Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: France

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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Setting education free from the bureaucracy

It was the practice at one time to teach swimming by getting the learner to lie belly down on a footstool and practice moving his hands and feet in the way that would propel him through the water. That’s not done anymore, for the simple and obvious reason that it really didn’t work.

After making billions in the internet and cell phone business, French entrepreneur Xavier Niel decided a few years ago to open a school for anyone wanting to learn computer coding. The entrance requirements for the school are that one needs to be 18 to 30 years old and able to pass an online logic test. There is one more requirement: you have to be willing to work really hard.

The school is called 42, it has no tuition and no instructors; the students are just dumped in the pool and told to swim. For the first 30 days, students are required to work at the school 15 hours a day. Those who stick it out will learn as much in those 30 days as they would in a two-year university course. Then the real education begins.

In order to earn a diploma, the student must complete 21 levels of training. It is collaborative learning with peer-to-peer correcting and each one working at their own pace. Some might finish in two years, others may take longer, it doesn’t matter.
How effective is it? A study last year tested13,000 graduates in computer programming, or software engineering, from 700 universities worldwide. The graduates from 42 topped all the others.

Much of this information comes from an article in the French news magazine le Point, written by Idriss Aberkane. M. Aberkane then goes on to ask if the whole educational system wouldn’t benefit from being remade according to the 42 model.

There is an obstacle though: the educational bureaucracy. To quote M. Aberkane, “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.” If that is true of the public education system in France, it is doubly true in Canada.

Radical thinking from an archbishop

Liberty of thought is an impregnable fortress that no human power can force. Violence can never convince, it only makes hypocrites. When kings take it upon themselves to direct in matters of religion, instead of protecting it, they bring it into bondage. You should, therefore, grant to all a legal toleration. Not as approving everything indifferently, but as tolerating with patience what God tolerates. Endeavour in a proper manner to restore such as are misled, but never by any measures but those of gentle and benevolent persuasion.

– François de Salignac de la Mothe-Fénelon

[Fénelon, Roman Catholic archbishop of Cambrai, addressed these words to a prince some 300 years ago. No wonder he was out of favour with Louis XIV, king of France, and with the Pope.]

Big Mistake at McDo

This is a departure from the type of article that I normally post, but I was amused by this account of a crime gone wonderfully wrong.

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French speaking people often refer to McDonalds as McDo.

Yesterday (Sunday) evening around 8:30 two young men entered a McDo in Besançon, France.  One was armed with a shotgun and fired a load of buckshot toward the ceiling while the other dashed behind the counter to grab the cash register, which would typically contain around 2,000 € at this time of day.

There were 15 staff in the restaurant and 30-40 customers. Among the customers were 11 plain clothes police officers meeting for lunch. The police officers did nothing to alarm the robbers while they were inside the restaurant, but as soon as they  were out the door the police were right behind them to make the arrest. The young man who was carrying the cash register stumbled and fell under the shock. The other tried to threaten the police officers with the shotgun and received a bullet wound in the abdomen in return. They were taken to hospital for treatment of minor injuries and will face charges of armed robbery and threatening police officers.

I suppose it seemed like a good idea while they were planning the robbery. What could possibly go wrong? It appears that Murphy’s Law applies in France, too.

Elections

All is quiet on the election front where I live – Canada had a federal election last fall and Saskatchewan had a provincial election just a moth ago. But the media that I read are full of angst and bewilderment about the upcoming presidential elections in the USA and France (this fall in the USA, early 2017 in France). It looks more and more like Donald Trump and Marine LePen have got a real shot at becoming leaders of their respective countries. Based on your political point of view either event could be the beginning of a better way of doing things, or an unmitigated disaster.

What is a Christian to do?

Just about everybody in every country of the Western World es ready to admit that something is seriously amiss. There is no agreement, however, on just what has gone amiss, how it happened, or what can be done to fix it. Does a Christian really want to wade into this mess and get himself befouled in trying to fix it by political means?

As I see it, politicians didn’t get us into this place, and they aren’t going to get us out of it. We live in an era of Big Government, Big Business, Big Education, Big Entertainment and Big Foundations. They have all grown too big to be controlled by anything else than their self-perpetuating Big Bureaucracies. What can a politician do?

Christianity has been known as a movement that could turn the world upside down. We forfeit that influence when we get involved in politics and try to change the world from the top down. Has that ever had good results? It may seem that way for a moment or two, but ultimately power corrupts even those with the purest of good intentions.

So, what is a Christian to do? We will do the most good by living as genuine Christians, keeping ourselves pure and unspotted from the world, praying for all those in positions of authority, being good neighbours, and being ready to give an answer for the hope that lieth within us.

 

Writng tips #2: 10 tips for writing more simply

[I have borrowed, translated and adapted these tips from a French website. That explains the references to French authors, in case you were wondering. These tips are intended for use in writing for the web, but would be useful in many other types of writing as well.]

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1. Thou shalt write short sentences.

You are not Proust! So do not write sentences of more than one or two lines. If you hesitate between several constructions, always choose the one with the fewest words. Your texts will be more rhythmic.

Tip: exchange semicolons for periods.

2. Thou shalt limit thyself to subject, verb and object.

The subject + verb + object scheme is the simplest grammatically. It is instantly recognizable and understandable to the reader. So avoid complex grammatical constructions, subordinate clauses, interpolations and parentheses within the same sentence.

Tip: turn most subordinate clauses into independent sentences.

3. Thou shalt write one idea per sentence.

One idea per sentence, one point per paragraph, one subject per article. Don’t try to say everything at once, at the risk of drowning your reader. Prioritize your ideas and start with the most important.

Tip: If your article is too long, divide it into several articles grouped by folder or series.

4. Thou shalt simplify thy vocabulary.

You do not write to amuse yourself but to make yourself understood. Don’t try to dazzle your readers with exotic words or literary style. Favour simple words known to all.

Tip: use only words that you know how to spell.

5. Thous shalt translate jargon.

You don’t need to eliminate all trade or professional jargon, but ensure the first occurrence of such a word is translated into plain English, including all acronyms and words from other languages. Not only will your readers thank you, but it will be easier for search engines to find your page because you will broaden your semantic field.

Tip: imagine you are writing for your grandmother.

6. Thou shalt avoid negations.

It is forbidden to forbid! It is not always easy (as in this article which intends to be educational), but avoid negative terms as much as possible. Opt instead for positive constructions, more involving and more direct. Flee double negatives that need to be read twice to get the meaning.

Tip: always replace “do not hesitate to do this” with “do this”!

7. Thou shalt avoid the passive voice.

Better to write “The cat eats the mouse” than “the mouse is eaten by the cat.” Not only does the passive use more words than the active form (7 words against 5), but it is also more complex to analyse. Therefore reverse passive sentences, transforming the object into subject.

Tip: choose action verbs like create, produce, decide, etc.

8. Thou shalt avoid adjectives and adverbs.

“Journalists (…) who want to use an adjective come see me in my office. Those who will use an adverb will be shown out the door,”wrote Georges Clemenceau in a memo while he was editor of L’Aurore. Years have passed, the media have changed, but the counsel remains valid.

Tip: first remove all useless instances of “true” and “genuine” from your texts.

9. Thou shalt avoid the subjunctive.

Avoid the subjunctive: limit yourself to the indicative. Also avoid the tenses we learned at school like the pluperfect, future anterior, etc. Try to stick to the present, the past, the imperfect, the future and the imperative.

Tip: use the infinitive as much as possible.

10. Thou shalt read thy article out loud.

Proofread your text carefully before publishing it. Locate the long sentences, overly complex constructions, etc. Check that you have applied all the above rules.

Tip: re-read aloud to identify difficult to read sentences. Flaubert called it the gueuloir test, you will see, it works!

(I presume Gueuloir was Flaubert’s invention; it’s not found in any dictionary. Gueuler means to speak very loudly, to yell.)

If you read French, the original article is found at: http://editoile.fr/10-astuces-pour-ecrire-plus-simplement/

Very young heros

Recently, in a small town in western France, a father was at home with his two little children, aged five and two, while his wife was working the late shift in a town 12 km away. Suddenly the father collapsed and fell to the floor and did not respond to the questions of the five year old boy.

The boy decided he needed to go  tell his mother. He put on a jacket, got on his bike and started down the road. He had gone three km when a farmer, on his way home from a night school art course, saw him and stopped him to see what was wrong. The boy had only his pyjamas under his jacket and flip-flops on his feet. It was dark, raining and cold, the boy was soaked and shivering. He told the farmer, “My papa is dead.”

The farmer put the boy in his car to warm up, while another passer-by phoned the emergency number. The boy did not know his family name or his address. The emergency services called the mayor of the town of 2,000. He digested the little bit of information the farmer and the boy could give and suggested an address. The ambulance went to that address and found the father, who was not dead but had suffered a heart attack, and transported him to the hospital.

The father was soon able to return home to recuperate. I trust that after such a tumultuous night the little boy got at least a day off of school.

This story reminded me of an incident that made the news while we were living in Montréal. A young mother had a severe type of diabetes and worried what would happen if she went into a diabetic coma while her husband was at work. She tried to teach her three year old daughter how to dial 911, but the little girl seemed to think it was a game and the mother gave up, thinking the child was just too young.

One day it happened – the mother slipped into a diabetic coma. The little girl went to the phone, picked up the receiver and pushed 9-1-1. When someone answered she said “Maman bobo” (French for “Mommy owie”), put down the phone and opened the door to wait for help to arrive.

In short order all the king’s horses and all the king’s men were there (in this case a fire rescue truck, then an ambulance and then a police car). With all these people trained in emergency health care the mother was soon brought out of the coma and then taken to hospital to be checked out. The husband arrived at the hospital to find that all was now well and he was soon able to take his family home.

Undoubtedly, these two little children saved the lives of their parents. Children should be taught their full name, their street address and the number to call in case of emergency (911 in North America, 112 in Europe). Never underestimate a child’s ability to help.

It’s all my father’s fault

It seems that I’ve been trying to learn French all my life, always getting a little closer but never quite arriving. I can speak French, but with a wooden tongue (that’s a French expression for someone whose pronunciation is somewhat lacking). I fear that my ears may be made of the same material, for I often miss some little nuance of spoken French. And it’s all my father’s fault.

You see, my father grew up with a mother who spoke French – and he was embarrassed by it. I never knew my grandmother – my father was very close to his mother and didn’t go looking for a wife until his mother wasn’t there anymore. Grandma was Franco-American, descended from a man who grew up in the province of Lorraine and served in Napoleon’s army as a swordsman before emigrating to the USA with his family. The French language was preserved in the family for several generations, despite the American melting pot.

When my grandparents came to Canada in 1908, they settled on the south side of Old Wives Lake in southern Saskatchewan. They did their shopping in the general store in Courval, their closest town. The store was run by a French-Canadian family. Many of their neighbours had names like Tremblay, Marcil and Pelletier. Grandma was right at home among these people and my father found that embarrassing. He had been thoroughly indoctrinated in the belief that the world would be a better place if everyone spoke the same language, which of course would be English.

He even seemed to feel that it was not right for people to have complicated names that he couldn’t pronounce and I grew up being embarrassed by his stubborn mispronunciation of people’s names. I always felt that wasn’t very wise when one’s own family name was Goodnough, a name that people didn’t know how to pronounce when they saw it in print, nor how to spell if they heard it pronounced.

He did know a few French words, mostly the words for common foods. He liked to tell how the USA would never have existed if it hadn’t been for the help of General Lafayette and countless other French soldiers during the revolutionary war. But he had no interest in learning the language. His attitude was, if you want to talk to me you have to speak my language.

My mother, on the other hand, spoke only Plautdietsch until she started school. Sometime in her youth she acquired a large English dictionary and studied it assiduously. By the time I came along she was speaking English with no trace of an accent. She often told about how her father had learned English from working with English-speaking people in his younger years. There had also been French-speaking people in the part of Manitoba where he grew up and he had often expressed his regret at not learning that language. To which Mom would add: “And if he had, I would have too.”

Thus I had the moral support of my mother, if not my father, when I began making my first steps to try to learn French. I have worked at it off and on for many years. I have no problem reading French and not much in writing. But I still long to be able to speak it like a true native speaker.

To be fair to my father, his attitude was shaped by the era and the place where he grew up. He maintained a lifelong friendship with many of his French-Canadian neighbours. After he retired and moved to Moose Jaw, he would often encounter the owner of the Courval general store, also retired and living in Moose Jaw. He called him Mister Pippin. It wasn’t until I read his obituary that I realized that Mister Pippin had actually been Monsieur Pépin.

Touche pas à nos cornichons!

cucumber-150595_1280[Leave our pickles alone!]

Alas, but it’s too late. Authentic dill pickles are no longer made in Canada.

My mother used to grow rows of cucumbers in her garden, plus a short row of dill. She would pick and wash the cucumbers and layer them in an earthenware crock with a few sprigs of dill scattered across each layer, then a layer of coarse pickling salt, then more cucumbers and dill and so on. When the crock was full, she would pour in white vinegar until everything was immersed, then she would place a lid on the crock. When the pickles were ready to be eaten they were crisp, tangy, with just enough dill to enhance the flavour. That is the taste of real dill pickles that I grew up with.

As my mother grew older, she developed arthritis and was no longer able to do all the baking and preserving that she had once done. No matter, by this time we could buy Bick’s pickles at our local grocery store. This was a family run enterprise in Ontario that made pickles that tasted just like the ones my mother used to make.

I’m not sure just what happened, but I suspect the younger generation of the Bick family wanted to enjoy the fruit of their parents’ labours, without performing the labour themselves. In any case, they accepted a buyout offer from a multinational company. The pickles still tasted as good, so why should we worry?

Then the multinational discovered they could get pickles from Asian countries at a lower cost than producing them here in Canada. They closed the Canadian pickle factory, but the pickle jars still look the same. What is inside the jar is another story. They taste like they have been marinated in swamp water. Please forgive my cultural snobbishness, but these are not the pickles my mother used to make.

I read recently in Marianne, a French news magazine, that the same thing has happened in France. The last pickle factory, also owned by a multinational, closed in 2009. But here the story begins to differ, in a way that give me some hope for us here in Canada. Henri Jannequin and his family decided to start producing authentic dill pickles from their farm. Their cucumbers are grown with no pesticides or insecticides, and they use no preservatives in their pickles. That sounds just like the way my mother made pickles. Their pickles are sold under the label Maison Marc and are available in France in fine grocery stores and are served in better restaurants and even in the Élysée (the presidential palace). The price is 8 € for a small jar.

Why couldn’t that be done in Canada? Cucumbers and dill will grow anywhere, what’s needed is an entrepreneurial vision coupled with a willingness for hard work. I suspect there is a market out there just waiting for pickles “just like Grandma used to make.”

Why isn’t this happening today?

A.D. 1199.— It is stated that at this time the Albigenses, who were one church with the Waldenses, had so increased in the earldom of Toulouse, that, as the papists complained, “almost a thousand cities were polluted with them.”

With this the lord of St. Aldegonde concurs, when he says: “That notwithstanding Peter de Bruis was burnt as a heretic at St. Gilles, near Nimes, the doctrine nevertheless was spread throughout the province of  Gascony, into the earldom of Fois, Querci, Agenois, Bourdeloicx, and almost throughout all Languedoc, and the earldom of Jugrane, now called Venice. In Provence also this doctrine was almost universally accepted, and the cities, Cahors, Narbonne, Carcasonne, Rhodes, Aix la Chapelle, Mesieres, Toulouse, Avignon, Mantauban, S. Antonin, Puflarens, and the country of Bigorre were filled with it, together with many other cities which were favourable to them, as Tarascon, Marseilles, Perces, Agenois, Marmande, and Bordeaux; whereby this doctrine spred still further, from the one side into Spain and England, from the other into Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, Moravia, Dalmatia, and even into Italy.

“Indeed, in such a manner did this doctrine spread that however sedulously the popes and all their minions exerted themselves, aided by the princes and secular magistrates, to exterminate them, first by disputations, then by banishment and papal excommunication and anathemas, proclaiming of crusades, indulgences and pardons to all who would commit violence upon them, and finally by all manner of tortures, fires, gallows, and cruel bloodshedding, yea, in such a manner that the whole world was in commotion on account of it; yet they (the papists) could not prevent the ashes from flying abroad, and becoming scattered far and wide, almost even to all the ends of the earth.”

The above seems marvellous, but it is not marvellous with regard to the Lord God, with whom nothing is wonderful or impossible. In the meantime, we see how God permitted this grain of mustard seed of the Waldenses, or Poor Men of Lyons, to grow up a large tree, and this in the midst of their persecutions. Oh, the great power, wisdom, and love of God, who never forsakes His people!

-The Martyrs Mirror, page 290

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