Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Shalom-Based Self-Care And Communal Care

As with vehicles, our 'wheels' may need some balancing and realignment from time to time.
I had the privilege of meeting with some 50 members of the Eastern Mennonite School staff and faculty today to talk about wellness. I had almost turned their invitation down when I first received it just days before my open heart surgery set for July 5. But then I reconsidered, thinking there may be no better time to discuss good self care than after recognizing from personal experience how important it really is.

We began by focusing on the health and harmony of the original creation as a template for the kind of wellbeing(shalom) we seek, and on how God is about restoring 'whatever is marred and whatever is missing' in our personal lives and in our relationships with others and with all of creation.

Each person then chose a number between 0-10 with for each area on the above 'wellness wheel' with 0 representing extreme dissatisfaction with that part of our lives, and a 10 indicating complete satisfaction. Individuals then shared with others at their table the areas of growth they are most interested in working on in the coming year, and some concrete steps they are intending to take in order to facilitate that growth,

We discussed the need to not only increase our resolve to pursuing growth, but to make ourselves accountable to engage in the kinds of new practices that turn those goals into actual achievements. Most of us already know what new habits we need to develop in order to see that happen.

Ultimately, the world cannot become fully whole except to the extent each of us experiences it ourselves, and none can be completely whole as individuals without the wholeness and wellness of everyone else, and of every other part of creation.

We wait in expectation and with a sense of participation with God in seeing that kind of ultimate shalom come to pass.

Here's another relevant link:

Monday, August 12, 2019

Our Imagination Can Fuel Either Fear Or Faith

I read this as "the evidence of things not YET seen."
At 3:30 in the morning of July 5, as I was preparing for my trip to Charlottesville for open heart surgery, these words kept ringing through my mind:

Each step I take, I know that God will guide me.
To higher ground God ever leads me on,
Until some day the last step will be taken.
Each step I take just leads me closer home.

On the one hand, I found this familiar song encouraging, reminding me that no matter what the outcome, this unanticipated experience would ultimately result in something good. On the other hand, it introduced some foreboding as well. Could this be like a bad omen of something in the five-hour procedure shortening or even ending my life?

In the face of the unknown, our imaginations inevitably fill in the gaps of what we don't know, either enhancing our fear or adding to our faith. And in times like these, it's not hard to imagine everything coming to an apocalyptic end.

So when we are highly anxious we tend to be ruminating along that fear end of the spectrum, imagining all manner of worst case scenarios. In accordance with  'Murphy's Law' we assume that whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, even terribly wrong.

On the other hand, when we are operating within the faith end of the spectrum, we are visualizing better than expected outcomes. This doesn't mean we don't recognize the possibility of things turning out badly, but we don't see that as inevitable. By faith, we see bad things as less likely to happen than good, and trust that God's odds are truly in our favor.

So I've decided to occasionally spend some time prayerfully preparing for the worst, but spend the majority of my time picturing things turning out reasonably well--and ultimately very well. And to believe that even if bad things happen, I will never have to face them alone, and that God, and God's people, will help me through whatever comes. Until the very, very best finally comes.

Imagine that.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Prisoner Rights And Jail House Wrongs

By law, the following rights are guaranteed for those incarcerated:

Cruel and Unusual Punishments - Every inmate has the right to be free under the Eighth Amendment from inhumane treatment or anything that could be considered "cruel and unusual" punishment. Note: Unfortunately, the Eighth Amendment does not clearly define what "cruel and unusual" punishment includes, meaning much of the definition has derived from case law. Generally speaking, any punishment that is considered inhumane treatment, like torture or abuse, or a violation of a person's basic dignity may be considered cruel and unusual within the discretion of the court.

Sexual Harassment or Sex Crimes - Inmates have a right to be free from sexual harassment or sex crimes, like being raped or molested while in custody. This applies to crimes or harassment from both inmates and prison personnel.

Right to Complain About Prison Conditions and Access to the Courts - Inmates have the right both to complain about prison conditions and to voice their concerns to prison officials and the courts.

Disabled Prisoners - Inmates with disabilities are entitled to certain reasonable accommodations under the American with Disabilities Act to ensure they receive the same access to prison facilities as those who are not disabled.

Medical and Mental Health Care - Prisoners are entitled to receive medical care and mental health treatment. These treatments are only required to be "adequate," not the best available or even the standard treatment for those outside of incarceration.

First Amendment Rights - Inmates retain basic First Amendment rights (i.e., free speech and religion) to the extent that the exercise of those rights does not interfere with their status as inmates.

Discrimination - Inmates have the right to be free from discrimination while imprisoned. This includes racial segregation, disparate treatment based on ethnicity or religion, preferences based on age, etc,.

In practice, the following are some of the wrongs routinely experienced by those behind bars:

1. Most do not have adequate access to the law library or legal materials and are allowed only one year to appeal a case.

2. Work opportunities are limited for the many inmates who would like a job, and wages for those who work average less than $1 an hour.

3. Many jails and prisons do not provide needed educational or rehabilitation programs.

4. Most provide inferior and inadequate dental, medical and mental health care. 

5. Most meals meet only minimal nutritional standards and are nutritionally less than adequate for inmates who work out or are otherwise physically active. 

6. A large number of people in jails are awaiting their trials and have not been convicted of a crime. Unable to make bail, they are housed with convicted and sometimes dangerous felons. 

7. Most prisons require inmates to live in cells the size of an average bathroom, and some have more than two inmates per cell.

8. Most prison cells and dormitories do not have call boxes (intercoms) or other communication device inmates could use to contact someone if and when emergency assistance is needed.

9. Officers often do not make regular bed checks as required, and are mostly seen on the floor only during designated counts. 

10. As a matter of health and human rights, all correctional facilities without good natural ventilation  and exhaust fans should have operational air-conditioning units installed to protect those inside from the danger of excessive heat.

11. Drinking water may not always be checked regularly to ensure it is safe and healthy.

12. Most jails charge inmates a keep fee for their incarceration in addition to the punishment imposed by the court. This should be declared illegal.

13. Phone services and commissary items are typically overpriced and their costs regularly increase even though prison wages remain flat.

Note: Most of the above items are reported by prisoners with whom I am in contact.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Some 'Tweets' By The First Republican President


We should never make a saint of Abraham Lincoln. He was singularly responsible for engaging the nation in a war that inflicted more destruction and death than any in our history. And while he is credited with freeing America's slaves, he came to that position (as a matter of political expediency) late in his presidency, and to my knowledge never renounced his own racist statements such as the following: 

"Our republican system was meant for a homogeneous people. As long as blacks continue to live with the whites they constitute a threat to the national life. Family life may also collapse and the increase of mixed breed bastards may some day challenge the supremacy of the white man." (1)

But in a time of increasingly divisive, destructive and deceit-filled rhetoric, it's helpful to reflect on some of the many positive statements by America's first Republican president, as follows: 

“Do I not destroy my enemies when I make them my friends?”

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”

"As a nation, we began by declaring that 'all men are created equal.' We now practically read it 'all men are created equal, except negroes.' When the Know-Nothings (2) get control, it will read 'all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.' When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretense of loving liberty – to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocrisy."

"The money power preys on the nation in times of peace, and conspires against it in times of adversity. It is more despotic than monarchy, more insolent than autocracy, more selfish than bureaucracy. It denounces, as public enemies, all who question its methods or throw light upon its crimes."

"They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, 'You work and toil and earn bread, and I'll eat it.' No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle."

"My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God's side.”

“Gentlemen, I depended on this witness to clear my client. He has lied. I ask that no attention be paid to his testimony. Let his words be stricken out. if my case fails. I do not wish to win in this way.” 

"With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan—to do all which may achieve and cherish, a just and a lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations."

(1) One of numerous racist quotes by Lincoln.

(2) The American Party, popularly known as the "No-Nothing Party," was an anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic political movement. 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

"Small Change For A Big Change!" Campaign

The 2020 Vision Fund Drive to raise $220,000 by the end of next year is the brainchild of the Gemeinschaft Fundraising Committee of which I am a part. Gemeinschaft Home offers a 90-day transitional program for over 40 men at a time who are reentering society after years of incarceration. 

At Gemeinschaft (pronounced Ga-mine-shoft, a German word meaning "community") they receive group support, find jobs and learn how to build a foundation for a new start. 

Here are some of the things the $220,000 will make possible, with your help:

Thanks to several generous donors, we have already raised $15,000 toward this first part of our goal. 

Our second goal will help us better meet the need of individuals with mental health, addiction and relationship challenges that may interfere with their successful reentry:

Getting a women's program established has long been a dream of Gemeinschaft Home, which has applied for a substantial grant to help make this possible. 

We're already getting gifts to help match the hoped for grant start-up money needed:

With the generous help of the Merck Foundation and scores of donors from our community, Gemeinschaft recently installed solar panels that will supply the majority of its power needs. Replacing our aging and inefficient HVAC units will help us become ever more energy efficient:

Our last project for the 2020 Vision Campaign is one that may seem less urgent to some, but it's one of the long held dreams we would like to see come to pass (perhaps as a memorial tribute to someone's loved one?):

In the 2019 Phase One of our 2020 Vision Campaign, we are making a special appeal to new donors, hence the slogan "Small Change for a Big Change." Here we are inviting individuals to make generous one-time contributions to the program or, better yet, become sustaining members by contributing $10, $20 or $30 a month for ongoing support of Gemeinschaft's vital work (with the understanding that this level of giving can be changed or discontinued at any time). 

Phase Two of the Campaign, from January 1 to December 31, 2020, will focus on soliciting more of the larger donor contributions needed to reach the $220,000 goal and make the above projects possible. Stay tuned!

As a long-time member of the Gemeinschaft Home Board, I will feel so blessed to have your help in making a big difference in the lives of people who need and deserve a second chance. 

Here's the link you need to become a supporting member of the Gemeinschaft family: 

God will bless you, and our residents will thank you, for your support. 

And here are other ways to get on board:

Friday, July 26, 2019

Some Things I've Learned From Major Surgery

In God's economy, no experience has
to go to waste.
1. You can never take your life or health for granted. I was assured that the survival rate for heart bypass patients was near 99%, yet I'll never forget the relief I experienced when I first became awake after five hours of anesthesia. It felt like I was coming out of a dimly-lit tunnel into the dawn of a new day. "We're going to take out your breathing tube," I was told, "and you'll be breathing on your own." After a labored breath or two, I realized I was going to be OK, an unforgettable moment.

2. Having strong family support is priceless. Alma Jean, my most faithful supporter, and I were blessed to have our daughter and our oldest son accompany us to the University of Virginia Medical Center early on the morning of July 5. To actually have them be able to stay with me (either in my room or at the nearby guest house) for the first several days of my stay was a blessing beyond belief.

3. And how I thank God for the countless friends, neighbors and members of our church family who have showered us with prayers, cards, visits, food and other favors too numerous to count. It was like having an assembly of angels responding to our every need.

4. Health care professionals are worth their weight in gold. Before, during and after my hospital stay, scores of doctors, nurses, med techs, lab techs, x-ray techs and other care providers each did their best to help me get through the process of healing in the most expeditious way possible.

5. Above all, I gained a new appreciation of a loving God and Great Physician who designed the human body in such an amazing way, then gifted myriads of people who have helped perfect the current state of medical treatment to help us when it is injured or fails. Yet even the most well trained humans can only help create the best possible circumstances in which healing can occur, not actually accomplish the healing itself. For example, suturing vein to vein and artery to artery in the almost microscopic way needed for a bypass makes this healing possible, but the capacity for healing itself is miraculously built into our very being.

6. Healing takes time and patience, You can expect some really encouraging progress followed by days and nights that seem endless and with fewer signs of healing. "Tribulation produces patience,"we're told in a familiar scripture text, a good thing for all of us.

7. The healing of mind and body go hand in hand. I expected to catch up on a lot of reading in my recovery, but for the first couple of weeks I found that my mind was unlike its usually motivated self, and that my brain, like my newly repaired heart, also needed some recovery time.

8. The world can get along quite well without my having to be in constant control of the kind of  scheduled life I've become used to.

9. Just as there are an amazing number of ways of helping people experience wellness and healing, I'm newly aware of just as many unbelievable ways in which people bent on evil are capable of creating destruction, suffering and misery on vulnerable, pain-prone human beings.

10. In summary, I've gained bucketsful of gratitude to God for all my blessings, and want to use every opportunity possible to preserve life and to promote healing wherever I can.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Stains Of Blame and Blood On Millions Of Hands

There were 51,000 casualties inflicted at Gettysburg alone.
"Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other."
- from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, 3/4/65

During my recovery from surgery I’ve been reading more about the Civil War, including a fascinating book, "A Pictorial History Of The Civil War Years" by Paul M. Angle. 

Page after illustrated page describes suffering of unbelievable proportions. Men on both sides faced not only blistering cannon and rifle fire, but had to deal with grueling marches and encampments in all kinds of weather extremes, had to often subsist on maggot-infested and inferior rations, and were ravaged by typhoid fever, pneumonia and other illnesses that mercilessly took the lives of more men than did combat itself. And without benefit of anesthesia or even minimal sterilization against infection, many of the injured had their mangled limbs sawed off under gruesome conditions worse than death itself.

Throughout I again found myself in disbelief at the thought of whole nations, churches and communities on both sides continuing to justify and even glorify war as noble and honorable thing, rather than naming it the savage, barbaric and insane butchery it truly is. 

How can we continue to honor presidents, generals, politicians and religious leaders who defend and perpetuate this evil, even if waged against tyranny, slavery and whatever other forms of oppression?

As long as there is life, as long as there are decent people on earth and a God in heaven, such evils can be resisted and will eventually be overcome, but when we extinguish life itself, as we do in the killing fields and saturation bombings of ever more horrific forms of war, there can be little hope for a better world.

The silence of professed followers of Jesus around the world has been deafening. Beyond that, without the endorsement and support of religious leaders as well as followers of all faiths, war would be impossible. This is what should bother us most.

During the Civil War, only a handful of believers, mostly Quakers, Brethren and Mennonites, spoke out against this carnage and insanity.

Among them was Elder John Kline of nearby Broadway, a Brethren (Dunkard) minister who made repeated appeals to then Governor John Letcher and Congressman John T. Harris based on the conviction expressed in his diary as follows:

Succession means war; and war means tears and ashes and blood. It means bonds and imprisonments, and perhaps even the death to many in our Brotherhood, who, I have the confidence to believe, will die, rather than disobey God by taking up arms.

Peter Hartman, a first hand witness to the conflict as a Mennonite lad on a farm just over the the hill from what is now EMU, repeatedly shared his views about the folly and futility of war throughout his life.

In his “Reminiscences of the Civil War,” he writes:

In June of the same year (1863) General Fremont came here with 45,000 men. About twelve of the men came and went into our smokehouse. Each one hung a piece of bacon on his bayonet and marched across our meadow. I never saw a more jubilant group of fellows than they were. A good many came to our house. They were in high spirits. “We’ve got Jackson now. We have him in the jug and  all we have to do is put the stopper in.” They had a battle just above Harrisonburg on Saturday night. It was in the evening at sundown. I saw the northern army traveling up over the hill, it was not long until ‘pop, pop, pop,’ and they kept this up for about a half hour. I could hear the bullets whistle right by our place. I could hear the wounded men scream. I heard cannon roar on the side toward Harrisonburg...  On Sunday morning some of the Northern men came to our home for something to eat. They said, “We killed Colonel [Turner] Ashby last night.”

Until God removes the last vestige of pleasure, satisfaction or approval at having an ‘enemy’ such as Turner Ashby fatally shot through the heart, I wonder if we can ever claim to be fully Christian.

Here's a link to an earlier piece, Saying No To War: