Antiquarian Anabaptist

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: kindness

Precious memories

My cousin Dennis was born September 9, 1937, the first of six children born to Art and Katherine Goodnough. His wife called last week to tell us that his children were planning a surprise birthday party for him for his 80th birthday, last Saturday. Could we come?

I thought about it briefly, maybe half a second, and said “Of course, we’ll be there.” I had been thinking of this momentous occasion coming up, had bought a card and was wondering how or when to deliver it. Saturday we made the two and a half hour drive to Moose Jaw and joined 50 others, family and friends, to celebrate Dennis’s 80 years.

All of Dennis’s brothers came, from Ontario, Saskatchewan, Alberta and BC. His sister lives in Portugal and didn’t make it. Four of his five children were there, two live in Moose Jaw, one in Alberta, one in BC and the one missing was out of the country on a business trip.

Uncle Art was my father’s brother, Aunt Katherine my mother’s sister. Our two families have always been close. Everything his brothers said about Dennis was completely familiar. None of us has ever seen him get angry, nor have we ever seen him violate a traffic law. Richard told how Dennis would always use his signal lights before making a turn, even if he was out in the middle of a 100 acre field or a thousand acre pasture.

He was always interested in others. Whenever you talked to him, his first questions were about your family. He never wanted to hurt anyone’s feelings. Stan, 15 years younger, told of encountering a kangaroo on his big brother’s farm when he was just a little lad. He told Dennis about the kangaroo and Dennis said, “Well, it might have been something else that looked a lot like a kangaroo.” Some time later Stan figured out that it had been a jackrabbit.

His patience was his great strength, but at times it looked like a weakness. Jason, his youngest son, told of how his Dad taught them the importance of cleanliness and also modelled it for them. One time the family was ready to get in the car to go somewhere, they were already 20 minutes late, but Dad decided he had to have a shower first.

Jason also told of how his Dad had been a good teacher. He didn’t get angry when they didn’t do as they had been taught, but relations could get rather cool for a while. Ted, the brother next after Dennis in the family, picked up on that and said that had come from their mother. When he did something wrong his mother wouldn’t speak to him for days. Finally he would get so desperate that he would do anything, wash dishes, scrub floors, to get her to talk to him. Thinking of that later, it seems that Ted would be the one in the family who would have most often incurred this treatment from his mother. He was also the one for whom it was most apt to produce a favourable result.

Joel, Dennis’s oldest grandson and a Pentecostal preacher, was MC for the afternoon. Jeff, Dennis’s oldest son and also a Pentecostal preacher (but of a different denomination), had the prayer for the supper. The Goodnough family is a mixture of Christians of differing persuasions and others who are not Christians. We don’t get together as often as we did when we were younger and lived closer to each other, but there is still something that binds us together. I believe the tie that binds us together, at least for those of us of the older generation, is the influence of our mothers. I am not alone in thinking that, the thought was expressed a number of times on Saturday.

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Quebec city shooting and aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.

Mercy cannot be a passive virtue: kindly feelings towards someone in distress are worthless if not accompanied by action to help relieve the distress.

There may be a time when we are called upon to perform some major act of mercy, but we should not waste our time searching for such an occasion. Rather look for opportunities to do small acts of mercy every day. In the long run, more good will be done in this way than by standing around waiting to do something big.

Better yet, don’t be too particular about being recognized as the doer of those small acts of mercy. An amazing amount of good can be done if we don’t care who gets the credit for it.

It is true that others are apt to respond kindly to the one who shows kindness but don’t count on it. Don’t be merciful for that reason, rather look on it as storing up treasures in heaven.

Dementia

My mother wasn’t able to look after herself anymore and had come to live with us. One day a conversation with a visitor went like this:
—How old are you?
—What year is it?
—Two thousand and four
—Then I am ninety-six.

That was my mother; she couldn’t remember how old she was, but she wasn’t about to admit it so she answered with a question of her own. When she was given the year she instantly made the calculation in her head and gave the right answer.

My father’s dementia worked a little differently; he lived to be 86 but always told people he was 82. It seems that was how old he was when dementia took away his ability to connect with what was happening.

Some people become quite difficult as dementia sets in. They resent being told to put on clothes that they don’t recognize. The problem is that their mind has slipped back 50 years and the clothes they would recognize are long gone. Others may be just as confused about where they are and what is happening, yet they are sweetly thankful for every little act of kindness.

Some people eventually lose the ability to communicate. A familiar face, a familiar voice, may stir some sign of recognition, but they can’t quite grasp who it is they see and hear. There are those who seem altogether vacant, yet their eyes light up when a familiar hymn is sung. Sometimes they might even sing along, yet show no sign of remembering after the song  is finished. It is important for us to believe that there is still a person in that body, and even though they cannot reach out to us, they do know when we reach out to them by kind words and touches.

Some people seem immune to dementia. We visited a lady after she turned 100, she may have been a distant relative of my wife. She was bright and chipper, her hearing was good, her eyesight was good – she read a regular print Bible, had no difficulty walking. We visited her again several months later – she recognized us and remembered our names.

We met a man, a distant relative of mine, who was also over 100. He played billiards, drove his car to his country church every Sunday, pushed people in wheelchairs around the yard of the nursing home.

Both of these people had a positive outlook on life and were interested in other people. This leads me to some observations:

  • A self-centred person has a miserable life and seems to be more inclined to develop dementia, where he can make everybody around him miserable, too.
  • A person who is genuinely interested in others develops the ability to exercise their mind in following a multitude of paths his mind might not otherwise take and this may make him less apt to develop dementia.
  • A person who is genuinely thankful, and readily expresses that thankfulness will be a pleasant person to be around even if he develops dementia.

I know, these are totally unscientific conclusions and there are many other factors involved. Still, I think they are thoughts to bear in mind as I grow older so that I can cultivate the attitudes that will make life less difficult for those who may have to care for me if I ever develop dementia.

Leadhead and the Golden Rule

I first took note of Norman when the camp leaders took us all on a hike to Lebret.  He was a quiet boy, walking with us, yet alone.  He seemed like the rest of us, except that he could not hold his head up straight.  It tilted towards his right shoulder, almost resting on the shoulder.  Some of the other boys called him Leadhead.

We were at the Anglican Church summer camp  on the south shore of Mission Lake between Fort Qu’Appelle and Lebret, in the beautiful Qu’Appelle Valley of Saskatchewan.  We slept in bunk houses, spent our days  learning Pilgrim’s Progress, swimming in the lake and hiking through the hills; in the evenings we all gathered around a campfire for singing and stories and an evening prayer.

At first, I didn’t like to hear the other boys making fun of Norman and calling him Leadhead.  However, by the third day my conscience had been dulled and I began to call him that myself.

The morning of the fourth day, I woke up with pain in my neck and shoulder. The pain became excruciating if I tried to straighten my head — overnight, I had become Leadhead II!  I went through that day with my head in the same position as Norman’s and got the same unkind remarks from the other boys.  Late in the day my muscles began to loosen up and the next morning I could hold my head up with no discomfort.

One would think that such a dramatic lesson in the Golden Rule would be unforgettable.  I have found that there is a difference between remembering the lesson and learning the lesson.

Forty years later, I was a quality assurance inspector in an automotive parts plant.  One day, while making my rounds, I heard that a lady working on car door weatherstrips in another part of the plant had cut some of them too short.  I knew Sandy, she had been in our home, her mother lived a few doors away from us in a small village.  I walked over to where several others had gathered and were making jovial, but unkind, remarks about her workmanship.  For some reason, I felt compelled to join in and made a smart alecky remark.  Sandy looked at me and quietly said, “Oh no, not you too!”

Sandy knew about the faith that I professed, she had expected something better form me, and I had let her down.  I believe she had a right to expect better from someone who professed to be a follower of the one who said, “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.”

Have I now learned the lesson?  I’m afraid that I can’t claim that my attitude and conduct toward others has been faultless since that time.  Yet, those painful memories have taught me that I am a very fallible human being and I believe it has made me kinder to others than I otherwise would have been.

This was first posted more than three years ago and it has been on my mind again of late. So here it is again. Norman was not the real name of the boy at summer camp.  After sixty years, it probably wouldn’t matter if I used his real name, but I have long ago forgotten the names of all the other boys at that camp.

Is it really that bad?

This world is a horrible place. There are environmental catastrophes, threats of international terrorism, dangers in the streets. The danger of religious persecution threatens us even here in North America. There is sexual exploitation of women and children. There is abuse of power by those in positions of trust: police officers, preachers, teachers and parents. There are dangers on the internet. It seems that you can’t trust anyone anymore.

Um . . . let’s back up a little bit here and see if we’re getting the whole picture. Yes, all these things are going on; and yes, these are the things the media wants to tell us about. But is that really what most of us are experiencing in our daily life?

My grandchildren are blissfully unaware of any threats to their well-being. I am not experiencing any harassment because of my religious beliefs. I encounter friendly and helpful people wherever I go.

I started using a cane about six weeks ago and I am amazed how that triggers acts of kindness from others. I have even had young ladies hold a door open for me. A few days ago I bought my fast food lunch at Tim Horton’s and the lady behind the counter offered to carry my tray to a table. I declined, but not without a hearty thank  you. Someday I may need her assistance.

Today I was in my favourite coffee shop – the one where the young ladies behind the counter don’t need to be told that I want a cappuccino with amaretto syrup. This time I asked the young lady who served me if she  had ever heard an old, old song that has her name in the title. Her response floored me: “You remembered my name!” I have known her name for a long time, she has served my coffee countless times, we have talked about other things than coffee, but I had never called her by name. This is something I have encouraged others to do, and here I wasn’t even doing it myself.

That seems such a small thing, but it was a reality check. When I begin thinking that the world is such a cold heartless place, perhaps the first question I need to ask is “Am I the problem?”

By the way, she was all too familiar with the song. Her music teacher used to sing it every time she went for a lesson.

Perfection and humilty and servanthood and leadership

Is it possible to be perfect, humble, a servant and a leader all at the same time? According to the New Testament, God expects us to be all of the above. If that seems impossible, perhaps we have gotten hung up on a misunderstanding of the meaning of one or more of those words.

Many well-meaning Christians will insist that the only perfection that we can ever attain to is to be found in Jesus Christ and then His perfection becomes ours. I was going to say that this is a cop-out, but that would be too harsh. It is just a misunderstanding of what the Bible means when it calls us to be perfect. The basic meaning of the word is complete when referring to things, and fully grown or mature when speaking of people. It does not mean to be utterly without flaw or blemish. In the AV, the Greek word teleios is translated 17 times as perfect, once as men (“in understanding be men” 1 Corinthians 14:20) and once as of full age (“But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” Hebrews 5:14).

Thus, what the Bible is asking of us is maturity. A person who is mature does not think that he knows everything, that he never makes a mistake, never misunderstands. Someone who is mature is quick to own up to his mistakes, apologize where he has caused offence, and to fix what he has broken.

Looked at in this way, perfection begins to sound a lot like humility, doesn’t it? They really are like the two sides of the same coin. A person who is perfect and humble can be entrusted with responsibility. He will do his best to fulfil that responsibility, without running over anyone who might get in the way. In other words, he see himself as a servant. He is not simply trying to please himself, but whoever has entrusted him with this responsibility. Ultimately, he sees himself as a servant of God and of his fellow men.

Such a person is a leader. He does not see himself as lord over those whom he is leading, but rather as their servant. He goes ahead to show the way, to avoid dangers, to help all to reach their goal. We are all called to be leaders in some way, in the home, at work, even at play.

We will not always do everything just right, or say everything just right. We will be misunderstood; we will be criticized, sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. Either way, if we respond to the criticism with kindness and respect we will grow and become more useful. This is the way of perfection. If we respond with impatience and anger, we will shrivel and become less useful.

Cat oneupmanship

We moved to this acreage almost 8 years ago, just us two old folks and one cat. There is a farm yard right beside our yard with a heavy stand of trees between us. Panda was basically an indoor cat, but one evening she decided to explore the great outdoors.

The sun set, our bed seemed pretty inviting after a day of unpacking and arranging furniture, dishes, books, clothing, but Panda had not come home. We called, no response. We set out with flashlights to search for her. We walked around the back yard, the woods, searching and calling. Nothing. We gave up and walked back to the house, thinking dark thoughts. We came around to the front of the house and there on the front step was Panda, calmly stretched out and looking at us as if to say: “Where have you guys been? I’ve been waiting for you.”

We recently made a trip to Montréal and asked our daughter to care for our cats, there are now three of them. When we returned home Tuesday, she reported that she had seen the middle cat, Angus, only once. Panda and Pookie were happy to see us and we expected Angus would hear that we were home and make his appearance. When he didn’t, my wife went next door (the neighbours are away now) and soon found him. He was overjoyed to see us and spent the next 24 hours anxiously checking on us to see that we weren’t going to abandon him again.

Pookie went out that evening and didn’t come back. When he still hadn’t shown up yesterday evening after I got back from the city, we took our flashlights and went looking. We checked around all the many buildings of the farm yard, thinking he might have accidentally been shut in one of them. There was neither sight nor sound to indicate he was anywhere around.

Once again thinking dark thoughts, punctuated by the howling of coyotes not far away, we trudged homeward. As we walked down our lane and got near the house Pookie came trotting out to welcome us home. Why do cats have this infuriating habit of outsmarting us?

I admit it, we are quite attached to our cats, and they to us. I think this is quite normal, not everyone agrees. I believe that people who are patient and kind with animals are more apt to be patient and kind with people, too. And people who are indifferent and even cruel to animals are apt to be that way to people. What are your thoughts? Agree or disagree?  (There are, of course, a few individuals with an emotional imbalance that hinders them from having a real relationship with other people and who try to fill that void with their pets, I’m not thinking of that sort of extreme.)

Papa Martin and the young woman

[Part 3 of Ruben Saillens’ le Père Martin, translated from French.]

A few homeward bound revellers passed by, but the old shoemaker barely glanced at them. The marketplace vendors came with their small carts. He knew them too well to pay much attention to them.

After an hour or two, his attention was drawn to a young, poorly dressed woman, carrying a child in her arms. She was so pale, so thin, that the old man’s heart was touched. Perhaps she made him think of his daughter. He opened the door and called her.

“Hey, you there!”

The poor woman heard him call and turned in surprise. She saw Papa Martin beckoning her to come.

“You don’t appear to be doing well, ma belle.” (“Ma belle” is the most commonly used expression in old Marseilles. It is used indiscriminately for the fishwives of the Vivaux market, for laundry women, and all women, young or old, rich or poor, who have anything to do in these quarters.)

“I’m going to the hospital,” replied the young woman. “I hope they will admit me with my child. My husband is out at sea and I have been waiting for him for three months.”

“Like I wait for my son,” thought the shoemaker.

“He doesn’t come and now I don’t have a sou left and I’m sick. I really need to go to the hospital.”

“Poor woman,” said the old man tenderly. “You’ll have a bit of bread while you warm up, won’t you?”

“At least a cup of milk for the little one. Take this, I haven’t touched it yet. Warm yourself and let me take the little bundle. I have cared for babies in my day, I know how to handle them. He is good looking, your boy. What! Didn’t you put any shoes on him?”

“I don’t have any,” sighed the poor woman.

“Wait then. I have a pair that will just suit him.”

And the old worker, amidst the protestations and thanks of the mother, went to find the shoes that he had looked at the night before and placed them on the feet of the child. They were just the right size.

Martin stifled a sigh however, in letting go of his best workmanship, the best he had done in his life.

“Bah!” he said, “I have no more need of them for anyone now.” and he returned to the window. He searched the street in such an anxious manner that the young woman was surprised.

“What are you looking for?” she asked.

“I am waiting for my Master,” replied Martin.

The young woman did not understand, or did not care to understand.

“Do you know the Lord Jesus?” he asked.

“Certainly,” she replied while crossing herself. “It’s not such a long time ago that I learned my catechism.”

“It is Him that I am awaiting,” said the old man.

“And you believe He is going to pass by here?”

“He told me so.”

“Impossible! Oh, how I would like to stay with you to see Him myself, if it’s true. . . But you must be mistaken. And then, I need to go to be admitted to the hospital.”

“Can you read?” asked the shoemaker.

“Yes.”

“Well then, take this little book,” he said, placing a portion of the gospel in her hands. “Read it carefully, and it will not be exactly the same as if you would see Him, but it will be nearly the same thing, and perhaps you will see Him later.”

The young woman looked doubtful, but took the book and left, saying thank you, and the old man returned to his place before the window.

— to be continued

Papa Martin and the street sweeper

[Installment two of a Christmas tale by Ruben Saillens. Original title: le Père Martin. Translated from French.]

Long before daylight the little lamp of the shoemaker was lit. He put more coal into his stove, where the fire had not yet gone out and busied himself preparing his coffee. Then he hurried to make his bed, then placed himself in front of the window to catch the first glimmers of daylight and the first passers-by.

Little by little the light appeared, and Martin soon saw a street sweeper, the earliest of all workers. He hardly noticed him, really, he had more important things to do than watch a street sweeper!

Nevertheless it appeared to be cold outside, fog kept appearing on the window and the sweeper, after a few vigorous sweeps of his broom, felt a need for more vigorous exercise to warm himself by slapping his arms with all his strength and stamping the ground, first with one foot, then the other.

“The good man,” Martin said to himself, “he’s cold out there. It’s a holiday today, but not for him. Why don’t I offer him a coffee?” And he tapped the window.

The sweeper turned his head, saw Papa Martin in the window and came closer.

The shoemaker opened his door, “Come in,” he said, “come and warm yourself.”

“I won’t refuse, thank you. What miserable weather, you would think we were in Russia.”

“Will you accept a cup of coffee?”

“Oh, such a good man you are. With pleasure. Better to celebrate Christmas Eve late than not at all.”

The shoemaker quickly served his guest, then returned to the window to look up and down the street to see if anyone was passing.

“What are you looking for outside?” asked the sweeper.

“I’m waiting for my Master.”

“Your Master? You are working for a chain then? It’s too early to be out checking on his workers. Besides, it’s a holiday for you today.”

“I was speaking of another Master,” replied the shoemaker.

“Ah.”

“A Master who might come at any time and who promised to come today. You must know his name; it’s Jesus.”

“I have heard tell of him, but I don’t know him. Where does he live?”

Papa Martin then began to tell the sweeper the account he had read the past evening, adding a few details, turning toward the window as he spoke.

“And that is who you are waiting for?” said the sweeper when he understood. “I don’t think you will see him in the way you expect. But no matter, you have helped me to see Him. Could you lend me your book, Mister . . .”

“Martin,” said the shoemaker.

“Mister Martin, I guarantee that you have not wasted your time this morning, even if it is hardly day. Thank you and good-bye.”

The street sweeper went on his way and Papa Martin again placed himself in front of the window.

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