Sunday, January 22, 2017

Dan Bowman Lights Up A New Documentary

photo courtesy film producer Shaun Wright
Blind since age 12, Daniel Bowman is truly a legend in his own time.

He is now mostly retired, but during his 76 busy years he's earned an enviable reputation, first as a vocational rehabilitation counselor, then as a local piano tech and furniture craftsman, and always as an unforgettably engaging human being.

Two associate professors in JMU's School of Media Arts and Design believe it's time the rest of the world learns more about his story.

Mike Grundmann and Shaun Wright have produced a half-hour documentary on Bowman titled "A Good Blinder" that will be shown at the Court Square Theater in Harrisonburg at 7 pm Tuesday, January 31, along with the premier showings of two other short films recently released by members of the same JMU department. Having known Dan as a fellow student at EMU and as a valued community neighbor, I am really looking forward to attending this event.

I've always been amazed at Dan's talents as an accomplished organist and pianist and as an expert in tuning instruments, as well as his amazing skills as a craftsman. Some of the results of his woodworking hobby have raised a total of $12,500 at the annual Mennonite Relief Sales held at the Rockingham County Fairgrounds each fall. One of his wooden marble rollers alone brought $3700 at one of the auctions. Currently Dan is working on a model of a grist mill with a water wheel, complete with moving wooden parts.

At midlife, Dan added a second masters degree to his resume, an MDiv from Eastern Mennonite Seminary, reflecting his deeply held faith and his commitment as an active lay leader at his church, Ridgeway Mennonite.

His daughter Diane notes, "Many local pastors have enjoyed conversations with this theologically trained piano tuner!" Mike Grundmann, one of the producers of the documentary, states, "He still has all ten fingers, a lively wit and theologically trained mind that makes for profound reflection."

Dan and Ferne Bowman have three grown daughters and six grandchildren, and Ferne has recently published a memoir of her life titled Song of the Redwing Blackbird--An Amish Mennonite Girl Grows Up, which can be ordered at

Friday, January 20, 2017

Governor McAuliffe: Please Expedite The Promised Review of This Inmate’s Case

Coffeewood Correctional Center
Mr. Ronald Miles #1067348, a 61-year-old inmate at the Coffeewood Correctional Center, has been incarcerated for over twenty years for a robbery in Arlington he insists he did not commit. He has had a petition for clemency before the Governor for over 30 months, complete with documents he believes fully support his innocence and make a case for his deserving a retrial. While he was told his case would be reviewed in a timely manner, he has yet to hear from anyone in the over two years that have passed since this promise was made.

Mr. Miles reports having once been arrested as a youngster for theft, followed later by being picked up in March of 1966 as a teenager for removing an inspection decal which someone had told him he could have. At that point he was questioned by two detectives asking him about his possible involvement in other cases, but he was then released as a suspect. However, when he appeared in court on June 27 for his minor offense of three months earlier, he was immediately arrested on suspicion he had been involved in a 6 pm January 22 robbery in an Arlington motel that had occurred miles from his home in southeast D.C. 

At this time a sheriff deputy who was not a certified booking agent took his thumbprint, and he was also falsely identified by the robbery victim at a preliminary hearing, a procedure in which Mr. Miles did not have the benefit of counsel and without his having signed a valid waiver, although it was later falsely alleged that he had signed such a waiver.

The original description by the primary witness in court does not match him in size, and no mention was made of a speech impediment he has that would have been obvious in the alleged verbal and physical altercation he was accused of having participated in at the motel. So serious questions remain as to the nature of the evidence and the quality and extent of the lab work involved in the prosecution’s case. In spite of his having no record of previous violence, he was declared guilty by an all white jury.

I have been in ongoing communication with Mr. Miles and his now 86-year-old mother, and truly believe his case has merit. While I am not in a position to prove or disprove his innocence, I would encourage you to urge the Governor and the Parole Board to expedite a thorough review of his case. 

In a Commonwealth that places high values on both justice and liberty, we must make every effort to ensure that those serving time are doing so justly and those who are innocent are granted liberty.

Here's a link to express concerns to the Governor's Office and to the Department of Public Safety.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"Six Great Guns For Moms And Grandmas"

Six Best-Selling Semiautomatic Handguns Share Two Qualities

I post the following with sadness and without comment, other than to say that two other qualities these six killers share is that they are each 1) extremely deadly and 2) highly dangerous to carry. Here's a link to some of my own thoughts about owning guns for self-defense. 

The six best-selling semiautomatic handguns in the U.S. all have two things in common: They're easily concealable and fill the need for a personal defense weapon.

Motley Fool's Rich Duprey looked at monthly reports of best-selling new handguns identified by online auction house to compile the list. Here's how the six best-selling handguns stack up in Duprey's analysis:

1. Ruger LCP — This gun "more than lives up to the task" of concealed carry suggested by its name, which stands for "lightweight compact pistol," said Duprey. Its price tag, which is about $260, is an attractive feature of this .380 ACP pistol.
The LCP II addresses many of the shortcomings of the original Ruger LCP introduced in 2008, improving the gun's sights and trigger, according to The Daily Caller.
This gun also made Breitbart's list of pocket guns that are "great guns for mothers and grandmothers who realize they are the first line of defense for their children or grandchildren should trouble strike."

2. Glock G19 and Smith & Wesson M&P Shield (tie) — The Glock 19, a single stack handgun with a 15-round capacity, retails for about $600. This gun will be carried by the Marine Corps Special Operations Command's elite Raiders, noted, calling the gun a "reliable, easy-to-maintain 9mm pistol."
The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield was introduced in 2012 and includes 9mm and .40, and .45 models with prices starting at about $450.
"In addition to the impressive reliability, I found the light, slim pistol shockingly accurate," Joseph von Benedikt wrote for Handguns magazine.

3. Sig Sauer P938 — Duprey described this 9mm hammer-fired, single-action pistol as a lightweight and ideal for concealed carry while handling like a much larger pistol. Its asking price is $819.
In a review for, Brian Anse Patrick called the Sig Sauer P938 a "truly compact quality pistol worthy of choosing."

4. Glock G43 and Springfield XD-S (tie) — The G43 and Springfield XD-S are easily concealable, single stack pistols that go for $500 or more, Duprey noted.
In a review for Lucky Gunner, Chris Baker placed the G43 among the best in its category, saying "for those times when a double stack is just too big to carry, the Glock 43 should definitely be on the short list of guns to consider."

The Springfield XD-S, which is often chosen by law enforcement officers as an off-duty/backup weapon, "features unique grip texturing, interchangeable backstraps and a perfectly proportioned frame," American Rifleman noted.

Monday, January 16, 2017

My Brother Eli--Retiring After 55 Years Of Ministry

My brother Eli and his beloved Ruthie (photo by son Steve)
My older brother Eli officially declared himself retired this weekend on the 55th anniversary of his ordination as pastor. At 82, he has been going through a series of stressful treatments for multiple myeloma and he and his good wife Ruthie are devoting most of their time dealing with his medical issues and being with their children and grandchildren.

A founding pastor of the Wills Ridge Mennonite Church in Floyd County, Eli has always had a dual career, providing most of his family's needs by building custom kitchen cabinets and making handcrafted furniture. He was a master at his trade, but always saw his primary mission as being a servant of the heaven-sent Galilean carpenter to whom he devoted his entire life.

Eli has been a special mentor and esteemed big brother to me. After having been mostly healthy all of his life, it's hard to see him having to endure the series of medical problems he's had in the past two years.

His grown daughter Judy is the author of "Vera's Journey", the story of Vera Heatwole, a legendary local Mennonite matriarch who became deaf as an adult and lived to be over a hundred (the hardcover edition of her story has sold over 6000 copies). Judy is now completing a series of three books about my brother Eli's story, the first two of which are available at the local Christian Light Publishing's bookstore on Chicago Avenue. To me, they are a priceless treasure of information about our family's hard times and blessed times in drought-prone northeastern Oklahoma near the end of the Great Depression, followed by our family's move to eastern Kansas and then, in 1946, to the Shenandoah Valley.

I love my brother dearly. On my last visit Eli showed me a journal book full of wonderful poetry he'd written over his lifetime, something I had never seen or known about before, though he had recently shared the following sample in a family letter we circulate among us remaining five siblings:

Where Is The Gold In Those Golden Years?

My mind turns back to when we first met,
Though long ago, I remember it yet.
Your gentle spirit, your lovely smile,
That scene went with me mile after mile.

Our friendship developed, and with time it grew,
With our times together we eventually knew
The day would come when we'd be together always
Regardless of what life brought, clouds or sunny days.

Though life shared together brought pressures to provide gold,
Since God had blessed us with children five-fold,
We were told that someday there would be "golden years",
So be faithful, be steadfast and have no fears.

Now times have come with pain and some distress,
Along with many good times to give courage, I guess,
But where were the golden years we were assured would come?
Did we miss something, leave something undone?

Then we sat at the table, ready to pray,
We paused and contemplated what we should say.
I reached for her familiar hand to hold,
Oh, then I realized I had found the gold!

You can send my brother your well-wishes at Eli Yoder, 740 Starbuck Road SE, Floyd, VA 24091, or email a message to his son at

Friday, January 13, 2017

Jesus Offers Little Hope For Us Dromedaries

A daunting prospect, for sure

"Again I say to you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God."    
Matthew 19:24

In order to become a member of the God Movement the Bible tells us we need a miraculous transformation (a new birth), experience a radical life change (repentance) and take part in a public commissioning rite (baptism). But the church has come to embrace a growing number of camel-like members through a different and equally miraculous-sounding means, being threaded through the eye of a needle.

Christians have long dismissed Jesus' words as hyperbole when he declares that it's easier for a grown camel to get through a needle's eye than to have us rich people enter the heaven-ruled Kingdom of God. We well-off American believers have come to not only welcome the wealthy, but actually woo them, and have ourselves become among the richest people on earth.

I do believe that Jesus is referring to consumer wealth here rather than capital investments (in wealth-producing land, factories or other enterprises), a point I make in an earlier blog. But in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus' predecessor John the Baptist, he clearly denounces any consumer-based way of life, in which we hoard more and more personal possessions, as unacceptable. Jesus makes it clear that his followers can't be in alliance with both God and Mammon.

What the church has done is to create needles so huge that their "eyes" are big enough to drive fully equipped RV's and loaded semis right through them. Of course, such needles are of little use for sewing or mending things, but at least they would appear to meet Jesus's requirements for entrance.

But Jesus' way is to have our surplus clothes, bank accounts and vehicles all melted down to the kind of fine thread used for what needles are intended for, to sew or mend things.

A more recent interpretation of Jesus' statement is to say he was really referring to a very narrow passage outside a city wall (the needle) that led to a small well-guarded gate (the eye). This pedestrian gate, we are told, was one just large enough for a person to get through, but one that a camel, stripped of its load, might also manage to squeeze through by the hardest. But no first century writer is known to have interpreted Jesus' metaphor that way, even though it actually makes a similar point.

Meanwhile, if we aspire to be radically conservative Christians, a people who treasure, preserve and pass on Jesus' way of new birth and new life, we may have some serious rethinking to do. Are we willing, on the basis of seeing everything through an entirely new lens, to do a complete about face and begin to move in a St. Francis, Mother Theresa and Christ-like direction, or will we continue loading more and more on the backs of our camel caravans and keep moving in the John D. Rockefeller and Donald J. Trump direction?

Meanwhile, should be be asking which route might result in the greatest personal benefit?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

HARD TIME VIRGINIA, Volume 2, Number 1 (an occasional update on Virginia's prisons)

The majority of Virginia's parole eligible inmates are over 50
Governor Announces Major Parole Board Change

Virginia Parole Board member Adrianne Bennett, appointed to the Board last year, has been named as its new chair, replacing Karen Brown, who has served in that role since 2011. Prior to her new appointment Bennett worked in the Norfolk and Virginia Beach Public Defender’s Office. 

Ms. Brown is being replaced by Jean Wooden Cunningham, a former member of the Virginia House of Delegates. Cunningham has served as Chair of the State Board of Elections and as a member of the State Council of Higher Education. 

According to an article in the January 10, 2017 Richmond Times-Dispatch article, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has been concerned that the five-member panel was not moving quickly enough on parole reforms proposed in 2015. 

According to the Times, McAuliffe said, “I want to make sure that we are moving expeditiously on these parole hearings. I want to make sure that we’re doing everything that we possibly can.” 

As of October, 2,765 inmates in Virginia prisons were eligible for parole, according to the Times, which means that at an average cost of $28,000 to incarcerate one inmate annually, the  estimated cost of housing parole-eligible inmates is over $77 million. And with older inmates the cost can be much greater, while their risk of reoffending is greatly diminished after age 50.

It remains to be seen whether the newly constituted Board will increase its parole grant rate for old law (incarcerated before parole was abolished in 1995) and geriatric inmates. Once at 41%, the current rate of parole releases granted is under 6% of the cases the Board reviews each year.

A recent sad example is that of Minor Junior Smith, age 70, who is legally blind and has been incarcerated for over 45 years. Known by most prisoners as Smitty, he has become proficient in reading and transcribing in Braille and is considered one of the hardest workers in the Buckingham Correctional Center's food service, where has worked for over 12 years. A prolific poet, he has been a model prisoner throughout his confinement, and has published a book about his hard life as a child called "ABUSED." 

Mr. Smith was recently turned down for parole release for the 30th heartbreaking time. 

(See one of his recent poems below)

Fluvanna Correctional Center For Women Cited For Healthcare Nightmare

An article in the December 10, 2016, Virginian-Pilot highlights a pattern of serious medical neglect and malpractice at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, one of two women's prisons in the state. 

This resulted in a 2012 lawsuit on behalf of women for "failure to meet the minimum standards of medical care for inmates," according to the Pilot. The article goes on to say that a settlement was reached in which a monitor was appointed to oversee its healthcare services, and "to bring the level of care up to the bare minimum a state must provide for those it imprisons," but added that "Fluvanna has yet to meet that standard, according to the independent monitor’s most recent report."

Perhaps the saddest example of that kind of neglect has to do with an inmate serving time on drug charges who had colostomy surgery due to a cancerous mass in her bowels. She went through enormous pain due to her condition and her chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but was given inadequate pain medication and had to wait five months to return to U.Va. for a follow-up appointment she finally had in July of 2014, By that time she had developed a severe blood infection that had spread throughout her body, and "her tumor had grown through her buttocks and was continuing to enlarge outside her body".

Increased Copays Discourage Inmates From Seeking Healthcare

Since a typical prisoner is paid only $0.27 an hour at an average of 20 hours of work per week (no more than 30), a month's pay is typically under $25. If an inmate needs a set of dentures the copay is $390, any medication costs $2 per prescription, and for a pair of bifocals an inmate is charged $40. 

No offender is denied medical care due to his or her inability to provide the co-payment, but all but $5 each month of an inmate has in their account must first go toward these expenses.

In 2015 the Department of Corrections collected $616,250 in medical copays from inmates and their families.

Here's a link to email the Governor with your commendations and concerns

Since this is the beginning of the legislation session, here's the email address for Senator Mark Obenshain, and this for local delegate Tony Wilt

Here's one of Minor Junior Smith's most recent poems:


"Lake Side"

To keep these poems balanced, I must compose at least one about old Lake Side.
Each summer, people of all ages traveled to the amusement park for a great ride.
Sam, Sally, and Peter Austin came up to take us back down there before school.
Daddy and Sam moved our dinner table out on the back porch, where it was cool.
In leg-braces, I was having a mild brush with polio, so I had hobbled out of the way.
Following a full recovery, the braces would be returned to our family doctor without delay.

I wasn't thrilled a bit about riding hobbyhorses, but I would enjoy the car ride.
Pete had brought his new bow and arrow set, totting a cap-pistol by each side.
It was too late in the season to pick red plums or for tying June-bugs on a string.
So, after we'd shot some caps and arrows, we took turns swinging in the swing.
By pulling its string too hard, Pete broke the bow. So what! He was merely human.
Our parents expected Dwight D. Eisenhower to govern the office of President Truman.

Two-Gun Pete and I trailed along behind our mamas over to the dairy twice.
Each time, we boys couldn't resist stopping by the back porch for Koolaide without ice.
Sam helped daddy manage chores before we all got cleaned up to leave the farm.
Who cared if butter wouldn't melt in my mouth or if a watch would not run on mama's arm.
My parents and I followed the Austins to the car and settled in the rear seat.
Peter sat in front with his parents; they always acted so nice and looked so neat.

While riding smoothly over the rocky road, daddy got out and opened the gate.
Our threesome had taken the Martin Family down to Lake Side on an earlier date.
At the Salem Tannery, Sam took the bypass, which lead us directly to Lake Side.
For lunch, mama had served us cake and peaches after all that chicken she'd fried.
Near the Ticket Stand, an array of multi-colored lights lit up the sky's night.
Every imaginable ride was either zooming near the ground or soaring overhead in flight.

Just like he owned the place, Pete lead the way to a particular hobbyhorse.
Our mamas helped us mount; then we rode off accompanied by a musical course.
Mama always wore lipstick when she went out and sometimes a skirt and blouse.
Daddy had chuckled and followed Sam to take a brief tour through the Crazy House.
Bored from having to wait in the car one Sunday, our mamas had mentioned divorces.
Our group rejoined inside the arcade once Pete and I had dismounted the horses.

Tired and sleepy from the day's activities, I hung around mama like a little coot.
With an odd looking gun, Pete mowed toy soldiers down, but I didn't get to shoot.
He threw spears and popped three balloons on a corkboard to win a teddy-bear.
Our daddies were friendly with mama's niece, June, who was already there.
Two-Gun Pete took just five of us back to the car with prize in hand.
During our recreation, I wondered why they hadn't opened the Cotton-Candy Stand.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Modest Proposal For Tripling Our Fall 2017 Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale Fundraising

Perhaps five-year-old Omran Daqneesh should be named an honorary member of our fundraising committee for Syrian and Iraqi refugee relief.
Our annual Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale raised an impressive more than $341,000 last fall, the second highest amount in its 50-year history. Much of it went for much needed support for refugees in the Middle East, a humanitarian crisis of unbelievable proportions.

Could we triple that amount for the 2017 event?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Think BIG. If people of faith in our community can raise millions each year for building and maintaining underutilized church buildings, and if our church-related institutions can raise millions for expanding and upgrading their state of the art facilities, we should be able to raise $1 million annually for Syrian and Iraqi refugee relief, one of the greatest humanitarian crises of all time.

2. Think Massive Cash Campaign. In addition to the income raised at the Mennonite Relief Sale through food and other sales, through the relief auction, and through the My Coins Count project (formerly Penny Power), individuals, families, churches and other organizations could be encouraged to make large cash and credit card donations at the sale, with tables set up for this purpose and a giant thermometer graph showing the growing total throughout the day.

3. Think year round. Urge people to think creatively about how they can increase their over-and-above giving for urgent humanitarian needs throughout the year, through selling things they don't really need in order to add to their giving, through an annual tithe (or more) of whatever is in their savings accounts, through giving an amount equal to what they spend eating out, etc., and urge them to regularly make these kinds of payments toward the annual goal on the Relief Sale website or an address set up for this purpose.

4. Think "Sharing Our Surplus" (SOS). All of this should represent new money from deeper into our bank accounts or from the sale of the abundance of our possessions, not money subtracted from other regular giving we do. This kind of generous giving should be the result of our choosing to do with less in order to aid those who have little, in the spirit of II Corinthians 9:14b: "Right now you have plenty and can help them (the poor in far off Judea); then at some other time they can share with you when you need it. In that way each can have as much as they need."

These are just some initial ideas. I'm in no way suggesting that existing hardworking committees of volunteers plan for less by way of food and other sales or auction efforts, but that we all add massively to the funds raised by their amazing work.