Tuesday, December 31, 2013

On The Seventh Day Of Christmas: New Year's Blessings To All Of My Blog Readers

"I pray for good fortune in everything you do, and for your good health—that your everyday affairs prosper, as well as your soul." 
II John 2 (the Message)

Thanks for all of the encouragement you've given me in my blog writing as well as for my radio spots and other occasional articles and op-ed pieces. Without readers, there would be little point in writing, although sometimes venting and reflecting can provide some needed therapy.

I had no idea how Harvspot would fare when I posted my first entry on November 25, 2010 (ignore the dates on the above graph), but it's gratifying to see the number of page visits steadily increase over the years, reaching a record number of over 6000 this month. That's certainly not spectacular as blog sites go, but it does help make the effort seem worthwhile. Plus many of these entries can be adapted and recycled for the radio spots or used in other ways.

I always value your feedback, although you have to be a Google member to post comments on the blog itself. Sometimes I also get a response on some of the Facebook links.

If you want to browse through older posts, type in a topic or title you're looking for (in the search box in the upper left hand corner) or click on to "Older Posts" at the bottom of each  page.

Have a blessed and purposeful New Year!

My 90-second radio spots are aired locally as follows: 

WEMC 91.7 FM 11:58 am (M-F) Sun 7:58
WBTX 1470 AM 9:20 am (M-F)
WNLR 1150 AM 11:28 am (M,W,F)

Monday, December 30, 2013

My Prayer For The Sixth Day Of Christmas: Six Godly GrandMen and Women

Pinterest image
"Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it."
Proverbs 22:6 (NLT)

Someone has said that what this oft-quoted "train up a child" text might really mean is that our teaching will never leave them. At any rate, most of us parents have one wish above all others, that we not fail to pass on to our children and grandchildren a strong faith and a good set of values.

But none of us is perfect, and even if we were, it would be no guarantee that our children would be. Every human being has the right, indeed the God-given  responsibility, to make personal choices. And even God's very first children didn't make all wise ones.

I once heard someone say that our real success as parents has less to do with what kind of children we produce as it does with what kind of grandchildren. At any rate, Alma Jean and I thank God every day for being blessed with three children and six grandchildren who are far, far better than we deserve. But we know they all face challenges and temptations greater than any of ours in previous generations.

For example, will constant access to virtual world entertainment rob them of good connections with the real world of nature and of people? Will increased wealth and an ever easier and comfortable life detract from their willingness to work and serve in self-giving ways? Will they form strong bonds with supportive communities of faith in which they will be able, if so led, to grow strong families of their own? And will they be able to live by the above six "family rules" in all their relationships?

Pray with me, on this sixth day of Christmas, that our future generations of grandmen and women will do far better than we in making this a truly God-blessed world.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

A Prayer For the Fifth Day of Christmas: A Planet Kept Clean And Liveable

"The Lord God placed the human in the Garden of Eden as its gardener, to tend and care for it."
Genesis 2:15 Living Bible

The very first mandate God gave us was to take care of the earth, to subdue it and have dominion over it on God's behalf. As caretakers created in God's image, we are entrusted with the wise stewardship of creation. 

Sadly, most people have chosen to exploit the planet for short term gain rather than preserve and care for it as the unique, life-giving treasure it is. Huge areas of rain forests ("the lungs of the planet") are being destroyed at an alarming rate to provide more grazing land to meet increased demands for ever more red meat in our diets. Coal burning power plants spew tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every day due to our insatiable need for increased power, resulting in the planet warming at a steady but alarming rate.

Good planets, like healthy bodies, require diligent care. We know we can't abuse our bodies with too much alcohol, nicotine and other drugs, or with too many carbs, harmful fats, sugars and sodium, without paying a heavy price. In the same way the harm we do to the earth will be passed on to our children and to future generations.

On this fifth day of Christmas pray with me that we will be responsible caretakeers of our rich topsoil, pure water, clean air and all of the resources with which we have been blessed.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Prayer For The Fourth Day of Christmas: Love Toward People Of All Faiths (And No Faith)

posted by Ghezal Safi, shared by David Kreider

"All who are wicked will be punished with trouble and suffering. It doesn’t matter if they are Jews or Gentiles. But all who do right will be rewarded with glory, honor, and peace, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. God doesn’t have any favorites!"
Romans 2:9-11 (Contemporary English Version

I've never been one to promote the idea that all religions are the same, that we should just forget about our differences and blend together into one generic faith. On the contrary, I feel that whatever I or anyone else truly believes as their "way, truth and life" they should freely promote and affirm.

But we can't get others to even consider our faith if we are inconsiderate of theirs, and certainly not if we are hostile toward them. Jesus never lashed out against Samaritans or called them heretics. Nor did he ridicule or insult the religion of Romans or of other Gentile idol worshipers of his time. In fact, the only religious teachers or teachings he lashed out against were unloving dogmatics within his own strongly held Jewish faith.

Certainly if we are to love even our enemies we should love and respect all of our many friends around the world who follow the faith of their choice--just as we would have them respect ours. It's the Golden Rule.

Besides, we'll never be able to influence people we can't love.

Friday, December 27, 2013

A Prayer for the Third Day of Christmas: Release for Long Held Prisoners

"I, the Lord, have called you... to free captives from prison and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness."
Isaiah 42:6-7 NIV

Imagine spending half of your time every day confined to a space as small as a medium size bathroom. At meal times and some other times you live in equally crowded spaces surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire, never able to get away from the hundreds of fellow detainees with whom you share a concentration-camp-like environment for years on end. 

Whether detained for just or for unjust reasons, decades of such confinement become an unusually cruel form of relentless punishment.

So pray with me on this third day of Christmas for the humane release of three people like the following:

Mr. A. Jefferson Grissette #1143033, currently at St, Brides Correctional Center in Chesapeake was free on parole and doing well just two years ago. He had a good job, was working full time, paying off his debts and getting his life together. Unfortunately, he became a convenient suspect in a credit card theft case in Arlington because of some similar crimes for which he had been convicted earlier in his life. The only evidence against him was based on his resembling an obscure image caught on a surveillance camera. Without due process, he got another 18 years in prison after being urged to take a plea agreement rather than face a jury trial.

Also please pray for the release of men like Mr. Nat Painter #1009725, age 72, who is still incarcerated for a crime he committed 19 years ago, but who has consistently demonstrated good behavior in prison, and only wants a few remaining years of a normal life with his loved ones. He has repeatedly been denied parole in spite of his almost certainly not being any further danger to society. His address is Coffeewood Correctional Center, 12352 Coffeewood Drive, Mitchells, VA 22792.

Virginia Public Radio
Likewise, pray for the release of Mr. Jens Soering #1161655, age 47, to his native Germany. Jens, whom I met at the Buckingham Correctional Center a couple of months ago, has just spent his 28th Christmas in a Virginia prison for a crime he says he foolishly confessed to at age 20 to save his then girl friend from being convicted of capital murder. As a son of a German diplomat he assumed he would be sent to Germany for a trial and get a lesser sentence. When she testified against him he got two life sentences here and she got 90 years. Jens has had nine books published since his incarceration. His address is BKCC, P.O. Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936-0430.

For an excellent Washington Post column by George Will on mandatory sentencing, check this link.

And here's a good article on the increasing numbers of aging citizens in our prisons.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Prayer For The Second Day Of Christmas: Tear Down Dividing Walls

"For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility."  
(Ephesians 2:14 NIV)

Whether it be the Berlin Wall, the barrier fence on our U.S.-Mexican border, or Israel's Separation Barrier (seen here) that scars the Holy Land around Bethlehem and the West Bank, there is something in us that "doesn't love a wall", that begs to have it removed.

On the second day of Christmas, a season that for believers has just officially begun, join me in praying that these kinds of physical walls will become a thing of the past. Also that those invisible barriers dividing us along race, class, gender, religious and national lines may be removed by the Prince of Peace, or at least that doors may be opened in them to allow us all full access.

In the vision of the "New Jerusalem" in the Apocalypse (that visionary new city representing the peaceful Lamb's radiant " bride") Gods eternal dwelling, established on a new and transformed earth, has secure walls but eternally open gates in all directions. "The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there is no night there." (Revelation 21 NIV)

Pray with me that the world's darkness will be dispelled and all of its walls be destroyed--or to be remade with gates that are forever open and welcoming.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Re-Gifting At Christmas

I once read a Dear Abby letter in which a reader lamented, “How do I get a person to stop re-gifting me? Often it's her used clothes, used decor and knickknacks that she no longer wants. This person can afford nice things, which is why she thinks I would like her old stuff. I find it insulting when I get it in the form of a gift. It is always wrapped beautifully and presented as though I should be so grateful.  How do I get her to stop?”  Secondhand Rose

Abby's response was, "Dear Rose: If I selected a gift for someone and she didn’t keep it--or exchanged it--I would give it one more try. If it happened again, from then on I would send a lovely card to mark the occasion, or a bouquet or plant. And if I was really ticked off, I would re-gift her gift back to her." 

That’s one approach, but I'd like to offer a different take on re-gifting. I’ve come to believe that everything we give, at Christmas or at any other time, is some form of recycled gift.

For a start, none of us givers has earned the priceless gift of life itself. And the privilege of being born to parents who loved us and took care of us for free, and of being born in a land of abundance instead of in some poverty-ridden country, were also things we could have never negotiated, bought or paid for. In addition, many of us received a free public school education, one paid for by others' involuntary gifts in the form of taxes.

Later some of us got to enroll in higher institutions of learning we could have never been able to create or afford to attend, all through the generous gifts of hundreds of unnamed donors. Add to that our good health, our mostly sound minds, and whatever talents or gifts we've inherited from our ancestors--all helped us get whatever earning opportunities we’ve had, and are examples of amazing, unmerited grace.

Way back when I was six, my parents were able to buy a farm with the help of a generous uncle who helped with the financing. Here we grew and produced food for a living, but we could have never done that without the unearned blessings of God’s soil, sunshine and everything else it takes to make a farm productive. In return for whatever we invested in money and labor for our harvests, we usually got sufficient payment to cover our costs, with some extra in the form of a gift known as profit. In the same way, whenever any of us buys or sells anything, this kind of gift-swapping takes place, grace for grace, blessing for blessing.

That’s how I’ve come to believe that everything we have in life is first a gift. You and I just get to exchange. So let's pass good things around and around, re-gifting with abandonment.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Guest Post: Two Lives, Two Losses

My friend David Weaver, a volunteer at Our Community Place, sent me the following reflection yesterday, which I share here in a slightly edited form with his permission. Lewis Burkholder was a well known Mennonite pastor closely connected with David's family. Jess Sager's obituary in today's Daily News-Record highlights some of his many achievements prior to his becoming mentally ill and homeless:

Lewis Burkholder 

Pastor and farmer Lewis Burkholder grew up in the Denbigh Mennonite community and married Helen Ross from another Tidewater family. Lewis grew up in a loving, hard-working dairy farm family and as a young married man worked for my dad on his farm.

Lewis and Helen with their children later moved to help form a new Mennonite community in Powhatan, Virginia,where he served as a beloved pastor for 20 years and remained a faithful member throughout his retirement.

At Lewis's memorial service earlier this week, people filled the sanctuary at the Powhatan Mennonite Church for a time of worship and reflection dedicated to this good man. The fellowship that followed was an additional time for remembering and celebrating on the part of the many parishioners, friends and relatives who attended.

Jess Sager

Following the opening of Our Community Place early Monday morning, Jess Sager was one of the first homeless men who came in for warmth and friendship. Jess was tall, wore a cowboy hat and appeared to be in his 50s. Dressed in the only clothes he owned, he sat by the wood stove and talked with those nearby. Apparently he was alcoholic and seemed to be suffering from memory loss. He repeatedly asked about the location of the Open Doors shelter and how he could get a beer.

On Wednesday some of us learned Jess died that night, probably from exposure to the winter cold. Jess was found hunched over on the back steps of a local business, and when two street people tried to awaken him, he was unresponsive. One took his pulse and another went inside to dial to 911. The unconscious Jess soon died.

How the heart is moved with compassion and sadness when we experience the loss of a loved one. Each life is incomparably precious.

Two lives. Two losses.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

"I Thought I Was Being Strapped To An Electric Chair"--A Local 911 Call Results In A Nightmare

The recent Creigh Deeds family tragedy has focused new attention on the need for better services for those experiencing a mental health crisis. The following local incident underscores that need. 

A local attorney arranged to have me meet 18-year-old Jose (not his real name, and not my client) a young man who recently suffered from paranoid delusions of people conspiring to kill him and his family. He was so distressed he was getting very little sleep and had not been eating.

After Jose had an especially troubling night and difficult day, his father insisted they go to the hospital for treatment. Jose objected, and when his father called the Rescue Squad for help to get him to the ER, Jose's anxiety and desperation increased to the point that his father had to physically restrain him, which made him even more terrified.

At this point he began to hallucinate, insisting he heard shots being fired. "They're here to get me," he yelled, and ran out into the dark to get away. At this point his father ran after him and again restrained him until two deputy sheriffs, followed by the emergency crew, came to the scene.

Jose was immediately handcuffed, but resisted arrest and yelled and screamed at the deputies as they took him to the jail. Meanwhile his parents were assured that their son would be evaluated and get the help he needed and they were promised they would be keep informed. This was around 10 pm.

Not having heard anything by 11 the father called to find out how Jose was doing, and was told he was fine and that they needn't worry. In actual fact he was being held in a restraint chair, which Jose, in his delusional state, was convinced was an electric chair and that he was about to be executed. In his attempts to get free he suffered severe bruises from the belts around his waist and wrists.

Jose continued to experience extreme paranoia for most of the ten hours he was in the restraint chair, fearing the worst that might happen to him and his family. As he finally became exhausted he asked for his shirt as he was becoming very cold. This was denied, and he had to remain in restraints and unable even to go to the bathroom until 8 that morning.

His parents contacted the jail again at 7 am, and were told Jose would have to wait until a magistrate arrived at noon before he could be released to go to the hospital. For some reason there was a change of plan and he was released and taken by his parents to Rockingham Memorial at 8 am. There he found the chaplain and other staff members very helpful, and he feels good about the treatment he got during his four-day stay at RMH.

Jose says he now feels normal again, thanks to the treatment and medications he was prescribed, and deeply regrets his actions while having his psychotic episode.

I am not intending to fault the deputies involved in apprehending this individual, as I'm sure they were being professional in doing what they believed was necessary at the time, faced as they were with a very difficult situation. But what kind of help from a trusted pastor, priest or mental health professional could have been available to come to the home and assist Jose in getting his much needed treatment without adding to his trauma? Even if it may have taken all night to do so?

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mobile Justice Tour Visits The Burg

The Mobile Justice Tour is visiting Harrisonburg from 6-8 pm today, December 17, at the Massanutten Regional Library. Come to hear updates on legislation being proposed in Virginia that could affect how we help rehabilitate, and not just incarcerate, offenders. 

Here's the link for more information:

Sunday, December 15, 2013

My 'PURSE' Gift Giving Plan: A "Practical, Utilitarian and Radically Simple Exchange"

Pinterest photo by Jerry Muladi
As noted on my 12/10/13 blog, trying to find the right gift for people who have far too much stuff already can be a pain. So economist Joel Waldfogel suggests just giving a gift card or writing a check to a favorite charity in someone's name instead.

I love the giving to charity idea, but before you go shopping for gift cards, here's an even more efficient plan, one I've called the "Practical, Utilitarian and Radically Simple Exchange (PURSE for short). In all modesty, I consider it the perfect answer for today's busy and cost conscious shopper, and it can feel way more generous than a $50 gift card.

Here's how it works. You first get your family members, co-workers or friends together and agree to draw names. This makes certain that each person will give something and get something. But my PURSE plan goes further in assuring absolute equality for all, and better yet, it costs no one a single dime. Yes, you heard me right, in the end it costs no one anything, not even a trip to the mall (for me one of the better parts of the plan).

You accomplish this by simply agreeing to give each other money--legal tender, filthy lucre, dough, cash, a check, whichever--but solemnly agree ahead of time the exact amount to be given, which can range from a small to an outlandishly huge amount, say $1000 or even more. Because with the revolutionary PURSE plan, the agreed on amount doesn't even matter, as long as everyone gives (and receives) exactly the same amount.

Is this brilliant or what? It couldn't be more simple or more fair, right? And when your annual Christmas exchange is over no one is a dime richer or a penny poorer. And better yet, no one is stressed, exhausted or disappointed.

True, the economy gets no benefit from this little transaction, but for people who already have everything they possibly need, it's only the thought that counts anyway, right?

And I've even cherry-picked a Bible verse to go with this scheme, "Cast thy lot with us, and we will share a common PURSE."
(Proverbs 1:14, emphasis mine, and with tongue firmly in cheek, of course;-)

Friday, December 13, 2013

Your Card Could Make A Prisoner's Day

"Remember those in prison as if you were also in bonds, and those who suffer as though you were suffering with them." 
Hebrews 13:2

Prolonged confinement is an extremely stressful form of punishment, and holidays are among the most difficult times for those forced to live behind bars.

Today I am asking a favor on behalf of some of the persons I know who would love to receive a card, letter or almost any kind of communication from someone on the outside. You can include an article, a photocopy of an inspirational piece, your Christmas letter, etc., (total of one ounce or less, and no more than four items) and send it to one or more of the following persons, or to some other inmates you know. I assure you it will brighten their day:

Mr. James E. Bender #1010837 (seeks parole after spending years in prison)
Greensville Correctional Center
901 Corrections Way
Jarratt, VA 23870-6914

Mr. Bulue Berry #1415952 (seeks help for successful return to the area in a year)
Lunenburg Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 1424
Victoria, VA 23974

Mr. Stephano Colosi #1037581 (active advocate for geriatric release for aging prisoners)
Buckingham Correctional Center
P. O. Box 430
Dillwyn, VA 23936-0430

M. Steven W. Goodman #1028377 (active in doing legal research on restoration of parole)
Buckingham Correctional Center
P. O. Box 430
Dillwyn, VA 23936-0430

Mr. A. Jefferson Grissette #1143033 (wrongfully sentenced based on plea bargain and photo line-up)
St. Brides Correctional Facility
P.O. Box 16482
Chesapeake, VA 23328

Mr. Ferlin Hevener #26055 (seeks parole based on good behavior record in prison)
One Mountainside Way
Mt. Olive, WV 25185

Mr. Nat Painter 1009725 (age 72, incarcerated 19 years, denied parole in spite of good record)
Coffeewood Correctional Center
12352 Coffeewood Drive
Mitchells, VA 22792

Mr. Jens Soering #1161655 (German author, age 47, in prison since 1986 for a wrongful confession)
Buckingham Correctional Center
P.O. Box 430
Dillwyn, VA 23936-0430

Mr. Jonathan D. White #1161021 (has worked hard to earn parole, and is denied year after year)
Powhatan Correctional Center
3600 Woods Way
State Farm, VA 23160

If for whatever reason you prefer not to include your return address with your letter, you can have the person respond to me and I'll relay their message to you (assuming I have your contact information). In my 50-plus years of corresponding with individuals in prison I have never had any problems resulting from disclosing my address, but some people do recommend against it.

(Note the links above that will take you to a blog post about that individual)
Click here for other posts on prison reform.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

From Scroogenomics to Splurgenomics: A Reflection On Gift Giving

In his book, Scroogenomics, Joel Waldfogel of the University of Pennsylvania makes the case that gift giving, especially the kind most of us do at Christmas, makes no economic sense.

In fact he calls this kind of gifting a form of wealth destruction. For example, if we buy a sweater for ourselves for, say, $50, we do so because we believe it has at least that much value, but if Aunt Minnie buys us a $50 sweater it’s unlikely that it has that same value for us. We might just store in an already full closet and later haul it off to the local thrift store or sell it at a pittance at our next yard sale.

So unless we know someone very, very well, Waldfogel says, we’re better off giving them a gift card, or a gift to charity in their name. Or we might write or create something that can’t be bought at a store, or maybe put together a book of coupons that offer our time or some favors they might enjoy. He makes a valid point.

author Joel Waldfogel
On the other hand, I do know that as a child growing up (in a home in which my parents were poor and our Christmases meager), whatever gifts I was  given, whether bought or homemade, definitely increased in value in their giving. I was breathless with excitement over the kind of simple  gifts my grandchildren could hardly imagine. Yet I’m sure I enjoyed Christmas as least as much as they will, surrounded by all kinds of battery powered gadgets, Fisher Price plastic and reams of torn wrapping paper.

As an alternative, I’ve even proposed that our grandchildren might want to select from their rather ample toy collections something they would like to give one of their young cousins or a needy child as a recycled gift, carefully chosen and given a second life. Or we adults could agree to select a choice book from our libraries or from our collection of dishes or tools to give a friend or family member, something we no longer need but believe could add to someone else’s pleasure, and thus truly add value to the gift. Or we might just offer some generous donations and time at the local homeless shelter. Or write a big Christmas check to MCC or other relief agency. Or, as our clan has decided to do this year, pool some funds to buy some goats or calves for some needy family abroad through Oxfam, World Vision, or Heifer International (The kids love this).

Maybe we can all try to get closer to the kind of "splurgenomics" Ebenezer Scrooge engaged in after his Christmas conversion, as when he gave a generous charitable donation to a fundraiser he had soundly rejected the day before:
from Dickens' "A Christmas Carol"

"My dear sir," said Scrooge, quickening his pace, and taking the old gentleman by both his hands.  "How do you do.  I hope you succeeded yesterday.  It was very kind of you.  A merry Christmas to you, sir!"
"Mr Scrooge?"
"Yes," said Scrooge.  "That is my name, and I fear it may not be pleasant to you.  Allow me to ask your pardon.  And will you have the goodness" -- here Scrooge whispered in his ear.
"Lord bless me!" cried the gentleman, as if his breath were taken away.  "My dear Mr Scrooge, are you serious?"
"If you please," said Scrooge.  "Not a farthing less.  A great many back-payments are included in it, I assure you.  Will you do me that favor?"
"My dear sir," said the other, shaking hands with him. "I don't know what to say to such munificence."
"Don't say anything please," retorted Scrooge.  "Come and see me.  Will you come and see me?"
"I will!" cried the old gentleman.  And it was clear he meant to do it.
"Thank you," said Scrooge.  "I am much obliged to you.  I thank you fifty times.  Bless you!"

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Please Sign This Petition!

Jens Soering, at 47, facing life
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners"

Jesus (Luke 4:18)

After meeting and corresponding with Jens Soering at the Buckingham Correctional Center and reading his book "A Day In The Life Of 179212" I have started a petition asking Governor McDonnell to extradite Soering to his native Germany, with this introduction:

German citizen Jens Soering has been in prison for 27 years for a crime he foolishly confessed to at age 20 to prevent his U.S. girl friend from being convicted of murdering her parents. No DNA or other evidence links him to the crime, and outgoing Virginia Governor Kaine had agreed to return him to Germany in 2009, but incoming Governor McDonnell, in an unprecedented move, rescinded Kaine's action.

Numerous informative and supportive articles can be found on the website. 

Here's some interesting data from his "A Day in the Life of 179212":

"Virginia, a state with a population of approximately seven million, has (if one includes all jails and correctional centers) roughly 60,000 inmates. This figure does not include the thousands of individuals incarcerated in military and federal prisons located in the state. In comparison, Germany, with a population of 80 million, holds approximately 80,000 inmates. This disparity is reflected worldwide. The U.S. has 751 prisoners for every 100,000 citizens whereas Germany locks up only 96 out of the same number. And Germany's incarceration rate is greater than the European average."

Here's a link to an earlier post on Soering, with a list of some of the books he has authored.

Please sign and help circulate the following:

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Friends Are Forever

Me, Mel and Ed at Ray and RosemaryMartin's log home
This morning three of us who were college roommates at Eastern Mennonite University (then EMC) 53 years ago got together with our wives for our annual breakfast reunion on the first Saturday of December. This year we met at the home of Old Order Mennonite hosts Ray and Rosemary Martin in their lovely log home in the wooded foothills ten miles west of Dayton.

Mel and I were Augusta County neighbors and good friends even before college. He and his wife Dorothy live near Fort Defiance and are enjoying their retirement from the medical practice that kept Mel more than busy for decades. They now enjoy traveling and being with grandchildren and Mel is an accomplished wood worker.

Ed, a second cousin from Kansas, later married Clara, his sweetheart from Iowa, and they now live in Harrisonburg. Ed has been an active pastor and served several churches before their semi-retirement a number of years ago. He is also a skilled carpenter and craftsman and is currently active as a volunteer at the Brethren-Mennonite Heritage Center. One of his latest spare time projects is making a set of kitchen cabinets for their daughter.

These are great people, and whenever we get together it is as if we had never been apart. And this morning Mel's wife, who was Dorothy Martin, learned that she was a double second cousin to Ray, our host. Both grew up in the same community in Indiana but were members of different churches and to their knowledge had never met.

Small world, and with so many great ties that bind.

Friday, December 6, 2013

A Visit To The Arlington County Jail

I recently had the pleasure of accompanying Lacy Whitmore, Executive Director of the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Community Services Board for a visit to the Arlington County Detention Facility. Our local CSB has a $13,000 annual contract to provide mental health services at the Harrisonburg/Rockingham Regional Jail, and Mr. Whitmore and I share an interest in improved services for that population of up to 400 (45 of these are currently housed in Augusta County's Middle River Jail due to overcrowding--the jail was built to house 208).

When we met Suzanne Somerville, director of ACDF's mental health unit, operated through a contract with Arlington County's CSB, one of the first things we learned was that this 11-year old state-of-the-art facility has been experiencing a gradual drop in numbers. Built for 600 inmates, its present census is just over 500.
Sheriff Beth Arthur

It would seem that Arlington County, with a urban population of over 212,000, would have more offenders than Rockingham,with a population of some 128.000. HRRJ is a regional facility, but well over 90% of our detainees are from our rural and small town area, and we are certainly not experiencing a decrease in our jail population.

As we toured the facility and were in conversation with Somerville and one of her colleagues, psychologist Grace Guerro, I kept asking myself whether there are other factors that might have a bearing on reducing their prison population, starting with their having a new Drug Court in their judicial system. Drug Courts are known to assign more drug offenders (involving an increasingly large percentage of court cases) to treatment programs and other alternative sentences.

Then there is an intake process at ACDF that involves a mental health person and one of the facility's 13 inmate counselors. This team is sometimes able to arrange for alternatives to detention.

Also, an increased number of the staff at ACDF, like ours at HRRJ, are taking, or have taken, "Crisis Intervention Team" training promoted by their respective CSB's. Numerous ACDF deputies proudly wore their CIT pins and spoke highly of the training. Thus jail staff and mental health providers are able to experience a greater sense of collaboration and mutual support in their work. This kind of atmosphere helps reduce the stress experienced by mentally ill persons in a prison environment and can sometimes lead to treatment options rather than incarceration.

Likewise, one wonders how effective the ACDF's intensive treatment focus might be in reducing its recidivism rate and contributing to reduced numbers of re-incarcerations. In the common area in each unit of individual cells we saw numerous therapy groups being held during our visit.

The ACDF also promotes an optimal number of work options for inmates. Many are involved in kitchen and cleaning duties, in the distribution of library books throughout the facility, and in serving as tutors for individuals in literacy and GED classes. Four work crews of five each are involved in work in the area in such roles as trash and snow removal and in the care and maintenance of other Arlington County facilities. Neither they nor HRRJ offer any work release programs, however, such as are available at the Middle River Jail in Augusta County.

The people with whom we spoke clearly believe what they and other staff are doing at ACDF is helping. They admit it may be too early to tell for sure, but they currently estimate that their "graduates" have a return rate of around 50% instead of the typical 80% number of re-offenders nationwide, and that those who do relapse are symptom free longer before returning to jail or to some treatment facility.

The jury is still out on many of the details, but any or all of these factors may be reducing ACDF's jail population. There is increased evidence that investment in prevention and treatment of mentally ill and substance dependent persons results in fewer long term costs for tax payers.

Sheriff Beth Arthur, currently president of the Virginia Sheriff's Association, has been in the forefront of reforms in Arlington's program. While we may not be able to replicate her program here, I believe we may be able to make significant improvements in how we rehabilitate, rather than simply incarcerate, our offenders.

Under Sheriff Hutcheson's administration we have already seen the following changes:

1. Inmates again have three meals a day on weekends, rather than only two as has been the case for many years. This helps boost morale in a crowded and stressful jail environment.

2. A safety blanket and smock (instead of only a paper gown) is now provided for persons confined to the isolated padded cell.

3. Ongoing Crisis Intervention Team training is being provided for jail personnel and deputies.

4. A reentry class led is being led by a team of local volunteers.

I hope we can have an ongoing conversation on how to reduce our jail population and provide better mental health services to those who need it.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

'Merry Excessmas' or Meaningful Advent?

A war on Advent?
Sarah Palin has just published a book "Good Tidings and Great Joy: Protecting the Heart of Christmas" in which she laments the fact that holiday shoppers are no longer greeted with "Merry Christmas" but something more generic like "Happy Holidays". To her, this is a sure sign that "zealot-like atheists" are waging a "war against Christmas" and are driving us toward secularism and the loss of our Judeo-Christian heritage.

William C. Wood, local professor of economics at James Madison University and a member of the Beaver Creek Church of the Brethren, looks at it differently. Our national celebration of Christmas has already become so pagan and anti-Christian, he says, that we ought to just call it what it is, a "Merry Excessmas", and call the Christian celebration something else, like "Holy Nativity".

Dr. Wood actually had a piece promoting this idea published in the Wall Street Journal a number of years ago, and has been crusading for this change ever since. Just separating the two celebrations, he believes, would make things a lot cleaner and clearer. Let the rest of the world have the greed-based holiday Christmas has become.

In addition, if we are really serious about observing Christmas, we should remember that that according to the Christian calendar, most of December has never been intended be "Merry", but a hopeful and prayerful time of waiting we call Advent. The Advent season ends with Nativity, which begins on Christmas Eve and continues for the "Twelve Days of Christmas". So in keeping with our Christian tradition, we shouldn't be greeting anyone with "Merry Christmas" anyway until it actually arrives, at which time we celebrate with abandonment.

All of which seems to be lost on Palin and others who appear o be waging a war on Advent, and want to bless Christmas as it has become, a season of "excessmas."

Monday, December 2, 2013

The Best Christmas Open House Ever

Gemeinschaft Home, 1423 Mt. Clinton Pike, Harrisonburg, Virginia
As a long time board member, I want to invite you to the 2013 Gemeinschaft Home Christmas Reception and Open House this Sunday afternoon, December 8, at 1423 Mt. Clinton Pike, just west of EMU. Open house will be from 1:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

At 2:00 and again at 3:00, you are invited to attend an approximately 30-minute informational presentation in the Bender Building behind Gemeinschaft. An update about our program will be presented by staff and residents. Please join us at one of these sessions to learn more about the exciting things happening at Gemeinschaft. There will be time for questions and discussion.

Before and after these presentations you are invited to enjoy hot drinks and freshly baked Christmas treats from the Gemeinschaft kitchen. Residents and staff will be available to take you on a brief tour of the House, where you will see a Christmas tree decorated with colorful cards (provided) with names of friends like you. You can let us know if you can join us by calling Melissa at 434-1690 or email her at, but you are also welcome to just drop by unannounced.

You are, of course, encouraged to make a generous year-end donation by either mailing it in or giving a gift online. Your support means so much to us and to our residents who are here to begin a bright new future.

Thanks for caring--and please invite your friends to join us too!

Other current board members are Timothy Brazill,  John Butler, MuAwia DaMes, Chris Edwards, Don Foth, James Good, John Holloran, Larry Hoover, Joan Kauffman, Sam Miller, Ron Pierantoni, Doris Pye, Sam Showalter and Carl Stauffer.

P. S. Parking will be available on both the east (upper) and west (lower) sides of the Home. And bring your copy of the little card below if you received one in the mail, or you may pick one up when you arrive.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Sweeping Up Gratitude

First course of a simple, home cooked Thanksgiving meal at Brent and Heidi's house
We felt blessed having oldest son Brad from Pittsburgh join us for a Thanksgiving gathering yesterday with second son Brent, his wife Heidi and our three local grandchildren ages four, seven and nine. Our conversations were free of political or other debates and we avoided football and other media entertainment altogether. Just being together was entertainment enough.

After a leisurely and delicious meal together I made the mistake of telling the youngest grandson about a silly, made-up game that was popular at our house when our sons--his dad and his uncle--were about four and six, one we called "Sweep up the Person!".

To play, I would pretend to be a powerful, giant vacuum cleaner, and they were to find and touch the right "switch" to turn it (me) on, that being some body part like my nose, forehead, ear, elbow, knee, etc. When the right "button" was pushed, I would pursue the button pusher with a mighty roar and draw him fiercely close to me in a big squeeze (Daughter Joanna, who came almost eight years later and who with her husband and three children now lives eight hours away, got in on this much later).

Our four-year-old grandson found this game endlessly fascinating and fun, and almost wore his grandfather out with repeated requests for "Sweep up the Person!" The element of suspense, coupled with the fun of the chase and the joy of being wrapped up in a big grandfather hug combined to keep us occupied for quite some time.

Proves that the funnest things in life really are mostly free, gifts for which we can only say "Thank you, Thank you, Thank you".

God is good. And every expression of gratitude is a prayer.

Photo by Brad.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

A New Light for Hanukkah

A menorah
The December 2003 Readers Digest carried a true Hanukkah story by Joe Fitzgerald called “A New Light.”

It was about the Markovitz’s, a Jewish family who lived in a Pennsylvania suburb where one Christmas season they were awakened at around five in the morning by the sound of glass shattering. They ran downstairs to find the window broken where they had their illuminated menorah, a Jewish candelabra, which was now damaged and lying on the floor.

Theirs was one of the few homes in their neighborhood that didn’t display traditional Christmas decorations, and some person or group apparently felt a need to express their intolerance by destroying this symbol of their faith.

Hanukkah marks the event when, as tradition has it, Jews returned to their temple in Jerusalem after their exile and found it desecrated, and then went about to reconsecrate it as a place of worship. To do so they needed, among other things, to keep a lamp lit day and night in the temple. Unfortunately, they had enough consecrated oil for only one night, but decided to light the lamp anyway, and according to the Hanukkah tradition, it kept burning for eight nights, a miracle the Markowitz’s celebrated each year.

Some of the many neighbors who were outraged at the crime committed against them got their heads together to decide how to show their support.

The next evening when the Markowitz's turned on to their street they saw an extraordinary sight, something like a modern Hanukkah miracle. Nearly every home in the neighborhood had an illuminated menorah in their window, as if to say, “If you want to bring harm to one of us, you will have to attack to us all.”

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sometimes When it Rains it Pours...... Blessings

November 1 shocker: Discovered that our roof was leaking.

November 11 accident: I got in the path of another car as I pulled out of Hamlet Drive on to Rt. 42 going to work. Had looked both ways, but should have looked north a second time to note that someone had just pulled out of Bill's Muffler's down the street and was heading in my direction. Only my pride got hurt and both I and driver of the other vehicle were able to proceed without needing our vehicles towed. Our 2001 Hyundai Accent was on its last legs anyway.

November 15 colonoscopy: I won't go into details here, but after the usual grueling prep, the actual procedure was without incident. Once I was injected with some kind of powerful drug through my IV, I was out cold, and it was as if it was all over in an instant. The good news is that there were no polyps, and I experienced little pain or discomfort afterwards. Am told I'm good to go for another ten years.

November 17 engine failure: As Alma Jean drove our Accent home from Keezeltown Sunday evening after dark, its 12-year-old engine totally froze up, and she had to have help from some caring passersby to get the car off the highway. Thank God for Good Samaritans.

November 19 towing away of our old car: After giving us a decade of dependable service, I actually felt some sadness seeing the vehicle we owned since it was a year old towed away to its final resting place.

November 19-20 roof project: Had a great crew of men replace the shingles and some of the plywood sheeting on the north side of our house. Got some lifetime shingles this time, and the results look great.

Sometimes when it rains it pours, but at least our roof isn't likely to leak. Besides, our troubles seem so few and our blessings so many in light of all of the recent devastation in the Philippines and in the Midwest.

"The distance from bad to good is not very far."
- Russian writer Mikhail Lermontov

Photos by William Ross, Gemeinschaft Home graduate and a great roofer, builder, painter and general repair person.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Walmart Can Pay Employees Fair Wages Without Raising Prices

I'm not critical of the fact that a Walmart in Cleveland is again promoting a Thanksgiving food drive for some of its needy associates, an idea initiated by some caring co-workers. Sharing is always a good thing, wherever and whenever it happens.

But the scandal of this is that the world's largest retailer and most profitable corporation is netting some $15 billion a year while its associates, some of them getting less than 40 hours a week, are earning at or just above minimum wage. Walmart remains a family owned business, with the Walton family controlling over 50% of its stock and raking in most of these profits.

According to Scott Keyes on the website, Walmart’s President and CEO, Bill Simon, admits that most of its one million associates average less than $25,000 per year (the federal poverty line is $23,550 for a family of four). Keyes also notes that when the Washington DC city council recently passed a living wage bill requiring a minimum of $12.50 per hour, the chain threatened to shut down its new stores if the Mayor didn’t veto the bill. He did.

Meanwhile, I'll just keep vetoing Walmart.

 And here's a petition to all of the retail giants who can't even wait for Black Friday to start raking in Christmas profits: Give your workers a break on Thanksgiving Day, or we will boycott you during this entire holiday Season. 

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Don't Call Me "Reverend" And Don't Label Me "Clergy"

I've been a licensed or ordained minister since 1965, but I've never been comfortable being referred to as "Reverend" or a member of the "clergy".

In the first place, there's simply no Biblical precedent for either of those labels being applied to certain believers who are to be elevated above the rest. There are of course respected congregational offices like pastor, overseer, elder, bishop, deacon, evangelist, and teacher, to name only a few, but these are functional descriptions of how people serve, not titles separating professional "clergy" from "laity".

The Greek form of the word "laity" in the New Testament is "laos", which simply means "people", or "the people of God".  There is no suggestion in scripture that when someone is appointed to some church office that he or she is no longer a part of the laos. This is in contrast to some denominations where the ordained clergy cannot even be considered members of the congregations they serve, but have their membership in the district council or presbytery to which they belong.

One of the published studies that made a big impression on me years ago was "The Christian Calling" by Virgil Vogt, then a member of Reba Place, a Mennonite intentional community. He makes a clear case that all believers are "called", and all have fundamentally the same "calling", that of continuing the ministry Jesus began here on earth through his Body, the church. Our differing gifts merely shape how and in what setting we carry out that one calling, not the nature of the calling itself, for which we are ordained in our baptism.

This has been a defining and liberating concept for me: Our gifts differ, and our assignments are varied, but our status is the same, and our calling is one--to love, honor and serve God together in communities of faith we call the church.

Church historian Charles Jacobs, in The Story of the Church, writes:  "In the beginning most of the work of the congregation was done by people who had no official position.  It was voluntary service, freely rendered.  By the middle of the third century, it was done by the professional clergy.  Between clergymen and laity there was a sharp distinction.  The clergy, too, were divided into higher and lower grades. In the higher grades were bishops, presbyters and deacons; in the lower grade sub-deacons, lectors, exorcists, acolytes and janitors.  All of them were inducted into office by some form of ordination, and the idea of local organization had gone so far that in some churches even the grave diggers were ordained.  Thus the work of the Church was passing out of the hands of the many into those of the few, and these few were coming to be regarded as belonging to a higher class."

So please just call me Harvey, a pastor, counselor and a forever member of the laos, the people.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Beautiful Far Beyond Average

Mother Teresa of Calcutta
In a study conducted by researcher Judith Lanlois and a colleague at the University of Texas at Austin some time ago, she found that when it comes to faces, the more "average" someone’s features, the more attractive they are judged to be. The bad news is that few of us are exactly average in the way her study suggests.

Lanlois used a computer to construct faces that were a blend of several dozen people in a way that created an average of such features as nose length, chin prominence, and the size and shape of the forehead and mouth. The more faces that went into the composite, the more the result represented the average population of male or female college students from which they were drawn.

When other students then judged the attractiveness of the composites and then of the individual faces, without being told which was which, they invariably found the composites to be more attractive than the real individual faces that went into them. An interesting find.

I once gave some high school students in a religion class the assignment of bringing me a picture of a face they thought might do for the face of Jesus if he were to appear as a human being today. I got quite an interesting assortment, ranging from pictures of handsome movie stars to those of average American males of various races.

The picture that really got my attention, however, was the wrinkled and aging face of Mother Teresa, taken from the cover of Time magazine. What better image to represent what a modern Jesus might look like?

Beautiful way beyond average.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Focus Less on Control, More on Influence

Most of us have come to realize that trying to totally control others is futile, even with our children. But by maintaining a positive relationship with people, regardless of age, our influence can be ongoing and powerful.

Not all of our efforts to influence work equally well, however.

For instance, an often used but least effective strategy is to complain and criticize. Somehow we've gotten the notion that to motivate people to do better we must first make them feel worse.

"Why can't you ever hang up your clothes? This place looks like a pig pen.""
"Even your little sister/brother can do a better job of cleaning up than you do."
"Shame on you! That's the sorriest piece of work I've ever seen."

Not only are such attacks exaggerations and untruths, they just don't work well, and often have a reverse effect.

A second and more effective way to influence is to make polite requests, to turn our criticisms and complaints into respectful wishes. If we maintain good relationships with people, they are much more likely to change through our simply expressing our needs and wishes.

"Please hang up your clothes or put them in the hamper. It makes the room look so much better."
"I'd really like you to put all the dishes in the sink or in the dishwasher when you're finished with them."
"I wish you would give this another try. Here's one way I think it could be improved."

Of course, in the case of children, and sometimes even adults, reasonable, agreed upon consequences may need to be in place if reasonable requests aren't honored, but to clearly state one's wishes or expectations is always worth trying first, rather than resorting to demands or threats.

A third and sometimes even better way of exerting influence is to affirm positive steps, even baby steps, in a desired direction, as in the use of frequent "I like it when..." statements.

"I really love it when you hang up your clothes or put the dirty ones in the hamper. It makes things a lot easier for me, and makes your room look really good."
"I always like it when you put your dirty dishes in the sink or the dishwasher. Makes me like you better, too!"
"I so appreciate it when you put your best efforts in the projects your doing. That way I can see you're really trying to do your best."

There are two ways of getting a chick out of an egg, someone has said, one way is to try to apply pressure on the shell, and the other is to provide the right kind of steady warmth over time.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Prisoner Responds To Op-Ed Piece On Parole

Powhatan Correctional Center

I recently received permission to post the following letter from an inmate in the Powhatan Correctional Center in response to an October 19 op ed piece I wrote for Harrisonburg's Daily News-Record, "Parole System Needs Change":

Dear Mr. Yoder:

I have been incarcerated for the past 32 years of my life as a first time offender serving a multiple life-plus sentence I received when I was 20 years old. I am now 52, and my overall record has been that of a model prisoner who has worked earnestly to gain the privilege of parole. I started going up for parole in 1998 and have been denied each time, primarily for the stated reason of the serious nature of the crimes/offenses for which I was incarcerated.

In your recent article there were several statements made by the Virginia Parole Board Chairman concerning the discretionary parole process and consideration for release being currently conducted by a "computer".
If a " computer" is making the human assessment in my case... then I should have been released on parole by now. I would like to know why such factors (as my good behavior) are not taken into consideration for discretionary parole, a privilege I have been sufficiently punished for and earnestly earned with a completely rehabilitated mind and desire to be a productive citizen upon release.

My crime is the constant that will never change unless the convictions are overturned. But the computer, using the COMPS Re-Entry Risk Assessment Report used by the DOC and the Virginia Parole Board in assessing two primary areas of public safety concerns indicated that I was neither a general nor a violent recidivism risk to the community. Therefore by this computer assessment I was a good candidate for release on discretionary parole. Again I was denied for the same constant reasons and there was no thorough consideration of my case.

Virginia law states that "No person shall be released on parole by the Board until a thorough investigation has been made into the prisoner's history, physical and mental condition and character and of his conduct, employment and attitude while in prison. The Board shall determine that his release on parole will not be incompatible with the interests of society or of the prisoner." Virginia Code 1950, Section 53.1-155

Thank you for your time and attention to this reading, and I would greatly appreciate your assistance in asking Mr. William Muse, Chair of the Virginia Parole Board,* to personally look at my file objectively and without partiality.


Jonathan D. White #1161021
3600 Woods Way,
State Farm, VA 23160

*William W. Muse, Chair
Virginia Parole Board
6900 Atmore Drive,
Richmond, VA 23225

P.S. In the letter in which Jonathan gives me permission to post this, he writes:
I am not the man the computer defines me to be based on the offenses of which I was convicted years ago. Nothing in my life today holds to yesterday or the sins of the past. I desire only to have an opportunity to be reunited with my family and live out the remainder of my life as a law abiding citizen of the Commonwealth doing all I can to live free."

Click here for more posts on prison related issues.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Speak Softly, And Carry A Small Stick (e.g., a "talking stick")

A book on the subject
"Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry."
- James 1:19 (ISV)
In relationships where people are having difficulty really hearing each other, I often recommend the use of a "talking stick".

The idea came from reading about a Native Americans practice that was often used in tribal or other meetings. The leader of the gathering, usually the Chief, held the talking stick and introduced the purpose of the discussion. Participants then took turns, with only the person holding the stick being allowed to speak. That person passed the stick to the next speaker, and so on. Everyone but the one holding the stick was to remain silent and listen respectfully.

Numerous couples to whom I've recommended this practice have found it a helpful way to encourage more reflective listening and to prevent constant interruptions and arguing, the latter being a case of having two or more speakers and no listener.

I've also had parents tell me this has worked well for their family meetings or for one on one conversations with their kids. In one case, a parent reported that their adolescent son, who was typically sullen and unresponsive whenever they tried discussing something with him, began to really open up when he had the family talking stick in hand, something that added to his confidence that he would have a respectful hearing.

Here's a link to some more information:

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

VA DOC Can No Longer Afford Hand Soap

3 hours of labor for a small bar of this 
Finances must be getting tight in Virginia's Department of Corrections. Here's a notice that was recently posted for inmates at one of the Commonwealth's state prisons:



DATE:  OCTOBER 1, 2013

Effective November 1, 2013, BKKC will no longer issue Lisa Soap to all offenders. Lisa Soap will ONLY be issued to indigent offenders as part of the indigent package. All other offenders must purchase soap from the Commissary.

Meanwhile, the cost of a bar of commissary soap ranges from 78¢ for a small bar of Irish Spring to $1.61 for the Coast brand at this particular facility, but the minimum hourly wage for prison labor is only 27¢ (45¢ an hour for skilled jobs). And thirty earning hours a week is the maximum allowed.

Most of those who do have jobs, an estimated 15%, according to my source, are paid at the lowest 27¢ rate for a maximum earning of $8.10, with 5% of that deducted for any outstanding court fines and/or child support payments. Most inmates must also pay for their own toothpaste, deodorant or any other self-care or snack items, or for things like a plastic spoon (5¢) or a plastic coffee cup (74¢).

Persons who are fortunate enough to have friends or family to provide spending money for them have 5% of that deducted for any fines or court costs and 10% for a forced savings of up to $1000 to be available upon release.

The majority of the guys, I'm told, are too embarrassed to have anyone know they have to rely on a monthly indigent package (two bars of soap, a small toothbrush, a razor, 4 oz. shampoo and cheap roll on deodorant) so they pass on it--or beg, borrow or steal.


Monday, November 11, 2013

Text of Closing Words of Kennedy's Last Speech

A handbill circulating in Dallas just prior to Kennedy's assassination

November marks the 50th Anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination, an event I clearly remember. I recently ran across the following excerpt of timely closing remarks he had prepared for an evening State Democratic Committee meeting in Austin on the day he was assassinated:

"... this is a time for courage and a time for challenge. Neither conformity nor complacency will do. Neither the fanatics nor the fainthearted are needed. And our duty as a Party is not to our Party alone, but to the nation, and, indeed, to all mankind. Our duty is not merely the preservation of political power but the preservation of peace and freedom.

"So let us not be petty when our cause is so great. Let us not quarrel amongst ourselves when our Nation's future is at stake.

"Let us stand together with renewed confidence in our cause -- united in our heritage of the past and our hopes for the future -- and determined that this land we love shall lead all mankind into new frontiers of peace and abundance."

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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Wages Remain Flat, Food Stamps Are Cut, While Corporate Profits Soar

"They trample on the heads of the poor 
as upon the dust of the ground
and deny justice to the oppressed."
Amos 2:7 (NIV)

According to a 10/24/13 piece in the Chicago Tribune, McDonald's President Jeff Stratton, while giving a speech recently, was interrupted by one of his many low wage employees, Nancy Salgado, who shouted, "Do you think this is fair that I have to be making $8.25 [an hour] when I've worked for McDonald's for 10 years?"

Stratton's only response was, "I've been there 40 years."

Salgado, with other protesters, was arrested. Stratton continued addressing the Union League Club's First Friday luncheon at an upscale Chicago restaurant.

McDonald's can clearly afford to pay a living wage, since it made an impressive $5.46 billion in profits for its shareholders last year, but instead has come up with a list of tips to give its employees on how they can make it on their poverty level incomes, including advice about getting a second job and applying for food stamps. Not surprisingly, the fast food industry is in the forefront of lobbying efforts to resist raising the minimum wage, which means their employees, with the aid of food stamps and other assistance to low income families, are subsidizing the rich.

Meanwhile, food stamps are being cut while subsidies to wealthy corporate farmers remain intact. This includes benefits to over a dozen wealthy Washington lawmakers, 13 Republicans and two Democrats, who are raking in millions from a program about which they themselves are writing legislation, clearly a conflict of interest. Rep. Stephen Fincher (R., Tenn.), for example,  collected $3.48 million between 1995 and 2012.