Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: history

Bean counters

People like myself (bookkeepers & accountants) are sometimes referred to as bean counters. The none-too-complimentary implication is that we spend hours at our desks sorting beans into little piles with no idea of what those beans represent. It isn’t necessarily so.

I used to work in the quality assurance department of a factory that made engineered rubber products for the automobile industry. The automobile companies asked for bids to produce parts for them. We had a team of engineers who would do a thorough analysis of the costs of producing a part and our company would bid on the ones we thought we could profitably manufacture.

One part that we contracted to make was produced on a very high tech, made in France, rubber injection moulding machine. The bid had been based on one person being able to load and unload the machine, hand trim the little bits of excess rubber and pack the parts in a shipping container. Once in actual production it was found that a second person was needed. The production management computer program showed that this skyrocketed the costs and we were losing a bundle on this part. After two years we did not bid on this part again.

Up to this point accounting had been done in an office in another city. Then an accountant was relocated to an office in our plant. She was intrigued by the huge cost overrun on this part and began to investigate. It didn’t take long for her to discover that when a second person was added for making this part, the computer program automatically added another expensive injection moulding machine and calculated the capital cost allowance and operating expenses for this second machine. When she removed that phantom machine from the calculation she found that the part had been a money maker, not a money loser.

At that point I left to become a missionary in Montréal, but I understand the company was preparing to bid on that part again the next time it became available.

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$9.60 for a tonsillectomy

Saturday evening I was looking through some old papers and came across the following bill from when my tonsils were removed 71 years ago.

Providence Hospital, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

July 10, 1946

Tonsillectomy

Hospital      2 days X 1.50                                         3.00
Operating Room                                                      5.00
Medicine                                                                   .10
Laboratory                                                             1.50
Total                                                                   $9.60

Minimum Requirements For Farming

  1. A wide-brimmed hat, one pair of blue jeans and $20 boots from the discount store.
  2. At least two head of livestock, preferably cattle, one male and one female.
  3. A new air-conditioned pickup with automatic transmission, power steering and a trailer hitch.
  4. A dog to ride in the bed of the pickup.
  5. A gooseneck trailer small enough to park in front of a cafe.
  6. A little place to keep the cows on land too poor to grow crops on.
  7. A spool of barbed wire, three cedar fence posts and a bale of hay to haul around in the truck.
  8. Credit at the credit union.
  9. Credit at the bank.
  10. Credit from your father-in-law.
  11. A good pocket knife, suitable for whittling to pass away time.
  12. A good wife who won’t get upset when you walk across the living room floor with manure on your boots.
  13. A good wife with a full time job.

[Author unknown, published 1985 in the Craik history book (my home town)]

Winter’s adventure lost

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Seventy years ago, when our family wanted to go somewhere in winter we used a cutter much like the one illustrated.  We dressed very warmly, heated a stone or two in the oven, placed them on the floor of the cutter and draped horsehide robes over our laps and feet. Nowadays, I push a button to start the car before we go out to the garage, get in the car, push the buttons to heat the car seats and the steering wheel, and we’re on our way without really feeling how cold it is.

Seventy years ago there was no equipment for keeping driveways and roads open when the snowdrifts got deep. Nowadays, we expect driveways, roads, streets and sidewalks to be as clear in winter as in summer.

Seventy years ago we got up to an icy cold house, got the wood fire going in the kitchen stove and dressed around the warmth of that stove. We shovelled coal into the big old furnace in the basement and the heat would gradually rise up to warm the rest of the house. Nowadays the thermostat automatically turns the heat up when it’s time for us to get out of bed and turns it down again when it is bedtime.

Seventy years ago we wore long underwear and heavy socks in winter. To go outside we put on a parka with a hood to pull up over the toque on our head, put insulated boots on our feet, a scarf around our neck and two layers of mitts on our hands. Nowadays, we put on a coat, and sometimes gloves, and walk out to the car that is warming up already.

Seventy years ago I enjoyed winter. Nowadays, not so much. What happened?

The problem of ethnic pride

I read a number of English language historical novels when I was young. The English heroes were brave, honest, noble and kind. The villains, often French or Spanish, were shifty-eyed, cowardly dishonest and cruel. I accepted this as truth, and, being of English ancestry, it felt good to be able to identify with the good guys.

Later in life I learned to read French and read some books of the same sort. Imagine my shock to find that in these books the French were honest, noble and brave, considerate of others, kind to the weak. The English were traitors, untrustworthy, dishonest, promise-breakers and capable of incredible cruelty.

Through reading a number of books of history in my adult years I discovered that the French had ample grounds to consider the English as perfidious, dishonest and villainous. Our school history books had been quite selective in the information they provided.

I concluded that every nation and ethnic group has this picture of themselves as possessing all the virtues and of other peoples as possessing all the vices.

Does becoming a Christian take care of these attitudes? When God calls us and we come face to face with the ugliness of our sinful nature, that is a humbling experience. If we repent and find peace with God, the reality of our sinfulness should ever be with us to prevent us from thinking too highly of ourselves. Thus, a Christian is a humble person, on a spiritual, personal level. But does that change our attitude about the inherent superiority of our ethnic group? Not necessarily.

This is why a congregation that is predominantly of one ethnic group is in a precarious position. We cannot lose all of the attitudes that we have soaked in since we were little children. There are rough edges that are a stumbling block to others that we will never be aware of until we mix with people of other ethnic origins who hold to the same faith.

We will be exposed to the rough edges that other people have. Through mutual apologies and forgiveness we will learn to appreciate one another, our fellowship will be enhanced and the gospel witness will grow stronger. People looking on will grasp that it is not a shared ethnic background that brought us together and holds us together, but a shared faith in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ..

Stamp collecting

I collected stamps when I was a boy. It was a fascinating and inexpensive hobby. Many stores sold packets of used stamps for less than a dollar, either mixed or sorted by country or theme. One could also buy from mail order stamp companies. If one had the money to spend there were more expensive albums and stamps available, but there was an abundance of stamps and supplies available that fit my small budget.

I learned a lot about history and geography from stamps. I learned that many countries called themselves something different than the name I had learned. Germany was Deutschland, Holland was Nederland, Norway was Norsk, Finland was Suomi and Hungary was Magyar. I learned of countries that didn’t exist anymore, such as Bosnia & Herzogovina. Bosnia has reappeared in recent years and I know where to find it on the map because when I was a boy I found out where Bosnia & Herzogovina used to be.

I saw how the stamps of Deutschland of many years ago had been continuously overprinted with new amounts containing many zeros and learned about the hyperinflation during the Weimar Republic. I saw the stamps of French colonies overprinted with France Libre and learned how Charles deGaulle had created a new French army to fight the Axis powers after the capitulation of Pétain during the Second World War.

Do boys still collect stamps? Stamps have become more and more colourful over the years, more and more expensive, and less and less useful. How many people today anxiously await the arrival of the letter carrier in the expectation that there will be an important letter? In our home, we only occasionally get a personal letter via the postal service and hardly any bills. Almost everything comes by email, including a lot of junk emails.

I believe there will be a need for the postal service for many years to come – but it won’t look much like the postal service of my boyhood and will never again be as important in our lives as it was back then. That makes postage stamps less interesting to boys and girls, despite the effort to make them look more interesting. And that’s too bad, there is so much that can be learned from stamps.

Something else that has been lost since my boyhood is the place of the Bible as an anchor for society. It isn’t that everybody read the Bible, or believed it, when I was a boy, many people didn’t. But enough people did at least believe that it had some worthwhile advice for our lives that it served as a stabilizing influence. The number of people who will even pay lip service to the Bible is quite small today.

We have lost much in many areas of life, but the most crucial is in our concept of family life. A large percentage of children growing up today will not experience a united home with the same father and mother during their growing up years. Those who grow up in such a setting may never have a chance to observe a stable, happy, two parent family. They probably don’t even know that such a thing is possible, or desirable.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). In French the last part reads “sans frein”, meaning unchecked or unbridled, literally “without brakes.”  That’s a good description of today’s world; we have lost the vision and so people rush on trying to fix their problems with solutions that are more apt to make their problems worse.

The Post Office may not be fixable, but this situation could be fixed if only the vision could be regained.

How can we be sure that Christ arose?

There are people in our day who say that Jesus never existed. However, there are references to Jesus in first century writings by both Jewish scholars and Roman officials. No one from that era ever denied that Jesus was a real person. The gospels are eye witness accounts and the authenticity of their accounts on other points has been established.

Luke, in particular, was a meticulous historian. He placed the events in his gospel with reference to secular events and individuals. It has been found that the officials he mentions really did exist in the time and place that he ascribes to them. In both the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles, Luke took great care to seek out authentic eye witness accounts to compile his history.

There is no attempt in the gospels to cover up the weaknesses of the disciples of Jesus. They fled at His arrest; Peter even denied ever knowing Him. When He died on the cross, they assumed that all was lost. When they first heard reports of His resurrection, they scoffed.

Yet not much later they were boldly preaching the gospel of the risen Saviour. What made the difference? Was it not that they had personally met Jesus, whom they knew to have once been dead, talked with Him, ate with Him, touched Him? What else could have given them the assurance to endure opposition, persecution and death for the sake of the gospel?

If the authorities could have produced the body of Jesus, the story would have ended there. If one of the disciples had ever broken down under torture and confessed to lying about the resurrection, the Christian faith would have died on the spot. Those things never happened, even though Roman officials did their utmost to make them happen. In time, the report was spread abroad that these men had “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

So here is the question for Christians in the 21st century. This world needs to be turned upside down as badly as it ever has in ages past. We say we believe in the resurrection, we say we believe in the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Why are we having so little impact on the world around us?

Is this why today’s society seems so childish?

To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child.
– Marcus Tullius Cicero

Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it.
– George Santayana

Peace and joy in the subjunctive mood

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, is one of the oldest English Christmas carols, going back at least 500 years.  Not many people sing it today because of scruples about “Ye Merry Gentlemen.”  Those words conjure up a picture of old English gentlemen at their ease, their merriment fuelled by great flagons of wine.

Except that is not what the words mean.  For starters, there should be a comma between “Merry” and “Gentlemen.”  I left it out in the first paragraph for the sake of making the point that most people are not aware that it is there.

One of the gifts my wife received this Christmas was a book recounting the histories of popular English Christmas songs.  In telling the history of God Rest Ye Merry, the writer spends much time expounding on the original meanings of rest and merry (peace and joy), he even mentions the comma, yet completely misses the fact that these words are in the subjunctive mood.  The writer is American, I would like to think that an English writer (i.e., one from England) would have done better, but I’m not sure if they teach grammar any better than Americans do.

Finding a grammar book that has much to say about the subjunctive mood is difficult.  Mostly they say that it doesn’t really exist in English anymore.  Yet it does; the text book writers are just trying to weasel out of trying to explain it.

So I am going to bravely attempt to go where the text book writers dare not go.  First off, let’s deal with that word “mood.”  It has nothing to do with a person’s emotional state; if it were written “mode,” as it is in French, and should be in English, we wouldn’t have nearly as much trouble understanding it.  The indicative mood describes actions that are really happening, have happened or will happen.  The subjunctive mood describes actions that one wishes would happen.  It deals with possibility and non-reality – not in the sense of fantasy, but in the sense that we don’t know if the thing spoken of is happening or will happen.

Phrases in the subjunctive mood usually begin with “may” or “let,” though sometimes these words are omitted.  When we say to someone, “(May) God bless you,” we are not stating that we know it to be a fact that God is blessing, or will bless, the person to whom we are speaking, we are saying that we wish for it to be so.  Likewise, all the common greetings in English are in the subjunctive mood: Happy Birthday; Merry Christmas; Happy New Year; hello; good-bye.  Good-bye is a contraction of “(May) God be with ye,” in which the subjunctive construction is clear.

The subjunctive mood is often used in prayers.  Commanding God to do what we wish is not proper, but expressing our desires for our own needs and the needs of others is entirely appropriate.  The Lord’s Prayer begins with three subjunctive phrases: “hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

Another way of detecting the subjunctive mood is the use of an unexpected form of the verb.  “Be” and “were” are often found in subjunctive phrases: “It is required that applicants be over eighteen,” “If I were in your shoes. . . .”
The subjunctive is used in formal forms of speech: “I move that nominations cease.”  Some common expressions use the subjunctive: “Come what may;” “Be that as it may;” “As it were;” “If only he were here.”

We can misunderstand some Bible verses if we do not recognize the subjunctive.  The apostle Paul told Timothy, “Let no man despise thy youth” (1 Timothy 4:12).  He is not telling Timothy to take forcible measures against anyone who would not show him proper respect, but expressing his desire that Timothy would not encounter any opposition because of his young age.

James 6:14 is another: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.”  The “let” in this verse is not an expression of permission but an urgent wish that the sick person would ask the elders to pray for him.  The preceding verses echo this form of speech: “let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay” (verse 12, this is pretty much a command); and “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms” (verse 13).

A recent Sunday School lesson ended with these words: “May we find life in believing God’s plan for our salvation, sustenance, and security.”  I’m not sure if the person writing this knew it was subjunctive, yet the form is familiar enough that he used it correctly.

Going back to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “rest” could be replaced by “peace” and “merry” by “joy” and the words rephrased to “May peace and joy be unto ye, gentlemen.”  That is still subjunctive, though much less poetic, but perhaps more understandable to modern ears.  Perhaps if we better understood the words we could sing the song next Christmas.

Excuses

Faithful readers of this blog will have noticed that I was absent for almost a week.  I want to sincerely thank everyone who continued to check out the posts on this blog, even while nothing new was being added.

No, I did not leave home on an extended trip, but other things came up which hindered me from being able to write for this blog.  Here is my list of excuses:

1. My keyboard died.  Because I do some translating and writing in French, I use a French-Canadian keyboard which has  extra characters and a couple of extra keys.  I have been using the same keyboard for 20 years.  We have moved seven times in those years and I have lost track of how many computers I have used it with.  It has performed faultlessly until the other day when I think I finally managed to jar something loose inside and it ceased to function.  I stole the keyboard from my wife’s computer.  I knew that would make life difficult around here if it continued, but it gave me time to buy another keyboard on eBay.  For some reason, all the French-Canadian keyboards listed on eBay are located in Texas, so it will take a little time to get here.  Meanwhile, a friend helped to salvage peace in our home by offering me an old keyboard that he wasn’t using.

2. I am planning major changes in my bookkeeping practice.  This requires getting a website up and running and learning two new software programs.  I am knee-deep in webinars for these programs.

3. I am having lengthy long distance phone calls regarding corrections to the proofs of a book that I translated.

4. I was asked to write an article for a school paper published by the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite and the deadline is approaching.

5. I received a request to write a Sunday School lesson.

6. I received an invitation to give a talk to the annual meeting of the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan.  That meeting is still four months away, but it reminds me that I need to do more research for a booklet I want to write on the beginnings of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite in Saskatchewan.

7. Our internet was down for 24 hours.

8. I need to get caught up with my bookkeeping work.

9. Winter is approaching and there is still outdoor work that needs to be done.

10. We are experiencing an invasion of maple bugs (aka box elder beetles) of almost biblical proportions.

11. I seem to have a special talent for procrastination.

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