Thursday, August 6, 2020

Retirement Units Again Slated For Demolition

These well kept VMRC homes are to be demolished to make room for more upscale units.
Plans by the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community to replace some of its housing units along Park Road with more expensive ones were put on hold earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But recently VMRC residents were notified that a local construction firm will be demolishing and replacing the first of three of these fourplex units this fall, with the other two slated for replacement over the next two years. This will directly affect a total of twelve resident households.

VMRC is responding to increased demands by well-to-do retirees for more upscale accommodations than are presently available in the Village, even though there are plenty of people (like ourselves) who are on its waiting list for homes of this kind as we consider retiring and downsizing. The word from VMRC is that catering to more people of greater means than ours helps VMRC be better able to afford to meet the needs of those who can pay less, in a kind of trickle-down economics.

Maybe its just my frugal upbringing that causes me distress over the destruction of perfectly decent and comfortable homes for the benefit of more affluent retirees. At one level I understand VMRC's logic, and I truly respect the board members and administrators with whom I have spoken, all good, caring people. But is it OK to ask whether this corresponds with the economics Jesus lived and taught? Or to ask what kind of retirement housing he would favor?

Meanwhile Faith in Action, a Coalition of two dozen local congregations, has chosen the affordable housing crisis as its main focus for this year. This choice was made before the economic downturn that has resulted in 140 local households facing possible eviction in the next few weeks as programs providing temporary rent and mortgage payment relief come to an end. 

This also comes at a time when refugees worldwide are being rendered homeless in unprecedented numbers, and Mennonite Central Committee, like other world relief organizations, is experiencing revenue shortfalls of millions of dollars.

Kyrie eleison.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

This Dark History Needs To Be Canceled Next

This death-dealing WW I era cannon located at the former Harrisonburg High School was fired off as a part of a Memorial Day event last year.
Many of us are becoming ever more aware of the dark stain of racism on our history. We look back with a renewed horror over the genocide of native Americans, the brutal exploitation of African slaves, and the systematic denial of the rights of African-Americans. How could so many of us people of privilege have been so blind to these realities--and so bland in our response?

In this time of soul searching we rightfully look for ways to remove the symbols of this blight on our past, ask which monuments we should replace, whose life stories we should memorialize, and what kinds of repentance and restitution we need to be seriously engaging in.

And while we are all too slowly learning these lessons, should we also be asking what our current blind spots are, what kinds of similar evils we will later look back on with profound regret at having condoned, justified and even embraced?

Here's one pressing example--war making and militarism.

At the risk of distracting from our need to focus on racism, I pray that in the not too distant future whole generations will rise up and ask, How could any decent human beings have ever armed themselves with swords, spears, guns and bayonets and engaged in the systematic and wholesale slaughter of their own species? How could we have devised and perfected ever more deadly weapons capable of blowing human bodies to bits and of blasting, burning and obliterating whole populations? And how could we have allowed ourselves to be deceived into believing any this was in any way justifiable, honorable and/or noble?

I am not suggesting we disrespect the memories of the millions who have died in our past wars. Far from it. Rather that we engage in a worldwide effort to defund, dismantle and discredit the barbaric systems that have caused the deaths and devastation caused by war, just as we have delegitimized practices like cannibalism, slavery, racial discrimination, torture, inquisitions, witch trials, public hangings and burning people at the stake.

Aligning ourselves with Jesus and the prophets will give us the ability to reject the insanity of the twin evils of militarism and racism and to dream of a future in which swords will be shaped into plowshares, wolves will lie down with lambs, and we will study war no more.

Martin Luther King, Jr., was widely criticized for seeing the connection between these twin sins as he courageously opposed US involvement in the Vietnam war and the disproportionate number of young black men who were being sacrificed in that bloody invasion.

Now is the time for God's people to be sure they stand firmly on the right side of history, and to embrace the kind of justice and mercy that never needs to be erased.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

A Virtual Sunday School Lesson On Inequality

The populations of the US and Canada (on the left side of map), and Japan (on the far right), with one chess piece each to show relative numbers of people, control a vastly disproportionate amount of the world's wealth, as represented by the pennies on the map.
In the absence of having regular Sunday School at their church during the pandemic, I've enjoyed having a monthly video class with two of our grandsons.

Today's lesson was based on Genesis 1: 26-31 and Matthew 14:13-21 in their Message version of the Bible. In the first passage God mandates us humans, described as "godlike" and "reflecting God's nature," as being responsible for the care of all creation, including the abundant variety of food sources on the planet. In the second, Jesus has his disciples share their loaves and fishes with a large crowd of hungry people, blessing their gift by multiplying it so everyone had enough, and with 12 baskets full of food left over.

Based on information I found online I had them first place a total of 30 chess pieces on the earth's continents to represent the approximate distribution of the world's people, as follows:

US and Canada: A King (1)
Europe: A Queen, Bishop, Knight and Castle (4)
Asia (not including Japan): A Knight, Castle, three Bishops and twelve Pawns (17)
Japan: A King (1)
Central and South America: A Queen, Knight and Pawn (3)
Africa: A Castle and three Pawns (4)

I then had them take 60 pennies, representing the world's wealth, and imagine how they would see God wanting these distributed by those made in the Creator's "image and likeness." They agreed, of course, that everyone should share equally, but I then had them place the pennies on the map according to the information in the simulation game I found online, as follows:

US and Canada: 19 pennies
Europe: 19 pennies
Asia (not including Japan): 8 pennies
Japan: 8 pennies
Central and South America: 4 pennies
Africa: 2 pennies

I needed to point out, of course, that these are very approximate comparisons, and that there are vast inequities within each continent or part of the world. My aim was simply to show that an earth created with more than enough resources for everyone nevertheless has ever more millions on the verge of starvation--while many of the rest of us enjoy far more than our share.

We closed with these wise words from the the Proverbs (Message translation), a book of instructions for young people on how to become good, God-fearing adults:

Mercy to the needy is a loan to God,
    and God pays back those loans in full.
Proverbs 19:17
Generous hands are blessed hands
    because they give bread to the poor.
Proverbs 22:9

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Old Order Hymn Composer Has Valley Roots

This rare photo of Harry Showalter, with oldest daughter Esther (on his right) and surviving sister Mary Beery, was taken on his 100th birthday. (photocopy courtesy of granddaughter Elizabeth Showalter)

Not to the strong is the battle,
Nor to the swift is the race,
But to the true and the faithful
Vict'ry is promised through grace.
- Harry Showalter, 1957*

Harry Showalter, a little known Old Order Mennonite (a member of the Ohio Wisler group), composed the words and melodies of 18 gospel songs and hymns, and wrote tunes for four more. He lived to be over 102, and wrote most of his published songs and hymns when he was in his 80's and 90's.

Born on August 13, 1889, Harry was the fifth child of Hettie (Rohrer) and Daniel Pennybaker Showalter who lived near Singers Glen, just north of Harrisonburg. His parents named him Henry R. (for Rohrer), after Hettie's oldest brother, but growing up with his four older siblings (and later four younger ones), he acquired the nickname "Hen," which he very much disliked. So over time he became known by his family and others as "Harry," the name he went by for the rest of his life.

Harry's parents' farm along Snapp's Creek was not far from the village of Singers Glen, sometimes referred to as the birthplace of gospel music in the American South. It was here that Joseph Funk had set up a printing press over fifty years earlier and published, among other works, Mennonite Hymns and the Harmonia Sacra. Joseph Funk's mother was the daughter of Jacob Showalter, Hettie's ancestor who emigrated to the new world in 1750, so the two families were related.

Music was always an important part of Harry's life. According to his sister Mabel, "When Harry was just a boy, he sat on the back step with a songbook while other children played." And at the early age of ten, soon after his family moved to a farm near Rushville, he attended his first singing school at the Bank Mennonite Church, taught by Jake Showalter, which added to his interest in hymns and hymn singing.

Harry and his siblings were known to have strong voices that blended well. He enjoyed singing tenor with his siblings at home, harmonizing with his brother John, who sang bass, and his sisters Ida and Annie, who sang alto and soprano.

In December of 1910, at age 21, Harry embarked on a year-long trip by train that took him all the way to California, visiting relatives and working part-time jobs along the way. Upon his return he became a baptized member of the Pleasant View Old Order Mennonite Church near Dayton, but in the summer of 1913 he moved to Columbiana, Ohio, and became an active part of the Wisler Old Order group, with whom he lived and served the rest of his life as a song leader and trustee.

One of his primary reasons for his move to Ohio was his romantic interest in Sadie Weaver, and the couple were happily married at her home in November 24, 1914. It was was during the year prior to his marriage that he composed his first song that was later published, one that seems fitting in its references to both the blessings and griefs that were to become a part of his remarkable life:

Often when we sit and ponder o'er the cares that life may bring,
We can only look to Jesus, our Redeemer and our King;
Tho sore trials may surround us, or our way may be more smooth,
'Tis by these blessings or afflictions that He doth our motives prove.

While mistakes are ever near us, and our motives miss their aim,
We should not become discouraged, but believe that Christ, the same;
Yesterday, today, tomorrow, will forgive us if we come
With hearts possessing godly sorrow and an honest, pleading tongue.

Disappointments may surround us, chastenings may come severe,
But we have the blessed promise that a comforter is near;
Whom the Lord loves He will chasten, and He scourgeth every son
Whom He receiveth into glory, ever say, "His will be done."

In our upward, pilgrim journey, may we to each other show
Love unchangeable, unfading, that in peace we onward go;
Till the summons at death's portals shall our weary eyelids close,
Then may we meet those gone, immortal, who are free from cares and woes.

Harry and Sadie were blessed with their first child, Esther Virginia, on December 18, 1915. Tragically, their joy turned to grief as Sadie developed a high fever, became extremely ill and died the day after Christmas, leaving Harry to care for little Esther with the help of friends, relatives, and Sadie's sister Melissa.

On August 19, 1920, Harry married Melissa, and the couple had five children together, three girls and two boys. Their first child, a daughter, lived only two days, and the fourth, a son, died of pneumonia at five months of age. Then his beloved Melissa died of heart failure on June 27, 1963, leaving him a widower for the second time at age 73.

Esther, his firstborn daughter, looked after her father as long as she was able, but died December 16, 1990, nearly two years before Harry's death on August 10, 1992. Harry was buried on what would have been his 103rd birthday, three days later.

Harry had composed only one other published hymn, Not To The Swift Is The Battle, by 1957, and it was not until he was a widower in his 80's and 90's that he went on to write texts and tunes for a total of 16 others. He also composed tunes for four other texts, two written by his granddaughter Elizabeth. John Overholt, publisher of the Christian Hymnary, did most of the four-part harmonizations for his songs.

All of these 22 hymns and gospel songs were published by his son Elmer Showalter in 1988 as Hymns of Tribute. Six of the hymns can also be found in Overholt's Christian Hymnary, and eight in the 1987 Zion's Praises

Here is the last verse of Harry's final composition, Love of Jesus, written in 1986, when Harry was in his late 90's:

Why not work for Jesus while it's called today,
For the night will come when when work is done away;
You'll receive a bright reward, To be present with the Lord,
And the saints that reign throughout eternity.

His granddaughter Elizabeth wrote the following tribute:

To write a hymn is not so hard
When inspirations come.
Take up your pen and write them down
To fit the tune you hum.

This talent God has given you
Will be remembered long;
For near and far hearts will be blest
Who sing your sacred songs.


"The Swift Years Come and Go--Life of Harry Showalter" by Naomi Rosenberry and Alta  Showalter, self published 1989.

"Hymns of Tribute II" published by Elmer Showalter in 1988 (second printing 1991).

Phone conversations with granddaughter Elizabeth Showalter of Columbiana, Ohio and with niece Lois Showalter of Dayton, Virginia.

* These words, the first lines of verse one of Showalter's Not to the strong is the battle, appear to have been borrowed from the refrain of  Fannie Crosby's Conquering now and still to conquer. Crosby lived from 1820-1915.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Brad Wins A Song Writing Contest--Again

Over the past number of years our Pittsburgh-based singer-song writer son has submitted an entry in the annual Just This Guy Song Writing Contest, where he has frequently been one of the winners. This time the theme was, aptly, "song contests," and each entry was to include the following:
1. The motivation for participating or not participating in a song contest.
2. A difficulty of song contests.
3. A positive aspect of the song contest competition.
And as always, Bonus Points for using the word MONKEY.
Here's the result, for which he earned the $400 first prize this year:
a SONG CONTEST is an oxymoron,
find some chords you can hang your heart on,
you’ll never lose anytime you sing the truth
I sent my song and my $30
to be turned down by a team of scholars,
or their intern, Bob, whoever they gave that job to?..
now I’ve never been a fan of keeping score,
if you tell me that it’s free, I’ll have some more,
when somebody wants to hear the song I sing,
that’s all the PRIZE that I hope for,
but there are moments when we all want to be loved,
want someone to tell us that we’re good enough,
in those moments I have sent my best songs off,
like throwing darts into the dark…
play it like a scratch card,
maybe you could win a new guitar?…
now I’m a sport and I like a CHALLENGE,
but I’m not sure how to strike a balance
between making art, and all that other “tryin’ to make it” part,
I’ve never been accused of selling out,
if all the MONKEYs say it’s cool, I have my doubts,
I want a song to wake me up, and call my bluff,
and break my heart, and make me shout,
but there are moments when we all say, “what the hay?”
the REQUIREMENTS of life seem much too great,
that’s when we need a song to tell us it’s okay,
no matter what the judges say…
on the road for 3 days,
to play 2 songs on the main stage?..
and I’ve got friends who swear they’ll never enter one again,
and other friends who’ve done them all, and often win…
a song contest is a strange procession,
step right up, make your plain confession,
you can’t lose anytime you sing the truth…

You can hear it here here's another of Brad's recent songs I really like: 

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Jail Uses Restraint Chair For Suicidal Inmates

Charged with being drunk in public, a young woman was recently kept in a restraint chair for hours in the holding unit of our local jail. This was because she was in a highly confused and suicidal state after having been sexually assaulted while allegedly under the influence of a date rape drug.

In spite of her repeated pleas to be able to go to the bathroom and to have the straps on her arms and legs adjusted due to her severe discomfort, the officers present kept her in the chair, following jail protocol.

This led me to submit another FOIA request to Sheriff Hutcheson regarding the frequency of the use of the restraint chair. As always, the sheriff's response, via one of his officers, was professional and timely, a summary of which follows:

Use of Restraint Chair, January 1 to June 30, 2020

The restraint chair was used a total of 57 times. Thirty-one of these were for individuals who were highly combative (often under the influence of a mind-altering drug) and who were danger to others. The other twenty-six times were for "medical reasons," cases where people were deemed be in danger to themselves, as in the incident above.

The total number of hours the restraint chair was used during this six-month period was 231.5 hours, with 4.06 hours being the average length of use. The longest time was 8 hours and the shortest a mere ten minutes.

I have great respect for the sheriff, and have had numerous conversations with him about these and other concerns. My appeal has been that the jail, through its contract with our local Community Services Board, provide a trained person to be a calming and therapeutic presence fo an inmate who is in a delusional or highly depressed state. I've also suggested that a group of local mental health counselors be on call on a volunteer basis for such situations.

In a community of caring people and one that is rich in available resources, we should be able to come up with humane ways of responding to people in severe emotional distress.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

An Eco-Friendly Way To Help Celebrate Gemeinschaft Home's 35th Anniversary

Can you save some once-used grocery bags for
our take-out celebration August 28?
Here's the latest on Gemeinschaft Home's 35th Anniversary Dinner set for August 28!

For our fundraiser and celebration we are inviting all of our supporters and friends to a "Picnic With Gemeinschaft" meal that can be picked up in a-drive through between 4:30 and 6 pm Friday or Saturday evening at the Park View Mennonite Church just north of EMU.

Meals must be reserved online or by calling Gemeinschaft Home at 434-1690 by August 20. In honor of our 35th year of operation we are suggesting a minimum donation of $35 (we hope everyone will give more!) per meal.  The proceeds will go toward our 2020 Vision Campaign Goal of $220,000.

The meal will be catered by Jan Henley of Lucien's Catering (formerly with A Bowl of Good). The choices are beef or chicken barbecue, with bun, coleslaw, baked beans, and potato salad, with a lemon bar for dessert, or a vegetarian or vegan meal featuring a kale salad and sourdough bread instead of the beef or chicken option.

You can help, not only by dropping off some clean carry-out bags several days before the event but by inviting your friends and by sharing information about the celebration on social media and in whatever ways you can.

The Gemeinschaft address is P. O. Box 288, Harrisonburg, VA 22803.