Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: learning

Learning to see

Let us not forget that the greatest composers were also the greatest thieves. They stole from everyone and everywhere.
–Pablo Casals

Writers do much the same thing, though I do not believe it is proper to call it theft. We learn something from everything we read and everything we see. Often it is just a little impression that adds a small detail to our understanding of the things happening around us. Occasionally it is a profound thought that jars us out of the rut are thoughts have settled into.

These are the inputs into our mental processes. They all get jumbled up, then sorted out, and the output is our attempt to send out, via our writing, a glimmer of light to help someone else see something they might otherwise have missed.

Romans 12:2 warns us not to let our thinking be shaped by the zeitgeist, the prevailing attitudes in the world around us in the era in which we live. The danger for us, for me, is that I would tend to interpret that as meaning I need to remain entrenched in the zeitgeist that prevailed several generations ago when I was growing up. But the verse goes on to say that I need to be transformed by the renewing of my mind to prove the will of God for me, here and now in the era in which I am living.

The world is a place of dancing shadows. As I read, listen and observe, I become aware that everyone has a longing for truth and light. Many grasp a shadow and call it light, then are devastated when that shadow dissolves or changes shape.  Those who do not give up too soon are still finding true light. Reading, listening, observing helps me understand why other people are looking for light in places where there is no light.

As a Christian, I believe the Bible and the Holy Spirit are sources of light that reveal things as they truly are. Yet, if I see, then withdraw into the wilderness  I am shirking my responsibility to point others to the place where light is to be found.

To better understand English, learn a little French

In its grammatical structure, English belongs to the Low German language family, a group of languages that developed from a common early Germanic root. The group includes Flemish, Dutch, Frisian, Afrikaans (the Dutch that is spoken in South Africa), Plautdietsch, English and Scots (not Gaelic but the variety of old English spoken by the lowland Scots, such as the poet Robbie Burns).

However, something like 40% of English words come from French. Oftentimes meanings, spelling and pronunciation have shifted to the point that the French roots are almost invisible. Take geezer for instance. This is a word that was originally applied to someone who went about in a disguise, or more simply, in the guise of someone different from himself. Since guise is a word of French origin it was originally pronounced geez. Over a few hundred years the meaning of geezer shifted to where it is now used only for an older person who has become a little different in appearance and mannerisms.

In many other words the French roots are plainly visible, though often not understood by English speakers. Take grammar for instance, which is what I want to talk about in this article.

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Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay

All English grammatical terms are French, beginning with grammar itself. Grammar comes from grammaire in French, which comes from a Greek word meaning the art of reading and writing. A noun is the name of a thing, chair for instance, and comes from the French word nom, meaning name. Most other grammatical terms are spelled the same, or almost the same, in English as in French: verbe, adverbe, adjectif or adjective, préposition, article, objet direct or indirect, conjonction, etc.

It may be helpful for English speakers to understand the roots of terms like tense and mood. Both are mispronunciations of French words, which led to misspellings, making them homonyms of English words with completely different meanings.

Tense comes from temps, which means time. Past, present and future should be called times, not tenses. Obvious, eh? But the French pronunciation of temps is something that is beyond the capacity of the vocal apparatus of someone who grew up speaking English, so it drifted over to become tense.

There are three basic past tenses: simple past, imperfect and pluperfect. Perfect is another word of French origin that we often misunderstand. It simply means finished or complete, or, in the case of people, grown up or mature. Neither in grammar nor in the Bible does it ever mean faultless. Imperfect means incomplete and refers to an action that began in the past and is not complete. Pluperfect (plus-que-parfait in French) means more than complete and refers to an action that was complete in the past before something else happened.

For instance: I had gone (pluperfect) into Tim Horton’s and was ordering (imperfect) a coffee when my cousin walked (simple past) in.

Mood comes from the French word mode and should be mode in English also. Once again, a native English speaker cannot really duplicate the sound of mode in French. Nevertheless, the grammatical term mood in English refers to a mode of expressing one’s meaning.

The indicative mood (mode) is used for an action that has actually happened, is happening, or that we know will happen. The conditional mood (mode) is used for actions that could, should or would happen if some other condition is met, had been met or will be met.

Examples: The plane will be landing in fifteen minutes (indicative).
The plane should be landing in fifteen minutes if it left Toronto on time (conditional).

And then there’s the subjunctive mood, but that is going to require a whole article of its own.

Good things come in small packages

Aphorisms give you more for your time and money than any other literary form. Only the poem comes near to it, but then most good poems either start off from an aphorism or arrive at one.

-Louis Dudek

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Image by Michael Schwarzenberger from Pixabay

A time to learn

Suddenly, almost unexpectedly, we were parents. We placed our baby into the blanket lined oval laundry basket on the seat between us and drove home.

Up to this point we had thought we knew all about how to raise a child. What we really had were strong ideas about the mistakes our parents had made and a determination not to repeat them. Well, life happens and you don’t have time to think about how you are going to react. It didn’t take long to realize we were making some of the mistakes that we had resolved to never make. But we were learning – about raising a baby and about ourselves.

The ideal age to become parents is somewhere between the stage where you feel completely helpless and the stage where you feel you have all the answers and it’s the baby’s fault if she doesn’t fit those answers.

We loved Michelle from the start. She wasn’t a difficult child and we weren’t totally incompetent parents. But the learning curve was pretty steep. “Love covers the multitudes of sins.” I believe that when a child feels loved the parent-child relationship will survive the mistakes of the parents. And we certainly did make mistakes.

When Michelle was about three months old, we noticed a bulge in her groin when she cried. We took her to the doctor who confirmed that it was a hernia. She had surgery to fix the hernia and was only in the hospital a few days. The hospital was in Carman, about 15 minutes away. I was busy at work, but Chris spent time with Michelle every day. I guess we, I, should have done more.

Chris’s birthday came March 27, when Michelle was five months old. We left her with Nancy, a friend from church, and went into Winnipeg to have dinner together. We had an enjoyable day, but when we got back we found that Nancy and Michelle had not. Every time Michelle saw Nancy’s face she began to scream. The only way Nancy could feed Michelle was to hold her so that she was facing away from her.

Several weeks later we went to the Polo Park Mall in Winnipeg to do some shopping. As soon as we walked in and Michelle saw all the people she began to scream. We went out until she settled down, then tried again, with the same result. For the rest of our day in town one of us would sit in the car with Michelle while the other shopped. After that day she seemed to trust that we weren’t going to abandon her again and there were no more incidents like that.

After a hot day in the summer we drove to Syl’s Ice Cream shop in Carman and bought milkshakes. There was some left in mine after we got home and I decided to see what Michelle would do with it. I put the container in her hands and the straw to her lips. She looked dubious. What is this thing? She started to suck on the straw and I watched the liquid rise slowly to the top. When it hit her mouth, the dubious look vanished and she began to suck on that straw in earnest. She was about nine months old.

Prejudice + Poverty ≠ Hopelessness

Some years ago I read an article in Ebony magazine written by a man who had grown up in one of the worst black tenement ghettos in Chicago.Drug dealing, crime and violence were the everyday reality and the police felt the area was too dangerous to send in individual officers to patrol.

Like almost all the other children in this ghetto, this man and his two siblings grew up in a single parent home without much money. Their mother wanted her children to escape the ghetto and the first step was not to give in to hopelessness. She introduced them to the library and to museums and did everything that she could think of that was educational and free. When they went to the store to buy something she let the children pay and then count the change to see that it was right.

All three of those children finished school, went on to university and established professional careers. And they moved their mother out of the ghetto.

The man who wrote the article was now a lawyer. He wrote about going back to visit his old neighbourhood and trying to look up the boys he had grown up with. Some were dead, others were in jail, all the rest had criminal records. None had escaped the hopelessness of the ghetto.

There are a multitude of government programs to help children escape the effects of prejudice and poverty. Billions of dollars are being spent. What are the results? A lot of well paid government jobs to administer the programs. Besides that – not much.

One mother with hope and determination made a difference. No government program can create a mother like that.

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.

Why Couldn’t I Be The Healthy One?

It was the morning after my father’s funeral and my cousin Dennis and I were sitting at a table with my mother looking at old photographs. Here was a school phot from when I was in Grade 2 in a one-room school. There were two little boys in the front row, one bright-eyed, smiling and healthy-looking, the other wearing a heavy sweater and making a feeble attempt at a smile. Impulsively, I pointed at the healthy looking boy and said “That was me!” Dennis gave me a funny look, then said, “No. That was David Harlton. This is you over here.” And he pointed at the sickly-looking boy.

Of course he was right. I think that I just wished that for one moment in my life I could believe that I was the healthy one.

I had frequent bouts of colds and flu as a child and was well-acquainted with Buckley’s White Rub and various other home remedies. I am a genuine phlegmatic; it’s not often that I don’t have some nasal congestion and a frog in my throat. My sense of balance has never been good either. I was probably about five when my parents put me on a merry-go-round, no doubt expecting I would be thrilled at the ride. My head began to whirl and my stomach to churn and they had to quickly take me off.

In later life, I realized that the “cold and flu” symptoms were almost all allergic reactions to dust, pollens and other stuff in the air. These reactions often led into sinus infections and recovery times were a matter of several weeks. This also affected my inner ear, giving me a poor sense of balance.

When i was in my twenties I discovered antihistamines and they have helped me cope with life. A little pill once a day, a corticosteroid puff in each nostril once a day, plus echinacea and/or decongestants when needed, keep me going most of the time. But I still can’t always escape those times when allergy symptoms leave me feeling wiped out. This time of year seems about the worst.

I have learned by experience that some occupations are best avoided. I’m just not the robust type who thrives on outdoor activities.

But maybe that’s alright. I’ve been coping with this for 73 years now and it hasn’t done me in yet.  Someone once said “A man show what he is by what he does with what he has.” That has inspired me to forget about what I don’t have and can’t do and to try and make the best of what I do have and can do.

I am even thankful that my frequent sicknesses facilitated my love for reading, and writing. Perhaps God has allowed these circumstances to help steer me in the direction He wanted me to go. In any case, here I am, with all the things I have experienced, observed and learned in life, and I want to use them all to His honour.

Driving home beneath the lunar eclipse

astro-87925_1280We left out friends in Alberta just after 4:00 PM to return home to Saskatchewan. We stopped for supper at Provost and when we got back out on the highway this great white moon was straight in front of us and just above the horizon.  There was a little bite out of the left size and we asked ourselves if it was waxing or waning.

We hadn’t been paying any attention to the news, or the moon phases, but here we were headed east with a long drive ahead of us. As the dark spot on the left grew larger we realized that we had a front row seat to a lunar eclipse. By the time we stopped for gas at Unity the moon had all but disappeared. The young man at the service station told us it would soon start changing colours.

We didn’t see much of that, except for a dark orange phase. It seemed to take a long time until a sliver of light appeared on the left side. We watched as it grew and by the time we reached home the eclipse was all but over. I went outside again a few minutes later and saw a brilliant, unobstructed full moon.

I understand that some people regard this event as a sign of the times, a message of impending doom. What I saw was evidence that the universe cannot be the result of random cosmic chaos. It cannot be an accident that the sun, earth and moon are precisely spaced so that the shadow of the earth just matches the circle of the moon.

This is my first post in a week and I am touched to see that people have still been looking at my blog. We have been away to Edmonton for the Inscribe Christian Writers Conference and fitted some visiting in before, during and after the conference. I will share some thoughts about that in later posts.

Discipleship

A disciple is a learner. When we are born again we are babes in Christ, there is so much for us to learn. And just like a small child, most of what we learn comes from watching what others do and trying to do the same thing. Thus, just like a small child, we are as much in need of good examples as we are of good teachers.

The apostle Paul could say: “Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample” (Philippians 3:17). Hebrews 13:7 instructs us to “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation.”

In order to learn how to walk this Christian way, we need to seek out Christians who are sound in the faith and who live that faith in everyday life, and imitate their faith and their way of putting that faith into action.

Jesus is of course our ultimate example, yet without consecrated followers of Jesus as contemporary examples, we can form ideas about how to walk that will leave us weak and handicapped.

This leads to the question of where to find such examples. It seems to me that the best examples to follow are those who are still learning themselves. Anyone who thinks he has got this Christian way down pat and has nothing more to learn is definitely not a good example to follow. The best leaders are those who are still learning to follow Jesus and who expect that there will always be more to learn. An eagerness to learn and to grow more and more like Jesus is the best description of humility that I can think of.

Going Up?

Storyshucker

This morning I saw a young guy have difficulty getting on the elevator. His overloaded cart stubbornly refused to make it through the door. I grabbed one end and helped him push it through the doors and onto the elevator. He thanked me, a random stranger to him, and we went our separate ways. He needed help. I helped. The end.

The flashback made me reel.

Almost thirty years ago I pushed a similar cart onto an elevator at my first job – or attempted to. I had difficulty with my cart until a random stranger helped me out.

When I got my first job at A.H. Robins in my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, family and friends alike applauded. How lucky I was, they said, to have been hired by the pharmaceutical company owned by such a well-known and respected Richmond family. They were correct.

I had friends and family…

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