Pages

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Are You a Man, Little Eli?

I just received an email attachment with a soon to be published manuscript written by my niece Judy Yoder. It is the story of the early life of my older brother Eli (her father) and of our family during our years in eastern Kansas.

My parents, Ben and Mary Yoder, moved there with their eight children from Nowata County, Oklahoma, in late 1942 to near Garnett, Kansas, then by train to Virginia in March of 1946. I am 3 1/2 years old when this story begins, and Eli is eight.

I don't have the same vivid memories of this time my older siblings have, but this gives me such a sense of place, of home, helping me see, feel, hear and taste some of my early life in a way that makes it priceless. The book is meant for elementary age children, but it is one that I, needless to say, am reading with great interest!

Judy is also the author of the book "Vera's Journey" which has sold over 6000 hardback copies.

Here's a list of the chapters, plus a sample from the first part of chapter 1:

Are you a man, Little Eli?

1. Too Poor to go Farther......................................................... 2
2. Mrs. Snyder.......................................................................    11
3. The Button-up Shoes .......................................................... 19
4. Write it a Thousand Times.................................................. 27
5. Rats in the Attic.................................................................. 35
6. Surprise from the Junk Yard ............................................... 42
7. The Almost-end of School. ................................................ 48
8. Patsy Comes to Stay............................................................. 53
9. The Sure-enough Mad Dog................................................. 64
10. Grouchy Mr. Watkins......................................................... 67
11. The Christmas Train........................................................... 77
12. The Big Red Bull................................................................ 89
13. Herdsman for Dannie......................................................... 98
14. Buck Rake and the Bees................................................... 105
15. Weeds in the Corn............................................................. 117
16. Visit to Oklahoma............................................................. 125
17. Rabbit Hunt with Patsy..................................................... 132.
18. No Funeral for Ben........................................................... 137
19. Queen gets the Spooks.....................................................  143
20. Responsible Hired Man .................................................. 148
21. The Wonderful New Machine……………………........……... 154
22. Home Alone..................................................................... 158
23. Hail on the Oats............................................................... 166
24. Mountains of Virginia...................................................... 170
25. War's End......................................................................... 173
26. Good-bye Grossmommy.................................................. 174
27. Letter from Uncle Ed....................................................... 179
28. Rubber-tired Tractor......................................................... 188
29. "Din-nah in tha' Reah!".................................................... 193
30. Surrounded by Mist......................................................... 200
31. A Man-sized Job.............................................................. 202



Chapter 1. Too Poor to go Farther   12/15/42

It was night when Eli opened his eyes. The moon still floated high above the frozen prairie, and Dad and Mom’s voices were quick and muffled in the kitchen. The morning fire in the stove spit and popped.

Eli shoved his face out of the comforters. The air grabbed his chest but he sat up, shivering. Gritting his teeth, he slid out of bed and reached for his clothes. Sanford’s feet hit the floor at the same time. Others were waking too–Harvey, in his bed, the girls in theirs--Lovina, Esther, and Lucy. Lena and Fannie Mae. Everyone was hurrying. Mom had said that on moving day there would be no time to waste. They must grab a bite, and hustle about.

Eli slipped into the kitchen. He took the cornbread Mom handed him. Already the house where he had been born seemed like a foreign place. Boxes and barrels crowded the corners and hid the walls. The rooms of the little house seemed strange and swollen out of shape. In just a few hours they would drive away and never come back. Eli tried to swallow the last bite of cornbread but it stuck in his throat.

“Ach, your head!” Mom said. She ran a wet comb over his hair, sending a cold trickle down his neck before he pulled on his stocking cap. The wetness reached way down inside of him without warming up at all. He wrestled with the door knob, then stepped out into the night.

Tree branches made thin shadows on the ground. Somewhere a rooster crowed. A truck ground to a halt out on the road, then headlights swung in the lane. Eli jumped off the porch and stood there, shivering. The movers were here.

Lanterns bobbed. Hurry, hurry went all the feet. They must soon head down the road and go, who knows where. Eli did not know. Neither did the others. Only Dad had seen their new home.

“I found a house to rent five miles from Uncle Dannies and Grossmommy,” Dad had said. “Not as close as I wish, but close enough, I guess.” He cleared his throat, “Though the house isn’t in the best of shape.”

“What needs be, needs be,” Mom had answered. And that’s why today was moving day.

Soon Eli was too busy to think. He did not feel the cold creeping into his hands and feet. He did not feel it slipping down his coat collar, sucking at his breath. The sun was peeping over the rim of the world as Dad and Sanford loaded the stove, the beds. and the kitchen sink. It was peering in the windows as Mom and the girls hefted on the desk, the table, and the chairs.

The loads piled higher and higher. The sun climbed up, up the sky. Clothes, comforters, and food squeezed on board. Horses, pigs, and cows. And then they were on their way.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *  * * *
Judy has kindly given me permission to post this sample draft, with the understanding that her manuscript will need to go through the publisher's normal editing process and has yet to be illustrated, all of which may take considerable time.  I'll be sure to let everyone know when this happens.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Mennonite War Heroes

In 1569, Anabaptist Dirk Willems rescues his pursuer
and then is burned at the stake.

Were one to publish an account of “Mennonite War Heroes” it might be among the world’s smallest books. The official confession of faith of my church, a relatively small denomination that grew out of the non-violent wing of the sixteenth century Anabaptist movement, states,  “As disciples of Christ, we do not prepare for war, or participate in war or military service.”

This simple statement, taken from Article 22 of "Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective," sets us apart from all but a fraction of other Christians around the world, although more and more people of all faiths have begun to align themselves with the teachings of Jesus as Prince of Peace.

In defense of us pacifists it should be noted that one of the world’s largest books, the 1150 page “Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians,” chronicles the heroic deaths of thousands of our spiritual ancestors, mostly the peace-loving Anabaptists who were persecuted for being members of the more radical free church wing of the Protestant Reformation. They suffered and died in the courageous defense of a freedom we now take for granted, that people everywhere be allowed to assemble freely and to practice the faith to which they feel called.

In the sixteenth century this concept of freedom of choice in matters of religion was seen as dangerous and heretical by Catholics and Protestants alike. Just as parents of children born in Catholic-ruled jurisdictions were required to have them baptized and raised Catholic, so in Protestant or Reformed regions it was equally a crime (punishable by death or exile) not to have children baptized in their Protestant churches and thus registered as a part of the state-church system of the period. Without this official registration one was a non-citizen, and could not legally buy or own property, for example.

To the extent that we now lament this aspect of church history, we have all become “anabaptist.” But we may forget that it is this peaceable army of sixteenth century members of the “free church” movement (nicknamed “Anabaptist” because they re-baptized those who chose faith as adults) to whom we owe much of the freedom of religion we so much prize today. This was certainly not a privilege won by the sword-wielding forces used by state churches of the day to punish and eradicate those who dared to deviate from the status quo.

So on this Memorial Day, as I join others in mourning members of armed forces slain on battlefields around the world--sometimes in defense of freedom, often for causes far less noble but through no fault of their own--I will not forget to honor what I see as that truly “greatest generation” of the martyred. These multitudes of brave men and women, without killing or maiming a single human being, died in defense of the enviable freedom we have to follow our own consciences in matters of faith, no matter the cost, including the right and the obligation to say no to war itself.

In the name of God, and for the survival of the planet, people of goodwill everywhere need to join them in this kind of cross-bearing obedience to Jesus.

You might want to check out the book "Joining the Army That Sheds no Blood."

Friday, May 25, 2012

How Amicable Divorces Can Hurt Children

Sometimes I wonder if amicable divorces might result in more distress for children than angry ones, at least when the anger involved is based on outrageous and clearly unacceptable behaviors on the part of one or both parents. In such circumstances, children can clearly understand the reason for the divorce and may even feel genuine relief when it happens.

But when two otherwise loving, supportive parents call it quits and go about insisting on having a nice, friendly and painless divorce, children are confused. Why can’t these nice people simply work things out, just a they expect their kids to do when they’re not getting along?

In the introduction to his book "Helping Your Kids Cope With Divorce the Sandcastles Way" (all about the virtues of amicable divorce), M. Gary Neuman opens with, "Why do couples divorce? Usually because one or both partners believe that ending the marriage will free them to create happier, emotionally healthy lives for themselves and their children." Neuman then goes on to make the point that how parents handle their divorce has everything to do with how well children will deal with it.

There is of course a lot of truth to that, and yes, many children do very well in spite of their parents choosing to dismantle their family as they have known it. But I can't help wonder whether most partners are motivated to quit primarily because they only want what's best for them and their children. I also question the premise that a marital breakup doesn't have to be any more traumatic than, say, a bad house fire or a move to a different school district.

From my observation, with some clear exceptions in the case of abuse, addiction or adultery, most divorces result from abusive fights that have little to do with wise, prayerful and careful decision-making. Just as many individuals who choose to end their lives in suicide have come to rationalize that this will free them and their loved ones from an intolerable burden--and that everyone will recover and be none the worse for it--so many couples justify their “wed-icide” as the only viable solution.

But is that true? And does that make sense to those who have to deal with the aftermath?

I don’t think so.

For an additional perspective on divorce check out my May 10 blog.

Monday, May 21, 2012

A Last Supper for Miguel 11/17/1939--5/14/2012

Just two days before his death, Alma Jean and I celebrated the Lord’s Supper with fellow house church member Michael Rivera-Wenger and his wife Lois. Daughter Lorna and one-year-old grandson Ethan were also present for what literally became a "Last Supper."

Originally from Puerto Rico, Michael had been in failing health and in hospice care for some time, but was alert enough to recognize us and to receive with joy the bread and the cup of the Eucharist. He drank his grape juice through a straw, then expressed his desire for more, as if he knew he needed an extra measure of spiritual nourishment to sustain him through the last hours of his life.

This is my body, broken for you. 
This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood. 
Observe this supper in remembrance of me.

Michael always had a great appreciation for a good meal, and his faithful wife was a wonderful cook. So in the meditation I prepared for today's outdoor memorial service, I noted that he would especially delight in having a seat at the lavishly spread "wedding supper of the Lamb" described in chapter 19 of the last book of the Bible. An eternal last supper.

Michael also knew what it was like to be embraced by a welcoming and forgiving Father, one who puts on extravagant parties for prodigals coming home to faith and family, as he himself had done some years earlier.

Yes, whenever there is a homecoming, God delights in music, merry making, laughter and tables heavy with good food, as the prophet Isaiah declared long ago:

On this mountain the Lord Almighty will prepare
    
a feast of rich food for all peoples,

a banquet of aged wine—
    
the best of meats and the finest of wines.


On this mountain God will destroy
    
the shroud that enfolds all peoples,

the sheet that covers all nations;
        
he will swallow up death forever.


The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears
 
from all faces;

he will remove his people’s disgrace
    
from all the earth.

The Lord has spoken.
 
Come home, Miguel. You've got a place at the welcome table.

It’s suppertime.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Interesting Responses to My Recent Piece on Military Waste


  
Picasso’s famous painting depicting the horror of the first bombing of civilians by war planes in Guernica, Spain, during the 1937 Spanish Civil War.
My May 5 post on “Welfare Waste versus Warfare Waste” generated a number of critical comments on DNRonline after it was published in the May 15 Daily News-Record as an an op-ed piece, and also from some readers of the Mennonite World Review blog “Our World Together” where it was posted last week.

Here are some interesting responses from readers of the latter:


“The basic mission of the AMARG facility in Tuscon is to reclaim used aircraft and parts rather than paying contractors to produce new ones. According to the Davis-Monthan Air Force base web page, AMARG saves taxpayers $11 for every $1 invested in the facility.
“I strongly agree with your overall premise, but the fact that you choose one of the most cost-effective facilities in the entire US military system as evidence of your point severely weakens your credibility. If you are writing an article on waste, I question the wisdom of making an anecdote out of what is essentially an effective recycling facility.”           - jon                            

“Harvey- Explain to me how the money spent on defense products is 'wasted' and is 'gone forever' while welfare spending 'circulates in the economy'. I do not necessarily disagree with your overall position that we have too high a defense budget, but I'd like to hear the rationale for those baseless economic arguments. All the men and women who built those aircraft, not to mention the parts supplier that maintained them, the companies that fueled them etc. would likely disagree with you.
“Add the fact that our overall defense budget is roughly $600-800 billion of a $3 trillion budget (20 - 25%) and I think this argument gets long in the tooth fairly quickly. Much emotion, little logic, I think."           - bjw

Here are some of my own further reflections:

Thanks for your responses.

When it comes to economics, I'm totally not an expert, but it does seems obvious that money spent on a fighter plane doesn't help the economy in the way that investing in, say, a Boeing 707 that transports goods and people multiple times a day for a productive lifetime, and which can then still be used for spare parts after its retirement.

The initial expenditure of billions of dollars on the 4000 Air Force planes in Tucson did of course add stimulus to the economy, as would investing in building 4000 Egyptian style pyramids. And some of the "waste" of building multiple pyramids could be recouped by selling some of the surplus bricks to interested tourists and other would-be pyramid builders. But compare that to investing in 4000 small businesses and other infrastructure that could create a thriving city of economic activity rather than ending up in the kind of "graveyard" we have in Arizona, one that appeared to be void of any activity at all on the day we saw it.

Meanwhile, none of us is raising the moral question of whether aircraft should be ever be used to rain death on innocent people and create havoc and destruction from the air, especially through saturation bombing of cities or villages or the napalming of God's creation, as these Vietnam era planes were capable of doing with great efficiency.

The Wright brothers and other early pioneers in flight certainly didn't have such military use in mind, and when airplanes were first used in the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War, there was worldwide outrage over the kind of terror that created (note Picasso's painting commissioned to commemorate that tragedy).

Who would have thought that we would now, just 75 years later, take that kind of holocaust for granted as a normal part of "defense"?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Preventing Truth Decay

What’s wrong with the following statements (beside their being rude and disrespectful)?

     1.  “You are the worst slob in the world.  This room’s like a pig pen!”
     2.  “You think you’re so perfect.  I’ve never met anyone so 'better-than-thou'.”
     3.  “Why do you have to be like this?  Don’t you ever think?  Won’t you ever learn?”
     4.  “You’re always tripping over everything.  Why do you have to be so clumsy all the time?”
     5.  “I get no respect whatsoever.  All I’m good for is to do everyone’s dirty work.”


     The major problem with all of the above?  They simply can't pass the truth test.

     Take the first statement:  “...the worst slob in the world?”  Among the world’s seven billion people, can even your son, daughter, or spouse really be that outstanding?  And “...like a pig pen?”  Really?

     Statement two assumes that the speaker, like God, knows exactly what someone else is thinking and feeling (amazing mind reading ability), and the “I’ve never met anyone so...” is an obvious exaggeration, a judgmental statement for which there is clearly no rational basis.

     Number three represents a series of rhetorical barbs having nothing to do with what real questions are for, that is, to elicit information.  In reality, like most of our "Why" questions, they are poorly disguised put downs.

     In number four, the use of “always”, “everything” and “all the time” represent generalizations that are almost always untrue, and will only invite denial and defensiveness on the part of the hearer.

     And number five represents a self-pitying, self-put-down more likely intended to produce guilt  than to describe how the speaker really feels about him or herself.  And the phrases “no respect whatsoever,” “All I’m good for,”  and “everyone’s dirty work” are exaggerations and generalizations almost anyone can see through. 

     In short, there is no substitute for just offering good, unembellished, information-offering truth.  That means simply describing a situation, and our own feelings about it, as accurately as we can, using respectful, plain-spoken “I-messages” instead of finger-pointing “You-messages.”

     But wait, isn’t it the truth that hurts? 

     Not if spoken, as the the Good Book tells us, “in the spirit of love.”  What hurts are inaccurate distortions of the truth, statements that have little to do with letting someone know something (information), but a lot to do with letting someone have it (accusation).  There’s a big difference.

Monday, May 14, 2012

State-of-the-Art Wind and Solar Technology


Where I grew up you could always tell it was Monday because of all of the clotheslines in the neighborhood hanging heavy with the week’s laundry. These days clotheslines are often considered eyesores and even banned in some residential areas.

I can’t help but lament the kinds of pleasure and benefits folks miss by not enjoying the fresh, sun-drenched results of sheets and other laundry dried in the fresh air and sunshine. Fabric softeners can provide some artificial aromas to substitute for the natural work of the sun’s rays, but only because of some potentially toxic chemicals that are introduced in the process.

You just can’t compare natural drying to what happens when clothes and linens are bounced around in machines that result in the rigorous wear and tear we know as lint, another term for "costly damage to good clothing." And of course if we paid attention to what our electric or gas meters are telling us when we’re running our dryers, we might have even more second thoughts about whether we should be wasting so much energy battering our laundry about every week.

As an advocate for values like thrift and good stewardship of God’s earth, I’d encourage everyone to consider the merits of going back to some of the simple and earth-saving practices we’re losing in our quest for ever more ease and convenience.

And the benefits of the extra exercise we get in the process couldn’t hurt us, either.

For more on this subject, check out this link.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Irreconcilable Differences: If Parents Could Divorce Their Children

After reading an account of someone’s amicable divorce in the May, 2012, issue of the Mennonite, I felt moved to write the following tongue-in-cheek letter by a set of imaginary parents to their children:

Dear John and Jane,

We really hate to have to break this to you, but as you know, we have been unhappy as a family for some time. In fact, we feel so distressed we’ve come to the place that we’ve decided we’re better off separating from each other.

When we adopted you a decade ago, we were overjoyed. As you know, we always made a big deal of the fact that you were ours not by mere chance but that we consciously chose you to be a part of our family. Our early honeymoon years were wonderful, and we thought you were the greatest gifts we had ever experienced. We were so much in love!

But life goes on, and after all of the many disappointments, stresses and arguments we’ve been through since then, things just aren’t the same. Sadly, we don't have those good feelings for you anymore. Understand, we still love you, we're just no longer in love with you the way a mom and dad should be with their children. And we figure that if parents have to work this hard to try to get their love back, then the relationship wasn't really meant to be in the first place.

Please don't take this personally. We think you are each exceptional children, and would make a wonderful son and daughter for some other couple wanting to adopt you into their family. It's just that we're not a good fit.

This makes us very sad. We may never understand why God brought us together in the first place, but I'm sure everything happens according to some plan, and that we'll look back later and see everything worked out for the good. Since you do really deserve the best, and since we can't seem to be that for each other, why should we keep up a pretense?

We can only hope and pray you will accept this as being the best way forward. We've already contacted a family divorce attorney and the separation papers are being drawn up as we speak. We are enclosing $1000 for each of you, along with two one-way plane tickets, for you to go live with your grandparents until your adoption by some other parents takes place.

Meanwhile, we hope we can all be totally nice to each other. We want this separation to go through in such an amicable and Christian way that we can eventually at least be friends with each other, with no hard feelings on the part of any of us.

We're so sorry this couldn't be worked out.

Sincere best wishes,

Mom and Dad

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

2012 Family Life Resource Center "Fun-Raiser"

   Ted Swartz

Here's a link to information about FLRC's upcoming 25th Anniversary fund raising event with Ted and Company set for 6:30 pm Friday, May 18, at the Detwiler auditorium at the Virginia Retirement Community. The Bowtie Boys from Eastern Mennonite High School will provide music and there will be lots of great desserts for everyone.

The theme of the evening is "A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine."

Contact us at services@flrc.org or 434-8450 right away if you can join us.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Welfare Waste versus Warfare Waste

A partial view of an Air Force graveyard

He makes wars cease
    to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
    he burns the shields with fire.

He says, “Be still (e.g., 'Stop fighting!'), and know that I am God...
                                            - Psalm 46:9-10 (NIV)

I frequently get emails lamenting the number of welfare tax dollars going to people too lazy to work. This is adding to our public debt, they say, and represents a crisis of epidemic proportions.

I don’t disagree with anyone concerned about actual welfare fraud, but can't help seeing it as a case of straining at gnats and swallowing camels.  When it comes to the level of waste that really adds to our national red ink, military spending is the far greater culprit.

It should also be noted that local welfare budgets don’t add to our federal debt, and even the money “wasted” quickly circulates back into the economy, whereas what is spent on such things as aircraft and ammunition is pretty much gone forever, to say nothing of the devastation and destruction they can cause.

Some years ago while visiting our daughter in her two-year term of voluntary service in Tucson, we drove past a desert site where some 4000 aircraft, mostly from the Vietnam war era, are mothballed in a bone yard covering literally hundreds of acres. Some are used for spare parts, but they are nevertheless a glaring symbol of the enormous waste that is a part of our multi-billion dollar military-industrial complex.

Here are some additional facts:

In 2010 the conservative Cato Institute stated that “every man, woman and child in the United States will spend more than $2,700 on (defense) programs and agencies next year. By way of comparison, the average Japanese spends less than $330; the average German about $520; China’s per capita spending is less than $100.”


According to the Hearst Newspapers, “(The Pentagon budget) dwarfs the combined defense budgets of U.S. allies and potential U.S. enemies alike.”


The National Journal’s Government Executive magazine claims “President (Obama) is on track to spend more on defense, in real dollars, than any other president has in one term of office since World War II... And in 2000, the Pentagon admitted it has lost — yes, lost — $2.3 trillion. In 2003, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that a subsequent Department of Defense study said it was only $1 trillion. To put such numbers in perspective, contemplate what those sums could finance. $1 trillion, for instance, could pay the total cost of universal healthcare for the long haul. $2.3 trillion would cover universal healthcare plus the bank bailout plus the stimulus package."


And a quote by former Defense Department Secretary Donald Rumsfield: “We maintain 20 to 25 percent more base infrastructure than we need to support our forces, at an annual waste to taxpayers of some $3 billion to $4 billion …”

So before we blame welfare recipients for all of the nation’s budget problems, could we at least try to put this in some perspective?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Election 2000: How a Handful of Florida Mennonites May Have Altered World History

The outcome of the 2000 presidential race was eventually decided by a mere 537 votes in the closely contested state of Florida. It makes me wonder what might have happened if Mennonites there would have just stayed at home on election day? Assuming most of them voted for the party that prevailed (as the majority of Mennos elsewhere did) would that alone have changed the outcome?

If so, here are four additional hypothetical questions:

1. Would there have been an Iraq war, the longest in US history next to the Afghan conflict, and one that has resulted in the loss of over 4000 American lives, plus some 40,000 service men and women being psychologically and/or physically maimed for life--along with Iraqi casualties numbering in the hundreds of thousands? Perhaps some Mennonites would argue that deposing Saddam Hussein was worth that and more, but imposing regime change by military means has never been advocated by a peace church like ours. And regrettably, in the instability that has followed, large numbers of Christians who were formerly able to practice their faith in relative peace have since had to flee Iraq for their own safety, leaving a large vacuum as far as a Christian witness in that part of the world.

2. Would the US national debt have begun to spiral out of control as it did after 2000 as a result of sizable tax cuts that turned a national budget surplus into a rapidly growing deficit, and because of the enormous cost of waging two simultaneous wars?

3. Would the US have ratified the Kyota Protocol, with potentially significant implications for the future well being of the planet? The actual merits of the treaty and the evidence that supports its provisions can always be debated, of course, but the fact of it not passing in part as an indirect result of the Florida vote is certainly a possibility.

4. Would the makeup of the Supreme Court have been altered, thus affecting, for example, the outcome of  the recent Citizens United case (which gives corporations the status of "people" who can make unlimited campaign contributions), adding to the loss of civility and accountability in current and future political campaigns?

We will never know the answers to such speculative questions, but I welcome comments and further conversation on whether our voting as Mennonites may not sometimes have major unintended consequences.

P. S. Here's a link to an earlier piece, An Election Reflection.