Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Honoring People In Positions Of Power

The president is simplythe people's CEO
"Honor (timate) all people, 
Love (agape) the family of believers, 
Reverence (phobeisthe) God, 
Honor (timate) the emperor."
- The apostle Peter, c. 64 A.D.

I was intrigued by the comments addressed to the President at the beginning of his cabinet meeting last week, raising the question of how we should show proper respect toward those in authority without becoming too deferential or reverential toward them. Meanwhile, many of us may show too little respect, but the following seems a little over the top.

What do you think?

Vice-President Pence: "It's the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice-president to a president who's keeping his word to the American people."

Chief of Staff Reince Priebus: "On behalf of all of us I thank you for the opportunity and blessing that you've given us to serve your agenda and the American people."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions: "It's an honor to be able to serve you."

HHS Secretary Tom Price: "What an incredible honor it is to lead the Department of Health and Human Services at this pivotal time under your leadership. I can't thank you enough for the privileges you've given me and the leadership that you've shown."

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, in thanking the President for visiting her department the prior week, noted that "hundreds and hundreds of people were just so thrilled."

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue: "A lot of us just got back from Mississippi. They love you there."

I welcome your feedback.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Children's Book Highlights Life Of Refugee Families

This book helps bring the plight of
refugee families closer home
Since one of my current passions is multiplying our giving for war and famine refugee relief through the Fall Virginia Mennonite Relief Sale and directly to Mennonite Central Committee, I was interested in how this latest book, Messages From Maryam, might help promote more generous giving at the September 29-30 event. 

Conversations over the past week have resulted in author Lauren Pichon and illustrator Kendra Yoder offering to make autographed copies available at the Relief Sale for $15 each, with all profits going to MCC. They will also be involved in some children's activities in which Lauren will read parts of her book and Kendra may supervise some watercolor painting.

Pichon, who teaches children of recent immigrants in the Harrisonburg school system, has based much of her narrative on the actual stories of the students she works with. 

Here is Lauren's synopsis:

"Meet Aila and Maryam, two best friends from Mosul, Iraq.  When Aila’s father decides it is time for their family to immigrate to the United States, Maryam is left behind to face the hardships in Mosul alone.  In Messages From Maryam,  the two friends exchange letters, detailing Aila’s stay in a refugee camp, Maryam’s fear of living in Iraq, and, ultimately, their joyous, yet unexpected reunion!"  

If you look under the Videos tab of the author's Facebook page ( you can find a video that Kendra's husband made of her explaining her illustration process.  

I feel blessed to have discovered this local talent, and to sense the compassion these young women have for families of the millions of refugees around the world. Let's give them and their cause our generous support.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Matthew's Mountain--A Place of Authoritative Teaching And Sending

The Mount of Beatitudes near Capernaum
Is the location where Jesus gave his disciples their first instructions and where he gave them their final instructions the same?

I think it might well be.

No one knows exactly where in Galilee Jesus delivered the teachings recorded in Matthew 5-7, but the prominent Sinai-like peak that has become known as the Mount of Beatitudes near Capernaum could well be the place.

There, in the manner of rabbis instructing their apprentices, Jesus first "sat down and taught" what we know as the Sermon on the Mount. A large crowd listened in, all marveling at the authority (exousia) with which he spoke.

At the end of Matthew's gospel Jesus instructed his disciples to again meet with him at a specified mountain in Galilee to charge them with what we know as the "Great Commission".

"I have been given all authority (exousia)," Jesus says, "therefore wherever you go, make disciples of all peoples, initiating them into God's worldwide rule and instructing them to obey all I have commanded you."

In recent centuries, there has been much emphasis on Jesus' mandate to "go into all the world" to evangelize and to baptize, but there have been few examples of missionaries actually teaching people such commands as "do not return evil for evil" and "do not lay up treasures here on earth", as found in the Sermon on the Mount.

Early Christians were convinced that Jesus first and his final instructions were seamlessly linked. Thus the church in the first centuries was known for teaching their members (with authority) to shun all forms of violence and to sacrificially share their possession with those in need.

We need to follow their example.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Announcing Harvspot Contest Winners And Honorable Mentions

The world is facing an unprecedented refugee crisis.
Here are the winners of the recent Harvspot Contest aimed at multiplying gifts for Mennonite Central Committee.

The purpose of this effort was to come up with creative ways for people attending the Virginia Relief Sale (but who do not choose to take part in the auction) to make generous SOS (Sharing Our Surplus) donations of money (checks, credit cards, or cash) for war and famine refugee relief at this year's September 29-30 event. This would be in addition to income generated by auction, food and other sales.

The prize entries, as judged by members of our SOS Committee are as follows:

First Prize: $250 contributed in the winner's name to Mennonite Central Committee for war and refugee relief needs:
Jessie Litterell and Darlene Keller each submitted the following:
Sell What You Have: Have a fundraiser yard sale or sell things online, stating where the proceeds will go. People are more likely to buy knowing their money is going to a good cause.

Second Prize: $150 to MCC in winner's name
Ruth Stoltzfus Jost
Ten For Life: Contribute a thank you gift of $10 for each year of life you have been given, to give a better chance at life for desperate people MCC is working valiantly to serve.

Third Prize: $100 to MCC
Jennifer Davis Sensenig and Jessie Litterell each submitted the following:
Five Dollar Friday: Every Friday between now and the Relief Sale add $5 to a jar, bank, or box. Then at the Sale you can add to this cash gift. 

Ten Other Honorable Mentions (the last two are not contest entries but deserve the most attention of all:
1. Give a tithe of what you have in your savings account.
2. Match what you and your household spend annually on eating out.
3. Save the equivalent of a month's rent or mortgage payment to help provide refugee housing.
4. Grow a "giving garden". Sell the produce at a farmer's market or online. All proceeds to be donated.
5. Buy a bag of coffee beans from an MCC fair trade shop, then brew your own morning coffee instead of buying a coffee every work-day morning.  (The daily savings add up quickly!)
6. Eat more homemade meals, spending family time cooking, eating and cleaning up together.  Give the price of a family meal out to MCC each month.  
7. Sell something you have in your garage or attic that you really don't use any longer.  Give that money to MCC.
8. Involve your children. For example, encourage them to give money earned through mowing lawns, planting and harvesting garden and farm crops, doing car washes, etc.
9. Simply sell what you have and give it to the poor. Rewards? Truly out of this world.               
-submitted by Jesus (from the Gospels)
10. Since right now you have plenty, share generously with those who are in dire need. Rewards? At some other time they can share with you when you need it.      
- submitted by Paul (II Corinthians 9)

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Let's Encourage SVEC To Install Solar Panels On Its New Headquarters

Location of new SVEC facility
The Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, the utility that provides power to many of us, is building a new headquarters on the corner of Oakwood Drive and Rt. 11 near Mt. Crawford.

I was encouraged to hear its new president and CEO, Mr. Michael Hastings, report at the June 8 annual meeting that three different options are being considered for installing solar panels for this new facility.

What a great idea, I thought, and a great way to set an example for all the members of the Cooperative.

You can voice your support for this project by contacting them at:

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Our "I Come To The Garden Alone" Theology

This is a primary theme of many of our gospel songs.
The past century has seen a rise in popular gospel songs like "In the Garden", sometimes known by its first line "I Come to the Garden Alone". 

Written in 1912 by C. Austin Miles, it reflects a widely accepted view of God as one who is like on a date with us. God is all about making us happy, all about having a very special one on one relationship with each of us and responding to our every need.

"... He walks with me and he talks with me,
and he tells me I am his own,
and the joy we share as we tarry there,
none other has ever known."

I am not saying there is not some truth in these words. But are we in danger of fostering a view of faith that makes it all about me

For example, another gospel song declares, "On the Jericho Road, there is room for just two, no more and no less, just Jesus and you," then goes on to promise, "Each burden he'll bear, each sorrow he'll share. There's never a care when Jesus is there."

Really? "Just Jesus and you"? And "never a care"?

How would that sound to a Syrian refugee or a famine victim in North Africa? Are those suffering multitudes not more likely to be the focus of God's primary attention, and therefore deserving of a lot more our own?

So what if we turned things around, seeing everyone on the planet as created to give God their wholehearted attention rather than ourselves as being created to constantly receive attention from God?

Yet many of today's best selling devotional books seem to be about Jesus speaking daily words of personal encouragement to each of his billions of followers. Contrast that with this sample of a classic daily devotional by John Baillie in 1949 called "A Diary of Private Prayer":

"O God in heaven, who fashioned my limbs to serve you and to follow hard after you, with sorrow and contrition of heart I acknowledge before you my faults and failures of the day that is now past...

My failure to be true to my own accepted standards,
My self-deception in the face of temptation,
My choosing of the worse when I know the better,
O Lord, forgive.

My failure to apply to myself the standards of conduct I demand of others,
My blindness to the suffering of others and my slowness to be taught by my own,
My complacency toward wrongs that do not touch my own case and my over-sensitiveness to those that do.
My slowness to see the good in my fellows and to see the evil in myself...
O Lord, forgive."

Or better yet, note how our Lord's Prayer is one in which we join with all other believers in seeking God's will and God's way for our lives:

Our Father in heaven, 
Holy be your name.
May your rule begin, your will be done,
right here on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us today our portion of the world's bread,
and forgive us the debts we owe as a result of our wrongdoing,
as we forgive those who are indebted to us.

And lead us not into tests beyond our endurance,
but deliver everyone the world over from harm and evil.

For yours is the kingdom, the power and all the glory
forever and ever. Amen

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Reflections On The Two-Year Anniversary Of The Middle River Jail Buy-In

Middle River Jail
A slightly abbreviated version of this piece by Reta Finger, member of the local Valley Justice Coalition, appeared as an op ed in today's Daily News-Record

What follows is her original version as submitted: 

“As far as this facility goes,” writes an inmate at Middle River Regional Jail (MRRJ), “even the minimum security inmates are locked down 18 hours a day in a two-bunk cell about 11 feet by 6 feet. If the jail is short-staffed, we are locked down longer. One day I was sent to Medical Segregation due to food poisoning from the outdated milk they served us. These cells are unsanitary and way worse than general population cells, and you are locked down 23-24 hours a day.”

In 2014, many residents of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County protested the need for another jail costing $63M, believing that a new facility—paid for with our taxes—would only encourage more convictions and longer sentences. Since 1995, when our current jail was built, incarcerations had climbed 500%, while population increased only 25%. Many individuals, like local criminal justice expert Dr. Nancy Insco, were hoping for a reduction in the need for jail-beds by using alternatives proven to successfully rehabilitate offenders.

The solution, signed July 1, 2015, was a 250-bed buy-in at the MRRJ. Harrisonburg and Rockingham County each shared half the cost of $21,543,588, to be paid over ten years at 2.17% interest—besides $25 per occupied bed per day for services.

At this two-year anniversary, it’s time to take stock of this decision. Was it wise to commit our tax money to this? Has it lowered incarceration rates and provided alternatives that help inmates become contributing members of society? This issue concerns all of us, since over 90% of prisoners will eventually be released.

The local Valley Justice Coalition looks for ways to encourage our civic leaders to lower incarceration rates by every humane, evidence-based, and safe ways possible. Following are a few observations and evaluations about the MRRJ buy-in:·   
Middle River Regional Jail was originally overbuilt, resulting in heavy debt. Years later, Augusta County officials persuaded Harrisonburg and Rockingham County to buy 250 beds at MRRJ.

We now pay for these beds whether or not they are filled. In addition, inmates or their families are charged a burdensome $3 per day. 

Although carefully-arranged tours have shown well-cared-for prisoners, actual conditions are often less than humane. Besides lock-downs and spoiled food, visitors to MRRJ from our area have long commutes, and a lack of quality medical treatment resulted in several deaths in 2016.

On the positive side, MMRJ does provide a work-release program, which our local facility does not. Also, unlike our local jail, it does not require inmates to be in handcuffs when going to the visitor area.

But have we gotten the best possible return for our 2015 buy-in? After decades of experience, Dr. Insco states, "Jail populations will continue to grow unless the demand for beds diminishes. No jurisdiction will ever build their way of the problem."  

Concerned citizens are always welcome at the Monday noon meetings of Valley Justice Coalition at 110 Old South High Street in Harrisonburg.