Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: Saskatchewan

Stony ground

Matthew 13:5 Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:
6 And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
20 But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;
21 Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

Jesus told a parable about a man who went out to sow his grain by hand and didn’t seem to be all that particular about where the seed landed. Some landed on hard packed trails, some on stony ground and some among thorns and thistles. I was a Saskatchewan farm boy, I got the picture, he was just throwing his seed away. Some even landed on soil that was cultivated, weed and stone free, and it grew to produce more seed for the man to throw around the next spring.

Preachers loved to read this parable to us and urge us to get out there and break up that hard-packed soil of our hearts, pull the weeds and thistles and clear away the stones, so the good seed of the Word of God could take root and grow. It all made sense to Saskatchewan preachers and farm boys.

Stones seem to grow on about half the farm land in Saskatchewan. You go out in the spring and pick stones on a field and by next spring there is a fresh crop of stones on the field. Where did they come from? Long, long ago stone boats were invented to help move stones from fields. They were flat sleds made of planks nailed to timber runners and pulled by oxen or horses. Later, tractor drawn wagons were used, but the actual rock picking was done by hand.

I picked rocks one day with a helper who was physically capable, yet unable to decide on his own if a stone was big enough to be picked or small enough that it would cause no harm if it was left. He was a willing worker, but had to ask me about every stone he saw.

About 60 years ago a farmer somewhere in Saskatchewan built himself a tractor-drawn machine with heavy duty teeth on the front, spaced so that smaller stones would fall between and the bigger ones would be scooped into a pan as it was pulled through a field. It was equipped with hydraulic cylinders to dump the load of stones at some location off of the field. Before long there were farmers all over the place working in their shops to build their own version of rock picker; some of these farm shops developed into industrial operations.

That pretty much eliminated the back-breaking labour of rock picking. The reason the rocks had to come off the field was because they damaged farm equipment. When cultivator shovels and other tillage tools are continually bouncing off of rocks it reduces their life span. The shaking and rattling doesn’t do good things for the frame of the implement either.

I knew of a father and son who didn’t ever bother to pick rocks, or make any attempt to control the weeds in their fields. It seems strange to call guys hillbillies when they lived on the flat prairie, but I can’t think of a better label. Their home was pretty basic and there was never any sign of a woman around. I wondered if they might have some source of income other than the pitiful crops they produced on their land.

One spring they announced that they were going modern. They bought registered seed wheat and fertilizer. The weeds grew super high. The wild mustard resembled another parable of Jesus, with birds perching on the branches. They still had to maneuver their equipment around the rocks when they seeded and harvested, I wondered if they didn’t leave as much grain in the field as they put in their bins.

But what do stones have to do with hindering root growth? That was what Jesus talked about in his parable and I guess I missed it for years. You know, you hear a story repeated for years and just take it in the way it is told. But then you go back to the source and read the words of Jesus, and all of a sudden it just doesn’t add up. What does that part of the parable mean?

About that time, my wife and I took a trip to St. Lawrence County, New York, where my grandparents grew up. This is straight south of Ottawa, not far south of the St. Lawrence River. We visited several of my second-cousins. They were all dairy farmers, or retired dairy farmers. That seemed to be the only kind of farming that was viable in that county. As we drove around, we saw areas of exposed bedrock and were told that most fields had only six inches of soil, below that was solid bedrock. They could grow hay and silage crops, but grain crops would dry up before they matured, because the summer heat would dry the soil down to the rock.

The light went on. This is what Jesus was talking about. There are probably many fields like this in the areas where He walked. Comparing this to Christian life portrays the person who receives the gospel with enthusiasm, but the enthusiasm is only superficial. When the heat is on, it becomes apparent that the good seed never took root in the hardness of their heart.

Is the state of such people absolutely hopeless? I don’t believe it is. There are trees growing in St. Lawrence County. Their fine roots find tiny fissures in the rocks, take hold, find what nourishment they can and grow. As those tiny roots grow, they split the rocks and more fissures develop. Finally you have a tree that is firmly rooted and grounded and immune to pretty well anything nature can throw at it.

Grasshoppers, girls and family gatherings

grasshoppers-1195909_1280Grasshoppers were everywhere that summer. Those of us who wore pants learned to be careful about where we walked, but I think we all still had the experience of trying to discreetly deal with a grasshopper who had flown up inside the leg of our pants. Those who wore skirts were even more circumspect and didn’t spend much time outside of a motor vehicle or a house. Of course, grasshoppers had ways of getting into those places as well.

Ladies didn’t have much reason for spending time outdoors, anyway. Grasshoppers had stripped gardens of all that had been green. One could only wait for fall and hope there might be some potatoes or carrots in the ground. As for lawns, they could disappear in an afternoon, eaten right down to the ground.

The annual family gathering at grandpa and grandma’s farm was still on. As we drove in the tree lined driveway I looked at the sheltered area where we usually gathered to eat and visit. Wood was neatly stacked beside the fire pit, but I doubted that we would be eating on the picnic benches this year.

I saw some of my younger cousins just outside the house, boys who lived in far away cities. Lisa, who lived on the farm just across the road from Grandpa’s place was just pedaling her bike down the driveway. Lisa was a farm girl, she didn’t like grasshoppers but she wasn’t going to let them spoil her summer.

The boys, having never seen grasshoppers before, were both enthralled and apprehensive.  Jared had brought a paper coffee cup from the house. He timidly held it on its side on the ground and used its cover to try and coax a grasshopper into it. Apparently he succeeded, as he stood up triumphantly, putting the lid on the cup.

Seeing Lisa just getting off her bike, he walked over and said, “I’ve got something to show you.” He held the coffee cup out to her as he removed the lid, then leaned over to look into it himself. That was a mistake. The grasshopper, seeing light above him, flew straight up and bounced off Jared’s forehead. Cup and lid tumbled to the ground as Jared jumped back, his eyes wide.

The grasshopper just sat there on the ground beside the cup, perhaps stunned from the collision with Jared’s forehead. Lisa stooped down, picked up the cup in one hand, picked up the grasshopper with the other and put it back in the cup. After replacing the lid on the cup she tried to hand it back to Jared. He backed up a couple more steps, then turned around and headed into the house.

As Lisa tossed the cup in a nearby garbage can, she looked at me and asked “Why do boys always have to be such show-offs?” I didn’t have an answer, not being all that many years removed from Jared’s age myself.

Lisa went on into the house and headed for the kitchen. I followed to look for cousins more my age and saw the young boys clustered by the basement stairs, probably trying to scheme up some excitement that wouldn’t involve grasshoppers. As I walked by them, Jared looked up and asked “Why do girls always have to be such show-offs?”

My first experiment a success

bread-1319583_1920.jpg

Not my bread – for illustration purpose only

Marc Loiselle, a farmer from Vonda, Saskatchewan has spearheaded a revival of interest in Red Fife. The Loiselle farm also grows a selected strain of Marquis. A growing number of consumers are discovering the superior taste of bread made from Red Fife or Marquis flour.

I bought a bread machine a couple years ago and always had the dream of making bread with Red Fife wheat. Yesterday I drove out to Vonda and bought a 10 kg sack of Red Fife flour, organically grown, nothing added, nothing removed.
Marc told me that this flour does not behave quite like other flours, the dough needs to be more moist and sticky. Today I made a loaf with 50% white flour and 50% whole grain Red Fife flour. It turned out great. That was the first experiment, from here I will continue to increase the proportion of whole grain Red Fife flour until I can, hopefully, produce a 100% whole wheat loaf in the bread machine.

The Loiselle family has an informative website which includes recipes: http://sites.google.com/site/loisellema/

 

Background on Red Fife wheat and the gluten issue
David Fife arrived in Canada from Scotland in 1820 when he was 15. His parents settled in Otanabee township, east of Peterborough, Ontario. At that time Ontario farmers were growing a winter wheat variety known as Siberian. It survived the winters, but was low yielding and susceptible to rust, a fungal disease that weakened the plant.

David Fife wrote to a friend in Glasgow asking for a sample of a better wheat. His friend found a ship unloading wheat in Glasgow harbour and managed to obtain a few kernels to send to David Fife. The wheat had been loaded at Danzig and had probably been grown in Ukraine.

The package of wheat kernels arrived just before seeding time in 1842. David Fife didn’t know if it was winter wheat or spring wheat. He planted half the seeds in spring, planning to sow the rest in fall. It must have been winter wheat, as the spring seeded grain did not mature — except for one plant that produced three heads of ripe grain. David Fife planted the seeds from those three heads the next spring and continued to multiply the seed, until he harvested 240 bushels in 1848. By then he knew that he had a variety of wheat that yielded better than Siberian, matured early and was not susceptible to rust. It also made excellent bread.

Since the kernels were red and the variety was introduced by David Fife, people called it Red Fife. By the end of the nineteenth century Red Fife wheat had the reputation of being the world’s best spring wheat. Thus, Red Fife wheat is descended from a single kernel of wheat picked at random from a boat being unloaded in Glasgow. David Fife’s careful work in multiplying the wheat grown from that single kernel made it possible to nourish millions of people

In 1908 my father, his brothers, and my grandfather homesteaded south of Old Wives Lake in Saskatchewan. The wheat they grew the first few years was Red Fife. The prairie growing season was a little too short though and sometimes it froze before it was mature. Dr. Charles Saunders crossed Red Fife with Hard Red Calcutta and selected plants that were early maturing, high yielding, had stiff straw and whose kernels had the best milling and baking qualities. Marquis began to be distributed to farmers in 1912 and by 1918 was grown on 20 million acres from southern Nebraska to northern Saskatchewan. This was the wheat that made the Canadian prairies a bread basket for the world. In later years Red Fife and Marquis were supplanted by new, higher yielding varieties

I remember as a boy picking a head of ripe whet, rolling it in my hands to thresh out the kernels, then popping the kernels into my mouth and chewing them. Soon I would have a gummy wad in my mouth, somewhat like chewing gum. This was the gluten in the wheat kernels.

Gluten is the major component of the protein in wheat and this gummy characteristic is what makes bread rise. The fermenting yeast in bread dough produces carbon dioxide which the gluten traps in small bubbles.

About 1% of people have a problem digesting gluten. There is even a scare campaign being spread today that says gluten is bad for all of us. If that is so, why didn’t gluten cause as much problems in past generations?

Gluten is actually a compound of two proteins, gliadin and glutenin. In old varieties of wheat, such as Red Fife and Marquis, the gluten is roughly 1/3 gliadin and 2/3 glutenin. These grains do not appear to cause celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance. Modern bread wheat varieties may contain up to 80% gliadin.

There in a nutshell is the problem. Wheat varieties have been “improved” to boost yield and disease resistance. In the process, flavour has been lost and some people have health problems from eating bread made from these wheat varieties.Gluten is also added to a wide variety of other foods and this will be gluten from newer wheat varieties with a high Gliadin count. Those who are sensitive to this need to read the labels carefully when grocery shopping.

Leaving on a jet plane

I used to get butterflies at the thought of climbing into a pressurized metal tube and being blasted through the skies at 700 kph at an altitude of 12 km. Those butterflies didn’t show up last weekend as I flew to Montréal and back. Maybe I’m beginning to enjoy air travel. Four hours on a jet plane is much more relaxing than three days of driving.

WestJet 737.jpg

The four of us on the French editing committee decided that we might get more done by spending two days together than we do in months of three hour Saturday night conference calls. Since the other three are members of the Roxton Falls congregation in Québec and I am the outlier, way out here in Saskatchewan, it was more economical for me to fly out there.

Thus I boarded a WestJet plane to Montréal on Thursday and Ronald, Philippe, Hugues and I spent the next two days editing a book that has recently been translated from English. Even considering the amount of time we spent hashing over plans for the future of our work, we got enough done that it appears that even when the cost of my ticket is included the amount of work done per hour is no more costly than when we do it by conference call. This trip worked out so well that we are talking about doing it again some time, if our individual schedules can be aligned. Ronald and I are semi-retired and more flexible but Philippe and Hugues have to find a time that does not conflict with their employment.

I very much enjoyed the time I spent in Québec. I have corresponded with Hugues by email, talked with him on the phone, but hadn’t seen him since he was nine years old. He is 24 now and it was good to see and work with him face to face. It was good to see Philippe again, he has married since I saw him three years ago and has a five-month-old son.

It was good to be in a place where the lawns are green, the trees tall, and the crops flourishing. (It has been a dry year here at home; I mowed the lawn once in each of the last three months. The grass is still more or less green and the crop yields only a little under the average, but it hasn’t been a year of abundance.)

I worshipped with the brothers and sisters in Roxton Falls on Sunday morning. I know most of them, some of them for many years, but some I met for the first time. That is a good thing, the congregation is growing.

Monday morning when I awoke it was 22° and humid. It was 30° by dinner time and then it began to pour rain. When I got into Saskatoon in the evening, it was 12° and still dry and dusty. But all the family was there to meet me and welcome me home.

Nature notes

Several times, when I have been out for a walk after dark, I have seen fireflies in the ditches close to our home. There were fireflies near my boyhood home here in Saskatchewan, I saw lots of them when we lived in Ontario, but these are the first I have seen since coming back to Saskatchewan 20 years ago.

The orioles seem to have left us. I put an orange half up on a pole a week ago and it was completely cleaned out. I put up a fresh one on Thursday and it has not been touched.

Most of the hummingbirds seem to have moved on, also. There are still two that come to our feeder numerous times during the day.

We thought we saw hummingbirds among our flower pots after dark several nights ago. A closer look revealed that they were not birds at all, but moths. They are fittingly called hummingbird moths and this is what one looks like. No wonder we were confused. (You don’t see the antennae in semi-darkness.)

 

moth-2378240_640

The barn swallows who built a nest in the rafters of our garage have just hatched their second batch of the summer. Hope it stays warm long enough for the little ones to become airborne in time for the trip south.

The blog formerly known as Antiquarian Anabaptist

After six years and 1,127 posts it is perhaps time to refurbish this site, and Canada Day, July 1, seems a good time to do it.

The first thing I have done is drop the Antiquarian Anabaptist title. It seemed like a good idea six years ago but has begun to sound kitschy to my ears. Besides, didn’t it seem bizarre to enter the flatlanderfaith.com URL and have it open up a blog with a different title? Now the URL and the blog title are the same, and I have added a header photo to illustrate what this flatland province looks like.

I have also changed the background colour and the typefaces also. I might change them again in the coming days as I tweak the appearance of the blog. The “Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective” slogan will remain. That defines the purpose of this blog.

Maybe I can improve the quality of my writing, too. When I read something I wrote 25 or 30 years ago my first reaction is: “Wow! That is good. Did I really write that?”

Then another little voice in my head says: “Of course it sounds good to you, your style of writing follows the familiar path of your style of thinking. But what makes you think that anybody else would want to read it?”

It’s not that I think everything I have ever written should go in the garbage can. Sometimes I have written things, on this blog and elsewhere, that readers connected with. My resolution is to learn how to do that consistently.

I would love to hear from you. Please take a little time to tell me what you like or don’t like about the things I write. If you don’t want your comment to appear publicly, use the email address under Contact Me above.

Epilogue

That is the end of the story I set out to write, but not the end of the journey. We spent 15 years in Ontario, 5 in Québec and have been back in Saskatchewan for 20 years. We are living in the Swanson congregation, where I saw no hope of finding work 40 years ogo. Times have changed, there are many small businesses run by members of the congregation and other employment opportunities in the area. I work part time as a bookkeper now.

Michelle experienced a new birth at the age of 12 and was baptized December 6, 1984. In her late teens and into her twenties she worked several years in nursing homes, then as a teacher in the schools of congregations of the Church of God in Christ, Mennonite. She was an eastern girl, having spent most of her growing up years and her early working life in Eastern Canada.

She was teaching at Dumas, Arkansas when we moved back to Saskatchewan. We fully expected that her permanent home would be far away from us, but a young man at Swanson took note of her and proposed a year after we moved. We are very grateful to Ken Klassen, not only for bringing our daughter back to Saskatchewan, but for his kind and gentle ways as her husband and as father to their four children.

Tami Klassen, our oldest granddaughter was baptized earlier this year. The decisions we made many years ago are bearing fruit unto the third generation.

My mother visited us every year while we lived in the east, usually spending several weeks or a month at a time. She turned 90 in January of 1998 and we knew it was time to come back home to Saskatchewan. She lived with us for a few years and then spent her last years in a nursing home in Rosthern. She passed away December 31, 2006, just 18 days short of her 99th birthday.

Chris has had two bouts with cancer and is healthy and cancer free at this time. We will celebrate our 48th wedding anniversary this summer. Over the last few years we have both been working at developing writing skills to be able to share what God ha done for us and what He has taught us.

To know God without knowing our own wretchedness only makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes only for despair. Knowing Jesus Christ provides the balance, because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness. – Blaise Pascal

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.

Snow, beautiful snow

It’s springtime in Saskatchewan and our yard has begun to emerge from the winter’s accumulation of snow. We were greeted this morning by more of the white stuff falling from the sky; by dinner time about 10 cm has accumulated. Beautiful, glittering, pristine white snow.

I had planned to go to the city this morning, but decided to rather stay home and contemplate the beauty of the snow. My decision was largely motivated by the knowledge that the city streets will be pretty ugly by now.

cat-1101747_1920

A few minutes ago Pookie (who looks very much like the cat in the photo above) decided he wanted to go out. I opened the door and the sight of all that snow on the doorstep seemed very uninviting.

Well, why don’t I make the world outside a little more inviting for a kitty? A few minutes with a push broom cleared the heavy wet snow off the door step and the patio stones in front of it.

Pookie went out, walked down the steps and to the end of the patio stones. Then he gingerly stepped into the snow, excavated a spot, used it for a bathroom, covered it up and came back in.

There is a litter box in the house, but that is shared with two other cats. This is much more sanitary.

Spiritual drought

About this time every year farmers here on the dry Canadian prairies can be heard worrying about whether there will be enough moisture to produce a crop. This year we a are midway through the fourth month of winter with no end in sight according to the long range forecast. There is not a lot of snow on the ground and that causes stress in the farming community.

I suppose I would be stressed, too, if I was a farmer with the level of investment that is required by modern grain farming.

I will be 76 before the snow is gone and have seen that the rolling of the seasons plays out in a different fashion every year. I have seen springs with abundant moisture and ideal seeding conditions where the rains stopped in early summer. The grain grew tall and thick, but the kernels were few and shrivelled.

I have seen dry springs with barely enough moisture a few inches down to germinate the seeds. Yet rains came at the right time and there was an abundant crop. There have been years of drought and years of excessive moisture where some crops were flooded out. Even an overly long winter can be a boon to agriculture because it prevents the soil from drying out.

Anything is possible in Saskatchewan. Farmers have no control over moisture conditions. What about Christians? Many of us seem to go throught the same kind of cycles of scarcity and abundance of spiritual power. Some seem to live in a perpetual drought, trying to conserve the little bit of grace that they have.

Is that how Christian life is supposed to be? I think there are two possible problems when we are experiencing a spiritual drought.

One happens when Jesus fills our cup and we are so fearful of losing the precious spiritual water that we dare not share it with anyone else. And the water in our cup just evaporates. Jesus wants us to let that water flow, and as it flows out more will flow in.

The other possibility could be a misunderstanding of “never thirst again.” When the Holy Spirit comes into our heart, He becomes an inexhaustible source of living water and we never again need to seek desperately for that refreshment.

Yet it seems that we still need to feel a thirst, a longing for that refreshing water. It is too easy to slip into a pattern that seems Christian and spiritual, yet lacks the power that is readily available to us.

Elisha Hoffman describe that thirst like this:

Lord, I am fondly, earnestly longing,
Into thy holy likeness to grow;
Thirsting for more and deeper communion,
Yearning thy love more fully to know.

-from Open the wells of salvation by Elisha Hoffman.

Revival becomes possible when we have that kind of thirst. If we feel dry and parched, it is not that the Lord is withholding the showers from us. It just might be that we are not thirsty enough.

%d bloggers like this: