Sunday, April 30, 2017

YOUCARING Fund For Rebecca, Mia and Kenzie

Rebecca and Cameron with Mia, now almost 2.
Kenzi, not pictured, is 3 months old.
We have had three recent funerals in our family, my brother Eli's in February, my brother-in-law Ernest's on the first day of April and my 23-year-old grandnephew Cameron's on this last day of the month.

While we should have been somewhat prepared for the first two of these losses, no one could have anticipated the sudden passing of Cameron, who died suddenly of a heretofore unrecognized heart condition this past week. Cameron, married less than three years ago to Becky, the passion of his life, left behind two young daughters Mia and Kenzie.

It was members of Cameron's extended family who led today's memorial service at Bethel Mennonite near Gladys, two pastors who were Cameron's first cousins once removed, his uncle Merle who brought the message, a brother-in-law who shared family memories, a second cousin who led the music, and his uncle Calvin who was in charge of the burial service.

All of this brought back painful memories of an untimely death in our family just over a year ago, another recently married grandnephew Kendall Yoder.

We met with members of the family yesterday to be of whatever support we could, and today we listened to the service by teleconference. An ensemble made up mostly of Cameron's cousins sang "I'm Just A Poor Wayfaring Stranger", bravely expressing what we pray can be an anchor for this devastated young family--and for the rest of us who are left behind.

"I know dark clouds
Will gather 'round me 
I know my way
Will be rough and steep
But beautiful fields lie just before me
Where God's redeemed
Their vigils keep"

Here's a link to the YouCaring Fund site:

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trending Toward Retirement?

"Six days a week are for are for your daily duties and your regular work, but the seventh day is a day of Sabbath rest before the Lord your God."  
- Exodus 20:9-10 LB

Since limiting my work hours at the Family Life Resource Center to 2 1/2 days a week, I have Mondays and Fridays free to be "retired",  a modern version of "sabbath" providing me more time with wife and family, gardening and a host of other interests.

Meanwhile I'm needing some help figuring out the actual distinctions between work and retirement.

Take Monday, for example. I spent 1 1/2 hours recording 90-second "Centerpiece" radio spots at WMRA/WEMC for the upcoming quarter. Of course, writing them and reading through them in preparation for my studio time involved many additional hours.

But do those hours, or those spent on doing blog entries on which many of the radio spots are based, represent work or are they just a hobby? I've always done them as "a service of the Family Life Resource Center" (the tag line), so it could be thought of as a part of my work, but since I do them gratis, how is this different from the good volunteer work many of my retired friends do all the time?

As an aside, part of what makes the above feel like more fun is working with Matt Bingay, the engineer at the station, a patient professional who generously does all the editing needed, even making a couple of extra CD's each time with 35 spots for use on WBTX and WNLR. He does this on station time, and it represents a small part of WEMC's regular noon programing, but I experience it as some volunteer work he does for me and for FLRC.

On the same day, and here's the best part, I got to do something even more pleasurable. Alma Jean and I went to Charlottesville together for one of her rare medical appointment on that side of the mountain, and for a nice lunch together. A great way to spend part of a day off.

Meanwhile, that meant missing my regular Monday noon meeting with fellow members of the Valley Justice Coalition. Those good folks understand, of course and went about their good "work" (promoting changes in our criminal justice system) without me. I'm learning more and more about my not being indispensable, which is a good thing for a retiring person. And I can aways look forward to meeting them again at next week's noon gathering at the Dean House (across Water Street from Community Mennonite). Is involvement with something like the VJC work?

[Speaking of Alma Jean, I also got an email Monday from someone at that meeting who had met her for the first time at last Friday's Gemeinschaft Dinner, as follows:  "I wanted to thank you for introducing me to your wife.  She seems absolutely precious.  I, honestly think that I carried the glow of her kindness and generous spirit for the following 24 hours.  Even though it was quite brief, it was the highlight of the night for me." Now that's just sheer pleasure, a part of her good work of kindly and generously serving and blessing whomever she meets!]

At 4 pm Monday I also got to be with some other concerned citizens at an open meeting of the local Community Criminal Justice Board at the County Administration Building. It was encouraging to see significant changes in the CCJB (now meeting quarterly instead of only rarely), under the capable leadership of Board of Supervisors member William Kyger. On Friday we heard more about some progress on issues some of us really care about, like our now having a full time CSB mental health worker at the local jail, about progress being made toward establishing a Drug and Mental Health Court for Harrisonburg and Rockingham County, and about future dreams for reducing the number of people in our jails and prisons. This all represents work, but much of it is over and above what is required by the jobs or titles held by concerned citizens and members of the CCJB. Were they working?

At 7 pm on that same day I got to lead the last of a four-session Marriage Maintenance Class at FLRC. While this could be seen as a part of my work, it also marks what may be my last official class I do at the Center, a sign of my trending toward retirement. I did the class free as a part of our agency's 30-year anniversary, and the ten couples in the group contributed a combined total of $400 to the Center. Being with them felt more like  a blessing than "work".

As to the my day job in the middle of the week, if it wouldn't be for some of the paper work associated with it, the actual time spent in my counseling office from Tuesday noon to Thursday evening wouldn't seem much like work. I find counseling sessions almost invariably energizing and rewarding, and and the staff at FLRC are a pleasure to work with.

This work does offer the extra benefit of helping us keep our bills paid, which in turn gives me greater freedom to do some of the other "work" I enjoy.

For example, yesterday I took time to put the finishing touches to the little monthly newsletter we do for our house church. I was then able to go shopping for spring plants and garden seeds, followed by actually planting some of them in our garden. More joy. And a final enjoyment was mowing our lawn and adding to the grass clippings that go on our mulch and compost piles.

As someone who grew up on a farm, I consider all of that good "work".

Maybe Confucius was right, "Choose a work that you love and you won't have to work another day."

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Remembering Dr. Hubert R. Pellman, 1918-2017

1991 EMU photo
We had the privilege of attending Saturday's memorial service at Park View Mennonite for Hubert Pellman, a pastor for many years at the Mt. Vernon Mennonite Church near Grottoes and for many years a professor of English at Eastern Mennonite College (now EMU).

Hubert was widely admired as one of the finest and kindest men one could imagine. He was a second cousin of Alma Jean's, and both grew up along Shade Mountain in rural Juniata County, Pennsylvania.

I came to college with only a GED and a tenth grade education, so I was blessed to have an understanding person like Hubert as my freshman English Composition teacher. He patiently helped me hone my writing skills and to produce  my first ever research paper.

My cousin Paul Nisly, former head of the Messiah College English Department and a colleague and friend of Pellman's, brought an inspiring message at Saturday's service, and I was likewise moved by the following poem written and read by his daughter Carol at Saturday's service.

Wild Carrot

At the end my father passed the time remembering 
the family farm in Graybill Valley-- that’s where he wanted to go, 
for one last visit-- back to Shade Mountain, 

wild forest smell of damp earth, the rocky soil of shale, 
sandstone, limestone, watching for copperheads, hands reaching 
high for handles of the plow.  I remember-- I remember--

he paused, gazing off into the past-- Oh, I forget, he sighed, 
but I was dreaming of our farm, a waking dream, the kind I have now.  
The dreams, they don’t make sense.  They don’t have to, I replied.  

"Oh nothing comes of nothing," he recited after his stroke, 
remembering the classroom and mad King Lear.  
I remember walking with my father in the shadow 

of Shade Mountain, his warning of snakes in the grass.  
“Be careful where you walk”-- then pausing, pulling up a plant, 
the botanist, ready with a lesson.  "Here, smell the root.  

That’s why it's sometimes called Wild Carrot."  Years later 
I look up Daucus Carota, Latin I never learned, that my grandmother knew. 
"Also known as Queen Anne’s Lace, the red flower in the center 

the droplet of blood where she pricked her finger making lace." 
I remember my father’s mother, crocheting lace tablecloths, 
passing the night, her insomnia traveling from her daughters

to me, to my daughters.  When I sat with my father in that thin place 
where this world intersects with the next, in the shadowland 
between wake and sleep, I asked him to let me know the names 

of the flowers, the rivers, the mountains he found, as he traveled
on, asked him to meet me when I'm old and dream of my first home
in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where I learned the litany of wildflowers--

--Anemone, Jack-in- the Pulpit, Solomon's Seal, (True and False)
and the elusive Lady's Slipper, the one we found-- or do I only dream 
this?-- one spring day in the woods of Shade Mountain.

Carol Pellman Mishler

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Come To Dinner! Celebrating 30 Years Of Care

Don't miss FLRC's special event set for Saturday, May 6, to recall thirty years of service to area individuals and families, hear some great music, and enjoy some good food. And the speaker? After nearly three decades with the organization I hope he'll have some good things to say about "Celebrating the 'Family' In Our Agency Name". RSVP ASAP.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Seven Habits Of Effective Marriage-Supporting Congregations

It takes whole congregations to promote whole relationships.
I prepared the following for a workshop at today's "Celebrating Congregational Life" event held at Eastern Mennonite School:

1. Healthy congregations promote celibacy and singleness as respected and worthy options for Christians, in light of Jesus’ and many of his followers’ demonstrations of how one can be an optimally whole and fulfilled person with or without marriage--and in light of New Testament scripture that teaches the primacy of the Kingdom of God family as the focus of one’s highest loyalty and identity. They recognize that mature and Christ-like singles are the best candidates for forming mature and healthy relationships.

2. Children and youth hear frequent life stories of singles, couples, and even of divorced or separated persons in the congregation—in Sunday School classes, youth group and other settings—in order for them to gain wisdom from the real life experiences of others.

3. Pre-engagement counseling and workshops are provided for youth and young adults in serious relationships and before they become officially engaged.

4. Pre-marital counseling is offered for engaged persons, utilizing a premarital inventory. Counseling sessions and/or classes are also provided, along with experienced mentor couples being available for couples at all stages of their relationship. 

5. Couples who experience marital distress are offered counseling to help them learn how to effectively and respectfully disengage from escalating conflicts, rather than simply divorcing their partners. Whenever partners are causing harm to each other, the church offers a means of repair through a Matthew 18 process of recognizing and repenting of the harm being inflicted

6. Frequent Sunday School classes and other workshops or classes are available for marriage enrichment, and good books and other reading material on relationships are recommended and available.

7. Larger congregations provide intergenerational cell groups made up of married and unmarried folks, young and old, who are encouraged to meet in each others homes on a regular basis for fellowship and support.

Here's a link to more posts on strengthening marriage:

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

In February, 51 Parole Denials, Zero Grants

Most of the Board's February dispositions involved inmates eligible for geriatric parole, but not one such release was granted.
The list below represents the February denials by the Virginia Parole Board (the latest numbers available). Of the 51 persons up for review (all males designated as either "white" or "black"), none were granted release, not even among the large numbers of people eligible for geriatric parole* This in spite of the fact that among inmates 50 years of age or older the likelihood of re-offending is greatly diminished, while the cost of their care begins to greatly increase. And as you can see from the list below, all but 15 of those eligible for parole are 50 or over.

In many but not all of the cases, the crimes committed are listed on the VPB website with the individual's name, and in the majority of cases the reasons given for the denials are based on the inmate's past criminal history rather than on negative behaviors or rule infractions incurred after incarceration. Unfortunately, the crimes for which inmates were sentenced can never be undone. Individuals can only demonstrate that while in Department of Corrections custody they have learned to behave as responsible citizens in the most challenging environment imaginable. 

The majority of turndowns were based on some combination of the following pre-incarceration factors, as follows:

Release at this time would diminish seriousness of crime (cited in 35 of the cases below)
Serious nature and circumstances of your offense(s). (cited 34 times)
History of violence (10 times)
You need to show a longer period of stable adjustment. (10 times)
Your prior failure(s) and/or convictions while under community supervision indicate that you are unlikely to comply with conditions of release. (6 times)
Extensive criminal record. (10 times)

(Question: Would a school deny graduation to a student based on "the serious nature of their ignorance prior to enrollment"?)

The following justifications for denial are based on the Board's judgment, but with no specifics provided:

You need to show a longer period of stable adjustment. (10 times)
The Board considers you to be a risk to the community. (19 times)
The Board concludes that you should serve more of your sentence prior to release on parole. (10 times)

The following less frequent reasons given for denial do actually have to do with behaviors in prison or on previous parole:

Your prior failure(s) and/or convictions while under community supervision indicate that you are unlikely to comply with conditions of release. (6 times)
Your record of institutional infractions indicates a disregard for rules and that you are not ready to conform to society. (1 time)
Poor institutional adjustment (for example, motivation/attitude, unfavorable reports, lack of program involvement, etc.) (2 times)
You need further participation in institutional work and/or educational programs to indicate your positive progression towards re-entry into society. (4 times)
Your record indicates a serious disregard for the property rights of others. (1 time)
Conviction of a new crime while incarcerated (1 time)

Then there were eight of the persons below who were not released because of "No interest in parole". These men, some of whom have lost all contact with outside family support, have sadly given up ever being able to make it outside of prison. This is heartbreaking.

1.  Stanley, J., 69 Male Black 
2.  Silvestri, J., 77 Male White 
3.  Arrington, R., 48 Male Black 
4.  Maddrey, E., 65 Male Black 
5.  White, T., 53 Male White 
6.  Hakahan, B., 46 Male Black
7.  Griffey, C., 53 Male White 
8.  Bennett, R., 61 Male White
9.  Walker, R., 50 Male Black
10. Christian, M., 56 Male Black 
11. Thinnes, N., 69 Male White
12. Sekou, K., 46 Male Black 
13. Olbera, J., 50 Male White
14. Hinojosa, G., 59 Male White 
15. Albright, R., 54 Male White 
16. Lane, J., 54 Male White 
17. BenYisrael, Y., 46 Male Black
18. Beverley, D., 68 Male White 
19. Harris, O., 60 Male Black 
20. Davis, O., 79 Male Black 
21. Gallahan, S., 61 Male White
22. Caudell, R., 61 Male White 
23. Holley, A., 64 Male Black 
24. Vanfleet, J., 43 Male White
25. Berg, N., 79 Male White
26. Bottoms, E., 72 Male White
27. Hardin, J., 45 Male Black 
28. Mcfalls, R., 47 Male White 
29. White, M., 42 Male Black 
30. Kolb, D., 64 Male White 
31. Davis, S., 62 Male Black Crimes 
32. Derricott, M., 52 Male Black 
33. Wilson, C., 71 Male Black 
34. Brown, J., 50 Male White 
35. Holmes, J., 51 Male Black 
36. Asbury, M., 47 Male White 
37. Walling, Je., 70 Male White 
38. Miller, D., 51 Male White 
39. Bagby, R., 60 Male Black 
40. Pender, S.,43 Male Black 
41. Barnes, B., 53 Male Black
42. Barber, O., 49 Male Black 
43. Cameron, A., 53 Male Black 
44. Gilmore, F., 45 Male Black 
45. Hall, R., 61 Male White 
46. Price, G., 48 Male White 
47. Thorpe, W., 49 Male Black 
48. Harris, C., 72 Male Black 
49. Laws, L., 56 Male Black 
50. Rogers, P., 65 Male Black
51. Brown, C., 22 Male White

Here's a link to contact the Virginia Parole Board and here's one to express your parole concerns to the Governor

*  § 53.1-40.01

Conditional release of geriatric prisoners

Any person serving a sentence imposed upon conviction for a felony offense, other than a Class 1 felony, (i) who has reached the age of sixty-five or older and who has served at least five years of the sentence imposed or (ii) who has reached the age of sixty or older and who has served at least ten years of the sentence imposed may petition the ParoleBoard for conditional release. The Parole Board shall promulgate regulations to implement the provisions of this section.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Gundamentalism Author To Speak At Sunnyside

Here's an invitation by speaker and author Jim Atwood to a presentation he's making at the Sunnyside Retirement Community east of Harrisonburg Tuesday, April 18, in his own words:

I have been involved in gun violence prevention for 42 years. It has been sad to watch thousands of Americans die unnecessarily by firearms over these years. For example, in our war in Iraq, 4500 service men and women were killed. In the same time frame 220,500 Americans were killed on our own streets and homes. They have died because our leaders feel "freedom" and so called "gun rights" are endangered by common sense regulations on guns. As a gun owner and Presbyterian minister myself, I reject such simplistic assumptions.

According to research by Frank Luntz, a Republican pollster, most gun owners, even NRA members, agree with me. My second book Gundamentalism and Where It is Taking America addresses the excessive religious and ideological stances of a small but powerful minority of gun owners I call "gundamentalists" who are supported by the corporate gun lobby, They abhor any attempted regulation or restriction on firearms, thinking that it will only lead to the confiscation of their guns. 

I'll be leading a presentation on Gundamentalism and Where It is Taking America at the Bethesda Theater (at Sunnyside Retirement Home) on April 18th at 9:45 a.m. I hope you will be there and bring a friend. I continue to believe as I have for 42 years that gun violence is America's greatest spiritual, ethical and moral problem.
- James E. Atwood