Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: family

Is this the best way to spend your final years?

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Most of the people dying from COVID-19 are in nursing homes. Families, friends, pastors, priests, rabbis are not allowed to visit in those places. Many of the staff members that the residents have grown to know have contacted the disease and been replaced by strangers. Is this the way things are supposed to be?

Right now there is a single-minded focus on physical health. But the virus is not the only factor that impacts a person’s physical health. Don’t we understand that denying someone of emotional, mental and spiritual support undermines their physical health?

Yes there are risks in allowing visitors to those whose health is fragile. Aren’t the risks in denying such visits just as serious?

The problem is that we live in an era where things that can’t be measured and quantified are deemed to be non-existent. This is an inhumane world.

I am not suggesting that we defy rules put in place by government. But perhaps today’s circumstances should lead us to rethink how we care for the most vulnerable members of our society. When that care is delegated to large corporate entities or government agencies, it is inevitable that decisions about how to care for people will be made in offices far removed from those concerned, and those decisions will be made on the basis of what is most efficient.

How many of us look forward to spending our last years in an institution like that?

Only an empty box

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

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

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

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

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

Report on a drive-by shouting in our community

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A newspaper in a small Saskatchewan city recently reported on a shocking rise in drive-by shoutings. That trend has now come to our tiny hamlet of Swanson.

In this hamlet there is a seniors’ residence; yesterday two of the residents had a birthday. Melvin was 86 and Wilbert was 91. With no visitors allowed, a birthday party was out of the question.

The families hatched a scheme. Since my wife was cooking supper they enlisted me in the conspiracy. At 7:30 I urged those two residents to come to the lounge area. A siren began wailing just as the birthday boys got to the large west-facing window. The fire truck of the local volunteer department hove into view. Two firemen got out and carried a ladder onto the driveway opposite the window and placed it on its side across the driveway from the window. When they walked away, we saw a poster fastened to the ladder saying: “Happy Birthday Wilbert and Melvin!”

Then came at least two dozen pickups, vans and SUV’s, many with birthday greetings fastened on the doors, all of them with people leaning out the open windows and shouting Happy Birthday. An honest to goodness drive-by shouting.

A surprise ending to a drab birthday. Both men were delighted with the event.

School at home

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Man homeschooling young daughter – shutterstock_283575290 (2)

It looks like children will have to learn at home at least until the end of April. Does that seem overwhelming? Here are a few thoughts that might make it easier.

  • Begin the day with God. Read from the Bible and pray with your children.
  • Children have more time in the day now, since they don’t ride the school bus. Don’t let them sleep in. They should get ready for the day as usual, do their school work, and have more free time later.
  • If Mom is now the teacher, the children should help more with the meal planning and preparation, house cleaning and laundry. Home Ec is a legitimate life skill.
  • If there are multiple children, in multiple grades, the older ones should help the younger. This is also a valuable life skill.
  • Improvise. Age segregation is not needed for all subjects.
  • Don’t try to replicate the setting of a school classroom.
  • Do establish a schedule.
  • Don’t let Dad off the hook. If he is home, the children will be thrilled to have him help with their school work.
  • Learning to learn is an essential life skill. Let the children figure things out for themselves and do their own research as much as possible.
  • Don’t forget to have fun; children need recreation and physical activity to keep their minds clear.

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.”

And be ye thankful

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Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Reading the news can can give one the impression that everything around us is changing, crumbling, ready to collapse. But when I pause to reflect, there are a lot of things in my day to day life that have not changed, and I take courage. Here are a few things that come to my mind:

  • The Lord is my shepherd
  • My wife, who has stuck with me for almost 50 years
  • I am 78 and still in good health
  • Our daughter, her husband and our four grandchildren
  • Our spiritual family, brothers and sisters who are serving God, but who don’t do everything just right and who are OK with the fact that we don’t either
  • The few cousins left whom I have known all my life
  • Every opportunity to meet new people
  • Young people who choose to follow the Lord
  • Our two cats who keep home life interesting
  • It’s almost spring and the daylight hours are increasing by four minutes each day

The hoary head and wisdom

Today I am 78 years old – it’s surprising how normal that feels. I knew old people when I was a little boy, they seemed like regular people, but I couldn’t imagine myself ever getting that old. Now here I am.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It is the fear of the Lord that helps us understand that we are not the most important person in the room. One who lives selfishly all his life does not magically become wise in old age.

The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness (Proverbs 16:31). What is righteousness? Sometimes I am tempted to think that an ability to see what others are doing wrong means I am more righteous than they are. That is a deadly mistake.

Seeing the problem does more harm than good – unless I can also see what the other person is doing that is right. The Bible instructs us to build up one another, not tear down.

In my youth I determined I was not going to be like my father. No way was I going to make the kind of mistakes that he made. Looking back over my life, it is obvious that I made pretty much all the mistakes my father made, and more. What else could I do? That was the pattern I had, I didn’t know a better way to act when things didn’t work out like I wanted them to. It has taken a lifetime to find a better way, one small step at a time.

Along the way, I have gained a more charitable attitude towards my father, and towards other people who are not doing well at handling the trials of life. Perhaps the most important piece of wisdom that I have gained is the realization that I still have a lot to learn.

What is a Biblical ethic of work and wealth?

There are Christians who revere voluntary poverty, seeing it as a means of escaping from the materialism of the world and of not abusing the resources of the earth.

Other Christians revere work and consider the benefits that flow from it to be good stewardship and evidence of the blessing of God.

Those in each group see themselves as being more righteous than those in the other group.

Taking that as a warning and a starting point in seeking God’s will for our material affairs, here are some points that come to my mind:

  1. Self-righteousness is abhorrent to God
  2. We need to do honest work to provide for our needs and the needs of our family.
  3. We should be content; there is no need to envy those who have more than we do.
  4. We need to have enough to give to the work of God and to help those who do not have enough.
  5. If we don’t have time for family, worship, prayer and reading the Bible and other Christian literature, we are probably too busy with material pursuits.
  6. If we are ashamed to ask for advice or help, we are too proud.
  7. Recreational shopping wastes not just money but valuable time that could be spent with family and friends.
  8.  Maybe we don’t need to travel as often, or as far, as we would like to.
  9. It’s not healthy to never leave home; visiting in other communities gives us new insights.
  10. God is interested in every aspect of our life.

What do you think? Suggested changes or additions are welcome.

How did our education system get where it is today?

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Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

The best description I have read of the thinking behind our public education system is Les déshérités (The Disinherited) by Francois-Xavier Bellamy, published in France in 2014. Bellamy traces the root of modern educational thinking to the philosophies of René Descartes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

René Descartes (1596-1650) believed that all knowledge could be attained by deduction. The human mind has the capacity to discover all truth, solely through reasoning with no outside input.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1798) went a step further. He believed that we are all born pure and all the problems of mankind are the result of impure ideas taught by our society. Therefore it would be best to let a child grow with the least restraints and the least teaching possible. In the purity of his simplicity he would be able to discover all that he needed for a fruitful and happy life.

In France, Pierre Bourdieu taught that the inequities in society were a result of the things inherited from the past. If we could avoid passing on the antiquated ideas of civil society, morality and religion, those inequities would disappear. In the English-speaking world, each country has had its own Bourdieu, but Descartes and Rousseau laid the foundation for the philosophy that prevails in most of the world.

Teachers in France today are told that they have nothing to pass on, their job is simply to help students discover for themselves how to read and write, how to do math and science, and to determine for themselves what is right and wrong. Those ideas are not unique to France. Wherever we live, we can see evidence of that kind of thinking and what it has led to.

M. Bellamy writes that we have finally come to the era that Rousseau dreamed of. People today have been disinherited of all the values of the past, and the result is not the benign bliss imagined by Rousseau. He dreamed of the noble savage (le bon sauvage in French), an outsider who has not been corrupted by civilization and thus symbolizes the innate goodness of mankind.

What we have wound up with is a generation of savages who are not very noble. The inequities in society have not disappeared, but rather seem to have become worse. The thinking of our day goes so far as to say that it is wrong for gender identity to be imposed on children. They must be free to choose their own gender. This is not liberating them, it is setting them loose in a labyrinth with no exit.

Bellamy says we urgently need to resume teaching our intellectual, moral and religious heritage. It does not liberate children to leave them free to discover math, grammar and spelling on their own. In fact, it tends to perpetuate divisions in society. Children of more prosperous parents will get help at home to make up for the shortcomings of the education system, while children from poorer families, or immigrant families, will not be taught the skills they need to escape poverty.

When one has been taught a value system which they believe to be liberating, they are blind even to such self-evident truths. Beyond that, they are blind to the values of history, culture and religion which enabled society to function in a more or less orderly fashion in past generations.

I found this book illuminating. It explains so much that is happening around us today. It explains why those who graduate from university with a bachelor of education degree have not been taught anything about the subjects they are to teach, or how to teach them. That’s not their job. Their job is to stand back and facilitate “discovery learning” in the children in their classes.

If we think that the public educations system has strayed far from its original purpose, we are badly mistaken. If we read what was said by the founders of public education we see that today’s system is what they had in mind all along. They saw family, religion, history and tradition as barriers to freedom. That teaching began in universities and has taken a century and a half to filter down to all levels of society. Useful, practical education was never the primary goal of public education. Public schools were intended to be the means of introducing modern thinking to society. By modern thinking they meant the philosophies of Descartes and Rousseau.

We lost Rose

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Bob Goodnough, December 29, 2019

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