Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: learning

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.

Changes, changes

I was maybe eight years old when Dad bought me a bicycle. He knew that he was only going to be able to buy me one bike, so he bought a sturdy full size bike and fastened blocks  to the pedals so I could reach them. It was too big for me to mount in the ordinary way; I would lean the bike up against the corral fence, climb the wooden rails to get on and go riding around the farmyard, and before long down the road. When I was done, I would ride my bike back the the corral fence, stop and get down the way I got up. I had my share of spills and scrapes with that bike, but before long I was riding no hands. I put many miles on that bike, rode it until I got a driver’s license.

Now I have a 21 speed mountain bike, it needs to be in the lowest gear to get up a small hill, but I can get up to the top gear going down. Both hands stay on the handlebars, and I wear a helmet.

This morning, Michelle and the grandchildren came to clean up Grandma’s garden plot. Grandma isn’t up to doing much gardening this year, but the weeds grow anyway. The first thing Evan, three and ond half years old, said was “I can ride my bike.” He just started riding his little two wheeler last night and brought it along to demonstrate. He hasn’t really figured out how to stop, but doesn’t go very fast yet anyway. And he’s pretty close to the ground if he does fall. This is just the beginning, pretty soon he’ll leave Grandpa in the dust.

You may have noticed a couple of changes in this blog. It is now simply flatlanderfaith.com. I have registered that as a domain name and wordpress is now dropped from the web address. It is still hosted by WordPress and works exactly the same as before.

I have also added buttons for a bunch of social media apps, which appear at the bottom of each post under the share button. I don’t use any of those apps myself, except LinkedIn, and have no plans to open accounts with any of them. My thinking is that there may be folks out there who would appreciate having those buttons to share content from this blog. We’ll see what happens.

LinkeIn is a different kind of beast, a business networking app. I belong to several LinkedIn discussion groups dealing with bookkeeping, taxes and writing and find them informative.

There is also a button for Pocket. This is not a media sharing app. It originally went by the name of Read it Later, and that describes what it is all about. I have the Pocket symbol on my web browser and whenever I see an interesting article on the web and don’t want to take the time to read it right away, I hit the pocket button and it puts  the content into my Pocket for reading at a more convenient time. It is linked to my Android phone, so I can read it there if I wish.

I’m still not quite willing to cough up the $30.00 per year to make this an ad free site. WordPress sells ads in order to provide free hosting. I don’t know how often ads appear on my blog, I don’t see them on my computer. If anyone is seeing ads that they find objectionable, please let me know. That could make it a little easier for me to spend the money.

 

Not how it’s supposed to work

Someone once described education as a process whereby information gets from the teacher’s outline into the student’s notebook without passing through the mind of either.  -Douglas Wilson

Getting the right message out

As you may have noticed, I haven’t posted anything for a few days. Part of the reason is that we had an overcast weekend with rain and snow and the dish on our roof lost contact with the satellite. We live on a rural acreage in Saskatchewan where this is the only high-speed internet available. Most of the time it works well, but not all the time. And yes, I did mention snow. We had 5 cm (two inches) this morning, a record for this date. It’s all gone now, but snow on top of rain-soaked gravel roads made driving a little tricky for a few hours.

In addition, we were gone all day Saturday to a Christian Writers Conference. My wife was on the organizing committee and was busy keeping things running smoothly. I just sat back and enjoyed the workshops. Dr. Kevin Dautremont presented two workshops, one on character development and one on dialogue. I sat in on both and thought they were excellent. Earlier today I re-blogged Kevin’s thoughts on the conference.

Yesterday we attended church in the morning and evening and in between had dinner at the home of our daughter and son-in-law. It was our son-in-law’s birthday. He is now half my age: Ken is 36, I am 72.

Back to the subject of writing, I think many beginning writers have the idea they can make their writing more interesting by working in interesting new words and by finding innovative new ways to say “he said.” Both of these techniques draw attention to the writer and detract from the message or story that is being told.

Ogden Nash had fun playing with words, using them in new and unusual ways. I doubt that anyone else can match what he has done. Does the English-speaking world really need more than one Ogden Nash? For those of us who call ourselves Christian writers it is especially important to keep ourselves hidden from view as much as possible so that God’s message may appear.

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

A tale of two nations

How Children Have Taken Power is the title of a book recently published by Swedish psychiatrist David Eberhard. I am going by a story in a French language newspaper so the title is my English translation of the French translation of the Swedish title of the book.  An English edition will be out later this year.

Sweden is the supposed earthly paradise for families: parents get lengthy maternity & paternity leaves, day care is available for all children, social benefits are such that Sweden has one of the highest bithrates in Europe. But they have extended their social democratic principles to the point of thinking of the family as a democracy, with children having equal rights with the parents. In effect, this gives them greater rights than the parents. Punishment is unheard of. One father sent his son to his room for twenty minutes – he was taken to court.

The result is a nation of rude, demanding and insolent children. The children decide what the family will eat for supper, where they will go on vacation, when they will go to bed, what they will wear.

Meanwhile, Pamela Druckerman reports that in France the children are respectful, well-behaved and eat whatever is set before them. Pamela Druckerman is an American, living in Paris with her English husband and their three children. Her latest book, Bébé Day by Day*, summarizes in 100 short notes the basic rules of the French parenting method. The French believe the best way to give children the resilience to cope with life is to teach them from the very first to acknowledge the existence of others and the needs of others.

French parents talk to their babies right from the first and explain things to them. When guests come into the home, they will greet the children, even the very young, and those who are old enough to talk are expected to say “bonjour” to the guests. When the guests leave, the children say “au revoir.” While the parents are visiting the children are expected to play by themselves and not interrupt, but both guests and children need to acknowledge each others existence whaen arriving and when leaving.

French mothers have complete control of the menu, the children are exposed to a wide variety of foods and are expected to taste everything on their plates. There is no pressure to clean off their plates. French mothers know a cild may need to try a new food a dozen or more times until they learn to enjoy it. So this new food will turn up on their plates every so often and they will eventually eat it all. Snack time is in mid-afternoon. No sweets are eaten at any other time. This is the French way and children do not beg and whine, because they know it will do no good.

French parents have no intention of raising an “enfant roi,” a child king. Children are cherished and respected, and they are taught to respect others. French parents say emphatically “c’est moi qui décide,” I am the one who decides. It is expected in France that parents will often have to say no to their children. Life is like that.

In Sweden, 54.9% of marriages end in divorce, the highest rate in the world. In France 38.3% of marriges end in divorce. Do you suppose it is easier for parents to live in harmony when theyare living in harmony with their children? Pamela Druckerman notes that French presidents have developed a reputation for cheating on their wives, but there is not much of this among ordinary french people.

Pamela Druckerman’s book is a book for adults, there is no off-colour langage or graphic details but she does speak frankly about the relationship between husband and wife. It is a small book; good parenting is not complicated. I think North American parents knew a lot more about parenting a few generations back, but we have lost it in all the conflicting psychological advice. This book might help some parents find their way out of the fog.

*Bébé Day by Day, © Pamela Druckerman, 2013. Published by The Penguin Press.

Seasons

Seventeen years ago we travelled south at Easter time. The destination was Arkansas where our daughter was teaching school and Deborah, one of our daughters friends, was with us. As we drove south through Arkansas, we noticed numerous mounds of dirt in the fields. After reaching our destination, we asked about those mounds.

“Oh, they’re probably crawdads or fire ants,” was the response.

Deborah turned to us and quietly said, “You couldn’t pay me to live in this country!”

So, yes, we are thankful to live in a country with a winter season that keeps fire ants, crawdads and Burmese pythons at bay. Nevertheless, we are now entering the fifth month of winter and are more than ready for a change of seasons.

This past weekend has been the coldest of our winter so far. As we drove home from Saskatoon late Friday evening my wife and I were reminiscing about the early years of our marriage. We had a 1972 Toyota Corolla, which was a very small car at the time, and in really cold weather we had a choice of defrosting the windshield so we could see where we were going, or keeping ourselves warm. Obviously the choice was to dress very warmly. We didn’t buy another Asian car until we bought the Hyundai we are now driving. Halfway home I began turning the heat down.

It is a little milder today and the forecast is for above zero temperatures for next weekend. (For US readers, zero is the freezing point on the Celsius scale.) Our son-in-law is hoping for a couple more cold weeks to finish the gravel haul job he is working on. As soon as the frost starts coming out of the ground, there are weight limits on our roads to minimize damage. He was fixing a water main leak in a nearby town a few weeks ago and found the frost went down more than two metres (seven feet). The same town has another one for him to work on today.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. . . a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”

I turned down a job offer this morning, a part time job during the tax season that would have brought in a couple thousand dollars that we could really use. I decided that I am in a season of my life where it would be difficult to manage this and keep up with my regular clientele. I still put in long days at times, but if I do too much of that I need a day or two to recuperate. There is not a lot of useful work that gets done on those days.

I feel an urge too that this is my season to write. If I have learned anything of value in my life’s journey, it is time to communicate it to those who are younger. I am still learning, if I ever come to a time that I can no longer learn, then I will no longer be able to write, either. One of the things that I am trying to learn is how to write in a manner that will engage the reader.

“The times, they are a-changing.” When spring comes we will be enthused about getting outside and looking after the yard work. There will be picnics and bonfires and all kinds of things going on outdoors. The lengthening hours of sunshine are already stirring the beginnings of spring fever.

On a spiritual level, the world around us is becoming a much colder place. The gospel has the power to warm and change the hearts and lives of people out there in the cold. But, and this is a big but, those people are unlikely to see any benefit in the gospel message if we keep telling it in the same way we have been telling it for the past fifty years. We dare not change the message, yet we must change the way we package it. We are in a different season now. This is not a time to be discouraged and let our hands hang down, it is a time to be working to direct the message at the real needs of this new season.

Why am I doing this?

I have been doing some reflecting of late. And not much writing.  I’m happy to see people are still looking at my blog, even if I haven’t posted anything since Monday.

Why am I writing? What purpose is there in wanting to communicate clearly, either verbally or in writing?

I attended a Toastmasters meeting Wednesday evening and I think I found part of my answer. There was a young lady there who had suffered a stroke at birth and multiple seizures after birth. The doctors told her parents that she had irreparable brain damage and would never leave the hospital, or if by some miracle she did survive long enough to go home, she would never walk or talk.

This young lady not only learned to walk, she became a runner, competing in Special Olympics events. Wednesday evening she read her speech, but she read clearly, without mispronouncing or stumbling over any word. She wrote the talk herself and made only a passing reference to her disability. Her point was that we are all called to  do our part in fulfilling the Great Commission.

We are acquainted with the family; her mother has written a book about Amee.  I am impressed at how she is continuing to grow and learn and has become an articulate and bubbly young lady.

So here I am, an old geezer with a lifetime of experience outside and inside Evangelical Christian circles.  And a head packed full of stories and information that I’ve lived, observed, heard or read. It seems to me that I see things outside that circle in a way that many people inside just do not comprehend. And I see things from the inside that are just not getting through to those on the outside.

I am also someone from a non-Anabaptist background who has chosen the Anabaptist faith as the truest expression of the Christian faith. It seems to me that we all – Anabaptists, Evangelicals and non-Christians – live in our hermetically-sealed bubbles, passing each other on the street, but unable to speak intelligible words to each other.

The things we say make sense to us and others who live in the same kind of bubble that we are in.  Those words may be misunderstood by others; they may even sound like nonsense. We sense that we are not getting through, so we say the same words, just a little louder. That doesn’t work either and we begin to suspect that the others are just not able to think very clearly.

We really need to get out of our bubble and connect with people. We don’t need a new gospel in hipster language, but we may need to drop some of the expressions that have been repeated over and over through the past two generations. I don’t think they really worked two generations ago and they certainly don’t now. Nor do we need more important sounding words. The deepest truths are communicated with simple words. But to really communicate, we have to become vulnerable, drop our masks, overcome our fears and become real people to those we meet.

Perhaps I have as much of a handicap as Amee. She has spent her life up to now in a battle to overcome her disabilities – and she is succeeding.  What’s stopping me?

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