Friday, September 28, 2012

The Stranger

Here's something I ran across some years ago, source unknown:

A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small Tennessee town. 

From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later.

As I grew up I never questioned his place in our family. Mom taught me to love the Word of God. Dad taught me to obey it. But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries and comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spellbound for hours each evening. He was like a friend to the whole family. 

He took Dad, Bill and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars. The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn't seem to mind, but sometimes Mom would quietly get up - while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places - and go to her room read her Bible and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave. 

You see, my dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our house - not from us, from our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four-letter words that burned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge the stranger was never confronted. 

My dad was a teetotaler who didn't permit alcohol in his home - not even for cooking. But the stranger felt he needed exposure and enlightened us to other ways of life. He offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages often. He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. 

He talked freely (too much too freely) about sex. His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I know now that my early concepts of the man/woman relationship were influenced by the stranger. 

As I look back, I believe it was the grace of God that the stranger did not influence us more. Time after time he opposed the values of my parents. Yet he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave. 

More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Morningside Drive. But if I were to walk into my parents' den today, you would still see him sitting over in a corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures. 

His name? 

We always called him TV.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Living Green--Like Our Grandparents

In an August 20, 2012, column in our local Daily News-Record, George Will makes light of what he sees as media hysteria over our being on the verge of depleting earth's resources and endangering the future of our planet.  Human ingenuity in discovering, extracting and more efficiently using non-renewable resources, he believes, will indefinitely delay any real ecological crisis, and he belittles the current focus on teaching children to “reduce, reuse and recycle.”

With all due respect, I am disturbed Will's inference that any admonition to conserve originates with modern day tree huggers. Conservation has in fact been a part of the core values we were taught by our parents and grandparents, frugal folks who believed they were to faithfully care for the earth and live by “waste not, want not,” and “a penny saved is a penny earned.”

I won't get into an argument here about how global warming may affect the future of our planet, but let's face it, non-renewable resources are, by definition, irreplaceable, which means we should all adopt a sober sense of stewardship in our use of them. Our rate of consumption in the US can be sustained only by denying billions of people in the rest of the world the same extravagances we take for granted.

Good planets are hard to find, and if everyone lived like us, it would take numerous planets to provide for our wants and to absorb our waste.

P. S. One of my readers provided the following helpful link to a blog about setting up recycling at your workplace.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Rulers as Shepherds, a Case for Compassionate Government

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.

May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.
May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.

May he defend the afflicted among the people
 and save the children of the needy;
may he crush the oppressor.
(Psalm 72:1-4, NIV)

Most people agree that individuals, churches and charities should look out for the welfare of the poor, but is this kind of shepherding care a proper role for government?

In some Bible study I did recently I discovered that the term “shepherd” in Hebrew Scripture (when used metaphorically) almost always refers to kings rather than to prophets, priests or others in roles we would normally consider “pastoral.” Speaking of David as anointed king, the prophet Samuel says, “You shall be shepherd of my people Israel.” And Isaiah even writes of a foreign king, Cyrus, “He is my shepherd. He shall carry out my purposes.”

In the New Testament, of course, the title "Good Shepherd" is used to describe Jesus as sovereign over God’s people, and in Psalm 23 we have a much loved example of God as a benevolent model for all earthly rulers.

There is frequent conflict in Hebrew scripture between kings and prophets, and the latter were often persecuted or simply ignored when they railed against rulers ("shepherds") who fleeced their sheep for their own profit and failed to provide for their wellbeing.

Here are some examples of passages that speak to the obligation rulers have to see that those in their charge have access to basic needs and are well cared for:

Ezekiel 34: The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

Jeremiah 23: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. 2 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. 3 “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

5 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,

“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land."

As in Biblical times, sheep are not normally hand fed, of course, but are led into the best pastures possible and allowed to graze freely. All are provided equal protection and given equal access, with the weakest offered special care as needed.

Friday, September 21, 2012

EVENT RESCHEDULED: Top Ten Reasons To Support Gemeinschaft Home’s Fall Fundraiser

WE JUST HEARD THIS WEEK THAT OUR SPEAKER was involved in a serious car accident and is of course unable to be with us. We are postponing the event until early November. Stay tuned for details.

10. RSVP is simple. Just call the the above number or email <>.
 (You may need to copy this address to your email).

9.  You won’t need to prepare food that evening.

8.  Tradition’s delicious seafood buffet is provided by interested donors, so your entire gift is tax deductible.

7.  Gemeinschaft needs $12,500 in contributions each year to help meet its $435,300 budget.

6.  A dedicated staff and board, along with thirty appreciative residents, will thank you.

5.  Programs like Gemeinschaft benefit families and save citizens thousands of tax dollars.

4.  A Gemeinschaft  graduate will share his inspiring personal story.

3.  You will hear Jamilla Burney-Divens, Regional Administrator of Virginia DOC's Community Corrections talk about how important Gemeinschaft Home is to recovering inmates.

2. Gemeinschaft neighbor and former board chair Glendon Blosser will be honored for his many years of service to the program.

1. God will bless you for making a generous contribution to a program that helps people get off drugs and stay out of prison.

In addition, you will be a part of the growing success story of Gemeinschaft's program, resulting in a significant increase in our referrals and a long waiting list through the beginning of 2013!

P.S. If you can't attend, you can make a contribution online at (website is being updated as we speak) or mail your gift to Gemeinschaft Home, 1423 Mt. Clinton Pike, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.  


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

What Jerry Accomplished

  Jerry Philip Glanzer 
May 14, 1954 - September 8, 2012

Last week I attended an especially moving memorial services, one in memory of Jerry Philip Glanzer, age 52, held at the Zion Mennonite Church where I served as pastor from 1965 to 1988. Jerry was a quiet and faithful member of that congregation for many years, and was described at his funeral by Pleasant View Home Chaplain David Gullman as a special kind of “Christian mystic,” one who knew and loved God in a way many of us seem incapable of. As a young man he wept with joy at his baptism and his face lit up with delight at each celebration of the Lord’s Supper.

But Jerry left another legacy. He should be remembered as the impetus for founding of at least three institutions to benefit the disabled, Indian Creek Foundation of Souderton, Pennsylvania, the Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham, also known as the Op Shop, and the early beginnings of what is now Friendship Industries of Harrisonburg.

Of course we could say that it was really his father, educator and pastor Paul J. Glanzer, who was a key pioneer in helping develop these enterprises. But without Jerry, who joined his Huron, South Dakota, family on May 14, 1954, then made up of Paul and Lola Bowers and their sons David, James and Dennis, this may never have happened.

In the absence of programs for his special needs son, Paul worked tirelessly with others to provide education and training for the disabled, starting with a small class of students in North Dakota, and then worked to develop programs for Jerry and others in eastern Pennsylvania and in the Shenandoah Valley, where the family eventually settled.

Here are the three institutions named, with a link to their respective websites. Jerry would want us to support them.

Indian Creek Foundation
420 Cowpath Road
Souderton, PA 18964

The Arc of Harrisonburg and Rockingham

620 Simms Avenue
Harrisonburg, VA 22802


Friendship Industries
801 Friendship Drive
Harrisonburg, VA 22802

Saturday, September 15, 2012

“Tell Me A Story!”

“Once upon a time...” was always a magic phrase for our children. Growing up without cable TV or a shelf full of videos, they relied on stories read from books or shared from our memories for a lot of their entertainment.

Bedtimes at our house were known as “story time.” Here we read and re-read, told and retold tales new and old--stories from the Bible, stories from countless books, stories from our own past and from theirs--made up stories, silly stories, serious and sad stories. One of their early favorites was, “Tell me the story about when I was born.” It was an opportunity to hear once more about the excitement of our rushing to the hospital and then royally welcoming them into our family.

Now that our three are long grown and gone, we still miss having them on our laps--or tucked in their beds or beside us on the living room sofa--begging for one more story. We miss sharing tales ranging from Winnie the Pooh to George Washington Carver, from Joseph and his multi-colored coat to Curious George in one of his ill-fated adventures, from tales of my parents taking a seven-day winter journey from Oklahoma to Kansas (by team and wagon) to countless re-readings of the Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House on the Prairie” series. And there were stories like that of Dirk Willems (above), a sixteenth century Anabaptist hero who rescued the pursuer who broke through the ice on a frozen river while attempting to apprehend him. This in spite of the fact that this resulted in Dirk then being brought to trial and condemned to be burned at the stake. Sobering and unforgettable.

Good stories never grow old, but become better with retelling. They bond the teller and the hearer together, and are powerful in their ability to inform, influence and shape the values and faith of our young. And stories have long been a primary means by which societies passing on their traditions, beliefs and guidelines for living to the next generation.

Unfortunately, Hollywood has replaced our homes and congregations as today’s primary story teller. And many of their profit driven, media generated stories are deplorable and distressing indeed.


1. Girl meets boy, they fall in love, and within minutes (or at the most hours), they are having sex. In our cool new media world, it’s what everyone does. And there are few negative consequences, no worries about pregnancy or STD’s, and almost no concerns about the emotional or social effects of this kind of instant intimacy.

2. Our (good) guys always beat up their (bad) guys. The other guys are clever, but ours are even smarter and are armed not only with superior intelligence but great weapons. Almost always, violence is a justifiable, instant and permanent solution to human problems.

3. Cool people put down, embarrass and outsmart uncool people. Most parents, teachers and other adults are definitely not cool people.

4. The only way to get to be anybody--or to be liked by anybody--is to be physically attractive. And the only way to be considered attractive is to be thin, young, and to be made up like a Britney Spears or the latest Hollywood idol.

These are sad stories indeed. And according to an organization called TV-Free America, today’s kids spend nearly 30 times as much time passively absorbing these myths as they do in meaningful conversations with their parents.

We do have some advantages, though. Parents and grandparents have laps, and loving arms to wrap around our children and grandchildren as we tell them lots of real stories--stories about how to truly “live happily ever after.”

For some good help finding stories that support your values, check out

Thursday, September 13, 2012

When it Comes To Shunning, We May Be More Amish Than We Realize

I often hear snide remarks about the Old Order Amish practice of the social ban. We smugly insist the rest of us enlightened Christians would never, ever shun anyone just because they leave the church, blatantly disobey some church teaching, or for any other reason.

But in all fairness, we may be guilty of more shunning than we realize.

For example:

Church Divisions. Rather than working out our differences, members of Christian congregations seem all too prone to just split and go their separate ways, breaking ties and limiting ongoing fellowship and communication. Thus we may effectively “ex-communicate” each other, the “ex” simply meaning we are “no longer” in communion with each other.

Marital Breakups. Even so-called amicable divorces typically result in the severing of family ties, with fathers and mothers erased from family portraits and key family relationships often becoming strained or effectively coming to an end. The Amish, incidentally, have few such breakups.

Family Feuds. I’m aware of all too many cases of husband and wives no longer sharing the same bed and/or no longer even talking to each other except when absolutely necessary. Far too many parents and children, brothers and sisters, cousins and other relatives I know haven’t been on speaking terms in years. A form of shunning?

Non-Neighboring. How many of us have little or no contact with people up and down our street or with people of different races or faiths across our town, with each of us going our silent, separated ways?

Avoiding Dealing With Offenses.
While we may no longer put people guilty of wrongdoing out of our churches, we often just turn our backs them. Rather than seeking out people who leave us or who violate some moral or Biblical norm, we effectively shun them, treat them as though they no longer existed or no longer mattered. Is that being more loving than the Amish, whose primary aim is to win such persons back?

The list could go on. And the Amish at least tend to shun as a result of some kind of church consensus, one arrived at with leaders chosen from within their congregations, and not just arbitrarily on the basis of an individual member’s grievance or hurt feelings.

It might also be noted that early Anabaptists who practiced some form of social ban against those who abandoned the faith (not all were in full agreement with this practice) defended it as being both a Biblical and a humane alternative to the kinds of church discipline practiced by many 16th century Protestant and Catholic state churches of the time. Thousands who were indicted on charges of heresy--especially Anabaptists--were cruelly tortured, drowned or burned at the stake.

I of course do deplore examples of the misuse of the Amish ban, and fortunately for me, the Amish family and community I grew up didn’t practice it, and I have been loved and accepted by most in spite of my having chosen another church to belong to.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Consistently Pro-Life

I have set before you life and death,
blessings and curses.
Therefore choose life, 
that you and your children may live. 
Deuteronomy 30:19

I'm increasingly dismayed by a majority on one side of the political spectrum seeing the "life" in "pro-life" being only about the unborn, while so many folks on the other side see it as having nothing to do with the unborn. Why can’t we promote the sanctity of human life at all stages, and for all ages?

Can no one see the irony in "pro-life" being all about protecting even an embryo (which I support) while at the same time supporting things like the proliferation of semi-automatic-rifle killing machines? Or advocating reducing social services for even the truly needy? Or opposing any additional foreign aid while millions of babies are dying of hunger all around the world? And then to insist that we raise no taxes even on multi-millionaires while adding ever more billions to an already bloated and wasteful military-industrial complex?

The latter is all too well known for the kinds of bombing attacks that result in the indiscriminate aborting of the lives of men, women and children, including pregnant women and their unborn. And we're supposed to just accept that as unavoidable "collateral damage"?

Not if we are truly pro-life.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Knit Together by Differences

Whether as citizens of a nation or members of organizations or congregations, we tend to feel uneasy about people with opposing opinions, and may even see them as dangerous.

But why not see having a diversity of perspectives as a blessing?

I grew up in an Amish family and community that placed a very high value on unity and uniformity. In spite of this (or perhaps because of this) we frequently had people leaving our congregation to join another or leave another church to join ours. The assumption was that if you couldn’t get along or go along, you pulled up your stakes and went elsewhere--or started a new group of your own.

As a member of a Virginia Mennonite Conference congregation for most of my adult life, I’ve seen the same tendency here. It seems ironic that people in a church so dedicated to peace get divorced from each other’s fellowship so frequently over differences they can't seem to resolve.

Our Conference was established here in the Valley nearly 200 years ago as an outgrowth of the Lancaster (Pa) Conference, not as a church split. This new group remained united throughout the turbulence of the Civil War and until 1900, when it experienced its first division, one that resulted in the formation of the Old Order Mennonites.

Today there are twelve different Mennonite-related communions in the Valley.

I find that sad. How might we have been able to stay together and to benefit and learn from each other?

Years ago I heard Mennonite missionary and church planter Donald Jacobs present a version of the above diagram in a seminar on church growth he led at Eastern Mennonite University (then EMC).

Here are the main players in his model:

Preservers: Jacobs stressed that all groups, including churches, need a stable group of members committed to preserving its core values. Around some issues, he said, any of us may find ourselves resisting change and working to preserve the “old order” of things. When conservative minded folks begin to feel their concerns are no longer heard or respected, they may feel strongly enough to leave as a group to form their own separate community.

Pioneers: Healthy groups also need innovators who advocate for change, lest a group become ingrown and stagnant. These folks tend to operate on the outer fringe of the community and are often viewed with suspicion and fear. When these innovators no longer feel heard or respected they may likewise form another group or simply drift off one by one.

Note: In either case, when new groups form, they form alignments similar to the groups they have left, except now some of the more liberal pioneers may find themselves labeled as conservative preservers in the context of the new group.

Settlers: These folks are the more or less silent majority in the group in a given conflict, and are not as strongly aligned with either the pioneers or preservers on a particular issue, but may have varying degrees of sympathy for one or the other--or both.

Note: In a healthy group, individuals are able to change roles depending on the issue. Let me speak personally. On some issues, like advocating for more house churches instead of investing in ever more church real estate, I may be seen as a pioneer, whereas on other issues, like preserving our Mennonite peace stance, I way be seen as a strong preserver. On certain other issues, like what style of church music to use, I’m often in the middle, open to those of either camp. In the case of these examples, in some settings or in some periods of history, house churches would be seen as a decidedly conservative idea, whereas the advocacy of non-violence would be seen as a very radical one. And depending on the issue and on the makeup of the group, we will find ourselves at different places--and therefore aligned with different persons--which is as it should be. This kind of dynamic reshuffling has the effect of bonding us to a variety of different people and tends to have an interlacing quality that makes a group stronger and more division proof.

Mediators: Each of us, whenever possible, needs to serve in intermediary roles within the group. Sometimes we may serve in the role of interpreter for the preservers, promoting good conversation between them and the pioneers and between them and the rank and file middle. At other times we may advocate for the innovators, to help make sure they are clearly understood and their ideas are being respectfully considered.

Final Note: When we see differences as normal, and as actually having potential for making the group healthier and stronger, and when each member feels valued and needed, everyone is better off, and the health and effectiveness of the group is enhanced.

Conclusion: Whenever human beings associate together, conflicts and disagreements are inevitable, but combat and divisions are optional.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

God to US: “You Didn’t Create That”

I don’t claim to be able to actually speak for God, but here is a message I can almost imagine God wanting to give our country, addressed to the president:

Dear President Obama:

I heard that little stump speech you gave last month in Roanoke that’s gotten so much attention. And yes, I would have to agree that your “You didn’t build that” statement was taken way out of context. It doesn’t take supernatural wisdom to know that what you meant was that people shouldn’t get too arrogant about their success, as though it were based totally on their individual efforts, without the benefit of assets like schools, roads, bridges and the internet made possible in part by government.

But you can get a little arrogant, too, Mr. President, in seeing government as something you and other human beings have built by themselves. Government itself, as you know, is something I instituted in order to reward good behavior and to check evil behavior in the world. In your speech, you left out the part about me, the most important means to any kind of success by anyone, anywhere, in any endeavor.

So here’s what I would like to say directly to the American people, and to everyone on earth:

If you are faring well, and have become successful in what you do, remember that the good health, the good opportunities, the good support and encouragement, and the good mind you had to accomplish whatever you accomplished were all gifts from your Creator. In addition, all of the raw materials you used to build whatever you built were gifts I placed here on the planet for you to use. You didn’t create that, and should never waste, misuse, or take for granted these priceless assets.

And remember, I not only invented the idea of government, necessary as that is, but I also created families to help take care of you, to raise you, to teach you values like hard work and honesty that helped you succeed. You didn’t provide that.

And while I’m at it, I haven’t been at all pleased with everything you Americans have done to get to where they are today. It was not my plan, for example, to have native Americans, African Americans and American workers generally being treated the way they have been in the past.

So, Mr. President, be sure to quote me on this, and quote me often, “You didn’t create that.”