Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Montreal

What do we live for?

What do we live for?
Is labour so lowly,
Toil so ignoble, we shrink from its stain?
Think it not – Labour
Is God-like and holy;
He that is idle is living in vain.

What do we live for?
Creation is groaning,
Her desolate places are yet to be built;
The voice of the years
Swells deeper the moaning,
As time rolls along the dark tide of guilt.

What do we live for?
The question is sounding
Low in the silence, and loud in the din,
And to each heart-ear
With warm pulses bounding,
Answers come thronging, without and within.

What do we live for?
We live to be waging
Battle, unceasing, with indwelling sin,
We live to fight on,
In conflict engaging
Temptations without, and passions within.

What do we live for?
To sow, by all waters,
Fruit-bearings seeds of deeds for all years,
To toil in the ranks
With earth’s sons and daughters,
Manfully striving with doubtings and fears.

What do we live for?
We live not to rust out,
Slothfully standing aloof from the strife;
A thousand times better,
More noble, to wear out
Battered and burned in the hot forge of life.

-Jennie E. Haight (Miss Haight was a 19th century school teacher in Montreal.)

My way is the best

I grew up in rural Saskatchewan. My mother had a huge garden, producing enough potatoes, carrots, peas, beans and other veggies to last all year. The potatoes and carrots went into large bins in our cool cellar. Other veggies, fruits and meats were canned in glass jars. She bought flour in 100 lb bags and kept us supplied with bread, buns, cinnamon rolls and pies. The garden also produced strawberries and raspberries that she turned into jam and cucumbers that she turned into pickles. No matter what the time of year, there was food on hand.

At canning time the local grocery store had peaches, pears, cherries and other fruits; at other times there might occasionally be apples or bananas, and at Christmas time there were always mandarin oranges. Usually, there was not much n the way of meat, vegetables and fruit that we didn’t have at home.

Not much has changed. Rural people have freezers now, probably two or three, the ideal is still to be as self-sufficient in food supplies as possible. That’s the right way to do things isn’t it?

Then we moved to Montréal. There we observed that many people bought fresh bread, fruits and veggies every morning for the day’s meals. That seemed wasteful to this prairie boy – until I considered things from their point of view. They were getting fresher, better tasting, more nutritious food in every meal. Very little was wasted.

Yet it cost more – or did it? What about the cost of all the canning supplies? What about the cost of the freezers, the freezer bags, the electricity? How much of what is preserved gets wasted? Sometimes things get lost in the freezer and when they are found nobody wants to eat them anymore.

Which way is really best? Well, people in rural ares still don’t have much choice but to do what they’ve always done. But in Montréal, with fresh food available in the markets year round, the ways of rural Saskatchewan don’t seem like the only right way any more. Still, old habits and attitudes are hard to shake.

I also grew up thinking that when a young woman married it was absolutely necessary that she take her husband’s family name. I was in for another shock when we moved to Montréal. In Québec my wife was once more Christine Vance. How could that be right? That’s an attack on the very fibre of society, isn’t it?

Yet all that really changed was the name on her drivers license and some other official documents. She was as much my wife as before. That got me thinking: family names are a fairly recent invention. Iceland still does not have family names that pass from one generation to the next. When Olaf Nelsen and Brunhild Carlsdottir marry, their names do not change.When they have children, they will be known as something like Sven Olafsen and Helga Olafsdottir.

There are many countries where it never has been the custom for a woman to change her name when she marries. Many Hispanic countries give both last names to children, such as a doctor we once knew in Moose Jaw, Isabelita Joven y Bienvenido. So which way is right? The Bible gives no instruction on this matter. When Rebecca married Isaac, she did not become Rebecca ben Abraham did she? Best to just follow the custom of the country where we live. We will need to make many changes when we move from one culture to another, there is no need to take on the added burden of trying to change the culture.

What constitutes marriage? Thinking of Isaac and Rebecca again, there was no wedding ceremony, no official documents sent to the department of vital statistics. We are simply told that Isaac loved his wife.

Hundreds of years ago, Roman Catholics accused Anabaptists of not being married and went from there to accusing them of all kinds of immoral practices. It was true that in many lands at that time Anabaptists were not legally married. The only legally recognized marriage was that performed by a Roman Catholic priest. Can we imagine a young couple coming to a priest in a time of persecution and saying “We’re not going to attend mass or allow you to baptize our babies, but we want you to marry us”?

Anabaptist couples still considered themselves to be married in the eyes of God and in the eyes of their congregations. According to them, the essence of marriage was their commitment to each other before God. Isn’t that still the essential point?

Exchanging vows before a minister of the gospel, with a multitude of family and friends as witnesses, is a wonderful thing. But it is not a guarantee of a marriage that will endure the stresses that will come. Changing the bride’s last name, putting a ring on her finger, creating a photographic record, none of these are guarantees either.

A deep, settled commitment to God and to one another is the one thing that will create a foundation that will enable them to overcome the challenges and disappointments that will come their way.

Outward forms may differ from culture to culture and from one era to another. The way I do things, the way my parent have taught, is not the only right way to do things. If, beneath the superficial differences of outward customs, there is a submission to the will of God, we will find the way that is safe and sure.

In praise of a good nurse

At first I was only dimly aware of a discomfort in my side as I chatted with our Sunday guests. I tried to keep up my end of the conversation as the discomfort made itself felt more keenly. Half an hour later I could no longer ignore the pain; I told our guests I was not feeling well and had to go and lie down.

Lying on the bed didn’t make the pain go away. Instead, it continued to increase. Our guests soon left and I began to walk around the house in a not fully erect position. To complicate matters, my mother had been visiting from Saskatchewan and needed to soon get to the airport to return home.

I knew that I couldn’t drive; what I really needed was for someone to drive me to the hospital. Our daughter was at home and offered to take Grandma to the airport in her car. That solved one problem. We left Grandmother and Granddaughter to look after the airport run and my wife drove me to the hospital closest to our home in Montreal.

The trip to the hospital was agony. By this time there was no position that really eased the pain; I couldn’t sit, lie down or stand upright. I found the pain bothered me a little less if I would stand in a somewhat crouched position and slowly shuffle around.

By this time I knew the pain was being caused by a kidney stone looking for an exit from my body. The nurse at admitting told me that the old people used to drink a bottle of beer at times like this. That made some sense to me, having had prior experience of the urinary system flushing properties of beer. But this was a hospital and she had no beer to offer.

I was taken to a bed and a young nurse tried to insert an IV needle into my right hand in order to hook me up to a pain killer drip. She made several unsuccessful attempts, then gave up and asked another nurse to take over. He tried several times, without success, then  he also gave up and went to talk to the head nurse.

The head nurse was a tall, broad-shouldered black lady with an air of authority. She probably could have been intimidating if she had tried. Instead, she kindly told me: “You have to hold still. If you pull your hand away every time the needle touches you, the nurses can’t get the IV in.” I hadn’t even been aware that I had been doing that, probably too keenly aware of the pain in my side. She then took my left hand, I held it still, and she inserted the needle almost painlessly. The pain killer began to flow and soon the pain in my side was gone.

The kidney stone must have left at some point also and I was able to return home later that evening. The next day, there was the tiniest pin point bruise where the needle had been inserted on my left hand. On the other hand, the right, there were shades of  black, blue, purple, yellow and green that lasted for days. A reminder that I should be thankful for a nurse who understood the problem and how to deal with this uncooperative patient.

I never did try the beer cure. I had quit drinking it some years earlier because of thee stupid stuff I did after a few beers. I realized, though, that the suggestion had some merit. Ever since I have tried to drink enough liquids every day to flush out any traces of kidney stones before they became large enough to cause such distress.

Who let these people in?

There is a fine Christian lady doctor of our acquaintance who believes Canada is letting in way too many people from Asia and Africa. She is originally from South Africa, but left when black people were allowed to form the government. She fears for Canada’s future.

She’s wrong of course. The native people of Canada tell us the problem began when English-speaking people arrived over here. The first white people to arrive, those who spoke French, respected their elders and their women. The second white people, the ones who spoke English, respected neither their elders nor their women.

I am inclined to agree. Many French-speaking fur traders married Indian wives. Some of them brought their wives and children back to Montreal, which was the headquarters of the fur trade. Others settled down in the West with their wives and children. The English-speaking fur traders, mostly Scottish and fine upstanding Presbyterians, scorned such intermingling with non-white people.

Of course, many of them had summer wives in the West, as well as a Scottish wife in Montreal. What’s a man to do after all? Neither family was to know anything of the other. And when they retired, either back to Montreal or to Scotland, their western families were conveniently forgotten.

Other people of Scottish background came to Canada from Ulster, bringing with them their fierce Orange sympathies. The Orange men had a visceral hatred of anyone who was Roman Catholic, did not speak English, or did not have white skin. They did their utmost to make governments conform to their beliefs, leading to numerous riots, the burning of the parliament buildings and military action against the Métis in the West.

When the Canadian prairies were opened for settlement, many of the immigrants came from Eastern Europe and gradually the Orange sentiments became submerged in the new reality. Thousands of Chinese men came over to help build the Canadian Pacific Railway, then stayed to run Chines restaurants in every little prairie town. Eventually, Chinese women were allowed in too. Nowadays of course, Chinese immigrants have money and that makes them much more welcome.

A few years ago a small town in Scotland discovered that there was an Indian community in Saskatchewan whose people had the same last names as they did. After some investigation and a few visits it was found that they were indeed long lost cousins. Their ancestors never would have conceived that such a thing could be cause for celebration, but it was.

Some Christian denominations attempted to transform the Indians into Christians by forcing them into residential schools. That did not work out very well. Then they tried to force the government to make the whole country more Christian through prohibition. That didn’t work either. So now we content ourselves with sending missionaries to all the heathen lands and often express regrets that many countries won’t allow missionaries in.

In more recent years, people from all these countries begin to show up in our towns and cities. We worry about all these strangers in our midst and complain that we can hardly understand them when we encounter them as store and office clerks. We are afraid that they may bring with them much of the strife and animosity that exists in their home countries.

But they left their home countries because of that strife and animosity. We claim to have something better because we know the Prince of Peace. Why not share that acquaintanceship with these newcomers?

Very young heros

Recently, in a small town in western France, a father was at home with his two little children, aged five and two, while his wife was working the late shift in a town 12 km away. Suddenly the father collapsed and fell to the floor and did not respond to the questions of the five year old boy.

The boy decided he needed to go  tell his mother. He put on a jacket, got on his bike and started down the road. He had gone three km when a farmer, on his way home from a night school art course, saw him and stopped him to see what was wrong. The boy had only his pyjamas under his jacket and flip-flops on his feet. It was dark, raining and cold, the boy was soaked and shivering. He told the farmer, “My papa is dead.”

The farmer put the boy in his car to warm up, while another passer-by phoned the emergency number. The boy did not know his family name or his address. The emergency services called the mayor of the town of 2,000. He digested the little bit of information the farmer and the boy could give and suggested an address. The ambulance went to that address and found the father, who was not dead but had suffered a heart attack, and transported him to the hospital.

The father was soon able to return home to recuperate. I trust that after such a tumultuous night the little boy got at least a day off of school.

This story reminded me of an incident that made the news while we were living in Montréal. A young mother had a severe type of diabetes and worried what would happen if she went into a diabetic coma while her husband was at work. She tried to teach her three year old daughter how to dial 911, but the little girl seemed to think it was a game and the mother gave up, thinking the child was just too young.

One day it happened – the mother slipped into a diabetic coma. The little girl went to the phone, picked up the receiver and pushed 9-1-1. When someone answered she said “Maman bobo” (French for “Mommy owie”), put down the phone and opened the door to wait for help to arrive.

In short order all the king’s horses and all the king’s men were there (in this case a fire rescue truck, then an ambulance and then a police car). With all these people trained in emergency health care the mother was soon brought out of the coma and then taken to hospital to be checked out. The husband arrived at the hospital to find that all was now well and he was soon able to take his family home.

Undoubtedly, these two little children saved the lives of their parents. Children should be taught their full name, their street address and the number to call in case of emergency (911 in North America, 112 in Europe). Never underestimate a child’s ability to help.

Why wait for spring – do it now

A few days ago my wife and I got to talking about a catchy advertising jingle of fifty years ago that was heard incessantly at this time of year. My wife even remembered all the words and sang them. It was the theme song of a government of Canada campaign to help building trades people keep working year round.  It started with promoting the idea of homeowners doing interior renovations during the cold months, when carpenters, plumbers and electricians were readily available.

The idea of winter construction work took off from there. Nowadays the construction of new houses hardly slows down in wintertime. With the use of plastic sheeting and construction heaters it is even possible to pour concrete in sub-zero temperatures. The innovative campaign that began 50 years ago has been a resounding success, there is hardly a blip in employment for people in the construction trades during the winter months.

On another front there is still a need for some innovative thinking. It is said of Saskatchewan cities that they have the world’s most efficient snow removal system: it’s called spring.

It might have been better if my wife and I had never lived in Montreal. But we did spend four years in that city, which is reputed to receive the heaviest annual snowfall of any major city in the world. And they knew what to do when it snowed. It took an average of four days after a major snowfall to have all the snow cleaned up – major traffic routes, commercial streets, residential streets, sidewalks included. City crews and subcontractors worked in shifts around the clock; small tracked snowplows pushed snow from the sidewalks into the street, the snow in the street was plowed into a windrow down the centre of the street and then a loader would come along and blow the snow into a steady stream of trucks who hauled it to snow dumps. It was a marvel to watch the coordination and thoroughness of the job.

We had four inches of snow a week and a half ago. My wife and I were in Saskatoon four days later and the main thoroughfares had been cleaned fairly well. That was it, and the city seemed to feel they were doing a better job than in other years. Residential areas will probably not see a snowplow all winter. For most streets of the city the snow is left to be compressed by traffic into a rutted ice pack.

There was another eight inches of snow last Saturday and I have a doctor’s appointment in the city tomorrow morning. That will no doubt further my education on how to drive on icy, rutted streets.

I’m all in favour of reviving the old jingle and applying it to snow removal: Why wait for spring  – do it now!

Ce sont des choses qu’arrivent

We left home in the afternoon, foolishly leaving the curtains wide open to announce our absence to all the world, attended a church service an hour outside of Montréal, then drove a lady to her home on the west side of the city. It was after midnight when we returned home. The first hint of trouble was when we drove in our driveway and the motion sensor light did not come on.

Our computer, printer and fax machine were gone, some pieces no doubt carried inside the pillow case that was missing from our bed. The culprit had come in through a basement window at the back, unscrewed the bulb in the light above the outside door and made off with the things that could be quickly sold. The police came, took down all the information, and said “Ce sont des choses qu’arrivent.” (These things happen.)

Not a very encouraging message, but we understood that the likelihood of ever seeing our stolen goods again was about zero. Even if the police could have found the culprit, he would have sold the stolen items almost immediately. If the police could have located the stolen items, we had no way to identify them as ours. We didn’t even have the serial numbers written down anywhere.

A police officer once told us that he and his wife had bought a recliner for his wife’s mother. The store delivered it to the lobby of her apartment building where it promptly disappeared. They checked all the apartments, found the recliner in one of them and the man said “Prove it!” With no eyewitnesses and no way of proving that this was the chair they had bought, their hands were tied.

It is really amazing how many crimes the police are able to solve under such circumstances. We can make their job easier by engraving our name in some inconspicuous location on valuable items and by keeping a list of model and serial numbers. More experienced criminals know this and will remove labels and tags and sand off any identifying marks.

Murphy, whoever he was, spoke the truth when he said “If something can go wrong, it will.” Nothing is completely idiot proof, including our sophisticated electronic devices. My printer would not print this morning. It worked fine yesterday, but something changed overnight. I did all kinds of troubleshooting and found nothing wrong. I finally deleted the printer driver from my computer and reinstalled it. That worked. My best guess is that the anti-virus program renewed the computer firewall and blocked access to the home office network. Reinstalling the program renewed the exception status for the printer.

There is a skunk who wants to make his home under our mobile home and keeps digging his way in under the skirting. There is also a stray cat who thinks he belongs in our home. Every time a new hole appears he crawls under the trailer, squeezes through the opening where the water pipes come up and comes out through the cabinets in our main bathroom. He’s really quite a nice cat, except for this obnoxious drive to find a way in. We already have three house cats. Is there anyone within driving distance who wants a cat?

After fixing the printer problem, I went out and hauled more wheelbarrow loads of gravel to try and make it more difficult to burrow under the skirting. There’s no guarantee it will work, my best hope is that the skunk will get frustrated and go somewhere else. We had this problem last year and tried a skunk trap, didn’t work. I am using an animal repellant, but I’m not sure the skunk or the cat have read the label and understand what it is. Ce sont des choses qu’arrivent.

Clinging to the rock

The majestic elm tree was a landmark along the Autoroute des Cantons de l’Est south of Montréal. It stood straight and tall on the east side of the highway, near St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, but it looked the same in summer as in winter. Like most North American elms it had fallen victim to Dutch Elm disease and had been dead for many years.

It must have been eighteen years ago that a Montréal artist decided to do something about it. He collected as many discarded green plastic buckets as he could and cut out hundreds of elm leaves, then rented a crane with a man basket and fastened the leaves to the branches of the elm tree. It did improve the appearance of the tree; the leaves may not have been exactly the right colour, but they caught your eye as you sped by on the freeway.

Two months later, a strong wind came up in the night and the tree fell. Perhaps the leaves hastened the fall by catching the wind, yet we all knew the tree was rotten on the inside by now.

The oldest trees in Canada are the eastern white cedars along the cliffs of the Niagara Escarpment in Ontario. These cedars are neither big nor beautiful, yet they cling to the rocky cliff and have survived extreme weather variations for an astoundingly long time. Many of them have very little bark left due to blasts from wind borne sand and the effects of freezing and thawing, rain, hail and snow, yet show no sign of aging or rot and produce seeds every year. Some of them are more than one thousand years old, still healthy and drawing nutrients and moisture from little crevices in the rock. The oldest is estimated to be almost 1900 years old.

Which tree does our Christian life resemble? Are we trying to hold up an artificial resemblance of Christian life for others to see, with no spiritual life inside? Or are we battered and worn yet still surviving the battles, clinging to the rock and sustained by roots growing deep into the living water Christ provides?

What Do We Live For?

What do we live for?
Is labour so lowly,
Toil so ignoble, we shrink from its stain?
Think it not – labour
Is God-like and holy;
He that is idle is living in vain.

What do we live for?
Creation is groaning,
Her desolate places are yet to be built;
The voice of the years
Swells deeper the moaning,
As time rolls along the dark tide of guilt.

What do we live for?
The question is sounding
Low in the silence, and loud in the din,
And to each heart-ear
With warm pulses bounding,
Answers come thronging, without and within.

What do we live for?
We live to be waging
Battle, unceasing, with indwelling sin;
We live to fight on,
In conflict engaging
Temptations without, and passions within.

What do we live for?
To sow, by all waters,
Fruit-bearing seeds of deeds for all years;
To toil in the ranks
With earth’s sons and daughters,
Manfully striving with doubtings and fears.

What do we live for?
We live not to rust out,
Slothfully standing aloof from the strife;
A thousand times better,
More noble, to wear out,
Battered and burned in the hot forge of life.

-written over 100 years ago by Jennie E. Haight, a Montréal school teacher

Fur traders and Indians

The fur trade, in which millions of Canadian beaver gave their lives to provide felt top hats for European gentlemen, was the major impetus for the exploration and settlement of Canada.  The fur traders employed by the Hudson’s Bay Company were of French and Scottish origin.  They fanned out across the country, establishing trading posts to buy furs from the Indians in exchange for tools, weapons and other items.  One by-product of the fur trade was the maps and descriptions of the country which were sent back to headquarters and provided information for future settlement.

The fur traders were based out of Montreal, but  spent years at a time in the Canadian west where white women were loathe to go.  As a result, most of them took Indian wives.  There was a major difference in the approach of the French and the Scots.  When a French man took an Indian wife he considered himself to be married for life.  He would either settle down in the west permanently, or take his Indian wife and their children back to Montreal with him.  A  Scottish man generally had a Scottish wife in Montreal and an Indian country wife.  When he retired, he abandoned his family in the west and returned to his Scottish wife and family in Montreal.

The descendents of the French-Indian marriages became known as Métis and were themselves a potent force in the exploration and settlement of the Canadian West and established the first farming communities.

Some descendents of Scottish-Indian liaisons blended into Métis society, but most of them adopted the  Indian identity of their mothers.  Thus there are numerous Indian people today with names like McKay, McLaren, McDonald, etc.

A few years ago, folks in a small Scottish town discovered that there was an Indian band in Saskatchewan with the same last names as themselves.  After a little investigation, it was established that they were in fact related.  The Scottish fur traders who had given their names to these Indian families had come from this village in Scotland.  Thus began a round of visits where some of the Scots came to visit their long-lost Canadian cousins and the Canadians visited their Scottish cousins and were welcomed with much fanfare.

One thing that was never mentioned in news stories about this reunion is that there would be another group of cousins in Eastern Canada who most likely do not wish to be made aware of their Indian cousins in Saskatchewan.

The Indian people of Canada are known today as the First Nations.   There is a saying among them that goes like this: “The first white men who came respected our elders and our women; the second white men who came had no respect for either our elders or our women.”  Need I explain that the first white men were the French and the second white men were the Scots?

Yet when I was growing up, the general attitude was that all people of French background were good for nothing half-breeds and the Scots were all fine, upstanding Christian people.  Of such perceptions are prejudices born.

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