Tuesday, April 29, 2014

4/26/14 DNR: "Officials Pursue Jail Plan"

Tonight's PBS program may help us rethink our approach

In light of last week's news that the Harrisonburg City Council and the Rockingham Board of Supervisors are creating a "community corrections plan" to qualify for state funding for more jail space, concerned local citizens need to become a part of a conversation about finding alternatives.

The city and county are investing $40,000 in the study, "which will consider various building solutions while also looking at ways to reduce incarceration numbers, such as alternative forms of sentencing". A site study that will look at possible locations for a new building is expected to cost another $60,000 to $120,000. The projected cost of building more space would be in the millions of dollars.

Money spent on a community corrections plan could be well worth it if it adds to the urgency of our finding better ways of making people accountable for making restitution for their crimes rather than simply creating more space to lock them away.

In the trailer introducing the PBS Frontline documentary "Prison State" being shown at 10 tonight the narrator makes the statement that "we need to distinguish between the people we are mad at and the people we are afraid of", and respond accordingly with what is more likely to actually correct offenders rather than merely punishing them.

The Arlington County Detention Center, in an urban area with a significantly larger population than ours, has seen its jail population actually decline in recent years. We hope the proposed study can look into how we might begin to see that happen here.

Here is a link to other posts on prison reforms.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Believers Baptism: Registering For The Missionary Draft

The rich young ruler

"And although infants have neither faith nor baptism, think not therefore that they are lost. O no! They are saved, for they have the Lord's own promise of the kingdom of God; not through any element, ceremony or external rites, but only through Jesus Christ. And therefore we do truly believe that grace is extended to them, that they are acceptable to God, pure and holy, heirs of eternal life."
- Menno Simons

Those of us who favor believers/adult baptism over infant baptism haven't always agreed on what stage in life a child should take this important step. Should it be at whatever age he or she requests it? Or at some yet undefined "age of accountability"? Or not until he or she is actually of age as an adult?

Some years ago I asked 53 juniors and seniors in classes I taught at Eastern Mennonite High School to describe what their own baptism meant to them.

Only a third reported having really positive feelings about their experience. One wrote, "I was excited. God seemed to be saying, 'Now you are part of my body, work for me'." Another said, "It was a big step in my life."

Fully two-thirds of the students, however, disagreed. A typical response was, "I knew it was the right thing to do, but I still feel I missed out on the purpose at the time. It never had any real meaning," and another, "All the other kids were doing it. It looked good, and it was a way to be seen and noticed by the congregation, as being an adult."

One admitted, "I wanted to be baptized because everyone who is a Christian usually is sometime," while another lamented, "I think I was about 13, and really too young for me. I don't feel I really knew what I was doing, and why. I was influenced by the fact that all the members of my Sunday School class were joining the church."

Most of our questions about an appropriate life stage for baptism have been based on a concept of an "age of accountability", at which time children become personally responsible for their past misdeeds and need to seek God's forgiveness for their own wrongdoing.

The first century church, however, chose the word "sacramentum" for baptism, the same word used  for the oath of induction one took in becoming a fully commissioned Roman soldier. To Christians, baptism meant an equally decisive step of leaving one's "civilian" life behind and accepting the dangerous commitment of becoming a "living sacrifice" for God's service.

So baptism was not just about washing away guilt for past sins, but a commissioning to a future life of faithfully following Jesus.

Here is where I find the gospel passage in which Jesus blesses the children helpful. Jesus takes the young in his arms and commends them as modeling a vital faith. We adults, he says, are to become like them in our laying no claim to power or possessions of our own. Children entrust their whole lives to their parents, who serve as their "priests" before God. Thus Jesus didn't call infants or adolescents to "Follow me" as he frequently did to the adults who came to him, but blessed them and released them to the care of their parents.

However, in each of the first three gospels, this story is immediately followed by that of the "rich young ruler" who comes to Jesus (on his own) to ask him about how he can have eternal life. To this young adult, who has personal control over his possessions and his future life direction, Jesus gives a hard choice, "You must renounce ownership of all your possessions, give what you have to the poor, then come and follow me."

Might this suggest that baptism should be the choice one makes at the point of making the transition from being accountable primarily to one's parents to where one has the full right (and the responsibility) to turn over own life and future for God's service?

Meanwhile children of all ages should be welcomed, blessed and made to feel like celebrated members of their congregations--until they are old enough to be able to reject and leave them. Only then, when they have the right and ability to say No, can they say a valid Yes. If they choose Yes, the locus of control shifts from primarily that of their parents to that of fellow members of their family of faith.

Prior to that time we should anticipate having children, while still securely under their parents' care, experiencing many meaningful times of renewing and celebrating their faith. They are safe within the security of others taking major responsibility for their lives. This is as it should be.

In our culture, that responsibility shifts significantly for those in their late teens, when as emerging adults our daughters and sons prepare to leave home, pursue their own careers and choose their own life partner. With this kind of personal autonomy comes personal responsibility--directly to God and to the peaceful army of believing adults.

Is that what it means to reach the "age of accountability"?

I welcome your perspectives.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

To Heads of Faith-Based Non-Profits: What Would Jesus Earn?

Televison ministry Joyce Meyer's home
"A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher."
- Jesus

We've all heard stories of televangelists and other Christian-based ministries whose founders and leaders have become very, very wealthy. Also about how CEO's of corporations typically earn hundreds of times more than their average workers.

But how about ordinary faith-based and denomination-run organizations we support?

I recently became interested in this question after learning that the board of an agency to which I was a frequent contributor had recently increased the salary and benefits package of its CEO to over $200,000.

That may not seem like that much to some of you, and I have learned since that in some circles that's considered to be on the low side for the head of a typical multi-million dollar non-profit--and is seen as what's necessary to keep good people in positions of major responsibility.

But how does this square with the example and teachings of Jesus? How did his first century followers reimburse their key leaders and missionaries, key people like the apostles Peter and Paul?

There is of course New Testament precedent for providing financial support to those who generously give their time and efforts in the work of the church. But would first century churches have shelled out the equivalent of today's six figures when the average member may have earned less than half as much?

Earlier this week several of my local friends and colleagues got together for breakfast to mull over this question. The five of us came up with the idea of gathering more information on salaries and compensation that could be shared with other donors as they determine how to best invest their charitable gifts.

Here are the kinds of questions we are considering asking of of organizations:  

1) In light of growing concerns about the gap between worker and CEO pay in general in the U.S., do you have a policy that governs the salary/compensation differential between your highest and lowest paid workers? If so, what is the ratio of your highest paid to lowest paid staff? 

2) In light of ongoing concerns about the gap between rich and poor in the U.S. and between us and the rest of the world, what salary levels do you believe to be acceptable for heads of organizations such as yours? Upper 5% of U.S. wage earners? Upper 1% of worldwide earners?

3) What New Testament or other factors have you considered in establishing the above ratios and for deciding on just and appropriate levels of income?

Feel free to comment below if you think gathering this kind of information would be a good idea--or not.

Here's a link to 990 IRS disclosure forms required by law for non-profit agencies. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Walmart Associates Appeal To Their New CEO

The following is a 1/30/14 open letter to Walmart’s new CEO Doug McMillon from members of OUR Walmart.

Dear Mr. McMillon:

Congratulations on your appointment as Chief Executive Officer at Walmart. As a long-time Walmart executive, we know that you are deeply familiar with the hard work and many challenges facing associates at Walmart. Thousands of OUR Walmart members in stores across the country stand ready to work with you to change Walmart for the better under your leadership.

Many industry observers and analysts – as well as shareholders – have noted that our company’s low wages, erratic scheduling and understaffing are at the root of the out-of-stock and operational problems that have contributed to disappointing sales figures and low customer satisfaction ratings.

The low pay, coupled with inadequate hours and unpredictable scheduling, means that far too many of us cannot adequately provide for our families or contribute to our communities. For example, OUR Walmart member Barbara Collins, who worked at Walmart for more than eight years, was sometimes scheduled for as few as eight hours a week. She had to visit three different local food banks one month just to feed her family. Last year, she was illegally fired by Walmart after speaking out.

Walmart’s aggressive, and in many cases illegal, treatment of associates who speak out for better working conditions has not only prompted legal and public concerns, the company’s actions have emboldened more associates to get involved in the calls for better jobs

The call for Walmart to pay associates more and end retaliation against those who speak out has never been greater. This Black Friday, for example, tens of thousands of associates and members of our communities held protests at nearly 1,500 Walmart stores. Feeling the urgent need for Walmart to improve jobs, more than 100 of us were arrested in civil disobedience actions calling on Walmart to pay associates more and stop retaliating against those who speak out.

Your appointment as CEO provides an opportunity to begin a new chapter at Walmart. We are hopeful that you will seize this moment and change direction at Walmart in a way that reinvests in associates and our communities.

Members of OUR Walmart are committed to being partners in this endeavor.  We hope you agree that the hourly associates of OUR Walmart have an important role to play in improving our company, and we would like to meet with you with you at your earliest convenience so that you may listen to our concerns and hear our ideas for the future of Walmart.


Barbara Collins
OUR Walmart member, illegally fired by Walmart
Store #2418, Placerville, CA

Charmaine Givens-Thomas
OUR Walmart member
Store #5485, Evergreen Park, IL

Anthony Goytia
OUR Walmart member
Store #2401, Duarte, CA

Cindy Murray
OUR Walmart member
Store #1985, Laurel, MD

Here's a petition appealing for help for victims of a Bangladesh garment factory collapse.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wrapping An Extra Blanket Around An Already Warm Planet

artist's conception of Kepler 186f
 NASA announced last week the discovery of Kepler 186f, an earth-size planet at about the right distance from its sun to sustain life similar to that found on planet earth.

With all of the pollution, deforestation, overpopulation and other forms of devastation taking place on our own jewel of a planet, we may soon need a new one to emigrate to. The only problem is that this one is about 500 light years away, so there will be no flights available in the near future.

Since good planets are so hard to find, maybe we'd better begin to begin to take better care of the one have. In the past century, for example, we've released an extraordinary amount of carbon into the atmosphere through deforestation of thousands of acres of carbon-rich rain forests each year and the use of an accelerated amount of carbon-laden fossil fuels to meet our acquired "need" for ever more energy and to fuel a growing number of vehicles (in the U. S. we now have more licensed vehicles than we do licensed drivers).

This worldwide increase of carbon output, led by China and the U.S., is having the effect of wrapping an extra blanket of heat trapping insulation around a planet that's calibrated to maintain just the right amount of warmth to sustain life as we know it. This makes it imperative that we question the modern assumption that we have a right to unlimited uses of energy-guzzling cars, homes and lifestyles that are simply not sustainable, according to the most recent U.N. report on this potential crisis.

Please consider joining the following community conversation on this issue:

The Harrisonburg Rockingham Interfaith Association is partnering with The Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) to sponsor a conversation on climate change Wednesday, May 7, at First Presbyterian Church on Court Square in Harrisonburg.  The program, which includes a light lunch, is from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. There is no charge for this event.

 Les Grady of CAAV will open the program with a brief statement on why Climate Change matters as an issue for faith communities and for our society.  His remarks will be followed by conversation involving all who are present.  
Please RSVP by May 2 to or call David Miller, 540.578.0241.  We are eager to share in a meal and conversation with you.  And please share this invitation with other colleagues and churches. 

David R. Miller
Montezuma Church of the Brethren
President, Harrisonburg Rockingham Interfaith Association
Noter:  Dr. Les Grady is a licensed professional engineer (retired) who taught environmental engineering at Purdue and Clemson Universities and engaged in private practice with CH2M Hill, the world’s largest environmental engineering consulting firm.  Since his retirement in 2003 he has devoted much of his time to the study of climate science and the question of global warming.

Friday, April 18, 2014

The King Who Brings An End To Killing

painting by Nicolai Ge
He suffered the things we should have suffered.
    He took on himself the pain that should have been ours.
But we thought God was punishing him.
    We thought God was wounding him and making him suffer. 

But the servant was pierced because we had sinned.
    He was crushed because
we had done what was evil.
He was punished to make us whole again.
    His wounds have healed us.

- Isaiah 53:4-5 (NIRV)

The Bible is full of killing stories, from the account of the first born of Adam and Eve murdering his brother through multiple accounts of God's people engaging in war to destroy their enemies, the latter seemingly with God's approval.

Enter Jesus, introduced in the Christian Bible as God's only begotten, and as Savior, Prince of Peace and King of Kings. From that time on there are no more killing stories in scripture in which God's people commit the violence.

This is truly revolutionary. There is bloodshed in the New Testament narrative, of course, but the blood is all on one side. Wherever and in whomever the King of Kings rules killing and harming are done away with with.

Jesus devotes his entire life to doing good, then sacrificially offers up his life blood in a demonstration of how God overcomes evil by absorbing it and triumphing over it. By his self-giving life and sacrificial death we can all be saved from the power of violence and other forms of sin and evil.

Sadly, few of God's children have been willing to live under that rule, and thus to be liberated from their addiction to murder and mayhem. Every day brings even more news of cold blooded killings and ever more devastating accounts of brutality and war.

What I find most regrettable is the fact that so many so-called Christians continue to justify destroying each other, as illustrated by a tombstone in Mississippi that reads, "Here lies J. H. S. In his lifetime he killed 99 Indians, and lived in the blessed hope of making it 100, until he fell asleep in the arms of Jesus." *

As terrible as that sounds, none of us is free of responsibility when it comes to contributing to the untimely deaths of others. I recently ran across this sobering statement by German poet and writer Hermann Hesse: "We kill at every step, not only in wars, riots, and executions. We kill when we close our eyes to poverty, suffering, and shame. In the same way all disrespect for life, all hard-heartedness, all indifference, all contempt is nothing else than killing." 

This means we must all repent and come under the rule of a kingdom in which God's will is done on earth as it is in heaven. 

* a quote from The "Substance of Faith and Other Cotton Patch Stories" by Clarence Jordan

Thursday, April 17, 2014

27th Annual Good Friday Walk

2013 photo by Nikki Fox, courtesy of the Daily News-Record
A year ago I again participated in the traditional Good Friday Walk involving scripture readings and prayers at each of ten "stations of the cross" at various locations in downtown Harrisonburg.

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, in the mode of what David Augsburger calls "pedi-tation". Since I was taking the day off anyway, I decided to make the 3 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 that evening, where she was recovering from her knee replacement surgery a year ago. In all, both body and soul greatly benefited, and I look forward to this Holy Week experience this Friday, starting at noon at the Blessed Sacrament Church.

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

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Federal Agents Lay Down Arms in Bundy Case, Citing Safety Concerns

A militia sniper prepared to fire on U.S. agents
Hundreds of armed members of various militia groups and others gathered last week in support of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy.
Bundy's cattle were being confiscated because he's  refused to pay grazing fees owed to the Bureau of Land Management.

As the situation became increasingly volatile,  the BLM issuing the following statement:

"Based on information about conditions on the ground and in consultation with law enforcement, we have made a decision to conclude the cattle gather because of our serious concern about the safety of employees and members of the public." 

What a prudent statement, I thought to myself. Even agents of the most powerful nation on earth are acknowledging that armed conflict might carry significant safety risks.

Duh. People could actually get hurt if they start firing at each other?

Since this makes so much sense, you have to wonder why we haven't thought of it before. Shouldn't this be the most obvious reason to rule out war as unacceptable, because it's just not safe? That serious injuries and even deaths are likely to occur?

I'm saying all of the above with tongue in cheek, of course, but surely we can find more civilized ways of working things than resorting to human slaughter.

Meanwhile, here are some facts about the Bundy case posted by Dave Briggman (a Facebook friend who happens to be an avidly anti-administration, pro-gun Libertarian) and which he got from the StopTheTeaParty site:

1) Nobody is taking Bundy property (land).
2) The land in question is BLM land (public land yours and mine).
3) Bundy hasn't paid grazing fees for over 21 years (appx $300K).
4) 21 years ago the land was deemed environmentally sensitive (desert tortoise).
5) In two decades of battle Bundy has never won in court.
6) The Federal Government has a $300,000 judgement never paid.
7) In 1998 Bundy was ordered to remove his cattle (this is 2014).
8) Bundy has been defiant of every court order ever.
9) No one is above the law in America!
10) Bundy was told that his cattle would be confiscated a few months back and warned to remove his cattle one last time. He made the choice not to.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Some Of My Pet Peeves

I try not to grow too long a list of things I find disturbing, annoying or irritating. Should I just get over this stuff?

• Long lines of vehicles, V-8 engines running, waiting their turn to order unhealthy food at drive-throughs.

• Well-to-do folks (including most of us in the top 3-5% of the world's wealthiest people) constantly complaining about how financially stressed they are.

• An endless array of bogus "tests" circulated on Facebook that supposedly tell us what celebrity, rock band, or Sesame Street character we are like.

•  Able bodied people who let their kids use automatic door openers designed for the handicapped, and who themselves regularly use escalators and elevators when stairs would provide them with some much needed exercise.

• Congregations (and individual members of faith communities) who are all too willing to split off and divorce themselves from other believers with whom they disagree.

• Folks who are capable of thinking only along denominational, party or ideological lines and don't seem open to the possibility of ever learning anything from folks with whom they disagree.

• Commercials, especially those by highly profitable drug companies trying to persuade us to "ask your doctor to see whether _____ is right for you."

• People decrying waste and misuse of funds designed to help the poor and sick while completely ignoring waste, fraud and abuses in the name of "defense".

• Endless texting and cell-phoning while avoiding conversations with people who are actually present.

• Non-scientists denying the science of how human activity is contributing to climate change.

• Over-protective and over-indulgent parenting.

• Virginia's no-parole law and other punitive aspects of its supposed "department of corrections".

What are some of your own favorites?

Friday, April 11, 2014

Parenting Is Worth Every Penny

photo source
Over a decade ago I noted in one of my Centerpiece radio spots that the USDA had come up with a figure of over $160,000 as the total cost of raising a child from birth to 18. This was for a middle income family, and didn't even touch college tuition. A more recent CNN estimate is $241,080.

In that radio piece I quoted writer Regina Brett, the host of "The Regina Brett Show" aired on station WKSU in Cleveland, who noted that $160,000 translated to just over $24 a day, or about a dollar an hour. She came up with the following list of great returns we get for our investment:
Naming rights. Frst, middle, and last.

Glimpses of God every day.

Giggles under the covers every night.

More love than your heart can hold.

Butterfly kisses and Velcro hugs.

Endless wonder over rocks, ants, clouds, and warm cookies.

A hand to hold, usually covered with jam.

A partner for blowing bubbles, flying kites, building sand castles, and skipping down the sidewalk in the pouring rain.

 Someone to laugh yourself silly with no matter what the boss said or how your stocks performed that day.

You get to be a hero just for retrieving a Frisbee, taking the training wheels off the bike, removing a splinter, filling a wading pool, coaxing a wad of gum out of bangs, and coaching a soccer team that never wins but always gets treated to ice cream regardless.

You get a front row seat to history to witness the first step, first word, first bra, first date, and first time behind the wheel.

You get to be immortal.

In the eyes of a child, you rank right up there with God.

In light of all that, parenting, while certainly not without its headaches, can be seen as worth every penny.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Dumb, Durable And Dangerous Delusion*

Ever since medieval times, we have been enamored with the following tenets of the "romantic love myth":

1) Love is a total mystery, something strongly felt but impossible to describe or explain.

2) Love has a kind of power that comes (or goes) without any effort, warning or reason.

3) Love radically transforms everything under its spell, having us see our beloved as the fulfillment of our every dream.

4) Love is overwhelming and all-consuming. When we are truly in love we cannot eat, sleep, or do anything without our beloved being foremost in our minds.

5) Finding this kind of romantic love is life's ultimate good, and is worth giving up of our dreams, our career, or even our current partner to gain.

6) Once love really strikes, we know for sure, with never a doubt, that we’ve found the one right person meant just for us.

7) Love is its own authoritative and final reality. Once we’ve found it/him/her, no one can tell us anything different. We just “know that we know that we know,” never mind what our friends, our parents or anyone else might say to the contrary.

Psychologist Frank Pittman, author of the book “Private Lies,” calls this kind of obsession  a “temporary form of insanity.” While most of us agree in principle, all or parts of the myth still remain alive and well in our culture.

* Pardon the title for violating the journalist rule "Always avoid any and all alliterations".

Monday, April 7, 2014

Memo To Me: Fact-Check First, Then Post

source is questionable
On a recent blog on "Should the Present U.S. Economy Survive?" I included a pay ratio chart that a friend of mine pointed out was based on outdated information and less than stellar research. The visual had apparently gone viral on the Internet and was widely accepted as legitimate, but the fact-checking website considers it false, leading me to remove it from my earlier post.

In their October 10, 2011, analysis PolitiFact admits the numbers may have been true in 2005 (now nearly a decade ago) depending on which CEO's were included and what benefits were considered as a part of their wage package. They also say the reputable Institute for Policy Studies cited even higher disparities in 1999 (516 to 1) and 2000 (525 to 1), but that their more recent (2009) number is 325 to 1. The Economic Policy Institute, using a different methodology, came up with a 185-to-1 figure in 2009.

While I regret using less than accurate numbers above, even the 185-to-1 ratio to me does not represent anything close to moral or Biblical justice. It means that a worker must put in a full year's labor for what his or her CEO earns in less than two days.

Meanwhile I've become increasingly interested in not only corporation pay scales, but in how faith-based non-profits are compensating their employees. I've learned that it isn't unusual for CEO's of some charitable and church-run agencies to earn in excess of $200,000 in annual salaries and benefits while some of their low-level employees make do with 10-20% of that.

Is that how Jesus would run an organization? I welcome your feedback.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Virginia Second Only To Florida For Long Prison Stays

click here for full report
Virginia is about to exceed $1 billion in annual spending on corrections for the first time since 2009, according to a report issued this week by the Justice Policy Institute.

In spite of this rising increase in cost, our legislators continue to reject reducing prison time for nonviolent offenders, and Virginia's Parole Board maintains its record low 3.5% early release rate for inmates convicted before parole was abolished in 1995. Many prisoners under the "old law" (before parole was done away with during Governor Allen's administration) are eligible for release based on a record of exemplary behavior since being in prison, and an increasing number of aging prisoners clearly deserve to be freed through the Geriatric Parole Statute provisions enacted in 1995.

According to the Institute's report, the rate of violent crimes in Virginia is actually declining, and is in fact lower than at any time since 1960, and the 22 states that have not adopted Virginia's increasingly harsh sentencing provisions have experienced equal or greater reductions in crime.

Meanwhile, gang related and other violence appears to be on the increase inside Virginia's prisons, according to reports I get from the inside. Many inmates see this as partly due to a chronic shortage of staff, which in turn limits the kinds of rehabilitative programs available, and partly due to the lack of incentive for good behavior that has resulted from a lack of provision for parole.

If you agree that there's something wrong with this picture, please join in the exercise of fervent prayer and persuasion to help bring about positive change.

Click here for more posts on criminal justice, and here for the story of how Sweden has been able to close four of its major prisons.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Free Marriage Class At FLRC

Well, almost free.

Each couple will use the text, Lasting Marriage--The Owners' Manual, available at $10 each, and we do urge participants to make a tax-deductible donation to the Family Life Resource Center at the end of series in lieu of a fee for the class.

Here are the themes covered in the four 7-8:30 pm sessions held in our classroom at FLRC starting April 14 and continuing each Monday through May 5:

1. We Learn to Invest More of Our Time and Creativity in Our 'Problem-Free Area'.

2. Each of us Focuses More on our 'Personal Problem Area' Rather Than Our Spouse's.

3. When it Comes to our 'Spouse's Problem Area', Each of us Practices Arguing Less, Listening More.

4. Together we Learn to Become Better Problem-Solvers and Decision-Makers in our 'Mutual Problem Area'.

Here are some comments from evaluations done by recent participants:

"We have learned so many helpful techniques that are providing hope and encouragement for us. Thank you!"

"I found the idea of the 'talking stick' very helpful, along with the idea of having a larger 'problem-free are' and then separate times set aside to talk about our problems."

"I found the ideas presented applying to many relationships, not just to our marriage."

"I liked the useful handouts which we were able to go over as a couple, and I loved hearing from other class members, too."

"I really like the book--clearly written and with memorable examples."

To register for the class contact or call 434-8450.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

"My children are gone forth from me, and they are not"

It's hard to imagine the suffering and grief many of our ancestors experienced in the untimely deaths of their young children for lack of medical care we take for granted today.

I found the following heart wrenching example in the June 15, 1974, minutes of a Historical Society meeting held in my wife's home community in Juniata County, Pennsylvania:

In 1872 John Kurtz and wife Catherine Shelly had seven living children (five others had died in infancy). On the 25th of July the following died of diphtheria within a six hour period, Jacob, 6, Samuel, 17, and Anna, age four. Jacob and Anna were laid in one coffin, and all three were buried in one grave.

The text for the funeral service on July 28 was Jeremiah 10:19-20: "Woe is me, for my hurt. My wound is grievous. But I said, Truly this is my grief, and I must bear it. My tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken; my children are gone forth from me, and they are not; there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtain."

Soon after they came home from the funeral, Barbara, age 16, died, then Catherine, 15, died that same evening. The next morning their youngest, Sarah, at a year and seven months of age, also died. Only John, age 13, was left of their seven children.

At the July 30 funeral service, the following text from Baruch 4:19-20 and 23 was used: "Go your way, O my children, go your way; for I am left desolate. I have put off the clothing of peace, and put upon me the sackcloth of my prayer; I will cry to the Everlasting in my days. For I sent you out in mourning and weeping; but God will give you to me again with joy and gladness forever."

The couple later had three more children, Abram and Christian, but no daughters.

Whenever I think of going through difficult times, I want to remember people like John and Catherine Kurtz, along with parents around the world who still experience the heartbreaking loss of children to disease, famine and war.