Of Prophecies and Theories

Sharing my thoughts on the Kingdom of God and how it now appears.
Here are the first parts, if you’d like to read them:
Part One: The Kingdom of Jesus Christ
Part Two: The Kingdom Foretold by Daniel
Part Three: Three Things God Needed
Part Four: Kingdoms and Dominions to Come
Part Five: We Have Seen His Star
Part Six: The Roles Jesus Refused

Today we read much about the climate, the environment, what’s ahead for Planet Earth. Data is collected, theories are presented, predictions made. At the current rate, how long will this Earth support human life? How long will there be potable water? How long before the seas are dead, polluted beyond redemption?

While scientists occupy themselves with these concerns, Christians are also engaged in much speculation about what will come to pass in the political realm. Examining Daniel’s prophecies, Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, the Apostle John’s visions, and doing some creative cut-and-paste, evangelicals have put together some very interesting theories about when Jesus will return and in what way. No one really knows for sure, but it’s intriguing to speculate.

Prophecy is an intense subject and scholars, historically and currently, have spent many years trying to decipher it. But when we think of all the scriptural knowledge the Scribes and Pharisees had at the time Jesus was born, we marvel at how they totally missed recognizing him. His arrival was no big secret, what with angels singing in the skies over Bethlehem and the shepherds going around telling everybody about the infant Savior-king.

Also, a caravan of oriental magi arriving in Jerusalem and going right to the palace to ask, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East.” This made a big splash.
“When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes…together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written, And thou Bethlehem… art not the least among the princes of Juda; for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.” Matthew 2: 1-8

This verse, Micah 5:2, is one of many Old Testament verses that foretold the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the Governor, Shiloh. But the details didn’t all jive. Isaiah wrote:
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will perform this.”
– Chapter 9: 6-7

But he also wrote:
“Who hath believed our report? and to whom is the arm of the LORD revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.” Chapter 53: 1-5

One lesson we can learn from the scholars of Jesus’ day: while they believed the Messiah would come, and though they had all the verses memorized about his coming, the prophecies varied enough that they didn’t recognize him. Even his own disciples were confused until Jesus came to them and talked with them after his resurrection.
“And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” See Luke 24:13-35

Regarding the understanding of prophecy, I’ve lived long enough to see various changes of interpretation in what scholars said were “scriptures that show clearly such and such will happen.” I’ve also read enough to know that Christians of other ages have been just as convinced of a completely different interpretation.

Prophecies and Interpretations: A Quick Recap

AMILLENNIALISM

Amillennial teaching says that Jesus did come planning to suffer and die. When He rose again, he defeated Satan, the ruler of this world. He did set up his kingdom, but it’s not – and never will be – a visible nation or country on this present earth. The entrance into his kingdom is the New Birth. Jesus came to be the Door, to open the Way into the Kingdom of God. Ever since his resurrection, he has been reigning in the hearts of all people who choose him as their king. Someday he will come again to gather his own to be with him in heaven.

The citizens of God’s kingdom may live anywhere on earth, but are not “of the world” — which is why they pay taxes (render unto Caesar) and obey all laws, but may decline to vote or bear arms in defense of the country they live in. (The words of Jesus, such as “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, etc.” are taken literally.) Rather, as Paul explains, Christians act as official ambassadors of their King, entreating on Christ’s behalf, “Be ye reconciled to God.”

As I understand it, this has been the traditional belief of the Mennonites, Amish, and some groups of Brethren. Few, if any, Protestant Evangelical churches teach this.

POST-MILLENNIALISM

Back when we were learning about prophecies, the pre-millennial theory was so prevalent, that I was quite shocked when I read Douglas Frank’s book, Less Than Conquerors (c 1986, Wm B Eerdmans), and learned that in up until the US Civil War almost all evangelical Christians believed the POST-MILLENNIAL theory. Which is:
The world will get better and better and finally it will be so good that Jesus will come back to earth and set up his kingdom. American Christians who believed this theory threw their support behind abolition and the Civil War because they thought they could help things along by getting rid of “the blot of slavery.” With Christians improving society, making it more hospitable to Christ’s return, the world (or at least the USA) would get so good that Jesus would come and set up a kingdom on earth.

Alas for their dreams! The Civil War brought so much death and destruction, and generated so much animosity that the world — or at least America — was even farther from being ready for the kingdom of Jesus Christ. In the next twenty years evangelicals abandoned the theory en masse. In my lifetime I’ve never met anyone who advances, or has even mentioned, post-millennialism. I wonder how many Christians today have even heard of it?

In a different vein, it must have been one of the most bitter disappointments any group of people has experienced, when southern blacks, set free from the shackles of slavery, found that FREE didn’t mean EQUAL in the eyes of most whites. Not in the South for sure, but sadly, not in the North, either.

PRE-MILLENNIALISM

According to Frank’s book, evangelicals gave up on the post-millennial theory and switched to pre-millennialism. Because it’s such a complexity and so entwined with dispensationalism, I’m going to save it for another post. A bare-bones explanation would be:
Jesus is coming back to claim his children, and at some point establish his kingdom in Jerusalem. From there he and his followers will rule over the whole the earth for 1000 years, at the end of which humans who don’t accept his rule will stage a major revolt. Then he’ll call an end to time and the great Judgment Day will begin.

“And (Jesus) said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things.” — Luke 24: 46-48

“We Have Seen His Star”

“Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”

When Jesus was born, wise men in the East, star-gazers, saw an amazing sight. They were aware of an old prophecy among the Jews that a star would appear (Numbers 24:17), and that this heavenly sign would indicate the birth of a special king. So they headed off to Jerusalem. Where else would you find a King of the Jews? They went right to the top, asking King Herod himself, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews?”

Bad move. Herod wanted to know when the star appeared, then checked into the location — and proceeded to exterminate all babies under two years old in that area. He wasn’t giving his kingdom to any newcomer.

When he was on earth, Jesus talked different times about “The Kingdom of God” but people didn’t understand him. They so much wanted a David or a Charlemagne to conquer their enemies. But Jesus never campaigned for a throne, or even for a place in the government or the Sanhedrin. One day when an enthusiastic crowd tried to force him to be king, he slipped away from them. (John 6:15)

The Jewish leaders just didn’t get it.
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the Messiah would come to establish the kingdom of God, he answered them and said: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17: 20-21

Still, they worried about Jesus one day making his play for the kingdom of Israel. They didn’t know he’d already refused having the whole world as his kingdom. Satan had come to him right at the beginning of his work and made this spectacular offer:
“And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, sheweth him all the kingdom of the world in a moment of time.
And the devil said unto him, “All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them; for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.”
Luke 4: 5-7

Standing on that mountain, Jesus would have seen the great Chinese Dynasty of the time, the Japanese Emperor’s palace, the Inca kingdom and how many others, in addition to the Roman Empire. Could he see only what existed then, or could he even look into the future and see King Charlemagne, the Ottoman empire, the power of Spain, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Sun King’s splendor in his palace at Versailles, King Aurhur’s court or Great Britain when she ruled the waves, the Russian Tzars, the United States in its ‘Camelot’ era? Did he see these, too?

But Jesus totally refused. “Get thee behind me Satan; for it is written; thou shalt worship the Lord thy God and him only shalt thou serve.” Verse 8.

Could Jesus look ahead and see the rejection, the cross, the shame, when he refused Satan’s offer?

When Jesus entered Jerusalem that last time, for the Feast of the Passover, the Scribes and Pharisees watched with a jealous eye as the crowds thronged Jesus, welcoming him as a king, laying palm branches in his path. They realized that one word from him would do it. The raising of his arm and a shout to the crowds, “The time has come. Let’s deal with Rome,” and all those people would rally behind him.

They recalled the miracles he did; they saw the dead raised. If Jesus would turn his miraculous gift to military ends, even the mighty power of Rome would be toast. They may have muttered to each other that “If he sets himself up as king, the Romans will send in the troops and wipe us out,” but did they honestly believe that? Or did that rationale spring from fear?

They knew where they stood with Jesus. He’d called them “blind leaders of the blind.” They in turn had made it clear to one and all that they thought Jesus was a fake – a son of the devil, even. Still, there must have been a niggling doubt, unspoken questions about all those miracles. And raising the dead? Suppose he does seize the throne? What will happen to us?

Hadn’t Jesus told the parable of the vineyard, how the land was let to men who weren’t faithful (Matt 21:33-41.) “He will miserably destroy those wicked men…” And the parable of the talents, where someone in the past had been set up as king, but his citizens didn’t want him to rule over them. The new king went off to his superiors and got back-up and when he returned, what did he do? One of his first commands was: “As to those men who wouldn’t have me rule over them, bring them and slay them before me.” (Luke 19:12-27)

When Jesus was brought before Pontius Pilate and accused of being the ringleader of a rebellion against Rome, Pilate asked him bluntly, “Are you the King of the Jews?” (Luke 23:3)

Jesus replied: “My kingdom is not of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, then my servants would fight to save me from the Jews (who want to see me dead.) But now my kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:36)
Note: This is my paraphrase. Take a moment to read verses 28 -36 to get the whole exchange between Jesus and Pilate.

At that point Pilate knew Jesus was no threat to Rome and wanted to release him, but the Jewish leaders weren’t having it and Pilate, to avoid an uprising, gave in to their demands. In defiance of the Jewish leaders, Pilate even had a sign tacked on Jesus’ cross saying, “The King of the Jews.”

Centuries later, ideas about his Kingdom — where it’s at and/or going to be – continue to bounce around. A ton of books have been written, quoting this or that scholar — and these teachers mean well but they tend to just build on each other’s thinking. Then time proves the scholars wrong and the waters get murky again. Another Bible teacher steps up with another book, another clear explanation of what’s ahead for this world and a new wave ripples through evangelical circles.

It has a certain magnetic appeal, this idea of Jesus someday coming like another Charlemagne, the conquering hero who’ll set up his kingdom and make people follow the rules. Trouble is, this picture is so anti- all his examples and teachings.

Three Things God Needed

When my dad was on his deathbed, fearful of what awaited him on “the other side” but still not wanting to think about a Holy God, I asked him, “Why do you think God created mankind in the first place?”

When he grunted an “I dunno,” I told him God wanted someone to love…and someone to love him.” My dad had a father who never loved him. He struggled all his life with this loss — and with the concept of a loving God. Sadly, a lot of people do.

Thirty years later I still read it this way: God wanted a people to be his own, to love him, trust him, and serve him voluntarily. So He created a people, and a beautiful garden. And he loved them. He walked and talked with them in the garden. But…there had to be a choice.

God has always been about choice. He could send an angel to bop each one of us on the head and say, “Yes, God is real,” but he’s never been about forcing people to believe. So he gives us a choice, the knowledge of an option. In the Garden of Eden the couple God created was given a choice. A tree…and the command, “You shall not eat of the fruit of this tree.” A simple enough test. You likely know the rest.

The way the universe is set up, and God being pure and holy, sin has to be punished. Even you and I who have deliberately done things we knew were wrong – though we may hope our own small-ish sins will be pardoned – believe there must be some reckoning. We aren’t willing to let the Hitlers, Stalins, Jack the Rippers and Bin Ladins, the torturers, murderers and pedophiles, all be whitewashed and slide into Heaven along with their victims. Every religion on earth teaches that cruel people have to face the music/karma/judgment day. They will be punished for the suffering they’ve caused.

Sin must be dealt with, but God wasn’t willing to cast away every sinner. He isn’t a “That’s it; you had your chance. Now beat it!” kind of Creator. He has a heart of love for mankind. So, in his dealings with us and our sins, God worked out a rescue plan. Then he demonstrated it in a way mankind could grasp. You don’t talk quantum physics to an eight-year-old even if he thinks he knows everything. Rather, you give him a simple demonstration, enough basic details that he can get it in a small way.

Three Things God Needed For His Plan:
— A mirror
— A cradle
— A substitute

The nation of Israel was God’s mirror, a literal depiction of spiritual truths. He chose the Hebrews from among the nations and set them up in a land all their own. This would be an illustration of the spiritual promised land Christians enter when they are born again.

Through these people he demonstrated his plan of redemption, giving them living sacrifices to show how sin must be atoned for. He punished them when they strayed by letting enemy nations conquer them – just as Satan conquers a soul and brings it into bondage. He showed how, when the people turned back to him, he delivered them from their enemy.

Israel was his mirror – or you could call it his “stained glass window.” Israel was his church on earth, but with all the flaws and wanderings that mankind are prone to. These were real people so that we can now look into this mirror and see ourselves. He worked into this window a tableau of his dealings with his people, with individuals who are faithful as well as those who turn away, and how he would someday deal with the Church, his Bride, the New Jerusalem.

The Apostle John was given a vision of this wonderful new world:
“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her bridegroom. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” – Revelation 21: 2-3

The nation of Israel was also God’s cradle. He promised Abraham that “in thee and thy offspring, will all the nations of the earth be blessed.” So many writings promised a coming King, “the lion of the tribe of Judah,” and “of the lineage of David.” He would redeem mankind, both Jews and Gentiles. He would be the sacrifice, the acceptable substitute for sin — for those who looked to him in faith and made the choice to follow him.

Having completed the tableau, having used the cradle of Israel to bring forth his Son, the Redeemer of all men, having offered salvation to the Jewish people first of all – and been rejected – God finally abandoned Israel as his people. We still have the tableau in the Old Testament writings, but the mirror has been shattered.

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” Matthew 23:37-38

“Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes? Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” Matthew 21: 43

The Kingdom Foretold by Daniel

Nebuchanezzar’s Dream: A Look Into The Future

Back when Babylon, with Nebuchadnezzar at its head, was ruling over the known world, Daniel (of the Lion’s Den story) and his three friends were among the wise men of the land. And one night the king had a dream that woke him up and left him feeling strangely disturbed.

Bits and snatches of what he’d seen may have drifted through his mind, but basically he’d forgotten the dream. He was only aware that it was significant — and troubling. So he called his chief wise men and said. “I had this dream and it’s bothering me. I want you to tell me what it means.”

“Sure,” they answered, always willing to please the king. (Especially NOT willing to displease the king.) “Tell us the dream and we’ll tell you what it means.” (At least they could come up with something reasonable.)

“I wish I could, but I can’t remember any of it. So you’re the brilliant ones here. Plus, you’re supposed to have an inside track with the powers upstairs. Surely you can get in touch with Whoever, then tell me what I dreamed and the interpretation.”

Can’t you just hear them gasp? “Your Majesty! You’re asking the impossible. Could you give us some idea what the dream was about?”

Nebuchadnezzar scowled. “I can’t remember. So, let me put it this way. Explain the dream and its meaning and you shall receive rich rewards and great honor. If you don’t, I’ll have you all cut in pieces and your houses razed. Now get on with it and do what you need to do to recover it for me.”

Likely the poor sages were quaking, but they had no clue — and the king wasn’t apt to be fooled by a tale they could quickly cobble together. They appealed to his common sense: “Your Majesty, no king has ever asked such a hard thing of any wise man. We aren’t gods, only they can pull up a forgotten dream.”

Nebuchadnezzar appears to have had a rather short fuse. He took autocratic to the top notch here. “That’s it,” he roared. “You’re toast — the lot of you!”

As the King expected his order to be obeyed right now, no questions asked, Daniel and his friends were rounded up along with all the sages in Babylon, to face the firing squad. Of course they asked, “What’s with this sudden, drastic decree?”

When Arioch, who was doing the roundup, explained about the king’s dream that agitated him so much, Daniel said, “Give us a little time. Perhaps the God of Heaven, whom I serve, will show me the dream and the interpretation.”

“Then Arioch brought in Daniel before the king in haste and said thus unto him, I have found a man of the captives of Judah, that will make known unto the king the interpretation.” Daniel 2:25.

Now I’m going to paraphrase and abbreviate their conversation; you can read the account in Daniel 2: 28-46.

The king asked Daniel, “Are you really able to tell me my dream?”

And Daniel replied, “No man on earth can tell you, but there is a God in heaven that reveals secrets. In your dream He’s making known to you, King Nebuchadnezzar, what shall come to pass in the latter days.”

In your dream you saw a great statue, a glorious shining image with the likeness of a man. His head was of fine gold; his arms were of silver; the belly and thighs were of brass, and the legs were of iron and its feet were of iron and clay mixed.

Then you saw a huge stone that had been cut, but not by human hands, and the stone was hurled at the image and it smashed the image. The gold, silver, iron and clay were crushed all together into dust and the wind blew them away. But the stone that had broken the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.

And here’s what it all means: The image represents various kingdoms of this earth. At present we have your kingdom, Your Majesty: the head and shoulders of gold. God has given you this vast and mighty kingdom. But there will arise another kingdom after yours, though it will be inferior. This is represented by the silver. Another kingdom will follow that one, but not as great; it’s the one represented by the brass.

The fourth kingdom to follow will be as strong as iron and its armies will advance over the earth, conquering all the other nations and crushing all resistance. But at the height of its power it will be divided and weakened, as you saw the feet and toes were part of iron and part of clay.

But in the days of this last kingdom, the God of heaven will set up a completely different kingdom, one not made with human hands, and it will expand and fill the whole earth. It will never be destroyed, but it will break in pieces and consume all the other kingdoms and shall stand forever. These are the things that will come to pass; this is the future you saw in your dream.”

And Nebuchadnezzar was thrilled, because this was exactly what he’d dreamed. And he made Daniel a great man and a ruler over the province of Babylon.

It has been generally understood by Christians through the ages that these kingdoms represent first Babylon, then the kingdom of the Medes & Persians, then Greece and finally the Roman Empire, during which time Jesus came and his kingdom, that “stone not cut by human hands” which became a holy mountain. There are a number of references in the Old Testament to this “holy mountain” and how it will expand over all the earth — as Christianity has done — and it will be a spiritual kingdom.

“Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.” Isaiah 56: 7

“They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.” Isaiah 11: 9

Jesus answered and said unto him, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” John 3:3

The Kingdom of Jesus Christ

For the most part I like to keep my writing brief and easy to read, but now I feel the urge to do a few posts on a subject thoroughly hashed over by Christians for ages:
What is – and where is – the Kingdom of Jesus Christ?

This topic may not interest a lot of my readers, but I’ll tag these posts Prophecy so you can follow them if you’re interested in what I have to say on this subject. I want to look at some of the prophesies and the theological potpourri we’ve waded through in our day, hoping to shed some light and not spark too much heat. But before I start, I’ll give you some of our background so you’ll know…

Where I’m Coming From

Outside of weddings and funerals, my family rarely darkened a church door. Mom F was a believer and packed me and my siblings off to Baptist summer camp for a week every year, so I went through the “getting saved” bit and leaned some things. I recall Mom going to church a time or two, but earning the daily bread was demanding for her. My Dad F had no use for religion.

One I hit my teen years, as a nominal Christian, I started asking the same questions many others were asking. Like:
Why does God allow evil to win? Why didn’t Hitler and Stalin die young from cancer or a heart attack, when so many good people do?

— Seeing the news from Northern Ireland, I asked, “How can people who both claim to be Christians kill each other?”

— Abortion was a hot topic in the late ’60s. Reading US news, I wondered, “How can Christians who say it’s wrong to kill unborn babies threaten people’s lives and even bomb an abortion clinic, targeting doctors and nurses?”

— And later, “How can Christians insist the State should have no part in the affairs of the Church, then turn around and lobby the government for laws outlawing moral issues like divorce and same-sex marriage?”

We asked these questions mainly because cynical was cool. It showed intelligence and open-mindedness to contest traditional beliefs. We said we were seeking for truth, but really, we liked our questions; we weren’t necessarily interested in hearing any convincing answers. Nevertheless, these questions are valid. People who sincerely seek for truth deserve a more in-depth answer than, “Because we’re right and they’re wrong.”

My husband’s parents were both raised in religious homes and joined the Anglican (the Church of England in Canada) when he was eleven; he was confirmed at the same time. But over time he, too, started to question, and had all but abandoned religion by the time we met. Still, he had a longing to know the truth, which led him to read the Bible with an open mind. Its truth convicted him. After a personal crisis he gave his life over to God about a month before we were married.

Some months after we were married we decided to start attending some church and picked one where other folks we knew also attended. Four years and several different churches after we were married, I began to realize I was following rules, but not Jesus. I had a serious debate with God one evening and he won. I totally committed my life to him at that point.

Evangelicals and Prophecy

Needless to say, being quite untaught in Evangelical thinking, we had a lot to work through. One thing we gathered fairly quickly: theories on “The Kingdom of Jesus Christ” and how it appears – or will someday appear – on earth, have bemused a lot of religious people. In the past two centuries especially, oodles of prognosticators have explained how it’s all going to play out – and it hasn’t.

David Wilkerson’s The Vision: A Terrifying Prophecy of Doomsday that is Starting to Happen Now! (1974) and Hal Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), were popular when we first became Christians, but my studious husband read a number of books on prophecy, hoping to get a handle on the coming kingdom we were hearing about. I feel for anyone who’s mired in an eschatological slough, studying book after book on prophecy, because we’ve been there ourselves.

There are so many different ideas about what, when, and where the Kingdom can be found. I think this confusion affects believers today, just as it affected us in our “new-born” days. Christians’ concepts of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ, right and wrong, have even motivated political decisions in the past and likely will in the future — especially in America. Douglas Frank, in his book, Less Than Conquerors, does an accurate analysis of shifting evangelical doctrines and political views in the late 1800’s.

Which leads to the question: If Christians are citizens of the Heavenly Kingdom, what is our role in the country where we live physically? How do we handle our “Permanent Resident Alien” status?

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. — Colossians 3:1-2

Of Good Deed & High Hats

In the poem I posted yesterday I wrote about a hand-me-down dress. Though I’ve changed the circumstances, I did have a particular story in mind. Years ago I read a memoir by Maria Campbell, called HALFBREED. She gives a little history of her people and then tells of her own life as a Métis woman in a predominantly white world. it’s quite a history!

QUICK FACTS

When the white men came from Europe, a number of them married – or lived with – native women. Their offspring became a group in their own right, the Métis people and they initially settled along the Red River in Manitoba. The government signed treaties with the indigenous people and settled them on reservations, but the Métis, being neither this nor that, got no special favours from Canadian or Manitoba governments. In fact, after the Riel Rebellion they were driven off their farms and many migrated to northern Saskatchewan. Some did start up farms; others survived however they could.

Maria was born in the settlement around Prince Albert, SK, to a couple who were scraping by, but rich in their love for each other and their family. Her mother died young (before Maria was a teen, as I recall) and her father never remarried. So the children grew up with their grandmother filling in as much as she could, but they missed out by not having a mother’s care and teaching.

BOXING DAY GIFTS

Boxing Day back in merry old England was a time to give the servants and/or “the poor among us,” a treat or gift, often food. It was boxed up in a nice package and handed over to servants or carried to the elderly and infirm. This practice was more common years back and Canada has kept the day, if not the practice.

Anyway, this event was still carried on by the women’s groups in Maria’s area. Feeling sympathy for the poor native children, community women would make up boxes with goodies and clothing their children didn’t want anymore or had outgrown. After Christmas they’d go around to the native and Métis communities and hand these out. Every year Maria’s family would get several of these boxes.

Her father would burn them. Oh, the children would wail! They knew from their friends that there was candy and good food inside and they wanted it.

Perhaps her father was a proud man who didn’t want any kind of charity, but as she got older Maria began to see what he’d spared them by burning those boxes. When native and Métis children wore those hand-me-down clothes to school, the white children would mock them. Maria would hear sarcastic comments like, “I see you’re wearing my old dress. I got a new one.”

In my poem I had the little girl tear up her dress and stuff it under a bush, tired of being mocked by the childish former wearer.

It’s interesting how many words and expressions there are in English for looking down on others. Snobbish; snooty; top-lofty, high hat. Do we need so many terms because there’s so much of it done?

HIGH HATS COME IN EVERY SHADE

And children love trying them out. On one hand a child can seem so accepting that his parents are delighted; the next time the child will act so arrogant his parents are dismayed. Though we try to teach our children tolerance for others, and for different ways of doing things, “We’re better than you,” is a refrain some of them love to chant.

It’s a challenge to teach children! Accepting others who are different doesn’t come naturally. To make matters worse, the more you draw attention to the differences in people and stress how “we must accept them,” the more unnatural it becomes. And children are quick to spot the difference between what parents are saying and what they do.

Maria writes about “the white people” and the Métis, but her account would read much the same if it were whites versus blacks, the English versus the Irish, one religion versus another, or the rich versus the poor anywhere in the world. This isn’t a new problem.

“SECOND-HAND” TODAY

Genuinely good deeds are prompted by a concern for our fellow human beings and people do appreciate kindness. I buy at Value Village myself. But so much of what they receive is shipped overseas. Are we making ourselves feel good while disrupting the economy in other countries?

Perhaps we need to check our attitudes when we buy ourselves nice new duds and ship our old stuff to charity —  “Let’s send this to the poor people in Africa” is coming to an end; they’re starting to reject our charity.