed into a windrow down the centre of the street and then a loader would come along and blow the snow into a steady stream of trucks who hauled it to snow dumps. It was a marvel to watch the coordination and thoroughness of the job.

We had four inches of snow a week and a half ago. My wife and I were in Saskatoon four days later and the main thoroughfares had been cleaned fairly well. That was it, and the city seemed to feel they were doing a better job than in other years. Residential areas will probably not see a snowplow all winter. For most streets of the city the snow is left to be compressed by traffic into a rutted ice pack.

There was another eight inches of snow last Saturday and I have a doctor’s appointment in the city tomorrow morning. That will no doubt further my education on how to drive on icy, rutted streets.

I’m all in favour of reviving the old jingle and applying it to snow removal: Why wait for spring  – do it now!

© Bob Goodnough, December 2, 2014

You don’t know the wind

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Image by ptra from Pixabay

The title comes from a line in an art book published 25 years ago, titled If you’re not from the prairie . . . The art is by Henry Ripplinger and the poetic text by David Bouchard. Together they evoke childhood in rural Saskatchewan just as I remember it.

Another line in the book says “You’ve never heard grass.” People in other parts of the country know the sound of the wind in the trees. We don’t have many of those on the prairie. I remember warm summer days in my boyhood when I would walk through the pasture and hear the sound of the grass swaying in the gentle breeze.

Another favourite Saskatchewan book is the novel Who has Seen the Wind, byW. O. Mitchell. The description of the boy listening to the sounds made by the wind in the grass is picture perfect, a beautiful example of showing, not telling.

I have travelled across Canada, seen the Pacific in the west and the Atlantic in the east. I have lived in half of the provinces and I know there is wind everywhere. Yet there is something about the wind that blows across the flat prairie with few trees to impede it that speaks to me in a way that tells me that here I am at home.

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Image by sspiehs3 from Pixabay

We don’t enjoy it when the wind blows at gale force for several days. But then, we don’t enjoy it either when it is a hot summer day, the mosquitos are around us like a cloud and there is not even a little breeze to blow them away. For better or for worse, the wind is part of what it means to be a flatlander.

  • If you’re not from the prairie . . . , © 1993 by David Bouchard and Henry Ripplinger. Published by Raincoast Books, Vancouver.
  • Who has seen the wind, © 1947 by W. O. Mitchell. Published by Macmillan of Canada, Toronto.
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