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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

God's Will and God's Way

from Church in the Canyon website
Some years ago someone who was a part of our district conference ran a homeless shelter in Roanoke, Virginia. Many of us thought he was wonderful. He was extremely committed, and was willing to make great sacrifices to help provide housing for the down and out down at that end of the Valley. And people responded. Churches sent food, offered their time, gave financial help to make it a success.

But the person in charge, over time, became more and more bitter toward the supporting churches in our conference. No one could do enough. He began to lash out at everyone. He pretty much wrote all of us off as rich, selfish, and uncaring.

Actually, he was probably right in a lot of ways. There is no doubt that many of us were too busy investing money in expensive church buildings, bigger homes and extended vacations, plus doing all kinds of other self indulgences that I’m sure could break Jesus’s heart. So we probably deserved this angry Amos in our midst, who one day brought a group of homeless folks to our annual conference assembly and planned to just take over the meeting. He was convinced he was right and that God had sent him to us to set us straight. 

I think he was probably about 95% right about God’s will. But what he was missing, I believe, was an understanding of God’s way. And by that I don’t mean always being nice and diplomatic and to never ruffling any feathers. Love can be tough. But love  expresses its anger and outrage out of a heart that is broken, as a weeping prophet who, like Jesus mourning over his beloved Jerusalem, mourns with a love so deep that it is heart wrenching, not out of a heart that’s bitter and full of resentment.

I, for one, need to learn about the importance of not only knowing and doing God’s will, but to learn from Jesus and the Bible about how to do it in God’s way.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Our Local Jail Is Still Using Restraint Chair And Isolated Padded Cell For Suicidal Inmates

restraint chair
Through the kind cooperation of the local Sheriff's office, I recently received updated information on the uses of the restraint chair and the isolated padded cell for mentally ill and suicidally depressed inmates at our Harrisonburg-Rockingham Regional Jail.

As a mental health provider and a concerned citizen, I've joined others in urging both the Sheriff and the head of the Community Services Board, which has a contract with the Jail to provide mental health services there, to provide more humane alternatives for emotionally ill inmates.

Here are their numbers for January 1 to June 30, 2013:

Sixteen suicidal inmates were assigned to a regular segregated cell when on suicide watch, as compared to 17 the prior six months. Here an inmate wears a "suicide smock" (paper gown), and is given a blanket and a few approved personal items.


In the alternative isolated padded cell, however, one has no bed or furnishings of any kind, and is denied a mattress, blanket, reading material or any eating utensils. A grate in the floor serves as a commode. This "rubber room" was used 15 times during the last six months for "medical reasons" (meaning a person is at risk for suicide), compared to 10 times the six months prior, and 7 times during the same period a year ago. The inmate is given only a paper suicide smock to wear, and is cut off from human contact except for regular suicide checks. And there is of course no kind of counseling available.

The restraint chair was used a total of 32 times from January 1 to June 30, usually for violent behavior, with the average time spent in this form of confinement being 5.9 hours, and the longest time 9 hours. This compares to 21 times the prior six months and 27 times during the same time period a year ago. Of those included in the most recent numbers provided, 5 were considered suicidal and 6 either extremely intoxicated or otherwise in danger of harming themselves or others. With the latter 11 persons, the average time spent in the chair was 5.1 hours, with the longest time being 12 hours.

One person in this time period was in and out of the chair over a period of 32 hours, which apparently included some bathroom breaks. While in restraint, belts and cuffs immobilize the prisoner's legs, arms, and torso.

I find it impossible to imagine the sense of torture the above forms of confinement might create, especially to depressed, paranoid and/or depressed inmates, so I and other concerned citizens will continue to work with Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson at our local jail, along  with Mr. Lacy Whitmore of the Community Services Board, to seek ways of improving mental health services for jail inmates. This could include offering the services of approved local mental health professional volunteers to be on call to work with the jail staff to provide a therapeutic presence for a troubled inmate as needed.

Your comments and concerns are welcome.

Click on this link to access other posts on this subject.

Friday, July 26, 2013

What Is Just And What Is Legal May Not Be The Same

from the DailyKos


"God looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress."  
Isaiah 7:3b

“I want to live in a world where George Zimmerman offered Trayvon Martin a ride home to get him out of the rain that night.” 
Bishop G. Brewer 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Like A Basket of Over Ripe Fruit

This is what the Sovereign Lord showed me: a basket of ripe fruit...
Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for my people Israel; I will spare them no longer.
 Hear this, you who trample the needy
    and do away with the poor of the land, saying,

“When will the New Moon be over
    that we may sell grain,
and the Sabbath be ended
    that we may market wheat?”—
skimping on the measure,
    boosting the price
    and cheating with dishonest scales,
buying the poor with silver
    and the needy for a pair of sandals,
    selling even the sweepings with the wheat.
The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done.
Amos 1:1-8 (NIV)

The ancient prophet Amos, a Judean shepherd and vinedresser, marches into neighboring Israel with bad, bad news. 

All this at a time when the economy of that nation is booming. Stock prices are soaring, housing starts are at a record high, and consumer confidence is rising, but so is the gap between rich and poor.  

Which is why Amos wades right into the Israeli commodities market and announces that it's all over. God is fed up, he says. All of your bins of freshly harvested grain will mold, and your lush harvest of ripe summer fruit will rot, he declares. Your greedy profit-taking is over. 

According to the prophets, whenever the poor aren't getting a fair share and a fair shake, the Almighty is outraged, and roars, "Enough already!" God's bounty is meant to be shared, not hoarded.

Jewish scholar Abraham Heschel describes men like Amos as "some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived," and adds, "Instead of dealing with the timeless issues of being and becoming, of matter and form, of definitions and demonstrations," he (the prophet) is thrown into orations about widows and orphans, about the corruption of judges and the affairs of the market place. The world is a proud place, full of beauty, but the prophets are scandalized, and rave as if the whole world were a slum... What if somewhere in ancient Palestine poor people have not been treated properly by the rich? ...Why such inordinate excitement? Why such indignation?"

Heschel then notes, "The things that horrified the prophets are daily occurrences all over the world."

The Heschel quotes are from  "The Prophets, An Introduction" (Harper Torchbooks, 1963)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Welcome to the Jail Machine


courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net
"Remember those in prison as if you were together with them in bonds, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering." 
                                 - Hebrews 13:3

I have long had deep concerns about conditions at our local jail and in state prisons, a concern shared by our singer-songwriter son Brad, who wrote the following hard-hitting piece in 2006:

Jail Machine

hey, hey, welcome to the jail machine,
there is money to be made in this lock-up game,
everyone’s a winner when the streets are clean,
if the system gets you, you’ve just got yourself to blame
let me tell you, mister, it’s a field of dreams
if we build’em, we can fill’em till they burst their seams..
& life is so much better when the streets are clean,
welcome to the jail machine…
every desperate junkie out there forging checks
gets the same 3 strikes the killer or the rapist gets,
I’m just happy I don’t have to use that stuff,
when my doctor hooked me up my lawyer got me off,
& if the state’s a baby, I’m a candy thief,
buildin’ cheap hotels is easy when the guests can’t leave..
& I’m gettin’ paid to do it like you won’t believe,
welcome to the jail, welcome to the jail machine..
mandatory sentencing creates a need,
we add a touch of human greed,
and now you’ve got a business plan
that college might be cheaper than,
but people get what they deserve,
the over and the under-served,
both rich and poor get exactly what they pay for..
smokin’ there in bed after the money’s spent
lay a lobbyist, a business- and a congressman,
“that was good for me, boys, was it good for you?
let’s build another prison sometime very soon,”
let me tell you, brother, it’s a brilliant scheme
first we build’em, then we fill’em till they burst their seams
and everyone’s a winner when the streets are clean,
(welcome to the jail, welcome to the jail..)
lock up all the sinners who don’t look like me,
(welcome to the jail, welcome to the jail..)
I feel so much braver knowing you’re less free,
welcome to the jail, welcome to the jail,
welcome to the jail machine…



You can click on this link for Brad's music website, and this one for numerous previous posts on criminal justice and prison reform. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Podcast Conversation With "Amish Cook" Publicist

author Kevin Williams
Kevin Williams, a writer and speaker widely known for promoting the syndicated column "The Amish Cook" works from his home near Cincinnati, Ohio, and recently interviewed me for a podcast he does on Amish life and culture.

Williams has co-written several Amish cookbooks and authored two works of Amish fiction. He frequently does speaking engagements and has his own blog. An interesting person!

Here's the link to the podcast, if you care to listen. And here's his blog.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Exercising Control Over the Kingdom of Me

I meet a lot of folks who feel their life is made miserable, if not downright intolerable, by people and circumstances over which they have no control.

I understand that feeling. But I also believe we can exercise sovereignty, with God's help and whatever other help we need, over everything that that goes on inside our own skins, in what I call the "Kingdom of Me", and especially in the throne room of our own skulls, e.g., in our God-given minds. That's where the crown rests.

The word "kingdom", of course, refers to a king's domain, the realm over which a monarch rules. And when it comes to our own inner beings, that's where we, with God's help, reign supreme.

No, I'm not advocating an egotistical view of ourselves or of our importance. I'm simply urging the exercise of both our ability and our responsibility to successfully manage our actions and our emotions. In other words, to never resort to "S/he made me (so mad, so depressed, etc...)" or "I just couldn't help it," or "I simply can't control myself." That would mean giving away too much power to others that belongs to our own mature adult selves.

In my case, I want to be sure that the Kingdom of Me is one in which God is loved and revered, with all of my heart, soul, mind and strength. So I've chosen invite the Almighty to co-rule over my mind and my moods. But life as a gift over which I and each of us must exercise the choice as to how, or by whom, our lives are governed.

I don't want the "Kingdom of Me" to be taken over by other outside forces.

Image by http://free-extras.com/search/1/crown.htm.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Truth Never Changes

St. Marys Mountain
Some time ago I attended a meeting in which an 85-year-old Mennonite bishop, Martin Lehman, shared some of his experiences as a lifelong servant of the church. One comment he made especially grabbed my attention: "The truth never changes. Our understanding of truth may certainly change, but not the truth itself."

I know this flies in the face of postmodern doubts about whether any such thing as truth actually exists, but I've been reflecting a lot on what Lehman went on to say, that our search for truth is something like journeying toward a distant mountain. When we first see our destination from afar, we have a simple, one-dimensional perspective. As we get closer, the mountain not only appears larger but also more intricate and intriguing. We see so many nuances and details we could only imagine from farther away.

Maybe this is the way it is as we pursue truth about God and about ultimate reality. We can at first only "see through a glass, dimly," as from a distance. Only at some later day can we hope to see more of ultimate truth "face to face," up close and personal.

That resonates with me. At least for myself, the nearer I get to the end of my journey, now at mile-marker 74, the more I realize how limited my perspective is, and how much more there is to know. As someone has observed, the larger our island of knowledge, the longer our shoreline of wonder.

Not only does the mystery of the divine seem ever greater to me, so does my sense of God's mercy. I see myself with ever more of my fragile and broken fellow human beings as in the welcoming embrace of God's grace, as in the words of Frederick William Faber:

There's a wideness in God's mercy

Like the wideness of the sea;
There's a kindness in his justice
Which is more than liberty.

While we will never fully understand all truth, I believe truth itself is a trusted friend we can follow safely wherever it takes us. Truth, along with amazing grace, has the power to set us free.

And that's the truth.

This an update of an 11/11/11 post. 

Monday, July 15, 2013

Grad School For Crime? A View From Buckingham Prison

Stephano “Steve” Colosi, Jr. #1037581, an advocate for prison reform I correspond with from the Buckingham Correctional Center, recently wrote the following about the ongoing problem of gang activity inside his facility:

All prisons have gang problems, this one is no exception. They terrorize the weak among us, steal from them, etc. The administration tries to separate them as best they can, but are not always successful. Their tattoos are photographed in order to figure out their affiliations, area code 804 for Richmond, 757 for Tidewater, etc. They have rituals such as "beat-ins" and "beat-outs". They make weapons and keep things stirred up for those of us who wish to be left in peace. They don't bother older guys too much, especially if they are 6' 4" and 215 pounds like me. We stick together and protect the weak ones when we can.

The problem with the system is that there is no longer parole available. There is little motivation to rehabilitate oneself or get involved in positive things. Many of the programs have been cancelled because the Department of Corrections knows many guys will never go home. Prior to 1995, a life sentence generally meant 12 1/2 to 15 years if the inmate had a good record and participated in positive programs.

Prison changes people--generally for the worse--by the sheer fact that we have no normal interactions with society or positive role modes. Locking folks up for 20, 30, 40 years cannot have a positive effect. I get the punishment aspect, but when is enough enough?

Maybe we should talk about other prison systems around the world. Did you know that no matter how severe the crime, that in Germany 20 years is the max, with seven years considered a lot of time of incarceration?

Virginia abolished parole when Clinton was president and offered federal money for building new prisons. What happened was that small communities became addicted to the jobs and money and now the state is reluctant to reverse the no-parole laws due to potential negative economic impacts. So taxpayer money is s essentially being recycled to create jobs. This has become Virginia's largest industry and the State's biggest payroll force--yes, more than transportation and education! Lost souls, viable folks are paying the price.

After 5-10 years there are diminishing returns on this whole prison industrial complex, resulting in 'old folks' adding up and eventually overwhelming the system, and with rising health care costs taking away the community money Virginians so desperately need--at great human expense. I could go on for days on this.

- Steve Colosi 7/10/13

I hope to visit Steve soon, and will be glad to share with him any of your concerns or comments. You can also write him at Buckingham Correctional Center, Box 430, Dillwyn, VA 23936.

Read more Mr. Colosi's concerns on geriatric release for aging prisoners in an earlier post.

For some earlier posts on criminal justice see http://harvyoder.blogspot.com/search?q=jails

Here's an excellent link to another blog piece about "Aging Behind Bars," by Viviana Shafrin.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Inspirational Post by a Local Poet

photo by Sunalina Rana

What The Eagle Said…


I will rise above the alpine grassy meadow, spiraling effortlessly upward with such grace you will stand agape with awe;
    above the grasses and the clacking yellow aspens.
    above the tallest pines, where secrets you may never hear are whispered on the wind.


Higher and higher will I rise till I am but a speck in your sight.
    And higher still.
    And you may wonder if I were but a dreamed thing after all.


I will ride the empyrean paths known only to me and to God;
    rising on drafts of earth-warmed air, higher even than the hawk.
    climbing slowly, banking gently, my outstretched wings like burnished gold.


But——I will see you there below, with these eyes that see what you cannot;
    wishing yourself with me;
    hoping I will return...in time.


I know your little wings oft times beat frantically against life’s storms beyond this meadow, powerless ‘twould seem;
    and because you stand there yet, waiting with hope in your heart,
with a silent cry so profound to see again these wings sweeping the air in power and joy, I will return.


I will gather my golden wings tightly to my sides and dip my head toward the sunlit meadow—for the joy of seeing the wonder in your eyes I will speed
    toward you as if an arrow shot from God’s own bow.


What is it then that stirs you so to look upon this broad-winged golden bird?
    Is it the power I have to rise and soar?  Is it the freedom in peace to just be?
    Would you have me lift you from the tethers of the earth, perhaps to glimpse eternity?


I would.  For you, I would.  But the power you suppose I have is not of me.
    I am but a bird, however grand, made and powered by the self-same hand
    that made thee…small-winged only in your blindness, unable to soar, by a prison
    self-imposed.


It is another who has the power you seek, another who can lift you on His golden wings if you
    but ask.
    It is the Holy One, the Lamb, who waits to show you flight beyond the stars,
    beyond yourself, beyond whatever tiny dream you dream eternity might be.


Even as you stand there in a grassy meadow, longing to soar, yearning to set free your soul,
    I see Him there beside you, waiting for you to ask Him to set you free.
    to teach you and guide you and support you lest you fall.  Ask.  Ask.  For only on His
wings are you truly free.

Elly Nelson, a local writer and an avid student of Hebrew scripture, regularly attends our house church with her husband Neal. She recently shared this poem with me, which I post with her permission.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Can Parents Be Best Friends To Their Children?

I sometimes hear people say, "God didn't give us children to be their friends, but their parents." The assumption is that you can't effectively be both.

But is that true?

I would argue that if we aren't among our children's best friends, they will be largely influenced by those who are, usually their peers. Having said that, parents must of course be more than just friends to their children.

Dr. Philip Osborne, in an excellent book on parenting published over two decades ago, outlines four primary areas in which parents play key roles:

1. Problem-Free Area (when neither parent nor child is bothered)
It is in this area that parents actually exert their greatest influence, according to Osborne, as they work, play and talk together in ways that are rewarding for everyone. After all, responsible behaviors and good values can't be ultimately be forced on children, but are learned by their imitating the people they most admire and want to be like. Conversely, many misbehaviors result less from children defying us than from their imitating our own bad behaviors.

2. Child's Problem Area (when child is bothered by something that doesn't directly bother the parent)
Here the child owns a problem, is troubled about something a parent may not feel is that important, but is very important to the child--like being left out by a friend or peer, suffering from acne or a weight problem or not making the cut in a school athletic team. Here the job of the parent is to be the empathic counselor who listens and shows support but without offering too much unsolicited advice. Wise parents see this as an opportunity to help children learn good problem solving and coping skills that will serve them well in adult life, as well as an opportunity to help the child learn that it is always safe to  confide in parents and other caring adults when they are troubled and need help.

3. Parent's Problem Area (when the child is not bothered by a problem behavior in need of correction)
Here the parent takes on the role of a law enforcement professional, much as a police officer might respectfully write us a ticket for a traffic violation. The parent doesn't take the misbehavior personally, but treats it as a violation of clearly defined household rules which have clearly spelled out consequences if ignored. It is these reasonable and respectfully applied consequences, not the parent's blaming or lecturing, which delivers the lesson the child needs.

4. Mutual Problem Area (when there are problems that bother both the parent(s) and the child)
Wise parents see the value of having family council meetings to help teach good problem-solving and mediating skills when there are problems with family chores or family policies that need to be resolved. Not everything is negotiable, of course, and parents must agree to any changes before they become a part of the family's legal system, but any decisions made by family consensus remain in force until they are changed. Good parents know that teaching children how to make positive differences at home will prepare them to be active, contributing members of their communities and congregations throughout their lives.

Parents will seldom be very effective in roles 2, 3 and 4, however, if they are not able to maintain respectful, positive relationships as good friends in that #1 role above.


Monday, July 8, 2013

What Happened Fifty Years After Pickett's Charge

Thure de Thulstrup painting of Pickett’s Charge
From July 1 through July 4, 1913, thousands of Civil War veterans returned to rural Adams County, Pennsylvania, to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

At that time, now a century ago, the New York Herald wrote: "Today fifty thousand veterans of the great War are moving in to take peaceful possession of the field where in the ardor of youth they strove in such deadly conflict. No better evidence of healing of the nation’s wounds could be offered than the spectacle of men of the Grand Army and of the Confederacy striking hands on the spot where they made history."

During the Commemoration there were many speeches made, wool blankets were handed out to the now aging veterans, and over 650,000 meals were served. The infamous and ill-fated Pickett’s Charge was reenacted by 120 veterans of Pickett’s Division and 180 veterans from the Philadelphia Brigade, reliving the carnage of that awful battle, Union: 3,450 (20%)
Confederate: 7,000 (38%).

After the Confederate veterans charged over the last 100 feet of ground to reach the wall held by the Union re-enactors, all of the men who had been sworn enemies broke ranks, shook hands and embraced each other as they recalled and relived the horrors of that July 3 afternoon.

I was moved by that image of former enemies meeting as brothers. If only we could get together before we engage in disastrous conflicts of this sort in order to find ways to avoid such horrors, perhaps we could work things out, shake hands and sit down to a common meal as friends and fellow children of God.

That would truly make God's dream for humanity come true.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Over 46,000 Gettysburg Casualties, But Only One Civilian Death


Jennie Wade
The July 1-3, 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, considered the bloodiest of the Civil War, resulted in approximately 23,055 Union casualties (3,155 killed, 14,531 wounded and 5,369 captured or missing) out of a force of nearly 94,000. On the Confederate side there were some 23,231 losses (4,708 killed, 12,693 wounded and 5,830 captured or missing) out of a force of 71,699. An unknown number of additional deaths followed as many of the wounded perished from lack of adequate medical care.

What I find remarkable is that the only civilian casualty of that conflict was 20-year-old Mary Virginia ("Jennie") Wade, who was shot at 8:30 am, July 3, at her sister Georgia McClellans's home by a bullet that went through two wooden doors and struck her left shoulder blade and heart, killing her instantly. There were other Gettysburg civilians, including children, who died later as a result of live ammunition left on the surrounding battlefields after the war, but no other noncombatants were killed during the three day conflict.

Prior to her death Jennie is reported to have said, "If there is anyone in this house that is to be killed today, I hope it is me, as Georgia has a little baby." That baby had just been born to Jennie's sister in a difficult delivery two days before, and Jennie and her mother were there to help take care of Georgia and the new arrival as well as to bake bread for hungry Union troops.

To add to the tragedy of the story, Jennie is believed to have been engaged to a Corporal Johnston Skelly of the 87th Pennsylvania regiment who, unknown to her, had been wounded and captured in a battle in Winchester on May 13, then died in a Confederate hospital there on July 12. He also never heard about his fiance's tragic death over a week earlier.

Many other civilians died elsewhere as a direct or indirect result of the Civil War, some due to malnutrition and disease (there were in fact twice as many soldiers who died from infections and infectious diseases as by guns or cannons). But civilians were not normally in the line of fire as they are today. With the use of aerial bombing, missile attacks and drone warfare, war has become ever more inhumane and barbaric, and many more civilians are killed or injured than combatants.

When will we ever learn?

Information from various online sources and from a recent visit to Gettysburg.

Friday, July 5, 2013

I Got Most Of My Education After I Left School

Maybe I just wasn’t listening, but in spite of all my good childhood teachers, much of my education for life has come the hard way, and well after I had to quit school at sixteen to work on our farm.

Here are some lessons I’m still learning (just turned 74) in the lifelong school of experience:

1. Becoming a full-fledged grownup takes time and work. I was in my forties when I realized how much I still thought of myself as a novice-come-lately, an inexperienced newcomer who had to accomplish twice as much to be seen as a competent and worthy adult. Not that I advocate being arrogant with others, just comfortably equal. I wish I had claimed that status sooner.

2. An ounce of prudence can prevent a ton of regret. I know mistakes are normal, and we can learn something from each of them, but I’ve also learned from experience that I don’t want to learn everything by experience. I’ve seen too many people desperately wishing they could go back in time and undo an impulsive decision they made in the past. I know I’ve made my full share of equally dumb moves, which only adds to my conviction that prevention is a lot better than cure.

3. Becoming a good human being is better than just being a great human doing. I’m glad for the good work ethic I learned early on, but for too long I’ve tried to burn the candle at both ends, have become over-involved in too many good things. In my old age I’m still learning that spending quality time with God and with my friends and family can be just as important as getting more stuff done.

4. Establishing lasting influence is better than exercising temporary control. I’m slowly learning that pressuring people with lots of intense arguments is a huge waste of time. People are more open to hear our points of view when we do more reflective listening and less reactive talking.

5. Maintaining good support networks is the best social security we can have. Since economies can fail, stock markets crash, and even whole nations collapse, our best long-term insurance is having communities and congregations of people so committed to each other that no one starves unless everyone starves. To the extent that we care for and nurture such communities, they will care for and nurture us.

Now if I could only get a diploma with all that learning.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

More Manifestations of Mercy's Law

Murphy's law, of course, states that "anything that can go wrong, will go wrong", sometimes with the addendum that Murphy was actually an optimist.

But upon returning home today from a July 1-2 birthday getaway with Alma Jean at Gettysburg, I'm ready to make a case for what I call Mercy's Law, the antithesis of the above.

I chose to go to Gettysburg for my little birthday trip this year because I love history, am drawn to learning from historical horribles that should be avoided at all costs (like the slave trade, wars and holocausts) and because I hadn't been there for quite some time.

It was my son-in-law in Rochester, NY, who urged me to use kayak.com to reserve our motel room ASAP. They were all prohibitively expensive, and I realized that July marked the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and that meant thousands of other folks would be there as well. Fortunately we were able to book one of the few rooms left at the large Eisenhower Hotel and Conference Center just a few miles south of the battle sites, and at a considerable saving.

I note the following other signs of mercy:

1. The room and service were wonderful, and considering the convenience of the location, a bargain compared to most of the motels in the area.

2. The timing of the trip was amazing. With no special forethought on our part, we just happened to be at Gettysburg on the 150th anniversary of the actual first and second days of this horrific three-day battle. There were displays, demonstrations and book signings that wouldn't have been there on just any summer visit.

3. I had read online about a Monday evening civil war lecture I thought would be interesting, to be given by a Professor Michael Gray of East Stroudsburg University, but no time or location was given. It so happened that Dr. Gray's talk was not only free, but was in the Robert E. Lee Room of the very hotel we were staying ;-).

4. The weather was overcast and not uncomfortably hot, with almost no rain and no sunburn, all of which made walking a pleasure.

5. The most expensive attraction, by choice, was a $11.50 senior ticket to the new National Park Museum with its 42-foot-high, newly-conserved, circular Cyclorama, a truly amazing and massive painting with lighting and sound effects that surrounded you with all of the noise, mayhem and conflagration of Pickett's Charge.

If an experience like this wouldn't make you want to work ever harder to help prevent every kind of violence and war possible, nothing but the grace of God and the cross-bearing example of Jesus could do so.

And speaking of Murphy's Law, the battles at Gettysburg are proof that as long as humans keep choosing insane and inhumane strategies to gain their ends, anything that can go wrong will indeed go wrong, and at a terrible cost.

For another lament about this most uncivil war, check out this link.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Every Life Matters

prenatal life at 24 weeks
Governor Rick Perry commented last week on Texas senator Wendy Davis's 11 hour filibuster, one that effectively blocked passage of a bill outlawing abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy (rather than 24) and requiring abortion clinics to meet hospital standards.

He said, "Even the woman who filibustered the Senate the other day was born into difficult circumstances. She was the daughter of a single woman, she was a teenage mother herself. She managed to eventually graduate from Harvard Law School and serve in the Texas senate. It is just unfortunate that she hasn’t learned from her own example that every life must be given a chance to realize its full potential and that every life matters." *

In her response, the senator, reflecting the polarized tone of the debate, replied, "Rick Perry's statement is without dignity and tarnishes the high office he holds. They are small words that reflect a dark and negative point of view. Our governor should reflect our Texas values. Sadly, Gov. Perry fails that test."

I totally affirm Governor Perry's statement that every life matters. What makes me sad is that he, like so many others, fail to apply this value across the board to all stages of life.

Kimberly McCarthy at 52 years
For example, on the very day after Perry made his statement, Texas executed its fourth female on death row, 52-year-old Kimberly McCarthy, charged with a brutal robbery and murder in 1998 as a crack cocaine addict.

I totally agree that the life of McCarthy's innocent victim truly mattered, and that severe consequences were called for.But every life is precious, including that of McCarthy's, who happened to be the 500th person executed in Texas since 1976.

Texas by far outranks other states in the capital punishment department. Together with Virginia, in second place with 110 executions during that same time period, they are responsible for nearly half of all of the total executed in the U.S. since capital punishment was reinstated some 37 years ago.

Here's another sobering statistic. While African Americans represent13% of the U.S. population, they are executed at a far higher rate. There may be many factors affecting these numbers, but I hope we can forever eliminate race as being one of them.

No matter where we are in debates over social policy, please repeat after me: "Every life matters."

* Fact check: Ms. Davis was actually born in a two-parent family, but her parents divorced when she was 11.