Saturday, March 30, 2013

A Blessed Good Friday Walk

photo by Nikki Fox, courtesy of the Daily News-Record
I was blessed yesterday participating in the 26th annual Good Friday Walk involving scripture readings (from Luke's passion account) and prayers at each of ten "stations of the cross"at various locations in downtown Harrisonburg, such as the Judicial Building above.

It was my privilege to be the reader at the tenth and last station, the outdoor garden area at the St. Stephens United Church of Christ, where we focused on the burial of Jesus. For the closing prayer I borrowed the words of singer/songwriter Steve Bell and a Holy Week selection from the Common Book of Prayer:

In the mighty name of God
In the saving name of Jesus
In the strong name of the Spirit
We come
We cry
We watch
We wait
We look
We long for you

O God,
who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son
to the death of the cross,
and by his glorious resurrection
delivered us from the power of our enemy:
Grant us so to die daily to sin,
that we may evermore live
with him in the joy of his resurrection;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. 
(1979 Book of Common Prayer)

It was a good day for walking, period, in the mode of what David Augsburger calls "pedi-tation". Since I was taking the day off anyway, I enjoyed making the 2 1/2 mile trek on foot to the Good Friday Walk (took the city bus home:-), then another 1/2 mile walk to spend time with my beloved at VMRC's rehab unit, where she is still recovering from her knee replacement surgery. In all, both body and soul greatly benefited.

Jesus sets a good example for us in the walking department. On Good Friday, though, it was a journey like none other, the Via Dolorosa, or "Way of Sorrows".

Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Royal Pain in the Knee

My longsuffering wife Alma Jean is currently in a rehab unit at the nearby Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community, recovering from her knee replacement surgery last Friday.

Her good surgeon Dr. Pereles (pronounced "peer-less") of Augusta Health near Staunton, where she had the procedure done, warned her she would have times of hating him for what he's put her through, but neither of us were quite prepared for how excruciating the pain could be. "Worse than having a baby," she said, and so bad I wished I could take turns enduring it for her.

Alma Jean has been a trooper, though, through it all. Bolstered by lots of love, prayers and pain medications, she's endured hours of having her leg strapped in the infamous Continuous Passive Motion (CPM) machine plus numerous sessions of physical therapy, starting at AH and now continuing at VMRC, where she has been since Monday.

We're so grateful to God, friends and family for all the support we've received. Members of our house church and others have brought in an abundance of food and flowers and have helped out in countless ways, including having some angels come in yesterday (while I was at work) and tidy up the place.

All of which helps deal with an ordeal that's clearly not for the faint of heart.

Her address is VMRC, Room 102B, 1475 Virginia Avenue, Harrisonburg, VA 22802.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Leaving The Amish

Saloma Miller Furlong (photo courtesy of DNR)
Last week our local paper published an article on Saloma Miller Furlong’s visit to Eastern Mennonite University to discuss her memoir, "Why I Left the Amish". As an ex-Amish myself, I had a lot of mixed feelings about the piece, one that may or may not have accurately portrayed her beliefs or values, of course.

According to the article, Saloma made her decision to leave her Amish family and community at age 20 to get her “dream job as a waitress at Pizza Hut” and later to become a published author, one of several things she said she could not have accomplished otherwise. (“Leaving The Amish,” March 16, 2013 Daily News-Record).

A part of what motivated her to leave her family was her having an abusive father who suffered from schizophrenia and depression. She did say he later was prescribed medication and “never abused his family again”, but her emotional wounds were obviously painful and deep. 

My own experience was quite different, in that I grew up in an imperfect but deeply caring family, but I also left my own Amish community (at age 21), not to get away from an unhappy past but in order to attend college and become a teacher. My parents weren't really happy about that, but gave their begrudging blessing, though they were afraid I would meet and marry a Mennonite girl if I attended what was then Eastern Mennonite College (which is exactly what happened!). 

Unlike Saloma, who still seems to see the proverbial grass on the other side of the fence as undoubtedly greener, I recognize both the costs and the benefits of my choice. On balance I don’t regret my decision, but there are many things about the community I grew up in that I will always miss. When it comes to the most primal of human needs for identity, security and belonging, I may never be able to celebrate for myself and for our children as much as I have left behind. 

I do feel I have an expanded life, and our children and grandchildren have increased opportunities to accomplish more things. Whether all of these are, in the end, truly better things is a judgment I'm not yet ready to make. I do want to be sure that in striving to have our children experience more of what we didn't have growing up, that we don't deny them some of the good things we did have--simplicity, community, humility and a set of basic, down-to-earth life skills I largely took for granted growing up in that faith community. 

I felt Saloma's story could have simply focused on an individual leaving a family in which an abusive father failed to get some desperately needed medical help until it was too late to salvage his relationship with his daughter. Instead, the article portrayed their whole community as dark and abusive in a way that I felt was completely undeserved.

The Amish are far from perfect, and are the first to say so. But like a kind of Protestant monastic movement, they teach us the wisdom of not blindly embracing every innovation as automatically bettering our lives and that of our communities, and of following Jesus' example of loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and loving and blessing our neighbors everywhere--and even our enemies--as ourselves. It's almost certain that our planet would be far better off if it were inhabited by far, far more of them.

P.S. For your information, Saloma, there are numerous Amish who are published authors. One of my favorites is David Kline, a self-taught naturalist, organic farmer and Amish bishop from your home state of Ohio. Then there is Linda Byler, a Lancaster County (Pennsylvania) Amish author of best selling novels about her people who remains a member of the group to this day.

To read more of my Amish-related posts, check this link


Sunday, March 24, 2013

Touched By a Giant

Church of the Savior's Gordon Cosby
Gordon Cosby, founding pastor of the Church of the Savior in Washington, DC, died Wednesday at age 94. He chose to spend his last days in hospice care at Christ House, a medical facility for the homeless, one of the many ministries of his Church.

Ron Copeland, a local founder of Our Community Place and pastor of the Early Church, shared with some of our local pastors how influential he was in his life, taking time to correspond with Ron as one of many younger leaders he mentored and encouraged.

A long time admirer of Cosby, I was glad to hear him a number of years ago at one of the sessions I was a part of in a week at the Wellspring Conference Center, yet another outreach of the Church of the Savior.

After speaking with the group and exiting the room to go to another appointment, he turned to make a final point before leaving, standing right next to where I was sitting. As he made his comments he, for no particular reason, placed his hand on my shoulder. He didn't know me and wasn't singling me out in any way, but I'll never forget the warm feeling it gave me to feel blessed by the touch of this gracious, Christ-like leader. Just a simple and spontaneous gesture, but one I will never forget.

Jim Wallis of Sojourners, another Christian ministry in DC, writes that when he visited his longtime mentor on one of his last days, he said, in his "deep graveling voice", “I am enjoying dying.” He also reported Gordon as once saying to a pastor who had expressed disappointment that his new church had only 15 people, “Wow. Fifteen people is amazing!”

As a pastor of a house church congregation, I can identify with that.

According to Wallis, Cosby chose to keep a relatively low profile, turning down most of his many invitations to speak, never needing or wanting to be out front or become a famous public figure. He instead chose to spend most of his time quietly working with a relatively small group of people who trying to “be the church” in Washington, D.C.: the Church of the Savior.

If only I could follow Jesus even half as well as he did.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Miriam Is With God, God Is With Us

My 61-year-old niece Miriam Schrock of Stuarts Draft died Tuesday at the Roanoke Memorial Hospital, just two weeks after having been diagnosed with lymphoma. She was the second oldest daughter of my sister Lucy, who died in 2003, and her gentle pastor father, Alvin Schrock.

Miriam had multiple health problems going back to her having rheumatic fever as a child, and she later suffered from scoliosis, major hip surgery and numerous other conditions, including her recently needing a pacemaker for an ailing heart.

What always impressed me about Miriam was her cheerful smile and her warm, servant-like spirit. I've never heard her complain about anything, ever, although her life was anything but easy, and the last two weeks of her life were especially difficult.

According to notes kept by members of her family, on February 23 Miriam had a bad fall resulting from one of her occasional unexplained blackout spells. That week she went to her doctor, who found that her liver enzymes were elevated and who scheduled a liver scan for her.

By Saturday, March 2, she had become very ill and her skin turned an alarming yellow color. When they took her to Emergicare, the doctor immediately sent her to the Augusta Health hospital. There they attempted to insert a stint to drain fluid from her liver, but her cancerous tumors were apparently already putting pressure on her organs in a way that made that impossible, so she was sent to a specialist at the Roanoke Hospital.

The procedure they attempted in Roanoke caused a rupture in her esophagus, which added to her suffering and made it impossible for her to take any food or liquid through her mouth. But still she endured her pain and hardship like a good soldier, without complaint.

By Saturday her liver had failed and her kidneys were giving out, so on Monday they removed her feeding tube and moved her out of the ICU and into their Comfort Care Unit. There she died at around 2:30 am Tuesday, surrounded by her three sisters and one of her two brothers.

A week prior, Miriam had told her sister Barbara Ann that she heard someone whisper her name in her hospital room, first on one side of her bed then on the other. One of her sisters-in-law, also named Miriam, later wrote the following about that experience that was read at her funeral today:

He whispered my name 
in the dark of the night
in hospital room 864
first on one side
and then on the other;
He whispered, He whispered my name.

Exactly a week later
in the dark of the night
in ICU 1068
at the end of my journey 
as I neared the great Jordan
He called, He called out my name.

And now I am safe
I am healthy and new
The wearisome journey is over.
I know you will grieve,
our love was so deep,
but listen! He whispers your name.

It won't be so long;
you'll join Mother and me
where partings and pain all are past.
Together we'll praise Him,
we'll sing and be glad
with the one who calls us by name.

Condolences to the family may be sent to Miriam's widowed father Alvin Schrock and older sister Barbara Ann, who live at 280 Stuarts Draft Highway, Staunton, VA 24401.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Letter From a Dying Iraqi Veteran

Veteran Tomas Young
We may not feel comfortable with everything expressed in the following excerpt from a letter by a dying Iraqi veteran, but it represents some hard truth about the human cost of a truly devastating war.

A recent ABC news Sunday Spotlight also focused on the Iraq tragedy, and MSNBC will re-air a special this Friday evening at 9 pm EST marking the tenth anniversary of the invasion and some of the political realities behind it.

The letter can be found in its entirety using the link in the first paragraph (above):

To: George W. Bush and Dick Cheney
From: Tomas Young

I write this letter on the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War on behalf of my fellow Iraq War veterans. I write this letter on behalf of the 4,488 soldiers and Marines who died in Iraq. I write this letter on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of veterans who have been wounded and on behalf of those whose wounds, physical and psychological, have destroyed their lives. I am one of those gravely wounded. I was paralyzed in an insurgent ambush in 2004 in Sadr City. My life is coming to an end. I am living under hospice care. 

I write this letter on behalf of husbands and wives who have lost spouses, on behalf of children who have lost a parent, on behalf of the fathers and mothers who have lost sons and daughters and on behalf of those who care for the many thousands of my fellow veterans who have brain injuries. I write this letter on behalf of those veterans whose trauma and self-revulsion for what they have witnessed, endured and done in Iraq have led to suicide and on behalf of the active-duty soldiers and Marines who commit, on average, a suicide a day. I write this letter on behalf of the some 1 million Iraqi dead and on behalf of the countless Iraqi wounded. I write this letter on behalf of us all—the human detritus your war has left behind, those who will spend their lives in unending pain and grief.

I write this letter, my last letter, to you, Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney. I write not because I think you grasp the terrible human and moral consequences of your lies, manipulation and thirst for wealth and power. I write this letter because, before my own death, I want to make it clear that I, and hundreds of thousands of my fellow veterans, along with millions of my fellow citizens, along with hundreds of millions more in Iraq and the Middle East, know fully who you are and what you have done. You may evade justice but in our eyes you are each guilty of egregious war crimes, of plunder and, finally, of murder, including the murder of thousands of young Americans—my fellow veterans—whose future you stole...

For my own thoughts prior to the invasion ten years ago this month, here's a link to a letter to the DNR published March 8, 2003.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Strictly For The Birds *

* Neighborhood cats and squirrels are not invited.

It's a kind of gift exchange. We provide over a hundred pounds of food for our neighborhood birds each winter, and they provide us with the simple pleasure of being able to observe them--up close and personal--within several feet of our dining room and kitchen windows. It's one of nature's truly fascinating reality shows, non-stop and in full color from early dawn until dark.
Red-bellied Woodpecker

With the exception of occasional brief spats, our feathered friends (not nearly all of the same feather) manage to get along quite well, usually taking turns foraging at the base of the feeder. Among them are juncos (our most loyal customers), chickadees, song sparrows, mourning doves, cardinals, blue jays, grackles, song sparrows, starlings, and occasionally a beautiful and rare red-bellied woodpecker.

Jesus cites birds as examples of creatures who never worry about where their next meal is coming from, but from our observation they certainly do work at it tirelessly. They are constantly doing what they are created to do, searching for food and providing for their families.

Sunday at our house church we sang a number of ancient hymns by some of the saints of the past, including one by St. Patrick on his special day, "I Bind To Me This Day". We then especially enjoyed belting out all five verses of the great praise hymn by St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of birds and a Christ-like servant of the poor:

All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing,

It is said that in a sermon St. Francis once delivered to an audience of birds he said, "My brothers, birds, you should praise your Creator very much and always love him; he gave you feathers to clothe you, wings so that you can fly, and whatever else was necessary for you.  God made you noble among his creatures, and he gave you a home in the purity of the air; though you neither sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without any solicitude on your part."

Sounds like some good words for all of us.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

MCC on the NRA Enemy List

Folks at the Mennonite Central Committee, a world relief and development agency based in Akron, Pennsylvania, were surprised recently by seeing a Mother Jones article listing them as one of 140 organizations the National Rifle Association considers a threat to their defense of Second Amendment rights.

As someone who grew up in a rural Mennonite and Amish community where guns were used regularly for hunting, butchering and "varmint" control, I was mildly amused. According to an article by Kelli Yoder in the February 18 Mennonite World Review, the NRA had apparently carried the MCC name over from an earlier list it had compiled in 2003.

For purposes of comparison, MCC describes itself as a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist/Mennonite  churches that "shares God's love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. MCC envisions communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation."

It has an annual budget of some $50 million.

The NRA, which supposedly promotes gun rights and gun safety, but mainly focuses on resisting any regulation of firearms whatever, has a budget of nearly five times that amount, none of which is invested in helping the needy.

It's true that East Coast MCC did support a modest gun violence prevention and education tour last year, but its impact was miniscule, I'm sure, compared to the contrary efforts of the NRA to fight all forms of gun control legislation.

This in spite of the fact that even President Reagan, in 1989, said, “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen [to own guns] for sporting, for hunting, and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47 or a machine gun are not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home."

In a recent issue of the Mennonite World Review, columnist Ryan Rodrick Beiler points out that "Israeli law restricts private gun ownership more than the NRA could likely stomach: long waits, training requirements, mental and physical health checks and shooting exams — all for only one pistol and a lifetime supply of 50 bullets and a permit requiring renewal every three years. Most guns therefore are carried by Israeli soldiers and the few civilians, as The Jerusalem Post reports, 'where the state has an interest in them being armed'.”

Even the most reasonable restrictions may be impossible to pass in today's NRA dominated political climate. The organization is heavily funded by gun manufacturers who are working harder than ever to improve their bottom line, and have the lobbying power to influence politicians accordingly. After all, guns tend to last a long time, so gun makers and marketers have to keep raising new fears and inventing new reasons why we should all buy more of their deadly products.

The NRA has become a well funded tool for promoting this kind of paranoia. I'm glad their MCC "enemy" has a message more more in keeping with that of Jesus, who said, "Put your weapon away. Those who take up the sword will die by the sword."

Here's an interesting link to some analysis by Rachel Maddow.

Friday, March 15, 2013

In the Footsteps of St. Francis?

St. Francis of Assisi
While far from being Roman Catholic, I find a lot to like about Jorge Bergoglio, the 76-year-old Argentinian cardinal chosen as the first pope ever from the Americas.

What I appreciate most is that this Jesuit scholar chose to live in a modest apartment in a poorer section of Buenos Aires instead of in the archbishop’s palace. He also used public transportation instead of the church limousine to which he was entitled.

In that sense he has chosen to follow in the footsteps of one of my favorite Christians, St. Francis of Assisi. I take heart in the fact that
Bergoglio chose to be named after someone who took Jesus' teachings and example seriously when it came to serving and living among those in need.

What impact could we make in the world if all believers--leaders, lay persons, academics, professionals, business persons and blue collar workers alike--would strive to follow Jesus' examples in this way?

In a 2007 meeting of Latin American bishops, then Cardinal Bergoglio said, "We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least," according to the National Catholic Reporter. "The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers [and sisters]."

That's the kind of message even an agnostic could understand. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

“I Have Been Dealt an Extreme Hand of Injustice”

Yale law professor John Langbein      
     I received the following letter from a prisoner at the Augusta Correctional Center after he had read my Open Forum piece on plea bargaining, “Justice Gone Awry,” in the Daily News-Record:

Dear Pastor Yoder,

My name is Mr. Ashley Jefferson Grissette #1143033, and I have been dealt an extreme hand of injustice.

My original home is in Lumberton, North Carolina. I came to Virginia and promised myself that I was going to straighten my life out before I move back to NC. This was in 1996, and I’m still in Virginia in trouble with the law again.

I have a pretty extensive criminal record dating back to North Carolina in the mid-80’s. There is nothing pretty about my criminal history and I’m not proud of it, but I do take responsibility and own up to it. I did a lot of dumb and stupid things and my record reflects that I paid the price by spending most of my life in jails and prisons.

There is also another side of me that loves to work hard and believes in honor. Drugs and alcohol contributed in large part to my extensive criminal history. I now have documentable employable trades in which I am certified.

After being released from doing a little over three years on my last sentence, my former employer gave me another chance, and immediately hired me the very week I got out. I was released in September of 2009 and stayed in a homeless shelter until I saved up enough money to move out and rent a room.  I have enclosed a letter from my employer with the Virginia Pump Company in Alexandria that was written on my behalf for the court.

I was out for six months doing everything that I was sure would keep me out of prison until that day in February, 2010, when I went to visit my probation officer and was arrested for credit card theft and credit card forgery. The police told me that they showed my probation officer photos from the store’s surveillance cameras and he said he thought the black man using the stolen credit cards might be me.

After holding me for thirty days they released me, then arrested me again in March. Both times they searched my house and found nothing to link me to these crimes. While I was confined in jail awaiting trial, my defense attorney had tried to talk me into pleading guilty, but I refused to do so. He told me that by refusing a plea bargain that I had got the commonwealth’s attorney mad.

After I sat in jail for five months, the commonwealth seemed to realize they didn’t have the right person for the crime, but instead of letting me go, she had the lead detective in the case take her to one of the locations where the alleged credit card fraud took place to get a witness to identify the suspect by way of a photo line-up. I have enclosed a copy of the police report which states how the photo line-up turned out and how the Commonwealth’s Attorney implicated me as the suspect.

I wish I could get the press involved so the world could see how I was arrested and sentenced to 18 years just because I possibly resemble an African-American they allege to be using a stolen credit card on video surveillance.

The bottom line this. This last time when I got out I didn’t get back on drugs and I know that for once in my life I’m in the right. I have written to a few Innocence Project organizations, but they don’t want to get involved with cases that don’t involve DNA testing.

I am 46 years old now and it would really benefit me to spend the next 12 years working at a job so that I can have something when I get older. I thank you for your time with this matter and, most of all, I thank God for his help.


Ashley Jefferson Grissette 1143033
St. Brides Correctional Center
701 Sanderson Road
P.O. Box 16482
Chesapeake, VA 23328

Here's a link to some additional posts on prisons and criminal justice

Sunday, March 10, 2013

All God, All The Time?

     "Brother Lawrence", born in France in 1611, experienced a spiritual awakening at age 18 when one day he took time to reflect on a tree in winter that was stripped of its leaves. Just meditating on the simple fact that these leaves would soon reappear, accompanied by an abundance of flowers and fruit, led to a deeper awareness of the providence and power of God that never left him.

In 1649, he joined the Order of “Barefooted” Carmelites in Paris. There he was assigned kitchen duty as a lay brother in his austere monastic community, an assignment he carried out cheerfully in spite of his aversion to this kind of work. His goal was to constantly "practice the presence of God" the spiritual discipline that has become associated with his name.

I've often wondered if it is really possible to live that way, a question we reflected on in our house church service last week when veteran missionary and associate member Paul Swarr led our study of the lectionary texts for the third Sunday in Lent.

I left that gathering with a new desire to have every part of my life, the "spiritual" and the "natural" alike, be lived in harmony with God's Spirit, with a far less sharp dividing line between the "sacred" and the "ordinary".

Since then I have been regularly reminding myself of the need to listen deeply to the still, small voice of God--with the third ear of the heart--so that...

every moment becomes holy
every meal becomes a Eucharist
every meeting with another an epiphany.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

"I Was A Terrible Waiter"

Pittsburgh-based son Brad
Just heard our son Brad sing to an appreciative audience at the downtown Little Grill last night. Many of his songs are serious and thoughtful, some whimsical and thoughtful, and some, like the following, just plain funny--but still thoughtful.

One of these, "I Was a Terrible Waiter", won first place in a 2009 song writing contest that had the following stipulations:

—write about your worst job
—use the words "work", "boss", "co-worker", "pay"
—earn bonus points for the word “monkey”

I was a terrible waiter, every shift, sooner or later
I would drop something, or spill something,
or forget something like drinks (or menus),
there’s really a lot to remember, diet or plain, that table in the corner,
the dressing on the side or the dressing on the salad,
was the dressing on the side salad.. ranch?
the pay was OK, it was based on tips
(and $2.35/hour that mostly went for taxes..)
but the best tip I got was when a co-worker thought
that I might be better suited for a different job?
Yeah, I was the guy the boss would’ve fired
if he could’ve found a monkey who would take my place,
oh, I was a terrible waiter, I don’t do that any more
I was funny and friendly, but you’d better be both
if you drop 2 bowls of chili on the floor,
and they break, and you have to mop it up,
and the cook has to go make more (oops..)
yeah, I was clever and witty, but nobody cares if you keep forgetting that they asked you for salt, or a straw, or a napkin,
or ketchup 20 minutes ago (sorry..)
in baseball, 30% success is considered great
(and 40% is legendary!)
but if you bring people the right food 90% of the time,
as a server you’re 2nd-rate (go figure)
that’s why I was the guy the boss would’ve fired
if a monkey with experience had ever applied,
‘cause, I was a terrible waiter, I don’t work there any more…
Now my friend Brent (Showalter) is a ninja-skills waiter, (Food Service Professional)
he could satisfy even Darth Vader,
if Darth Vader sat down in Brent’s section,
the Dark Lord would leave a big tip (dude is that good!)
but if I had to wait on Darth Vader,
I’d prob’ly bring the wrong thing and he’d pull his light saber,
‘cause I was a terrible waiter, I don’t do that any more,
remember that table in the corner?
well, I didn’t either, not until they left to order dinner somewhere else,
‘cause, I was a terrible waiter, I don’t do that any more,
I don’t do that.. any more…
Go to this link and click "Play" to hear this on Brad's website.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

When the Bond Breaks, The Cradle Will Fall

Hear this read on YouTube
"My mom and dad are broken, 
I don't know what to do. 
My mom and dad have come undone, 
I need to find some glue.

I need a pot of parent glue 
To stick them back together. 
I need to patch their marriage up, 
I need to make them better.

I need to stick their smiles back on, 
I need to get them mended. 
I need them to be mom and dad,

The way they were intended."

These poignant words by author Kes Gray, in the opening pages of a captivating children’s book illustrated by Lee Wildish (published by Barron’s Educational Series), could be the heart cry of many a child whose life is upended by divorce.

The boy in the story visits a glue shop to look for something to help put his parents back together, and the kind shopkeeper explains that some things in life can’t be fixed that way, and that the boy should look at ways families can still love each other while living apart.

I find this book a noble attempt to help children see their broken homes as being something other than awful, and the book is a delightful read. Yet it risks trivializing their inexplicable “loss of loved ones” as they have known them. Divorce is more than just a temporary adjustment, but has an ongoing, lifelong impact.

Julie Roach, a librarian who writes a review of “Mom and Dad Glue” ("Mum and Dad" in the UK) for the School Library Journal, notes that while the book may be helpful, “children suffering through real parental breakups may find these easy answers difficult and unfulfilling.”

Children are resilient, to be sure, and surrounded by loving caregivers, they can survive even this kind of family trauma, especially if it is due to a pattern of adultery, abuse, addiction, abandonment or anger (as in extreme fits of rage) on the part of one or both parents. In such cases they may even experience some relief.

But unlike a loss inflicted by death (except in the case of a suicide) the breakdown of a marriage is preventable. A child might ask, with good reason, "If my parents can love me in 'sickness and in health', and 'for better or for worse', why can't they do the same for each other?"

I'm reminded of one of the nursery rhymes our children liked having sung to them when they were young (and securely rocked and held all the while):

Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all

Let's do all we can to keep children from having to endure these kinds of falls.

For more posts on divorce see:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Making Out Like Billionaires

Carlos Slim Hela, Forbes top billionaire
     "Listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter."   
 - James 5:1-5 (NIV)

Forbes magazine has just published its 27th annual list of ├╝ber-rich billionaires, a third of whom, 442 out of a total of 1342, live in the United States.

Overall, it has been the best year yet for the obscenely well-to-do. The overall wealth of billionaires jumped 18 per cent from $4.6 trillion to $5.4 trillion in 2013 (a trillion is a thousand billion). And a record number of 210 more billionaires joined the list (a billion of course, is a thousand million).

Randall Lane, editor of Forbes magazine, said: “It is a very good year to be a billionaire, and a much easier year to be a billionaire. You have those economic forces and global markets going up and that is pushing more people over the threshold”.

Nevertheless, most Americans aren't benefiting, and the rich are still complaining.

According to a January 17, 2013,  post by David J. Lynch on Bloomberg's website, Tom Donohue, the president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said higher taxes and a “flood of new regulations” will damage an already subpar economy. “In many ways, we’re going backwards.”

But such whining overlooks one simple fact. According to Lynch's article, American business has never had it so good:

"U.S. corporations’ after-tax profits have grown by 171 percent under Obama, more than under any president since World War II, and are now at their highest level relative to the size of the economy since the government began keeping records in 1947, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Profits are more than twice as high as their peak during President Ronald Reagan’s administration and more than 50 percent greater than during the late-1990s Internet boom, measured by the size of the economy. Business leaders cite low labor costs in an era of high unemployment, the Federal Reserve’s easy-money policies, and their own management savvy for the profit boom."

For a truly shocking look at the resulting inequity in wealth in this country, check out the following TED link that is currently going viral over the internet:

P.S. I don't deny the good that people like Bill and Malinda Gates (second richest persons) are doing through philanthropic organizations like their Gates Foundation, but also take seriously the clear indictments Jesus and the Biblical prophets make against the concentration of wealth in the hands of the few.

For more of my own posts on the subject see

Saturday, March 2, 2013

A Missing Piece in Our Parenting

On his website, “Growing Leaders”, Dr. Tim Elmore tells the story of Donald Miller, who had a friend came to him in distress over the fact that his teenage daughter was dating a “Goth” whose lifestyle seemed to represent the opposite of their family’s values. In fact, some of the boy's behaviors were downright immoral and illegal, and Dad was at a loss to know what to do.

Miller asked his friend if he had considered the possibility that his daughter may simply be choosing a more interesting narrative than the one he was creating as a father. When the man looked puzzled, Miller explained that everyone wants to be part of a story that is compelling. They want their life to be about something significant. He wondered if the daughter had simply decided her life at home was boring in comparison to her boyfriend's.

According to Elmore, this was a light bulb moment for Miller's friend. Over the next months, the father did some research and came up with the idea of becoming involved in an orphanage project in Mexico that desperately needed help. They needed a building, some supplies and some volunteer workers, he said, and he planned to personally get involved.

In a matter of weeks, his kids became interested. His son suggested they visit the place, and his daughter figured out a way to raise money for the project online. Eventually their family story became more compelling, and before long the teenage daughter told her father she’d broken up with her boyfriend and said she couldn’t believe she had been attracted to him in the first place.

Needless to say, dad was elated, not only because of the change in his family, but in his own personal life story.

Dr. Elmore believes we haven’t challenged our young people enough with worthwhile goals to accomplish. We have overwhelmed them with tests, recitals and practices to the extent that our kids report being constantly “stressed out”. But adults seldom arrange for assignments that seem relevant to life or that might actually help make the world a better place.

While we tend to do much more for our kids today, he adds, we don’t expect very much of them. They are left to fill their spare time with video games, texts and Facebook, and much of their potential goes untapped. A hundred years ago, he says, seventeen-year-olds were "leading armies, working farms, and learning a trade as apprentices." But today’s young are primarily consumers and students, and don’t see themselves as a part of a life narrative that really matters.

What do you think?