Monday, July 12, 2010


We have a dog. A lovely mostly black (with a bit of grey and white) longhaired miniature dachshund. We got him our first Christmas in Manitoba, so his age and our life in Steinbach have run together. Thirteen years old now. He and I fit together. We tend to be feisty at the same time, and creaky at the same time. I watch him stumble along some days and know that our old bones are moving on similar trajectories.

Last night he and I had a contretemps. We had friends over for a cookout, which included grilling corn on the cob in memory of African days. While we were eating our hamburgers Lois realized that he had gotten one of the corn cobs we had laid aside.

Now in the picture above and below, Fritzie is a delightful cute and cuddly dog. But with the corn cob in his mouth he was the mighty hunter with his prey. We would have let him chew his fill, but past experience suggested that he would then be sick. Worse, if he choked on a bit of corn cob, I might have to perform the Heimlich manoeuvre on a dachshund! Not a happy thought.

I broke off a piece of nearby hamburger and went over to him. Fritzie ran. He is normally convinced that I am up to no good, and he is sometimes right. So he ran. He would have run from anyone and anything to protect his hold on the cob. I ran after him trying to get the hamburger in front of his nose. Drop the cob, eat the hamburger, and let me take the corn cob to safety. No such luck.

Finally I grabbed his collar and held him still, twisting the collar to get him to release the cob. With a yelp he let go of the cob, turned his head and caught my wrist with his teeth. Nothing deep or serious, just a scraping of the teeth across my wrist, but the blood flowed freely. I grabbed the cob, threw it on the table outside where we were eating, and ran for the bathroom.

I let cold water run over my forearm, and then applied rubbing alcohol to kill any bacteria. After about 15 minutes we decided that I would go to Emergency (with as low a level of emergency as one can think of) to make sure that the wound was cleaned and properly dressed -- and to get a tetanus shot. Three hours waiting for five minutes of medical care; but the ER personnel were gracious, and didn't laugh at me (at least not out loud). And I got my shot and my dressing, and finally also got my dessert back at the house.

Our guests spent half of that time waiting with me, which was a shame with the lovely weather we had yesterday. But I appreciated it; much better than waiting alone. Now Fritzie is lying at my feet as though we're best friends. Which we are. But i wish he wouldn't hunt so aggressively when there are defenseless corn cobs lying around.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Turning Sixty (1)

I used to think that age was unimportant. I enjoyed having people think that I was younger than my actual age, a state of affairs that lasted until about age 50. I remember quite clearly the evening a group of faculty went out to a restaurant. The hostess asked if I qualified for the Seniors’ Discount: I had gone from about 40 to 60 overnight! (I think it was something to do with my hair – sandy or reddish one day; white the next.)

I remember turning 40. We were in Zimbabwe at the time. Mike Burgess and I are about the same age, so we comforted each other as we went over the hill together. I remember that I could joke about it because the truth was, I didn’t feel old. I felt like 30, not 40. Fifty was a different story: it was the beginning of feeling older too.

Lois gave me a wonderful present: 50 birthday celebrations for my 50th birthday. We finally finished the last one as part of my 60th! And of course I was in good health, able to enjoy life in so many different ways; but I felt the reality of years, whatever the case.

Now 60. I feel older indeed. I enjoy playing recreational soccer in a six a side soccer league in Winnipeg. I am able to climb many many steps up to my office in the seminary five days a week. I met my old friend, Mike, last year. We were both 59 this time, but the years have weighed more heavily on him than on me. So why should I feel anything other than an appreciation for the years I have had?

The process of aging is difficult for us to comprehend. North Americans like to control their destiny. We have built a society (both in Canada and in the United States) on controlling our fate. But you can’t control time. Day by day, year by year, time moves on. We say that age is only a state of mind; but the years continue to move, whatever one feels. Your state of mind may help you feel better about it, but it does not stop the process – or even slow it down.

I suspect that the particular piece of “60” that I need to come to terms with is precisely this remorseless march of days. Since you cannot stop or slow (or speed up or otherwise change) the movement of time, one choice remains: to embrace it.

I haven’t gotten there yet. I played my first 6-on-6 soccer game the week after my birthday – and scored my first goal as a 60-year old. (I made sure that the goalie, someone I’ve played against often enough, heard about that afterwards!) I am still climbing the stairs to the seminary. I am grateful, truly grateful, for health and strength, for the ability to keep reading and processing and working in my professional field. I want to embrace my age.

But the struggle remains. I wish sometimes that I could go back to 40 and stay there – at least physically. I have no desire to re-visit earlier stages of life generally. Once was enough. But our senses live within our physical body, and the body is what ages. My inner self still sometimes feels like the 15-year old who first moved from southern Africa to Pennsylvania, or the 20-year old at Messiah College, or any of the other stages between then and now. But the body ages, and the struggle remains.

If anyone can solve the life-cycle for me, let me know; but for now I continue to thank God for the health I have, the years he has given me, and the days ahead.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Individual Rights

Recently my sister had an interesting blog on going to the movies. We share an upbringing in which we did not go to movies. I still don’t, although only because I don’t enjoy watching movies; she is now (in my eyes) something of a connoisseur.

One of the first movies she went to was “The Cardinal”, which includes the following (as she my sister describes it: “What I particularly remember about this movie is one scene where the central character, who is by now a cardinal (hence the title), learns that his sister is pregnant. When she is due to deliver her child, she learns that the baby's head is too large for the mother to safely deliver. The cardinal is faced with a decision. Give permission for the fetus's head to be crushed, and the sister thereby saved OR refuse permission in which case his sister will die.” The Cardinal chooses the latter.

That memory connected in her blog to a recent news story, quoted here from an NPR report: “Last November, a 27-year-old woman was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. She was 11 weeks pregnant with her fifth child, and she was gravely ill. According to a hospital document, she had ‘right heart failure,’ and her doctors told her that if she continued with the pregnancy, her risk of mortality was ‘close to 100 percent.’” An administrator at the Catholic hospital decided that the abortion was permissible under Catholic Law to save the life of the mother and authorized the procedure. When the administrator’s bishop learned of it, he excommunicated her.

So the question, to which many Americans and Canadians give the answer as self-evident: “What is wrong with these church officials?” Even asking the question that way suggests that our categories are such that we cannot understand what is going on in their minds. We start with such differences in our basic assumptions about life that we don’t even know what has actually happened.

In the rest of this blog, my own short (short) version of the problem: The basic assumption that negates the decisions of the cardinal and the bishop is our cultural commitment to the supremacy of personal individual choice. The USA was built on the search for freedom, especially the freedom of the individual to run his/her own life as far as possible. In this respect Libertarians and Pro-Choice are alike (however differently any individual libertarian and pro-choice person may be) – they share their commitment to the supremacy of individual rights.

I know that this value is also at the centre of the way that I process life; but I am uneasy with it. The study if cultures reveals many different patterns in different societies, balancing the rights of individuals and the importance of the larger community in a variety of ways. I share our cultural commitment to the centrality of the individual; but I also believe that commitment to some larger whole is necessary for social and mental and emotional health. The movie and news story that we stated with pit the right of the individual against the value of community and conclude that the right of the individual cannot be limited in any way.

But what if the individuals in question have voluntarily chosen the larger community (in this case, the church) and voluntarily submitted themselves to the authority of the larger community? When we ask this question, people think of various tragic situations, such as Jonestown, and conclude that we dare not ever allow such a commitment. But devaluing this commitment can also become oppressive. How can we say to the individuals involved, “You have no right to choose to be part of a larger community like this”?

I do not like the choice made by the cardinal or the bishop: I think they got it wrong. But I wonder what we lose when we throw their options out the window. I am at least equally sure that a tyranny of individualism is no better than a tyranny of collectivism.

Saturday, March 20, 2010


Two weeks ago I attended a board meeting in Atlanta, Georgia. Now Manitoba is generally colder and more wintry than Atlanta, so I enjoyed the relative warmth of Georgia in March. I didn't reckon with the dead grass season, so I was disappointed not to find green grass and blooming trees, but the meetings were good, and I could enjoy a trip back to Atlanta sometime. While travelling, I wrote the following as a way of coping with the 1 a.m. start to my first day of travel.

Friday morning one A.M.
For to early to be ... morning.
Quick shower, coffee, toast to go
Two hours and a half on the road.
A flight waits patiently
For groggy passengers, half asleep.
An hour later we land
Short flight -- long drive --
Still too early to be morning.

A new flight waits in turn,
Soon we climb -- higher, faster, further.
Voices pierced by one strong voice
The announcement cutting through conversations
Replacing sports and casual talk with
The business of flying ... and landing.

On the ground walking and walking,
Long passages, sign after sign calls out
"Baggage" -- somewhere ahead.
Pictures spring out, huge rocks on the walls.
Home! Ngivela eMatonjeni!
Words spring out within the rock pictures.
Nkosi sikelela iAfrika.
Thoughts of home, unbidden, unexpected
Interlude before we consummate our flights
And meet.

6 March 2010

Monday, February 08, 2010

Old Friends

Part One

Many years ago when the world was young, 1960 to be precise, our family moved back from a six month stay in Pennsylvania to what felt like home to me. We left the green grass of Pennsylvania behind and sailed off (it was long enough ago that ships were the cheapest mode of travel) to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Deepest darkest Africa, so my friends thought. To me, home.

I re-entered the school I had left six months earlier -- standard three at Hilside Junior School (which was, being interpreted, Grade Five in North America). I sat down in my new class at my old school beside a new friend, Norgrove Penny. Norgrove and I made friends quickly, as 10 year old boys sometimes do.

The next day Norgrove brought me something from his Dad. An envelope. With a picture inside. "My Dad says to take this to your father." I did.

Part Two

That same year Dr. Cherer Penny, a doctor for the Rhodesian Railways, flew across the oceans from Zimbabwe to the United States. He went to Chicago, to a medical course that would help him stay current with the latest medical practices and improve his skills for his work in Bulawayo. Being a thrifty man, he stayed at the local YMCA, while most of the American doctors attending the course stayed in nicer hotels. But not all. One other man stayed at the Y with him, Dr. Alvin Heise. Dr. Heise and Dr. Penny shared something also, a strong Christian commitment. On the weekend Dr. Heise invited Dr. Penny to his home in Ohio to visit his family and attend church with him. (Below: Drs Heise, left, and Penny, right.)
Dr. Heise's pastor was Rev. Andrew Slagenweit. Andrew and his wife Ruth were delighted to meet this Rhodesian doctor, especially since Andrew's sister, Dorcas, was moving back to Bulawayo with her husband, David Climenhaga.
Part Three
The stories came together. I took the envelope home, all unsuspecting. My Dad asked me what it was. "I don't know. My friend from school gave it to me to give to you." Dad opened the envelope and found a picture of his brother-in-law, Pastor Andrew Slagenweit, taken by Dr. Penny on his visit to Chicago and Ohio not long before. "How did you get this?" Incredulous question. "From my friend, Norgrove." "Who is Norgrove?" "My friend at school." How did he get this ...." You can imagine the questions that flowed, with no answer possible.
My parents and Norgrove's parents got together of course, and all was revealed. Norgrove and I played cricket and soccer and remained friends, but only for two years. Dr. Penny accepted a call from the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada to open a clinic in Hay River in the Northwest Territories of Canada. I suppose all the Canadian doctors knew how far north Hay River is! So he went, and eventually moved to British Columbia. Norgrove may still live there, but that is another story. We have not seen each other since.
I have seen Dr. Heise, though. I married his daughter, Lois. Our stories come together more than 32 years ago -- his encounter with Dr. Penny and mine with Norgrove.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Christmas 2009

We just travelled to visit our sons and my Dad and my mother-in-law for Christmas and New Year's. It was a good trip, spending time with family from both sides. A basic feature of such a Christmas is driving -- three days to Minnesota, then Indiana, then Pennsylvania; and back to Ohio, to Indiana, then Wisconsin (just before the Minnesota border), and home. Here follows an impressionistic reflection of the trip.

Driving to snow and slush we know lie ahead.
Driving from clear skies, wide open space left behind.
Driving, opening a way to people we love and miss.

Cold behind, deepest cold. Cold ahead, damp and biting.
Driving past rock outliers, seen by peoples past.
Driving into trucks, traffic, roads of mayhem and mess.
Closer, closer to those we miss and love.

Tunnel after tunnel, deep in rock,
Outside signals blocked and lost.
Toll piles on toll as trees and mountains
Crowd around our car, driving, driving home.
Dogwood -- Chestnut -- County Road -- Cripe.
Each place a piece of home with those we love
And miss when we are home


Driving, driving back from turnpike to interstate
To 10 and 59 turning north.
Driving north, sun behind and cold ahead,
Darkness falling early, moon shining bright on snow,
Driving back to deepest cold clear sky
And home. (Away from those we love and miss.)

Daryl Climenhaga, 3 January 2010