Friday, November 17, 2017

An Annual Back Yard Light And Color Show

Our white oak holds on to its faded brown coat all winter.
Only in May does  does it don its colorful spring outfit to replace the old.

For a very brief time in early April it is bare like
most normal deciduous  trees are in fall and winter.
Today was a pleasant Friday, one of my days off, to spend a couple of hours on our Snapper mower, bagger attached, sweeping up the last clippings of grass and remaining leaves that have fallen from the maple, walnut, river birch and fruit trees on our .4 acre yard. They are all added to a giant compost pile next to our garden, ready to become the blankets of mulch we put down between rows of corn, beans and other produce each spring.

Our young white oak, though, now some twenty-year-old, isn't ready to yield its faded leaves just yet, and will refuse to do so until its new 6-8 inch twigs, with brand new leaf buds, begin to emerge in early spring. The oak (above) grew up voluntarily right against the trunk of a large pine that was like its protective parent until a storm a decade years ago forced it to the ground, leaving the orphan tree to stand alone and fend for itself.

There must be some metaphors about resurrection and new life in all of this, to be sure. Regardless, we get to enjoy the wonder of this ordinary half-acre portion of God's wonderful world we all get to delight in every day, year round.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A Ten Commandments Test For Judge Moore

Alabama's Judge Roy Moore, widely known for having refused to remove the Ten Commandments monument he had installed in the rotunda of the state judicial building when he was chief justice, is now running for the US Senate from his state.

Here are some principles I believe are consistent with the Bible's "Ten Words" that I suggest all office seekers who claim to promote religious values review:

I. Thou shalt have no other gods before me, neither Mars, Mammon, nor 'America First'.

II. Thou shalt not make, defend or show devotion to, any graven images or statues glorifying war or warriors, Confederate or otherwise.

III. Thou shalt not make vain use of the name of the Lord your God, especially for supporting political causes in the name of religion.

IV. Remember the Sabbath by promoting respite, respect and just wages for all workers, and thus allow everyone ample time for worship, rest and for promoting their general welfare.

V. Honor mothers and fathers by making sure they are supported in old age with adequate healthcare and other basic needs.

VI. Thou shalt not kill, neither condone, support or defend the destruction of any human life, whether in the womb, in warfare or through the promotion of policies that harm the planet or its inhabitants.

VII. Thou shalt not commit nor condone adultery, nor defend those who debase or harass women, minorities or youth.

VII. Thou shalt not steal resources from the poor or the less powerful for the sake of gaining more wealth for those who are already well-to-do.

IX. Thou shalt not bear false witness against any individuals or groups, nor label as "fake news" evidence-based information with which you happen to disagree.

X. Thou shalt not covet or misuse the privileges, wealth and power that go with holding office, but hold everyone in equal regard and as being on the same level, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or gender.

(Then there's also the nine-point Beatitudes Test, but that's a subject for another post.)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Rx For The Anxious--A Dedicated "Worry Hour"

All of us worry, sometimes imagining worst outcomes in ways that rob us of sleep, appetite and our general joy of living.

With tongue partly in cheek, I've suggested to some folks (and to myself), that we set aside a special time every day for the sole purpose of focusing on worries--whether about finances, family, our future, or whatever. Then at other times of the day (or night), that we postpone dealing with those thoughts and feelings, simply filing them until our designated "Worry Hour".

It sounds wacky, but some folks have actually found this helpful. Of course, if that designated time rolls around and we really can't seem to think of anything worth worrying about, fine. But if there are some things on our worry list that really deserve our attention, we can do some or all of the following:

1. Use a journal to record our worries--raw, unedited, the worst--then write the kinds of responses we might make if a friend or family member were to share these same fears with us. Or write a letter to God, followed by a letter we might imagine a caring God writing to us in response.

2. Share some of our fears with a trusted friend, mentor or family member, via a phone call, visit or email.

3. Pray and meditate, imagining best case outcomes s well as worst ones. And reflect on all of the back-up assets we have in place in case we do suffer a bad illness or accident, experience a financial loss, or lose a loved one.

In other words, if we are to worry at all, let's do it with some intentionality and in a way that can offer us more positive results. And not have worries preoccupy our minds 24/7.

Life is just too short for that.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Book Signing Of The Story Of The "Most Shameful Prison In America" Set For 11/20/17

I recently met author Dale Brumfield, and am currently reading his fascinating page turner on the history of Thomas Jefferson's brain child, the Virginia State Penitentiary. This notorious prison opened in 1800 and  was Virginia's only state  prison until Mecklenberg Correctional Center was opened in 1976. Today there are 39 such correctional facilities in Virginia, housing a total of over 38,000 inmates (Over 30,000 additional individuals are housed in local jails and in federal prisons in Virginia).

The historic original penitentiary, since razed to make room for development in downtown Richmond, was designed by U.S. Capitol and White House architect Benjamin Latrobe, and represented a new approach to the rehabilitation of offenders in Virginia that was to be a great improvement over the harsh and often humiliating public forms of punishment common in those days. But over time "The Pen" became notorious for many of the wrong reasons.

From the book's cover:

"The prison endured severe overcrowding, three fires, an earthquake and numerous riots. More than 240 prisoners were executed there by electric chair. At one time, the ACLU called it the "most shameful prison in America." The institution was plagued by racial injustice, eugenics experiments and the presence of children imprisoned among adults." 

Please join author Dale Brumfield at the monthly meeting of the local chapter of "Aging Persons in Prison Human Rights Campaign" at its regular meeting at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Harrisonburg at 7:30 pm Monday, November 20, to get a signed copy of the book, or bring your copy of the book to have it signed if you've already purchased one. They can be purchased on line at

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Gun Violence--Our Out-Of-Control Cancer

I'm weary of hearing nothing can be done about gun deaths.
What if an Amendment such as the following had become a part of our Constitution?

"A well regulated tobacco industry being necessary to the prosperity of a free State, the right of the people to grow and use nicotine products shall not be infringed."

At our house church meeting Sunday evening one of our members shared the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, this one at a little Baptist Church in the small rural town of Sutherland Springs, Texas. As of today 26 people are reported dead and an equal number are injured.

Can none of us be safe anymore, anywhere?

I propose a kind of war on gun violence that would resemble the one we are waging on another killer--cancer.

Here are some parallels:

Cancer is a major cause of deaths among adults and children alike, as is gun violence. No one is safe from either threat, and no one knows all of its causes nor all the different forms these two killer problems can take. We recognize that no groups or individuals are immune from their harms or free of blame for contributing to them. There are no simple answers, no easy cures.

Since cancer is a complex disease which takes many forms, most reasonable people agree that ongoing research is needed over whatever time necessary in order to reduce cancer deaths and produce cancer cures. In the case of gun violence, Congress, under intense and ongoing pressure from the NRA, has actually withheld funds for such research.

In the case of deaths by cancer, we would consider it inadequate and inappropriate for legislators refusing to fund research or work at solutions to simply offer condolences to victims, as in, "You are in our thoughts and prayers."

Just because we can't pinpoint all of the reasons for deaths from cancer we don't throw up our hands and assume nothing can be done. As with any killer disease, we know some of what we need to know already, but recognize much more needs to be learned, and we are willing to join hands with people everywhere in search of a way to save as many lives as possible.

If one "shoe bomber" was given three life sentences and the rest of have had to take off our shoes at airports ever since, we can likewise commit to "regulating" the use of all explosive devices in the interest of saving lives, whether musket loaders (as allowed by the founders), hand grenades, shoes packed with gun powder, or other far more deadly weapons.

Tackling gun violence in these ways should never be seen as a left or right, liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican issue. This is about saving the lives of men, women and children everywhere. In the near term, we won't be able to save everyone, but pro-lifers everywhere must do everything possible to preserve as many human lives as possible.

Here are some links to other posts on the subject:

Saturday, November 4, 2017

MKC and EMU: Comparisons and Contrasts

Meserete Christos College, Ethiopia
Eastern Mennonite University, USA
Last evening Alma Jean and I attended a fund raising dinner at the Lindale Mennonite Church for the Meserete Christos College in Ethiopia, founded in 1994 and established at its present campus in 2007. It currently has nearly 200 men and women enrolled at its main campus, and over 200 at two satellite locations and in its distance education programs.

MKC was founded by Ethiopia's Meserete Kristos ("Christ the Foundation") Church, which has over 310,000 baptized members meeting at more than 2000 locations, and with a total attendance of well over 500,000. This means it now has well over five times the Sunday attendance of its mother church, Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA), which has 19 district conferences and a current 70,000 members.  

As a reflection of the huge disparity in wealth among worldwide Mennonites, MCUSA has a total of five colleges and two seminaries, each with budgets far surpassing that of this one fledgling Anabaptist-related college in Ethiopia, with an annual operating budget of around $450,000.

Tuition and room and board at MKC are just over $2000 a year in US dollars, but that is far more than most of its students can afford, Ethiopia being one of the poorest nations of the world. Thus much of last night's appeal was for more money for its scholarship fund. 

A year at EMU costs over $46,000, although significant financial aid is available. As a result of such factors as rising costs, a shrinking Mennonite constituency, and increased competition from other liberal arts colleges and universities, EMU is struggling to keep its enrollment numbers up, in spite of aggressive year-round recruitment efforts. Fewer than a third of its current students are Mennonites.

MKC, by contrast, almost exclusively serves its rapidly expanding mother church, Meserete Christos, which is hard pressed to train enough pastors and church leaders to serve its growing needs. It has absolutely no problem recruiting students, and would be able to greatly increase its enrollment if only more funds were available.

There is something wrong with this disparity. If we really believe that God shows no favoritism, and that we are all a part of one worldwide body of believers, how can we justify this embarrassing gap in distribution of resources?

At the very least, I would like to see us begin appointing believers from the Global South to serve as decision-making board members of each of our church institutions (via skype?). And meanwhile, should we consider a moratorium on new construction or expansion of our existing institutions until our world neighbors have more of their needs met? And should MCUSA have its colleges and seminaries become one "multiversity" (on separate campuses) to avoid competing with each other for needed dollars and adequate student enrollment?

A fascinating story, well told
I'm currently reading Don Kraybill's fascinating history of EMU's first 100 years. Some of the struggles and sacrifices associated with the early chapters of its story remind me of those of MKC's founding. 

I hope Meserete Christos College can learn from EMU's story, and that EMU can learn from theirs.

FYI, the total funds raised last night by the 70 or so of us attending was just under $7000. If you live in the US and want to contribute, please send your generous check to MK College Link, Box 1701, Harrisonburg, VA 22803.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

You Can Help Gemeinschaft Home's "Raise The Roof" Campaign With A $1000 Loan

Here's a  low-cost and pain-free way to help a good cause.
Gemeinschaft Home just approved installing a much needed new metal roof  on the back of the house that should last for a lifetime. To raise the $33,000 needed for this project, which also includes some necessary work on the front porch, we are soliciting three-year, interest-free loans of $1000 or more, all to be repaid by the end of 2020. Of course, outright gifts are also welcomed and appreciated.

As a member of Gemeinschaft's Networking and Fundraising Committee, I have agreed to promote this financing effort, one I hope to have completed by the end of this month.

We did a similar "loan-raising" campaign in 2011 to fund an efficient furnace system to heat and provide hot water for the Home, which has resulted in significant cost savings to the program. At the end of the three year period everyone who loaned money was repaid in full from a fund that Gemeinschaft created and added to for this purpose each month (Some individuals chose at the end to turn their loan into a gift).

We would like to raise the necessary commitments in gifts or loans in the next several weeks if possible. You can write a check for $1000 or more with "roof project" in the memo line and mail it to Gemeinschaft Home 1423 Mt. Clinton Pike, Harrisonburg, VA 22802. You will then receive a promissory note for the full amount to be redeemed in December, 2020, if you wish.

Please check the Gemeinschaft website or call 434-1690 for more information.

Thanks in advance for your generous help!