History, Recent Articles, RP App
"I have a bridge to sell you" (and other deals too good to be true)
I recently received an e-mail from a Nigerian prince who wanted to share his wealth with me. He told me it was millions and millions of dollars. However, he needed a few thousand dollars from me upfront to help cover bank fees and other expenses. I’d have to be a fool to turn him down, wouldn’t I? What could go wrong?
I just received a text from a bank where I don’t have an account. They said they had four million dollars to transfer to me from a great uncle I can’t remember. All I had to do was click on the link in the text. I’d have to be a fool to turn that down, wouldn't I? What could go wrong?
Preying on the newly landed
These are the types of scams a lot of people fall for and it’s nothing new. Preying on people’s greed is probably as old as time itself and, yet, we fall for it again and again. Perhaps one of the most infamous people to prey on that desire for easy riches was George C. Parker, a New York-based confidence man.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Parker made a habit of meeting the immigrants getting off the boats at New York’s Ellis Island. While many of the immigrants coming in at the island were the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, some came to America with substantial amounts of money. It was these that Parker sought out.
When he was able to strike up a conversation with one of these wealthy individuals, he would maneuver the discussion to the topic of the Brooklyn Bridge. This New York landmark, joining the districts of Brooklyn and Manhattan, is visible from Ellis Island. In the late 1800s it was one of the most recognizable symbols of the prosperity of the mighty America. Just imagine how much money you could make if you owned the bridge and were able to charge tolls to cross it.
Once, twice, thrice...
When Parker managed to get his new immigrant friend to the beginning of the bridge there was, as if by magic, a "For Sale" sign attached to the bridge. Like other con men who tried to sell the structure, Parker likely learned the schedule of the regular rounds of the New York City beat cops. If the police never saw a sign advertising the sale of the bridge, they really couldn’t get upset about it.
To further the scheme, Parker apparently had impressive, but forged, papers showing him to be the owner of the famous landmark. And so with the documentation, the "For Sale" sign, and the promise of fabulous wealth from tolls, Parker managed to sell the Brooklyn Bridge to the gullible immigrant. And, being successful as a con man - if successful is the right term - Parker sold the bridge to someone else as well, and then he sold it again, and again, and again. It wasn’t until the unfortunate purchaser of the bridge tried to set up toll booths that they learned from the police that they’d been fleeced.
There’s a story that Parker bragged about selling the bridge twice a week for decades on end. And while no one I read believes the claim, it highlights Parker’s audacity. He got caught sometimes, being convicted of fraud on three occasions. But in 1908, after his second conviction, he put on a sheriff’s coat and hat that had been left lying around and simply walked away from the courthouse.
"I've got a statue to sell you.."
The man was flexible as well. If the bridge had no appeal for his mark, Parker was not above trying to sell the person Madison Square Garden, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or the Statue of Liberty.
What did him in was not trying to sell New York infrastructure, but passing a bad check. A state law imposed a mandatory life sentence on anyone convicted of four felony offences. Though the check was only one hundred fifty dollars, and not the fifty thousand that he’d sometimes scammed from his victims by selling the Brooklyn Bridge, the offence sent Parker to prison for the last eight years of his life. He was said to be a popular prisoner since, as a scam artist, he had learned how to spin a tale and most of those tales were of his own exploits.
Something for comparitively nothing is a bad deal
What allowed Parker’s career was simple human greed. Greed blinds us. We see an enormous profit and we fail to understand the risks. We fail to do what the investors call “due diligence.” Wanting something too badly can blind us to the risks whether in our finances, our relationships, or our careers. We can’t – or won’t – see the obvious peril right in front of us. It’s a risk we all run, and we’ve all certainly felt the sting out of wanting something a bit more than is good for us. And if you don’t believe me there, let me just say that I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
James Dykstra is a sometimes history teacher, author, and podcaster at History.icu “where history is never boring.” Find his podcast at History.icu, or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.
The Canadian Revolution of 1982
When we speak of a political "revolution," we usually think of a violent event that replaces one political system with another. Among the best known r...
The Pope who hated black cats
People like or dislike different kinds of animals. I’m a bird person. They fascinate me. Others are cat people. And historically, we know that some ...
Adult biographies, Book Reviews, History, Teen non-fiction
Listen! Six Men You Should Know
by Christine Farenhorst 161 pages / 2021 The six men we get introduced to here are given 25-30 pages each which is enough space to get a very good...
Residential schools: what worldview is to blame?
We’ve seen at least ten Canadian churches burnt down and others damaged by fire since unmarked graves at two former residential schools became front page news in June. Many children who attended these schools did not live to return to their families, and it’s not a leap to think the arsonists are blaming the churches for their deaths. That’s the direction Prime Minister Trudeau took too, when he called on the Roman Catholic Church to apologize for their involvement. There is blame to be directed at individuals and organizations. However, to learn the right lesson here we need to look beyond just the people, and find out what worldview was the root cause. We can point to people who professed to be Christian as perpetrators, and the State was overseeing it all. So was the problem that people were acting like Christians, or that they were acting like agents of a secular State? Was this tragedy caused by too much Christianity or too little? To answer, let’s compare and contrast the worldviews that were involved: Christianity, and the secular worldview that has long been prevalent in government. Secularism is godless and consequently holds that the State is the highest authority, since it is the mightiest (if there is no God, then why wouldn’t might makes right?). The only limits on its power are self-imposed. The State gives rights and therefore can also take them away. Thus parents have only as much authority as the State grants them, and the State can take away that authority whenever it wishes. Under this worldview education is a State responsibility, if it so decides. Christianity acknowledges that God is the highest authority, and that He’s allotted limited authority to not only the State, but also to parents. God is the source of our rights via His commandments so, for example, his prohibitions against stealing and murder give us rights to property and life. While the State does often violate those rights, it can never take them away. God has given parents the primary role in the education of their children (Deut. 4:9, 6:7, 11: 19, Josh. 24:15, Prov. 1:8, 3:1, 15:5, Eph. 6:6, Heb. 12:7-8, etc.). When the Canadian government took these children away from their parents, it was acting as godless governments have always done, and in a manner consistent with secular conviction: without restraint, and as if might makes right. However, when professed Christian individuals and groups aided in these abductions they were acting in opposition to the Truth they professed, against principles God spells out in His Word. We need to understand then that the horrors perpetuated at these residential schools were not caused by Christianity, but by its lack. Today our government continues using schooling to indoctrinate children against the values of their parents. In the State's public system the abduction is no longer physical, but still mental and spiritual, with children taught the government’s secular perspective on God, the unborn, sexuality, rights, gender, and more. As our country continues to look at what happened in these residential schools, God’s people need to help their friends and neighbors unpack why it went so horribly wrong. It was wrong, but not according to the secular worldview – that the State disregarded parents is completely in keeping with our current Prime Minister's secular worldview. The only reason these abductions were wrong is because God is in fact King. They were wrong because He has granted parents the responsibility to care for and educate their children, and the State had no authority to take our children away. The lesson Canada needs to learn is to reject godless governance, and acknowledge Jesus as Lord. Photo by Blake Elliot/Shutterstock.com....
Residential schools and the devastation of State-perpetrated family breakup
For the past several months, Canada has been convulsed by the heartbreaking rediscovery of hundreds—and likely thousands—of child graves outside residential schools where Indigenous children were placed (incarcerated is probably a better word) by the Canadian government to “kill the Indian in the child.” The history of residential schools is one of the blackest in Canadian history, and anyone who has read even portions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report (I did research on forced abortions in residential schools several years ago) must conclude that this was a systematic crime committed against entire peoples. As Terry Glavin wrote in the National Post: "Imprisoned in chronically underfunded institutions that were incubation chambers for epidemic diseases, the children died in droves. Enfeebled by homesickness, brutal and sadistic punishments and wholly inadequate nutrition, they died from tuberculosis, pneumonia, the Spanish influenza and measles, among any number of proximate causes. At the Old Sun boarding school in Alberta, there were years when children were dying at 10 times the rate of children in the settler population… "The TRC report chronicles barbaric punishments, duly recorded by federal bureaucrats and officials with the churches that ran the schools. Students shackled to one another, placed in handcuffs and leg irons, beaten with sticks and chains, sent to solitary confinement cells for days on end — and schools that knowingly hired convicted “child molesters.” Only a few dozen individuals have ever been prosecuted and convicted for the abuse those children endured." In much of the debate over the nuances of these re-emerging stories, I think an opportunity for appropriate empathy is sometimes lost. Yes, it is true that not all of the children were abused. Yes, it is true that healthcare standards during that time meant that diseases were far more deadly. Yes, some students remain ambivalent about their experiences to this day. But none of this changes the central fact of the matter: Children were forcibly removed by the state from their families for the express purpose of destroying their family bonds and eradicating their language and culture. If they'd come for our kids... I hail from the Dutch diaspora in Canada, and like many immigrant groups in our multicultural patchwork, our communities have remained largely culturally homogenous. Imagine if the Canadian government had decided, at some point, that Dutch-Canadian (or Sikh or Ukrainian or Jewish) culture needed to be destroyed for the good of the children in those communities, who needed to be better assimilated. Then, imagine if the government forcibly removed children as young as three years old from the parental home – state-sanctioned kidnapping. At school, they were deprived of their grandparents, parents, siblings, language, and culture—and told that their homes were bad for them. At the end of the experience, if the children survived disease, abuse, bullying, and loneliness, he or she would have been remade in the image of the state – and community bonds would have been severed and many relationships irrevocably destroyed. The children who died of disease were often buried on school grounds. That means many children were taken by the government – and their families simply never saw them again. Imagine, for just a moment, if that was your family. If you were removed from your family. If your children were removed from you. How might you feel about Canada if her government had, for generations, attempted to destroy everything precious to you? It is a question worth reflecting on. Over the past decade, as religious liberty has been steadily eroded by Western governments, many Christians have wondered, fearfully, whether the authorities will eventually interfere with how they raise their children. Christian parents have been presented as a threat to their own children because of their “hateful” Christian values. When considering the residential schools, Christians should realize that what happened to Indigenous people in Canada is their own worst nightmare. This happened to real children and real families within living memory. Those families have not yet recovered. That devastation cannot be undone – it can only be survived. The intergenerational damage from these state-inflicted wounds ripples forward in time – and social conservatives, of all people, should be able to understand the fallout from family breakup. Except in this case, the families were forcibly broken up, against their will. As a father and member of large families, I cannot fathom the helplessness, despair, and rage that those who saw their family members stolen from them must have felt. Imagine losing your three-year-old son or daughter to the government, with no recourse for getting your child back. Imagine never seeing that child again. Hatred is absolutely never the answer. But I can certainly understand it. Why minimize this crime? If it had been my child stolen from me, who then died from disease years later and was never returned, I can imagine how I would feel if the response from people was: “Well, lots of people died from disease.” Or: “Many of the educators tried their best.” Or: “It wasn’t feasible to send the bodies of the stolen children home.” I can imagine how I would feel if I heard that in response to raw pain and grief at state-perpetrated injustice. I would feel as if people weren’t listening; didn’t care; and were simply, once again, making excuses. There are times when injustice must be faced in the raw, and the intricacies of healthcare in the early part of the last century can be discussed some other time. Over the past several weeks, residential school survivors have come forward anew to detail their experiences. Many of them struggled with substance abuse as a result of what they endured; many of the issues with alcohol and drugs on some Indigenous reserves today stem from the state-perpetrated breakup of their families. It is easy for those looking at reserves from the outside in to criticize without realizing the context for the state of many families, which would likely still be whole if the Canadian government had not intentionally destroyed them. This is not to say that people bear no responsibilities for their actions. It is to say that we should consider how we would think if the government had perpetrated this on our own communities. Christians know how important families are For several generations, social conservative and Christian scholars have been warning that family breakup is at the root of many of our social ills. Largescale family breakup results in crime, risky behavior, substance abuse, mental illness, PTSD, and other traumas and anti-social behavior. Fatherlessness is one of the greatest disadvantages a boy can face. In the case of our society at large, family breakup was largely facilitated by the Sexual Revolution (and in many communities, wealth has cushioned the blow and masked the damage). In Indigenous communities, family breakup was inflicted by the state, and the consequences they have suffered as a result have been devastating. Social conservatives should be able to intuitively understand this. I’ve said many times that I believe the real “privilege” in our society is not primarily racial, as progressives claim – but the blessing of growing up in a two-parent home where a mother and father love their children. This is a tremendous social advantage, and it was denied to generations of Indigenous children by the government, who felt they would be better off without the love and influence of their parents and grandparents. In her recent book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, Mary Eberstadt explored how family breakup inhibits the passing down of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. Again, this is a key part of the puzzle that social conservatives should instinctively recognize. During university, I toured an abandoned residential school in British Columbia with several other students. Our guide was a survivor who told us about the children who had died there and the abuse they had suffered. I remember the cold, damp chill of a dark tunnel in the basement as he told us how he and others had been locked there in the blackness for using their own language. His voice was heavy with pain, and it struck me again that these things are not history – they are still memory. There are thousand of Indigenous Canadians still living with the effects of these government policies, and their anger is well-warranted. We should listen to them and remember once again the horrors that unfold when the government wields power over families for the so-called good of the children. Jonathon Van Maren is an author and pro-life activist who blogs at TheBridgehead.ca from where this is reprinted with permission. Jonathon was the guest on a recent edition of the Real Talk podcast. Photo is "All Saints Indian Residential School, Cree students at their desks with their teacher in a classroom, Lac La Ronge, March 1945" and is cropped from the original in the Library and Archives Canada collection....
Slip sliding away: a very different chapter in Dutch history
You can download or listen to the podcast version (5 minutes) here. **** Paul Simon once sang that the nearer your destination, the more you keep slip sliding away. While it’s a song about your journey through life and the places you visit, it’s also a sentiment that anyone in a northern, icy, country can understand. As a Canadian, I can confidently say we understand ice. It’s something that defines us in a way that’s hard to explain. The waters of the North are covered in ice much of the year. The ground in many areas is frozen with permafrost. The highways in the winter are either covered in treacherous black ice, or in some areas ice itself acts as the winter road. In the cities we learn to walk stiff legged like a penguin to avoid sliding on the ice. And we’ve even made ice our ally, playing hockey or figure skating to turn ice from foe to friend. Though we Canadians may know ice, we’re not the only ones. The Dutch have a reputation as speed skaters par excellence, having won bronze, silver and gold at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. In English literature, the familiarity of the Dutch with skating has survived as the tale of Hans Brinker or The Silver Skates. Though the Dutch may not know the snowfalls that can leave you trapped in your house for days, or the blizzards that can leave you unable to see more than a couple of feet in front of you, they do understand ice and maybe in a way the rest of us never will. Historically, for the Dutch skating has not been a sport or a playtime activity, but a practical way of getting around. Much of the Netherlands is located below sea level and large chunks of the country have even been reclaimed from the seas. This is a country with a lot of experience dealing with water. Not surprisingly, it’s also a land crisscrossed by canals because they’re necessary for drainage, and stopping the sea from taking back the land stolen away from it. Zip vs. slip Come winter, and especially the cold winters that the Netherlands frequently experienced in the 1500 and 1600s, these canals freeze. With that many canals, that’s a lot of ice. And since there are relatively few bridges spanning the rivers and canals, knowing how to skate gave you a really fast way to get around. You could get anywhere you wanted, and could get away from anywhere you didn’t want to be. Starting in the 1560s, the Dutch began to battle their colonial overlords, the Spanish. With on-again, off-again battles raging over the years, the troubles came to a head near Amsterdam in 1572. The small Dutch fleet, highly maneuverable against the much larger Spanish vessels, was frozen into the ice in the port of Amsterdam. Though the Dutch fleet was immobile, the cold weather had brought the Spanish similar problems and they were unable to attack the Dutch city with their fleet. Forced to disembark, the Spanish started to cross the ice to the city on foot, and this was their fatal mistake. Walking gingerly in the penguin walk that natives of northern climates know well, the Spanish made slow progress towards the city. Yet as the Spanish struggled, coming at them with unbelievable speed were the Dutch soldiers. They would swiftly skate just within musket range, fire, and then skate away to reload. The speedy attack and retreat gave the Dutch incredible striking power and left nothing for the Spanish to fire at in return. The Spanish commander, the infamous Duke of Alva, was grudging in his respect for the Dutch. He ordered a swift retreat back to the Spanish boats (or as swift a retreat as the ice would allow), having suffered hundreds of deaths at the hands of the Dutch. The Duke did manage to kill a few Dutch soldiers and capture their skates. Acknowledging the innovative tactics of his enemies, he sent skates back to Spain and ordered that 7,000 pairs be made. From then on, soldiers posted to the Dutch frontier were all given skating lessons. It gave the Spanish increased mobility, but learning to skate and to skate well is not the work of a few lessons but of years of practice. The Dutch, as it were, could still skate circles around their foe. The ice-ing on the cake? While ice played a factor in the Dutch eventually winning their independence from the Spanish after 80 years of war, there were other factors, too. They formed alliances with other powers, and the women learned to shoot and guard the city walls while the men attacked the Spanish. But throughout that long war, strategic flooding of the lowlands, and its wintertime counterpart of skating played a role that the Spanish never could overcome. Though there were a lot of reasons that the Dutch beat the Spanish, it certainly helped that the Spanish learned a bit of what Paul Simon would later sing about: The nearer your destination, the more you keep slip sliding away. This article is taken from an episode of James Dykstra’s History.icu podcast, where history is never boring. Check out more episodes there or on Spotify, Google podcasts, or wherever you find your podcasts. For further reading… 80 Years War (Wikipedia) How Ice Skates Helped Win the War Ice Skates for Military Use The Dutch Army on Skates Unusual battle in the 80 Years Wars (Board Game Geek) The First Ice Skates Weren’t for Jumps and Twirls – They Were for Getting Around (Smithsonian Magazine) ...
Questioning daycare and preschool: how young is too young?
In this twenty-first century, more and more children are being relegated to daycare or other institutions that look after them for a great many hours each day outside of the parental home. According to the US Census Bureau, as of 2015, about 3.64 million children were enrolled in public kindergartens in the United States, and another 428,000 in private ones. Statistics Canada reported that in 2011, almost half (46%) of Canadian parents reported using some type of childcare for their children, aged 14 years and younger, during that year. Many children obviously spend more time with childcare providers than with their family. Various studies have shown that young children who spend time in daycare may bond less with their mothers than those who stay home. And it has also been concluded by other studies, that children who attend daycare experience more stress, have lower self-esteem and can be more aggressive. “Even a child,” Proverbs 20:11 tells us, “is known by his actions, by whether his conduct is pure and right.” It seems a simple enough proverb and easy to understand. We have all encountered children’s actions – at home around the supper table, in a supermarket while we were shopping, in a classroom setting or on the street – and frequently found their actions lacking in moral wisdom. Greed, selfishness, anger, sloth and you name it, these vices surround cherubic faces like black halos. So it neither surprises nor shocks us when Proverbs adds commandments such as: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death” (Prov. 23:13-14). “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him” (Prov. 13:24). But what does that have to do with preschool and daycare? Read on. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi: education is key to a better society To understand today’s education system we need to know something of its history. On January 12, 1746, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (pronounced Pesta–lotsi) was born in Zurich, Switzerland. His father died when he was only 6 years old and Johann was sent to school with the long-term goal of becoming a pastor. As he grew older he developed a keen desire and vision to educate the poor children of his country. After completing his studies, however, and making a dismal failure of his first sermon, he exchanged the pulpit for a career in law. He reasoned within himself that perhaps he might accomplish more for the poor children of his country through law than through preaching. But after studying law, as well as opting for a number of other careers, in the long run Pestalozzi ended up standing behind a teacher's lectern. Now, throughout these formative years Johann Pestalozzi had been greatly influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau was that philosopher who repudiated original sin and who penned the words: “there is no original perversity in the human heart.” Pestalozzi fell for these false words – he fell hook, line and sinker. Consequently, his principles in teaching strongly reflected the view that education could develop the pure powers of a child's head, heart and hand. He thought, and he thought wrongly, that this would result in children capable of knowing and choosing what is right. In other words, educating students in the proper way would evolve towards a better society. Such a thing happen could only happen if human nature was essentially good and it was on this principle that Pestalozzi based his teaching. Pestalozzi died in 1827 and his gravestone reads: Heinrich Pestalozzi: born in Zurich, January 12, 1746 – died in Brugg, February 17, 1827. Saviour of the Poor on the Neuhof; in Stans, Father of the orphan; in Burgdorf and Munchenbuchsee, Founder of the New Primary Education; in Yverdon, Educator of Humanity. He was an individual, a Christian and a citizen. He did everything for others, nothing for himself! Bless his name! As the engraving indicates, Pestalozzi was much admired, and his approach to education lived on after him, having a massive influence on various educators who followed. Friedrich Froebel: the father of Kindergarten One such person was a man by the name of Friedrich Froebel. Born in Oberweissbach, Thuringia in 1782, he was the fifth child of an orthodox Lutheran pastor. Interestingly enough, the boy heard his father preach each Sunday from the largest pulpit in all Europe. On it you could fit the pastor and twelve people, a direct reference to the twelve apostles. Friedrich's mother died when he was only nine months old. Perhaps his father did not have time for the boy, because when he was ten years old, he was sent to live with an uncle. During his teenage years he was apprenticed to a forester and later he studied mathematics and botany. When he was 23, however, he decided for a career in teaching and for a while studied the ideas of Pestalozzi, ideas he incorporated into his own thinking. Education should be child-centered rather than teacher-centered; and active participation of the child should be the cornerstone of the learning experience. A child with the freedom to explore his own natural development and a child who balanced this freedom with self-discipline, would inevitably become a well-rounded member of society. Educating children in this manner would result in a peaceful, happy world. As Pestalozze before him, Froebel was sure that humans were by nature good, as well as creative, and he was convinced that play was a necessary developmental phase in the education of the “whole” child. Dedicating himself to pre-school child education, he formulated a curriculum for young children, and designed materials called Gifts. They were toys which gave children hands-on involvement in practical learning through play. He opened his first school in Blankenburg in 1837, coining the word “kindergarten” for that Play and Activity Center. Until that time there had been no educational system for children under seven years of age. Froebel’s ideas found appeal, but its spread was initially thwarted by the Prussian government whose education ministry banned kindergarten in 1851 as “atheistic and demagogic” because of its “destructive tendencies in the areas of religion and politics.” In the long run, however, kindergartens sprang up around the world. Mom sends me to preschool My mom was a super-good Mom as perhaps all Moms are who make their children feel loved. And how, at this moment when she has been dead and buried some 25 years, I miss her. She had her faults, as we all do, and she could irritate me to no end at times, as I could her. But she was my Mom and I loved her. She was an able pastor’s wife and supported my Dad tremendously. Visiting numerous families with him, (in congregations in Holland she would walk with him to visit parishioners), she also brewed innumerable cups of tea for those he brought home. Always ready with a snack, she made come-home time after school cozy for myself and my five siblings, of whom I was the youngest. In later years, being the youngest meant that I was the only one left at home, and it meant we spent evenings together talking, knitting, embroidering, reading and laughing. She was so good to me. Perhaps, in hindsight, I remember her kindness so well because I now see so much more clearly a lot of selfish attributes in myself – attributes for which I wish I could now apologize to my Mom. My Mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 32 – a young mother myself, with five little sets of hands tugging at my apron strings. I was devastated. But my quiet mother who always had been so nervous in leading ladies’ Bible studies and chairing women's meetings, was very brave. She said she literally felt the prayers of everyone who loved her surround her hospital bed. She had a mastectomy, went into remission and lived eight more good years Many young mothers are presently faced with a fork in the road decision – shall I go back to work or shall I stay home? Should I send my children to daycare, and thus help pay off the mortgage or should I stay home and change diapers? Times are tough. Groceries have to be bought, gas prices are ever increasing, and so is school tuition. I delve back into my memories and remember – remember even now as my age approaches the latter part of three score plus years – that my father and mother placed me in a Froebel School, a preschool, when I had just turned four years old. I was not thrilled about the idea. As a matter of fact, I was terrified. My oldest sister, who was eleven years my senior, was given the commission of walking me down the three long blocks separating our home from the school which housed my first classroom. My sister was wearing a red coat and she held my hand inside the pocket of the coat. It must have been cold. When we got to the playground which was teeming with children, she took me to the teacher on duty. I believe there was actually only one teacher. My sister then said goodbye to me and began to walk away. The trouble was, I would not let go of the hand still ensconced in the pocket of her coat. The more she pulled away, the tighter I clung – and I had begun to cry. Eventually the lining of the pocket ripped. My sister, who was both embarrassed and almost crying herself, was free to leave. I was taken inside the school by the teacher. It is a bleak memory and still, after all this time, a vivid memory. I do not think, in retrospect, that my mother wanted to get rid of me. Froebel schools were touted as being very good for preschool children. She, a teacher herself with a degree in the constructed, international language of Esperanto, possibly thought she was being progressive as well as making more time to help my father serve the congregation. Dr. Maria Montessori, a follower of Heinrich Froebel, established the Dutch Montessori Society in 1917. By 1940, 5% of the preschools in Holland were following the Montessori system and 84% called themselves Froebel schools or Montessori schools. The general nametag is kleuterschool, (kleuter is Dutch and means a child between 4 and 6). Today the age limit is younger because of the increased interest in sending children of a younger age to school. Creativity and free expression are the curriculum norm. Most of the memories I have of attending the Froebel school, (and let me add that it was for half days), are not pleasant. I recall braiding long, colored strips of paper into a slotted page. Afraid to ask permission to go to the bathroom, I also recall wetting my pants while sitting in front of a small wooden table in a little blue chair. My urine dripped onto the toes of the teacher as she passed through the aisle, checking coloring and other crafts. Such an experience as I gave that teacher cannot have been inspiring for her. Perhaps she always remembered it as one of the most horrible moments of her career. In any case, she took me by the hand to the front of the class and made me stand in front of the pot-bellied stove. Skirts lifted up behind me, she dried me off with a towel. Then she made me stay there as she put the little blue chair outside in the sunshine. At lunchtime she brought me home on the back of her bicycle. Knocking at our door, she called up to the surprised figure of my mother standing at the top of the stairs. (We occupied the second and third floor of a home.) “Your daughter’s had an accident.” I think I dreamt those words for a long, long time afterwards. But this I also clearly recall, that my mother was not angry. Would I have been a better child had my mother kept me at home? Felt more secure? More loved? Perhaps. Perhaps not. There is always the providence of God which like a stoplight on a busy street corner abruptly halts one in condemning the actions of another. God had a purpose for me, no doubt about it, in all that occurred in my life – whether things during preschool days or later. And so He has in all our lives. Conclusion We live at a time when everything is fast-paced – food, travel, and entertainment. What we often don’t realize is that time is also fast – fast and fleeting – gone before we know it. Our little children, sinful from the time of conception, two years old today, will be twenty tomorrow and thirty the day after that. And when they wear out the coat of their allotted time span, will it have mattered who fed them each meal, who read books to them, who played with them and who disciplined them? When we think back to the Proverbs we started with, we realize this is a question we have to answer with the Bible as our guidebook. The strange thing is that I now regret that I did not spend more time with my mother when she was old. I loved her very much and love usually translates into time. For parents concerned with mortgage and groceries and other bills, the simple Proverb "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6) is good to hang over their lintels. First things should be put first. I have never heard God’s people say that He has forsaken them....
Charles Darwin's grave mistake
One hundred and thirty-seven years ago, on April 19, 1882, a seventy-three-year-old man died at home in his bed. He was surrounded by his wife and two...
Ulrich Zwingli: Reformer in the shadows?
In 1983 churches all over the world commemorated the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther. Ulrich Zwingli should have gotten the same sort of celebration a year later, when his own 500th birthday came and went on January 1, 1484. But Zwingli (1484-1531) has had to stand somewhat "in the shadows" of such giants as Luther and Calvin. But Zwingli's person, work, and life merit some more attention than he has received through the years. The call to "remember your leaders" (Hebrews 13:7) extends also to this man and the work he was enabled to do by the Lord. Early life Ulrich Zwingli was born into a relatively prosperous family living in the mountainous region of Wildhaus, Switzerland, as one of many children. Already at a very young age he left home, first to learn from an uncle, Bartholomew Zwingli, who was priest in the town of Wiesen. When he was ten years old, Zwingli proceeded to the grammar schools in Basel and Bern. Fearing that, because of his beautiful singing voice, Zwingli would be inducted into monastery life, his parents sent him on to Vienna, where he studied (natural) science and literature. Here in Vienna, Zwingli was drenched in the humanistic philosophy of his time. In 1506 Zwingli returned to Basel where he was promoted to magister artium (Master of Arts). After a brief training in (mostly scholastic) theology, Zwingli was ordained as priest in the village of Glarus. At this time Zwingli is a typical priest: well educated but humanistically oriented in his thinking. Taking a pacifistic turn Zwingli's period of service in Glarus is significant in many ways. It is here that he begins to study both Christian and secular classics, and becomes attracted to the works of Erasmus, the Dutch humanist. Here, also, Zwingli displays some of the patriotism for which he will become legendary. Although he twice accompanies Swiss infantry in battle for the Pope against the French, Zwingli begins to discourage young Swiss men from becoming mercenaries in foreign service. He expresses these sentiments strongly in an Aesop-like morality tale, The Fable of the Ox. Having experienced the ugly, mass slaughter of the battlefield, Zwingli turned to a more pacifistic philosophy. In 1516, Zwingli left Glarus and took up ministry in Einsiedeln. Here Zwingli further refined his emerging pacifistic views. During this time he considered all service in foreign armies a curse, although he maintained that it is one's patriotic duty to defend one's homeland. While in Einsiedeln, Zwingli met Erasmus and discovered Erasmus' edition of the Greek New Testament. As he proceeded to study this edition, Zwingli began to distance himself more and more from Erasmus' humanistic views and from the prevailing allegorical interpretation of Scripture. He began to study the Word of God in its own light and began to understand that Scripture require a literal interpretation. He realized that the scholastic and philosophical approach to the Bible and theology must be rejected. It is during this same time that Zwingli made a serious study of the works of Augustine and came to condemn the worship of relics and the adoration of saints. This growing resistance gradually deepened into a carefully-worded warning against the worship of Mary, and into a ridiculing of the indulgences. Ministry in Zurich In 1519 Zwingli was installed in Zurich, and it is in this city that he clearly made himself known as a prophetic reformer of great influence. It became evident that Zwingli wanted to let the Scriptures speak for themselves, and that he understood traditions and precepts of men that are made binding for the church are to be rejected. The sola Scriptura of the Reformation began to take powerful form in his ministry! Zwingli supported those who rejected the Romanist laws of fasting. He spoke out against celibacy and himself married a widow of class, Anna Reinhart, a marriage which became officially known two years later, in 1524. That same year Zwingli broke with the Church of Rome by declaring that he can no longer accept the Pope as the "head of the church," instead accusing the Pope of abusing worldly power. Christ is declared as the only Head of the church and His Word as its only guide. Spurred on by Zwingli's preaching, the city council of Zurich refused to give in to the objections of the Bishop of Constanz, but it did agree to conduct a public disputation. The first of these disputations — not unknown in the days of the Reformation — took place in January 1523 between Zwingli and the influential Romanist prelate, Johann Faber. The result was a smashing victory for the Reformation, for at its conclusion the city council of Zurich decrees that from then on nothing may be preached which is not in full accord with the gospel. Growing divisions Many Swiss cities, such as Basel and Bern, took the side of the Reformation in Zurich and, in 1528, formed a Christian federation. However, the Roman Catholic cantons were also organized against the influence of Zwingli and Zurich. This situation ultimately led to battle and bloodshed. On October 11, 1531, in a battle near Kappel, Zwingli was killed along with 400 other citizens of Zurich. After having declared him to be a heretic, a hastily formed court lets his body be quartered and burned. Zwingli paid the price in blood; at age 47, his earthly course suddenly came to an end. While the rift between the Romanist and Reformed factions in Switzerland was inevitable, there also emerged other, perhaps not so expected, divisions. In the years before Zwingli's death, there were radicals in Zurich who felt that Zwingli was not going far enough in his reforms. These radicals, such as Konrad Grebel and Felix Mantz, began to reject all civil authority. The Anabaptist movement was born and it causes so much dissension and confusion that the city council of Zurich arrested its leaders. One of these, Felix Mantz, is executed by drowning in 1527, and the Anabaptist movement then also had a martyr. All this was a source of great sorrow for Zwingli; many of the Anabaptist leaders were former associates and close friends. Of greater significance, perhaps, was the growing division between Zwingli and Luther. In 1529, in a meeting in Marburg, Luther and Zwingli discussed at length the matter of the Lord's Supper but could not come to agreement. Luther's theory of consubstantiation is too far from Zwingli's symbolic interpretation. Although both agree that Christ is present in bread and wine, they cannot agree as to the manner. Luther and Zwingli depart bitterly from each other and become estranged. This controversy, of course, greatly damaged the cause of the Reformation. Since it furthered Zwingli's isolation, it also contributed to his death. Conclusion It is not easy to estimate the significance of the work of a person such as Zwingli. Because of his own development and changing insights, Zwingli's significance cannot be caught in an easy formula. In liberal circles, Zwingli is hailed as the reformer who was a true humanist, a worthy forerunner of contemporary radical and political theologians. His humanistic background and patriotic zeal, perhaps, cause him to recede somewhat to the background in Reformed appreciation. We generally turn to Calvin for advice. Yet it cannot be denied that Zwingli's basic convictions and personal endeavors are true to the spirit of the Great Reformation. Zwingli wanted nothing else than to live by the Scriptures alone and to let the Scriptures explain themselves under the illumination of the Holy Spirit and not under the tradition of the church. For Zwingli it was without doubt that it is not the church with its sacramental administration that governs the flow of grace, but that men are reconciled to God only by the death of His Son. He clearly rejected the "cursed idolatry" of the mass and its excesses in the worship of saints and relics, proclaiming that our salvation lies only in the sacrifice of Christ, once offered on the cross. Zwingli did not tire in defending the just cause of the Reformation over against the Anabaptists, remaining firm with respect to the Scriptural doctrine of infant baptism. Although in many ways a disciple of Erasmus, he refuted the teaching of the master that the will of man is free. Man cannot save himself, Zwingli emphasized time and again, but must have true knowledge of God and sin, knowledge learned only from the Word of God. Man has no saving knowledge in himself! It is clear, then, that in these key issues there is a direct line from Ulrich Zwingli to John Calvin. In the turbulent era of the Reformation, Zwingli maintained the Scriptures over against the prevailing humanism and emerging radicalism of his time. In this respect he is still an example for the church, some five hundred years later. It would be good if in this commemorative year his works were rediscovered and studied anew. Since we are faced in our time with similar extremes, humanism and radicalism, we can learn from Zwingli's struggle. Zwingli definitely does not belong in the shadows between Luther and Calvin. Rev. Clarence Stam (1948-2016) was the editor of Reformed Perspective for eight years, from 1985-1993, and was a contributor for many more. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June, 1984 edition....
Karl Marx: preaching a different gospel
To mark the 100th anniversary this month, of the Communist Revolution in Russia, we're sharing Piet Jongeling's brief biography of Karl Marx, first published 34 years ago. **** Karl Marx was both an economist and a politician, but in fact he was much more than that. He was the founder of a new atheistic political religion, the prophet of a new world-to-come in which righteousness would dwell. Man in his own strength would bring this about. Marx proclaimed the coming of a new messiah, the proletariat, which through suffering and struggling would eventually bring salvation to the world. His message has had great influence, not only before his death, but especially after it. At present one third of the world's population lives under a political and economical system that can be called "Marxist" . This indication as "Marxist" is valid, even though there may be many differences between Marx's theoretical concepts and the practical application which the communist countries have made of them. Life story Karl Marx was born on May 2, 1818, at Trier, Germany. He descended from a long lineage of rabbis. His father was the first to break with that tradition. Instead of becoming a rabbi, he studied law and he broke with the Jewish religion. His mother was Dutch. When young Karl was six years old, he was baptized together with the other members of the family. That baptism, being a social affair, had little religious significance. It served only as evidence that the Marx family belonged to those modern Jews who favored assimilation and who desired to eradicate their cultural and religious heritage. Baptism functioned as a ticket of admission to European civilization. That could — as it did in this case — coexist with atheism in practical life. Marx Junior was uncommonly intelligent. He studied law and the history of philosophy in Bonn and in Berlin, and he received his Ph.D. degree in 1841 at Jena. After he was awarded his doctorate, Karl Marx became a journalist. Soon it became apparent that he espoused some very radical social and economic ideals. His paper, accused of inciting rebellion, was closed up. Karl Marx married a woman from an outstanding German family. Shortly after his wedding he fled to Paris. There he studied the history of the French Revolution. He got to know the French laborers in their often bitter poverty and in their just as bitter revolutionary zeal. Sometimes he lived in poverty himself, so as to gain deeper insight into, and firsthand experience in, the painful inequality and the depth of the social injustice of those days. When France also expelled him a few times, he fled back to one of the German states (the federal German state was not in existence yet). In 1849 he departed for London, where he remained living and working until his death in 1883. Turn socialism into a system Marx perceived very clearly that the society of his days was distinctively a class society, in which the working class was badly abused. He even invented a new name for this class: "the proletariat," people who have no possessions except their "proles" – that is, their children. It was Marx's intention to come to the aid of this oppressed bottom layer of society. He believed that socialism was the solution. But the socialism of his days was more of a golden pipe dream of the future than a usable doctrine and practice based on a principled structure. The road towards the ideal state had not been charted in a system that was methodically and logically acceptable. This bothered the intellectual in Marx. Rejecting this socialist romanticism as "Utopian Socialism," he developed a well-thought-out system himself in which he delivered the "proof" that the prevailing economic system, which he gave the name "Capitalism," was itself instrumental in unleashing the powers that would inevitably bring about the downfall of Capitalism and the victory of a new and superior system: Communism. The Communist Manifesto and Das Capital In 1847 Karl Marx and his German friend and spiritual brother, Friedrich Engels, drafted the Communist Manifesto. Published in 1848, it contained three main points: 1. Communism is a historically determined direction of society, a development which will unstoppably continue and whose eventual victory cannot be held back by anything. 2. The road toward that victory is marked by the class struggle, which, after an ocean of misery, shall lead to the great showdown. Capital and the means of production will accumulate in the hands of ever fewer owners. The proletariat shall encompass ever greater numbers, suffer more and more poverty, and so be better prepared and determined for the great battle. Eventually the proletariat will rob the last of the supercapitalists of their possessions. After the great expropriation for the benefit of all, the conflicts between the classes will disappear. 3. The proletariat must be well-organized in national and international societies, accept proper leadership, discipline, and order, and be able to act as one man. The Communist Manifesto thereby condemns the revolutionary movement of the anarchists which had a much greater individualistic character and would not accept a strict organization, a systematic approach to the problems, or subjection to a leadership. The Communist Manifesto was probably written mainly by Friedrich Engels, the son of a rich merchant and manufacturer. Marx and Engels were both gifted students of Hegel, the German philosopher. The two worked together for many years, and during this partnership, Karl Marx became more and more prominent. When the year 1848 did not bring the expected and hoped for breakthrough of Communism, Marx went back to elaborate on the thoughts developed in the Communist Manifesto. He attempted to place the Manifesto on a scientific footing in his trilogy Das Capital. The first volume came out in 1867. The second and third volumes were published after his death by Engels, in 1885 and 1894. Communism in theory and practice Now, this column is not the place for a detailed analysis of the Marxist political dogmas so a few broad outlines will have to suffice. Karl Marx has attempted to construct his study in a scientific manner and to base his conclusions on irrefutable evidence. This impressed a great number of people. The evidence that the communist victory was inevitable was backed up by a mathematical formula! Nothing and nobody could avert that triumph. Later thinkers have undermined this foundation of scientific irrefutability. They pointed at errors in the line of theoretic reasoning. But history has done greater damage to the system than the critics. Many of Karl Marx's predictions never came true. 1. The Soviet Union has had sixty-five years of experience with its "new" system. But although Karl Marx predicted that after a short transition period the state would wither away, the reality was that anywhere Communism took power, the state became stronger, harder, mightier, and more brutal: an all-oppressive dictatorship! Communism is nothing short of state Capitalism! 2. During this transition period, mentioned above, the dictatorship of the proletariat would have to be established to do its task of destroying the capitalist structures, until, after the last remnants of Capitalism had been eradicated, it itself would disappear. But in reality it was a dictatorship not of the proletariat but over the proletariat. And that dictatorship did not disappear. It is bent on self perpetuation. 3. Also in the countries where free enterprise prevailed (called Capitalism by Marx), things went clearly different from what Mr. Marx had predicted. In the previous century, during Marx's lifetime, there were admittedly very serious dark sides to the free enterprise system. However, social laws, social actions, and mutual consultation have brought about great improvements. That does not mean that the world has become a paradise. Sin keeps doing its work. There is much social injustice even now; violations are committed by employers and employees alike. But looking back at the past we must admit: the improvements are enormous. The material welfare of those whom Marx called "the laboring classes" is much greater than in the previous century. The "proletarians" are no longer the dispossessed. The wealth of the working people in the capitalistic West is considerably greater than is the case in the communistic East. And, more importantly, the Western people enjoy a relative freedom, while the Communist system of servitude takes away spiritual freedom, oppresses the church and church members, and places callous atheism high on the throne. A different gospel What the Red Revolution delivered was the opposite of what it promised. It is terror instead of freedom, serfdom under masters instead of equality, brutal force instead of brotherhood, and above all, the dread of the secret police. How could Karl Marx's doctrine then be so successful? It must be admitted that Marxism achieved great victories. One third of the world's population today lives under a political and social-economic system that is named after Marx. The reason is that Marx came to the world with a new gospel! It was the doctrine of self-redemption which he dressed in the shining apparel of scientific certainty. Marx, the man of Jewish descent, may have broken with the religion of Israel, but he was very well versed in it. His rich and impressive writing style betrayed the influence of the Old Testament. In his writings he has the grand manners of the prophet who proclaims to the people the glad tidings of forthcoming deliverance. The Jews had refused to apply Isaiah's prophecy of the suffering servant of God to Jesus Christ, the Savior. The rabbis applied this prophecy to the suffering people of Israel itself, so that its nation, through suffering, would gain deliverance for itself and so also for the world that surrounded its people. Israel was its own messiah! Marx adopted this model in a secularized format. For him the messiah is the proletariat. Through struggles and sufferings the proletariat shall redeem itself and the world and so bring into the world the eternal "peaceable kingdom." This alternate gospel with its false-religious message, with its inversion of Christendom, has cast its spell on many millions of people. It was not an unstoppable historic determinism that brought the victory to Communism. It was not an automatic, inevitable course of world events that led to the Red welfare state. Wherever Communism gained control it was always a power grab by a minority which used the confusion of wartime or national unrest to its own advantage. And once in power, it could only stay that way by keeping its weapons trained on the oppressed people. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany — there are many examples to illustrate this fact. Marx's style of writing is eschatological. He prophecies of a new earth, created and cleansed by man. From that time on, the history of mankind will find rest, because the final destination, the eternal wellbeing of mankind, has been reached. It was that prophetic zeal that attracted so many. Conclusion But how different was the reality! Sixty-five years have passed since the Red Revolution, and still the shining final destiny is far out of reach. This image of the glorious future is a fata morgana – an illusory reflection that recedes as one approaches it and finally dissolves into thin air. According to eyewitnesses, one finds very few genuinely committed communists in the East Bloc countries — percentage-wise, certainly far less than in the Western nations. There is little more than an outward conformation to save one's hide. Open protests will only pave the way to concentration camps, prisons, or, more recently, psychiatric institutions. The Red Bloc, with the Soviet Union as its core, has grown into a superpower, which, armed to the teeth, has become a constant threat to world peace. It is to be hoped that those people who are still free may find the fortitude to oppose that threat. The continuing de-Christianization has robbed the Western nations of their spiritual strength in the face of Marxism, or, at least, has seriously impaired it. If Marx could witness the reality of today, he would very likely be appalled by the manner in which his prophecies of the glorious future have been fulfilled in the drab present. But the negative forces which he has helped to unleash are continuing to have their impact, even now, a hundred years after his death. Piet Jongeling (1909-1985) was a politician, journalist, and children's fiction author, and it is in this latter role that he might be best known to our readership, though under his pen name, Piet Prins. This article first appeared in the May 1983 edition....
Our heroes have feet of clay
You find them everywhere. They’re the people we look up to. They sing, they dance, they play hockey, they win battles and they found nations. They’re our heroes. You know the people: George Washington, Wayne Gretzky, Winston Churchill, or Ginger Rogers. They’re larger than life figures that do larger than life things flawlessly. We want to be like them. Unless you’re Canadian. When an Internet poll asked Canadians who their heroes were some of the results were predictable, like Terry Fox, but there were also a few less likely individuals. Do n’t misunderstand, these people did some incredible things and were certainly larger than life. However, they were also hopelessly flawed. John A. One man who topped the list was Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A Macdonald. It is to Sir John A. that much of the credit goes for the founding of the Dominion of Canada in 1867. He helped pull together a disparate bunch of English Canadian Reformers and Tories and united them with French Canadian Bleus. Then he got the British to bully Nova Scotia and New Brunswick into a grand confederation of colonies that formed the nucleus of the present day Canada. While that’s impressive, Canadians know Sir John A. in a more intimate way than that. You see, as most Canadians are aware, Sir John was bounced from office in 1873 for the Pacific Railway Scandal that involved suggestions of bribes, patronage, and all kinds of corruption. Additionally, the prime minister was a habitual drunkard. It was no secret for he bragged about his drinking, yet Canadians forgave him, returning him and his party to office in 1878. There are other unusual Canadians as well. William Lyon Mackenzie King made the list of heroes for his impressive job of shepherding Canada through the Second World War. If that doesn’t sound impressive, keep in mind that when Prime Minister Borden tried to guide the country during the previous world war, he succeeded in alienating French speaking Quebec, and much of the farming population, as well as accidentally splitting the opposition Liberal party in two. King kept peace and tranquillity, while Borden created a political crisis that threatened to undo Canada. Though a master politician, Canadians were aware of King’s oddities, including consulting with mediums, and talking to his dead dog – stuffed and sitting on the mantle. Rebel Riel Louis Riel was also on the list of heroes. While the man who initiated the only rebellions Canada has ever had may seem an odd choice as a hero, to many Western Canadians Riel is exactly that. With his rebellions at Red River and then in the North West Territories, Riel was probably the first Westerner that ever made “the East” sit up and take notice, and to perpetually alienated Westerners, that makes Riel a hero. However, Riel was a religious fanatic, believing himself a prophet and in communication with God. He had spent time in a mental asylum, and at the time of the 1885 Rebellion may have actually been mentally unbalanced. E is for equal rights...and also eugenics In its heroes, Canada is an equal opportunity employer. One of the most significant women to make the list was Emily Murphy. A successful writer under the pen name Janey Canuck, a Member of the Canadian Parliament, the first female police magistrate in the British Empire, and a participant in the landmark “Persons Case” that gave Canadian women legal status as people, Murphy has had her reputation tarnished in recent years. The United Farmers government of the province of Alberta enacted the Sexual Sterilization Act in 1928 that allowed for the sterilization of the mentally incompetent and others unfit to parent. This version of eugenics, repugnant to most modern Canadians, was strongly backed by the otherwise progressive and reform-minded Murphy. Conclusion Canadians choices for heroes have been odd. The less savory facts behind the lives of most of Canada’s heroes are well known and thoroughly documented, but Canadians picked these people anyway. Someone once told me that you can’t tell an American something bad about their heroes. They don’t want to know about George Washington’s dismal military record as a British lieutenant, and they won’t listen if you tell them that Thomas Jefferson had slaves on his plantation. They certainly don’t want to hear any suggestions that Martin Luther King cheated on his wife, or may have plagiarized his dissertation. But Canadians are different. They know the weaknesses of their heroes and accept them for that. The Bible also contains some unusual heroes, “heroes of faith” like Noah, Abraham, and Rahab. Noah got drunk, Abraham denied that Sarah was actually his wife, and Rahab was a prostitute. These were flawed people, but by God’s strength, they were allowed incredible moments and even years to do deeds that we still remember today. We look back at them, and we look up to them for those deeds. Heroes are not flawless people. They make mistakes, but that doesn’t negate the good that they’ve been allowed to do. That doesn’t mean we can’t look up to them, but it does mean we can’t idolize them. It’s healthy to know that even great women and men have feet of clay, for it reminds us who is ultimately in control. James Dykstra is both a student and teacher of Canadian history. ...