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Red, White, and Blue? Are there greener pastures south of the border?

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”

These words are engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, calling out to countless immigrants to America, who were longing for freedom from persecution, from poverty, from overcrowding, from a restricted way of life.

These words, when written in 1883, were mostly aimed at citizens of the “Old World,” but lately more Canadians are hearing the call of “Lady Liberty,” and wondering if life would be better south of the 49th parallel. Are Americans really freer than Canadians? What would our lives be like if we moved to the USA?

I would like to make clear that I’m not entirely unbiased. I’m proud of my Canadian heritage, and I love Canada, but my wife Faith and I moved from B.C. to the U.S.A. in 1996, first to Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, and later to Lynden, Washington, where we have lived since 2002. We love the U.S. but we also recognize that there are many things about moving that should be considered carefully before making a momentous decision that will have generational consequences. I hope that this article may give good food for thought to RP readers who are thinking about pulling up stakes, or who know others who are considering such a move.

Freedom

Both countries’ national anthems espouse freedom: America is “the land of the free, and the home of the brave,” while Canada is “The True North, strong and free.” As a test case, the COVID restrictions and lockdowns of 2020-2021 are a fascinating study in how much freedom was or wasn’t prized, with all the different policies that were implemented in the hopes of saving lives.

In general, Canadian provinces locked down more tightly and for a longer time than most American states. Bryan Grim and his wife Leanne moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota this past summer from Surrey, B.C. with their seven children. Bryan recalled that in B.C. for long stretches, they were restricted in their movements within the province, forbidden to travel between arbitrarily designated zones.

Travel restrictions were tough, but having “in-person” worship services forbidden was another matter entirely. For many months, most Canadian churches did not gather together for worship in their church buildings, but resorted to live streaming of a pastor preaching to a mostly empty church. As these restrictions stretched on, church members debated and argued over whether or not they should defy the shutdown orders, or reluctantly obey. Church councils across the country had to deal with division among office bearers and among the members, and in some cases these wounds are still healing.

In the U.S., with fifty different governors, and fifty different legislatures, there were many different responses to COVID. Some more rural and conservative states (including Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Utah, and Wyoming) had very few state-wide restrictions, and no enforced “stay at home” orders. Other states like Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Texas opened up to regular commerce, worship services, and in-person education much more quickly than more left-leaning states like California, New York, and Washington. One common pattern in both countries is that most big cities were tougher on lockdowns: whether you lived in Los Angeles or Toronto, at times you would have felt very restricted.

In more rural parts of both countries, there may have been more lenience by police forces and local governments. In my adopted home town of Lynden, the local police and the county sheriff’s department did not enforce any of the state governor’s directives restricting worship services, and local mayors and elected officials encouraged churches to use common sense in deciding whether or not, and how, to hold in-person worship services. Many of the “lesser magistrates” in different parts of the USA recognized the vital (literally, life-giving) importance of worship services to the lives of a free people, upholding the First Amendment of the Constitution that states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

RP readers may be aware of areas in Canada where overly burdensome regulations from provincial or national governments were not enforced by local governments, but it’s safe to say that these cases were few and far between.

Canadians are by and large brought up to respect those in authority over us, and most Canadian Christians can quote from Romans 13 by heart: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God…” Americans, of course, have the same Bible! But somehow, there is a spirit of independence among citizens of the U.S. that pushes back strongly against any authority that is deemed to have over-reached its powers as granted in national or state constitutions. Americans rebelled against what they judged to be the unlawful and unjust authority of King George III in 1776; many who were loyal to the British crown and did not believe rebellion was the proper path left the country and moved to Canada.

Are Americans more free than Canadians?  That likely depends greatly on the state or province in which you hang your hat, and on the size of the city you have made your home. But the spirit of independence of citizens, and their desire to curtail government powers to those specifically granted by constitutions does seem to be more alive in most of the fifty states than in the provinces and territories.

Drifting in the same direction?

The Canadian Charter of Rights guarantees fundamental freedoms such as “freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, and freedom of expression.” Yet many Canadians are angry about the government’s power being directed against them when they exercise these freedoms, and call homosexuality a sin against God, or when they speak out against government policies they judge to be unjust. (Some truckers who spoke out against the COVID lockdowns found themselves frozen out of their bank accounts!)

But how different are things in the U.S.?

The recent mid-term elections in the U.S. were disappointing for many American Christians. If the exit polling is accurate, millions of voters were swayed by pro-abortion advocates to keep the Democrat party in control of the Senate. Conservatives had hoped that the leftward drift of the country would be rejected by its citizenry. Instead, the voters appeared to endorse the leadership of President Biden, who despite his Roman Catholic faith, has embraced abortion as a “reproductive right.” Self-identified independents who can sway election results for either side mostly voted for the Democratic candidates: in particular younger, female voters helped push results in favor of the more liberal of the country’s two major political parties. (The Republican party did gain control of the House of Representatives, but with a far slimmer margin than pollsters had predicted.)

One election does not necessarily indicate a permanent shift, but Canadians who wish to escape liberal trends in government might pause to look carefully at directions in the United States.

Church communities

Nate and Victoria and their son Jaxon – show off some of their geographical connections, sitting in front of the US, Canadian, and Australia flags.

A generation or two ago, many Reformed people would narrow down the locations that they’d be willing to move, to areas where they could find a church from within their own federation, or one that was already recognized as a “sister church.”

There is definitely some safety and wisdom in this approach: if we move for greater economic opportunities, or political freedom, but compromise in our choice of which church to join, we may live to regret that decision.

Nate and Victoria VanAndel recently moved to Maryville, Tennessee from Brantford, Ontario with their son Jaxon. The VanAndels were grateful for the ability to watch recorded worship services from churches they were considering; it helped them make their decision to join Sandy Springs Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) near Knoxville after also visiting some local congregations of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). “Sundays include a pre-service Sunday school in the morning, a bi-monthly potluck lunch, and an evening service,” said Victoria. “We have found this church to be very inviting, and we felt at home here very quickly.” (The OPC is in a fraternal relationship with both the URC and CanRC federations; the PCA is recognized within NAPARC as a faithful church body.)

Canadians who have been members of long-established Reformed churches back at home may be surprised by how small many of the conservative Presbyterian or Reformed churches are in the USA, particularly in areas where there has not been a large Dutch immigrant community. For example, the OPC has an average congregational size of 110 members. Smaller churches can have many benefits, with greater opportunity for strong relationships between members, and community involvement, but some of the resources of a larger church community may not be present.

Christian schooling

Bryan Grim found this to be the case in particular with regard to Christian education. Grim grew up in the Fraser Valley of B.C., and appreciates the schools founded by Canadian Reformed people in the 1950s, with many United Reformed members also joining these school societies in the last twenty years. Grim stated that the local Christian school society in Sioux Falls appears to have drifted from its Reformed roots, and not many members of his new home church, Christ Reformed URC, send their children there (although Bryan and Leanne’s children are attending).

More parents have chosen to homeschool their students, rather than worry about what the young people are taught when away from the home. This appears to be a more common trend in long established American Christian school societies in Reformed communities, which after a period of years, drop their requirements that teachers and leaders adhere to the Reformed confessions and maintain membership in a faithful church body. How the parents and educators who worked so hard to establish these schools would lament these developments!

How about our grandparents?

Those in favor of moving out of Canada might point to their grandparents or great grandparents, many of whom moved away from the Netherlands without having issues of church membership or schooling finally settled. No doubt, many of the Dutch who left Holland had not thought through every detail of family and church life, but judged that greater opportunity in Canada, and further distance from European wars and struggles made the risk a responsible one.

In the rear-view mirror, they may judge that they made the right decision, that they by and large were able to establish strong, faithful churches, schools, and communities, and leave behind a country that had much less opportunity for the average citizen. This did not come easily, however, and these older generations had difficult years and struggles along the way. The Lord blessed His people as they worked faithfully wherever He placed them.

Affordability

In the last thirty years, real estate prices in Canadian cities have increased by leaps and bounds. In southern Ontario, in B.C.’s Fraser Valley, and in the larger prairie cities, young people may have a very hard time buying their own home. Research firm Oxford Economics recently reported that overall Canadian real estate prices rose 331% from 1990 through today. The report sounded an alarm that with rising interest rates, many Canadians would have difficulties making their mortgage payments.

The study also reported that real estate had risen 289% during the same time period in the USA, which sounds like a similar rise in value, but as any realtor will say, all real estate is local, and the top three factors in a home’s value are “location, location, location!” Home prices in rural American states remain much more affordable for the average wage-earner.

Bryan and Leanne Grim were able to buy a home on a four-acre property that would be far out of reach for the average buyer if that home were located in Surrey or Mississauga or Los Angeles. In addition, mortgage rates in the U.S. can be locked in for up to thirty years, giving cost certainty for buyers who can be confident that their payments will remain constant as long as they stay in the same home.

With housing prices so high in the lower B.C. mainland, Bryan believed his children would likely have had to move away to become homeowners. By moving to Sioux Falls, he and Leanne  have a greater chance that as their children grow up and form their own households, these might be near Dad and Mom.

So far, the Grims have found the cost of living in Sioux Falls to be significantly less than in B.C. with the exception of Christian schooling. Many Christian school societies in Canada charge at a discounted rate for large families, while these discounts might be smaller or non existent in the more typical American Christian school system.

Federal tax rates are substantially lower in the U.S. than in Canada, and there are nine states (Alaska, Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Washington) that have no state-level income tax at all. Michigan, with an abundance of Reformed churches, has the fourth lowest cost of living of the fifty states, and is among the most affordable for housing costs.

Family and friends

Adam, the oldest son of Bryan and Leanne Grim children, shown exercising his American "right to bear arms."

Emigrants inevitably leave behind precious loved ones in their family circle – parents, siblings, cousins, extended church family, and friends.

When four of Gary and Cindy Wieske’s six grown children began to move south, one by one, it made the decision to pursue a move themselves easier. Daughter Jodi was already settled in suburban Chicago with her husband. Son Caleb, an entrepreneur like his dad, had always wanted to move to the States, and eventually chose Tennessee as his destination, where he and his brother Dustin have started an outdoor living company, supplying patio furniture, barbecues, smokers, and similar products.

As owners of Ontario Stone Supply in Dundas, Gary and Cindy Wieske were able to buy a similar company in Fort Myers, Florida, where they moved along with son Rodney and his family: Rodney is manager of the new location in Fort Myers, while son Luke and daughter Nadia are running the company back home in Ontario. Gary Wieske is thankful to be able to travel to see his kids and grandkids in Florida, Tennessee, Illinois and southern Ontario.

In South Dakota, Bryan and Leanne Grim are also glad that Bryan’s sister and her family moved to the same neighborhood, giving all the children the benefit of having cousins and friends nearby.

Most of those who move, however, will not have the benefit of frequent in-person contact with extended family and long-time friends. While staying connected through phone and internet is easier and more affordable now than it’s ever been, it isn’t the same as in-person visits or catching up over a cup of coffee. In particular, parents with young families may find it hard to be away from the network of babysitting grandparents, and friends ready to pitch in at a moment’s notice.

Can you do it?

There are a number of possible legal paths that Canadians can consider for a move to the U.S. Many American companies are looking for professionally qualified employees in diverse fields, and may be able to help with the immigration procedure. Investors’ visas are another common route: they do require a good amount of capital, a good business plan, and a lot of paperwork to qualify, but the route is a well-trodden one.

It is possible to take care of the paperwork and filing to immigrate without a lawyer but it may be a much more frustrating and time-consuming endeavor.  Everyone I spoke to for this article mentioned the value of a good immigration attorney. “They give you the confidence that you can do it,” said Gary Wieske. “Although there is still a lot of planning, and a lot of paperwork and charts.”

In general, immigration attorneys know their business and are able to find the most expeditious path to a visa, including advice on which visas can lead to eventual permanent residence status (also known as a “green card”). It may be wise to find a lawyer who you know has been able to help other Canadians make the move legally: in our Lynden community, we could readily recommend which lawyers have been excellent, and which may not have quite as sterling a reputation.

Should you do it?

When asked, “Why make the move?” Gary Wieske quoted his son Dustin: “For faith, for family, and for freedom: if that’s what we’re doing it for, then we’ll be blessed.” So far, Wieske has no regrets: his family appreciates living among so many more outspoken Christians than back home. He recalls the simple gesture of a waitress in a Tennessee restaurant who reminded Wieske’s grandkids to pray for their meal: “That’s something I’ve never seen in all my years in Ontario!”

For Bryan Grim and his family, the move has so far been all very positive: he appreciates that South Dakotans value their freedom, and, in particular, their freedom of expression. Grim finds that folks in his relatively small town are tolerant of other viewpoints: “In South Dakota, you’re still allowed to have your own opinion.”

While Victoria VanAndel misses family back in Ontario, she instantly felt at home in the south: “The first week here in Tennessee I remember saying to Nate that I had such nice people serve me at the grocery store, and wherever I had to run errands that day. After a week of this though it became clear that the people are just friendlier and happier here! We had neighbors welcome us with baskets of veggies, porch flowers and a kind word of ‘welcome to Tennessee, this here is God’s country!”

Whether or not a move out of your community is right for you and your family is really a question that you can only answer yourself. As has been discussed, there are many factors to consider. God has called us to live faithfully before Him as prophets confessing His name, as priests presenting ourselves as living sacrifices to Him, and as kings fighting against sin and the devil, and we may and must do all these things wherever we find ourselves living on this earth.

As we consider our roles as members of God’s Church, as parents, as children, as employees, and as citizens, let us use wisdom from God’s word, listen to good counsel from those we respect, and pray to the Lord for guidance in these decisions.

Marty VanDriel is the Assistant Editor of Reformed Perspective.

Assorted

Aging in hope!

I am 68 years of age and retired, so I suppose I am considered old. In our politically correct times, I am called either a “senior citizen" or "chronologically gifted." What is aging? How do we react to it? These questions are no longer academic for me. When I was in my teens, I thought that people in their fifties were old. At this juncture in my life, a fifty-year-old seems relatively youthful. So aging is ambiguous. Bernard Nash describes aging as a paradox: "Does it not strike you that we all want to live longer but none of us want to grow old?" Throughout our lives we think other people grow older until we gradually realize that we ourselves have aged. Some say that aging can be compared with the fall season when the fruits ripen and the leaves fall; others claim that the moment of aging has arrived when the sum total of memories has become greater than our expectations. Aging, says the American gerontologist Howel, "is not a simple slope which everyone slides down at the same speed. It is a flight of irregular stairs down which some journey more quickly than others." To grow old also means to lose acquaintances and lifelong friends to distance, illness, and death. Obituaries testify that life is the process of aging, and aging is the steady progress of dying within us. Every moment we are alive, we are aging. Life and death are intimately linked. The day is coming when all our earthly possessions will be swept away, including our ability to enjoy them. This is not a morbid view of life – it is simply reality. As the 17th century poet Robert Herrick wrote, Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, Old Time is still a-flying. And this same flower, that smile today, Tomorrow will be dying. So how do we cope with aging? We live in a society that has shown little understanding of growing old, and valued it even less. The Christian literature on aging seems sparse, with far more attention paid to child-rearing. Too little attention has been given to caring for aged parents. DENIAL CAN'T LAST It’s seems the fear of aging has contributed to a denial of reality – if we don’t talk about it, maybe it won’t happen to us, right? This sort of denial is why some find visiting a nursing home a burden. They can't imagine themselves ever being there. They don’t want the reminder of their own mortality. Our society views frankness about death as deviant, a subject not to be discussed in polite company. For many death is the last taboo in Western culture; for others it has become an exploited sentimentality: people don't attend funerals anymore, but instead “celebrations of a life lived.” And when they do talk about death, it is to make light of it, with styrofoam tombstones on the front yard on All Hallows’ Eve. But their atheistic naturalism leaves them unable to face the brute finality of death. And because they are unwilling to return to a biblical perspective, a new generation puts their faith in reports of out-of-body experiences and in New Age mysticism. Still, try as it might, the world cannot keep death out of sight and mind. The moment we are born, we begin to die. PERPETUAL TEENAGERS The world’s death denial is evident, too, in how it is now a common goal among the aged to stay young. Or, rather, not just stay young, but stay immature. Whereas in the past becoming an adult was the ideal, today the older generation wants to look as young as possible, with some trying to camouflage their age by dressing like teenagers. In his own inimitable and not very flattering way, British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge reported on a month he spent at a resort in Florida. He said that everything was done to make senior citizens feel that they were not really aged, but still full of zest and expectations; if not teenagers, then keenagers. These seniors, he said, had withered bodies arrayed in dazzling summer wear, hollow eyes glaring out of garish caps, skulls plastered with cosmetics, lean shanks tanned a rich brown, bony buttocks encased in scarlet trousers. Muggeridge's description may be exaggerated, but it does say something about the affect contemporary youth culture has on our society. It has a negative and morbid view of aging. FOREVER ON EARTH? The advertisement industry contributes to this mood. Wherever we look, there are ads for anti-aging creams, yoga routines, nutritional programs, and medical interventions. Growing old is seen not so much as part of the human condition but rather as a solvable medical and scientific problem. Hence, doctors and scientists search for a solution to the "problem of old age." What are the chances that scientific advance will find a way to extend life indefinitely? A number of investors have paid large sums to have their bodies frozen at death by means of cryogenics, which is used to freeze beef and vegetables, as well as people. But as Dr. Russell points out in his secular work Good News About Aging, those who cherish dreams of being defrosted and living forever some time hence are probably cherishing an implausible dream because freezing destroys human body cells. He adds: "…even if we can overcome this and other problems, no scientific evidence suggests that we can expect to eliminate death now or in the future because all things break down over time." And what if we could live forever? In our fallen world, would we really want to? In his 1922 play The Makropulos Secret, Karel Capek probes this issue with the 337-year-old character Emilia, who notes: "… no one can love for three hundred years – it cannot last. And then everything tires one. It tires one to be good, it tires one to be bad. The whole earth tires one. And then you find out there is nothing at all: no sin, no pain, no earth, nothing." What a hideous future! To be given an everlasting longevity without being regenerated by the Holy Spirit, without hope to be with the Lord in the new heaven and earth, is a dismal prospect. It is to live under a curse. If we could live on in this world with all its pain, conflicts, without solving the immense human problems, a medically-expanded life would simply set the stage for more of same human conflicts and social injustices. IMPATIENCE INSTEAD OF HONOR Death denial is also evident in our youth’s treatment of the elderly. Aging frustrates modern youth – it interferes with their desire "to get things done." Have you ever noticed the impatience shown in a lineup at the bank when a senior is trying to carry out a transaction? Their slower pace often exasperates the clerk and the younger customers waiting for their turn. These young people can’t imagine ever being in the same situation. Sure, other people age…but not them. The conflict between the generations is a subject of much discussion. Many seem to view aging as a process to endure and suffer through, rather than as a temporally contingent gift from God to be approached with gratitude. The Canadian philosopher George Grant observed that old age is more and more seen as an unalleviated disaster, not only for those outside of it but by those people who are old themselves. And he noted that we do not see age as that time when the eternal can be realized, and we therefore pity the aged as coming to the end of historic existence. Sociologists even refer to ageism, which can be defined as a general distaste for the elderly in our culture – equivalent to racial prejudice, but in this case unfair generalizations are made about any who are old: “all elderly people are forgetful," "all elderly people are ill-tempered," "all elderly people suffer from depression,” or “mental impairment is endemic to aging.” Contrary to the myth about aging, seniors do not necessarily decline in intelligence or lose their decision-making abilities. History gives us countless examples of creative, active, and productive seniors. At 71, Michelangelo (1475-1564) was appointed the chief architect of St. Peter's Cathedral in Rome. After he was 63 years old, Joost Van den Vondel (1587-1679), Holland's greatest poet, wrote Jephta, Lucifer and Adam in ballingschap (Adam in exile). George Bernhard Shaw (1856-1679), Irish dramatist and author, wrote Farfetched Fables at 93. Polish-born Arthur Rubinstein (1888-1982) gave a stunning performance at Carnegie Hall at the age of 90. Like these famous people, there are millions of elderly people who are still productive and active in their own way and want to remain so. Ageism seems to comes about because people know little about old age, and because what they know is based on myth and fear. People even talk about generational wars. In recent years, the conflict between the generations has become most noticeable due to the decreasing ability of government to pay for health and pension benefits. The pinch is already provoking generational conflict in the ambitious welfare states of Northern Europe, where birthrates and immigration rates are lower than in the United States and where the elderly wield considerable political clout. Young Europeans are complaining about the high cost of healthcare for the elderly, and are resentful of fees that are eroding the tradition of free university education. One German youth leader gained notoriety by suggesting that old folks should use crutches rather than seek expensive hip replacements. Unfortunately, this generational conflict is also seen in churches today. Seniors don't like to call their dominee “pastor Jack” and they certainly don’t like his casual appearance when he comes visiting. But when a vacant church thinks of calling a pastor there is a strong emphasis on youth. It seems that some search committees look for a twenty-five-year-old man with thirty years of experience. A CHRISTIAN ALTERNATIVE The differences between the generations don't need to lead to conflicts. Christians can offer alternative understandings of aging. The Bible views the conflict between generations as abnormal. Yes, youth is a wonderful thing, but it is not the only thing. It is a blessing in many ways, but it can, on some occasions even be a curse. When Isaiah pronounced judgment on Jerusalem and Judah, he said, "I will make boys their officials; mere children will govern them" (Isa.3:4). Young and old can come to mutual understanding and appreciation of each other. In the Kingdom of God, "Children's children are a crown of the aged, and parents are the pride of their children" (Prov. 17:6). Old men dream dreams and young men see visions (Joel 2:28; cf. Acts 2:17). And God promises that He will be with His people of every age bracket. "Even to your old age and gray hairs I am He, I am He who will sustain you" (Isa. 46:4). So how do we face the twilight years of life? With feelings of dread… or of hope? Let’s delve further into God’s Word and see. AGING IN THE OLD TESTAMENT In the Old Testament we find that God regards great age as the supreme reward of virtue. The aged were shown respect and honor. Old age is a blessing and not a curse. Scripture says, "Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God" (Lev.19-32). The psalmist testifies to growing old in hope. He says, "The righteous ... will still bear fruit in old age; They will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him" (Ps. 92:14-15). Growing old became a symbol of blessing, wisdom, and righteousness – an honorable process by which God rewarded those who were obedient, for example, in honoring their own parents: "Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you" (Ex. 20:12). In Proverbs readers are essentially promised a long life if their hearts will but, “keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they give you" (3:1-2). The very display of gray hair itself, a sure sign of growing old throughout the centuries, becomes in Scripture "a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life" (Prov. 16:31). By pushing the elderly aside to fringes of society, we diminish them and make our society the poorer through the loss of their experience and maturity. When Moses was 80 years old, God called him to lead His people to the Promised Land. At that greatly advance age, Moses became the historian, leader, and statesman of Israel. At about 85 years of age, Joshua was divinely commissioned to succeed Moses. At his death at 110 years of age, he was deeply mourned and his eminent service widely acknowledged (Josh. 24:29-31). A NEW TESTAMENT BLESSING TOO In the New Testament the attitude towards aging is no different from that in the Old Testament. Those who reached an advanced age were honored and esteemed in the community. Aged saints have a significant role in the opening chapter of Luke's Gospel. The first characters to appear on the stage are the priest Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth, who were both "advanced in years" (Luke 1:7). They are the instruments of God's purposes and the first interpreters of God's saving acts. Simeon and Anna are the prophetic chorus welcoming the child Jesus on the occasion of his purification in the Temple (Luke 2:22-38). The remarkable thing is that the aged Simeon dies in the beginning of the Gospel account. His eyes are fixed in hope on the one newly born, in whose life, death, and resurrection the world will know peace. He has long been hoping for "the consolation of Israel," and has been promised by the Holy Spirit that he will not die before he has seen the Lord's Messiah. Anna – an eighty-four-year-old prophetess who frequents the Temple to worship and pray night and day – recognizes Jesus, gives thanks to God, and declares the news about him "to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (2:38). As people who have clung to God's promises over many years, they embody the virtues of long-suffering patience and trust in God's ultimate faithfulness. They also exemplify faith and hope, even when circumstances seem hopeless. Aging was not seen by the early Christians as a "problem" to which some sort of religious solution was required. In the entire New Testament, particularly in the Pastoral Epistles, the respect due to older members of the community is emphasized. The exhortations imply and speak explicitly of dutifully caring for widows, honoring the elderly, imitating their faith, and faithfulness. For example, "Do not rebuke an older man, but exhort him as you would a father." Here we find also specific directives that the community should provide assistance to widows over age of sixty, and that women recognized by the Church as widows should devote their energies to prayer, hospitality, and to service to the afflicted (1 Tim.5: 3-16). In our youth obsessed culture, the elderly are strongly tempted to act youthful. They are expected to get a workout to remain in shape, get beauty treatments to rejuvenate themselves, and to dress in youth fashions. Should seniors long to be young again? I don't think so. For Christians old age is not a dead-end street. As we age, we can still grow spiritually. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians "Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day" (2 Cor. 4:16). He said to the Ephesians that we can progressively succeed in putting off the old self and putting on the new self and "be made new in the attitude of our minds." This renewal through the Holy Spirit impacts our mental attitude, state of mind, and disposition with respect to God and His world throughout our life. In other words, we continue to develop our walk with God (Eph. 4:22-24). NEVER TO OLD TO SERVE THE LORD Dr. Viktor E. Frankl, who suffered unspeakable horror in Nazi concentration camps, says that there is no reason to pity old people. And he adds this remarkable statement, "Instead, young people should envy them." Why? Because seniors have something young people don't possess. Frankl says that seniors have realities in the past – the potentialities they have actualized, the values they have realized – and nothing and nobody can ever remove these assets from the past. In Book X of his Confessions, Augustine (354-430) calls memory a "vast court" or "great receptacle." The elderly have a rich storehouse of memories, and inner landscape to explore: times lost in idleness, opportunities well used, a fulfilling career, children grown up, and suffering gone through with dignity and courage. What an opportunity for our youth to tap into the memories of their grandparents! Covenantal obligations never cease. The Christian faith is passed on from one generation to the next. It depends on that transmission. That’s why there must always be a most intimate relationship between the present and the coming generation if there is to be a future generation of Christians. The Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. They are the embodiment of the Church's story. Of course, we do not expect that all the elderly will be able to express the "wisdom of their years." But there can be no substitute for some old people in the Church passing on their wisdom to the younger generation. The youth simply cannot do without the older generation. In our culture, for a few years young adults may pretend (egged on by social and cultural forces) that they can live forever as autonomous, self-reliant, self-fulfilling beings. The pretense, however, collapses soon enough. The presence of the visible vulnerable elderly is a reminder that we are not our own creators. All of us will age; dark and blond hair will turn grey. Consequently, young Christians need the elderly so they will not take their lives for granted. I will say it again: the Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. That's why throughout history the Church has frowned on separating the young from the old through conducting youth services. I have even read about a Church where no older people were expected to attend. But according to Scripture old and young belong together. They are all part of the great family of God. Our covenant youth need to hear from their grandparents and seniors in the Church what it means to be a Christian. Grandparents know the family traditions and values. They can tell the story of their wartime experiences, their immigration with its hardship and adventures, and the reasons for leaving the country of their birth. Seniors can give to the youth the lessons and spiritual resources that have been harvested over a lifetime. Our times are so confusing and threatening for our young people. Why not explain to them that the Christian faith is for all of life: hence the founding of Christian schools, colleges, universities, a Christian labor association, Christian magazines and bi-weeklies, and a Christian political party? Why not tell them that doing good works is doing your work well? Why not testify to them how the Lord's promise "Surely I am with you always" (Matt.28:20) is a reality and not a myth? The lessons learned from godly grandparents and other Christian seniors are often long remembered. HOPE IN CHRIST As we age, we become more aware of the swift passing of years. We can either let the fear of death put a mental stranglehold on us or we can look to the future with hope. Let’s remember, the best is yet to come! Jesus Christ, the risen and ascended Lord is the ground of our hope and the promise of our deliverance. The hope of the resurrection lies at the heart of the way in which Christians embody the practices of growing old. We serve a faithful God who will never forget us! We are strangers and pilgrims on earth, the older we become the nearer we are to our eternal home. This truth encourages even the oldest individual to cherish each moment of life while preparing to relinquish it. Each day is a gift from God. We look to Him for our daily bread while making sure that we seek first the kingdom of God rather than squandering our time and energy on secondary concerns. With the prospect of a glorious future for all who are in Christ, we can identify with Martin Luther's suggestions that "in the purpose of God, this world is only a preparation and a scaffolding for the world to come." I also think of John Calvin's teaching in his Geneva Catechism that we are "to learn to pass through this world as though it is a foreign country, treating all things lightly and declining to set our hearts on them." We all face death some time or another. When we are old, it is more of a reality than in the days of our youth. I pray that our attitude toward death may resemble that of Lutheran pastor, scholar, and resistance leader Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who with shining face in joyful expectation, said to the two Nazi guards who had to come to take him to be executed, "For you it is the end, for me the beginning." Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. This is an edited version of a two-part article that first appeared in the 2004 November and December issues. ...

Assorted

The gift of sleep: it's good for what ails you

Early to bed is a spiritual discipline. You may have said it yourself at some time, “I can get by with only 5-6 hours of sleep a night. It’s no problem.” And, like many of us, what you meant was that even though your workload (including studies and family needs in that category) led to late nights and early mornings, you found that you were still clear-headed enough to drive, to do your job, and maybe even maintain patience and good humor – probably while bolstering yourself with some amount of caffeine. But according to Dr. Archibald D. Hart, Ph.D., we are not “getting by” even though we think we are. Hart has lectured around the world about his three decades of study on the topic of sleep, and in 2010 he published the results of his extensive studies in a book entitled Sleep: It Does a Family Good. Why sleep? Why do we need sleep? Our bodies were made to have a "sleep cycle" and a "wake cycle." During the sleep cycle, energy is restored, and all of the cells in the body rejuvenate. Adrenal and other glands, muscles, and proteins, all rejuvenate. Hart says, “Since proteins are the building blocks needed for cell growth and for repair of damage from factors like stress and ultraviolet rays, deep sleep rejuvenates us.” In children and young adults, there is a release of growth hormones as well. And during the deepest part of sleep, Hart writes, ...the brain processes information, like problems and new learning, and grows new connections accordingly. It synthesizes information learned through the waking hours. It saves newly learned information into long-term memory. Modern outlook Unfortunately, many of us have adopted the modern notion that sleep is expendable. There is just so much to do during the day to take care of our financial, family, emotional, and leisure needs (and desires) that jokes like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” are often quipped. We brag about getting by, and we really do not think that we are causing any lasting damage. Add to that Proverbs 24:33-34, which says, " A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a robber, and want like an armed man.” Thus, Hart says, “we tend to associate sleeping long with laziness” and with not being a good steward of our time. It sets the stage for viewing sleep as a necessity, but not a priority. But isn’t it likely that Proverbs is talking about excessive amounts of sleep that keep a person from doing his job at all? This passage seems to relate more to laziness than to speaking against getting a full night of rest. Hart says that, “God has designed sleep into us as a fundamental need, as fundamental as eating food and breathing air.” He might as well be quoting Psalm 127: 2, which says, "It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep." Based on polls which have been done during the past few decades by the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), about 70 million Americans (and likely Canadians as well) suffer from some sort of sleep disorder or sleep deprivation. Hart says, “Every year there are more than 30,000 deaths from car accidents linked to sleepiness, and more than three million disabling injuries from sleep-related accidents.” He adds that, “Sleep deficits have been implicated in many major public catastrophes, including the Exxon Valdez and the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger,” as well as the nuclear accidents at Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Peach Bottom. Hart explains that, “Our sleep loss can affect how we crouch, stoop, push or pull large objects, handle small objects, write with a pen, learn new things, remember old things, gain weight, and walk up stairs.” He adds that sleep-deprived people are more irritable and negative, less joyful, lighthearted and happy, and have more memory problems. They are at higher risks for accidents and divorce and “disordered social relationships” and show a dramatic reduction in creativity and productivity.  Hart says, “A major study reports that reduced sleep carries a greater mortality risk than smoking, high blood pressure and heart disease. Take a moment for that to sink in.” It makes sense: if you cannot cope as well, your stress level will increase, elevating your blood pressure, and disrupting your sleep even more. A 2006 article in The Institute of Medicine associates sleep loss with hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attacks, and strokes. The Rev. John Piper says in When I Don’t Desire God, For me, adequate sleep is not just a matter of staying healthy. It’s a matter of staying in the ministry – I’m tempted to say it’s a matter of persevering as a Christian. I know it is irrational that my future should look so bleak when I get only four or five hours of sleep several nights in a row. But rational or irrational, that is a fact. And I must live within the limits of fact. Therefore we must watch the changes in our bodies. Damage to the family is noted when Hart points out that the whole family suffers when babies and small children don’t get enough sleep, but it also suffers when mother and father choose to stay up and read or watch a television show instead of getting the sleep that their bodies need.  Hart says that, “It’s well known that child sleeplessness can also lead to an increased risk of depression and anxiety in mothers, and a reciprocal loss of love feelings toward the child.” Sleeplessness with a newborn doesn’t last forever, but it can continue to plague children, especially those with learning disabilities, stress and ADHD. What can be done? Hart’s statistics suggest that everyone needs to be in bed for 9 hours in order to get 8 hours of sleep per night and he tells many stories about people whose lives improve when they move towards or attain this standard, or, don’t. Sometimes when an otherwise healthy-as-an-ox person dies at an early age, sleep deprivation has been found to be a contributing factor. So, if God has made our bodies a temple of the Holy Spirit, and instructed us to take care of them as best we can, and if it is true that we need sleep for our cells to rejuvenate and our brains to function well, then we might all examine our lives to see how we might improve in this area. Hart starts from the standpoint of a family that has bought into the modern notion, and gives a number of suggestions as to how we can improve our lives by sleeping more. When Hart first desired to change his pattern, I feared that taking more time to sleep would mean less time for my work…but I went ahead and took the plunge. My secretary rearranged my appointments to start later in the morning after I had spent the first few hours reaping the benefits of a good night’s sleep and then getting some writing done. It only took a few days to convince me of the two principles I have followed ever since. First, getting to bed earlier, and as a consequence getting more sleep, works wonders for my brain. Second, creative tasks are best accomplished earlier in the day, rather than later. He was amazed to discover that his efficiency and productivity increased. “The time I lost by adding more sleep time was more than compensated for by my being able to work and write more efficiently. I made far fewer mistakes. My ideas came more easily. I completed my tasks faster.” How to make changes Hart’s “Simple Sleep Test” asks whether you fall asleep within half an hour of going to bed, whether you can fall back asleep if disturbed, and whether you feel refreshed, not headachy, in the morning and not in need of a nap by noon. If you can't answer yes to those questions, then Hart suggests there is room for improvement, and offers some helpful hints. For the first week, add 15 minutes of sleep time to your normal sleep, either in the evening or the morning.  Even if you don’t get more sleep, you are training your body and brain to adapt to the new schedule.  “At the end of the week, evaluate your level of tiredness upon awakening, energy, efficiency, alertness, mental acuity, reduced daytime tiredness and your general feeling of well-being.” For the second week, add a second 15 minutes to your sleep. Evaluate. Do the same in the third week and so on until you have achieved 9 hours of bedtime, evaluating all along the way. As Hart says, “Now you will have a better idea of what amount of sleep your body and mind really need. If the benefits peaked at eight and a half hours, then stick with that for a while.” Hart’s main point is that “The family that sleeps well, lives well.” He knows that it will be difficult to get the entire family on board with sleeping more, but he presents the benefits that will result from doing so. It is imperative that parents step up to the plate and take control of their family’s sleeping habits. Our children are facing enormous increases in their general stimulation. They are forced to multitask in ways that undermine effective learning, and they generally have too much excitement in their lives. Hart encourages families to determine what their biggest challenges are. He lists stress, anxiety/worry, depression and caffeine as the top four “Sleep Killers.” He says that “Caffeine is a two-edged sword – it both overcomes and causes our sleeplessness.” If caffeine is necessary for your day, then it has become an addiction, and while it might help you function in your wake cycle, you are losing out on all the rejuvenation needed in your sleep cycle. Beyond 2 or 3 cups a day is discouraged by doctors, and don’t even get Hart started on the topic of energy drinks.  He also suggests ways to deal with overactive minds, arguments, and too-much-screen-time as well. Some good news Hart describes the various stages of sleep and includes some questionnaires to help readers figure themselves out. His suggested 9 hours includes not just the time you are zonked-out in REM sleep, but even when you are lying restfully and those “light sleep” times when you may think that you are actually still awake. One piece of good news was this: we sleep in cycles of about one and a half hours and our dream sleep comes at or near the end of each cycle. What this means is that if we remember waking up a few times during the night, that’s not a problem – as long as we go back to sleep, we still “get credit” for all of that sleep time. He also says that if we lose sleep during the night and take a nap later that also gives us credit for the 9 hours that are needed. He finds this particularly helpful when he travels overseas. He also describes how to build up one’s sleep bank ahead of time so that the jetlag won’t overwhelm. Conclusion The subtitle to Dr. Archibald D. Hart’s book is “How busy families can overcome sleep deprivation.” Once a problem has been identified, there are ways, even in our overly-busy lives, that we can work to fix the problem and improve on the overall health of ourselves, our families, and our communities. It seems that Hart has well described one of them. And Rev. John Piper has the best comments of all regarding our need for sleep: Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). But Israel will. For we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day. How humiliating to the self-made corporate executive that he has to give up all control and become as limp as a suckling infant every day. Sleep is a parable that God is God and we are mere men. God handles the world quite nicely while a hemisphere sleeps. Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Don’t let the lesson be lost on you. God wants to be trusted as the great worker who never tires and never sleeps. He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps. Good night!...

Assorted

G.K. Chesterton on the difference between reformers and deformers

As a young man I had questions about how my denomination conducted services: Why did we have an organ and the style of music we had? Why did we sing so many psalms, and so few hymns? Why did we have two services? Why did we have Heidelberg Catechism sermons? Why did we get so dressed up for services? And I thought that because I had questions, and because answers were not always at the ready, that clearly meant we should do away with all these practices. Not so fast However, just because an answer isn't easy to come by doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And Chesterton had a caution for young guys like me when it came to doing away with old practices - old "fences": “In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, 'I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.' To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: 'If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.' “….Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease.” (The Thing, “The Drift From Domesticity”) Seek out that other side Now, no denomination is perfect, so there will be practices that could be improved, and maybe some that will need to go. But before any change is made, a properly humble Reformer is going to want to first find out why things are being done this way in the first place. This is living out Prov. 18:17 – only after we hear "both sides" can we then evaluate whether a change is truly needed....

Assorted

The coming battles over church property

Same-sex “marriage” and sexual morality were hot topics in evangelicalism in the late-90s and early 2000s. Since the legalization of same-sex “marriage” in 2005, the issue appeared to have been resolved within the church: the affirming and orthodox churches had staked out their respective positions. However, the issue has recently resurfaced in several denominations and will likely lead to further schisms in those communities. Denominational schisms Perhaps the most prominent of these recent examples is in the Christian Reformed Church in North America (“CRC”) whose Synod, at a meeting in June of this year, affirmed the orthodox biblical view of marriage and sexual morality. It raised the issue to the status of an explicit confession stating that “The church must warn its members that those who refuse to repent of these sins – as well as of idolatry, greed, and other such sins – will not inherit the kingdom of God.” The consensus is that many congregations will split from the CRC over this issue. Several CRC churches have, over the years, admitted individuals who are married to their same-sex partners or otherwise openly and unrepentantly living a homosexual lifestyle into church membership and even church leadership. How can these churches remain in the CRC? Will they warn their membership of the consequences of engaging in these sins, while some of their leadership does so? That is unlikely, and thus a schism will develop within this denomination. And the CRC is not the only denomination facing this challenge. There are other denominations where particular congregations are no longer operating within the theological parameters of their denomination. The CRC is simply more front-and-center right now, given the publicity generated by their June Synod. Legal implications Many complex legal issues arise when churches split from their denominations or associations. Churches whose names include “Christian Reformed” will likely need to amend their legal names and any trademarks they may hold. CRC-affiliated educational institutions which have adopted an affirming stance on same-sex “marriage” and sexual morality, like Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, may need to re-apply for government accreditation under their new identity. Perhaps the most difficult and important issue they will face is related to church properties. Over the last decade, church property disputes arose after splits relating to beliefs over same-sex “marriage” in both Anglican and Episcopal churches in Canada and the USA. The schism resulted in protracted litigation over the proper ownership of church buildings and lands in both examples. We will likely see similar litigation here in Canada, perhaps in the CRC, or perhaps in other denominations or in non-denominational churches. Different churches have different property ownership and governance structures. There could be a variety of legal cases and outcomes. Who owns the church building or the private school? Some may be owned by the congregation. Some congregations may be incorporated while others are not. Some may be owned by the original trustees who founded the congregation. Some may have been bequeathed by an estate for specific use by the CRC. Some may have been purchased by an existing congregation. The issues are complex and case-specific. Some congregations’ membership or leadership may disagree on whether to split from the denomination. Divisions may arise not only within denominations but within individual congregations and councils. In the past, we’ve seen such schisms divide communities and families. Churches need to brace for controversies that may be coming – theologically, relationally, and legally. Be clear, early I write this as a Christian first and a lawyer second. I am deeply concerned about churches caving to cultural pressures and denying Scriptural truths. I am also concerned about such practical costs as I see in my line of work – legal disputes that are financially and relationally costly. Denominations need to prepare themselves for potential battles ahead and should be consulting legal counsel pre-emptively to examine their risks and responsibilities. Ask yourself: is it clear where your church stands on certain controversial issues? Are you prepared legally to address divisions over such issues within your church? Albertos Polizogopoulos is co-founder of the Acacia Group and a constitutional litigation lawyer who specializes in freedom of religion. The Acacia Group is Canada’s only openly Christian law firm devoted to offering legal and crisis communications services to churches, organizations, individuals, and businesses. ...

Assorted, Parenting

Is recreational marijuana sinful?

God says we should honor the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-6) in as far as they don’t require us to violate God’s law. So, before today, one big reason that Canadian Christians should not have smoked marijuana is because it was illegal. But as of Oct. 17, 2018, that's changed, with the possession of recreational marijuana now legal throughout the country. So does that change things for Christians? When it stops being illegal, does that means it also stops being sinful? If Romans 13:1-6 doesn’t apply anymore, are there are other biblical principles we can look to for guidance? There are indeed. While the Bible never speaks directly about smoking marijuana recreationally, God has guidance to give. 1. God calls us to honor our father and mother We can begin with the Fifth Commandment. In an article on cigarette smoking, Pastor Douglas Wilson made a simple argument that is just as applicable to marijuana: The Fifth Commandment (Ex. 20:12) tells children to honor their parents. No parent wants their children smoking cigarettes (or cannabis) Therefore, to honor mom and dad, children shouldn’t smoke As Wilson writes: “in all my years of being a pastor I’ve never met a kid who took up smoking because he was really eager to honor his father and mother.” 2. God calls us to self-control It’s no great leap to extend God’s condemnations of drunkenness (Ephesians 5:18, Proverbs 23:20-21, etc.), to anything that impacts our self-control (1 Peter 4:7, Titus 1:8, etc.). 3. God calls us to discern the world as it really is We’ve compared marijuana usage to cigarette smoking and drinking. In Jeff Lacine’s article “Marijuana to the Glory of God" at DesiringGod.org he makes another comparison: to drinking coffee. He notes that while there are similarities between cannabis, and alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee – all have psychoactive compounds – there are notable differences too. As Christians, our goal is knowing and experiencing the full and undistorted reality of the glory of God in our resurrected physical bodies (1 Cor. 15:12–49; Phili 3:20–21; 1 Cor. 13:12). This is our trajectory as Christians. This is our aim…. We want to see things as they really are. The Christian use of any kind of psychoactive substance should always align with this gospel goal of looking to see things clearer. We do not want our vision of reality distorted. Consider this principle in terms of a psychoactive substance most American adults use every day: caffeine. Why do people drink coffee in the morning? To help them to see things as they really are, rather than through the fog of grogginess. The right and proper use of this God-given substance helps us see things as they really are. He goes on to note this is why people drink and weddings but not funerals – at weddings “moderate lubrication…can be in keeping with reality” since it is a time to celebrate. In this setting “proper and moderate use of alcohol can be a clarifier and not a distorter,” whereas at a funeral alcohol use might well be obscuring reality. But what then of weed? Lacine argues, “both from research and personal experience” that cannabis use distorts and numbs a person’s perception of reality. We might expect a regular user to argue that it doesn’t numb their thinking but, as Lacine notes, if marijuana is numbing their thinking, that’s going to also impact their ability to perceive its impact on their thinking. There is a reason that marijuana has long been associated with the couch, a bag of chips, and a television remote. Put another way, marijuana has never been associated with engaged parenting…. studies have shown a high correlation between regular cannabis use and the clinical diagnosis of Amotivational Syndrome. 4. God calls us to ask a better question Perhaps the most important biblical principle is found in Hebrews 12:1. There we read: Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us In a 1997 sermon titled “Running with the Witnesses” John Piper explained that this verse calls us to do better than ask, “Is it a sin?” In verse 1 there are a couple of things said here as a means to running. It says, “Lay aside every encumbrance and sin which so easily entangles us.” Now I remember as a boy the effect a sermon on this verse had on me. And the only thing I remember was the distinction that the preacher made between – he was preaching from the King James at the time – weights (translated encumbrances here) and sins. And he looked out on us and he said, “Not just sins. Don’t just lay aside sins to run this race. Lay aside every other weight that gets in your way.” As a boy, it had a revolutionary effect on me. Because what it said to me was – and I speak it now especially for young people – kids, if you can get this, but especially young teenagers and teenagers, though it applies to everybody – what this says is: Don’t just ask, “What is wrong with it in life?” Don’t just say about your music, about your movies, about your parties, about your habits, about your computer games, don’t just say, “Well, what is wrong with it?” Don’t just ask, “Is it a sin?” That is about the lowest question you can ask in life. “I am going to do it if it is not a sin. So tell me, is it a sin to do this?” “Well, not exactly.” “Okay, that is all I wanted to know. I am off to do it.” And the preacher said – and I am the preacher now saying it – this text says, “Look to Jesus and lay aside sins for sure and lots of other stuff, too.” Now that is a different way to live. Well, preacher, as a 13-year-old or 14-year-old what question should I ask if it is not, “Is it a sin?” And the answer is, “Does it help me run?” That is the answer. “Does it get in my way when I am trying to become more patient, more kind, more gentle, more loving, more holy, more pure, more self-controlled? Does it get in my way or does it help me run?” That is the question to ask. Ask the maximal righteousness question, not the minimal righteousness question. That was the difference it made in my life. And I have been asking it this way ever since then, though I didn’t always live up to it. I am not making any claim that from age 12 on I did some great spiritual thing. But oh, I had a trajectory that was so much better than the minimalist ethic that merely asks, “Well, what is wrong with it? What is wrong with it?” I don’t even want to talk about what is wrong with it. Let’s ask, “Does it help me run?” You know why that question isn’t very often asked? Because we are not passionate runners. We don’t want to run. We don’t get up in the morning saying, “What is the course today? What is the course of purity? What is the course of holiness? What is the course of humility? What is the course of justice? What is the course of righteousness? What is the course of love? What is the course of self-control? What is the course of courage? O God, I want to maximize my running today.” If you have that mentality about your life, then you will ask, not, “How many sins can I avoid?” but, “How many weights can I lay down so that I am fleet-footed in the race of righteousness?” Conclusion Now that recreational marijuana usage is legal (though still with some limits) across Canada, there may be Christians looking for guidance on this issue. If they’re asking, “Is marijuana use sinful?” then the answer is, “It certainly can be. It can be a violation of the Fifth Commandment, or God’s prohibition against drunkenness.” But Pastor Piper’s point is the more important one. If we are God’s children then our concern isn’t simply with obeying Him, but loving Him. Then the right question isn’t “Is it sinful?” but rather, “Does this bring me closer to God, or push me further away?” and “Is it helpful?” Those are better questions, and maybe more uncomfortable questions. As John Piper says, we are not always passionate runners. Whether it’s the shows we watch, the music we listen to, the friends we hang out with, the career we pursue, the people we date, or the psychoactive compounds we ingest, there may be favorite “weights” we just don’t want to throw off. If so, let’s pray then that God will so change our hearts that we want to make our whole lives pleasing to Him. The excerpt from John Piper’s sermon is used with permission and the whole sermon, “Running with the Witnesses” can be found at DesiringGod.org. He directly addresses the topic of marijuana use in an Ask Pastor John audio segment which can be found here. For the sake of clarity the title of this article has been changed from the original, which read "Marijuana: is it sinful?" This article was first published Nov. 17, 2017, when marijuana was still illegal in Canada, and has now been updated to reflect the change in the law as of October 17, 2018. https://youtu.be/6nhRjGCvpfI...

Adult non-fiction, Assorted

Reflections on "12 ways your phone is changing you"

The phone has had a huge impact on our way of life. This was true already, back in the 1920s, when the coming of the telephone to rural New Zealand made a huge difference to isolated farmers’ wives, allowing them to communicate daily with friends. “Party lines” – which involved several homes sharing the same line – meant calls were not necessarily private…but if you needed to chat, then you could. By the time I was a child the family telephone was a fixture on the wall, either in the hallway or in the kitchen. That meant it was in a public place where anyone could answer it and know who was calling you – or at least hear your end of the conversation. Cutting the cord When I was in my early adulthood cordless phones arrived. You could now take the phone into the privacy of your bedroom, and carry on a conversation unheard by anyone else. This began to worry parents, who knew the phone was somewhere in the house – but where? And what was being said on it? Then came cell phones, when suddenly, calls could be made and received way outside the house, and when instant communication was, for the first time, privately accessible to all. You could speak to anyone – seemingly anywhere. I remember my astonishment at a call from Paul while he was on the top of a mountain in South Canterbury helping on an autumn muster. It was revolutionary to think of the possibilities of limitless accessibility. Now, since 2007, and Steve Jobs’ introduction of the first iPhones, smartphones are everywhere. More than simply telephones, they are portable, computer-like devices that enable us to be online, all the time, and wherever we go. We can browse, we can post, we can keep up with the news – in short, do most things possible previously only at home. What’s not to like? Cautions to consider Well, lots, actually. As DesiringGod.org’s Tony Reinke has argued, our phones are changing us more than we know. I’ve just finished reading his book 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You and found it just as full of insights as all the reviews had promised. Everyone who owns a smartphone would likely benefit from a long, slow consideration of Reinke’s conclusions. He has thought hard about the implications of many of our common phone habits. In general, Reinke finds that phones are causing us to disengage from the kinds of person-to-person interaction that love requires of us. We are becoming more detached, more isolated in our own little worlds, less caring, more frivolous. Despite the fact that technology is a gift from God – the product of our inventiveness as creatures made in God’s image – our use of this particular piece of technology is making us less like Christ. It’s time that we took a good look at ourselves and reclaimed the use of our phones for good purposes. 1. ALWAYS AVAILABLE DISTRACTION One of the most obvious problems with smartphones is their capacity to distract us. Beeps, buzzes, and tunes of all sorts destroy our concentration when we ought to be attending to work – or to someone in our proximity who deserves our attention. I’m sure you’ve noticed the way vast numbers of people walk down the street with their heads down, thumbs tapping at their phones. (You’ve probably almost collided with more than a few). Not so long ago I was in a café and noticed a sign on the counter: “Sorry, the wireless is down today. You’ll just have to talk to each other.” Shock, horror! The girl serving the coffee thought it was exciting – and I don’t blame her. Our phones are also distancing us from our flesh and blood – the people right in front of us, our families, our friends, and the people who need our help. Every time we flop on the couch for 15 minutes of mindless scrolling and skim-reading, we could be ignoring an opportunity to edify, encourage, correct, love – and even learn from – a human being for whom God has given us responsibility. Those 15 minutes will never be given back, either. While some still think that our smartphones can end loneliness by connecting us to others, Reinke believes (and I agree) that face-to-face interaction cannot be replaced by screen-to-screen communication. We were created to respond to facial expression, tone of voice, and physical touch. Neither texts nor Facebook messaging can match what can be expressed face-to-face. Of course we can communicate with many more people at far greater speed than is possible if we’re limited to where our bodies can be at any given time. But perhaps God has intended us for fewer, more meaningful friendships than Facebook could ever cater for. 2. EVER PRESENT PEER PRESSURE I have never been a consumer or user of social media, mainly because I feared the distraction and time-wasting, but Reinke suggests there are other reasons these media are harming us. He explains that we are becoming something like peacocks, preening and arranging our personas for the admiration of an online audience. Learning how others carefully shape their profiles to appear interesting, successful, witty, and up-to-date, we inevitably desire to be seen the same way. So Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat etc become platforms from which we can project the same attributes. I had not realized the full extent of this, but Reinke notes that many a person wakes in the morning to check how many comments or “likes” their posts from the night before have generated. It’s obvious that young people sensitive to peer pressure can fall for this, but many a lonely adult person who lacks security in Christ can be equally susceptible. It’s time to get off social media, on our bikes and start visiting lonely people face-to-face! 3. DISTANCE DIMINISHES CONSIDERATION Another effect of the distance our smartphones can put between us and others is the impunity with which we criticize and demean others, via our screens. Apparently, people feel less sense of remorse for what they say to others online than for what they might say in person. Clicking “send” has nowhere near the consequences (they think) that saying something in personal conversation does. We’ve all seen the horribly offensive things people say, apparently without compunction, on Twitter or in the comments section beneath news articles. It seems that if the recipient of your spite is not visible through your screen, then guilt about how we make them feel is lessened. I can’t quite understand that, since each of us is capable of imagining how it would feel to be on the receiving end of vindictive words on a screen. But certainly, increased use of screens for communication seems to be hardening us. We are getting accustomed to this unkind and demeaning discourse-at-a-distance, and it appears to be imitated by others. For instance, last month I read about our Minister of Foreign Affairs referring to our Leader of the Opposition as “simple Simon.” Does that kind of epithet sound vaguely familiar – on Twitter, perhaps? 4. PRIVACY BRINGS TEMPTATION Much has been written about the danger of what Reinke calls “secret online vices” like pornography. The scary thing is that this kind of vile material is available, on phones, any time and any place. Many people think they are able to view it without anyone else knowing; and therefore without consequence. Christians need to remember that God sees everything we do: nothing is hidden from him. God has made our eyes and our ears, but he expects them to be used with discretion. How can we use them to pollute ourselves? Reinke would not be the first to suggest that in the end, if your eye is causing you a problem, pluck it out. Smartphones are indeed disposable, and certainly able to have their contents blocked and curbed. The consequences of addicting yourself to such vices are too awful to contemplate. 5. ALGORITHMS FEED US JUST ONE SIDE (Prov. 18:17) There is one final way that our smartphones are changing us, and it concerns me more than the others because it affects our ability to distinguish truth from error. We are so overloaded with online input (resulting in what Solomon called a “weariness of the flesh”) that we are inclined to retreat to bubbles of like-minded communications, dismissing all the rest as biased, wrong, or simply doubtful or unverifiable “noise.” The result is that the world is becoming an increasingly partisan place consisting of groups of people who, day by day, shout at each other, distrust each other, even hate each other – intractably. Being constantly online and fed a continuous diet of news we agree with is light years away from an older world. Once upon a time (maybe 20 years ago) people read a range of news sources, mindful of the biases of each, in order to arrive at some semblance of the truth. In those days discerning readers knew that if one news source got things wrong, the others would pounce and correct it. The truth prevails in the end, as historians generally know. Nowadays there is little true dialogue, and a cynicism about anything other than the source I read. All else is “fake news,” we hear. This is really scary, since unless we are willing to expose even our most deeply-held views to scrutiny, we will lose the power of discernment. And that is what tyranny thrives on. Conclusion So I’d suggest, along with Tony Reinke, that it’s high time to take a close look at our uses of our smartphones. Are they changing us? Yes, and in ways that we might not realize. This is an edited version of an article first printed in the May 2018 issue of Faith in Focus www.rcnz.org.nz where it was published under the title “We and our phones.” It is reprinted with permission. Sally Davey is a member of the Reformed Church of Dovedale, Christchurch, New Zealand. You can download a 40-page preview of Tony Reinke's "12 ways your phone is changing you" here. ...

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Seniors: Florida does not exist

Some seniors have a phobia about aging. They see their retirement years as a curse of boredom and uselessness. Others see them as an opportunity for the pursuit of leisure. During the winter some seek a warmer climate, away from their family, friends, and their local church. But the Church is the kind of community that insists that those who have grown in years are not relieved of moral and spiritual responsibilities. They cannot move to Florida and leave the Church to survive on its own. For Christians, there is no "Florida" even if they happen to live there. Tell it to the next generation From the Biblical perspective, seniors are a significant resource God can use for His Kingdom in these critical times. The elderly have a rich storehouse of memories, and inner landscape to explore: times lost in idleness, opportunities well used, a fulfilling career, children grown up, and suffering gone through with dignity and courage. What an opportunity for our youth to tap into the memories of their grandparents! Covenantal obligations never cease. The Christian faith is passed on from one generation to the next. It depends on that transmission. That’s why there must always be a most intimate relationship between the present and the coming generation if there is to be a future generation of Christians. The Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. They are the embodiment of the Church's story. Of course, we do not expect that all the elderly will be able to express the "wisdom of their years." But there can be no substitute for some old people in the Church passing on their wisdom to the younger generation. The youth simply cannot do without the older generation. In our culture, for a few years young adults may pretend (egged on by social and cultural forces) that they can live forever as autonomous, self-reliant, self-fulfilling beings. The pretense, however, collapses soon enough. The presence of the visible vulnerable elderly is a reminder that we are not our own creators. All of us will age; dark and blond hair will turn grey. Consequently, young Christians need the elderly so they will not take their lives for granted. I will say it again: the Church cannot be the Church without the elderly. That's why throughout history the Church has frowned on separating the young from the old through conducting youth services. I have even read about a Church where no older people were expected to attend. But according to Scripture old and young belong together. They are all part of the great family of God. Our covenant youth need to hear from their grandparents and seniors in the church what it means to be a Christian. Grandparents know the family traditions and values. They can tell the story of their wartime experiences, their immigration with its hardship and adventures, and the reasons for leaving the country of their birth. Seniors can give to the youth the lessons and spiritual resources that have been harvested over a lifetime. Our times are so confusing and threatening for our young people. Why not explain to them that the Christian faith is for all of life: hence the founding of Christian schools, colleges, universities, a Christian labor association, Christian magazines and bi-weeklies, and a Christian political party? Why not tell them that doing good works is doing your work well? Why not testify to them how the Lord's promise "Surely I am with you always" (Matt.28:20) is a reality and not a myth? The lessons learned from godly grandparents and other Christian seniors are often long remembered. Use what strength you have In old age, as throughout our lives, we must continue to pursue the way of service, conforming our own lives to the self-giving pattern of Jesus. The Christian practice of growing old is shaped by the example of Jesus, who emptied himself and became obedient, even to the point of death, for our sake (cf. Phi.2:1-13). Our Lord never promised His followers an easy path to tread. The way of discipleship leads to the cross (e.g., Mark 8:34-38; Luke 14: 25-27). Seniors can still do so much in reaching a spiritually dark world for the Lord. Some retirees are engaged in volunteer work for a mission agency. They spend time overseas assisting in some building projects. Others volunteer for city mission work in one of the big cities in North America. The volunteers I have met over the years have all testified how blessed they felt in Kingdom service in their retirement years. They still considered themselves useful soldiers in the Lord's army. Spiritual warriors too Of course, not every senior is able to volunteer for mission or church work. Some have multiple health problems. Their physical disabilities limit them in their activities. Yet seniors can still be brought specific prayer requests. The persecuted church requires constant prayer support. Our covenant youth need intercessory prayer. Seniors can engage in spiritual warfare as they pray for the advance of the Gospel around the world. Millions of unreached people are still held captive by the strongholds of Satan. Multitudes are blinded by the "god of this world" (2 Cor. 4:4). So why not encourage seniors to think of the great ministry of prayer available to them? The younger generation can tell them, "You are able to spend more time in prayer than us! You know more about the ups and downs in life than we do. You can pray especially for missionaries on the field.” Seniors, we need your prayer ministry! As an old hymn says: Prayer is the Christian's vital breath, The Christian's native air, His watchword at the gates of death; He enters heaven with prayer. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. This is excerpted from a two-part article that first appeared in the 2004 November and December issues....

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Lesson From My Mum: there is hope for western civilization

I learned an important lesson from a cheap house plant last week – that plant was a chrysanthemum (mum), and it comes with a background story that needs to be understood to get the lesson. DESTINED TO DIE Last fall, when I was working with ARPA Canada, I did about fifteen presentations alongside my colleagues as part of our fall tour. The theme for this tour was on being “rooted in Christ.” At each of these presentations I quoted from Jeremiah 17:7-8: But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,   whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water   that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes;   its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought   and never fails to bear fruit. I also made reference to a recent book by Al Mohler called The Gathering Storm, in which he calls out what he refers to as “cut flower civilizations.” At this point in the presentation, I’d proceed to hold up a house plant and then use a pair of scissors to hack off the flowers. Each night I would hold up the cut flowers and say “when we are cut off from our Christian roots, a civilization is destined to die.” Sometimes I would add a few lines: “we all know what will happen to these flowers now that they are cut. We can give them sunlight and water, but they won’t survive without roots.” In the presentation, we gave examples of how Canada was cutting itself off from the roots that give life, but we also spoke to how that didn’t mean there was no hope. I explained that “if our roots go down into Jesus Christ then we can have complete confidence that He will sustain His children. Although our civilization may not last, His people and His Church will.” NEW LIFE Fast forward to this spring and the ARPA team came to my hometown to do the same presentation. But this time I was in the audience, alongside a few of my children. One of my former colleagues gave the same demonstration, using a mum that he picked up at the local grocery store. He asked my son Nathan to hold it while he cut the flowers, and then gave the flowers to Nathan to take home. Nathan took those cut flowers home and my wife Jaclyn put them in a vase with water. I expected that they would wilt quickly and be thrown out in a few days. I then promptly forgot about them. A month later I was surprised to see that the flowers were still alive in that vase. And when we pulled them out of the water we were astonished to see that they had started growing some very impressive roots! Jesus once said that if his disciples had to keep quiet, “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). In this case, the flowers were crying out. Their message was hard to miss. It is God who gives life, also to civilizations. Just as God birthed and blessed Western Civilization, so He is able to cause it to grow new roots if that is His will. Indeed, we serve a God of abounding grace. When we, as individuals, try to go our own way, if God is pleased to save us, He will achieve His purpose. He brings us back. God can also give a new lease on life to a civilization. ROOTED HOPE 20th Century historian Arnold Toynbee once wrote a 12-volume book set about the rise and fall of 26 civilizations throughout history. He concluded that “great civilizations are not murdered. They commit suicide.” I once wrote: “What happens to a society which discourages new life, kills vulnerable life, surgically alters healthy bodies to conform to unhealthy minds, puts the greatest taxes on those who are the most economically productive, and treats a basic building block of life (carbon) as if it were a pollutant? That society is committing suicide.” In other words, even though I care deeply for our civilization, I had little hope for it. But through this mum, I was reminded that civilizations don’t rise and fall based simply on the behavior and choices of their leaders and citizens. Jesus Christ is guiding all of history and gets to determine what happens to the West. And He may well show His grace, just as He has done to so many of us individually. My wife Jaclyn has since cut the flowers off the stems and planted the roots (with the stems) in new soil. She explained to me that the plant’s energy needs to now go into taking root, not keeping the flowers alive. The flowers can come later. Indeed, may God be gracious to the West and allow us to yet grow our roots into Him. There may yet be new flowers blooming in His time. Let’s pray that God will work revival, while shining His grace and truth wherever He plants us. Mark Penninga is the Executive Director of Reformed Perspective....

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All's well with the Earth

"I'm so glad that my parents never experienced such a time as this, such a time of uncertainty." "I'm so glad they did not have to endure this period of trial during which churches and other places are closed." "I'm so thankful that they did not have to live through these past two years because it would have broken their heart to know that I would not have been able to visit them in their old age home or sit at their bedside in a hospital." *** Presently many people quote and identify with such sentiments as are stated above. There are those who have become terribly angry; others are reduced to tears of depression because of increasing loneliness; there are many others who are extremely frustrated about being denied access to restaurants, theatres and vacations; and there are those who fear the ongoing Covid death tolls announced daily in the news media. Is it true that our parents, our ancestors, or any people in times past, had no idea about such hardships or deprivations? Or have past generations undergone their own distressing circumstances and severe affliction? And does history give us accountings of such circumstances? Consider Charles Spurgeon, (1834-1892), who lived with much pain a great part of his life. His wife was bedridden for the greater part of their marriage. Spurgeon had smallpox, he had gout, as well as rheumatism, Bright's disease (an inflammation of the kidneys) and was afflicted, from time to time, with severe depression. It is recorded that he spent nearly a third of his last twenty-two years not even able to preach. Still, this preacher freely confessed that his distress and hardship drew him closer to God. He is quoted as saying, speaking to a number of ministers and students: "I daresay the greatest earthly blessing that God can give to any of us is health, with the exception of sickness... If some men I know could only be favored with a month of rheumatism, it would by God's grace, mellow them marvelously." Since the Fall, suffering and distress have been part of humanity. Perhaps, being caught smack in the middle of a discouraging time period, it would seem that this twenty-first century is undergoing an especially calamitous and catastrophic time. Yet going back only a little in time, as little as the last century, we immediately glimpse turmoil, confusion and unrest in that time period as well. And yet our parents lived through it – lived through it and were blessed. My father and mother, for example, were born in the first decade of 1900 – a time rife with many tragic and disastrous events. An extremely limited but worthwhile overview follows, listing a few of those events. *** At the onset of the twentieth century, concentration camps were being operated by the British in South Africa. This was during and after the Second Boer War (1899-1902). Whole regions in South Africa were targeted and depopulated. Systematic destruction of Boer crops and livestock went alongside the burning down of homesteads and farms to prevent the Boers from returning there. Tens of thousands of men, women and children were forcibly moved into these concentration camps. Originally set up as refugee camps for displaced people, epidemics of measles and typhoid killed thousands interred there. Hygiene was terrible. Eventually, there were a total of 45 camps for the Boers and 64 more camps for black Africans. Of the 28,000 Boer men who were captured as prisoners of war, 25,630 were sent overseas. Approximately 26,000 women and children died in these camps. In 1906 there was an earthquake in California. This 7.9 earthquake ranks as one of the most significant earthquakes of all time. Its epicenter was near San Francisco, and it spawned devastating fires in its wake. More than 3,000 people died and over eighty percent of the city was destroyed. In 1907 a Peasants' Revolt in Romania, caused by inequity in land ownership, was squelched by the Romanian military. At least 11,000 were killed. 1908 saw another destructive earthquake. It took place in Italy. Measured as 7.1 in magnitude, it caused the death of between 75,000 and 82,000 people. The city of Messina's shoreline was greatly altered, as large sections of its coast sunk several feet into the sea. Houses, churches, palaces and monuments collapsed. Without distinction, railway workers, priests, sculptors, historians, politicians, ambassadors, policemen, writers, singers and attorneys were struck down in one small moment of time. In 1912, the ship Titanic sank after striking an iceberg. Fifteen thousand of her passengers died. The ship carried some of the wealthiest people in England as well as hundreds of immigrants from Great Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia – people who were seeking a new life in the US. In 1912-13 the First and Second Balkan Wars ravaged southeastern Europe. These resulted in huge casualties. The Bulgarians lost approximately 65,000 men, the Greeks 9,500, the Montenegrins, 3,000, the Serbs at least 36,000 and the Ottomans as many as 125,000. As well, tens of thousands of civilians died from disease. In 1914 WWI began, resulting in the deaths of 40 million. From February 1918 to April 1920 the Spanish Flu or the Great Influenza Epidemic seemed to reign. A deadly global influenza pandemic, it was caused by the H1N1 influenza A virus. With 500 million suspected cases, this pandemic engendered an estimated 25-50 million deaths. *** Often, we think we are in control, or we want to be in control, in total control… and then something happens. It might be an accident, job loss, a war, a broken relationship, or a pandemic. But these things have always been and will be until Christ returns. Another quote from Spurgeon puts it in this way, a very good way: "I am afraid that all the grace I have got of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable.... Affliction is...the best book in a minister's library." Isaiah, the great prophet Isaiah, totally concurs with Spurgeon and calls out the words of our providential God and Father: I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,  that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.  I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things. – Isaiah 45:5-7...

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Suffer Annie Spence

The smooth money resting in John's calloused hand equaled his small plot of land; a few acres lay on a roughened palm. It had only been a barren, untidy patch at best really – just enough to keep some geese and, when times were good, a cow. It had yielded enough to keep one from starving – not enough to keep one satisfied. It had been a way of life for John's father and grandfather. And they had survived. The land divided into strips and was owned by very poor farmers, by verge-of-poverty peasants. Inevitably, big, neighboring landowners coveted these strips – these pieces of thin but still independent existence. For a few guineas, John Spence had given up his meager plot, his paltry inheritance. Those guineas lay in his weathered palm. The money wasn't much, yet it was more than he'd ever had. But it wasn't enough to buy more land, no, not enough to buy more land. John regretted the agreement almost as soon as he was sober. The facts, however, which had driven him to drink and to the sale of land, were still just as compelling: his wife big with another child and food scarce. There was also another reason. A seemingly small enough reason, to be sure, but a reason that nevertheless had taken root and had given the final push to the matter. That reason was a tiny whisper of greed in John's heart of hearts. There is, the whisper said, money to be made in factories – city factories – London factories; much more money than you'll ever pull out of your half-penny patch. The drinking in the taproom had tempted him with this thought many times before. But never until now had it been so inviting and so obviously right, and never until now had he acted on it. Now that the deed was done, the possibility of work on the bigger farms as laborer for a shilling a day also existed. But a shilling was a pittance. Kate could work the fields too, but she'd nearly died at the last birthing. No, right or wrong, John's heart had sold itself to what he thought the city could offer. So they moved – John Spence, Kate Spence and Annie, their only surviving child, twelve this mid-summer. And such was the weight of their poverty, that they wore all they owned. *** "Just you wait, girl." John spoke as he supported his wife, as they picked a slow path over the ruts and puddles of bad roads. "London will 'ave us sittin' fine and proper. Why this babe will 'ave that silver spoon in his mouth. Just you wait, girl." If Annie listened avidly, Kate didn't hear a word John said. She was too weary, too heavy and she hated sleeping in the hedges. "There's many a job to be 'ad," John went on, looking at Annie when Kate didn't respond. "I 'urd from one lad they're just cryin' for strong labor." His spirit was hopeful and his mind entertained thoughts of fortunes. Annie believed every word he said. "Can I git a job too, Da? Can I?" She danced in front of him, her soft, brown hair waving, minding him of a young foal. "Well, Annie girl, I've 'urd of basket weavin' and work at mills and such. We'll see." Annie laughed. Da and she – they'd make a home for Mum and the new babe. And they kept on walking, Kate Spence great with child between them, paving the way to London with good intentions. *** London could be smelled before it was seen. The stink hit the Spences before their feet touched its intimate roads. Then they were caught up in the noise and crowds that flooded the city's muddy streets. Aimlessly they were moved about. A motley assortment of people and things jostled them as they walked – bearded Jewish old-clothes vendors, organ grinders, cabmen's wheels, costermongers selling their wares, and flower girls bawling at the top of their lungs. Overhead smoke rose, darkly coiling from a few million chimneys, while St. Paul's Cathedral's bells bonged overhead. And not a green patch in sight, but the small patch in John's memory. John Spence was confused. He did not know the ways of London and did not recognize its throb of misery and clamor. “We'll see if we can't find a place to sleep for the night.” He stumbled, weary with the days of travel. Foul water and refuse ran past them in a gutter down the middle of the road. “Buy! Buy!” The cry of the vendors was deafening. Kate leaned against him helplessly. "There are no 'edges here, John. Wot will we sleep in tonight?" "Da! Da!" Annie pulled John's hand. "There's a lad 'ere says 'is mum 'as rooms to let." John turned to look. A boy, face streaked with dirt, grinned at him. "Foller me, sir." They followed him. There was little choice. Mazes of alleyways coughed up houses more rough and tumble at each turn. They avoided the beggars hunched forward in doorways. They stepped past the sick lying next to the gutters. They breathed in the smell of turpentine, leaking gas, sewage and sweat. In the back of John's mind the barren strip of lost land became more fertile and the smell of growing things flooded his soul, but he could not undo time as one undoes a knot. So he walked on and his family walked with him. And the boy walked ahead of them. Kate was slower than ever now, clinging to John for support. Clusters of tumbledown houses were built around filthy courts. The boy stopped in one of them. "Ere's where I live. I'll call me mum." He disappeared up a flight of rickety stairs and came back a minute later with a limping, tall, fair-haired woman. Her voice was low. "Ear you're looking fur a place to stay. I've got rooms." She took in all three of them with a curious look. "Can you pay?" John nodded confidently and reached into his pocket. He withdrew his hand seconds later with a look of horror on his face. "Kate!! The munny... it's nowt 'ere!" But Kate didn't hear him. She was too tired, too hungry and slowly crumpled to the ground in a heap. *** Susan Jarrett was shrewd in the ways of the poor. She took the Spences in on what she termed “trust.” Besides, her son was a virtuoso in pick-pocketing and the contents of John's pockets had already been counted out on her table. Had she not taken them in, the Spences would have had to huddle together for warmth under a bridge, or in a churchyard, or perhaps in a shop doorway. And with Kate so near her time, it would have been murder. Not that Susan Jarrett would have had qualms about that, but she instinctively felt there was more money to be made and she wanted her share of it. The room Susan showed the Spences was bare, but it did provide a roof over their heads. A few flour bags furnished a scanty mattress. There was a tiny window, but no water or any other convenience. The only water tap available was a few doors down and this had to serve all of the thousand-odd tenants who lived in that particular court. As for toilet facilities - fifty to sixty people shared two earth-closets. *** John was quiet that next morning. Brooding in a corner of the room, his back was hunched against the wall. More than once he had rechecked his pocket, unable to accept the fact that now his money, as well as his land, was gone. His usual cheer had shriveled up in this skyless place. Moodily he surveyed Kate sleeping on a flour bag and thought of the children they had lost. It wasn't likely this babe would survive either. As for the silver spoon, he grimaced bleakly to himself. All he wanted presently was shelter and food in exchange for some hard work – no more. Was that wrong? Or, and his mouth worked nervously at the thought, had he sold away their very lives? He got up suddenly and moved towards the door. Annie eyed him questioningly from her place on the floor. "Where are you off to, Da?" He forced a smile. "Got to git sum work to feed you and your Mum, Annie girl." He was gone before she could ask more. Kate moaned. It would be her time soon. Annie had helped before. *** John walked and walked. He kept his bearings, determined to find his way home again later. Passing along the polluted edge of the Thames, he watched “mudlarks” – boys who waded into the filthy mud at low tide searching for scraps of iron and lead to sell. If they were lucky, they'd make a few pence to take home to their families. He saw them crouch under the bridges, scraggly, skin-and-bones scarecrows. And he took note of other children sweeping the road clean for any lady or gentleman who wished to cross a begrimed spot, hoping for a charitably thrown halfpenny. What kind of life was this? John clenched his farmer's fists, yet again cursing the day he had sold his land. But it was a helpless curse, as indeed, all human curses are helpless. Black words which do nothing to change a situation. It was always the poor against the rich and who was he? And what now? Kate hungry and cold – Annie hungry and cold – and he, who was he? The streets, full of sellers and buyers, seemed to jeer at him. And he walked all day without finding work. There was no joy in the thought of going back to Kate and Annie – Annie with the hope shining clear out of her eyes. He had no desire to retrace his steps through the winding alleys back to the naked room. And then the evening dusk coughed up a tall, black-bearded man in a dark frock coat and wide-brimmed hat. The man was standing directly in front of the tavern that John had unconsciously been heading for. There was no money. There was only the desire for other men's company – for those who, like himself, were also without work, without food, without money and without hope. The bearded stranger pulled out a book and began speaking. Faces appeared at the pub's windows. "There is a heaven in East London for everyone," he cried, "for everyone who will stop and think and look to Christ as a personal Savior." The words did not mean much to John but the deep voice did carry warmth and conviction. From the pub's doorway a rotten egg flew through the air, almost hitting the wide-brimmed hat. The man stopped speaking and walked on. Bystanders howled with laughter. John's curiosity had now been aroused. Clapping someone on the shoulder, he asked who this man was. "Ey, watch out! Tryin' to pick me pocket, ain't you?" Drunken, sour breath hit him, disgusted him and bitterly reminded him once more of the land he had lost. The wide-brimmed hat was coming his way. John regarded the tall figure intently. To risk being heckled and hit with rotten eggs, the fellow must surely believe in whatever it was he had been trying to say. But then, people were always talking, always bent on persuading others of their point of view. His gaze dropped. What was this man to him, or he to the man, for that matter? Unaware of John's thoughts, however, the man stopped when he reached John, his eyes kind and penetrating. "You're hungry." It was said in a matter-of-fact voice even as his hand reached into a deep pocket, coming out with sixpence. "There's a place where you can buy dinner with this. I'll walk with you." And there was such persuasive authority about the man that John went with him. They passed a number of pubs. By the light of gas jets, men's inflamed faces drifted by. Jeering and drunken women stood propped up against soot-drenched houses. The reek of gin and sweat mingled. Even in the shadow of a benefactor, John felt discouragement descend on him like a heavy, suffocating cloak. Where was he going and how would he ever manage to take care of Kate and Annie and the new baby in this place? The man did not speak as they were walking. Yet a certain affinity was established as they trudged side by side. Every fifth shop they passed was a gin shop. Glancing in John noted the special steps most of these shops had to help even toddlers reach the counter where penny glasses of colored gin could be ordered. Small, misbegotten tykes lolled about on the floor of some of these shops – by-products of alcoholic parents who had nothing else to live for. "Here's where you can eat." "Thank you." John did not know what else to say. "Are you hungry for peace of mind too, man? Are you tired of drinking and such?" John looked at his benefactor doubtfully. Sure he was tired of drinking and wanted peace and food and work and shelter and... he could go on and on. But there was surely more to it than just saying “yes.” Answering shortly, he summed up his whole life in just a few sentences. "I'm new in London. Walked in from the country yesterday. I 'ave a pregnant wife and a small dotter." Rather hopelessly he added a last bit of information. "And all the munny I 'ad was stolen." "What's your name?" The stranger regarded John keenly as he spoke. "John Spence." He almost spit the words out. They sat like gall in his throat. He so despised himself for what he had done. "Well, John Spence, would you like to come to a meeting tonight that might change your life?" As he spoke, he pointed to an empty pub across the way. "I hope to see you there after you eat." Then he shook John's hand and disappeared down the road – vendors, fog and houses alike swallowing him up quickly. *** The dinner was good. John wolved it down even as he guiltily thought of Kate and Annie with every bite. But he'd have to keep up his strength in case there was work to be had. He put a hunk of bread into his pocket as he washed down his last mouthful. He could see that a crowd had gathered across the road in the pub and appeared to be listening to a speaker. John wandered over, curious to hear what was being said. Listening cost nothing and would put him under no obligation to anyone. There was no one who took special notice of him as he took his place on an empty bench near the back. The speaker's piercing voice cut through the room and a long finger pointed convincingly to the door John had just passed through. "Look at that man going down the river." The voice had risen a decibel, ringing the length of the pub. John turned to look, as did everyone else, even though all knew there was no river. "Look at him going down in a boat with the falls just beyond. Now he's got out into the rapids... now the rapids have got a hold of the boat... he is going, going..." The voice rose again. "He's gone over – and he never had a chance." There was a dramatic pause before the finish. "That is the way people are damned. They go on; they are caught by the rapids of time; they don't think; they neglect God; and they are damned. Oh, you who are the Lord's, seek Him while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near." *** Through the maze of alleyways John found his way home late that night. The different twists and turns all looked and smelled alike in their filth and squalor. As he finally trudged up the stairs, he was met by Susan Jarrett. "Your wife 'ad 'er little 'un." Pushing past her, John ran the length of the miserable corridor. The smell of birth met him. Kate lay on a filthy sack in the corner and by her sat Annie, on the floor, holding a small bundle wrapped in a coarse cloth. Annie did not look up as her father came in. It was only when he touched her shoulder that she moved her head. Then it was woodenly. And her voice cracked when she whisper-said, "Mum's dead and so's the babe, Da." Then John cried. It was a bitter, raw cry – a loud, wailing cry – and it brought the other tenants to his door. But they could not help. Every room in the court housed a poor family, and they were all dirty and hungry. Brief in their sentiments, they were briefer in their stay. The only one that remained behind in the end was Susan Jarrett. She wanted to know if the rent was going to be long in coming. Tonelessly John replied, "I'm off fur some work tomorrow." "Your dotter'll 'ave to stay 'ere." There was finality in her tone. "It's all right, Da." Annie's voice was soft. She stroked his arm. "It's all right." He looked at the small bundle she was still clasping and at the inert form of Kate on the sack. There was no world anymore. Or was there? Annie's soft, brown hair hung about her oval face. Incredibly she smiled at him. Flooding over him suddenly was the memory of the man who had given him sixpence and who had spoken kindly. *** The tiny window glimmered faint light that next morning. Annie woke up with a strange sensation within her deepest self. It was not hunger. She knew hunger – it could gnaw in her stomach and hurt. No, this was different. This was grief and this pulled at her heart, weeping and tearing at her soul. It was agony - agony that could not be abated or turned into gladness. Annie swallowed thickly and peered through the thin darkness for Da's form. But there was no one in the room with her. Da had told her last night that he would be up and away early trying to find work. "Rest easy tomorrow, girl," he had said, "I'll be back. Don't you fret! I'll be back." Someone had taken Mum's body and the babe's too, tiny though it was. And Susan had taken away the sacks, hardened with Mum's blood, Mum's life. And now there was nothing. Annie sat up. She was cold. Da had given her a hunk of bread last night and she fingered it absently. It was like that for the next three days. Annie stayed in the room by herself. She walked about a bit, filtering sunlight between her fingers when sunlight hit the tiny window. And she cried often, sleeping between tears, weary with an immense burden of grief. She ate the scraps of food that her father brought her from his haunts around the city. He was not much for talk in the evening. Annie tried to read his face as he sat dejectedly against the wall. Sometimes she would rub his arm, as a kitten might rub up against a leg, she was that starved for affection. Then John would start, looking at Annie with a mixture of guilt and love. "Never mind, Da," she would whisper, "we'll manage. I'll take care of you." There was a pain in John when she mouthed this and he ran his rough right hand through her fine, brown hair and pulled her close with his left. She snuggled by him, feeling somewhat comforted, yet also aware that she was being a comfort herself. *** It was on the morning of the fourth day that Susan came into the room unexpectedly. Annie's heart thudded. Susan had not bothered overly much with them. But they were in her debt; they owed her the rent. Susan spoke from the doorway: "There's a lady downstairs says she might 'ave a job for the likes of you. Wants to 'ave a look-see at you and a small chat." "A job?" From her spot on the floor Annie looked up at Susan dumbfounded. "Right. A job I said. Now get up then and come down with me." "What sort of job?" Annie shook the ragged garment that had once been her mother's dress and then wiped her fingers on the edge of her skirt as she stood up. Susan didn't answer but motioned for her to come, turning back into the bleak corridor. Although apprehensive about offending, Annie repeated her question as they walked down the stairs. "What sort of job?" "'elpin' with 'ousework. Easy work, that. And you get plenty to eat." Annie hadn't been eating much and her small stomach revolted when she walked into the cramped, one-room living quarters where Susan managed with her three children. A smell of fried onions and fish hung about nauseating her whole being. There was a woman in the room, a handsome woman in a rather coarse sort of way. Looking steadily at Annie, she suddenly smiled. "My name is Mrs. Darcy." Swallowing down the bile that had risen to her throat upon entering the room, Annie smiled back. She had to force the smile. She missed Mum and hadn't talked to anyone for days. "I hear you've just come in from the country?" "Yes." Mrs. Darcy, who wore a brown ulster and had a lace shawl draped over her hair, smiled again. Annie thawed under these smiles. With but little prodding Annie told both Mrs. Darcy and Susan her life's story, which took only as long as it takes a dog to wag its tail before it gets a bone. "I need a girl to help with some light work around my house, Annie," Mrs. Darcy said when the girl had finished, "Do you think you'd care to have the job?" Seeing Annie's hesitation, she added, "Of course, you'd be earning a wage. Fair's fair, right? How does four shillings a week sound?" Still Annie wavered. "Me Da," she began. "Listen," Susan said from where she stood in the doorway, "wouldn't it be fine to surprise your poor Da? Suppose Mrs. Darcy comes for you tomorrow mornin'. I'll make sure it's fine with your Da when 'e comes 'ome tomorrow night. See, 'e might not want you to work, girl, 'im being such a good Da and all, but I know you want to 'elp 'im out." Annie took a deep breath. "Can I see 'im Sundays?" Her voice was soft. The two women glanced at each other. "Sure, and I'm sure you could. Why don't you 'ave all your belongin's packed together in a bundle and be ready for Mrs. Darcy in the mornin'." "I 'ave no belongin's except this." Annie indicated her threadbare, thin frock. "Well then," and Mrs. Darcy responded as if it were a normal thing, "we'll just have to see about getting you something better." Annie moved towards the door, ready to go back to her room, but Susan stopped her. "Why not go out and sit on the steps for a bit. You've been in such a long time and you're such a good girl, Annie. I'm sure your Da, 'e wouldn't mind." The sunshine was pleasant. Annie squinted in the bright warmth of the day. Wouldn't Da be surprised and right pleased to hear that she had a job. And new clothes! Although maybe the woman would only get her an apron. But even that would be pleasant. Wouldn't Mum have been proud to see her in something decent! She fingered her worn skirt absently. Perhaps today Da would come home and tell her that he had a job too. That would be even better. With deep intuition she knew that Da needed to have a job more than she did. He needed it to keep his self-respect. The sun shone warmly and at this precise moment she was sure that things would end well. She surveyed her surroundings, soaking up the rays. Ah, but things were dirty here in the city. The gutter carried slop and there was a small nipper crawling in it. They had been poor as long as she could remember, but Mum had always made sure that she was clean and Mum had never let her muck about in the dirt like that. "'Ello." Annie startled. There was another girl at the bottom of the steps quietly eyeing her. "'Ello," she offered back with a timid smile. "Your new 'ere then? My name's Eliza. What's your name?" "Annie." "Wot your doin', Annie, sittin' 'ere in daylight. Got no work then?" "I'm startin' work tomorrow." There was so much pride in Annie's rejoinder that the other girl laughed. "That so? I work in a factory. That is, I did work in a factory. It shut down. Wouldn't mind so much but the munny see, we need the munny." Annie nodded. She understood that. Eliza continued. "We used to live down south of 'ere. It was in a coal-minin' town. Mum took us, Tansy, Maude and me, down into the pit early in the mornin'. Carried baskets on our shoulders. When we got way down the men would fill our baskets with coal, big 'eavy pieces they was, and we'd go up agin. Dark it was in them pits." Eliza shivered involuntarily. Annie did too and asked, "'Ow did you see in them dark pits?" "Oh, me Mum, she'd 'ave a candle between 'er teeth. We'd foller 'er. At the top we'd empty the coal and then go down fur another load. We weren't allowed to rest ever." She emphasized the last word and spit on the ground after she said it as a gesture of contempt. Annie took a hunk of bread out of her pocket. Da had given it to her the night before. "Want to 'ave sum?" Eliza's troubled look disappeared. She grinned broadly. "Sure." *** Da was quiet again that night. Annie was sorely tempted to tell him about her job but remembered what Susan had said and did not. She did kiss his stubbly cheek telling him things would be better, no matter what. She told him too that she'd been allowed to sit on the steps and that she'd made a friend. She could see Da begin to relax a bit and thought of how happy he would be when she gave him her first wages. "I've been goin' to sum meetin's." Not looking at Annie at all, John spoke softly, almost to himself. "What meetin's Da?" Annie was interested. Her father rarely informed her as to how he spent his days. "Well," John shifted his position against the thin, cardboard wall, coughing and thinking simultaneously. He wasn't too sure about his subject matter. "Well, meetin's where they tell you about Jesus and 'ow to live." "You mean your goin' to a church, Da?" Annie was awed. Back home church had only been for the rich – only for those who had proper clothes to wear. Mum had told her a bit about how God wanted people to live. She understood that God wanted you to do things that were right – things like not stealing, not cheating and not using bad language. Her father's voice stopped her train of thought. "No, Annie. No." Shaking his head, not at all familiar with the vernacular on which he was about to embark, John continued hesitantly. "Not likely the church back 'ome would allow sum of the men I've seen in these meetin's to come. The people that go are poor, Annie. Just like us." "Where's these meetin's, Da?" "Well, I've been to three and they've all been in a hall." He grinned a bit as he spoke and went on. "They call it a hall, but it's really a pub." "A pub?" Annie was incredulous. "Why, Da? That's not a real church." "Annie," John Spence turned his head to face his daughter directly, "many's the time I thought God cared nowt fur me. I didn't blame 'Im. I didn't care fur 'Im either. I cared fur drink. But I did work 'ard on the land." He stared down at his hands and went on.   "But I just warn't important. I 'ad no munny. Anyway, munny don't count, Annie." He stopped, not certain of the point he wanted to make. Annie's eyes were glued to his face. Speaking haltingly, he ended the discourse. "Anyone can talk to God, Annie, anytime and anywhere. That's prayer, Annie. God wants us to talk to 'Im. 'E loves to 'ear us speak to 'Im and 'e always wants to 'elp us fur 'e loves us. And you can't 'elp prayin' if 'e loves you." Looking at his daughter rather helplessly, John Spence wanted to say more, wanted to impart the change he felt had come over his heart. It was a long speech he had made, and he wasn't at all sure he had told Annie these things properly – things that were becoming more and more important to him every passing day. But he comforted himself with the thought that he would tell her more as time went on, and that he would soon be able to take her to the meetings. "Aren't you lookin' fur work no more Da?" Annie's voice was perplexed. She had not understood what he had just said. "Annie, at the meetin' I met this man. 'Is name is Will Marley. 'E's thinkin' that a gardener, 'andyman of sorts, is needed at this place 'e knows. "E'll tell me tomorrow." He smiled at her and Annie was sorely tempted to tell him that she had a job too. But the thought of the surprise come Sunday, when she would lay her wages in Da's hands, was even more tempting. "I'm so glad, Da," she whispered, "I knew you would get a job." "I got summat fur you, Annie." John pulled out a small book. "I got this from Will. I was shamed to tell 'im I couldn't read. But you kin read – leastways a little bit." Annie took the book and looked at it curiously. Turning the pages she saw verses and songs. "Why, Da, this 'ere's a songbook. Do you sing songs at the pub?" "Lots of singin' there, Annie. I'm goin' to take you soon – as soon as the job's settled and we've paid Susan." *** Susan came to the room to fetch her down the next morning. Mrs. Darcy, imposing in the severe, brown ulster and lace shawl, was waiting like a sentinel at the bottom of the stairs. She smiled at Annie again. It was rather a stiff smile but it still made Annie think of her Mum. Leaving Da behind wihtout a word was hard. But Susan had assured her again on the landing that it was for the best. "I'll tell 'im - don't you make a fuss now! I'll tell 'im about what's 'appened, and 'e'll thank 'is good fortune fur your common sense." "Ready, Annie?" The brown ulster moved towards the door. Annie moved too, a little uncertainly. Outside, on the feeble flight of the entry stairs, she breathed in the morning air. Eliza was sitting at the bottom of the steps. Mrs. Darcy avoided touching her by holding her skirts to the side as she passed, walking quickly ahead. "Ello, Annie. You're off then?" "Yes." Annie was stiff in her nervousness. "Your off with the likes of 'er?" Eliza pointed a thumb at Mrs. Darcy who was already about twenty feet down the alley. "Yes," Annie whispered, "she's goin' to buy me sum new clothes." Almost running to catch up with her fairy godmother, she threw one more sentence over her shoulder, "'Ope I see you agin, Eliza." But Eliza began running too and tugged at Annie's ragged skirt. "Annie!" Annie turned. Eliza's face was contorted – funny-like. It almost seemed as if she were going to cry. "Don’t go Annie." Annie smiled. "It's nowt to bother yourself about, Eliza. I'm comin' back to see Da on Sunday and I'll see you too." Annie didn't turn again. She visited heaven that morning. Mrs. Darcy took her to a dress shop where a lady outfitted her from head to foot: a reddish frock, a cape and a hat. The only thing that puzzled her was the fact that these did not appear to be working clothes. When she asked Mrs. Darcy about this, she did not receive a clear answer. "Mr. Darcy, he's what you might call a little fastidious. He likes to see girls neat and trim." Annie didn't know what fastidious was, but on the whole she gloried in the feel of the new material on her body. Wouldn't Mum have been proud. And that almost brought the tears. It was early afternoon when Mrs. Darcy hailed a cabby and holding on to Annie's hand, stepped up into the carriage. Annie felt quite the lady in the four-wheeler. She'd ridden in a neighbor's cart before, and that on bumpy country lanes. The sky had been the canopy and the trees and the grass had waved. And Mum and Da had laughed. There were those tears again. She felt the new frock's warmth and fingered the material for comfort. "Where are we 'eadin' now, Mrs. Darcy?" Mrs. Darcy hadn't said much all morning. Annie had caught blue eyes staring at herself several times with a most peculiar expression. It frightened her. She had expected to be in a kitchen by this time, perhaps scrubbing pans or dusting shelves or sweeping some steps. "Mrs. Darcy, please, where are we 'eadin' fur now?" Mrs. Darcy's eyes slowly focused on the girl. "To another lady, Annie – a friend of mine. She's a doctor of sorts. She's going to give you an examination." The word examination scared Annie terribly. She shifted away into the cabby's corner unconsciously eyeing the door. Mrs. Darcy went on. "You see, when you work for people that, well, that are a little more well-to-do, you have to be healthy. So she'll check you over. Make sure that you're not sick." She paused and her voice rose a little as she continued. "So, you're to do what she tells you. Do you understand, Annie?" Annie nodded. She was confused and not at all happy anymore. "Number 36 Millwood." The driver opened the cab door and they alighted. Annie felt her hand being taken again, firmly, and the hint of unease which had overtaken her in the cabby turned her stomach sour. "Is this where your friend lives, Mrs. Darcy?" "Yes, Annie. And please remember what I told you. Do everything she tells you." *** It was dark and dank in the room. Heavy drapes hung on the windows. In spite of her new clothes, Annie shivered. "Annie, this is Mrs. Broughton, the lady who will examine you." Annie regarded a heavy woman whose wheezing breath came quickly. She had no smile, but only pointed to a screened-off partition in the far corner of the room. Annie rigidly moved towards it feeling awkward. There was a bed behind the partition. The examination lasted less than five minutes. As Annie re-arranged her clothes, she did not hear Mrs. Broughton's low aside to Mrs. Darcy. "You got your money's worth. She's a virgin." In a louder voice the woman carried on, "That'll be twenty shillings, if you please." Mrs. Darcy paid. Annie would not look at Mrs. Brougton as she unsteadily made her way towards the door. In the hall she somberly stated: "Your friend is a dirty, fat woman and I wouldn't 'ave come if I 'ad known what she was goin' to do. I don't think my Da would like it either." Mrs. Darcy took her hand. "Now, Annie – an examination is never pleasant. But it's over now and we'll go for another ride in a cab. You like that, don't you?" Annie didn't answer. And the new frock began to feel hot and heavy. Outside she shakily took in great gulps of air. The cabby was still there, waiting. In the shadows of the bushes by the side of the road, Annie thought she saw the form of a girl. It very much minded her of Eliza. She peered and would have walked that way, but Mrs. Darcy's hand imprisoned her own, pulling her strongly towards the cabby. "Come on, Annie. Don't dawdle!" The cabby drove briskly through the warmth of the summer afternoon. Loud cries of vendors selling their wares stridently grated past them. Annie could see calico blinds on the windows of the many tenements they passed. Some windowsills held penny flower bunches in cracked vases. These were all homes and belonged to different families that had Mums and other children. "Ave we long to go?" Mrs. Darcy turned her shawl-wrapped face towards Annie. "We're almost there, Annie." There was something in her eyes which made Annie refrain from asking any more questions. *** There was a garden. Annie could see it straightway when the cabby stopped, and in spite of the high walls which surrounded the house, and in spite of her growing discomfort, this garden made her glad. She had been born and bred outside the city and the sight of green was like an old friend waiting. But the dwelling itself was foreboding and scowlingly large in dimension. Indeed, it seemed quite too large for just two people like Mrs. Darcy and her husband to occupy by themselves. The cab-driver opened the carriage door and, after stepping down, Mrs. Darcy paid the man. "Do you live 'ere alone?" Annie's timid inquiry brought a strange smile to Mrs. Darcy's face. She did not answer Annie's question, but took her by the hand again, through the gate, up a stone walk to a big front door. There was no one behind the door. Somehow, taking into account the size of the immense house confronting her, Annie had expected several people behind the door – people like butlers, maids and housekeepers. But there was no one. Immediately behind the door was a steep, thin stairway. And the whole area smelled faintly of gas mixed with something sweet, minding her of dying flowers. Mrs. Darcy pushed Annie towards the stairs. "Up you go, Annie. I'll show you to your room." "You mean I'm to 'ave a room?" The child was overcome with amazement. Where she came from entire families lived in rooms, not single Annie Spences. Behind her Mrs. Darcy grinned. She slapped Annie's small behind playfully. "Yes, you get your very own room." The stairs led to a long, narrow hallway with many doors. The hallway was not empty. Several girls, all in silk dresses, stared at Annie. Some eyed her with curiosity, some with apathy and some with pity. Annie felt uncomfortable. Did they all work here? She suddenly wanted to leave and abruptly turned, only to find Mrs. Darcy right behind her – Mrs. Darcy, suddenly a wall, like the wall around the garden. "I'll show you your room, Annie." It was not an invitation but a command. She walked on even as one of the girls tittered. Then several laughed out loud. One bowed to another, saying in a falsetto voice, "Your room, your majesty – your very own room." Determined, Annie turned around once more encountering the cold eyes of Mrs. Darcy. She swallowed audibly before speaking. "Mrs. Darcy, you can 'ave your clothes back. No disrespeck intended but I'd rather talk to Da furst." But even as her mind formulated the words and her mouth said them she knew inside herself with a deep, desperate fear, that there was no going back – perhaps not ever. There was no response. There was only a firm push towards the first door in the hallway on the right. The room behind the hallway door held a bed, a dresser and a chair. Staining that bed was a red, silk dress. Mrs. Darcy closed the door behind them and moved towards the bed. Taking off her gloves slowly, she sat down heavily on its edge. The dress lay next to her. "I want you to listen to me very carefully, Annie Spence. Annie stood with her back against the wall and saw that Mrs. Darcy's penetrating eyes had turned an icy-blue. They were totally devoid of the smile which had initially won Annie's confidence the day before. "You're a big girl now and you can't go back to your Da. I want you to put on this pretty, red dress and in a little while I'll bring you up a bite to eat. This evening a gentleman friend will come up to visit you." A horrible realization came over Annie. She was only twelve, but through the years she had seen her mother bear child after child. "I want nowt to do with no gentleman," she whispered hoarsely. Mrs. Darcy just regarded her. Annie's hands nervously twisted together and she footslogged over to the chair. The dress appeared as repulsive to her as Mrs. Darcy. Her thin hands unclasped and clutched the arm of the wooden chair. And a great anger overcame her: anger at the lies she had been told, anger at her own foolishness for believing them, and anger at Mrs. Darcy for telling them. Before she knew it, she had lifted the chair above her head and had heaved it with all her might at the woman sitting on the bed. But Mrs. Darcy ducked and came at her, pulling a white kerchief from her pocket as she did so. Managing to grab Annie's arm and snatching her close, she pushed the kerchief against Annie's face. There was a sickly-sweet odor. It nauseated the girl. Slowly losing consciousness, she was oblivious to the fact that Mrs. Darcy summoned another girl from the hall into the room. She was also entirely unaware that between the two of them they undressed her, slipping her childish, inert body into the red dress. "She might be a touch one," Mrs. Darcy declared thoughtfully, "Maybe I can frighten her with... well, I'll see... a little hunger and loneliness won't hurt. We'll give it some time. *** John came home fairly early that evening, his step more buoyant than it had been for the last few days. Will had said after the meeting today that he could bring his Annie over tonight and that the job was sure. "Ere, man," he'd said, “'ere's sum munny to get that Jarrett woman off your back." When John had stared at him in a somewhat bewildered way, he had added, "A room cums with the job, John. Yourself and your Annie can share it – and I'm certain the Morrows will 'ave sum work about the 'ouse fur Annie too." The meetings were becoming less and less foreign to John. Tonight he had watched a newly-converted man roll a beer barrel from his house and tip its contents down the gutter. He'd also seen others, risking ridicule, confess their sins up at the front, kneeling down at what was called the “Penitent form.” Perhaps all these things wouldn't have made such an impression on him but that Will Marley had been such a friend. Every day asking him how was he doing and how was Annie? Every day sharing his bread, and what he had wasn't much. Every day promising to look out for work. Will was a chairmender. He rolled his barrow through the streets of London crying “chairs to mend – chairs to mend.” He'd given John a detailed account of how he'd been a chimney sweep as a lad of six. "Me Da, 'e died of the cholera when I was a tad. Mum needed the munny. The advertisement asked for small boys to fit narrow flues. I was small all right. Only got one meal a day. 'Ad to start work at four every mornin'. The master sweep would put a calico mask over me face and a scraper in me 'ands. Then 'e'd push me up the chimney where I'd 'ave to loosen soot fur 'im. If I fell, and I did that, the sweep would put me 'ands in a salt solution to 'eal and 'arden them. Oh, John, the sting of it! I can still feel it. Then I began to drink. Me poor Mum saw little of the munny I earned. Then I quit the sweepin' and started snatchin' dogs from people, wealthy people mind you, and sellin' them. Then I saw a man 'ang outside Warwick gaol. And it came to me that that man could be me. Then I 'eard this fellow, Elijah Cadman, speak. 'E used to be a fighter – a regular boxer like – and 'e spoke about 'eaven and 'ell as if they were over in the next alley. Anyway, I got the call. God moved me, you might say, and I got into a straight business, chair mendin', and 'ere I am.” John didn't quite understand the rationale behind all of Will's story. But he did understand that Will was helping him, was feeding him, and would put Annie and himself up for the night. He'd reached Susan Jarrett's place. It would be the last time that he'd run up these rotten stairs. "Annie's Da?" A small voice called to him from below. There was a girl with red hair and she looked to be about Annie's age. It came to him that Annie had spoken of a friend last night. Maybe this was the girl. He smiled. "You know me Annie?" "Well, she's not 'ere any more. She was taken away." The girl's voice was breathless, shaking a bit in the telling. John walked down the stairs again, towards her. "Wot's your name, child?" "Eliza." She faced him candidly, blinking at the fierceness of his rising voice but not backing away from it. "Wot do you mean, Eliza, by wot you just said?" "I mean that Annie, your girl, she's gone. Left fur a job. She told me yesterday that she 'ad a job. So I came out this mornin' to say goodbye and she left with this woman and, and..." Eliza stopped, swallowed and then haltingly continued. "The woman, the woman – well, she was bad." "Bad?" John's knuckles showed white as she gripped the edge of the splintered railing, leaning closer towards the girl. "She was no good. I know when someone's no good. She 'ad this walk. I tried to tell Annie, but this woman told 'er to come." "Why would Annie leave without tellin' me? She always tells me wot she's about. Wait 'ere, Eliza." John turned and ran up the steps to the Jarretts' room. Susan met him in the hall. "'Ome are you, John?" "Susan, where's Annie?" "Annie? Why, in your room, I suppose." "'Ave you looked?" She stared him straight in the eye, lifting her eyebrows in a perplexed way, and John was puzzled. Was Annie there after all and was the girl outside leading him on? He ran past Susan up the steps, three at a time, to the second floor. The wood creaked and moaned under his weight. The flimsy door opened and stayed where he flung it against the wall. There was not even a hint of Annie in the room. There was only the bareness of the place. The cracks in the wall - the small, dingy window – the lingering odor of death – but no Annie. He turned and walked back, walked slowly this time, thinking. Susan was still in the hall. "Did you find Annie then?" "No." His answer was short and terse. "Where do you suppose the girl would go?" Susan's voice was sympathetic and once more he wondered. She had, after all, let them stay here and they owed her. "Eliza says a woman came and took 'er away today." "A woman?" "Yes." "Didn't see no woman come 'ere. But I told Annie she could sit on the steps. Maybe sum woman come by. I wouldn't rightly know." John changed the subject. "Got your rent, Susan, and maybe sum besides." Her eyes never left his face. "That so, John. Well, I reckon it's about time." Her expression didn't change, but her heart thought of the two pounds Mrs. Darcy had given her and how it was hidden away in the torn part of the chair in her room. John counted out the money into her palm and walked away. "If you 'ear," he said and she nodded again smiling all the while, but condemning him for a fool in her heart. Eliza was still standing where John had left her. He sat down on the bottom step, his eyes on her face. In a cracked voice he mumbled, "She's gone. You spoke true." "I know." Eliza's tone was soft and she stood by him quietly. "I got me a job today. A decent job and I took the pledge too. I'm not goin' to drink any more." The girl sat down next to him. "Annie's da," she divulged slowly, "I know wherabouts she is." Incredulously he lifted his head and turned to face her. "You know where me Annie is?" She nodded and continued, "I follered 'er and that lady today. She got sum new clothes and then I 'ad to run quite 'ard to foller because they took a cabby, but I know the street and the 'ouse they stopped at. And then they got back in the cabby again and I follered again to another 'ouse. It's a big place she's at." John gaped at her. "Will you take me there, Eliza?" "Can't now, Annie's Da. Me Mum's always in a dreadful 'uff if I ain't 'ome in time at night. But tomorrow I'll take you." "Thank you, Eliza." There was a faint glimmer of hope in his eyes. "First think in the mornin'?" "I'll be 'ere, waitin' fur you, Annie's Da." There was not a shadow of a doubt in John's mind as he walked out of the alley, that he could trust Eliza. There was that about her, just as there was not that about Susan Jarrett. He'd go to Will's place now. There'd be a corner for him there. He knew there would be. *** Annie woke uneasily in the bed. The ceiling overhead leered at her. Pink it was, and the plaster was peeling dreadfully. Her head was sore and her mouth felt dry. She ran her tongue over her lips. "Awake then, are you?" Mrs. Darcy's voice brought it all back to Annie. She raised her head painfully, suddenly aware that she was wearing the scarlet dress. It was unpleasant to her touch and she shrank from herself. Mrs. Darcy stood up. "I hope that you've calmed down a bit, Annie. I stayed with you just to make sure you're all right." Annie studied her distrustfully. "I want nowt to do with you. I want to go to me Da." "Your Da's a poor man, Annie. He's not got enough to feed you properly. Besides, he won't want you back once you're spent time here." "Me Da always wants me." Annie's voice rose in defense. "Do you know where you are, Annie?" "I'm, I'm...." She stopped, confused. "You're in a brothel, Annie, in a house of ill repute, a house where bad girls stay. Do you understand, Annie? Once you've stayed here, everyone will think that you're bad. No one will want you anymore." "Me Da will, 'e ...." "Your Da thinks you're lost and after a few days he won't bother looking any more. He'll think you've drowned in the Thames or some other river. He'll give up looking for you, Annie. Do you understand?" Annie put her head down, turning her body away from Mrs. Darcy. She hated the woman with her whole being. "Annie, if you don't do what I say, the same thing will happen to you that happens to other girls who don't do what I say. You will be doped, put to sleep, and put into a coffin. I have coffins downstairs, Annie. The lid will be nailed down right on top of you. Then you will be shipped to another country where you might not know the language and you will never come back here. I would sell you as a slave, Annie." Mrs. Darcy's voice dropped.  "Imagine that trip in a coffin, Annie. Close walls suffocating you and you not able to move, maybe not for days. And you'll claw at the wood around you and scream. But," and she paused dramatically, her voice dropping another decibel, "no one will hear you and no one will care!" Annie listened in horror. Clenching her thin fists, she buried her face in the bedspread. "I see that you're thinking things over." Mrs. Darcy's voice was smooth as the silk on Annie's dress and twice as repulsive. "I'll be back in the morning and we'll talk some more." As soon as the door clicked into its lock behind Mrs. Darcy, Annie was off the bed. She padded over to the window and peered down into the dusky garden. How glad she had been to see it initially. It so made her think of the country. She pulled at the latch to open the window but it stayed fast. She turned, surveying the room, her very own room, and grimaced. Bending low she peeked under the bed. There was nothing there, barring the dust. The clothes that Mrs. Darcy had bought for her that morning were gone. The chair held nothing. She stepped towards it and the silken dress rustled as she went. But then her right foot struck something. It was the songbook Da had given her, lying by the chair on the floor. It must have fallen out of her pocket as they undressed her. She picked the little volume up, cradling it in her hands. Da had carried it and it was like touching him for a moment. Weakly Annie walked over to the chair and sat down, all the while clutching the small tome. Da had really wanted her to have it. He had changed since they'd come to London. It wasn't just the grief he felt over Mum. No, he was changed in a different way. And somehow, it had to do with this book. She caressed it with her hand, feeling its cover, feeling Da's rough hand holding her own. Then she opened it. There was something written on the flyleaf. She spelled out the words slowly: I call on you, O God, for You will answer me. What strange words! What exactly had it been that Da had said to her about these meetings anyway? There had been something about talking to God. But what was she sitting here for, thinking about these things, when she should be figuring out how to get away. It was dark already. Would Da be home now and coming into their room? And what would he think with her gone? Susan Jarrett would tell him that she had a job – or would she tell him something else? That part was muddled in her mind. Da would likely miss her and come searching for her. Wouldn't he? Annie got up and walked back to the window again. Her hands explored the latch carefully. She pulled and poked. Her nails scraped around the edges to possibly loosen things a bit. But nothing moved – nothing gave way. There was not even a hint of a creak to suggest that perhaps in time the window might open. She turned and went over to the door. Gingerly her hands touched the handle. It came down a little, but then stopped. The lock was secure. She bent to peer through the keyhole, but there was only darkness. Then hopelessness gripped Annie so that her whole being became ill with fear. She threw herself onto the bed and wept and wept. And no one came to comfort her. Annie finally fell asleep. It had been a long day and she was exhausted. But her sleep was fitful and she continually whimpered in her dreams. She saw Da walking away from her, his form exuding disappointment. She saw Mum, tired and heavy, walking the road to London. Mum wouldn't raise her eyes to Annie's face, wouldn't give her even a bit of a smile. She felt the weight of the dead infant in her arms again and then Susan Jarrett shoved her about with a broom, shouting all the while, "You're a wicked girl – a most wicked girl." *** It was almost dawn when Annie opened her eyes. She turned her head slowly, fearing to see Mrs. Darcy back on the chair guarding her. But there was no one. Her hands felt cold and cramped and, looking down at them, she discovered that she was still clasping the songbook. She had done so all night. "Anyone can talk to God, anytime and anywhere. That's prayer, Annie. God wants us to talk to 'Im. 'E loves to 'ear us speak to 'Im and 'e always wants to 'elp us, for 'e loves us. And you can't 'elp prayin' if 'e loves you." It was as if her Da was in the room with her. The words resounded in her mind. And a great desire was born in her to speak with Da's God. "Wot will I say, Da?" she whispered, "Wot will I say? Can I say wotever I've a mind to say. Can I ask 'Im anything?" Sitting up in the bed, she shivered and turned her head towards the closed window. Then, swinging her feet over the edge, she cautiously began to speak. "Ello, God. Me name's Annie Spence. I'm locked up in this room and this is a bad place to be in." She stopped and sobbed. Saying the way things were sounded harsh and she was afraid of this morning. Then she stopped crying and went on. "Me Da, 'e told me this was prayin' - leastways I think that's wot 'e meant. So if I'm not doin' it right, I'm sorry. I'm so scared, God, of Mrs. Darcy and I shouldn't 'ave gone with 'er without tellin' Da. Maybe I'll never see 'im again." She stopped to blow her nose into the bed covering. "I don't know wot to do, God. And I don't know 'ow to end talkin' to You neither. Maybe I can talk to You agin sometime." A bird sang faintly outside. Annie got up, stretched her arms and legs and plodded over to the window. She put her hand up to the pane, hoping to maybe catch a glimpse of feathers. Lightly her left hand rested on the pane as she peered, and noiselessly the window slid open towards the outside. The small book felt warm and alive in her right hand. The bird sang again – louder this time. Annie smiled. "I love You, God. Can You 'elp me jump down too, please?" The distance down below to the garden was frightening. Annie swallowed audibly, her eyes widening at the drop. It was high – a good twenty feet at least. She turned and brought the chair over to the window. Climbing onto it, she was able to scoot onto the sill, advancing her feet precariously over the outside edge. There were voices in the hall. Annie shut her eyes and felt herself drop. Then everything went black. *** "Annie! Annie! Wake up. Annie, please, we ain't got much time." Annie moaned. Her eyes opened half-way. A face swam into focus – a friend's face. She knew who it was but could not think of the name. "Annie! It's me, Eliza." The voice carried great urgency. "Eliza?" The name crept around in Annie's mind. She didn't understand what had just happened. "That was some jump, Annie. I shut my eyes when I saw wot you 'ad in mind to do. But it's time to get up now. We've got to get goin'. Your Da's so worried." Annie mind cleared a bit. "Da? Is me Da 'ere?" "Your Da's comin' fur you this mornin', but not if you don't get up." Exasperated Eliza pulled at Annie's arms. "Ere, I'll 'elp you." Annie half-sat up, still unsure of what to do. Eliza supported her under her armpits when she tried to stand. "Me leg! I've 'urt me leg, Eliza!" Annie almost sat down again. "If you don't walk soon, sore leg and all, they'll nab you and put you back in, Annie. Please try to walk! 'Ere, put your arm about my neck then." Annie did, but she almost gagged when she took the first few steps. "Eliza, 'ave we got far to go?" "Soon's we're out of sight of the 'ouse, Annie, we'll find a place to rest. But we got to move quickly, see, or they'll be after us." They moved through the garden – Annie hobbling and leaning heavily on Eliza. The gate was open and the street lay before them. Early vendors trudged about. A flower girl, bare, dirty feet showing under an equally dirty, tattered skirt was setting up a stall. A few women, clad only in soiled petticoats, were on their way to factories. Pitiless morning light showed their faces dull and devoid of emotion. They simply walked. The hot-baked-potato man was doling out breakfast to a group of sweeps. "Ey there!" one of them called out as Eliza and Annie passed, 'Aint you out a bit early fur business!" They all guffawed and Eliza's arm about Annie tightened protectively. "Eliza, your a good friend. And I only just met you yesterday. I'm so glad you 'elped me." Eliza shrugged. "I 'ad nothin' better to do anyway." "Wot did me Da think, Eliza, when 'e found out I warn't 'ome?" "'E went in and talked to Susan and she told 'im that she didn't know where you were. That you were sittin' on the porch and most likely wandered off." "But she told me she'd tell Da I was workin'." Annie stopped walking. Indignation blazed out of her eyes. "She told me..." Her voice trailed off. Eliza prodded her with her shoulder to keep on walking. "She got paid, Annie. This woman you went with...." "You mean Mrs. Darcy?" "Whatever 'er name was. She pays people. She pays nursemaids, charwomen and others like Susan Jarrett, to tell 'er about lost, young girls that might be good prospects for 'er 'ouse like. Me sister, she was spoken to by this lady dressed up as a nun. Real sweet-faced lady she was. But she warn't no nun. And she doped up Maude, that's me sister, and when she come to there was this man in a room with 'er...." Annie gasped. "Wot 'appened, Eliza?" "You don't know our Maude, Annie. She made like she was crazy. Foamed at the mouth. Tore at 'er 'air. The man thought she'd escaped from an asylum and 'e left. They let 'er go after that." Annie sighed. "I threw a chair at Mrs. Darcy, but it didn't 'elp much. Can we sit a minnut, Eliza?" Annie's leg throbbed more at every step. Eliza anxiously looked over her shoulder. "I suppose we'd 'ave known by now, 'ad they come after you. Sit then, but only fur a minnut or so." Gratefully Annie sank down at the side of the road. The red dress was ripped and soiled. She felt unclean in it. "Me clothes are gone, Eliza." "Not to be 'elped." "'Ow did you know where I was?" "I follered you yesterday. You sure traveled! I was about wore out with follerin'. I told your Da I'd take 'im over as soon as it was light, but I couldn't sleep last night, worryin' they might take you somewheres else. So I spent part of the night in the bushes in the garden. Lucky I woke to see you swingin' your legs over the edge of the winder. Lucky too, you didn't break your neck." Annie squeezed Eliza's hand and got back up. *** It took them two hours to reach Eliza's place. Annie's wrenched ankle was swollen out of proportion by this time and Eliza was half carrying her. It was the same alley that Susan Jarrett lived in. The room Eliza shared with her family wasn't much better than the one Annie had shared with her Da. There were two straw mattresses in a corner on the floor and the small wooden table held a cup with a small bunch of mignonette. The greenish-white flowers welcomed Annie as she gratefully sank onto the straw. "I'll go and look for your Da now, Annie. Why don't you sleep a bit?" Annie didn't even hear the admonition. She was already asleep, sore leg stretched out in front of her. *** John Spence was sitting on the bottom steps of Susan Jarrett's stairs, head leaning heavily on his hands. He did not hear Eliza coming and startled to hear the sound of her voice. "Annie's Da!" He jumped to his feet directly. "I'm ready to go when you are, Eliza." "No need, Annie's Da. She's at my place, sleepin'." John stomach lurched. "She's all right then? Me Annie, she's all right?" "Well, she's 'urt 'er foot a mite. But fur the rest I think she'll do fine." "Where do you live, Eliza?" Eliza glanced up at the stairs. In the morning dawn, she thought she detected a shadow figure on the landing. Motioning John to follow her, she told him all that had happened in the small hours of the day, but only after they had put some space between themselves and Susan Jarrett's house. *** Annie was sleeping soundly. The red, besmirched dress covered her childish form poorly. John knelt down on the floor and touched her arm. She opened her eyes slowly and made as if she were about to cry. "Da! Oh, Da! I've lost the book!" He gently stroked her hair. "Wot book, Annie?" "The one you gave me, Da. I lost it when I jumped and now it's gone." "Never mind, Annie! Never mind!" John had never been one for hugging. He'd never been able to say much about love. But now words tumbled from his mouth as if they had always been there. And maybe they had. "Annie, girl, when I come 'ome and you were gone I cried... and I prayed...." Annie touched his hands. "I know, Da. I know. I understand wot you meant about prayer, Da." Her eyes were shining, full of understanding. "'E opened the winder fur me, Da. And now we can begin agin." Mrs. Darcy, bird, and songbook pictures are by Charity Bylsma. Christine Farenhorst has a new book out, “Listen! Six men you should know,” with biographies on an intriguing selection of famous figures: Norman Rockwell, Sigmund Freud, Samuel Morse, Rembrandt, Albert Schweitzer, and Martin Luther King Jr. You can find it via online retailers including Dortstore.com....

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God wants young men to be brave, not crazy

Bravery, like most things in life, is learned. To develop it, one must practice. However, it is the very rare young man who wants to practice being brave. Many will be eager to prove that they are already brave, which is why young men do crazy, dangerous, reckless things – to prove to themselves and others that they have no fear. So they drive motorcycles too fast, and drive cars too fast, and drive motorized vehicles of various other sorts and sizes too fast. But this isn't brave. Brave and reckless both involve confronting danger, but there is a difference. The brave man confronts danger because he must, or because he should. There is a reason to do it: a damsel to be defended, a child to be saved, a principle to be upheld. Brave is daring all because it will honor God. A reckless young man risks life and limb for no reason at all. It's courageous vs. crazy. And no matter how many times a young man might do wild dangerous things, it won't help him learn how to be brave. Bravery has a purpose to it, and to develop bravery a young man must confront danger with the right aim in mind. This is bravery  So how can a young man practice being brave? By doing brave things for the right reasons. God wants us take risks, so long as they are the right sort. He wants us defending what is true, and beautiful, no matter the opposition. So a young man can practice being brave by asking out that godly girl he's always been interested in. She might say no, and that is quite a danger to face. But she might say yes, and that's reason enough to risk it. He can tell his friends he isn't going to go drinking with them this weekend, but that if they want to come over they can shoot hoops. Or go rollerblading. Or watch the game together. Or watch the game and then at halftime play an epic match of rollerblade basketball (being brave can involve some creativity too). Proposing ideas risks having them shot down and labeled "lame." That could happen, because being brave doesn't mean everything will go your way. A brave man understands that failure is possible, and sometimes even likely. He knows there might be a cost. But he also knows that his peers' wrath doesn't compare to God's pleasure. A young man could also practice bravery by wearing an explicitly Christian shirt on his secular campus. This is provocative, but not foolhardy. Some students and professors are sure to hate it, but other Christians will be encouraged to learn they aren't alone on campus after all. Maybe he could volunteer as a firefighter. I know two young men who are ready to put their lives on the line for a very good reason indeed: to save the lives of others. And a young man who wants to grow and develop his bravery could volunteer at a public pro-life event. In recent years dozens of young men have been among those setting up massive pro-life flag displays across Canada. They know abortion is an issue that gets some people angry, yelling, and hysterical. It takes courage to be involved. But they understand this is important. They are ready to risk anger to advocate for the defenseless. Conclusion We want our young men to learn how to be brave, but we don't want them to be reckless with the life and limbs God has given them. So to foster their bravery let's encourage our young men to do dangerous, risky, important things. A version of this article first appeared in the October 2014 issue...

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“You too?” What friendship is, and why it’s so hard to find

Finding good friends can be a daunting process. Oh, sure, some people seem to slide quickly and easily into friendship in only a matter of days. But for the rest of us there’s questions and more questions. How do good friendships begin? At what point do acquaintances officially become friends? How can you quickly move to that “comfortable stage” where you can just relax around each other? And, why is making friends so hard? When I thought about my own approach to friendship, there was something very specific I was looking for in the initial stages of meeting a new person. I was searching for some sort of magical moment of “connection.” C.S. Lewis put into words what this connection feels like: "Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.” You know what it feels like when you’ve been acquainted with someone for years, and done all sorts of activities with them, but still don’t feel like you really know them? And then there are others you feel connected to right away? That’s because with some people you reach that “You too?” moment right away, and some people you never do. When it happens, this connection is such a gift. Who doesn’t feel lonely sometimes? And who wants to face life’s ups and downs by their lonesome? So it comes as unimaginable relief to find out other humans know what you’re talking about. About your deep loneliness despite being constantly surrounded by people. About your guilt at not being as good a parent as you thought you would be, or not being as patient a husband or wife. About your spiritual doubts that you wrestle with. To walk side-by-side with another through anxious times can make the path appear a little smoother. Too much emphasis? However, it is possible to put too much emphasis on this connection. I’m making it sound like the discovery of common ground is essential to friendship, so how can a person place too much emphasis on it? The answer is, yes. It’s easy to think you don’t have anything in common with someone before you reach this “You too?” moment. I certainly feel this way at times. When I’m staring at a stranger, I can’t imagine what possible experiences we might share that could lead to a conversation. It’s too easy to give up before ever reaching the stage of a relationship known as “friendship.” And I don’t think I’m the only one who overemphasizes finding this moment of connection. It’s been stated more than a few times that, despite having more technologies to connect us than all generations before us could have dreamed of, we are one of the loneliest and most isolated generations. And it’s not only that technology discourages us from meeting face-to-face – it also teaches us to seek out that “You too?” moment. We join groups of comic book fans, narrowing them down to the most obscure character in them all. We connect with like-minded cooks, sharing recipes with others who are passionate about our non-GMO, paleo, carb-free diet. Or we discuss the narrowest point of Calvin’s Institutes on message boards of people who agree with us. But in real life, facing real people, we can’t imagine what on earth we might share in common. Christian connection As Christians, perhaps we should consider if our friendship is really meant to rely solely on an ability to relate to each other. The first reply to this thought might be that with brothers and sisters in Christ we obviously have Christianity in common, and we need to keep that at the forefront of our minds. But this neatly sidesteps the issue of searching for this moment in general. There may be a reason the Bible talks more about our neighbors than our friends. We are not meant to only interact with those we find something in common with. We are to seek this connection with everyone we interact. We may not connect with everyone on a friendship level (and we know even Jesus had closer relationships with some of his disciples than others), but our knowledge that each of us is created in the image of God demands we give such a relationship a chance. And, perhaps, even if we're not feeling it, the least we can do is treat each person we meet as a person with unique experiences that are shared with at least some human beings, and relatable in a way that could add value to some other person’s life, even if not ourselves. We may not be able to be friends with every single person, but we do know who our neighbors are supposed to be (Luke 10:25-37). It does take work Think about a friend you now know well. When you first met them, did you realize they would one day be one of your closest friends? You may have at least one friend that, if you‘d focused on only the easily discoverable similarities, you would have missed out on them. When Christians talk of love, they often talk about going beyond the externals to seek unfading qualities inside a person. In friendship – which is a type of love that isn’t recognized enough – we do similarly, in going beyond our initial impressions of “they’re so different” to seek out all the ways that they’re not. The upshot of all of this is that building a friendship will require work, and you'll sacrifice time perhaps on a level similar to that time you invest in family relationships. There may be long, tedious, awkward moments spent with a human being who feels as distant from you as if they stood across a canyon opposite you. They may not feel safe enough yet to expose the vulnerable experiences that you might discover they shared with you, and you might need more time before you’d share such an experience with them too. It may feel like hard work. But that should not surprise us, because we already expect to be called to sacrifice for each other. Conclusion This does not necessarily make building friendships appear less daunting. I still sit here intimidated by it, or perhaps even more intimidated than before. But there is freedom in knowing your weaknesses, and in knowing Who to turn to for help. After all, there is someone who promised us friendship even when we’re at our very worst. “No longer do I call you servants,” Jesus says in John 15, “for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.” We have a friendship that strengthens us to reach out and make friends with others. A version of this article was first published on HarmaMaeSmit.com and is reprinted here with permission of the author....

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