Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: reading

In memory of Julia

Julia was 18 years old when I was born. We were cousins, but she seemed more like an aunt to me. She started teaching in a one room country school in the fall of that year, taught for two years, then married Ed. Their first child, Doreen, was born a year later.

Ed & Julia lived a few miles from us and we often got together. As a young lad I was painfully shy of girls, with the exception of Doreen. I guess we saw each other often enough that I felt no need to run and hide from her. Ed and Julia had four more children, incluidng another girl, Edith, born on my eighth birthday.

I suppose it was Julia’s teacher instincts that led her to encourage my early interest in reading. Most of my little books for beginning readers were gifts from her.

When I was nine, we moved a couple of hours away, but our contact with continued through frequent letters. We eagerly looked forward to the times that we could get together again.

Time went on, I grew up, got married and moved to Eastern Canada. My parents retired and moved into Moose Jaw. My father died, leaving Mom a widow. Ed and Julia retired and moved into Moose Jaw. As Mom grew older, Ed and Julia kept tabs on her and helped her in many ways. They were often the ones who took Mom to the train station or airport for her annual trips to visit us, then picked her up and took her home on her return.

Mom had always had difficulty walking and the time came that she used an electric scooter outside of her home. When Mom was almost 90, Julia phoned to say that she was concerned about Mom living alone. Mom’s eyesight wasn’t very good anymore either, and Julia had seen her crossing the busy street at full throttle on her scooter, and sometimes cars had to stop quickly to let her pass.

Chris and I began to talk about returning to Saskatchewan. We came back for Mom’s 90th birthday and Julia repeated her concerns and we could see for ourselves that the time had come that we would need to take a more active part in caring for my mother. Ed and Julia weren’t able to be as much involved with Mom anymore, as Ed had been diagnosed with cancer.

Five months after Mom’s birthday we were back living in Saskatchewan. We settled in Saskatoon and Mom lived with us for some time, then spent her last year in a nursing home. She was almost 99 when she died.

We saw Ed and Julia occasionally on visits to Moose Jaw. Several times Ed was declared free of cancer, but soon they would find another spot. He had numerous surgeries and treatments and bore it all patiently. We felt in him a readiness for it all to be over and to go and meet his Lord. That happened in 2004, shortly after Julia’s 80th birthday.

Our contacts with Julia since then have not been as frequent as they should have been. She continued living in her own home for a few years, then moved to a suite in a senior’s residence, then to a nursing home and then to another. We have visited her in all those places and often joined the family for birthday celebrations. The last time we saw her was on her birthday in February of 2017. I believe she knew who we were, but doubt that she remembered after we left.

Julia died yesterday at the age of 94. I was going to say that another piece of my life is gone, but that’s not at all true. All the contributions she made to my life in my growing up years and after are still there. Her warmth, her kindness, her care, are part of what shaped me.

Belle Plaine years

In 1966 Belle Plaine had all of 16 houses, two grain elevators, three other small businesses and a school that was no longer used. UGG rented one of the houses for their elevator manager.

I had learned the basics of weighing and unloading grain by now, how to grade it and determine dockage and how to load it into boxcars for shipping to ports for export. I was also selling fertilizer, herbicides and other farm supplies. Saskatchewan seldom gets an abundance of rain, but the land here was heavy clay, making for good crops every year and the farmers were prosperous. I got to know the people in the community and soon felt at home.

I was 24 years old and didn’t own a car. I soon remedied that, buying a 1956 Oldsmobile that let me travel at my convenience, not someone else’s. I could buy some groceries at the little store, cafe and post office in town, but did most of my shopping in Moose Jaw. I did my laundry in Moose Jaw, too, at my parents.

I began to do some serious drinking, spending at least one night a week in the bars of Moose Jaw or Regina. My drinking buddies were Joe Zagozeski,  a local farmer, Henry Antemuik, a supervisor at the Kalium potash mine near Belle Plaine and my cousin Dennis in Moose Jaw.

UGG bought a lot in Belle Plaine, built a basement, moved in a house and thoroughly remodelled it. In 1967 I traded in the Oldsmobile on a 1965 GMC pickup. I needed to haul water for the new house as there was neither running water in the village nor a well. UGG had a warehouse in Regina and now I could simply drive in and pick up whatever was needed and bring it home.

When I made those trips I often stayed in Regina enjoying the night life until midnight. On nights like that I found it hard to keep between the lines on the highway and in my befuddled mind it seemed like a logical thing to speed up to 80 mph. I found that concentrated my attention sufficiently to keep in my own lane. I would often wake up in the morning unable to remember coming home. I thought that was evidence that I must have had a good time the night before.

Other things were going on at the same time. I was reading all kinds of stuff, from occult to Ayn Rand and none of it impressed me as offering any real hope to me or anyone else. Then I began to get interested in church history, which also seemed like kind of a hopeless mess until I got to Mennonite history. Here I found people who really believed and lived what they professed and suffered persecution without hating the persecutors. I began to think that if there were any real Christians left anywhere on the planet, they would be found among the Mennonites.

The couple who ran the store, cafe and post office had a teenage daughter named Christine. I didn’t pay much attention to her, she was just a young school girl. But girls don’t stay young and after a couple of years she began to seem interesting to me.

What shall our children read?

What books are safe for children to read? Some Christian parents provide only  books about nice people who do nice things and everything turns out nicely for them. How realistic is that? Children know that there is evil in the world. There are scary things out there, things happen that they do not understand.

Other Christian parents believe that any book that turns out well in the end is sound reading material for their children. Even books where sorcery and witchcraft are used to attain that happy ending. The end justifies the means – or does it?

The Bible only promises a happy ending for people who use Christian means. Evil can only be overcome by good; in that sense the means are the end. We cannot live an overcoming Christian life by using the tools and methods of the enemy. Books that underline that principle can help to develop spiritual understanding.

In 17th century France, Jean de La Fontaine took ancient fables, many of them from Aesop, and rendered them into charming verses with a touch of humour and a clear moral teaching woven in. The fables of La Fontaine were once part of the school curriculum in all French-speaking countries. I’m afraid their moral teaching is now considered old fashioned.

In the same era, Charles Perrault collected and rewrote old folk tales and created others, all having a clear moral teaching. Almost 120 years later the brothers Grimm included some of these tales in their books of fairy tales, leaving out the moral teachings.

Perrault’s tale, La Belle au Bois Dormant, is much more gruesome than the Sleeping Beauty that I read as a child. In the end the innocent children are rescued by the return of their father and the evil woman who wanted to consume them comes to a horrible end. There is nothing here to lull children to overlook evil with the idea that the poor woman was just misunderstood. She was out and out evil and their father was pure and good.

One of Perrault’s stories does not have a happy ending. In Le Petit Chaperon Rouge, when the young lady gets into bed with the wolf that is the end of her. Perrault wrote: “There is one kind [of wolf] with an amenable disposition – neither noisy, nor hateful, nor angry, but tame, obliging and gentle, following the young maids in the streets, even into their homes. Alas! Who does not know that these gentle wolves are of all such creatures the most dangerous!” That lesson is lost when Little Red Riding Hood is allowed to escape unharmed from the wolf. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find a copy of Perrault’s tales that has not been Disneyfied, even in French. Don’t expect clear moral teachings from that source.

In the 20th Century British writers created several series of Christian fantasy novels.  I am thinking specifically of the Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis, George MacDonald’s Princess and Curdie books and The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien.

I know Christian parents who will not let their children read such books because they describe fantasy worlds, fantastic creatures and fantastic events. Yet in these books evil is always evil and the good people do not use evil means to accomplish good. I am of the opinion that it is better for children to read books where evil exists and is overcome by good than to read books where evil does not appear to exist at all. Isn’t that a more dangerous fantasy?

 

 

Chapter 1 – Why couldn’t I be the healthy one?

My cousin Dennis has often been a friend in time of need, knowing just when to show up. He came over the morning after my father’s funeral and we sat around a table with my mother, reliving bygone days with the help of her old photographs. There were photos of my father breaking land, of my father when he attended auto mechanics school in Tennessee, of my mother in her younger years, of me as a baby, of my cousins.

Then we came to a photo from when I was in Grade 2, all the students and the teacher grouped in front of our 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 glanced up, his brow furrowed, and said, “No, that was David Harlton.” Then pointing to the sickly-looking boy he said, “This is you over here.”

He said no more about my mistake, just carried on talking about school days. I carried on too, hoping the pain inside me was not visible to others. I knew he was right, but why couldn’t I believe for just one moment that I was the healthy one? I guess a true friend helps keep you real.

I had frequent bouts of colds and flu as a child and was well-acquainted with Buckley’s White Rub and 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. This affects my inner ear, causing vertigo and a poor sense of balance. When I was four my parents took me to the fair and put me on a merry-go-round, expecting I would be thrilled at the ride. My head began to whirl, my stomach to churn and I cried to be rescued.

I had frequent outbreaks of hives as a child. Eventually we figured out that they always happened when I had oatmeal porridge for breakfast two days in a row. Later in life I realized that the cold and flu symptoms were usually 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.

My mother told me that I was raised with cow’s milk formula because my father thought that was more modern and sanitary than breast feeding. I had an allergic reaction at the beginning that caused my face to puff up until my eyes all but disappeared. The cure was to give me only water for awhile, then gradually reintroduce the milk. Perhaps that is where my allergies began. Or it may have happened at birth. Doctors today have linked birth by cesarean section to allergy problems in the child. The doctor had opted for cesarean when I was born because of my mother’s hip dysplasia. In the end it doesn’t matter, it won’t make me healthier to find someone to blame for my poor health.

When I was in my twenties I discovered antihistamines and they have helped me cope with life. A little pill once or twice a day, a corticosteroid puff in each nostril once a day, a saline nasal spray plus a decongestant when needed, keep me going – most of the time. But I can’t always escape those times when allergy symptoms leave me feeling wiped out. Those episodes can hit any time of the year but spring and fall seem 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. It isn’t that I’m always sick, but when I do get sick it takes several weeks to recover to where I can breathe freely and my body doesn’t ache.

But maybe that’s alright. My frequent sicknesses kept me indoors more than most other children and facilitated my love for reading, and writing. Perhaps God has allowed these circumstances to 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.

[All comments and critiques are welcome. Please help me improve this writing.]

Matthew Effects in Learning

“For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Matthew 25:29).

In 1986, Keith Stanovich published a study entitled Matthew Effects in Reading: Some Consequences of Individual Differences in the Acquisition of Literacy. The “Matthew Effects” in the title came from Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25.

The study showed that students who, at an early stage, gained a good understanding of how words are composed of sounds represented by the letters of the alphabet progressed rapidly in learning. Those who do not rapidly develop an awareness of the spelling to sound correlation will fall farther and farther behind in subsequent years.

This concept of how words are composed of sounds (phonemic awareness) is easily taught to young children, but our public school systems are not doing it. Instead, for at least 70 years now they have been experimenting with other methods of teaching reading. The result is that about 1/3 of children quickly make the letter-sound connection on their own, another 1/3 will struggle at first but eventually get it and the other 1/3 will be labelled learning disabled. I believe a large percentage of learning disabilities are created by inadequate teaching.

Since reading skills are the essential tool for learning everything else that a child will encounter in school, those with poor reading skills fall farther and farther behind as they progress through the school system.

This is a perfect example of the quote in my last post: “You know that the bureaucratic state has been reached in an organisation when the procedure is more important than the result.”

What we need is a more flexible system that is focussed on results. In both learning to read and in learning basic math skills, a child needs to master one set of skills before being pushed on to the next level. This concept of teaching for mastery in the basic skills has long been absent from the public school system

If this sounds like an argument for home schooling, or the old-fashioned one-room school, well, yes, I believe that they are more successful models for results-oriented learning. In any case, parents need to overcome their sense of intimidation by the big school machine and be much more involved in their child’s learning, especially in the beginning stages.

The first step in keeping your child out of prison

Teach him to read.

Maybe this sounds overly simplistic, but a young adult who is illiterate is unqualified for all but the most menial jobs. You can’t even work at McDonald’s if you can’t read the job instructions or the words on the screen of the till. 96% of the available jobs are out of reach for someone who is functionally illiterate.

Statistics from the UK show that 50% of inmates are functionally illiterate and 80% do not possess the writing skills to fill out a job application. There are supposed to be learning programs in the prisons, evidently they are not working, Two thirds of prisoners leave prison with no prospect of employment. Within two years the majority will be once again before the courts.

Systematic phonics is the one proven method for teaching reading. The public school system had abandoned it by the time I started school 68 years ago. Thankfully, I was already a prolific reader by then. The public school system has invested great gobs of money in new reading programs, remedial reading instructors, psychologists and other specialists. But they have no intention of ever returning to the one method that has been proven over and over again to work.

You cannot trust the public school system to teach your child to read. Reading to your child is the essential first step in introducing them to reading. Teach them the sounds of the letters and how they make words when blended together. Don’t trust commercial programs that are labelled “phonics.” The Society for Quality Education offers a free online reading course for children who are having difficulty in learning to read. You can find them here.

There are many other factors involved in crime and incarceration, including an unstable home life. But illiteracy is probably the number one factor in predicting who is going to have trouble with the law.

By the way, the masculine “him” in the first sentence was deliberate. Twice as many boys as girls struggle with learning to read and write.

 

Memories of the Inscribe Conference

You know you’re in a group of writers when a workshop leader asks each participant to name five of their favourite books from childhood and one includes the dictionary in her list. She says she used to read two pages a day. And nobody thought that was weird.

That happened in Colleen McCubbin’s class on writing for children. Our goal in writing for children should be to charm, inform and nourish on the intellectual, social, emotional and spiritual levels. She recommended a book by Mollie Hunter, a Scottish writer for children, entitled Talent is Not Enough. I have ordered the book and will share my impressions once I have read it.

Jack Popjes was probably the most entertaining attendee. At supper one day someone chided him for taking two desserts (they were small). “I only allow myself one dessert per day,” he said. “This one is for August 23, 2016 and this one is for August 24, 2016.”

There is another side to Jack. He and his wife spent 20 years living with an unreached tribe in Brazil. They learned the language, put it into writing, taught the people to read and write. At the same time they translated the Bible into this language and by the time they left there was a thriving congregation of believers.

We were told that the conference cost $265.00 per attendee. Of this, $100.00 per person went for the rent of the space we used, travel expenses for speakers, honorariums for the speakers and workshop leaders and miscellaneous other expenses. The other $165.00 was the cost of the meals and coffee breaks. Three meals and five or six breaks with coffee, tea, juices and snacks were provided.

As is usual in meetings like this, it is not permitted to bring in food from outside sources. We live in a litigation-happy world and if anyone got sick from food that was brought in, someone would be likely to sue the hotel. At least that is the fear. The conference was held in the Edmonton South Sawridge Inn. For those of us who stayed at the hotel, our breakfast was included in the room rate. This was a real breakfast, not the “continental breakfast” that many motels offer.

That’s all for today, I will write more about the conference in coming days.

The achilles heel of reference Bibles

An ancient Waldensian confession of faith states that their preachers were required, before being ordained, to memorize the gospels of Matthew and John, all the Epistles, and a good part of the writings of Solomon, David and the prophets. Of course that was necessary in their day, before the invention of the printing press. After all, a manuscript copy of the Scriptures was far too bulky to be carried about.

Nowadays we have reference Bibles and electronic Bibles that allow us to look up relevant verses on any topic that we are concerned about. With all that information about the Word of God at our fingertips, one would think that knowledge and understanding of the Word would be increasing at an exponential rate. Is it?

Not as far as I can see. The thing that is being missed in this reliance on search tools is that knowledge and understanding of the Bible is contextual and cumulative. If we do not understand the context in which one passage of Scripture was written, and how it is connected to all the rest of Scripture, we are pretty much Scripturally illiterate.

We need to read the whole Bible, and read it again and again. In doing that, we begin to see the whole picture; and we find that the Bible interprets itself. When we only read snatches here and there, we are reading Scriptures out of context all the time and then we need someone to tell us how it all fits together. Lots of people are quite willing to do that, but can we trust their interpretations? How can we even know if they are trustworthy if we don’t really know the Bible ourselves?

The Bible should not be treated as a black box that we can reach into and pull out a short passage of Scripture each morning to inspire us for that day. We are missing so much if we do not read a book of the Bible from beginning to end, reading a part each day. That is the way that our understanding will grow about what God has been doing in the world all these many years, and what He expects of us. The plan of salvation is implicit in the Old Testament, but we don’t really get it until we read the New. But we don’t really get what the New Testament is saying either if we haven’t read the Old.

All the Bible is interrelated and fits together in a way that reveals the hand of God at work over the many centuries it took to complete the book. It is a bottomless well of spiritual water, but we have to pump it up for ourselves. Let’s not drink from the stagnant pools that someone else has pumped and left behind.

It takes a village to raise a book

The difference between a bad writer and a good writer is that a good writer knows he needs help. Publishers used to have people on staff to provide that help. Not anymore. We are on our own. Yet we dare not trust to our own evaluation of how good our writing is.

There are three stages of editing and we need other people’s eyes and brains at each step.The first stage is substantive editing. Definitions vary somewhat, but you need someone to do a thorough review and give an honest evaluation of the whole story, whether its fiction, history, devotional, doctrinal or whatever. Are there holes in the story line? Is there missing information? Is there information that does not belong in this story? Is it interesting? Do you lose your way half way through and wind up going in a different direction? Word usage, sentence structure, grammar should all be analyzed.

After we get over the shock of this first evaluation and get up enough courage to make the changes needed, we then need copy editing. This will include things like checking grammar and spelling and may involve rearranging some text, finding overused words, eliminating unnecessary words, suggesting stronger or clearer words. It is a good idea to check that your characters’ names are spelled the same way throughout the book.

The final stage is proofreading. This is the last run through the proofs before the book is printed, to ensure that all needed changes have been made and no new errors have inadvertently crept in.

A professional editor can make the difference between a book that seems like it could have been rally interesting, and one that really is interesting. Gathering a circle of friends ho are knowledgeable and honest enough to tell you what needs to be done will make the job of a professional editor much easier, and hopefully less costly.

This is where the village idea comes in. You need first readers who will read your raw manuscript, tell you whether it has possibilities and suggest what they think needs to be improved. Ask as many people as you can and consider what they are seeing in your book and what you want people who buy your book to see.

After rewriting and polishing your manuscript to the best of your ability, you need beta readers. Not just your close family and friends who will tell you what a lovely book it is. You want people who will point out every last flaw that they can find. Trust me, you do. Better those things should be found now than when the book is in print and being sold.

Finally, you need final readers. People who have not read the manuscript before, so that those pesky little mistakes that you and all the others have missed will pop out at them.

And then when the book is being sold, some reader will notice an obvious mistake that slipped by everyone else. It’s embarrassing, but it happens to the best of writers. The more people you have helping you along the way, and truly trying to help, the more confidence you can have that you have done your best.

Less is more (and more is less)

Too many new writers have the idea that they have to use interesting words to entice others to read their prose. They load up on colourful adjectives and adverbs, the more syllables the better, and replace simple nouns and verbs with ones that are larger and weightier. Readers get weary trying to wade through that stuff and soon head for the exit.

We should not try to impress the reader with our grandiloquent vocabulary, just take him gently by the hand and show him what we see. The adverbs, adjectives and big words get in the way of that view.

Stripping away the useless words forces us to describe what we see. Don’t write “A magnificent vista opened before my awe-struck eyes,” describe what you see. Don’t make yourself and your feelings the focal point, the reader wants you to paint a word picture.

Some writers think that it gets boring to continually repeat “he said,” “she said.” They opt for “Eleanor sighed,” “George growled,” Nancy wailed,” “Eddie mumbled,” “Vickie sobbed,” and worse. There are two mistakes in this kind of thing. “Said” does not hinder the flow of the story, it is the simplest way to tell your reader that someone said something. Replacing it with something more creative may stop the reader in her tracks to contemplate this strange object on her pathway through the story. Secondly, if someone is shocked, hurt, surprised, it is more effective to describe the changes in that person’s face. Do her eyes grow wide, or narrow? Does her mouth fall open, or are her lips pressed together?

The goal in writing is to tell a story, describe an event, give instructions or give reasons why something should, or should not, be believed. It is not to draw attention to ourselves. There are times when a big word is the most appropriate word to use, but most of the time big words, adverbs and adjectives are just ways of saying “Look at me! See what I can do!” Cutting those words out will make our writing more effective, leaving them in could cause verbal indigestion in the reader.

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