Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Ask Your Buying Co-op If Solar Is Right For You

I've been interested in solar power for a long time, but attending Monday evening's meeting at the Regional Library persuaded me that solar technology might finally have become affordable.

  Check out for a better look at the numbers in the graphic below, or email your questions to

Monday, July 28, 2014

Newly Appointed Parole Board, Same Old Rejection Letters?

Sic Semper Captivas? (So be it ever to prisoners?)
"He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners... to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Luke 4:18b-19  

Virginia's Parole grant rate has been at under 4% for years, one of the lowest in the nation. Some of us had hoped that with the governor's appointment of an entirely new board this year (except for the chair) deserving state inmates would finally get a better break.

However, from all I've heard from those inside the system, little if anything has changed. A few of the men with whom I correspond have virtually given up hope for parole release. This includes people who have been model prisoners for many years, have managed to remain free of prison-related offenses for decades, have taken virtually every class and taken part in every rehab program available (in some cases have taken college classes and even earned college degrees), have learned work skills that make them invaluable assets to their respective institutions, and whose prison counselors are actively advocating for them. Yet none of this seems to be making any difference, not even the fact that many parole eligible inmates (those incarcerated before 1995) are in declining health and are eligible for geriatric release.

According to Virginia C.U.R.E., there are currently over 700 inmates in Virginia prisons who are 60 years of age or older, more than half of whom are African-American. Of the above (749),  74 are over 70, and one is 90 years of age. With the recidivism risk for offenders over 60 being at less than 1%, one wonders what purpose is being served by Virginia citizens paying for their incarceration and geriatric care? Try multiplying 700 times the annual cost of keeping older prisoners incarcerated (well over $50,000 a year when medical costs are included) and see what our state could save in a financially challenging time.

Yet the answer is almost always the same. No. After years of going before an official parole board interviewer (prisoners typically do not get to meet with an actual member of the board) the rejection letter they receive typically includes the following:

"... the Virginia Parole Board's decision to not grant parole on (date) is based primarily on the following reasons:

• Release at this time would diminish the seriousness of the crime

• The Board considers you a risk to the community

• Serious nature and circumstances of your offense(s)

• The Board concludes that you should serve more of your sentence prior to release on parole

"While this may not be the answer you hoped for, please continue your hard work. The Parole Board made every effort to balance your rehabilitation needs with the public safety consideration on behalf of the citizens of Virginia."

All of this is stated in what is essentially a form letter signed mechanically with the name of the Board's chair.

How can a decades-long record of exemplary behavior in a state prison, one of the most crime-ridden communities imaginable, be interpreted as a sign that a person will pursue a life of crime upon his or her release? And as to the issue of the "seriousness of the crime", there is of course nothing any inmate can do to change anything about his or her past offenses. The appropriate issue to be considered for parole are how the inmate has done since--i.e., is the so called "correctional system" "correcting" the individual--not whether he or she has been sufficiently punished.

So this is my appeal to members of the Board. Please recognize that when you deny incarcerated citizens any reasonable hope for release who have consistently demonstrated a changed life, you are not speaking on behalf of this "citizen of Virginia". And you are affecting morale inside prison in a decidedly negative way.

As a taxpayer and concerned citizen, I am disheartened and dismayed.

Virginia Parole Board
6900 Atmore Drive
Richmond, VA 23225
(804) 674-3081 

Current members:
- Ms. Karen Brown, chair (former vice chair)
- The Reverend Doctor A. Lincoln James (pastor of Trinity Church in Richmond)
- Mr. Sherman R. Lea (Roanoke City Council member, former VDOC head, Western District)
- Mr. Minor F. Stone (25 years in law enforcement)
- Mr. Algie T. Howell, Jr. (House of Delegates, District 90)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Kingdom Of Heaven Is About Razing Hell

Might Jesus have actually meant 
what he said?

"The God Movement is like a jeweler looking for special pearls. When he finds a super-duper one, he goes and unloads his whole stock and buys that pearl." 
Matthew 13:45-46 (Cotton Patch Version)

According to the late Clarence Jordan, this story shows us that Jesus' call is a drastic one, "calling for people to really reshape their lives, their standard of living, their set of values, all the things they had thought were important. Out the door they go for this one great consuming passion, the revolution which God wants to usher in on this earth."

We live in a world that appears to be ruled by hell. Everywhere we turn, in Gaza, in Central Africa, in the Middle East, in violent and drug cartel dominated countries across Central America, the suffering and despair are beyond imagination.

Among Jesus' first words as a preacher were "Repent! Undergo a radical, change of life and allegiance! The Kingdom of God is about to break in!"

Citizens of that new, worldwide movement pray every day, "May your will be done on earth (your outpost) as it is in heaven (your headquarters)." Under God's rule they are transformed into those who live solely by WWAD? (What Would Abba Do?).

Jesus' mission, and that of his disciples, is about ending the rule of hell and ushering in the reign of heaven, not just for the afterlife, but starting right here on earth, just as it is in heaven.

What are conditions like where heaven rules? Is there violence where God is sovereign? Despair? Starvation? Homelessness? Pollution? Mass incarceration? Vast disparity between rich and poor?  Persistent suffering and disease?

Of course not. Under God's reign, hell-like conditions are replaced with heaven-like salvation, shalom. God saves and delivers, and under God's rule we share in God's dream of a new and restored creation. And we ourselves are saved, transformed, reborn.

Followers of Jesus can't wait for that new day to dawn. They become an army of peace, agents of hope, demonstrations of a future in which all tears will be wiped away, swords will be beaten into plowshares, and we study war no more.

That reality begins now, begins with us--citizens of God's eternal kingdom.

* * * * * * * * * * * * 

"The American Jesus comes to us rather tamely, tidies up a few bad habits, makes us better citizens, and sends us back into a 'civilization' that is grateful for our good influence. Everything flows smoothly. Christianity seems warm and right to us. There is no comprehensive discontinuity between what we have been and what we are, or shall be. There is no rejection of traditional values, and sadly, there is no entrance into the kingdom of God." 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Anger: a) Get It All Out? b) Let It Cool Down? or c) Use It As A Form Of Emotional Energy?


Of course there is the anger 
where the love is strong. 
It spills like gasoline.
It’s crude, but 
it’s a power we can draw upon
if it fuels the right machine.

    —singer-songwriter David Wilcox, “Covert War”

I once read about a woman in Panama City, Florida, who got so mad at her husband for ignoring her that she grabbed a cigarette lighter and set one of his shirts on fire. Problem was, the blaze got out of control and burned down their house. This did get her husband’s attention, but it also resulted in the couple losing most of their worldly possessions.

To make matters worse, their insurance company refused to cover the loss, since the blaze was set intentionally by one of the owners. And as if this weren’t bad enough, the wife (described by the investigator as “a nice lady with a temper”) was charged with second-degree arson.

As is often the case, the couple’s original argument was over a minor issue, the passive-aggressive husband’s main crime being that of merely lying in bed and totally tuning out his wife’s complaints. This got her so upset she decided to apply the lighter.

The moral of the story? Whatever immediate satisfaction we may get from impulsively venting our rage can be spoiled by unforeseen negative consequences.

Unfortunately, a lot of popular psychology has promoted the idea that repressing our emotions, especially angry ones, is A Very Bad Thing. We are admonished to let it all out, to swear, break dishes, or just let other people “have it” if necessary, in order to relieve ourselves of some terrible anger poison that can allegedly cause high blood pressure, depression, anxiety, and all kinds of other problems.

But does “getting it all out” really help our marriage, family, or other relationships?

The notion that keeping any anger bottled up inside is bad for you is based loosely on Sigmund Freud’s theory that our subconscious mind is a reservoir for repressed sexual instincts. Many therapists in the 1960s and 1970s simply took that a step further and urged us to avoid repressing all kinds of feelings, particularly angry ones.

More recent researchers, such as psychologist Carol Travis, author of Anger, the Misunderstood Emotion, disagree. Travis insists that even Freud never argued that the suppression of instincts was always bad but was actually necessary for society’s survival. “Without it,” she asks, “who would mind the store, build the bridges, create the Mona Lisa?” Nor does she recommend things like punching pillows, throwing plates, or screaming at people as ways of “getting anger out.” She believes that such actions result in little more than “Sure, it didn’t solve anything, but it did make me feel better.”

My question is whether just feeling better should be our primary goal as grownups. What if it makes our spouse or other loved ones feel worse? What if it damages our relationship with our children while at the same time fails to address the real problems that are bothering us?

We are told in Scripture, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26) In other words, angry feelings can be okay but are never an excuse for harbored resentments, hurtful behaviors or just plain bad judgment.

In an emergency like a fire or an accident, the release of large doses of adrenaline can be useful. In most other situations, however, our God-given anger energy is better harnessed as emotional fuel to drive a well-tuned, carefully controlled “engine,” one that transforms anger-power into a useful purpose, like giving us the courage and motivation to find some real solutions to our problems.

If no constructive action is possible, the next best thing is just to take some deep breaths and calm down. It won't damage your mental health and none of your relationships will be harmed in doing so.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A Modern "Bad Samaritan" Story

Being here Saturday actually led to some good dialogue with a couple of Tea Party folks.

Here's my attempt at paraphrasing what Jesus might say about welcoming refugees:

Once upon a time some folks came to Jesus with the question, "Teacher, what do we need to do to get right with God and gain eternal life?"

He answered, "What's written in scripture? How do you read it?"

"That we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and passion, and love our neighbors as ourselves, with compassion," was their reply.

"Sounds good!" said Jesus. "Do this and you will live."

Wanting to spin this out further,  they asked Jesus, "And just how do you define 'neighbor'?"

Jesus answered them with this story:

"There were once countless numbers of children fleeing to the US from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, traveling aboard freight trains and by whatever means possible to flee from daily threats to their lives. Many of them fell among thieves and murderers en route, and those who reached the border were legally processed to determine which should be united with family members in the US and which needed to be returned to the same deplorable situations they left.

"An effort to house some of these children at the former Saint Paul’s College campus in Lawrenceville, Virginia, caused such an uproar that federal officials pulled out, even though a five-month lease had already been signed.

"When it was learned that seven of these Central American children were being housed at the Juvenile Detention Center in nearby Augusta County, members of the local Tea Party sponsored a protest Saturday on the Interstate 81 Exit 227 overpass, even as plans were already being made to move them elsewhere.

"Meanwhile, in an area with hundreds of congregations and thousands of believers, and with colleges and universities with plenty of temporary dorm space available, there was little evidence of people heeding my words, 'Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me.'

"So which of these do you think were being 'neighbors' to children in need of help and hospitality?"

Please read this for an explanation of why this is a part of a larger humanitarian crisis rather than simply an immigration problem.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

My name is Harvey Yoder-Nisly-Troyer-Miller-Slabaugh-Hochstetler-Gerber-Bontrager-Esch-Kauffman-Swartzentruber-Gingerich-Stutzman-Lauver-Wert......

Cousins Barbara, Katie, Nora and I check out our ancestors
Earlier this week I had the privilege of giving a Yoder-Nisly genealogy talk at the John D. Yoder family reunion held at Highland Retreat. Most of the thirty or so in attendance were cousins or cousins-in-law, so we have many ancestors in common.

Their grandfather John D. Yoder was my father's oldest half-brother. Interestingly, John's wife, Catherine Miller ("Katie"), happened to also be the younger sister of his father's (and my grandfather's) third wife Elizabeth Miller, my dad's mother.

Having grandfather Dan, then twice a widower, and his oldest son John marrying sisters makes for an interesting family connection. What turns the family "tree" into even more of a "brush pile" is my dad and two of his brother John's sons each marrying one of Eli and Fannie Nisly's daughters, making the three of them brothers-in-law by marriage, uncle and nephew on their father's side and first cousins through their mothers. To clarify, none of them is marrying a close relative.

Confused yet?

Anyway, due to our families having generations of parallel Amish roots, our genealogical charts are remarkable in numerous ways, and the numbers of ancestors we have in common are remarkable.

I used to think of myself primarily as half Yoder and half Nisly, and assumed that if I traced my paternal history back to Christian and Barbara Yoder (who emigrated to Philadelphia in 1742), and my maternal ancestry back to immigrant  Christian Nisly (who arrived here in 1804 as a sixteen-year-old) that that would represent the key elements in my ancestral story.

I was wrong, of course. There are way too many other generational lines to be pursued.

On my ancestral fan chart, for example, I found David and Veronica Dreher (a name that later became "Troyer") appearing four different times. They were among my grandmother Elizabeth (Miller) Yoder's maternal and paternal distant ancestors, for a start. But they were also my grandfather Daniel Yoder's great, great, great great grandparents, and my grandmother Fannie (Troyer) Nisly's paternal forbears. This means I have nearly as much of their DNA in me as I do of Barbara and Christian Yoder, who appear on the same ancestral chart a total of four times on my Yoder (dad's) side and once on my Nisly (mom's) side.

I find this fascinating, to say the least, suggesting myriads of unknown, untold and interrelated stories. The full ancestral chart includes so many people to whom we owe so much of what has shaped us, genetically and in countless other ways.

For example, I'd love to know more about the above David and Veronica Dreher, five generations removed from my maternal grandmother Fannie Troyer. The word "dreher" in German means "turner", or "lathe operator", and as a family name became anglicized as "Troyer", my mom's mother Fannie's maiden name. The common nickname for Veronica is Vrennie (pronounced Frennie in German), which became "Fannie" in Pennsylvania Dutch.

In light of all these ancestral roots, maybe my name should be something like Harvey Nisly-Yoder-Troyer-Miller-Slabaugh-Hochstetler-Gerber-Bontrager-Esch-Kauffman-Swartzentruber-Gingerich-Stutzman-Lauver-Wert...

Or just call me Harv for short. Like the older brother of my dad I was named after.

ancestral chart by Katie Yoder Zook, photo by John H. Yoder

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Let Me Add Your Name To This List of Organizations and Citizens In Support Of Alternatives to Local Jail Expansion

Until this facility was built in 1994, we had a local jail population of well under a hundred. Now we have over 400 inmates, and a new multi-million dollar facility is being considered. The deadline for a final proposal is December 31 of this year.
“For far too long, the only answer to decreasing crime was to put more people in prison. We built prisons at rates we didn’t need and couldn’t afford, especially for non-violent offenders.  Now, we know there are alternatives that cost less and work better.  I am proud to sign on with the Right on Crime initiative to help fix this problem by making cost effective, data driven public safety decisions that reduce recidivism rates.”
If you agree with Cuccinelli, and can support the statement below, please provide your name and local post office in the "Post a Comment" section at the bottom of this blog (if you have a Google account), or on my Facebook page, OR send me an email ( or a letter, in order to get your name on this page, which I will update regularly:

To members of City Council and County Board of Supervisors:

"We the undersigned organizations and citizens of Harrisonburg and Rockingham County urge you to take at least until the end of 2015 to collaborate with community citizens and organizations to identify strategies to reduce the incarcerated population and develop the most humane and cost effective alternatives possible to resolve the problem of jail overcrowding."                         


Harrisonburg Harriet Tubman Cultural Center
Harrisonburg Martin Luther King, Jr. Way Coalition
Virginia Organizing, Harrisonburg Chapter


Akerson, Lars     Harrisonburg
Banks, Heather     Harrisonburg
Barner, Ann     Harrisonburg
Bierly, Hilary     Harrisonburg
Blakely, Elaine     Harrisonburg
Blundeen, Bruce     Harrisonburg
Bolton, Brian     Harrisonburg
Brazill, Tim     Bridgewater College
Briggman, David     Keezletown
Brubaker, Erma     Harrisonburg
Brubaker, J. Allen    Harrisonburg   Erma and I affirm the above and further appeal that our local, state and federal officials urgently pursue changing our penal system (local, state and federal) from a punitive one to a restorative one. We heartily recommend Howard Zehr's treatment of the subject in The Little Book of Restorative Justice (2002, Good Books, Intercourse, PA).
Bucher, Matthew   Harrisonburg
Buller, Burton     Harrisonburg
Buller, Mary J.     Harrisonburg
Busching, Bruce      Harrisonburg 
Byler, Daryl     Harrisonburg
Castillo, Isabel     Harrisonburg
Clymer Kurtz, Christopher       Linville
Clymer Kurtz, Maria       Linville
Cortez, Ricardo     Harrisonburg
Crawford, Lois Carter     Harrisonburg   We have too many in jail here.
Cross, Mary Jean     Harrisonburg
Dansby, Laura     Keezletown
Davis, Brett      Harrisonburg
Davis, Evan      Harrisonburg
Davis, Jennifer     Harrisonburg     Thanks!
Dellett, Jon     Bridgewater
Dellett, Pat     Bridgewater
DeMes, MuAwia     Harrisonburg
Dent, William H.  (former prison chaplain) We seem unable to resist filling whatever detention facility we have... it makes sense to me to be sure that we are using every promising alternative first before we authorize expanding incarceration here.
Dove, Linda     Penn Laird
Dula, Peter     Harrisonburg
Edwards, Christine     Harrisonburg
Fairfield, John     Bridgewater
Fairfield, Kathryn     Bridgewater
Fields, Darlene     Harrisonburg
Finger, Lareta     Harrisonburg
Fitzgerald, Deb     Harrisonburg
Fitzgerald,  J. G.     Harrisonburg
Foley, Bill     Harrisonburg
Gerald, Katrina L.     Harrisonburg
Giannakouros, Poti     Harrisonburg
Gingerich, Ray     Harrisonburg
Gingerich, Wilma     Harrisonburg
Graber, Barbra     Harrisonburg
Hagmaierlk, Aaron     Harrisonburg
Hendren, Douglas, M.D.      Harrisonburg
Hollowood, Judith     Harrisonburg
Holsinger, Brent     Harrisonburg
Hoover, Eliza     Harrisonburg    PLEASE let's not let our community contribute to the sad and disgraceful increase in the percentage of our citizens who are locked up. We can do better than that.
Horst, Alicia     Harrisonburg
Horst, Ray       Harrisonburg
Horst, Violet     Harrisonburg
Hueston, Robert L.   Bridgewater
Jenners, Hadley     Harrisonburg
Jenner, Janice     Harrisonburg
Jones, Christopher, B.     Harrisonburg
Jost, Timothy     Harrisonburg
Karola, Anna M. PhD        Harrisonburg    Not only is jail expensive for the tax payers, it has been shown not be be rehabilitative. It is vital for Harrisonburg to consider alternatives. In addition, it will increase the population of people in this area on welfare or who are considering crime as families migrate to live where family members are incarcerated tending to affect the schools as well as the overall safety of the community.
Keller, Mark     Harrisonburg
Kniss, Philip L.     Harrisonburg
Kraus, Norman     Harrisonburg
Kraus, Rhoda     Harrisonburg
Kreider, Greta Leinbach      Harrisonburg
Leinbach, Sally     Harrisonburg
Leinbach, Russ     Harrisonburg
Lofton, Bonnie     Harrisonburg    I am 100% in favor of taking more time to study alternatives to simply warehousing more people in prisons.
Mack, Lara Celeste     Penn Laird
Mahoney,  Pete     Harrisonburg  The meeting of cost effectiveness and humanitarianism trumps the building of a multi million dollar jail.  
Martin, Earl     Harrisonburg
Martin, Pat Hostetter     Harrisonburg
Maust, Marge     Keezletown
May, Bob     Bergton
McNallie, Robin     Harrisonburg
Merrow, Eleanor     McGaheysville    While jail overcrowding is certainly unacceptable, let's consider our laws and how we do punishment before we invest more time, energy and tax dollars in another jail, before we devote more of our precious land to the incarceration of people.
Miller, James Michael     Harrisonburg   We need to think through better alternatives before building a new jail.
McGaheysville, Virginia
Moore, Dorita     Harrisonburg
Musselman, Nathan     Harrisonburg
Myers-Benner, Janelle     Keezletown
Nielsen, Anne     Harrisonburg
Orndoff, Diane    Bridgewater  Thanks for your lifelong commitment to this issue.
Orndoff, Jim     Bridgewater
Pascale, Ella      Harrisonburg
Pascale, Elmo     Harrisonburg
Reeves, John B.    Rockingham County
Reich, Steven A.     Harrisonburg
Rose, Lawrence     Penn Laird
Rose, Sandra     Penn Laird   Just like the middle school suddenly dropped from future sight on close public scrutiny, we suspect the same will happen to the plans for jail expansion if the  public is allowed in.
Rosenwasser, Bruce     Harrisonburg
Rosenwasser, Leah     Harrisonburg
Sanders, Ramona     Harrisonburg
Serrels, Valerie     Harrisonburg
Scott, Elizabeth     Harrisonburg
Shnaider, Charlotte     Staunton     It doesn’t make sense to keep so many people incarcerated when the same amount of money could help them turn their lives around.
Showalter, Sam      Harrisonburg     I am certain there are better alternatives to mass incarceration, and I'll be happy to help find those in any way I can.
Sider Jost, Jacob     Harrisonburg
Snell-Feikema, Michael L.     Harrisonburg  Meaningful public participation in this decision is essential and that takes time.

Stahl, John     Harrisonburg
Stoltzfus Jost, Ruth     Harrisonburg
Temple, Kathleen, Harrisonburg
Thomas, Karen     Harrisonburg
Trettner, Janet     Keezletown
Turner, Marilyn     Harrisonburg
Woodall, Diana     Dayton    Jails don't solve as many problems as they create.
Weaver, Judith   Harrisonburg
Wright, Judith     Dayton     I am very interested in this.
Yoder, Alma Jean     Harrisonburg
Yoder, Carroll     Harrisonburg
Yoder, Edwin M.     Harrisonburg
Yoder, Harvey     Harrisonburg
Yoder, Nancy     Harrisonburg
Yoder, Rick     Harrisonburg
Zehr, Howard      Broadway

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Standing Your Ground--Against Watermelons?

"When Smith and Wesson decides to unleash a high caliber cartridge, they don’t mess around."
The above video clip posted by The Right To Bear Arms pro-gun group is meant to celebrate what a .500 S&W Magnum can do, accompanied with the boast, "The watermelon doesn't have a chance."

Of course not. Nor does a human being when fired on with this kind of weapon.

I found it chilling to see the red flesh of a ripe melon splatter in all directions with each shot in this clip. Maybe it reminded me too much of the horror of a neighbor of ours shooting himself some years ago, leaving a horrific shattering of blood, brains and skull fragments to be cleaned off the walls and ceiling of his bedroom afterwards.

I grew up on a farm, with guns used on occasion for hunting, butchering and/or for varmint control. But I have never really enjoyed killing any of God's creatures--or even just blowing stuff up--as some kind of entertainment. I have lots of friends who love hunting, but I sometimes kid them about whether it can really be considered a "sport", since only the hunters are armed.

And don't even get me started talking about training combatants to take aim at each other in that awful form of carnage we call "military conflict". When you think about it, isn't that just plain, barbaric lunacy?

Watch the video and tell me what you think.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

John M. Drescher, A Saint For All Seasons

John Drescher, one of my most valued mentors
I just received word Friday that my friend and mentor John Drescher had died early the previous morning.

John would strongly object to my use of the word "saint" in connection with his life. "That word doesn't even appear in the Bible," he always insisted, "It's always 'saints', in the plural. No one can be a saint by himself."

But John, with his good wife Betty, came close, and yes, always as a part of a committed congregation. I grew to deeply appreciate him during the several years he was a member of the Zion Mennonite Church where I served as pastor for two decades. And Betty was her own special kind of woman--warm, hospitable and never complaining. She did a lot of the typing and proof reading of John's manuscripts., and he clearly could never have accomplished what he did without her.

With John being the gifted and acclaimed preacher, writer and editor that he was, I could easily have found it intimidating having him and Betty in the congregation. He was both older and far more experienced that I, having served as a pastor in three congregations, bishop or overseer in three conferences, a one term moderator of the Mennonite Church in North America, the editor of 'Gospel Herald', and as a college pastor and seminary teacher at EMU. But he was always a most loyal and supportive member of our congregation, frequently writing me an affirming note or otherwise taking the time to encourage me.

John was almost surely the most prolific and widely read Mennonite author ever, having had 37 books and countless articles published, as well as serving as editor of the Gospel Herald (now The Mennonite) for twelve of its most successful years. One book alone, "Seven Things Children Need" sold over 125,000 copies and was translated into over a dozen languages. 

"Spirit Fruit" also went through several printings and was read by thousands, as was his widely read book "Why I am a Conscientious Objector". And in addition to all of his work as an author, Drescher wrote scores of articles published in over a hundred magazines, including Christianity Today, Reader’s Digest, and Catholic Digest, and I'm told these have been translated into in at least seventy languages. Can any other Mennonite writer seriously compete with that?

But I will always remember John not just for his greatness, but for his genuineness as a good man of God and a servant of the church. We owe him and his Lord a large debt of gratitude.

A Sunday Morning Blessing

Here's a Sunday morning prayer for all of you from the Shalem Institute:

What is a blessing
but a rain of grace
falling generously upon those who are in need;
And who among us is without need?
May this day be a pathway strewn with blessings.
May your work this day be your love made visible.
May you breathe upon the wounds of those you live and work with.
May your breath be the breath of God.
May your own wounds feel the breath of God.
May you honor the flame of love that burns inside you.
May your voice this day be a voice of encouragement.
May your life be an answer to someone’s prayer.
May you own a grateful heart.
May you have enough joy to give you hope,
enough pain to make you wise.
May there be no room in your heart for hatred.
May you be free from violent thoughts.
When you look into the window of your soul
may you see the face of God.
May the lamp of your life shine kindly upon all who cross your path.
May you be a good memory in someone’s life today.

--Macrina Wiederkehr ‪#‎Shalem‬
Photo by Leah Rampy

Friday, July 11, 2014

Guest Post On Jail Expansion Alternatives

photo by Andrew Jenner, an excellent blogger on this topic
The following letter by local mental health and criminal justice advocate Sam Nickels was sent to members of the Harrisonburg City Council and the Rockingham Board of Supervisors earlier this week. Nickels is director of the Center for Health and Human Development, a nonprofit that operates community mental health programs in Central America.

Dear County and City Representatives (Mr. Byrd, Mr. Cuevas, Mr. Chandler, Mr. Eberly, Mr. Degner, Mr. Shearer, Mr. Kyger, Mr. Breeden, Mr. Baugh, Mr. Chenault),

I write regarding the possible jail expansion. I appreciate the first meeting held last week by Moseley Architects to reach out to us in the community regarding jail expansion alternatives.

I am greatly concerned about this issue for two reasons. First, the cost is large to the taxpayer. Second, the number of people we have in jail is far too high. Our U.S. rate of incarceration is higher than any other country in the world *, including China, and we must begin to do something about this as a society, starting here, today.

Having seen the research on this issue over the last number of years, it is clear there are alternatives we have not tried that should be considered to reduce prison populations. For example, mental health courts can mandate alternatives to incarceration for those with mental health problems and who have encountered trouble with the law, a group which takes up 25% of jail bed space.

See the one-paragraph abstract of this 2012 study published by the American Psychological Association:

And please watch two minutes of this very powerful video on mental health courts:

Then read the first two paragraphs of this article about Virginia and mental health courts:          

It also appears to me that it is a clear conflict of interest to having a jail architectural firm which can benefit from the construction of a building also carry out a search for alternatives from which they will not benefit financially. I know you have already signed a contract, but I would suggest in the future, these issues be separated.

For the present, you might consider hiring JMU/EMU or other researchers to do some work for you on alternatives that are based on pilot and full alternative programs in other places, as a complement to the work being carried out now by Moseley. Moseley also indicated in the meeting that their ability to carry out a full look at alternatives was quite limited in the short timeline they have (December), so having others also helping with this task seems appropriate.
Why pay more attention to alternatives? Because the long-term savings are potentially very significant for the citizens of the county and city, and because humane treatment of people with mental health challenges and their families, as well as other non-violent offenders, is important to how well our society functions and how these people are able to recover from their illnesses and other challenges. Also, the need for non-violent offender wage earners to be present in the home for their families is key to the functioning of our social system.

I am aware that we are spending $1 million a year to send some of our prisoners to the nearby Middle River Jail due to our overcrowding here, but if we take five years to really look at and implement alternatives, as the city of Richmond has begun to do, and if we then could save $20 million in the long run from jail expansion costs, then you have done us citizens a great benefit.

* See this link for information on global incarceration rates:

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Rare Photos Of Myself At Six And Sixteen

Me at six, with my next older brother Eli, taken in 1946.

I grew up in an Amish family that didn't allow photographs, since they were believed to represent "graven image" forbidden by the Second Commandment, and would surely lead to pride. In the interest of avoiding any form of vanity, we didn't even have full length mirrors in our home, and lived by the motto "Demut ist die schönste Tugend" (humility is the most beautiful virtue).

That being the case I grew up thinking that no pictures of me as a child even existed. Then recently one of my non-Amish Ohio cousins, Elsie Nisly Bliler, came out with a self published book about our Nisly relatives, complete with the above photograph, one someone from their family had taken soon after we moved from Kansas to Virginia.

Needless to say, I was pleased, not that the picture is particularly flattering of me--especially with a pair of home made trousers I had obviously outgrown. And the gloves, what was that about? But at least it was something I could show my grandchildren.

My brother Eli, pictured above, and his wife Ruth just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary July 6. Alma Jean and I will observe our 50th next month. How time flies.

The following photo of me was taken at around 16 by Eli, I believe, after he and Ruthie had left our community.

I hope posting these images won't do irreparable harm to my humility. Good thing the face is blurred and I'm using our Massey-Harris 22 to spread a load of barnyard manure.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Marriages Need Our Help (DNR op ed piece)

DNR graphic (correct date is 1996-2013)
This opinion piece appeared in the July 5, 2014, issue of the Daily News-Record:

Every year since 1996 I've asked the clerk of the local Circuit Court for statistics on marriages and divorces in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County. Last year there were fewer than average numbers of marriage licenses issued, 924, (ten of which were “not used”) and an all time record number of divorces granted, 484.

Since our population has increased significantly since 1996 one would expect a steady rise in marriage numbers, but that has not been the case. That doesn't mean fewer couples are pairing up, but that more people than ever live in undocumented (formerly common law) relationships.
With fewer legalized marriages we should also expect fewer official divorces. But that is not true, either. And of course we have no way of knowing how many unmarried couples' break up as well, often with consequences just as distressing as their married counterparts.

The graph above shows that the numbers of local marriages and divorces, while varying from year to year, have remained relatively flat in spite of a significant population increase since 1996, with the highest number of marriages recorded in 2001 (1003), and the lowest in 2010 (879) . The highest number of divorces was last year (484), and the lowest was in 2009 (347).

Here are some things we could do to help:

1. Encourage young people to seek pre-engagement counseling. Premarital counseling is important, but generally comes too late for couples in need of reconsidering their choice.

2. Discourage the false belief that cohabiting couples (in “trial marriages”) can then separate without any serious emotional and other consequences. Partners in any exclusive and intimate relationships have already committed a form of premarital “marriage”, whether or not their union is officially registered.
3. Provide experienced mentor couples and/or professional counseling for newly married couples and for couples experiencing serious conflicts in their relationships.

4. Pass legislation requiring longer waiting periods for no-fault divorces when one partner is still wanting to work things out.

Let’s agree that 484 divorces and only 914 marriages represent numbers we seriously need to change.

Here's a link to a post on how amicable divorces may be even harder for children to understand and deal with than conflictual ones.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The John Kline Memorial Riders

The horse without a rider reminds us of the local minister killed 150 years ago.
June 15, 2014, was the 150th anniversary of the violent death of the renowned Brethren Elder John Kline. On that Sunday morning three weeks ago a dozen members of the John Kline Memorial Riders arrived at the Linville Creek Church of the Brethren near Broadway to take part in their worship service, just one part of a June 13-15 weekend commemoration of Kline's life and martyrdom.

The John Kline Riders, founded by Emmert and Esther Bittinger of Bridgewater eighteen years ago, have gone on a horseback pilgrimage each spring to some of the many communities Elder Kline traveled as a preacher and practitioner of herbal medicine prior to and during the Civil War. As a man of peace, Kline was falsely accused of being a traitor to the Confederate cause due to his continuing to minister to people on both sides during the Civil War and making regular visits to churches in the North as well as the South.

Kline was fatally shot in the back June 15, 1864, by a group of vigilantes while riding home on his faithful horse Nell that had just been shod by someone in the Turleytown area north of Singers Glen.

He and his wife had donated some of the land from their Broadway area farm to the Linville Creek Church for its first meeting house, and they are both buried in the cemetery there.

Elder Kline wrote the following prophetic words in his diary prior to the Civil War, on January 1, 1861, "Secession means war; and war means tears and ashes and blood. It means bonds and imprisonment and perhaps even death to many in our beloved Brotherhood, who I have the confidence to believe, will die rather than disobey God by taking up arms."

John Kline truly embodied that kind of faith and faithfulness.

photo by Emmert and Esther Bittinger

Friday, July 4, 2014

Five Fascinating Facts/Myths About The Fourth

A bell that didn't ring on the Fourth
Today as we celebrate the birth of the nation we might also examine some of the myths associated with its beginning. According to the best selling book by Richard Shenkman, Legends, Lies And Cherished Myths Of American History (Harper and Row, 1988), there are many fascinating legends associated with the nation's independence:

Myth # 1: The colonies declared their independence on July 4.

It was actually July 2 when members of the Continental Congress officially declared the colonies "Free and Independent States". Jefferson's "Declaration of Independence", a statement announcing and defending that action, was adopted July 4, but according to historian Mellon Chamberlain, there was no public celebration, and most of the official signing of the document was done on August 2.

Myth #2: Citizens of the thirteen colonies were undivided in their support of the Revolution.

More than half a dozen delegates actually opposed the rebellion in the final vote in the Continental Congress, and in the entire New York delegation abstained, lacking instruction. In the preceding vote, Pennsylvania and South Carolina had voted no, Delaware's delegates were divided and New York's members abstained. Meanwhile countless loyalist citizens were tarred and feathered, thousands had their property confiscated without compensation and more than eighty thousand fled to Canada for safety. John Adams is quoted as saying that a third of the population favored the Revolution, a third opposed it and a third were indifferent. Nearly as many colonists fought for the British as for the American side, making it as much a civil war as a war to overthrow British rule.

Myth #3: Most American soldiers in the Revolutionary War were middle class citizens who volunteered to fight against King George's tyranny.

According to Robert Gross's study of the Concord militia, the average minuteman was, by 1778, "poor, out of work and out of hope", and often hired by members of the middle class as substitutes rather than their having to go into battle themselves. And King George III was far from a ruthless tyrant.

Myth #4: George Washington was a man of prayer who knelt in the deep snow at Valley Forge to pray for success in the next day's battle.

Artists portraying the great general in reverent prayer got the story from Parson Weems, the same person who invented the tale of the young Washington cutting down the cherry tree. Weems said he was told about Washington's Valley Forge prayer from a Quaker named Potts "if I mistake not." Washington was certainly a good man, but throughout his presidency he, like most of the nation's founders, went to church only on special occasions. When the Continental Congress in 1776 declared a day of fasting and prayer "to confess and bewail our manifold sins... through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ," Washington omitted the reference to Christ when reading the document to his troops.

Myth #5: The "Liberty Bell", installed in Independence Hall with the inscription proclaiming "Liberty throughout the land" rang out on July 4 as crowds cheered the announcement of the colonies' independence.

Neither the bell nor its inscription, mounted in the Pennsylvania State House in 1753 (well before any battle for independence), had anything to do with the Revolution, and there is no evidence that it was ever rung to celebrate the Declaration. It was George Lippard who in 1847 published the current story in his book called "Legends of the American Revolution". It was first referred to as the "Liberty Bell" by abolitionists in the 1830's and only later became an American shrine.

Note: I welcome hearing of any reliable sources that may add to or counter any of the above items, which were drawn mostly from Richard Shenkman's book, Legends, Lies And Cherished Myths Of American History, complete with twenty pages of end notes. Shenkman's book became the basis for the series of programs on "Myth America" on the Learning Channel.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

First Public Meeting On Local Jail Expansion Held Today

Some 50 concerned local citizens attended a meeting held today at the County Board of Supervisors chamber to hear plans for the study of alternatives to building a multimillion dollar new jail or expanding existing jail space here in Harrisonburg.

The primary purpose of the meeting was to hear three consultants with Mosely Architects, a Richmond based firm responsible to come up with a recommendation by December 31 of this year. One of the three members of the team, Michael Jones, is a mental health professional who is especially focused on looking for alternatives to a brick and mortar solution to jail overcrowding, but each of them sees the value of such outcomes.

Someone suggested the group set up a series of listening sessions in various parts of the City and County, which the consultants saw as a  worthwhile idea. Concern was also expressed about the need for more than a six month process in order to come up with a truly model plan.

When the new jail was built in 1994, it replaced a facility with a capacity of fewer than 75 inmates. While the new facility is labeled as a "regional" jail, it still serves mostly the same population as did the old one, and many of us are wondering why we are now needing space for over four times the 1994 number. Certainly our community hasn't grown at anywhere near that rate, nor has the rate of crime quadrupled during the last two decades.

I had to leave at 4 to go back to work, so any comments on the part of those who were there for the end of the meeting are welcome.

For an earlier post on this issue, check this link.