Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Help "Guns Into Plowshares" Find A New Home

Washington Post (photo by John Kelly)
I still remember how impressed I was seeing the gigantic "Guns Into Plowshares" project artist and sculptor Esther Augsburger and her son Michael were creating outside Kreiders Machine Shop just west of town.

Upon completion, this massive four-ton piece--with handguns welded all over it that had been confiscated by DC police--was moved to the grounds of the Metropolitan Police Department in Washington, DC, where it was officially dedicated in 1997. Some time later, due to some renovations being done at the facility, it was temporarily put in storage and then set up at a less desirable location at the police department's evidence control building in the southeast part of the city.

The Metropolitan Police Department later expressed an interest in having the piece moved back to its original location, but that property is now up for sale, and the MPD is gifting the sculpture back to its creator.

On Tuesday, March 7, there will be a meeting at VMRC's Village Hall at 7 p.m. in which you are invited to bring your suggestions and questions for Esther Augsburger regarding the history and the future of the Guns Into Plowshares project.

Please come in honor of a work that needs to become ever more visible in a time like this.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

No Conditions For Loving, But Many For Living

David Augsburger, one of my family studies teachers years ago, makes a helpful distinction between 'conditions for loving' and 'conditions for living'. 

As followers of Jesus we are commanded to respect, love and care for everyone unconditionally, even our enemies, but there may be many 'conditions for living' that define our relationships with others, whether in a friendship or in some other partnership as parents or spouses.

We may need to set reasonable and clear limits, for example, as to the amount of time or money we have to give to others. And to make clear what kinds of behaviors we are willing, or unwilling, to tolerate. If these reasonable and clear conditions are not respected, the relationship itself may need to be redefined. Others can then choose whether they value that enough to observe necessary agreements and agreed on boundaries.

As an example, if I am to engage in some business arrangement with another, I can insist that each party operate according to our contract, and not to make up arbitrary rules as we go along. I also have a right to expect that others engage in appropriate and respectful behaviors in the course of conducting business together. If those things don’t happen, I must still consistently demonstrate agape love toward them (perhaps tough love), but am not obligated to continue doing business with them.

Bottom line: While there are no conditions for unselfish loving, there may be many conditions for everyday living.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

"It Was A Dark And Stormy Night"

After spending a blest afternoon with family after my brother Eli's funeral last Thursday, we experienced an unusual after-blessing later that night.

Just as we left our gathering I noted the indicator light on my dashboard telling me I had an under-inflated tire. Just what we need, I thought, as it was already dark, extremely cold and windy, and with a chill factor of who knows what. And we had over two hours of travel to get home.

So I dropped Alma Jean and our daughter Joanna off at the foyer of Hotel Floyd where Joanna's husband was to pick her up (after his evening meeting in Wake Forest) and asked the kind lady at the desk where I could check my tires. She suggested the Exxon station just down the street or the Floyd Express a few blocks further away.

So I bundled up and ventured out. When I went into the Exxon to get the quarters I needed to use the air pump the attendant kindly suggested the Floyd Express, where the air is free. Which turned out to be Blessing # 1.

In the back of the Express I found an air pump but one without a gauge, so I asked the pleasant truck driver next to it, who was filling his propane delivery truck with diesel fuel, if he had one I could borrow.

"You'll never believe this," he said with a big laugh, "but this is the third time I've been here that someone has asked me for a tire gauge. Looks like I'll just have to get myself one, that's for sure. I figure the good Lord has me here on this earth to help people, and that's what I like doing. But just let me look at your tires and I can pretty much tell you which one is low and I'll put some air in for you." Blessing #2.

Meanwhile he went on to tell me all about how he had a second job hauling rodeo bulls around the country and that he raised bulls of his own that he had to go home and feed that night. But he insisted he was in no hurry and that he was going to make sure I had the proper air in my tires before we got on the interstate. 

When I told him about our reason for being in Floyd he said, "Oh I know Eli! He's a good man, and I used to deliver propane to him! And is he related to Steve Yoder? He's another good man I deliver to at the mill." He was delighted to learn that Steve was Eli's son, and expressed his sincere condolences to our family. Blessing #3.

My angel unaware then came to the car, eyed the tires and proceeded to add air to the one he thought needed it. "You can tell by the shape and looks of the tire," he said reassuringly. "Now check and see whether the indicator light is still on."

Unfortunately it was. So he added air to the other front tire, while I held his portable light in the cold. The same result. "Well, let's go inside and see if they have a tire gauge," he said.

They did, a cheap one for $2.50, which I promptly bought and gave him. "Now you'll have the tire gauge people keep asking you for!" I said, glad to at least do that much for this kind man. Blessing # 4.

Turns out one of the rear ones was the one that was low, but he insisted on checking them all and seeing to it that each had 35 pounds of pressure (a good thing, since the front ones were by then at around 40). Final blessing.

So there's my angel story, another example of what I've begun to call "Mercy's Law", the one that counters Murphy's Law, which holds that if anything can go wrong it will go wrong.

I so wish I had written down this kind person's name, but my aging brain can no longer recall it. So if any of you down at Floyd run across a propane truck driver who likes to help people and who has a farm where he raises rodeo bulls and transports them on weekends and who has a wife and four children, let me know. I'd like to send him a thank you note and a blessing. And maybe warn him not to trust his new, cheap tire gauge too much, since I discovered when I had my tires re-checked that most of them were over-inflated--certainly not his fault :-)

So there's my latest angel story. I'm still thanking God that on a miserably cold and windy night Alma Jean could be spending some good time with Joanna while I was blessed with the generous help of a Good Samaritan who loved giving people a hand when they needed it.

2/16/17 P.S. I just learned from one of my Floyd relatives that my hero is Wally Galla, who delivers propane for Southwestern Virginia Gas Service Corporation.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Under Jesus' Administration The Rich Become Joyfully Poorer And The Poor Joyfully Richer

The unquestioned assumption of most well to do Americans, including Christians, is that we deserve to be ever richer every year of our earning lives. Given that undisputed belief, whatever giving we do is carefully calculated to ensure that it doesn't interfere with our goal of accumulating more wealth for ourselves, something that is seen as our inalienable right.

Jesus and his first century apostles consistently challenged that assumption. The only way to become truly wealthy, according to our Master, is to invest hugely in the economy of heaven. Speaking for what is in the best interest of Kingdom citizens, Jesus commands us to seriously reduce what we own in order to reinvest more wealth to better the lives of the impoverished and disadvantaged. In doing so, we gain substantial Kingdom of Heaven stock, Jesus says, imperishable and fantastically profitable in all the ways that forever matter.


"Use your money to make friends for God, then when everything is over, those you have blessed with your investments will bless you with a warm welcome into your everlasting home." (Jesus, Luke 16:9)

"Don't make the mistake of hoarding more and more personal wealth here on earth, of the kind that moths and rust can cause damage, or the kind that burglars can rob. Instead, invest it in heaven approved stock, where nothing can ever damage or diminish it." (Jesus, Matthew 6:19-20)

"All of the believers freely shared what they had with each other, even selling their possessions in order to make sure that there were no unmet needs among them." (Luke, Acts 2:44-45)

"You who have plenty should should share generously with those who are without. Then at some time they can share with you when you need it. In that way everyone will be sure to have enough." (Paul, II Corinthians 9:14)

"We all have to think if we can become a little poorer. All of us have to ask, 'How can I become a little poorer in order to be more like Jesus?'"  
- Pope Francis

"I was told that Gandhi once said, 'If Christians would live their lives according to the teachings of Jesus Christ there would be no more Hindus in India'."
- Mother Teresa

Here's a link on how to do some great Kingdom of Heaven investing right now: 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Blessed By The Difference Love Makes

Being with family and friends at my brother's memorial service in Floyd County Thursday gave me a new appreciation for the value of time-honored funeral and burial rituals. The reading of familiar texts of faith, the affirmations celebrated in hymns of hope, and the expressions of love and care shown by so many helped make the grief bearable.

But the greatest healing came with the love.

As long lines of loving well wishers made their way past my brother's open casket at the two visitation nights, his bereaved wife and other members of our immediate family received assurance after loving reassurance that a caring community will remain long after Eli's grave is covered in a blanket of earth. Each embrace and touch of a loved one added a rich deposit to our bank of hope, assuring us we will never be completely alone in our grief.

Without love, we are lost. There is nothing left but despair. With love, we can feel free to cry and still know we will never be abandoned.

My own torrent of tears came in the love shared by a dear church friend of pastor Eli's, in the form of a tribute she had written several weeks before and which was read at the end of his memorial service. It was inspired, she said, by the following line in a recently published book Eli's daughter, my niece Judy, has written about his life story:

 "At recess time Eli's eyes sparkled. It did not matter so much at recess that he was small, for he was fast on his feet. Even the big boys said so."       -- By the Fields of Fish Creek

Run, Brother Eli!
     Arrow straight-shot toward the Son -- with crumbling vertebrae?

Run, Brother Eli!
     Faith-on-adrenaline surging forward -- cold cancer encroaching on warm vitality?

Run, Brother Eli!
     Heart-light, sins forgiven, quickened pace by Spirit wind -- lying flat, entangled in bed sheets and IV lines?

Run, Brother Eli!
     Finish-line focus, face-of-Jesus, shining clarity -- obscured consciousness--fighting through clouds--pain--medication!

Run, Brother Eli, run!
     Look at him fly down the track! -- see, he's pulling ahead of the rest! -- he's -- YES! HE'S WINNING!!

You've encouraged us onward and upward many times, Brother Eli; can you hear us now cheering for you?

- Sister Nan (Diane Freed)

Friday, February 10, 2017

"Know That You Belong Here": An Iowa Principal Addresses His Immigrant Students

Theodore Roosevelt High School

Kevin Biggs, principal of the Theodore Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, made the following announcement to his students after President Trump announced his recent refugee and immigrant ban. Students at Roosevelt High, like those at our local Harrisonburg High School, also represent some 40 language groups: 

"Good Morning Roughriders:

"I apologize for the interruption. Please place down your pens or pencils and listen to this announcement. This weekend, much of the world’s attention was focused on an effort by the federal government to impose far-reaching restrictions on the ability of immigrants and refugees to come to the United States. From protesters at airports and on the streets to lawyers and judges in courtrooms, there was a swift reaction by many in support of immigrants and refugees.

"To all of our students who are immigrants or refugees – and to their friends and classmates and teachers who are also concerned because of these recent events – know that you belong here – Roosevelt HS and DMPS stands by you. As you know, TRHS is a school of such diversity, with a student body that encompasses over 40 different languages and cultures. Over the years, thousands of refugee students from around the world have attended school at DMPS. Many have labeled TRHS as the most diverse high school in the state of Iowa, which in my opinion is a strength and gift that we are to be extremely proud of, but also use to grow as human beings.

"Each one of you is sitting here today because your parents or guardians wanted you to attend a real-world high school, that exposed you to various cultures, religions, languages, experiences, and beliefs…because understanding and respecting these differences is what allows each of us to grow into the respecting, accepting, and loving leaders of tomorrow. Because of your attendance at TRHS, I believe you possess, or will eventually possess, a unique perspective on life and the world, one that will prepare you well for whatever conflict is thrown your way in the next few years.

"For our students of immigrant families, we want to help you learn and succeed in school. We want to see you have fun and make friends and find your passions. We want to be there to celebrate that day when you walk across a stage to receive your diploma. We want to help you grow into the people you want to become. At TRHS, we welcome immigrants and refugees as our students and families, as our neighbors and friends. The entire district values our students, no matter where they might come from – this is your home and we are honored to serve you. The adults in the building are here to help in any way that you might  need.

"When children in Des Moines show up at our schools – no matter their place of birth or religion or language or skin color – they should know that they belong here and we stand by them. America is a country of immigrants; every one of us has roots which began in countries across the globe. America was built on the pursuit of freedoms, and it is our responsibility as citizens to stand-up for what we believe is right and just.

"For our immigrant students, especially those of you who’s home country is Iran, or Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, or Somalia…we are here to support you as this attempt to ban your family from our country is constructed by the federal government. I ask every TRHS student to stand by our friends, support them with unwavering love and empathy, and be respectful during this chaotic time. This is a time where Roughriders can show the world what happens when unity and love can overcome injustice. We love and respect each and every one of you and hope to prove that through our actions each day. Thank you for providing me a few minutes of your time. Go Riders!"

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

My Special Brother Eli's Obituary

Brother Eli and his beloved Ruth (photo by Steve Yoder)
Eli Yoder was born October 25, 1934, in Nowata, Oklahoma to Ben and Mary (Nisly) Yoder. When he was 11 years old, the family moved to Stuarts Draft, Va. where he spent the rest of his growing up years. 

In Stuarts Draft on July 1, 1954, he married Ruth N. Yoder, who survives. Their marriage was 60 plus years of love, trust and devotion. This was made especially evident the last several years as Eli experienced two back surgeries, gall bladder surgery and finally cancer. This involved many hospital stays, radiation treatments, and the almost constant day and night struggle to relieve the severe pain that went along with multiple back fractures that came as a result of his condition. 

Eli was ordained to the ministry on January 14, 1962. It was a calling he took very seriously and served faithfully his whole life, first at Bethel Mennonite Church, Gladys, Va., and then for the last 20 years at Wills Ridge Mennonite Church, Floyd, Va. He also was an evangelist, and held gospel meetings here and there all over the country. He officially retired just last month, after serving for 55 years. 

Eli spend his early working years as a farmer, heavy equipment operator and carpenter. He built many sets of kitchen cabinets and in his later years built many pieces of fine furniture. He was probably never happier than when he was in his shop, his pencil above his ear, working with wood. 

He was preceded in death by a sister Lovina; a sister, Esther and husband, Robert Yoder; a sister, Lucy; a sister, Mary Beth and husband, Harven Shifflett; and an infant brother. He is survived by his wife, Ruth N. Yoder of Floyd, Va.; four sons, Merle and wife, Mary of Long Island, Va., Robbie and wife, Lydia of Gladys, Va., Steve and wife, Joan of Floyd, Va., and Calvin and wife, Sheila of Wakarusa, Ind. Also, one daughter, Judy and husband, David Yoder of Floyd, Va. There are 26 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren. Also surviving are two brothers, Sanford and wife, Martha of Costa Rica, Central America, and Harvey and wife, Alma Jean of Harrisonburg, Va.; one brother-in-law, Alvin Schrock of Staunton, Va.; two sisters, Magdalena and husband, Alvin Schrock of Cumberland, Va. and Fannie Mae of Staunton, Va. 

The family will receive friends on Tuesday, February 7, 2017,from 6 to 8 p.m. at Mayberry Funeral Home, 376 South Locust Street, Floyd, Va., and also Wednesday, February 8, 2017,from 6 to 8 p.m. at Wills Ridge Mennonite Church, 152 Wills Ridge Rd., Floyd, Va. The funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Thursday, February 9, 2017,at the Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren, 409 Ridgeview Rd., Floyd, Va. 

The family wishes to thank everyone for their care and kindness during this difficult time.