Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: prairie

A flatlander looks at life

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I am a native of the Canadian prairies, like the young fella gazing across the plains in the picture above. We call him a gopher, technically he is a Richardson ground squirrel. When the government asked people to vote for an animal emblem for Saskatchewan, some folks suggested the gopher. He is kinda pesky, kinda cute and you just can’t get rid of him, much like the people of this province. For all folks try to get him out of the way, he just keeps popping up again.

The majority vote was for the white-tailed deer. He is just as picturesque and just as pesky. I’m sorry if I offend you Bambi lovers out there, but we look upon the deer as large cloven-hoofed rodents. Try to plant trees, bushes or a garden in rural Saskatchewan and you’ll soon find out why we are not so fond of deer.

I have travelled a little farther afield than the gopher. For the first ten years of my life my family liven in the hill country of southwestern Saskatchewan, the Missouri Coteau. Then we moved into the flatlands, where, when you left one town you could see the wooden grain elevator in the next town 15 km away.

There is more to the flatlands than meets the eye of someone just passing through. There are ravines and coulees meandering through this country, some of the coulees are a mile wide and have a little river wandering along the bottom.

In my adult years I have done farm work, managed one of those wooden country elevators, worked as a postal clerk and in quality assurance in an auto parts factory. In the process, I have lived in five provinces of Canada.

My father was descended from English Puritans who settled in Massachusetts in 1638. His mother was descended from a man who had been a swordsman in Napoleon’s army. My mother was of Dutch-German ancestry, her grandparents came to Manitoba from Ukraine in 1874. I figure my mixed ancestry makes me pretty much a typical Canadian. My father’s mother spoke French, but he never learned more than a few words. I have learned quite a bit more than that.

My parents were both religious people who were disappointed with the churches of their parents. They both longed for something better, without knowing exactly what that would look like. I didn’t know what I was looking for either when I became an adult, but my wife and I went on searching in a way that seemed haphazard, until we found a place where we could worship God in spirit and in truth and have fellowship with other believers.

We can see for miles and miles out here on the prairies. Perhaps that gives us a little different perspective than folks who spend most of their life in one little valley. Perhaps the variety of my life experiences and my spiritual searching give me a little different perspective than folks who have never ventured far from the beliefs their parents taught them.

This blog is an attempt to give you a few glimpses of the way I see things. Not everyone will agree with me and that’s OK. I just want to do my best to let you see what I see so you won’t think that I’m a little touched in the head for not seeing things exactly as you do.

(Note to readers: this is the first draft of the introduction to a book I am compiling from some of the posts that have appeared on this blog.)

Christ is in all

The following question came in my email this morning and I decided to post it and give my thoughts.  Feel free to join the conversation.

I enjoy many of your inspiring blogs and this morning read “A matter of the heart, not the head.” You wrote: “ …and there did not seem to be a closeness, a genuine trust and fellowship among the members.”

I understand the line and have noticed or experienced this too; but my question is: what specifically brings us to “closeness, genuine trust and fellowship” ? Not to downplay faith in Christ, I am thinking that a common practiced tradition and custom also play a part of the closeness you refer to. Can such closeness and fellowship exist without a common tradition ? What do you think ? H. W.

I believe that “a common practiced tradition and custom” can lead to a form of closeness.  Just not the kind we were looking for. Some of the churches we visited did have the form of unity produced by a common ethnic and religious heritage, but as I wrote “it was never clear to us how many of them might actually have a relationship with the Shepherd.”

The apostle Paul described the church this way in Colossians 3:11: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all.” Let me unpack that statement. Jews were those people who believed themselves to be God’s people by virtue of their family heritage. Greeks were everybody else in the parts of Asia and Europe mentioned in the New Testament. The circumcised were the adherents to the Jewish traditions, the uncircumcised were those for whom those traditions had no meaning. Barbarians were people who spoke an unfamiliar language. Scythians were people whose culture and customs seemed bizarre to the Jews and Greeks. Bond and free refers to social status. Paul is saying that none of those things mattered; the one thing that matters is whether one has a relationship with Jesus Christ.  “Christ in you, the hope of glory” Colossians 1:27.

That must still be the grounds of Christian fellowship. My wife and I have belonged to the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite for 41 years. A majority of the members are of one ethnic heritage. We are not. It doesn’t matter. Mennonite in our day has been relegated in many people’s minds to an ethnic culture. I am not part of that culture, much of it is incomprehensible to me, but I am a Mennonite by faith.

By culture and tradition I still feel like a boy out of a W. O. Mitchell story. I listened to Jake and the Kid on radio when I was young, a few years later I read Who Has Seen the Wind. I felt like I was the kid in  those stories, I identified fully with this boy  experiencing the wind in the grass, watching people around him cope with life, feeling part of the prairie.

God has called me, I have embraced the faith once delivered to the saints, I enjoy fellowship with brothers and sisters of this faith, whatever their background. But I am not a Mennonite by birth, language, culture or tradition. In those things I am a kid from the prairie, this is my land, these are my people.

You don’t know the wind

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Image by ptra from Pixabay

The title comes from a line in an art book published 25 years ago, titled If you’re not from the prairie . . . The art is by Henry Ripplinger and the poetic text by David Bouchard. Together they evoke childhood in rural Saskatchewan just as I remember it.

Another line in the book says “You’ve never heard grass.” People in other parts of the country know the sound of the wind in the trees. We don’t have many of those on the prairie. I remember warm summer days in my boyhood when I would walk through the pasture and hear the sound of the grass swaying in the gentle breeze.

Another favourite Saskatchewan book is the novel Who has Seen the Wind, byW. O. Mitchell. The description of the boy listening to the sounds made by the wind in the grass is picture perfect, a beautiful example of showing, not telling.

I have travelled across Canada, seen the Pacific in the west and the Atlantic in the east. I have lived in half of the provinces and I know there is wind everywhere. Yet there is something about the wind that blows across the flat prairie with few trees to impede it that speaks to me in a way that tells me that here I am at home.

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Image by sspiehs3 from Pixabay

We don’t enjoy it when the wind blows at gale force for several days. But then, we don’t enjoy it either when it is a hot summer day, the mosquitos are around us like a cloud and there is not even a little breeze to blow them away. For better or for worse, the wind is part of what it means to be a flatlander.

  • If you’re not from the prairie . . . , © 1993 by David Bouchard and Henry Ripplinger. Published by Raincoast Books, Vancouver.
  • Who has seen the wind, © 1947 by W. O. Mitchell. Published by Macmillan of Canada, Toronto.

A refuge from the storm

Abner slipped out of his bedroom and into the spare bedroom. Even there the angry voice of Papa Zedner disturbed his attempts to read. Abner knew that his father wasn’t angry with him, but he knew from experience it was best to avoid giving opportunity for it to be directed at him. Papa Zedner’s anger was like the prairie winds, all one could do was give it time to blow itself out.

The best thing would be to explore the new farm. Abner slipped out the door and walked to the barn and the gate to the corral. He was going to open the wooden gate, then saw that one side of the gate was fastened to a heavy post, leaving a gap between the post and the corner of the barn just big enough for an eleven-year-old boy to slip through if he turned sideways.

Abner walked through the corral and the open gate that led to the pasture. He hadn’t gone far when a tiny bird appeared in front of him; it’s wings a blur. Abner stopped; the bird stopped. For a moment they eyed each other, almost nose to nose, then the bird zipped away. The storm of the house vanished with the bird and Abner stepped forward to discover what wonders might lie before him.

He had been walking beside the ravine that ran through their yard and now that ravine merged with another that came from the town. Buffalo berry bushes grew on the hill sides of the ravines, with wild roses scattered among them. He walked across the bottom of the ravine and up the steep slope on the other side. The shrill whistle of a gopher alerted him to the gopher mounds at the top of the hill. The gophers were gone, warned by the whistle that an intruder was present.

A little farther along on the flat pasture land above the ravine he saw a group of circular depressions in the ground. Tipi rings! What else could they be? He had noticed that part of the ravine bank was almost vertical.  That hadn’t seemed significant before, but now it became a buffalo jump and scenes of the buffalo hunt appeared in his imagination.

He walked further along the top of the ravine, seeing how it turned first one way and then the other. Just ahead of him the ravine turned again and the hill on the inside of the turn was the highest point in the pasture. Then he saw the rock. Halfway down the hillside there was a hollow in the side of the hill and at the bottom of this hollow was a huge rock.

As Abner ran to get a closer look, he felt as though this rock was the reason he had come out to the pasture. He knew it was a buffalo rubbing stone, even if he had never seen one before. Worn smooth by thousands, no millions, of buffalo rubbing their itching sides on it, the ground around it eroded by the hooves of the buffalo, it had once served to remove their winter coats. There were still brown hairs caught in the crevices of the rock. Abner knew they must be cattle hairs, the buffalo had been gone too long. But still . . .

The rock was oblong, the sides and corners almost squared off, with a step up about halfway along the top, like giant steps, or a chair for a giant. Abner tried sitting on it, but it felt best to sit on the ground beside it. When he did so, he looked around and there were no fences, power lines, roads or buildings to be seen. There were not even any sounds to betray the impression that he was back in the time before the settlers came. Perhaps even now the hunters were camping not far away, preparing the buffalo hides and pemmican from their hunt.

The rock had stood here for ages, a friend to the buffalo, perhaps a landmark for the hunters. It has survived summer heat and winter cold, prairie fires, droughts, floods. And for a young boy it had now become a refuge from the storms at home. It was time for Abner to go, but he felt peaceful now and knew he would return.

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