Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: learning

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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How adaptable can a flatlander be?

I am a flatlander, a native of Saskatchewan. The nickname refers to the flatness of our landscape, but there are other aspects of our character where the term applies too. I like people to just say what they have to say, with no long descriptive or flowery preambles. Sir or Ma’am sound artificial and phony to me. If anyone tries to tell me something in a round about way, only hinting at the message they want to get across, I’m not going to get the message. I don’t have the code book, it’s not part of my genetic or cultural heritage. Most likely, I won’t even catch on that they are hinting at something.

Now, our landscape is not completely flat and barren. I grew up, and now live once again, in the part of Saskatchewan that is called short grass prairie. The grass never grows very high, neither do the trees. But there is a lot going on that doesn’t meet the eye of someone speeding through on the freeway. An abundance of wildflowers grow on the seemingly barren prairies, though mostly close to the ground. There is abundant wildlife too, and I don’t just mean the mosquitoes.

In like manner, we may not appear to have very polished manners, but we are considerate and try to take care of one other. Like the the time I was riding a city bus in Moose Jaw and the driver saw in his mirror that someone had come to the bus stop just after he had passed it. He stopped the bus, backed up and let the man on. They then traded friendly insults and the man sat down and began to visit with the driver. You see, it just wouldn’t do to make a man feel that you had gone out of your way to help him, even though that is exactly what you did.

How does it work then when a flatlander moves to a place where the culture is altogether different? Well, we can adjust, but there are so many little things that are so different that it may take a long time. The first step is learning that other people’s minds are not wired like mine. What seems normal to them and what seems normal to me, are so different that it takes quite a while to even catch on that I’m giving people an altogether different impression than what I thought.

While in Scott’s Parable Christian Store on Tuesday I found a book that I wish I could have read more than twenty years ago, before we moved to Québec. Unfortunately, it wasn’t even written then.

The book is Foreign to Familiar by Sarah A Lanier and it is a primer in understanding the differences between cultures. It does not give an in-depth look at all the different cultures, just enough information that one will know that there are differences and be alert to the possibility that one is not picking up, or sending, the right signals. It would be good to have that much understanding in advance, so that one does not blunder on, assuming that the other person is the problem.

Ms. Lanier differentiates between cold-climate cultures and hot-climate cultures. Evidently I belong to a cold-climate culture. She also speaks of high-context and low-context cultures. High context cultures are those with an abundance of unspoken rules governing behaviour. I don’t think that’s me. I would highly recommend this book for anyone planning a mission term, also for those thinking of any kind of outreach to immigrants in our local communities.

Once again, the book is Foreign to Familiar, the author is Sarah A. Lanier, and it is published bu McDougal Publishing of Hagerstown, Maryland. The ISBN is 1-58158-022-3. It’s not a big book, not very expensive, a quick read. But it will probably need to be read more than once. It could be life-changing.

Marriage – is it still a good idea?

Time was when almost all young people saw marriage in their future, and expected that marriage to be a lifelong arrangement. Times have changed — most young people today are wary of committing to a long term arrangement. Some may long for a more stable relationship than the one they are now in, but doubt that they can find a partner with the same longing. And then there are those who do not want any kind of arrangement with someone of the opposite sex.

Pat of the reason for the change is that a large portion of the young people growing up today are not acquainted with anyone who is in a stable and happy marriage relationship. They don’t even know that such a thing is possible.

My wife once worked with a young lady whose marriage had fallen apart. When she married two years earlier she had meant every word of the vows she made and looked forward to that ceremony being a stepping stone into a blissful future. The young man may have made promises, but at the dance after the reception he disappeared for awhile with another young lady. On his wedding night! Evidently the promises meant nothing to him. Can you even call that a marriage? That may be an extreme example, but it reveals an all too common attitude among many who go through a marriage ceremony. Is it any wonder that young ladies are wary of young men making promises?

But what are the alternatives? A young lady from a good home moves in with a decent, considerate young man. Both expect this to be a long term arrangement. All goes well until the young lady announces that a baby is on the way. The young man is just not ready for that level of responsibility and he disappears. Commitment and responsibility do not seem to be part of the vocabulary of a large part of today’s society.

Making a marriage work is not easy.  Marriage infringes on our freedom; we can’t both do everything we want, the way we want. Some of the things that once seemed important to me are simply not compatible with this new reality of couplehood (not really a word, but it says what I want to say).

If we enter into marrige thinking only of the short term benefits, it won’t take long until it looks like there may be more benefits on the other side of the fence. It’s not fashionable today to think of the long term, but we’re all going to get old and then we might begin to realize that we have missed something. My wife and I will celebrate our 44th anniversary in two days. We have lived through many trying times that could have torn us apart, but now the victories won in those struggles bind us together.

We are fortunate to have united with a body of Christian believers with a strong belief in the sanctity of marriage. A few marriage breakdowns do occur in this church, there are a few homes that could be labelled dysfunctional. But the success rate of marriages among our brothers and sisters in this church is astoundingly better than in the society around us. There is strength to be found in such a setting where the principles of a happy home are consistlently taught and lived.

It may happen that someone witnesses the happiness of our homes and joins the church, hoping to find this same happiness. Hoping and wishing aren’t enough. The adjustments are often painful. The former self-centred and shortsighted priorities have to be abandoned and replaced by new priorities, seeking the happiness of another person rather than my own and keeping my eyes on the long-term goal.

As the years go by, I am more and more certain that marriage is still the best arrangement for the happiness of mankind and womankind. After all, it was instituted by our Creator, who lnows better than we do where to find true happiness. When the children have grown up and married and are now trying to teach their children the things that we hardly knew how to teach them, the picture looks sweeter and sweeter,

How did I get so old, so fast?

elderly_mancaneMy cousin Ted turned 76 today. No, that’s not Ted in the picture. It looks more like me, except that I can still stand up straight and I’m not nearly that skinny — yet. I’m working on it, but it’s coming pretty slow.

There was a day when I believed that anyone past thirty was over the hill. In the spring of 1971 I was the manager of a country grain elevator in Manitoba. A semi load of bagged fertilizer pulled in just after supper one day; I think the driver was about 20. We got to work and unloaded that trailer, then had a beer before he left. I remember him remarking that he would have to tell his friends that he had met this 29 year old guy and he still seemed young! I remember it like it was yesterday. After all, it was only… let me see now… it was only 43 years ago.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge in those years — I still have more hair than the guy in the picture, but it’s white now. So is my beard. And I don’t drink beer anymore. You can read my last post to find out why.

I’m still 3 1/2 years younger than Ted, but that doesn’t seem like much anymore. We’re both past the best before date of threescore years and ten mentioned by Moses.However, it took Moses until he was eighty to dsicover his calling in life, perhaps there is still work for us old folks to do in God’s kingdom. At any rate there are still things to learn, even at this age.

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