Sunday, December 31, 2006

Back in Home in Manitoba

Well, I'm back home. I paid more attention to what I tuned in while driving -- more news than I said I do, in time to hear responses to the fact of Saddam Hussein's execution; football stories; scanning the dial (except that radios no longer have a dial) for weather forecasts as the snow turned to freezing rain around me.

Saddam. Iraq. I ended my teen years towards the end of our war in Vietnam. I thought at least we would never do that again. I was drafted in 1968, deferred for four years for college, and then my number (113) came up again for 1972. There was a break in the draft, when congress failed to re-enact the necessary legislation for a few weeks, and somehow the draft skipped over me. I had already made plans to go to Zimbabwe, working with my church as a CO in place of a stint in Vietnam. I remember my mother wondered if I couldn't stay in Pennsylvania instead of going to Africa; but I went anyway.

Those years seem so distant, and we haven't re-instituted the draft. But in Vietnam at least the domino theory made some sense (even if it was wrong). And at least there was a faction in Vietnam whom we went to help. In Iraq all that I can see is that we have invaded another country. Certainly Saddam Hussein should have been arraigned before the International Court: he was a genuine criminal, given his actions against the people of Iraq and of Kuwait. But we cannot be the world's judge and jury and executioner; still less should we want to be.

All of this runs in my mind over the surface of my deeper convictions that Christians pursue peace rather than war, that Jesus brings reconciliation rather than a mandate to judge the earth. Certainly there is real conflict and judgment and hard edges in God's dealing with a fallen world; but we are not God. With the Iraqis and the Israelis and the Palestinians and the Russians and every other people of the earth we stand under God and receive from God's hand what we bring upon ourselves.

Moralizing. I'll stop. But such thoughts ran along the road beside me as I listened to football and Car Talk and news reports in the freezing rain and snow. It's good to be home.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Driving to Minnesota

Today I drive south to northern Minnesota: Thief River Falls, near the headwaters of the Mississippi. Outside we have some snow cover, not enough but it's better than none. Once a month or so I drive down route 59 to TRF and preach for the Evangelical Free Church in town, while they search for a senior pastor.

I enjoy the drive: straight, partly wooded, on the edge of the prairie (as Garrison Keillor reminds us), and once in Minnesota lightly populated. Lancaster: 350 or so; Lake Bronson: 250 or so; Halma: 72; so that Karlstad at 800 seems quite big. there's even a traffic light, even if it's flashing red both ways. Finally Thief River, 70 miles from the border and 9,000 people, a northern metropolis some two hours south of me.

Lots of time to think and listen to the radio. CBC has Randy Bachman's Vinyl Tap -- memories of a rocker with lots of music that I enjoy. NPR has Garrison Keillor, Car Talk, and Wait, Wait. Sometimes I may find football or basketball; less often I'll listen to news. But not so often for the news: a long drive doesn't need to be made longer thinking about Robert Mugabe, or the war in Iraq, or climate change (so that we have messy roads where we once had clear cold sky and clear dry roads).

Lots of time to think, so I can't help thinking about such things, wondering if Zimbabwe will ever see better times than now, or if we (Americans) will learn that there is no alternative to cooperation in today's world. All this thinking provides the context for running through the next day's sermon. So in a couple of hours I'll drive down 59 to the border post, hand them my (expired) passport (which I must renew), open the trunk for the routine check, and drive on down to TRF. I expect to enjoy the open silence (almost silence, except for the noise my car makes), and to seek God's hope in our humanness.

Friday, December 29, 2006


I resolve to blog! Nine months since the last post, and finally I'm adding to it. My New Year's Resolutions, like many others', normally last about a day: we'll see. I have added enough to other people's blogs and to email conversations in general that thinking through the medium of a blog makes sense.

We'll see what happens. For now: I resolve to blog!

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Listening to People

In a recent post Vaughn noted the difficulty of listening to people with whom we disagree. It strikes me that I struggle with this difficulty in two basic settings.

I spend time talking with one group of people online, most of whom would define themselves as conservative Evangelicals. I often feel like a frustrated liberal trapped with a group of people who refuse to consider any views that don't fit their preconceived conclusions. For example, when we talked about environmental issues, one of our number challenged the rest of us to convince him that climate change really matters. It was clear from his challenge that no mere marshalling of facts and findings, no matter how complete, would do the trick. We needed something else, something more. I find myself baffled as to how to proceed in a conversation when I have been dared to produce "facts" to someone who has concluded there are no "facts".

The problem is that I am reasonably sure that if he and I could talk together, I would find considerable common ground. He has something real to contribute to my understanding of the world; but it is so hard to listen when we are told that what we are saying doesn't count. Or when we feel like what we are saying doesn't count.

I have spent some time talking with another group of people online about Franklin Graham, who is planning to hold an evangelism festival in Winnipeg in October. The participants in the conversation were members of Mennonite Church Manitoba, and several of them feel strongly that MCM should have nothing to do with the festival because Graham supports the American war effort in Iraq.

In this setting I have felt like an unreconstructed conservative, arguing that we can work with people in one setting (evangelism), even though we disagree with them about another (attitude towards war). Here also I feel trapped by the passion with which we hold our viewpoints. I have tried to engage the two who disagree with me most strongly in either a meeting over coffee or a telephone conversation, thinking that putting a face and a voice to emails may help us hear each other better. So far I have not succeeded.

Again I suspect strongly that if we knew each other, we would find significant agreement, even a shared passion for peace. But (my sense is) they can't hear me, so strongly do they express themselves; and in turn I find it hard to her them (feeling pushed away by their passion).

I haven't found any resolution to these conversational binds. I believe strongly that, if we believe in peace (with my Mennonite friends), we must practice peace with each other in the household of faith. If we can't speak with each other and hear each other, how do we expect to model peace for the rest of the world anywhere? I believe strongly that, if we believe in Jesus (with my Evangelical friends), we will love and listen to all those who bear the name of Jesus. At least that's what Paul tells us to do (for example, in Romans 12 and Philippians 2).

A closing parenthesis. People in general are rational, even when they disagree with us. Combined wisdom is greater than any one person's or any one group's insights. We need each other to sort out the challenges of life. Somehow we have to learn to listen!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Debating in Cecilasia

The Debating Club of Cecilasia last night unanimously supported movers Ainly Smythe and Biffy Duped in their claim that "Idi Amin is the typical African." The main obstacle in an otherwise exciting debate was the refusal by the opposers, Mr. S____ and Mr. P_____, to speak against the motion.

Mr. Ainly Smythe made the most telling point of the evening when he said, "A people is like their leader." Just as Adolph was the average German and Benito the normal Italian, so is Idi representative of your houseboy." Mr. Smythe went on to say that he personally felt grateful to Brother Idi for showing us the African's personality so clearly.

Applauding the statement loudly Mr Duped moved that the Club forward a letter of appreciation to "one who has done more than any other to show us where we stand and the purity of our natures." The additional motion was also unanimously passed, and the opposer, Mr. S____, was heard to remark that he hoped to have better than to be chosen in the lottery to oppose the meeting's next motion.

I wrote this about 33 years ago, during the height of Smith's Rhodesia. Duped is Clifford Dupont, and Smythe Ian Smith. I remember the atmosphere in which opposition to the government appeared as treason. The irony of history has replaced the names of Smith and Dupont with Mugabe and Mutasa. In our own ways we sometimes stifle disagreement in the USA and in Canada.

Reaction in the Arab world to a domestic dispute about how Muslims should integrate into Danish society suggests that human nature across time and space remains constant: We find it hard to accept that we might be wrong and someone else right. But a soupcon of humility is necessary for us to know the truth. Perhaps we should hope that we are chosen in life's lottery to speak out, although I echo Mr. S_____'s desire not to be so chosen.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Tea (or Coffee?)

I wrote this 33 years ago. I still believe it; but today I would probably say "Coffee" and hire a jazz band.

Too many people today don't understand tea. They don't understand the necessity of stopping work for tea. They think of it as a hindrance, or at best a rest to revitalize them for the task in which they are engaged.

What heresy! A rest? Tea? Never. Never can time for tea be a break to strengthen the arm for the anvil or the mind for the pen. Rather it is life, a brief contact with life, a moment passed in realizing that other people are there too. Tea is a glimpse of Paradise. That the partaker is revitalized is incidental, and to use Tea Time for physicial benefit is idiocy.

Use it for itself. Enjoy it; rejoice in it. Take it and live, but in heaven's name do not abandon it or lower it to mere sustenance.

Perhaps we would better appreciate tea if we hired an orchestra to feed our ears as our spirits grow. The idea deserves consideration.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Rolling and Rocking

Lois rolled the car yesterday (Thursday). Almost. Slid on some ice going West; flipped around; tipped over and landed facing back East on the passenger side of the car. Scary stuff, even if it happened so fast in slow motion that she had no time to be scared.

No injuries except to the car. We'll find out about those on Monday or Tuesday. But I got the call within 10 minutes of the accident, and felt some rocking to go with her rolling. It's a strange feeling: "Lois had an accident. She's okay!" Define "okay" please. Does "okay" mean she broke both arms and legs, but feels only mild discomfort? Or perhaps "okay" tells me that she wants to join a car pool to stay away from icy patches in the road.

It turns out that "okay" means that there appears to be no bruising, soreness, or other ill effects. Just the memory of hanging from the seatbelt and shoulder strap after flipping over on her side. I think about the alternatives -- possibilities that are definitely not "okay". It happened at a busy spot, and she crossed oncoming traffic before landing in the ditch. There could have been a lot of "not okays" in that scenario.

Somehow the election doesn't seem as important as it did. Let Harper run the country and fight with the Americans about who has sovereignty in the Arctic. (This little spat shows what happens when our Winters get too warm: Canadians start fighting to keep the Arctic so we can go there for some real winter.) Let the Conservatives try to work their way through the minefield of minority governance. Let our friend Harold Albrecht see which is harder -- church planting, or back benching.

Meanwhile I know what's really important. Lois rolled the car. And she's okay. Sometimes I feel like praying.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

So We Had An Election?

What happened Monday? The Cons won the right to a minority government? I think so. The Liberals proved that they're still there? Maybe. The staying power of candidates in the beltway in spite of the appearance of corruption is impressive. I have to wonder if the Liberals could do anything to make Toronto voters not vote for them. It reminds me of Zimbabwe, where Mugabe can unleash the army against vendors and homeless people - -and still be accepted by the African Union as the Liberator of Zimbabwe.

I am glad for a new government. The NDP is too far left for my taste; but if they come to power one day, then it will be their turn and good luck to them. I doubt that the Conservatives are dangerous as we've been told. Anyway, it's their turn now.

The youth mock votes across the country suggest intersting changes in the future. The Liberals came third, behind the Conservatives and NDP. Even the Greens got six seats. In our own Steinbach mock youth vote, the Greens pulled 16%, pushing the Liberals into fourth (Cons 61; NDP 21; Green 16; Libs 6)! This is Conservative country, so I was pleased to see a relatively strong Green showing.

Young people change. At least I did; and all the others I've known have. So the Liberals won't simply disappear; but they do have their work cut out for them. They may be back in power in two years. Who knows? But meanwhile they can reflect on the price of arrogance when in power.

So many questions are left. What will happen to people of faith in the new Canada? I don't know if the Conservative victory signals openess to faith or not; I doubt it. The only permitted faith is in secularism and the Charter. What will happen with the Rural-Urban divide? No idea. We have to come to terms with it; but I sure don't see how. Maybe if we could force everyone in Toronto and Vancouver to live for three years in the country, we could knock some sense into them. But cultural revolutions of that sort don't work. Ask Mao.

But there's no question that we have a new government, and a new set of people to make fun of and distrust. I wonder -- could one of the changes we try include restoring some sense of trust in government officials. It used to be that Canadians believed good government is impossible; we said that peace, order, and good government were not only possible, but desired. We're not so sure anymore. I don't like America-bashing; it seems like a waste of time. But idealism in government is one Canadian trait I don't want us to lose completely, following our America friends.

We had an election. Now let's see if we have a government.

Saturday, January 14, 2006


Saturday night, and now I have a blog -- only because it seems blogspot makes you take a blog to post to any other site. So I have one. Whether or not I'll ever use it, I don't know. I may find that it's better than journalling. We shall see.