Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fun and Games at the Asheville Tea Party

They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind" (Hosea 8:7)

Just when you think you’ve heard everything, the Asheville, North Carolina, Citizen-Times informs us that their local Tea Party is hosting a “Machine Gun Social” at an indoor arms range as a fundraiser Saturday, September 29.

For a mere $25, you get to shoot a 30-round clip from a 9mm submachine gun, $35 pays for use of an M16 and for $50 you can play with an AK-47. Pizza and drinks (non-alcoholic, thank goodness) are included.

The money raised is for Tea Party endorsed candidates and to oppose the election of anyone who might support un-American policies like tighter controls on the availability of guns designed primarily for killing people.

To me, this is wrong at so many levels. 

First, political parties should be about ballots, not bullets. A part of being a sane, civilized democracy is being able to oust people from office by peaceful means, not to associate elections with brandishing firearms.

Second, it plays into an interpretation of the second amendment as being less about guns for hunting or even self-protection as for purposes of overthrowing the government by force. During Nevada's 2010 Senate election, for example, Tea Party candidate Sharron Angle suggested "Second Amendment remedies" when "government becomes out of control." 

Finally, in light of all of the recent fatal shootings engaged in by crazed psycho-terrorists, do we really want to promote the use of killing machines as a form of entertainment? I know some feel lives could have been saved if enough people had been well armed in cases like the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, but can you imagine the chaos of people being caught in the resulting crossfire in a dimly lit theater? 

What’s our future in this increasingly polarized and overly armed country? To become another Mexico or Syria?

I pray not.

P. S. You might also be interested in other posts on this topic.

photo by Asheville Citizen-Times

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Sage and a Scholar

                                              Paul Peachey 1918-2012

I felt a special sadness when I saw Paul Peachey’s death notice in the Daily-News Record last week. Paul was 93 and in declining health, so this shouldn’t have come as a shock, but I experienced another one of those times I wished I had acted on my good intentions and visited someone once more before he died.

I had always admired Paul as a thoughtful writer and scholar but never gotten to know him personally until about a year ago when he invited me to his apartment at the Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community to talk. I then came by to see him one additional time at VMRC’s Crestwood assisted living facility after his beloved Ellen passed away.

One of our common interests was the state of marriage and the family, both in the church and in society as a whole. I was especially interested in one of his most recent books, “Leaving and Clinging, the Human Significance of the Conjugal Union”. Here he makes the case that we humans are created to experience marital bonds that are even stronger than our blood family ties. Because of the universal taboo against incestuous relationships, we leave our parents and “cleave” to our spouse in order to form a united pair--for purposes of perpetuating the race and passing on our values and way of life.

I was especially intrigued by how this sign of divine wisdom results in each generation developing new ties with others, creating a network of societal bonds that would never happen if families procreated with their immediate kin. This means makes forming strong marital bonds extremely important for nurturing stable families. We can’t have the latter without stable forms of the former. *

What impressed me even more than Paul’s sharp mind and keen insights was the warmth and affirmation I felt from this man twenty years older than myself and who was far more educated and experienced than I. Paul had all the characteristics of an ideal mentor, and I could have benefited so much from learning to know him better. So I’m regretting how easily good opportunities like this are neglected in the busyness with which we find ourselves.

At Paul’s memorial service at Park View Mennonite Sunday afternoon his sons, daughters and grandchildren sang his praises and affirmed his positive influence on them. Pastor Phil Kniss reflected on Paul’s life as a “benediction,” a lived out expression of grace and blessing demonstrated throughout his long career as an international peace promoter for the Mennonite Central Committee, as a professor at The Catholic University of America, and finally as a founding member of the Rolling Ridge Retreat Community near Charles Town, West Virginia. He and his wife Ellen lived and worked at Rolling Ridge for 14 years prior to their moving back to Harrisonburg to retire.

May his good benedictions live long and well in all of us.


* "Childhood is a covenanted apprenticeship under two biologically unrelated strangers, bound by a deliberate covenant. When these strangers, the parents, separate, the apprenticeship aborts. As a result, the child limps maimed into the covenanting stage of the life course. The traumatic impact of parental divorce now becomes understandable."                      (p. 94, Leaving and Clinging)

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Latest House Church Newsletter

Family of Hope House Church                                 September 2012 -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Feasting on Wisdom                        

Wisdom... has prepared her meat and mixed her wine;
    she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servants, and she calls...,
    “Come, eat my food
    and drink the wine I have mixed.
Leave your immature ways and you will live;
    walk in the way of insight.”
                                         (from Proverbs 9 lectionary reading for 8/19/12)

At our Sunday Bible studies, it’s always a challenge to connect the day’s lectionary texts together in a meaningful way. We choose to use these readings to give us a common focus for our weekly gathering, and to help keep us from simply dwelling on each of our own favorite texts. So we trust each service can offer a buffet of some of the rich and varied Biblical fare for which we need to come prepared with a good appetite and an eagerness to feast on God’s wisdom.

     Wisdom is one of the most praised virtues in the Bible, since it forever blesses us and helps us live in ways we will never regret. By contrast, foolishness represents the kind of living that bring us no end of remorse.   

     As Christians, we see Jesus as the embodiment of God’s wisdom, the one who invites us to eat and drink of himself in a life-giving feast we call the Lord’s Supper. Here he is both host and heart changing meal.

     In a counter story in the book Genesis, our first human ancestors were surrounded by a veritable feast of good foods, but were also warned against eating from one certain tree God had forbidden them to taste. But to them its fruit not only looked especially delicious but as something that could make them extraordinarily “wise.” You know the story. Choosing the forbidden fruit turned out to represent the most foolish and fatal choice of all time.

     Our weekly carry-in meals viscerally remind us of God’s best of all feasts, in which we take in the very life and wisdom of Jesus himself, the bread and wine that daily sustains and energizes us.
                                                                                                   -Harvey Yoder
Notes, prayers and praises

* THE 46TH ANNUAL VIRGINIA MENNONITE RELIEF SALE will be held at the Rockingham Fairgrounds October 5-6.
* PRAY FOR THOSE ATTENDING the Mennonite Women of Virginia Fall Retreat Sept. 21-23 at Eagle Eyrie Baptist Conference Center.
* GUY AND MARGIE VLASITS plan to leave for Texas September 20 to  
   spend two weeks with their son and family.

September lectionary readings

2   Song of Solomon 2:8-13 Psalm 72 James 1:17-27 Mark 7:1-23
9   Proverbs 22:1-23 Psalm 125 James 2:1-17 Mark 7:24-37
16 Proverbs 1:20-33 Psalm 19  James 3:1-12 Mark 8:27-38
23 Proverbs 31:10-31 Psalm 1 James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a  Mark 9:30-37
30 Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 Psalm 124 James 5:13-20 Mark 9:38-50

September services  worship at 4 pm, meal at 6

2 Location: James & Ruth Stauffer 1250 Parkway Dr 22802  
Worship and Sharing: James Stauffer
Bible Study: Paul Swarr                                                      Carry-in Meal           
9 Location: Rachel Stoltzfus 1359 Two Penny Drive               
Worship and Sharing: Harvey Yoder
Bible Study: Dick Dumas                                                     Carry-in Meal
16 Location: Guy & Margie Vlasits 3448 Caverns Dr K’town 
Worship and Sharing: Guy & Margie Vlasits
Bible Study:                                                                          Carry-in Meal
23 Location: Family Life Resource Center 273 Newman Ave   
Worship and Sharing: Women's Retreat participants
Bible Study: Harvey Yoder                         Carry-in Finger Food Meal                 
30 Location: Susan Campbell 1361 Lincolnshire Dr 22802      
Worship and Sharing: Susan Campbell
Bible Study: James Stauffer                                             Carry-in Meal                 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Passing On Blessings

A number of years ago I started a new ritual, one I wish I had established much earlier in my life. I began sending each of our three adult children a weekly email blessing, sometimes in the form of a prayer or other inspirational piece.

A recent example is this blessing, author unknown:

May you be true to your strong foundation
of a simple people
in love with life
in love with God
in love with the earth
the good green earth

May your spirit cradle
a multitude of stars
that carry you

and in   
and through
every possibility   

every hope   
every dream
a journey never ending
always new

May you be filled
with peace and beauty
with wisdom and hope
with love and friendship

And may you be blessed
in all times
and for all times.

I’m sure we’ve unwittingly discouraged our two sons and a daughter many times in the past. So in our final years we’d like to do a lot more blessing and encouraging.

Someone once told me, “I’ll never forget all the times my father, in a fit of anger over some mistake I made, would yell at me, calling me lazy and stupid, saying I would never amount to anything. Words like that made such an awful impression that I took them as some kind of curse on my life. I’m sure he was just repeating things his father had told him as a child, but I still hear them over and over again in my head. And as much as I’ve worked all my life to prove my Dad wrong, I still live with the feeling that I’m never good enough for him, or can ever please him.”

Without thinking, we can pass on similar “curses” from one generation to the next. We do it through predictions about how terribly they will turn out, through our blame and accusations, through all kinds of words that hurt and discourage.

Blessings and affirmations, on the other hand, energize others, encourage and motivate them to do their best. “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,” one Bible proverb says. “Do not say, ‘Go and come back and tomorrow I will give it,’ when it is in your power to give it now.”

In other words, now is the time to bless. Of course we should also, on a daily basis, teach good values to our children, and correct them when they need it. But let’s not pass up any opportunity to pass on a good blessing.

John Trent and Gary Smalley, in their book, "The Gift of the Blessing", describe a memorable experience in an Orthodox Jewish home John once visited. The grandfather, patriarch of the family, placed his hand on the head of each grandchild, asking God to bless him or her with the qualities of some worthy character in the Bible.

We need to find similar ways to inspire our children to live noble and good lives.

Here's an ancient Irish blessing for you and your loved ones. Pass it on.

With the first light of sun  
 God bless you.
When the day is done   
God bless you.
In your smiles and in your tears  
God bless you.
Through each day of your years   
God bless you.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Paying Heed to Plural Pronouns

Columnist E.J. Dionne Jr. is fond of pointing out that the preamble to the US Constitution begins with the word “we,” as in “We the people,” not “We the persons or the individuals.” He says that in our increased individualism in this country, we have lost our sense of community and are in danger of becoming more and more isolated from each other.

This is an important point to keep in mind when reading Bible as well, which is mostly addressed to whole communities of people, and not intended primarily as a book to be used just for one’s personal meditation, as helpful and important as that is.

One of the ways the Authorized (King James) version of the Bible is helpful here is that it distinguishes between what is addressed to a personal “you” from what is a plural “you” (as in the good Southern “You all”).  According to the English language of the time, when “you” refers to an individual, the pronouns “thee,” “thou” and “thine” are used. When the “you” is plural we find the words “ye,” “you” and “yours”. Unfortunately, our modern English no longer makes those distinctions.

As an example from the KJV, when Jesus offers his teaching on prayer in the Sermon on the Mount, we can see that his so-called “Lord’s Prayer” is meant to be a communal prayer, introduced with “When ye pray...” Note the plural pronouns "we," “our” and “us” used here rather than our praying “My Father who art in heaven,” and “give me my daily bread.” Rather, we are praying to our one God (note the use of the singular “Thy” and “Thine”) that all of the hungry everywhere be fed. Even the prayer for forgiveness of our debts (or trespasses), while certainly including each us as individuals, is for all of God’s people to be forgiven--as we in turn forgive others.

But later in Matthew 5, Jesus gives instructions for personal prayer, introduced with “When thou prayest.” Here we are told to do our individual prayers privately, avoiding any outward display of piety for the purpose of gaining others' admiration or approval. There is no mention of keeping those prayer brief. Alone with God, we can pray with as many words as we wish.

It was something of a light bulb moment for me when I began reading the Bible through the lens, of it being addressed primarily to congregations of people, or to the leaders of such congregations, and not just to us as individuals. It becomes personal, yes, but is not just for our private interpretation or edification.

In short, the Good Book is about one God, singular, for all of the people of God, plural.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Line Between Good and Evil--Wisdom From The Gulag

Alexander Solzhenitsyn

In the middle of all of the mudslinging and polarizing debate going on everywhere, I have to remind myself frequently of this insight by Christian writer and philosopher Alexander Solzhenitsyn, something that came to him during his long imprisonment in the Soviet Gulag:

…. It was only when I lay there on rotting prison straw that I sensed within myself the first stirrings of good. Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.

…. If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Friday, August 17, 2012

Could We Make This Dream Come True?

At noon today local pastor Cindy Carr, EMU counseling professor Cheree Hammond, pastor and jail chaplain Ben Risser, Rockingham Cooperative General Manager Norman Wenger and I met with Community Services Board Director Lacy Whitmore to discuss ways of improving mental health services at the local jail.

Currently the CSB has a contract to provide only 2 1/2 hours of psychiatric services each week for a very crowded inmate population of approximately 340. Due to a lack of staff and other resources suicidally depressed persons may still spend hours confined to either a restraint chair or the padded isolation cell, the latter with the inmate having only a paper gown to wear and with their only amenity being a hole in the floor for a commode.

By way of contrast, Cindy Carr talked about the recent experience of having their adult daughter successfully complete a well staffed five-week drug rehabilitation program, one which has completely revolutionized her life. The cost was considerable of course, but still less than the $26,000 tax payer cost of a year of incarceration that provides for virtually no rehabilitation.

We realize a jail can never be like a rehab center, but the dream that emerged today was whether we could generate the support needed (perhaps in collaboration with the CSB) to hire a full or part time therapist for the jail, one who could also coordinate a program of volunteer professionals to help meet some of the mental health and reentry needs of inmates. Safety and liability issues were raised, but state regulations do allow for outside personnel to visit inmates at the discretion of the sheriff or other jail administrator, as follows:

Code section 53:1-127 "... the sheriff, jail administrator or other person in charge of the facility shall prescribe the time and conditions under which attorneys and other persons may enter the local correctional facility for which he is responsible."

Here are some of the questions I had prepared for Mr. Whitmore prior to our meeting:

Is the current contract with the jail (to provide 2 1/2 hours a week of psychiatric care) adequate for the needs of over 300 inmates?

Answer: No official CSB position on whether this is adequate or inadequate.

What benefits, if any, would there be in some kind of partnership with other concerned professionals in expanding or improving mental health services at the local jail? What form of partnership might be most helpful?

Answer: May be desirable, but difficult to implement.

Does the CSB have any position or recommendation regarding the current use of the restraint chair and/or the isolated padded cell for suicidally depressed inmates? Or the segregated cell, where inmates may be held for weeks at a time with no reading material (except the Bible)?

Lacked sufficient time to discuss this.

Would the CSB welcome having other health care professional, including volunteers and counselor interns, be available for close monitoring of suicidal inmates and/or other counseling services if permission could be granted by the Sheriff?

Answer: Not sure. It’s hard to picture that happening in the current situation.

Does the CSB share the jail administration's fears about liability and safety if there were greater access granted for additional professional mental health services to inmates?

Lacked sufficient time to discuss this.

If you could have your own wishes granted, what would be your dream program for mental health services for inmates at our regional jail?

Spent some time brainstorming time this.

Overall, this was a good session, for which we sincerely thank Mr. Whitmore, and I hope we can keep this conversation going. Maybe the dream of having the jail become more of a place for growth and rehabilitation can still come true. Stay posted.

You may also want to read this recent post.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Untold Toll of Using Jails as Debtors Prisons

For all of you who share my interest in prison reform, you will want to read the following sad letter by Michael Garner, an inmate at our local jail, that I received yesterday. He had read an earlier letter to the editor (see below) in which I questioned a news article in which Sheriff Hutcheson was quoted as saying that there is limited interest by inmates in work release options.

You may also be interested in the blog post of a another recent letter signed by 29 inmates who stated they would all gladly apply for work release programs. If you have any leads on possible work for Mr. Garner when he is released, I will gladly forward them to him.

Dear Mr. Harvey Yoder,

You don’t know me but I saw your letter in the newspaper. I myself posted a letter about people in jail for child support and in need of work release (DNR 7/7/12)...

Here’s what has happened in the last few months. On February 8 I came to the County Jail. On March 1 I was sentenced to twelve months for child support for my oldest girl who lives in Maryland. I made a few payment while I worked for Lantz Construction Company. I was laid off and began missing payments. I put an ad in the paper to do my own concrete work (driveway, sidewalk, steps, patio, etc.). Work came slow but I was able to pay bills for my family here (wife and three kids). We didn’t have much but we got by.

Since March 1 I have found out that my wife has lost our place and put everything we have in storage. Then on July 7, 2012, I am told to get ready for court. When I go to the courtroom I’m told that the State has taken my kids and my wife has become hooked on pain pills.

All of this came as a shock. Luckily my mom came here from North Carolina and got my kids (thank God). I have filed a motion to amend or review my sentencing order. What I’m asking for is the judge to change my sentence from twelve months to six months. At this time my family has been torn apart and I feel I have been punished more in the last six months than what the twelve months will ever do.

What I was wondering is do you know anyone who can either work me on their job or will help me get a job. I know this probably won’t be easy with all the things happening in the world but I’m hoping that if I can go in front of the judge with a job or the information of a job for when I get out he may change my sentence and I can begin the task of rebuilding my family’s life.

Below is some information about me and if you need to meet me or talk with me just let me know what I need to do.

Name: Michael Garner

DOB: 12/9/77

Experience: Twelve years of concrete work in construction but I am willing to do anything.

If you can help please let me know. If not that’s OK, I understand. I will be back in front of the judge September 17, 2012 at 9 am for reconsideration and if all goes well I can begin to rebuild September 18. Thank you for your time.


Michael Garner

Note: Here is a link for more information on debtors prisons. And here is a copy of the letter I had written to which this inmate is responding.

I was glad to hear our jail now offers some reentry education (DNR 7/14/12), but am confused by the statement, "One problem with work release is there's often a lack of inmates willing to volunteer for the program." I've never heard an inmate say that, and as a tax payer, I see only benefit in giving non-violent offenders more ways of providing for their families, paying their fines, and regaining their self respect.

In the words of Governor McDonnell, "Tough sentences are only half of the equation... We must provide real opportunities to prisoners to turn their lives around, and to become responsible and contributing members of society...."

An overcrowded jail with few opportunities for meaningful work or education will not help inmates do this. One answer is to apply recommendations made by the 2010
"Governor's Task Force on Alternative Sentencing for Non-violent Offenders," accessible  online.

Harvey Yoder 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Too Soon Old, Too Late Grown Up

As a child, I spent hours daydreaming what it would be like to actually become an adult. As a fully grown man, I would finally get to be in charge of my very own life.

My first fantasies were to grow up to have a large farm with very large and very powerful farm equipment. Later I imagined being the conductor of a huge choir, or a spellbinding speaker to large audiences. I'm a bit embarrassed about that now, but I wanted everything BIG.

Maybe that was because as a boy I was always size SMALL. The half-pint eighth child in my family, I was assigned to the second grade in my first year of school, which meant being a year younger (and feeling a foot shorter) than everyone else in my class. And since I was never much of an athlete, I was often the last to be chosen for a softball or other team during recess.

I tried hard to change that. As a teen, I once borrowed a Charles Atlas Body Building Course, complete with instructions for transforming a 97-pound weakling into a muscular hunk of a man. But after months of effort, I still felt and looked small. I was focusing more on the outside than on the inside part of growing up.

So how and when could I gain that fully grown up feeling? Surely, I thought, by 18, or at least 21. Or maybe when I married, at 25, or became a father, at 27. Or would it come with being ordained, or finishing grad school? But somehow just getting older didn’t automatically mean feeling more competent and mature.

I was well into my forties when I began to ask myself how much longer I was going to keep seeing myself as a young, inexperienced novice, and why I felt a need to work so hard to prove my worth and to win everyone’s approval. It struck me that when my father was that age I saw him as having the stature of a Moses fresh off Mt. Sinai. Of course he may not have always felt so capable and confident, but he had me convinced. At 40, he was clearly someone to be looked up to.

Later in life I learned I wasn’t alone in feeling I had less stature and status than my peers. In fact, when I’ve had clients do a stick figure drawing of their family, with the height of each family member indicating the power or influence they see each person having, they have often drawn themselves as shorter than the rest.

But isn’t that as it should be? Aren’t we supposed to put ourselves in a lower, humbler position than others?

Yes, but to choose that position from a feeling of strength, not inferiority. In fact, I've begun to see real humility is a matter of respecting myself and every other child of God as equally and incomparably precious, neither above nor below anyone else. This means avoiding even an “humbler than thou” attitude, since in God’s eyes, we are all on the same level pedestal.

Parents, especially, need to claim all of their God-given power and stature, then to use it not to lord it over children, but to effectively lead them. The mandate of moms and dads is to bring up their sons and daughters, to raise and empower them to become strong leaders and eventually good parents themselves.

For all of us, the more empowered we feel, the more calmly and effectively we can behave. We no longer have to resort to manipulation, coercion, or anger adrenaline to give us the feeling of adult stature that already belongs to us.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Logical Fallacies

Dr. Michael C. Labossiere has put together a comprehensive list of logical fallacies, a fallacy defined as an error in reasoning in which the premises in an argument do not provide logical or reasonable support for the conclusion reached.

A common example is the "hasty generalization," in which people argue that because some people of a given group are known for certain behaviors, that this is true for all members of the group. This is similar to the fallacy of “guilt by association,” where someone is accused of believing and behaving like those with whom they have collaborated in some previous and maybe random way.

Another common fallacy is “two wrongs make a right,” making the case that because someone else or some other group is doing something reprehensible, that what I or we are doing is justifiable or is not so bad.

Then, of course, a favorite one is the "ad hominem" argument, where we attack the bearer of the message as a bad person, then insist that nothing that person says is worth hearing or believing.

Not only does the use of such logical fallacies abound in opinion pieces and on editorial pages, we use them in our personal relationships and in our endless arguments with our co-workers, friends and family members.

The truth is our friend. Let’s make sure we make every effort to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and always in a spirit of care and respect.

Here's a helpful link to Labossiere's complete list of 42 logical fallacies, complete with explanations and examples. You can feel free to refer to it to point out whenever I'm inadvertently guilty of employing some them myself.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Do We Need a Department of Homeland Safety and Sanity?

He looked for a crop of justice,
     and saw them murdering each other.
He looked for a harvest of righteousness,
     and heard only the moans of victims.

Isaiah 5:7 (the Message)

Can you imagine the nation’s outrage if the crescendo of killings that have occurred in places like Columbine High, Virginia Tech, Phoenix, Arizona, and Aurora, Colorado--and as of today, Oak Creek Wisconsin--had been carried out by known members of terrorist organizations?

When it came to fighting terrorism after 9/11, Americans didn’t just throw up their hands in helplessness, but immediately went about creating a new agency, the Department of Homeland Security, and empowered it to do whatever necessary to prevent future disasters of that kind. Many now believe that department has gone too far in creating restrictions and regulations limiting our freedoms and our rights to privacy, but most still support the nation’s response.

So why not more aggressive action to prevent Colorado style killings?

I hear many pundits, politicians and even preachers simply express feelings of helplessness over this kind of carnage. Seeing it largely as the work of psychotic loners, they conclude that no amount of additional screening for gun or ammunition purchases--and no stricter laws limiting the kinds of weapons or the size of ammunition clips available--could help prevent these tragedies. It’s a moral and a mental health problem, they say, and the common wisdom is that neither morality nor sanity can be legislated.

While there is some truth to that notion, laws are not only intended to prevent harm but to make a statement about a society’s values. I can’t believe that supporting unlimited access to combat weapons (designed only to kill as efficiently as possible) is consistent with placing a high value on human life. And even if some semi-automatic assault weapons were approved for hunting, do they need to be equipped with a hundred rounds of ammunition?

I doubt that the framers of the Constitution had such means of massive destruction in mind when they wrote the Second Amendment. I believe they would share our outrage over the fact that we are 11 times more likely to be killed by a gun here in the US than in Japan, and 6 times more likely than in Germany, resulting in a total of over 12,000 such deaths here each year. And they would not attribute that to our being more violent or more deranged than citizens of other nations.

Maybe we need a “Department of Homeland Safety and Sanity” that would be charged with addressing the above issues, along with finding better ways of detecting (and treating) psycho-terrorists before they engage in their senseless slaughter. This agency might also want to look at the issue of excessively graphic violence in media entertainment, such as in the movie "The Dark Knight Rises" being shown on the night of the Aurora horror.

Adam Gopnik recently wrote in The New Yorker, “The killings will go on; the cell phones in the pockets of dead children will continue to ring; and now parents can be a little frightened every time their kids go to a midnight screening of a movie designed to show them what stylized fun violence can be.”

Gopnik isn’t advocating outright censorship, but is appealing for a major shift in our attitudes toward this kind of entertainment, and believes the cost of movie violence has simply become too high.

He writes, “The problem... when we talk about these things is that we want causality. And culture doesn’t give us causality. But there’s connectivity without causality. ... The connectivity of a culture is a deep thing.”

He notes how the horrors of 9/11 are “eerily similar to the destruction in big-budget disaster movies,” and asks, “Is it incumbent on us always to pretend that we just love watching scenes of massacre and mass destruction? ...It’s only when [disaster] actually happens that you realize what its actual content is... that kind schizophrenic divorce between the actual content and the imagined content of our lives becomes uglier and uglier as I get older.”

I couldn’t agree more.

We have made a covenant with death,
And with Sheol we have an agreement;
When the overwhelming scourge passes through
it will not come to us;
For we have made lies our refuge,
And in falsehood we have taken shelter.

Isaiah 28:15

For some related thoughts you may want to check out my 7/21/12 and 1/16/11 posts.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Letter Of Lament From The Lockup At Liberty Street

This week I received a handwritten letter signed by 29 inmates at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail, written in response to one I had published in a recent issue of The Daily News-Record. In posting both letters here, I am intending to neither validate specific inmate complaints nor to show any disrespect for Sheriff Hutcheson, with whom a number of us have had some much appreciated opportunities to express concerns we have about our local jail.

Here’s my letter to the editor as it appeared in the DNR:

I was glad to hear our jail now offers some reentry education (DNR 7/14/12), but am confused by the statement, "One problem with work release is there's often a lack of inmates willing to volunteer for the program." I've never heard an inmate say that, and as a tax payer, I see only benefit in giving non-violent offenders more ways of providing for their families, paying their fines, and regaining their self respect.

In the words of Governor McDonnell, "Tough sentences are only half of the equation... We must provide real opportunities to prisoners to turn their lives around, and to become responsible and contributing members of society...."

An overcrowded jail with few opportunities for meaningful work or education will not help inmates do this. One answer is to apply recommendations made by the 2010 "Governor's Task Force on Alternative Sentencing for Non-violent Offenders," accessible  online.

Here’s the letter I received from the inmates this week:

This letter is regarding Sheriff Hutcheson’s comment in the newspaper stating that there are no work release programs because of insufficient interest by us us inmates. That comment by Mr. Hutcheson is absolutely backwards from the truth at hand. Once again we are made out to the public falsely as they want people to see us.

And here we sit with no way to control or speak on the problems we have, like an overcrowded jail with no boats for those who sleep on the floor, only two meals a day on weekends and holidays, and many other issues to speak about along with the work release program, but every time we send a request form or a grievance form regarding one of these problems or just ask about them, we get no response, as if they’re just throwing all of our problems away without any concern. Maintenance, food, bedding, programs, schooling and our thoughts are all underplayed, uncontrollable and uncertain...

I just hope and pray and put these problems in God’s hands, that someone might have a clear eye, some compassion, sympathy and give the time that is needed to help us and make things right.

This is a list of just some of the people (inmates) that are willing to sign their names to attest that we are truly interested in work release, along with any other programs or classes that can and will help us better ourselves now and for later re-entry to society.

(Signed by 29 citizens in one of the pods at the Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail, 25 South Liberty Street in Harrisonburg)

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Richer Than a Rockefeller (Relatively Speaking)

Michael and Alma (Lauver) Wert offspring, from left to right: Alma Jean (my good wife), Lloyd, Ruth Ann, Freda, Harold, Orpha, Gladys, and Alene

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”   - Jane Howard, “Families”

I feel especially blessed having been with some great kinfolk over this past weekend.

On Saturday we gathered with all seven of my wife’s siblings at Landis Homes north of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, to spend some time with her oldest brother Harold, age 87. I’ve always felt fortunate being a part of this tight-knit family, who are truly some of the best in-laws a person could have.

From there we headed west for a reunion of some of my Nisly cousins held on the campus of Rosedale Bible College north of Columbus, Ohio, beginning Sunday evening and continuing through yesterday morning. What a trip, in many more ways than one, meeting with fun-loving and warm-hearted offspring of Eli and Fannie (Troyer) Nisly, my mother’s parents.

There is a grand total of 70 in this generation of relatives, but of course a number of these cousins are no longer living. Nevertheless, there were folks present from as far away as Florida in one direction and from the Nisly ancestral home community of Hutchinson, Kansas, in the other.

A core group of eleven of us cousins made this happen this year, all members of a “circle letter” that has made its rounds for 58 years now. For those of you who don’t know, a circle letter is one that when the letters arrive, you remove your last post, add a new one, and send them all to the next of the eleven. We who are members of this pre-facebook circle are around the same age, are from seven states, and represent nine of the Nisly familes. 

All of the original members of this circle letter group are still living, and this is the fourth official reunion we’ve enjoyed together.

If wealth can be measured in terms of the love and support you feel from your family and extended family, I feel rich indeed.

Thanks to brother-in-law Lloyd Wert for the above photo.