Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Take Up Your Cross

This weekend, we Christians joyfully celebrate the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ, after gratefully and solemnly commemorating his sacrifice for us. We remember how the Romans forced Jesus to carry his own cross to the place of his crucifixion. When the blood loss from the soldiers’ whips rendered him too weak to continue, a passerby named Simon was pressed into service. We know little about this man other than he was Jewish, he had two sons, and he came from Cyrene (a city in Libya, so tradition holds that he was black).

Simon didn’t freely offer. Probably in Jerusalem for Passover, he’d be seriously inconvenienced by this gruesome detour. But when the Romans issued an order, the only options were to obey or die. Would they have asked for volunteers before recruiting Simon? Would anyone have stepped up? I doubt it, given how Jesus’s closest followers had already deserted him and those who remained were women. To many in the crowd, Jesus was simply one more rabblerouser who needed to be removed—the sooner, the better.

Now, in hindsight, millions of Christ-followers would stand in line for the privilege of carrying Jesus’s cross. We would consider the task an honor. Do you suppose Simon of Cyrene ever understood the significant role he played?

None of us will ever have that opportunity, but Jesus told his followers something shortly before his death that is far more significant. In Luke 9, he said “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.”

Obviously, Jesus didn’t mean picking up a literal cross and being crucified, although some have gone to that extent to prove their devotion. All they accomplish is drawing attention to themselves, hardly Christ’s intent. His use of the word “daily” also makes it clear he wasn’t talking about giving up something for forty days of Lent.

Taking up our cross involves a denial of self, a daily commitment, and a sacrifice (which always benefits someone else). Is everyone’s cross different? Can it change from day to day? What might a modern cross look like?

  • Denying yourself a winter vacation to provide a better life for a child in a developing country?
  • Setting aside beloved hobbies to provide care to an elderly family member?
  • Forgoing some longed-for new furniture so you can help a single mother?
  • Surrendering precious “me time” to volunteer in your community or church?
  • Trading a week at the resort for a week-long mission trip?
  • Settling for a used car so an under-resourced person may have one too?
  • Taking a smaller salary that more closely matches that of your employees?
  • How about simply serving your family day in and day out with meals, clean clothes, and a healthy place to call home—without grumbling?

Did Jesus’s definition of “cross” here include shame and humiliation, like his cross surely did? If so, maybe it looks like speaking out against popular ideologies that go against the grain of dying to self. Or choosing to keep one’s mouth shut when the temptation to defend looms.

Is your cross the thing that will eventually kill you, though you might feel you’ve already died a thousand little deaths every day? If your cross does kill you … look at what awaits on the other side! Resurrection. Eternal life. Glory. Living in the embrace of your Savior.

Could it be that, like Simon of Cyrene, we don’t understand the significant role we play when we willingly take up our cross every day to follow Jesus?

Lots to think about. Happy Easter!

Friday, March 22, 2024

Canadian Heroines, Part 3 of 3: Muriel Kitagawa

Born in Vancouver in 1912, Muriel Kitagawa was the eldest child of Tsuru and Asajiro Fujiwara, Japanese immigrants. Moving frequently, the family struggled to make ends meet despite her father working in a mill and her mother making dresses. When Muriel was ten, the family split for several years, reuniting in 1924.

Showing an aptitude for writing and always troubled by the racial discrimination around her, Muriel received encouragement from her English teacher to develop her writing around that theme. She graduated second highest in New Westminster’s Duke of Connaught High School’s Class of 1929. From there, she studied one year at the University of British Columbia before financial problems made enrollment no longer possible.


As part of the Nisei (second-generation or Canadian-born Japanese), Muriel’s writing talents became important in activism as she fought for the right to vote for herself and her peers. Many professions were open only to voters, which led to economic discrimination.


In the early 1930s, Muriel wrote for The Young People (the journal of the Young People’s Society of the United Church), The New Age (an English-language newspaper founded by and for Nisei), and for The New Canadian paper.


In 1933, Muriel married Ed Kitagawa, a celebrity in the local Japanese Canadian community due to his fame with the Asahi baseball team. Professionally, Ed served Japanese Canadian clients at the Bank of Montreal. Between 1934 and 1942, four children were born. In 1940, the Kitagawas purchased their own house in Vancouver, a significant achievement among their peers.


Muriel became president of the Japanese Canadian Unit of the Red Cross Society, withdrawing in 1941 because of a difficult pregnancy with twins. During that same pregnancy, Canada declared war on Japan following Japan’s surprise attacks on Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, and the Philippines. All of this threw the Japanese Canadian community into turmoil. Muriel began documenting her experiences and observations in letters to her younger brother, Wes Fujiwara, a medical student in Toronto. The letters detailed concerns over her family’s arrangements, as well as the attempts of their broader community to organize and advocate for themselves after the government forced removal of Japanese Canadians from coastal British Columbia. 


Rev. James Finlay, a connection of Wes’s, offered the Kitagawas board in his home, which helped the family relocate to Toronto and stay together while the federal government sent many of their peers to internment camps and farms. In 1943, the government began to sell Japanese Canadian-owned property, including the Kitagawas’ Vancouver home, without the consent of owners. When Japanese Canadians were finally allowed to return to BC in 1947, the Kitagawas had nothing to return to and remained in Toronto.


Muriel Kitigawa died in 1974, never knowing that her letters to her brother would be published in a book called This is My Own: Letters to Wes & Other Writings on Japanese Canadians, 1941-1948, or that her work would inspire the novel Obasan by Joy Kogawa, or that these books would play an integral role in the redress for Japanese Canadians in 1988. On the twentieth anniversary of that event in 2008, the late former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney quoted Muriel and said, “For her life, and the lives of other Japanese Canadians in wartime, Canada can be grateful.”

Muriel Kitigawa

Have you ever been tempted to exploit another human for your own benefit? An immigrant, a child, a person with fewer resources than you? Jesus made it clear that he despises injustice. Ask him to open your eyes to it and be swift to overturn wrongs. Don’t wait.

Friday, March 15, 2024

Canadian Heroines, Part 2 of 3: Chief Elsie Knott

Have you heard of the “Change the Bill” Campaign? An initiative of the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC), the campaign calls for an Indigenous woman to replace Queen Elizabeth II on the $20 bill. Begun before the Queen’s passing, the campaign seeks to foster reconciliation by commissioning Indigenous artists to reimagine the banknote with notable Indigenous women.

Although our current $20 note will continue to circulate for years, the Bank of Canada has already begun the design process for a new bill featuring King Charles III (whose effigy is already circulating on loonies). It will likely be years before it’s issued. Where does this leave the “Change the Bill” campaign? I’m not sure, but I would certainly vote for it, given the chance. Canada has been printing money for over 150 years. In that time, an Indigenous woman has never been featured on a Canadian bank note. Why not make our twenty something truly and uniquely Canadian?

Among the twelve notable women put forth as candidates is Chief Elsie Knott.

Born to George and Esther Taylor on September 20, 1922, Elsie Taylor grew up in a family of seven on Mud Lake Reserve northwest of Peterborough, Ontario. She spoke only Ojibway when she began Grade One at the school run by the Department of Indian Affairs. Here, students caught “talking Indian” had their names placed on the chalkboard beside a giant X. Naturally, the situation laid the ground for a deep-seated fear of public speaking.

Elsie completed Grade Eight at age 14. At 15, her parents had arranged for her to marry a man from the reserve, 27-year-old Cecil Knott. “Nobody ever talked to me about a career,” she said. “Women just got married.”

By age 20, Elsie had three children and a husband too ill from TB to work. Welfare provided $15 a month. Desperate and industrious, Elsie did all she could to improve living conditions for her children—including berry-picking, cooking, laundry, sewing, cleaning, selling bait, and driving school bus.

The latter enterprise led to a deep concern for the community at large, particularly for getting kids to school. When a 1951 amendment to the Indian Act allowed women to become officially involved in band politics, Elsie ran for chief at age 31. Her landslide win made her the first female Indigenous chief in Canada, leading the way for other First Nations women to become more politically active. First, she’d need to overcome her biggest fear.

Success in that area would come gradually as Elsie served as Chief of the 500 Mississaugas of Mud Lake Indian Band (now known as Curve Lake First Nation), first from 1952 to 1962 and then again from 1970 to 1976. For eight years, she didn’t receive a salary because band funds were so small. Yet during her terms in office, the band built 45 homes, upgraded roads, dug new wells, constructed a daycare, and provided more social services. Elsie and her council revived the powwow by opening it to outsiders and using the profits for Christmas hampers. The little girl who hadn’t been allowed to speak her own language now taught Ojibway classes and translated 14 Christmas carols into Ojibway. She organized Girl Guides, Boy Scouts, baseball teams and more. She brought back traditional drumming and singing.

Chief Elsie Knott in 1973
When five of the students on her reserve wanted to attend high school, Elsie drove them in her Ford. When their numbers grew, she purchased a used hearse. She painted it blue and put benches inside. Eventually, she drove a school bus for 34 years and ended up with two large buses and 130 students. One of those students became Judge Tim Whetung, who publicly thanked Elsie not only for driving him to school but for inspiring many young people to follow their dreams.

In 1975, Elsie was named one of 25 outstanding women in Ontario. A committed believer in Jesus, her most treasured work was fundraising for a new church. Elsie Knott died on December 3, 1995, at the age of 73.

Friday, March 8, 2024

Canadian Heroines, Part 1 of 3: Harriet Rhue Hatchett

March 8 is International Women’s Day. In 2022, I began writing a series of posts on Canadian Heroines and they’ve been some of my most popular. This year, I’ve chosen three more Canadian women to inspire you.

In the middle of the American Civil War, a baby girl was born to two fugitive slaves who had escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. William Isaac Rhue had fled the Miles plantation in Virginia and had met Jane Serena Lewis of Kentucky in their travels. Together, they settled at Buxton, Ontario where their daughter, Harriet (Hattie) was born in 1863 and where they would raise another fifteen children as well. Their faith-filled home was abundant in music and musical instruments.

Hattie attended a one-room school near the Rhue farm and took piano lessons at the Elgin Settlement School. At 17, she graduated from Chatham Collegiate Institute.

By 1881, the need for teachers for former slaves in the southern United States was great. Encouraged by her pastor and her mother, 18-year-old Hattie traveled to Kentucky where she taught children and adults to read and write. Among her students was a man named Millard Hatchett, whom she married in 1892. Hattie continued teaching as three daughters and one son were born to them. In 1904, the family returned to North Buxton.

Tragically, all three of their daughters became ill and died. Grief-stricken, Hattie turned to her music and her faith for consolation. Although she’d obtained a music-teaching certificate, she could not find work, due to racism and sexism. Teaching jobs were closed to married women. Despite not being hired as an organist in a white church, Hattie organized a choir for white churches. She also gave free music lessons out of her home and became much sought after in helping students prepare for recitals and music competitions.

Harriet Rhue Hatchett

Over the years, Hattie composed many original songs and became a popular performer for church, conferences, and community events. Her eclectic repertoire included classical, popular, spirituals, hymns, and children’s songs. Sadly, most of her compositions were lost in various fires over the years.

She did copyright three songs: two hymns called “Jesus, Tender Shepherd Lead Us” and “That Land Beyond the Sky,” and one song that would become increasingly popular as it was written specifically for Canadian soldiers during World War I. “That Sacred Spot” from 1915 was chosen by Canon Frederick G. Scott, senior chaplain of the 1st Canadian Division and a poet himself, as the official marching song of the troops. It made the soldiers think of home. Its title refers to the spot where a soldier might die as being sacred to God. The song was born out of the pain of Hattie’s own grief for her deceased children. For a number of years, it was sung by school children on Remembrance Day.

In foreign fields apart or in a row

There lies a soldier’s lonely grave so low.

Tremendous cost wherever it may be

Keep that Sacred Spot in living memory.

Though many soldiers knew the song well, its origins remained unknown to most. That such an important piece of music was composed by a Black woman is a significant piece of Canadian history worth remembering.

Hattie Rhue Hatchett outlived her children and her husband, dying at the age of 94 in 1958.

Friday, March 1, 2024

The Crock Pot Queen

Is it acceptable to own four crock pots? I sure hope so.

I’ve never been one to jump on the bandwagon of kitchen appliance fads. Never owned a bread maker, rice cooker, or Instapot. I’ve survived without a hand mixer, electric can opener, and waffle iron. Of the four crock pots on my kitchen’s Lazy Susan corner cupboard, not one has a digital display or timer. None are programmable. But all are used regularly and considered indispensable.

I guess it began with a wedding gift in 1977. I wish I could recall who gave us the Rival brand avocado green appliance (I found this photo of one exactly like ours on the website of the National Museum of American History. Can’t tell you how hip that made me feel.) With only three settings—OFF, LOW, HIGH—our first crock pot came with its own cookbook which still sits on our shelf, its cover long gone and its pages yellowed. That pot lasted for decades. 

When newer ones came out featuring a removable pot for easy cleaning, I began to wish mine would kick the bucket so I could justify replacing it. Eventually, it worked on only the high setting, providing all the reason I needed. I splurged on a new model in the late nineties or early aughts. That one still works great and is light years more advanced than my original. Besides the aforementioned settings, it has one called AUTOSHIFT, which starts on high and turns itself down to low after two hours. Fancy shmancy.

Then my mother downsized and offered me her larger, oval-shaped crock pot. This one also lifts out for cleaning. Since it holds a whole chicken for roasting, I said yes. I love it for soups, too. This one, in addition to HIGH and LOW, has a SERVE setting, great for simply keeping things hot.

After we became empty nesters, both crock pots frequently proved too large. Naturally, when I saw a smaller one at our local MCC thrift store, I grabbed it. Maxing out at around six cups, this one is perfect for holding four pieces of chicken or a small casserole.

Each of these beauties cooks at its own rate, requiring me to learn through trial and error which one I can count on to do the job in the time allotted. Christmas gatherings with our children have seen all three in use at once—one filled with meatballs, one with ham, and one with simmering apple cider.

So why would I need a fourth? Again, browsing in MCC one day, I spied the cutest little baby. Holding all of one cup, it’s designed for hot dips. I couldn’t resist. It’s not been used a lot but I love knowing it’s got my back should I ever feel the need for a hot dip.

One Sunday morning, I threw together my standard pineapple barbecue bean dish for our church’s monthly potluck. As a joke, I turned to Facebook to pose a question. “Preparing my dish for church potluck. Do I put the food in my smaller crock pot and risk spilling some on the drive, or do I put it in my larger crock pot and risk looking like a cheapskate because it’s only two-thirds full?”

My query sparked lots of interesting and funny comments. I took the advice of the majority. The joke was on me when I arrived at church, carrying my larger crock pot, and was greeted by a friend who’d seen my Facebook query.

“I see you decided to go with the small one,” she said.

Oh boy. Maybe I really am a cheapskate. Maybe next time, I’ll walk in carrying my little baby dip-sized one.

May my crock pots last forever so I never need to figure out how to program a newfangled one.