Friday, June 29, 2012

A Tale of Two Funerals

Some years ago I attended the funeral of an older person in our community who had been living alone for many years following the death of her husband.

She was in her 80’s, and one day her pastor found her in her home, badly dehydrated and completely incapacitated by a stroke. She had been unable to call anyone for help, and had been in that state for several days before anyone thought to check on her. She then died within hours of being taken to the hospital.

Here was a wonderful woman who had been very active in her church and community all her life, and yet who nearly died alone. And there were a mere 100 people at her funeral, held on a Sunday afternoon. Actually that is not a bad number for someone of her age in our area, though most of those attending looked to be in their sixties or older. I saw only one child in the service.

I felt sad that she had to die the way she did, and that there weren’t even more people at her memorial service.

Not long after that, I attended another funeral, that of one of uncles, Tobe Yoder, also in his 80’s. It was held at the Beachy Amish Church near Stuarts Draft where I was once a member before I went to Harrisonburg to go to college at 21.

What impressed me was what Tobe's funeral said about the strength of that group’s community life. It was held on a weekday morning, but not only were my uncle’s relatives there in large numbers, but practically every other member of his congregation, including children of all ages. Their church run school was closed for the day.

And this wasn’t because he was some kind of exceptional person. He never held important leadership positions in his church, and was just a quiet, committed member of the congregational family he loved and served all his life.

A choir of some 40 people made up of his sons- and daughters-in-law and of his grandchildren sang some of his favorite numbers at his funeral, and the youth group of his church, some thirty strong, sang at the graveside, as his friends and family members took turns solemnly covering the grave.

I thought to myself, “What a way to die,” “What a rich man,” not rich monetarily, but in relationships, having investing in his family and his church family all of his life.

And the payoff was great. His six children, my cousins, have all turned out amazingly well, and each have healthy, sturdy families of their own. And his family, like ours, were powerfully influenced, and raised, not just by their parents, but by that larger faith community of people who were our people, who became our mentors, who met not just for Sunday morning services, but for Sunday dinners, for picnics, for Sunday evening singings. We worked and enjoyed good meals with each other at harvest times and at “frolics,” the name we used for any kind of building projects, barn or house raisings and other projects fellow members could get together for.

Funerals, like those of my uncle, were just one more way opportunity to show each other we cared, and to celebrate our common life by showing up when one of our number passed on.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday’s meeting on Jail Concerns

At our local jail, the use of a restraint chair involves an inmate being strapped and kept in an upright position, sometimes for hours, without access to mental health treatment or other normal human interaction. 

The padded isolation room, unlike a regular solitary confinement cell, has no cot or mattress and no sink or commode, only a hole in the floor to be used for a toilet.  Before being placed in the cell, the person is stripped and given only a paper gown to wear. No reading or writing material is provided, and human contact is limited to jail personnel monitoring the cell and bringing in food (with no utensils, for safety reasons) and some strips of toilet paper when requested. 

Someone from the Community Services Board may be called in for assessment, but actual counseling help is normally not available.

Fifteen concerned citizens met at the Family Life Resource Center today as a follow-up to the March 6 forum held at the Massanutten Regional Library to discuss concerns about the above use of restraint chair and padded isolation chair for suicidally depressed inmates in our local jail.

Some helpful things we learned today:

Two representatives of the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail reported that our local facility remains seriously overcrowded, currently housing 343 inmates when it was originally designed for 208. Inmates are double bunked, some have mattresses on the floor and an additional 40 are at the Middle River facility. All of this adds stress to inmates and jail personnel alike.

Most of the people who are placed in the restraint chair or in the padded isolation padded cell are incorrigible due to their being highly intoxicated or on drugs (such as bath salts), not because they are at risk for suicide. The group saw the use of restraints as understandable in some such cases but interest was expressed in getting more data on the nature and number of non-substance abuse cases that represent a risk for suicide, and what alternatives there are for their treatment. Records are kept on this and should be available.

There is no actual state regulation forbidding an outside professional (a suicidal inmate’s therapist, for example, where he or she already has one) being brought in to meet with a highly distressed individual, but safety and security concerns are cited as reasons for the jail not permitting this. There seemed to be a consensus in today’s group on having the on-call CSB clinician or whoever on the jail medical staff is doing a risk assessment to exercise the option of at least making a phone call to such a therapist.

The Community Services Board has a contract with the local jail to provide a minimum of necessary mental health services. The director of the CSB kindly expressed his willingness to get more information together on their work which he will discuss first with me and then perhaps also be willing to meet with a representative group of concerned citizens about ways of improving the mental health services they provide.

I was impressed by the level of interest expressed by everyone present, though questions were raised about whether too many concerns for not having trained outside volunteers hurt may get in the way of having more inmates helped. The group recognized the need to balance these concerns.

Another item of interest:

Sam Nickels, who could not be present today, recently returned from a three week trip looking at mental health systems in Central America, and said that hospital personnel he spoke with in Panama said they have a restraint chair, but that it is seldom used, and that the isolation room "went out years ago." In an email to me he suggested, “If Panama can do this, I think we can do it here. At a minimum we should have a protocol that states that if an inmate must be restrained for more than three hours (or whatever time period) in the chair, they must be transferred to the crisis/forensic unit of the state hospital, perhaps after consultation with the on call CSB assessment person.”

Attendees were invited to sign up to pursue one or more of the following:

 1. Investigate practices at other jails and prisons regarding the use of restraint chairs and isolated padded cells (State prisons no longer use the isolated padded cell, and the forensic unit at Western State Hospital uses bed restraints and/or one-on-one monitoring).

2. Consider ways of collaborating with our local Community Services Board in working to improve the treatment of mentally ill and suicidally depressed inmates in our jail.

3. Meet with Sheriff Hutcheson for an inside look at our local facility and to gather more information about actual practices and conditions at HRRJ.

4. Gather information and suggestions from ex-inmates and from concerned family members of mentally ill inmates about how to improve services.

I am also suggesting that each of us express our opinions and concerns directly to our newly-elected sheriff, Bryan Hutcheson, at He has been most open to hearing from his constituents.

A message of concern might go something like:

I sincerely hope that under your leadership the Harrisonburg Rockingham Regional Jail would end its use of the solitary padded cell for mentally ill and suicidally depressed inmates, and that in its place there could be one-on-one monitoring of such persons, utilizing, if necessary, volunteers trained by the Community Services Board or a similar agency.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Celebrating 65 Great Years Together

                                         Lloyd and Orpha Gingrich

We just returned this evening from celebrating the 65th anniversary of Alma Jean's oldest sister Orpha (Wert) and her husband, Lloyd Gingrich, at the Lauver's Mennonite Church in Juniata County, Pennsylvania.

What a great time of reminiscing and remembering! Each of their four sons and three daughters were present, along with dozens of friends and relatives, including, of course, their own grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Orpha's influence as a mother, grandmother, teacher, Sunday School teacher, and role model, is legendary, as is Lloyd's wry sense of humor and his keen interest in genealogy and church history.

Our family always loved visiting the ever hospitable Gingrich home and farm, and once when we were about to leave, our second oldest son hid in a bedroom in their home, wanting to stay longer. We all shared those feelings.
Today their family sang the following Bill Gaither song together that brought tears to my eyes, the chorus of which goes:

We have this moment to hold in our hands,
And to touch as it slips through our fingers like sand;
Yesterday's gone, And tomorrow may never come, 
But we have this moment today.

Congratulations, Orpha and Lloyd. May you be blessed with many more good moments and years together!

Thanks to Lloyd Wert for forwarding me the above photos.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How Our Addiction to Stuff is Destroying the Planet

Before we make our next trip to the mall for more stuff, or surf on Ebay to stock up on even more future landfill material, we should take time to click on this link to a provocative piece on “The Story of Stuff.”

Among the points it makes is that if everyone on the globe were to consume at the rate of most of us North Americans we would need several more planets in order to sustain the rate of consumption--and to absorb the mountains of waste--associated with our shopping habits.

After reflecting on that, I recommend we take time to consider the lyrics of the following piece by singer/songwriter Steve Forbert, the first two stanzas of which appear below. Hopefully by then our shopping urge may have subsided:

Good planets are hard to find,
Temp'rate zones and tropic climes,
True currents in thriving seas,
Winds blowin' through breathing trees,
Strong ozone and safe sunshine,
Good planets are hard to find.

Good planets are in demand,
Clean beaches and sparkling sand,
Land masses with room to spare,
Jet streams and perfect air,
High forests and low wetlands,
Good planets are in demand.

And the mind don't know
If the heart can't see;
Let the blind man go
To his destiny...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Father's Untimely Death


On this Father’s Day, I mourn the tragic loss of my grandniece Jessica Miller’s husband Jonathan, father of three young daughters ages five, three and two.

Just over a week ago, without any warning except his having admitted the night before that he was extremely tired, Jonathan died in his sleep at their home in rural Nicaragua, apparently from a severe asthma attack.

Jonathan and Jessica are a part of a church planting effort in Central America, one that was begun by my oldest brother Sanford and his wife Martha in Costa Rica over 40 years ago. Their son Pablo, my nephew and Jessica's father, is the pastor of a congregation in Wasala, Nicaragua, and Jonathan was one of the ordained ministers in a nearby church outreach.

Pastors can to some extent be replaced, but for Jessica and their three young daughters, the sudden loss of Jonathan is almost more than we can bear--or comprehend.

I debated whether to include this intimate picture of Jessica and her daughters (with Pablo, her father, and Jessica's sister Cynthia) with Jonathan’s body. I use it with their permission because it captures some of the heartbreaking reality of their loss, something the family and community face in a way that is different from most in our American culture.

For example, Pablo himself, along with one of the local believers, prepared Jonathan’s body and helped place it in a homemade casket for the all night wake held Saturday night at their home. In keeping with local practice, the body was not embalmed but was buried the next day after a memorial service attended by hundreds of people who came from the surrounding area and from other parts of Central America.

Jessica and her precious daughters need our support and prayers. They will be moving to a house near her parents, Pablo and Eunice Yoder. Here is her address:

Jessica Miller
Apartado Postal 333
Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Friday, June 15, 2012

Raising Better Behaved Parents

When our children behave badly, we assume they are going against everything we’ve ever taught them.

Not always. They may actually be imitating some of our own misbehaviors.

Take “back talk.”  Nothing upsets us like children being rude and disrespectful.  But they may in fact be using the same kind of discourteous language, copying the same angry tone of voice, they’ve learned all too well from us, their parents.

It’s easy for adults to forget that the Golden Rule, “do to others as you would have them do to you,”  applies to people of all ages, including children.  Or should we say, especially to children.  They have feelings just like us.

This doesn’t mean parents shouldn’t be firm or should tolerate rudeness or other forms of obvious inappropriate behavior.  But if in correcting them, we practice the very wrongs we’re trying to correct, how can we expect that to bring about the change we want?  Do we really believe we can teach respect, disrespectfully?  Or teach patience, impatiently?  Or kindness, unkindly? 

It doesn’t work.  Or it may work too well--in teaching exactly the opposite qualities we think we’re instilling in our children’s lives. 

One simple fact to remember is this.  Whenever there’s a contradiction between the good traits we’re trying to teach and the bad tone or manners we use in teaching them, it will always be the latter that has the greater impact.  The way we say things is more powerful than the words we say.

Chances are, if we have a habit of talking to our children in ways we would not tolerate from them, it’s because we don’t feel as confident and calm as we deserve to as parents.  The more emotionally exhausted and powerless we feel, the louder (and ruder) we are likely to become, the more desperately we behave.  In other words, we misbehave, a lot like our children do.

Here's a good word:  “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of self control” (I Timothy 1:7).  There are no better qualities than these to pass on to our children--courage, confidence, compassion, self discipline.

And like most other good traits, they are caught as much as taught.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Free Wedding Day

Mike McManus of, with whom we have worked in creating the local Community Marriage Policy (signed by some 50 churches in the area), sent me an email with an interesting idea.

He reports that Pastor Craig Gore, with the support of his congregation, the Cedar Park Assembly in Seattle, Washington, is offering an annual Free Wedding Day.  Last year three couples accepted, and were married on the same day in June, 2011, and the church has set the next event for this Saturday, June 16.

The program came about through Pastor Gore's concern that some people are not getting married because they don't feel they can afford a traditional church wedding and ceremony. So Cedar Park Assembly offers the following services free:

Pre-marriage counseling (four sessions of which are required)
A minister to perform the ceremony
A music and sound engineer
A floral package that includes bouquets and boutonnieres for the bride, groom, one bridesmaid, a groomsmen, a flower girl and a ring bearer
A free 15 photo package

It does not include the cost of a reception, and additional flower or photo options are available if desired.

With an estimated 7.6 million couples cohabiting in 2011, couples Pastor Gore believes are at great risk for going through a form of premarital divorce, he and his church would like to help persons in undocumented, premarital marriages to get whatever help they need to establish relationships with stronger bonds and a greater sense of support.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Does Gemeinschaft Home Need a Name Change?

As someone with a German background, I love Gemeinschaft as the name of the local recovery and re-entry program for ex-offenders I’ve supported as a board member for many years. The word is usually translated “community,” or “fellowship,” an alternative to the more formal German word “Gesellschaft,” a designation for a corporation, association, or organization. 

The stately old building housing our present program was named Gemeinschaft well before the board of the present Home acquired it 25 years ago. Some visionary EMU students and grads lived there and offered hospitality to a variety of people in need, including refugees. So the name has a venerable history.

The only problem with the name is that even most supporters of the program, along with the majority of folks who live and work at the Home, are unable to define, spell, or pronounce it. It usually comes out as “Gee-MINE-Shaft” rather than the correct “Guh-MINE-Shoft” (the “o” in the last syllable pronounced like the “o” in “shop”).  The Home once received a letter addressed to “The Mine Shaft,” and “shaft” is almost always the way the last syllable is pronounced.

Our Board would like feedback on the idea of changing  the name of the house and the program while preserving “Gemeinschaft Home” for the organization that operates it. Thus we would avoid the complications and costs associated with a legal name change but simply change what appears on our sign and on our letterheads. Something like “a program of Gemeinschaft Home” could still appear as the subtitle. 

The name “Community House” has been suggested. This would simply be an English translation of the existing name, and suggests the kind of life we want residents to experience within the house--along with the sense of ownership and partnership we want with our local community. This is easily spelled and pronounced and would be meaningful to any English-speaking person.

One objection to that choice has been that there are too many other programs in our area with “community” in their name, like “Our Community Place,” “Community Mennonite Church,” “The Community Resource Center,” and “The Community Foundation.”

Please give us your suggestions, along with your rating, on a scale of 0 to 5, each of the following possibilities (with “0” meaning “strongly disapprove” and “5” “strongly approve”).

Here’s a list:

___Gemeinschaft Home (keep it the same)
___Community House
___Harrisonburg House of Hope
___Fresh Start or (Fresh Start Community)
___Freedom House
___House of Hope
___New Start (or New Start Community)
___Second Chance
___Samaritan Inn


Each of these could have “Gemeinschaft Home” in the sub heading or even as a part of the title, as in “Gemeinschaft Freedom House.”

Please comment below or just send me an email:

Friday, June 8, 2012

Ave, Madelyne

Our oldest granddaughter Madelyne, at almost three, asked to be sung to every night as a part of her bedtime routine. Her beloved dad, away at work most days, usually got to tuck her in, a nightly father-daughter bonding time. She is now seven, and still values this kind of end-of-day ritual.

Strangely enough, one of her most requested early "lullabies" was Franz Schubert’s "Ave Maria."

Does this girl have good taste or what, I remember asking myself? Not only does this happen to be one of my favorite pieces, it is the one her father chose for his Class Voice solo performance way back in high school. Its Latin text is taken in part from the announcement of the angel Gabriel to the young virgin Mary, as recorded in the first chapter of Luke’s Gospel:

“Ave Maria, grátia plena, Dóminus tecum! Benedícta tu in muliéribus, et benedíctus fructus ventris tui, Jesus.” 

Translated, it is, “Greetings, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women,” followed by an additional phrase from the blessing by Mary’s older relative Elizabeth, “and blessed is the fruit of your womb (Jesus).”

Needless to say, I was pretty impressed by this nightly liturgy at my granddaughter’s bed, a little reenactment of Gabriel and Elizabeth’s encounter with the young Mary. I felt Madelyne’s dad and mom were passing on something even more profound than they could have planned, something like, “Greetings, Madelyne, full of God’s grace. May you, too, like Mary, be blessed among women, and may the fruit of every part of your life be God’s gift to all.”

 Not that I want to distract from the honor belonging to the one and only Blessed Virgin. But was not Mary, too, once just another ordinary child from an ordinary Jewish family? It was God in her that made her special. And in our Creator’s eyes every child is incomparably precious and extraordinary, not unlike Mary.

This, I believe, is what parenting should be about, conveying blessings and extending callings to our children. In the Hebrew Schema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) we are told to pass on such words daily, "when we sit at home and when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up.”

Author John Drescher, in his book, "Parents--Passing the Torch of Faith," writes, “In the home we practice our faith in the most intimate way... In the family the child first feels and senses what is important. Here is the child’s first view of life and its meaning.”

And what better time to pass on this kind of meaning than “when we lie down,” when night falls and our children are about to fall asleep?

Ave, Madelyne. Benedictus, granddaughter. May you and every child be blessed and be a blessing.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Shaping Families" Radio Program

My interview on the MennoMedia program “Shaping Families” will be aired this Sunday, June 9. For times and stations, check

The conversation is based on my book, “Lasting Marriage, The Owners’ Manual,” published by Herald Press.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Competing With XXX

“We can’t possibly make ourselves look as appealing to our mates as all of the pornographic images they have access to,” is a lament I often hear from women.

They have a point. Most females don’t resemble the surgically altered nymphomaniacs portrayed on screen--ever young, alluring and available.

And speaking of available, fifty years ago there were some 1000 US theaters featuring X-rated films. Most were in an undesirable part of town, and to go there was to risk ones good reputation.

Today there are literally millions of such “theaters” everywhere, in the form of personal computers found in almost every home and office, each with unlimited varieties of X-rated material available at the click of a mouse. As a result, the number of men addicted to this fare has multiplied, with large numbers of teen age boys now hooked on this material.

That’s the bad news--and its even worse than bad. We may never fully know the devastating effects of this plague on the stability and durability of marriage and family relationships.

Is there any good news in the picture?

Maybe. There is at least one simple truth we should announce loud and clear: Most of this X-rated hype is utterly fake. In real life, the characters portrayed aren’t any more interested in sex than the rest of us, just greedy for the big bucks they can make--or for the attention they can get--pretending to be.

In the end, pornography is all about using deception for the sake of obscene profits. In reality, it is to good, satisfying lovemaking something like WWE wrestling is to an Olympic event. If we’re looking for fantasy, we can find plenty of it here to fix our eyes on and to fire up our imaginations. But in the end, the actors and actresses involved are as pathetic and needy as are the consumers of their shabby products.

Unfortunately, a lot of addicted men, infantile in their need for a next quick fix, have lost their ability to appreciate the difference. According to feminist author Naomi Wolfe, a disturbing number of males have come to expect their wives or partners to look and perform like porn stars. “Real women,” she says, “who come in a wide variety of body styles, and who aren’t downloadable and then deleteable at will, and who aren’t dying to have instant sex with whatever male body may be at hand, are seen as just not being exciting enough to satisfy today’s pornographized expectations.” Wolfe adds that today “sex, like the fast food industry, is about everything being super packaged and super sized, where the more appetites are stimulated by poor-quality material, the more junk it takes to satisfy.”

But if we prefer truly satisfying and lasting bonds, real men and women like you and me can outperform the competition hands down. With God’s help, we can affirm things like “I love you,” and “I’ll always be there for you,” and really mean it. We can actually keep sacred promises like “in sickness and in health,” and “until death do us part.” We can offer reassuring touch and warm hugs to the love of our life, and receive the same. And we can form a satisfying lifelong bond and help create a loving family that can bless the world.

That’s real, unlike anything the dark and fake world of porn can offer. And in the context of a committed and blessed wedded life, we can celebrate times of ecstasy and intimacy far superior to anything offered on screen--with pure delight and no regrets.

That’s priceless.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

White Power/White Flour!



White Flour

by David LaMotte

The day was bright and sunny as most May days tend to be

In the hills of Appalachia down in Knoxville, Tennessee

A dozen men put on their suits and quickly took their places

In white robes and those tall and pointed hoods that hid their faces

Their feet fell down in rhythm as they started their parade

They raised their fists into the air, they bellowed and they brayed

They loved to stir the people up, they loved when they were taunted
They didn’t mind the anger, it’s exactly what they wanted

As they came around the corner, sure enough the people roared

But they couldn’t quite believe their ears, it seemed to be support!

Had Knoxville finally seen the light? Were people coming ‘round?

The men thought for a moment that they’d found their kind of town

But then they turned their eyes to where the cheering had its source

As one their shoulders crumpled when they saw the mighty force
The crowd had painted faces and some had tacky clothes

Their hair and hats outrageous, each had a bright red nose

The clowns had come in numbers to enjoy the grand parade

They laughed and danced that other clowns had come to town that day

And then the marchers shouted, and the clowns all strained to hear

Each one tuned in intently with a hand cupped to an ear

“White power!” screamed the marchers, and they raised their fisted hands

The clowns leaned in and listened like they couldn’t understand

Then one held up his finger and helped all the others see

The point of all this yelling, and they joined right in with glee

“White flour!” the clowns shouted, and they reached inside their clothes

They pulled out bags and tore them and huge clouds of powder rose

They poured it on each other and they threw it in the air

It got all over baggy clothes and multi-colored hair

Now all but just a few of them were joining in the jokes

You could almost see the marchers turning red beneath white cloaks
They wanted to look scary! They wanted to look tough!

One rushed right at the clowns in rage and was hauled away in cuffs

But the others chanted louder, marching on around the bend
The clowns all marched on too, of course, supporting their new friends
“White power!” came the marchers’ cry, they were not amused

The clowns grew still and thoughtful—well, perhaps they’d been confused…?

They huddled and consulted, this bright and silly crowd
They listened quite intently, then one said “I’ve got it now!”

“White flowers!” screamed the happy clown, and all the rest joined in

The air was filled with flowers, and they laughed and danced again

“Everyone loves flowers, and white’s a pretty sort
I can’t think of a better cause for people to support!
Green flower stems went flying like small arrows from bad archers

White petals covered everything, including the mad marchers

And then a very tall clown called the others to attention
He choked down all his chuckles and said “Friends I have to mention

That what with all this mirth and fun it’s sort of hard to hear
But now I know the cause that these paraders hold so dear!”

“Tight showers!” the clown blurted, as he hit his head in wonder
He held up a camp shower and the others all got under

Or at least they tried to get beneath, they strained but couldn’t quite

There wasn’t room for all of them, they pushed, but it was tight!

“White Power!” came the mad refrain, quite carefully pronounced

The clowns consulted once again, then a woman clown announced

“I’ve got it! I’m embarrassed that it took so long to see,

But what these marchers march for is a cause quite dear to me!”

“Wife power!” she exclaimed, and all the other clowns joined in

They shook their heads and laughed at how erroneous they’d been

The women clowns were hoisted up on shoulders of the others

Some pulled on wedding dresses, chanting “Here’s to wives and mothers!”

The men in robes were sullen, they knew they’d been defeated

They yelled a few more times and then they finally retreated

And when they’d gone a kind policeman turned to all the clowns
And offered them an escort through the center of the town

The day was bright and sunny as most May days tend to be

In the hills of Appalachia down in Knoxville, Tennessee

People joined the new parade, the crowd stretched out for miles

The clowns passed out more flowers and made everybody smile

And what would be the lesson of that shiny southern day?

Can we understand the message that the clowns sought to convey?

Seems that when you’re fighting hatred, hatred’s not the thing to use!

So here’s to those who march on in their big red floppy shoes

(based on true events of May 26, 2007 – ©2007 David LaMotte)

I learned about the above children's book through an article Virginia Mennonite Conference Peace Advocate Nicholas Detweiler-Stoddard submitted to the June issue of the VMC paper "Connections."

Special thanks to poet and author David Lamotte for kindly giving me permission to post this.

You can order the book at