Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sabbatical Remembering

Finding and inserting a picture for my profile sparked memories: the picture shows me waiting for Lois to come out of one of the many delightful little shops in Swakopmund, Namibia. The sign on the bench reads: "Bored Husbands": delightful! We visited Swakopmund during sabbatical in 2003, just over three years ago now. Amazing how quickly three years have gone by.

I could write about many parts of that trip -- time in Bulawayo with inflation beyond understanding; the trip up to Victoria Falls and then on to Choma, car sputtering all the way; driving out to Sikalongo and seeing Dorothy's grave; the full day that Gift (the mission mechanic) put in to get the car running again; back down through Botswana along country that looked and felt like a hot, hot Manitoba; from Johannesburg through the Kalahari to Windhoek (two breakdowns, and five hours in the desert sun waiting for relief); back to Pretoria for another month (with an office at UNISA and living at the Operation Mobilization headquarters); and finally Cape Town. Five months of stimulation: mental, spiritual, family, academic.

But Swakopmund. We drove from Windhoek through more desert, of which much of Namibia central and south appears to consist. The countryside moved from dry underbrush to sand and rocks, progressively dryer and bleaker. One had the sense of a moonscape (as part of the area is actually called). This link gives the official Namibian Tourist Board's description of the area.

Then suddenly, Swakopmund. Water, palm trees, delightful German village on the beach of the Atlantic Ocean. The dunes south of the town had sand-boarders, as well-practised as any snow boarders in western Canada.

We climbed dune seven: well, Lois, and Vaughn, and Nevin climbed the dune. I waited in the shade of the trees, which were being gradually engulfed by the dune. We saw signs on the road warning of drifting sand, with sand plows designed like snow plows in Manitoba to keep the road clear.

And next to all of that: the ocean. Spray and rocks and swell after swell rolling in. Vaughn stood a little too long next to the rolling swell, and one wave drenched him completely as it broke on the rocks. Lois found a pile of rocks facing out towards the ocean, screened from the desert behind, which she pronounced her own secret spot to sit and watch the waves. Whether eating supper with the sun sinking into the ocean, or walking through the shops of this little German community buried on the south-west coast of Africa, or talking to travellers in the backpackers' hostel where we stayed: we enjoyed Swakopmund as an unexpected treat in the middle of five months of a true sabbatical.

Monday, February 26, 2007


I know the title is overdone, but I drove down to Thief River Falls on Saturday evening. About 40 minutes out of Steinbach, and 15 minutes north of the border, I found myself in white-out conditions. I knew that there was a winter storm watch on; but I had driven into Winnipeg in the morning under the same storm warnings without difficulty. So it was with some dismay that I found myself driving deeper into blizzard conditions, not sure of where I would end up.

I preach in Thief River Falls about once a month, driving down Saturday evening and back on Sunday afternoon. I could have -- perhaps should have -- called Mel and said: "I can't make it. Sorry!" But I kept going straight. Out on the prairie it is easier to go straight than to turn around: through Rouseau and Tolstoi, on towards the border.

Homeland Security soon decided that this strange traveller, emerging from the blowing snow into the relative comfort of the border crossing, was no threat to the United States and could be allowed in. I had no desire to go back into the blizzard immediately, so engaged them in conversation about the weather -- and the possibility of accommodation in Lancaster, 10 miles down the road. (I knew the answer: none; but I thought I might stay with someone from a church I have preached for there.)

Half way from the border to Lancaster the blowing lifted a bit and I was left with a half hour of daylight and steadily falling snow. But now I could see the road, or at least the stubble on the verge, which showed me where the road stretched out ahead. I pressed on to Karlstad, where a motel offered some possibility if Thief River was just too far. Following a stop at the convenience store in Karlstad, I decided to press on to Thief River: the last 35 miles took another hour. Total travel time: four hours; normal time from Steinbach to Thief River: two hours and a bit.

When I got into Thief River at 8:30 in the evening, my host informed me that Mel (the associate pastor where I was preaching) had just called to say that the services for the next day had been cancelled and I could go home. Right!! I was relieved to discover that this announcement was a bit of prairie humour. Garrison Keillor would have approved.

Following two services the next morning, I drove back to Steinbach -- only two hours and 45 minutes this time. I also had a lecture to give Sunday evening in Winnipeg, with two more hours there and back and two and a half hours of lecture. So, a tiring weekend, but I am so grateful for safety. I have often said that I prefer blizzards to tornadoes, because you can't really avoid a tornado, but you can always stay inside in a blizzard. I should learn to listen to myself sometimes.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Happy Birthday, Donna!

I know your birthday was a few days ago -- five years older than I, all our lives. It took me until now to get these pictures that mother had put in an album for me (she may have given you a similar personalized set of your own: I don't know).

So for your birthday present, here are some memories!

Love, Daryl

Mother's label: "Daryl and Donna": although of course it is Donna and Daryl

"Donna and Daryl in Pretoria, S. Africa"

"Sikalongo Mission"

Donna--Daryl--Mother--Macha Mission

"Bulawayo Park--1953"

"Leaving Choma, Zambia--1954"

"In Cherbourg, France--1955"

"On Queen E, 1954, January"

"Bulawayo Park--1958"


"Bulawayo Park--1958"
No label, but it must be around Christmas 1974.
Back: Daryl, Donna, Carlin, Denise
Front: Mother, Geoffrey, Dad

Monday, February 12, 2007

World, Country, Family, Church?

I have pursued the idea of community in several posts. As I write, my thinking clarifies: sediment sinks to the bottom (I hope I never have to dig around there!), and a somewhat clearer brew rises to the top. I think I'm starting to get it.

I have taught often in my classes that our emphasis on individual fulfillment, basic to our identity as North Americans, is detrimental to the larger community to which we belong; and I believe i am right. But I am also a child of the Sixties. I desire the right, at least for myself, to determine as much of my present and future as I reasonably can, and I can't see any good reason to deny anyone else the same privilege. "All the world, so easy to see, people everywhere just got to be free."

So I face a basic fact: I am committed to the same individualism that I find destructive of community within our society as a whole. I am also a child of my own culture. Africa has taught me that we are most fully human within community: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu (a person is fully a person with other people): but I am an American anyway.

This note of community lies behind my embrace of Penn State fight songs. It is the force that binds me to my countries, however frustrated I am with what we do as Americans or Zimbabweans or Canadians. It is the commitment that keeps me human within the whole human family.

I thought of this all again most recently in the aftermath of a church discussion. I grew up Brethren in Christ, and that church identity is deep within me. My grandfather's grandfather's father was a lay minister in our church, in Ontario in the early 1800s. But after this particular conversation, I felt so annoyed as to wonder if I should embrace my Mennonite identity and leave the Brethren in Christ behind.

The answer is, of course: No. Asking the question also answers it. As I have said on various occasions, the hardest part of moving to Manitoba has been the fact that we have moved out of the geographic orbit of the Brethren in Christ Church. I have sometimes wished that we could have remained as a family within the church, rather than having to find a new Mennonite identity (however closely related our faith communities are). As soon as I raise the possibility, I know that I could not do it: my extended faith family is too much a part of myself to leave it behind.

If I had to rank the communities within which I find myself, I would place church and family together -- in practical terms, family (since one lives most closely with family), but the two hardly separate. In the second rank, I would place country and the whole human family -- again in practical terms, country (since one lives first within one's country), but again the two hardly separate.

I find myself, I find my fulfillment, within the various communities in which I live: worldwide, country, church, family, and work. (I notice that the workplace has not figured in this narrative: perhaps because so much of my work life has been in the church, and now continues in a seminary, I tend to equate work and church.) Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Valentine's Day Is Coming

Valentine's Day is coming. I know because WITF (accessed by internet) told me so. I always have trouble remembering which precise day is Valentine's: I know that it is on one side or the other of February 13, because I know my sister's birthday.

I'm not sure what the day is for really. In Manitoba it marks a necessary break from the deep freeze of the True North Strong and Free (and cold). Perhaps most fundamentally the day is not so much for lovers (at least that, of course: but so much more) as it is for family. In our case, lovers and family go together.

I remember coming back from Zimbabwe 32 years ago. People asked what I hoped to do, going home (wherever home is) after three years teaching at Matopo. I gave various replies, including, "Get married". I look back and wonder at my naivety, the audacity to think that one could simply look around and find someone and "get married". I did. Mother invited three young women to lunch, all from our church, all with connections to Africa, students at nearby Goshen College. I already knew all three, but over time drew close to Lois. I remember playing the romantic lead in "Brigadoon": the director and cast were convinced that Laura and I would take our on-stage roles into off-stage romance. But there was Lois, and in July 1977 we were married. She was and is my only romance.

I think of another romance, so many years ago. John and Emma, written up by my sister. A story bracketed by two walks: the last along the same railroad track as the first on the day before she died. They remembered how so many years before John had clambered down the embankment to pick a flower which she admired. Our father's parents, romantics in their own way.

Then David and Dorcas, our parents: together a few months less than 50 years, until mother died. On this day it is hard to believe that was almost 16 years ago. Their courtship was long distance, both in geography and in time. My memory (which of course only covers the stories I was told: I was not present) says that they were engaged for three years. If I am wrong, I will be corrected!

I wish I had the story also for David and Cora, mother's parents. I know only that this young man from German background connect to the Brethren in Christ married a young girl, also from German background, but Lutheran; so that she gave up jewelry and fancy clothing to marry him and join the Brethren.

Lois' parents? Alvin and Maxine Heise: engaged before World War Two, but married after. In the weeks before Dad's death he and mother described their courting and early family life. Dad grew up on the farm in Kansas; so did mother. They were to take over Grandpa Heise's farm when they got married. But World War Two came; the draft board refused to give him an exclusion for farming: that went to his father. But Grandpa Heise's health was not good enough to keep farming. During the war he had to sell the farm, and when Alvin and Maxine got married, the farm was gone. So -- as a second best alternative to farming -- Dad went to medical school, became a doctor, and practiced family medicine for 30 years in the same small town in Ohio. I always assumed that he chose medicine first. but he and mother meant to farm.

Today we have sons: four of us. Valentine's Day includes them. We have a fifth too -- a virtually-adopted son from close Zimbabwean friends, but he took the picture. Romantic Love (eros), Family Love (storge): we celebrate all kinds of love. (Eventually I'll add love of pets: our dachshund, Fritzie, is a member of the family.) I said a few posts ago that we show our love for humankind in our love for our country -- that's the beginning of community; I could add that family is the best laboratory for community. At least, it has been for me.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Sitting By The Window

Lois and Kyle have taken over the television downstairs, watching some movie that takes off on The Taming of the Shrew. My tolerance for movies is low: give me Pink Panther movies or The Court Jester, and I'm happy. (There are of course a few other exceptions.) But in general movies play too strongly on my imagination, and I find it easier to leave the room. Years ago (15 or more), Lois and I went to see Dead Poet's Society in Bulawayo. I have never gone so often to the lobby to buy popcorn, to the washroom for a break, anywhere to avoid the tension I felt watching the actual show.

So I am upstairs, looking out the window at the snow sparkling in at minus 30. More than crispy! Sparkling like diamonds! In the background a vinyl record plays Bach's Goldberg Variations on the harpsichord. A pile of unsorted papers waits beside me for attention, once the blog is done.

One could almost imagine that the world is right, sitting by the window with the bitter cold so close, and so far away. Today another report came on the imminence of a world less pleasant to live in: climate change. It seems far away behind the crisp, crunchy snow; but it is also intensely real here in the North. Winter roads in the far north are now back on schedule, but they were delayed again this year by the lateness of the deep cold of winter. Further north in Churchill, the polar bears walk through town, seeking restitution for lost habitat.

The moon is remarkably bright tonight. Almost one could imagine snow blindness after the sun goes down! Looking in my window I can almost hear the moon ask why we take the environment so lightly, so much for granted. I have no answer. Nor, I think, is there one. Sitting by the window, the bitter cold so close and so far away, fading into the past.

I am a Christian. I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, born of the Virgin Mary .... The Apostles Creed and climate change war within, and both speak of sin and salvation. I wonder when it will come.