Saturday, July 22, 2017

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream... For A Big Health Hazard?

A pint of Trader Joe's Premium Chocolate
As long as I can remember, I've always loved ice cream, a treat we didn't often get to indulge in when I was growing up.

Last weekend Alma Jean and I were enjoying some of this addictively delicious frozen fare with our son Brad and one of his apartment mates.

At least "enjoyed" seemed like the right word until I read the Nutrition Facts label on the pint of Trader Joe's Ultra Chocolate Premium in front of me. The "Facts" I read there were cause for alarm, especially since they were based on a serving of a mere half cup (105g) of this favorite dessert:

Total Fat 16g                24% of daily value
Saturated Fat 10g      48% of daily value
Cholesterol 65mg      22% of daily value

This was doubly distressing in light of the fact that I'd like to lose some weight and that my doctor has prescribed some Lipitor to reduce my cholesterol.

Then there was the additional realization that my normal "serving" of this favorite type of dessert is likely to be in excess of a full cup rather than a paltry half.

So, sad to say, my lifelong love affair with ice cream, especially the premium, extra delicious kind, may need to come to an end. Or at the very least, I'll need to check the nutrition labels a lot more carefully in the interest of maintaining good health and a lower weight.

Given the kind of food addict I am, I may need your help to staying on the wagon on this one.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Brad Finds A Profound Note On His Doorstep

An anonymous "Fellow Pittsburgher" left this amazing note on our son's
doorstep a number of months ago upon seeing his 

yard sign welcoming immigrant neighbors.
(note transcribed below). 

We have never met.

When my grandparents were teenagers, they traveled, mostly on foot, across Europe. They were "undocumenteds" in every country through which they passed.  They obtained visas to enter Canada, where they met, married and raised a family.

They lived. They were Jews. The remainder of their families did not survive. Canada, the United States and all other countries stopped admitting Jews in the years leading up to the war.

When I drove by your house today and saw your yard sign, I felt some consolation. I felt that your sign honored the family that was lost, because you were telling your community, "Never again."

Kind regards,

A Fellow Pittsburgher

Check this link for more on these yard signs sprouting up everywhere: 

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Welcome Signs Multiply On Pittsburgh Yards

photos by Brad Yoder

On an early morning walk today while visiting our son Brad, we saw 16 yard signs expressing welcome for immigrant neighbors. These were all within a five-block residential area bounded by Meade St. and Thomas Boulevard in the North Point Breeze section of Pittsburgh where he lives. 

All but three of these were the ones with the message, "No matter where you're from, we're glad you're are neighbor" that originated in our home town of Harrisonburg. Two others simply said "You Belong," and a third was a "Refugees and Immigrants Welcome Here" sign (on the lower left of the photo montage above).

This area is far from being some Mennonite ghetto. In fact, Brad is the only person in the immediate neighborhood presently attending the city's one Pittsburgh Mennonite Church.

Is this phenomenon a heartening sign or what?

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Mennonite Girls From Everywhere Can Cook

Tens of thousands of Mennos cook in these kinds of kitchens.
I am disappointed that your cookbook includes a recipe for tacos. To me, that's not Mennonite food. 
- anonymous comment on Mennonite Girls Can Cook

Herald Press recently published a beautifully illustrated book called Mennonite Girls Can Cook. As a Menno who loves good food it's hard not to like this attractive work by ten very creative members of my faith.

Their use of the label "Mennonite" raises a question, however. Doesn't this just add to a stereotype that Mennonites are fair skinned middle-class North American folks of Swiss, German, Dutch or Russian descent who live north of the Rio Grande?

The fact is that there are now more Anabaptists/Mennonites on the continent of Africa alone (nearly 700,000 according to the latest 2015 stats), than there are in Canada and the United States combined. And their numbers are growing far more rapidly than ours.

As another example of this growing diversity, there are more Mennonites on the subcontinent of India, some 250, 000 in all, than there are members of our entire Mennonite Church USA, now well under 100,000 in number and declining.

To be fair, the numbers of all Anabaptist related groups in North America is over 683,000. But oddly, Mexican and Central American Mennonites are officially counted with their South American counterparts rather than as a part of the actual continent they share with Canada and the US.

This is presumably because their culture, language and ethnicity are seen as being more similar to fellow believers further south, but doesn't this represent a subtle form of bias on the part of those of us of European descent?

I know the good folks who produced this cookbook in no way intended to convey any such bias. And the fact that they are  dedicating all of their royalties to programs to feed hungry children is beyond commendable. I'm simply using this example to highlight an issue I feel deserves attention.

Or am I just being way too picky about such things?

Here's a link to the 40th anniversary edition of another best-selling Mennonite cookbook:

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Life As Rehearsal For A Royal Wedding

Rebekah at the well, painting by Nicholas Poussin
At first glance, last Sunday's lectionary readings seemed like a hodgepodge of texts lacking a common theme. But at our house church we reflected on the following: 1) human beings from the beginning are hardwired by their Creator for relationships; 2) while the most primal and most intimate of these is marriage, the Bible has something far greater in mind than just the creation of biological families; and 3) the Biblical drama ends with people of every nation and tribe and language celebrating a royal wedding that knows no end.

Surprisingly for the patriarchal times in which they were written, the second chapter of the Song of Songs, along with Sunday's Psalm 45 "royal wedding" text, portray conjugal unions as celebrations of love that are mutual, joyful and intimate. This makes marriage a wonderful metaphor for the kind of honeymoon-like and deeply satisfying bonds we form in our experiences of worship, as a people who are completely won over as God's beloved and forever Bride.

The Genesis 24 account of Abraham's servant, who is led to just the right young woman as wife for his son Isaac, has its parallel in the story found in the fourth chapter of John's gospel. In that passage Jesus is both the seeking servant and the royal Messiah. At Jacob's well, he wins over a receptive Samaritan crowd brought to him by an unlikely woman from the town who comes there to draw water. At this ordinary time and place we sense a rumor of a God-blessed wedding, one bringing together God and God's people, a united new God-family that will include even unorthodox Samaritans. And just as Rebekah leaves all to cast her lot with Isaac, who loved her deeply from the moment he met her, so Jesus's disciples everywhere are loved into leaving all behind and casting their lot with him.

It's like a wedding. You "leave" one family and you "cleave" in the formation of a new one. And in Sunday's Matthew 11 text, Jesus is making what sounds like this kind of proposal to would-be disciples, "Come to me, all who are weary and weighed down, and I will give you rest," or as Clarence Jordan translates it, "I will give you zest.'' "Take my yoke on you (that is, companion with me) and learn from me, for I am gentle and gracious of heart, and you will find rest in your inner being." In other words, you will find a place of home.

So whether in our human relationships or in the intimacies of the spirit, we find ourselves enthralled, blessed, joined together in relationships that offer deep joy and great purpose. Life becomes a kind of wedding rehearsal, in which the divinely betrothed learn to live lives of integrity, fidelity and deep passion.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Oh Free At Last! Independence Day at BKCC

Allan Spitzer, 68, was
incarcerated 32 years.
Inmates at the Buckingham Correctional Center had a special reason to celebrate the Fourth this year upon receiving news that six of their friends and fellow detainees had been released June 29 by the Virginia Parole Board. More than one of them cried when they received their parole grant letter, many having been denied parole year after year and coming to believe they they were going to die in prison. 

Charles Zellers writes, "There is a God and His holy hands are working to correct the injustice that has been done to parole-eligible inmates throughout the years. Those who were lost were pulled down to their lowest point in life until they were humbled before God and then He showed them mercy and brought them up out of the pits of hell making them victorious. I truly believe that these individuals will now be model citizens in society. God truly is a mighty God."

Henry Tipold, 72,
incarcerated 38 years.
Zellers is suggesting we write letters of thanks to the Governor and to members of the Virginia Parole Board, thanking them for offering these men their hard earned independence and encouraging the Board to continue to give deserving "old-law" men and women (incarcerated before 1995) their second chance at a new life. 

Ever rising costs and overcrowding inside Virginia's jails and prison adds to the urgency of these releases for the men and women sentenced prior to the 1995 so-called Truth-in-Sentencing (TIS) Law.

Another reason to release such inmates, he points out, is because many of the older prisons need remodeling. Some do not have air-conditioning and become unbearably hot, well exceeding temperatures in even animal shelters, those generally not to exceed 80 degrees. Inmates are allowed to purchase one eight-inch fan if they can afford the nearly thirty dollar cost.

Also from Zellers, "Hopefully, in the near future, all of DOC''s facilities will provide reentry for the inmates being released so that they will not be sent to other reentry facilities where they could be victimized by VADOC staff and inmates. This is why "old-law" and "new-law" inmates should not be housed together. This practice of VADOC has been going on since the 1995 TIS Law was implemented, and many parole-eligible inmates have lost their parole and good-time release dates because of those new-law inmates. BKCC has an entire 64-man housing unit that could be used as a reentry program to help get parole-eligible inmates out of the VADOC. 

"Each inmate being released from VADOC is mandated to go through a five-month reentry program, even after they have served 20-50 consecutive years inside VADOC. Presently, all of these programs are currently filled which is slowing down the release process. More reentry units are needed or VADOC has to speed-up the reentry programs, or even waive the reentry step if the parolee has a stable home plan and individuals on the outside to help them."

Here are some addresses:

Governor, Terrance R. McAuliffe
Patrick Henry Building
1111 East Broad Street, 3rd Floor

Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security
Brian J. Moran
P. O. Box 1475
Richmond, Virginia 23218-1475

Virginia Parole Board
P. O. Box 26963
Richmond, Virginia 23261-6936
Email at

Friday, July 7, 2017

July 22--Help Release Aging People In Prison

This local effort is being spearheaded by a remarkable teenager, Wynona Hogan. All of us aging people should get behind it.

Monthly meetings of the local RAPP chapter will be at the Parish Hall, Emmanuel Episcopal Church, 660 S. Main Street, Harrisonburg, VA 22801, at 7 pm on the third Monday of each month.

Here's a link to more posts on this issue: