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Snow in the Lower Fraser Valley


When I first moved to British Columbia’s “Lower Mainland,” I was surprised by how “a little snow”something which is accepted as normal in other parts of Canadabrought everything to a standstill here.

Now that I have lived here a while, I understand a little better. The “Lower Mainland” or “Lower Fraser Valley” is the southwest corner of British Columbia. It is a long, broad valley through which the mighty Fraser River travels before emptying into the Pacific Ocean just south of Vancouver. It is called the “Mainland” to distinguish it from Vancouver Island, a large island which lies just offshore.  

In the Lower Mainland/Lower Fraser Valley, we get two types of weather in the winter. Mostly we have winds off the Pacific Ocean (called the Pineapple Express) which dump a lot of rain on us. It snows only on the mountains and ski hills, which is the proper place for snow. It looks beautiful there. This year we had 27 days of rain in October and 28 days of rain in November.

Our other kind of winter weather happens when the winds shift to the northeast and strong winds drive cold air down on us from the mountains. The temperature drops below the feeezing level, and wind chill values can be quite high.

Snow only happens occasionally here, when the warm ocean winds push moisture up over the cold air coming down out of the mountains. That is, snow happens in the transition between our two types of weather. Then, one of two things happens. The usual thing is that the ocean winds take over and the rain washes away the snow in a day or two. The other possibility is that the northeast winds take over, which means the snow on the ground can linger for a couple of weeks.

What this means for people who live here is that snow only falls when the temperature is hovering near the freezing mark. The snow (sometimes mixed with rain) melts and freezes. The result is ice, or at least very slippery snow. This is quite different from snow on the Canadian prairies, for instance, which is like grains of ice. You can drive through a foot of snow in Winnipeg without slipping because it is like driving through beach sand.

Several factors here combine to make driving treacherous in the snow. First, the snow is icy and very slippery. Second, we have a lot of hills, steep hills. Third, most drivers here have little experience driving in snow, and few bother to buy snow tiresit’s not worth it for the few days it snows. (This is the same reason most people don’t have snow shovels.) Fourth, because there is not a lot of snow, municipalities do not invest heavily in snow removal equipmentit is cheaper to wait a few days until the snow melts. Combine these factors, and the result is chaos.   

Last weekend, it snowed for three days (Friday to Sunday). Schools and churches and businesses were closed. There were numerous accidents on the roads. The wet snow seems to have killed some branches on one of our fir trees (it is no longer cone-shaped). It may also have killed off some of the local hummingbirds, which are at the northern edge of their range here. This was in spite of our efforts to keep switching feeders every few hours so the sugar water in the feeder wouldn’t freeze. And it killed our inflatable Minion Christmas lawn decoration because the pump became jammed with snow and ice. Our street (a cul-de-sac) was not touched by road crews over the three days. But I shoveled the driveway three times. Last night, the man across the road drove his 4X4 to the store to buy a snow shovel. He cleared a narrow path down his driveway to his door, went inside and stayed there. Wise man.




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Christian Love in a Shoebox

Our local newspaper (The Abbotsford News) has reported that a local public school has decided to stop participating in the Operation Christmas Child program because of “religious concerns.”

For those not familiar with the program, Operation Christmas Child is run by a Christian charity called Samaritan’s Purse. Participants pack shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, hygiene products, and other useful items, which are shipped to needy children in different countries.

The school decided to stop participating in the program when the principal said he discovered that religious tracts were being inserted into the shoeboxes before they were distributed. Apparently, this contravenes British Columbia’s School Act, which requires that public schools be operated as “secular” institutions.

It is not strictly true that religious tracts are inserted into the boxes. However, the boxes are distributed at events which are openly declared to be Christian, and written Christian materials are offered to those who receive the boxes, although they are free to refuse these materials.

In an editorial, the newspaper supported the school’s decision.

The issue raises several questions.

  1. Why bring religion into it?

The editorial stated, “One local student posed the question of why religion had any bearing on the initiative—why can’t people just help other people? Why indeed? Many Christian organizations do exactly that, with local and overseas programs such as food distribution that do not require attendance at special religious events, or exposure to evangelizing or associated materials.”

In asking why religion has to be connected to this act of charity, the editorial misses the point. It wasn’t “people” who initiated the Operation Christmas Child project. And it certainly wasn’t “secular people.” The program was set up by evangelical Christians and was motivated by their Christian faith, by Jesus’ command to love God and people. If you take away Christian faith, the program wouldn’t exist. In fact, like many works of charity, it is initiated, run, and supported primarily by Christian people.

A study by the religious think tank Cardus discovered that 85 percent of charitable giving in Canada comes from less than 30 percent of the population: 23 percent give at least double what the average donor gives and 6 percent give five times what the average donor gives. Furthermore, people active in their “faith communities” (in Canada, the majority of those are Christians) give more to secular charities (on top of what they give to religious institutions) than people who are not involved in faith communities.

Whether a public school chooses to participate or chooses not to participate in Operation Christmas Child is entirely up to the school. The program will continue to do good work precisely because of those who believe in Jesus.

It is common for people in our society to want all of the benefits Christianity brings while trying to get rid of Christianity itself. It is like demanding God’s blessings while denying God.

 2. Are B.C. schools secular?

If you look into the history of British Columbia’s schools, you will discover that most of the early schools were established by Christian churches. When these schools were taken over by the government and incorporated into a universal public school system, they were declared to be “nondenominational.” That is, they were still expected to be Christian but not linked to any particular denomination.

In more recent years, as Christians are no longer a majority in Canadian society, the schools have been declared to be “secular.” This should mean that schools should be neutral on religious and moral issues. However, what it often means is that the schools are antagonistic to Christianity. This has forced many Christian students out of the public system and into private Christian schools.

Recent events have demonstrated that the “secular” argument is unevenly applied. Two lawsuits were recently launched against B.C. schools. One was because a school required students to participate in aboriginal “smudging” ceremonies. The other was because a school required students to participate in meditation exercises apparently linked to Buddhism.

3. Is religion a cultural expression?

A spokesperson for the Abbotsford school district stated, “We want our students to develop empathy, understanding and respect for others, regardless of race or religion. We will continue to celebrate Christmas, Diwali, Chinese New Year and many other diverse cultures that make Canada the great multi-cultural society that it is today.”

This represents a common “secular” approach that reduces religion to a set of traditional “cultural” practices. So, Indo-Canadians celebrate Diwali, European Canadians celebrate Christmas, and Chinese Canadians celebrate Chinese New Year.

This may make some sense if we define Christmas in terms of Santa Claus and Christmas trees.

But religion is not just some quaint cultural tradition practised by certain ethnic groups. Religion deals with ultimate questions of purpose, meaning, and morality. It crosses ethnic boundaries and challenges cultural practices. Religion relates to God, who, by definition, is above all human institutions. In Canada, attendance at Christian churches is higher among those of non-European ancestry than those of European ancestry.

4. Is it wrong for Christians to evangelize?

Both the news story and the editorial noted that many of the Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes are distributed in “Muslim-majority countries.” The editorial implied that it is somehow inappropriate for Christians to give shoeboxes to people in Muslim countries and encourage them to become Christians (evangelize them).

By the same token, would the editorial writer dare to suggest that it is inappropriate for Muslims to come to a “Christian” country such as Canada and attempt to convert people to Islam? Of course, not. We are a tolerant and free society. But somehow Muslim countries seem to be excused from being tolerant. (In many “Muslim” countries, the legal penalty for converting to Christianity is execution.)

Consider that through Operation Christmas Child, Christians give useful and pleasing gifts to people of other religions with basically no strings attached other than being given the opportunity to receive Christian literature. Those who refuse the literature still receive the shoeboxes. Is this not a wonderful example of cross-boundary empathy, tolerance, and respect?

And if the recipients wonder why Christians would do this, wouldn’t it be wrong for Christians to hide their motivation behind some secular smokescreen?

If Christian faith is what motivated such wonderful acts of charity, isn’t it a good idea to try to convert other people to a similar faith so that they will similarly practise tolerance and love?

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The Circle

Years ago, I lost a tooth after getting hit with a hockey stick while I was playing hockey—so I can claim to be a real Canadian. But I also broke a finger playing softball, so maybe I am just clumsy.

In the interests of full disclosure, the stick in the mouth was not deliberate. I fell in front of another player just as he was shooting the puck at the net. Neither the puck nor the tooth went into the net.

I haven’t played hockey or softball for quite a few years. Time took a toll on my body. But it can’t be said that my early retirement was a significant loss to the sporting world.

Some of the boys I went to high school with were obviously better athletes and stayed in better shape. They played a lot longer, into their fifties and even sixties.

I talked with one of them a few days ago. He had been playing in a community old timers’ hockey program for a number of years. He said he was finally forced to retire from hockey a couple of years ago due to an injury. He wasn’t hurt playing hockey. He fell while taking the dog for a walk and injured his arm.

My friend told me that he doesn’t miss the hockey so much, but he does miss “the circle.” Apparently, hockey players sit at their lockers around the outside of the locker room and face inward, toward each other. They talk and become a community. (Baseball and football players apparently sit in a similar circle but face outward, toward their lockers.)

The idea of the hockey circle reminded me of women’s sewing circles of a generation ago. Women, often connected with a church, would get together to make quilts or sew clothes for poor people overseas. While they worked, the women would share their lives and offer each other encouragement and advice. It was a community-building practice disguised as a charity project. Or a charity project disguised as a community-building practice.

Like my hockey career, I fear such circles and such community-building exercises are becoming a thing of the past. Today’s young men and women do not often sit in circles. They mostly sit alone, staring at their iPhones.



An Interesting Day

A while back, I had an interesting day, marked by some significant but mundane events.

Event #1: I went out and bought my wife an expensive birthday present. The romance is still alive. The present was a new freezer. It wasn’t planned. The compressor on our current 35-year-old one was still working fine, but we discovered that the insulation had gone to the point that one corner was badly rusted and leaking condensation water onto the new laminate floor. Three stores had the exact same freezer on sale, two for $798 and one for $799. We bought the more expensive one. On the assumption it might be a better freezer. Or maybe because the store is owned by a Canadian company that we have used before, that has been in business longer, and that we hope might be around long enough to honour the warranty. We made some concessions to our advancing age—it is a 17-cubic-foot, upright, frost-free machine, so we don’t have to bend over, lean in, and unload the whole freezer whenever we want to find a piece of meat or defrost the freezer. The old freezer lasted thirty-five years. Due to advances in technology, the new one is expected to last ten years. The salesman explained that this is because the new one was manufactured overseas, endured a long sea voyage, is made of cheaper materials, and has a computer. There is no reason to add a computer to a simple piece of proven technology that has worked fine for decades. But any system is only as strong as its weakest link, and in many cases that weakest link is now a fragile computer.

Event #2: To make the day even more interesting, I touched up the paint on our newly painted house. Apparently if you paint your house white, it is not a good idea to let the grandchildren play outside with a black marking pen.

Event #3: Our daughter is cleaning stuff out of her condo. Among the items she decided to get rid of was a top-of-the-line food processor that doesn’t work anymore. Maybe the computer in it crashed. She had brought that over to me a few days earlier so I could take it to the recycling facility along with some other stuff. But then she opened another cupboard and found the accessories for the processor. They included an attachment with razor-sharp blades. Her three-year-old son picked it up and asked, “What’s this?” She immediately took it from him—and cut her thumb badly on the blade. So, on the interesting day, when she brought some more stuff over to my house, she brought over the processor attachments, which she didn’t think it was safe to leave in her house. (I am not sure why decluttering her place means cluttering up mine, but I digress.) I very carefully lifted the blade attachment out of the back of her car and then reached back in to get a black plastic attachment. It apparently also had a blade on it, and I sliced a one-inch-by-half-inch flap off my middle finger. It bled profusely and throbbed painfully. I am thinking of disinheriting her. All of the grandchildren came rushing over to me—but not to offer sympathy or help; they just wanted to see the cut. I don’t know whether I am glad or embarrassed that of the three of us who picked up the attachment, the only one who didn’t cut himself badly was the three-year-old.

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The American West

The American West was an eight-part documentary series that ran on the AMC network last summer. With Robert Redford as executive producer, it focused on a series of prominent personalities, “heroes,” forceful men who “took what they wanted.” These men were described in this documentary series as representing the American character of strength and enterprise.

These men included “outlaws” such as Jesse James, Billy the Kid, and Crazy Horse, who took up arms against often unjust and corrupt government actions. They also included lawmen such as Pat Garrett, Wyatt Earp, and George Armstrong Custer, who tended to shoot first and worry about evidence and trials only if there were survivors from the shooting. In many respects, in this retelling of their stories, there was not that much difference between the outlaws and the lawmen. All were forceful characters who took bold action.

American culture still seems to revere heroic outlaws (from The Godfather to The Sopranos) and trigger-happy lawmen (from John Wayne to Dirty Harry and Luke Skywalker).

As Americans agonize over the current shooting war between young black men and white police officers, they should not be surprised. From the beginning of their nation, Americans have often chosen to solve problems with guns. Sadly, the current violence is very much part of an American tradition. It is just that, looked at closely, reality seems more sordid and less heroic than the legends.


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Theological Liberals

I have been thinking about theological liberals. Those are the people who no longer believe the old verities. Instead, they often espouse a philosophy built on vague concepts, deliberately ambiguous statements, indistinct images, and unclear metaphors, or they believe that all roads lead to the same place, that several contradictory ideas might all be true.

It struck me that theological liberals rarely build anything new. Building something requires deep, long-term commitment. The builder has to believe the long years of sacrifice will be worth it in the end. This is precisely what theological liberals can’t inspire. Why put in the work to build something that you are not really sure of?  “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Corinthians 14:8, NIV)

So, instead of building something new, theological liberals often move into an institution—such as a church or a school—built by someone else and take it over. This is possible because the founders of the institution are focused elsewhere—on the grand vision that stands behind and beyond the institution. Theological liberals, on the other hand, focus on the institution because they need it to lend weight and credibility to their ideas.


On The Monstrous Regiment of Women

People have long wondered why the Scots would send their armies into battle dressed in skirts. The reality is that these soldiers were not men in skirts but actually ugly women. This truth has been suppressed by the English, who write most of the history books and who don’t want to admit that their armies have been beaten in so many battles by a bunch of women.

This phenomenon was first described in a 16th-century book called The Monstrous Regiment of Women written by a man named John Knox. No one reads this book these days, but it likely contained a history of the Scottish army up to that point. Knox himself was a hard man who established the famous School of Hard Knox. He also established the Presbyterian Church, although no one remembers why.

The regiment was led by a person named Queen Mary, which has led to speculation that she was a he in drag. Whether actually gay or not, he/she was undoubtedly merry.

The distinct character of the Scottish army is demonstrated by the fact that while other armies travelled to the sound of drums and trumpets, the Scottish army preferred the bagpipes. This instrument is said to be modelled on knitting needles stuck into a bag of wool. The sound is thought to resemble untalented women trying to sing opera.

The preferred weapons for this women’s army included the aptly named broad sword, the halberd, the claymore, the pike, the dirk, and, of course, the bagpipes.

No one knows what the Scottish men were doing while the women were fighting their battles. They may have been herding sheep, drinking with the Irish, or throwing up in the heather after eating haggis, a traditional Scottish food. I would explain what is in this Scottish dish, but the extant historical descriptions are too fantastical to be believable, and in this article I wanted to stick to proven facts.