Readers write: July 3, 2017 issue

June 28, 2017 | Viewpoints | Volume 21 Issue 14

Speaker sets the record straight on the Ziffernsystem

Re: “Singing by the numbers,” May 22, page 32.
It was good to see a report on my participation in the annual meeting of the Mennonite Historical Society of Saskatchewan.

However, the report presents a somewhat confusing picture of my message. Perhaps the simplest way to approach the matter is to say that I gave two presentations.

One was about the oral singing tradition of the Old Colony Mennonites and about singing styles similar to theirs that can be found in other parts of the world. Ziffern played a very small part in this presentation. By definition, oral traditions do not use notation except in very peripheral ways. I also led a workshop on singing from Ziffern, focussed quite narrowly on the Choralbuch of Heinrich Franz and some rare transcriptions made by Old Colony Vorsänger.

Unfortunately, the author conflated these two presentations, confusing what I called the “Old Way of Singing” with the Ziffernsystem. One sentence can serve to illustrate the conflation and confusion. “Berg heard this Ziffernsystem singing in the Scottish Hebrides, where he recorded two brothers singing psalms in this manner.” I haven’t been to the Scottish Hebrides and I didn’t record the two brothers singing psalms myself. I did play an example of psalm singing in the Hebrides and of two brothers singing psalms, although the two brothers came from the Faroe Islands. Both were examples of singing in an oral tradition and had nothing at all to do with Ziffern.

Wesley Berg, Edmonton, Alberta


Mennonites must remember we were once immigrants too

Re: “‘Happy to find a safe place,’” June 5, page 18.
I am happy to note that many of my fellow Mennonites are being very kind and generous in dealing with refugees, whether they are legal or illegal.

At the same time, I am distressed to note that some of our members are using fearmongering in an attempt to persuade our government to close our borders now. They would like us to believe that the newcomers are likely to be a danger to us, even though there is no evidence to support such claims. We owe our livelihoods, and maybe our lives, to Canada’s somewhat open-door immigration policy in the past.

I say “somewhat open” because Mennonites were not always welcome in this country. We were different. We dressed oddly. We stuck to ourselves. We spoke a strange language. But perhaps the worst of all was the fact that most of us did not subscribe to such Canadian “values” as a willingness to go to war, however just or unjust that war might be. Such attitudes on our part made us unpatriotic.

Mennonites were actually barred for a time, but, fortunately for us, such ideas did not win out in the long run. Had they persisted, none of us would be here now. And yet, although in some cases it took a few generations, Mennonites have assimilated very well, without losing sight of our own values, such as caring, sharing and cooperation. For the most part, we have been an asset to Canadian society.

Given the time and opportunity, most of the new immigrants will also assimilate, and enrich our culture, as many of them are already beginning to do. The better we treat them, the sooner they will feel at home here and become part of Canadian society.

Martha Owen, Pinawa, Manitoba


Different name but same God

God revealed himself to the white people (settlers) by means of the Bible. Since there was no printable language, God revealed himself to indigenous people (first nations) in Canada by the best means available at the time: the creation of everything. So they call him the Creator. Settlers and the host people worship the same God. We may use a different name, but we worship the same God.

Let’s not make God too small.

Jack Driedger, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan


Curious about what comes next

Re: “On becoming a better person,” May 22, page 4.
After I read this, I was looking back on my life, trying to find out how far I had come on the path of becoming a better person.

In the first phase of my life, I had been full of energy, ambition and good intentions, equipped by my parents with fitting tools: honesty, curiosity, courage, trust and modesty. Then, unexpectedly, obstacles appeared in the form of a horrible war that shattered many of my values. Being expelled and losing all my earthly belongings forced me to start over again. Life taught me valuable lessons: patience, compassion, endurance and forgiveness.

Now in the evening of life, at 91, I wonder how I can best handle that upcoming final transition.  I juggle my ongoing desire to become a “better person” with the endeavour not to become a “bitter person.” Again, obstacles arise, waiting to be overcome.
At times, I can’t help but question whether Paul’s directive to the Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” is a reality that can be applied even in the winter of life.

What is left for me to do? When the physical energy is fading, can the mental and spiritual life still sprout? Perhaps they can: by sharing life experiences with relatives and friends, even writing them down in an autobiography; by relating how God has led the way and did not forsake me; by not giving up; and by keeping humour alive.

And in the uncertainty of life, one thing I can depend on is God’s love that is always around me. There is hope in this final transition.

My wife, when succumbing to lung cancer, remarked, “I am not afraid of death. I am curious about what comes next.”

Helmut Lemke, Vancouver, B. C.


Stewardship—not climate change—is the real issue

In my opinion, there are major (healthy) global political shifts going on right now that are not being accurately reported by the major press.

Recently, not surprisingly, the Trump administration announced that the U.S. intended to withdraw from the Paris Accord on Climate Change as it exists. On the same day, my wife and I returned to Calgary after visiting friends in San Diego, Calif., and noticed how clean the Los Angeles basin looks from the air. Industry and local government have been working hard in the U.S., along with Canada and Europe, to clean things up in the past 30 years, and it’s showing. I think Trump saw the Paris Accord as a kind of international money grab to turn things around in developing nations. Handouts have a miserable record, whether they occur in your own family or community, or between nations. I’m not talking about help in natural disasters or crises that have nothing to do with local responsibility. By far the greatest polluters today are China and India, and they need to clean up their own messes. China is actually doing that, not because it cares about the earth, but because it can’t breathe anymore.

In my view, the whole climate change debate is missing the point. Climate has been changing since time began. We know, for example, that atmospheric CO2 levels were four times higher during the dinosaur days than they are today, and (surprise) life continued.

The debate should be about stewardship of our Earth’s resources. There is no reason why a four-person family needs to live in a massive house or why we need to drive to the local market to buy over-processed food in a four-tonne vehicle. And the list goes on.

Richard Penner, Calgary, Alberta

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"In my view, the whole climate change debate is missing the point. Climate has been changing since time began. We know, for example, that atmospheric CO2 levels were four times higher during the dinosaur days than they are today, and (surprise) life continued."

I'm not sure how the writer thinks the debate misses the point, but a paragraph like this is short-sighted in the extreme. A return to Jurassic weather would eliminate all our food crops except perhaps mutants of water-based crops like rice. Productive oceans will be devastated by changing competition in microorganisms that permit food fish further up the chain to survive. A food supply already balanced on a scientific knife-edge will require more of us than we may be able to give.

The oceans would be a hundred metres higher, both reducing our available livable land mass by 23 million square kilometres, and burying more than 80% of our civilization's artifacts beneath the ocean. The warmer, wetter land runs the risk of releasing contaminating gases that could unleash a runaway greenhouse effect, to leave the planet shrouded in cloud like Venus for millions of years.

Most significantly, the notion that "life survived" ignores the fact that, with the exception of bugs, not one animal species survives from the time of the Jurassic. Life survived, but not the species, and certainly not civilization. Whither then faith?

I'm sure the author's letter is in service of the good, but trite observations like the above shed no useful light on the matter whatsoever.

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