Saturday, August 30, 2014

The Rice Bucket And "Bucket of Compassion" Challenges

In the wake of over a million people dousing themselves with buckets of ice water to raise money for Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS), there's now a new movement in India called the "rice bucket challenge".

In that country, more than 100 million people lack access to clean drinking water, so Manju Kalanidhi, a 38-year-old journalist from Hyderabad, came up with a different idea. Since a third of her people live on less that $1.25 a day, and two pounds of rice costs over half that amount, she proposed the rice bucket challenge, which works like this:

1. Fill a bucket of rice.

2. Give it to a needy individual or family nearby.

3. Post a picture on Facebook with the hashtag #RiceBucketChallenge.

Thousands of people worldwide have already responded, and tons of rice or other foods have been donated as a result.

Or here's another idea: In light of the ever worsening situation experienced by the now three million Syrian refugees alone, let's challenge ourselves and others to make generous online donations to help alleviate these and other desperate needs around the world. We could call it the Bucket of Compassion Challenge.

Here are some links where we can make donations right now:


Christian Aid Ministries

Mennonite Central Committee

 Oxfam International

And by the way, the best financial adviser I know suggests we avoid a lot of fanfare when we donate, assuring us that our real rewards will come later and in other ways.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Is This Really What the Friendly City Needs?

One of 13,000 MRAP vehicles offered free by the Pentagon
I'm not sure whether the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicle shown here looks exactly like the one the city of Harrisonburg recently received from the Pentagon, but it's probably close.

The rationale for acquiring this appears to be that if anything costing $500,000 or more can be gotten for free, that it's just too good to pass up. Meanwhile the City Council this week approved getting $30,000 in state money to refurbish and repaint this "gift" in preparation for its use by the Police Department, in spite of high fuel consumption and frequent roll overs having been problems in combat use. After all, it's all free, right?

I probably shouldn't be questioning this. How would I know when or whether our local police might encounter dangerous mines on our streets or be threatened with an ambush while carrying out their duties? 

I still can't help wondering, though, whether when it comes to this way of arming a police force the City should just say, "Thanks, but no Tanks".

Monday, August 25, 2014

Good To Be Together--A Wedding Remembered

photo by Sam Showalter
We experienced a truly once in a lifetime blessing yesterday, thanks to friends and relatives who packed the great room at the Old Massanutten Lodge near Keezletown to help us celebrate our 50th anniversary (actual date was August 8).

Thanks, friends and fellow church members Guy and Margie Vlasits, for hosting this at your B&B yesterday, and everyone who attended. And a special thanks to our three children and spouses who put so much time and creativity into making it happen.

photo by Sam Showalter
Thanks, daughter Joanna, for doing the invitations, creating the display of our old wedding pictures (enlarged and framed) and otherwise spending hours and hours in planning and helping create the best anniversary celebration ever.

Thanks to son Brent and good wife Heidi for preparing the most gourmet fare imaginable for the occasion, and for investing countless hours of time to pull this off. We were totally impressed with how attractive and tasty the food was, far exceeding expectations we would have had for even professional caterers.

And to oldest son Brad, thanks for emceeing the singing and sharing time yesterday, and for preparing the prayer litany as well as the paraphrase of I Corinthians 13 read by your nine-year-old nephew and niece And of course for providing our favorite sax accompaniment for background piano music (with long time family friend Keith Bly), and for singing the song you composed and sang for Brent's wedding in 2001--and sang for Jo's wedding several months later. The words, melody and guitar were so beautiful it made your heart hurt:
the ones you love are gathered ‘round
to bless the day, the love you’ve found,
with song and prayer and a joyful sound,
it’s good to be together..
as you were loved when you were small,
so may you grow, then, when you fall
you’ll get back up and shake it off,
and travel on together..
a mystery to see you through,
how 1 and 1 is more than 2,
a cord of 3 strands binding you, and
it’s not easily broken..

the simplest magic known to us:
to come to care, to learn to trust,
to love what’s there at any cost,
to learn to be together..

the ones you love are gathered ‘round
to bless the day, the love you’ve found,
with song and prayer and a joyful sound
it’s good to be together
it’s good to be together…

 It was indeed "good to be together"! We'll remember yesterday forever, along with fifty years of other yesterdays that have blessed us beyond belief.

photo by Sam Showalter

We're anticipating yet another anniversary/reunion gathering with members of my Yoder clan in Campbell County next month. Joy!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Some Words To Ponder On Your Way To Church

In his book "The Original Revolution" John Howard Yoder (pp. 28-29) summarizes what makes Jesus' life and teachings so revolutionary for his followers:

He gave them a new way of dealing with offenders--by forgiving them.

He gave them a new way to deal with violence--by suffering.

He gave them a new way to deal with money--by sharing.

He gave them a new way to deal with problems of leadership--by drawing on the gifts of every member, even the most humble.

He gave them a new way to deal with corrupt society--by building a new order, not smashing the old.

He gave them a new pattern of relationship between man and woman, between parent and child, between master and slave, in which was made concrete a radical new vision of what it means to be a human person.

He gave them a new attitude toward the State and toward the "enemy nation."

If this vision of a radical new community is what Jesus really had in mind, can we keep on just doing church as usual?

Friday, August 22, 2014

A College Dream Deferred?

A young friend of ours whose father is a member of our church graduated magna cum laude from Blue Ridge Community College this spring with a pre-engineering degree and a prestigious math scholarship. He was looking forward to majoring in engineering at Virginia Tech this fall.

But this week he learned that his student loan couldn't be approved unless he had a job that paid $15,000 or more a year or had someone able to cosign for him.

What? I thought student loans were designed for people just like him?

Meanwhile he is looking for a local drafting or construction job to help him save money to be able to enroll next year--unless some miracle happens and he can arrange for a different kind of loan for this fall.

I'm not well versed in financial matters, but I'd be glad for some feedback on this. I had been under the impression that student loans were almost too easy to get, even for students far less likely to succeed than a hard working 4.0 GPA pre-engineering student.

I'd welcome your comments.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Pure Passion

Fully celebrated when the time is right
"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure."
- Hebrews 13:4a

A pastor friend of mine once told me about a group of young teen boys from his church he took on a camping trip. After he retired and they all thought he was sound asleep, several started talking about of some of the liberties they had taken with girls they had been with. One young man, however, who remained unimpressed, said, "The main reason I want to be a virgin when I get married is because I want our sex to be really, really good."

Wise beyond his years.

According to the landmark study of "Sex in America: A Definitive Survey" published by the University of Chicago in 1995, religiously oriented monogamous couples, to the surprise of many, reported having more frequent sex and enjoying it more than non-religious and non-married couples.

Could it be that celibacy before the wedding and fidelity throughout marriage aren't prudish, outdated notions as much as genuinely prudent choices that result in the greatest possible satisfaction in the bedroom?

Here are nine qualities* associated with great lovemaking:

PURE LOVE: "Pure" literally means "unadulterated". In this case it suggests a life of faithful and passionate lovemaking with the pledged love of one's life, treating them with care, fidelity and pure love.

PURE JOY: Devoted couples experience lovemaking in a spirit of celebration and abandonment, without undue reservation or regrets, all resulting in the exquisite and shared pleasures of pure joy.

PURE PEACE: The best lovemaking results in a renewed a sense of bonding and togetherness, an unmatched kind of united and safe feeling with ones beloved, resulting in pure peace.

PURE PATIENCE: Good lovemaking never demands ones one immediate pleasure but seeks the pleasure and enjoyment of both, and is always committed to working things out when difficulties arise. Pure patience.

PURE KINDNESS: Great lovemaking isn't just about what happens in the bedroom, but is an integral part of life throughout every day. There is nothing so conducive to intimacy than consistently respectful and considerate expressions of pure kindness.

PURE GOODNESS: Becoming thoroughly good people and good partners adds greatly to the appreciation and respect good lovemaking thrives on. We may never achieve "good" in every respect, which is where amazing grace comes in, but pure goodness is always our aim.

PURE FAITHFULNESS: The kind of trust needed for uninhibited and passionate lovemaking is nurtured by consistent fidelity in thought, word and deed, resulting in a relationship without remorse or regret for past inappropriate or addictive behaviors. Pure faithfulness.

PURE GENTLENESS: Soft, loving touch and tender words of affection fan the flame of desire like little else, adding to the intensity and deep pleasure of being intimate. Pure gentleness.

PURE SELF CONTROL: Strong boundaries protect strong relationships. Good lovemaking involves the exercise of personal restraint as well as times of shared abandonment. Pure self control.

* "fruit of the Spirit" from Galations 5:22-23

Monday, August 18, 2014

Death To Infidels: Spanish Conquistadors, 1532; ISIS Fighters, 2014

Conquistadors praying before a battle
We've all been appalled by news of Muslim extremists leaving a trail of death and devastation in Iraq and torturing and killing hundreds of innocent Christians and others they consider "infidels", including Shiite Muslims.

Sadly, so-called "Christians" have also been guilty of such acts of terror in the name of God, as documented in Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel (1977, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 69-77, and found in Ron Rude's 2010 book, Abel Emerging, Beavers Pond Press., 193-200).

The following is from a report of the sixteenth century Spanish conquest of the Inca people in the Andes Mountains, led by a Governor Pizzaro:

"The prudence, fortitude, military discipline, labors, perilous navigations, and battles of the Spaniards--vassals of the most invincible Emperor of the Roman Catholic Empire, our natural King and Lord--will cause joy to the faithful and terror to the infidels."

The report then includes details of their "terror to the infidels" in city of Cajamarca. The Spanish force, only 200-300 in number but armed with superior weapons, faced an Incan crowd of tens of thousands who had assembled the city square with their leader Atahuallpa with the promise that "no harm or insult" would befall them.

Then at a given signal, mounted Spanish infantry and ground troops, guns blazing, charged into the assembled crowd of mostly unarmed people and slaughtered them by the hundreds.

"The Indians were so filled with fear that they climbed on top of one another, formed mounds, and suffocated each other... The cavalry rode them down, killing and wounding and following in pursuit. The infantry made so good an assault on those that remained that in a short time most of them were put to the sword."

To the conquered Atahuallpa, the Governor afterwards explained,

"... We come to conquer this land by his command (the King of Spain), that all may come to the knowledge of God and of His Holy Catholic Faith: and by reason of God's good mission, God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth and of all things in them, permits this, in order that you may know Him and come out from the bestial and diabolical life that you lead... When you have seen the errors in which you live, you will understand the good we have done..."

Author Ron Rude concludes, "It is hard to hard to imagine that such thought processes and behavior could even remotely have been associated with the life, teachings, actions, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and Jesus the Christ."

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Rabbi's Response To A Recent F.O.R. Statement On Gaza

Source: Oxfam International
Some of us are a part of a monthly breakfast conversation group that is a local chapter of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, a faith-based organization dedicated to promoting peace and justice. Here's a statement released by members of the organization over a week ago in light of the continuing violence in Palestine and Israel:

"Violence is a blunt, destructive instrument.  It causes harm to those who use it as well as those it is used upon.  There is great need for safety, justice, and mercy in Palestine and Israel.  The National Council of the Fellowship of Reconciliation deplores the indiscriminate use of violence in Israel and Palestine.  We strongly urge all parties to return to the ceasefire, and focus attention to resolving the needs of the people regardless of religion or race or national identity."

The following is a critique written by Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb, FOR Freeman Fellow, in response to the above statement:

Beloved colleagues:

As much as I love FOR, I find the FOR NC statement on Israel/Palestine to be completely inadequate for the 'continuing crisis' in Palestine. The statement is out of touch with the actions of Israeli, Palestinian and solidarity activists around the world as to make this statement irrelevant and troubling. 

Surely telling Palestinians that indiscriminate violence is deplorable hides the total destruction of Gaza by Israel and ignores the reality of ongoing Occupation, the siege, land theft, dispossession, the crushing reality of the West Bank,  the past three onslaughts against Gaza and the ongoing reality of Nakba.   

Is this really  the time to remind Palestinians about indiscriminate violence? They are experiencing one of the worst intentional mass killings initiated by Israel, with almost 2000 people killed, 80% of them civilians, over 400 children in less than a month, the intentional targeting of civilian infrastructure including 141 schools, 6 hospitals, 10,000 houses, factories, farm land, roads and animals.  1/4 of the country is displaced, there is no drinking water, the targeting of the electric plant has caused almost total black out, and the intentional use of dum dum bullets fired at people's legs while they are trying to flee has crippled many. And on and on. 

Blockade, siege and dispossession has been an intentional policy on Israel's part which has been documented by Goldstone Report, Baruch Kimmerling, Ali Abunimah, Ilan Pappe, Miko Peled, Mohammed Omer, and so many many others, including dozens of delegates who have seen Israel's occupation policies over many decades. A statement against indiscriminate violence that equates Palestinians and Israelis, the two parties to the conflict, borders on an ethical failure to the truth. 

The FOR's statement also does not address the monstrous US policies that propel this conflict, the fact that Israeli and US companies are profiting like bandits from drones, surveillance, weapons, etc.  Connecting the dots between US colonial imperialism, police violence, warehousing people, Islamophobia and racism is completely absent from this statement. The fact that FOR has NOT embraced BDS this time around, while promoting SA BDS and FOR's role in the civil rights movement, is deeply disturbing and needs serious reflection.  

Please consider rewriting an NC statement that is more in line with decades of FOR work on the Middle East and current with the struggle to overcome occupation and siege. Would you consider skyping with your FOR partners in the struggle for justice to see what they need from the FOR? I, for one, cannot pass on the current statement. It would be counter-productive, esp. at a time when I have brought in young Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Palestinian solidarity activists to talk about the growing multifaith movement for justice in Palestine.  With deep respect for FOR's work for peace and justice.   

Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb
Freeman Fellow @ The Fellowship of Reconciliation 

Co-founder of Shomer Shalom Network for Jewish Nonviolence

Order my book Trail Guide to the Torah of Nonviolence
 by emailing

Thursday, August 14, 2014

"Hardly Anyone Touches Me Anymore"

Prodigal Son
I was in a retreat setting some time ago in which a woman in her 50’s was pouring out her heart about the grief she was going through. Her husband has recently left her for a younger woman, after all her children had grown and left home, and she described her loss as like “being cut in two with a saw.”

What made it harder for her, she said, was feeling so isolated and alone.  “My phone doesn’t ring much anymore,”  she said. “and my friends and people at church don’t seem to know what to say or do to help. And I want to say to them, 'Just listen to me, talk to me, touch me.'  Hardly anyone touches me anymore. I begin to think my body isn’t O.K., that I’ve become somehow unlovable and untouchable."

It helped me realize how important our sense of touch is when we’re needing comfort and reassurance. Touch is probably the first of the senses we’re aware of when we’re born and the last one we lose awareness of when we die. True, sometimes the gift of touch is misused, even abused, in relationships, but that doesn’t change the fact that we have an innate need for people to offer us a simple hand clasp, a warm hand on our shoulder or, in closer relationships, a reassuring hug.

The gospels are full of examples of Jesus touching people. He took children in his arms and blessed them. He touched people who were blind and restored their sight. As the sick were brought to him, he laid his hands on them, one by one, and healed them. He took a woman’s hand who was ill with fever, and helped her up, restoring her to health. And he wasn’t afraid to challenge some social taboos in the process, like touching lepers and other socially untouchable people, even touching the dead body of a young man already prepared for burial, because his heart went out to the widowed mother, to whom he then presented her son alive and whole again. Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, and he allowed others to touch him, anointing and washing his feet with ointment and with tears.

In many faith traditions we are blessed by rituals involving touch. Examples are baptism, the laying on of hands, the joining of hands in a wedding ceremony, the receiving of holy communion, the practice of anointing with oil with prayer for healing, and the frequent encouragement to believers to greet each other with a holy kiss, sometimes translated as simply “Greet each other warmly,” or “with a warm embrace.”

This would be a good day to practice reaching out to touch more people in our family and friendship circle who feel touch deprived, who need a healthy, nurturing sign that we care for them and love them.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Local Citizens Speak Out Against Jail Expansion

Built in 1994, this facility increased our jail capacity by five times.

It was heartening to see the headline on the front page article in this morning's Daily News-Record, "Residents Urge Alternatives To Jail Time".

Twenty-five of the 40-50 citizens who attended the hearing at the City Council Chamber spoke out clearly and strongly against building more jail space. Not one person spoke in favor of spending millions on more jail cells in light of our already having increased capacity to over five times the space we had when the current facility was built only two decades ago.

Harrisonburg, rated the 9th safest city in the U.S., could and should become a model community for the use of proven alternatives to incarceration for offenders, particularly for those who pose no danger to the community but may need increased supervision, mental health and/or substance abuse treatment. and for those who could and should be working at actually making actual amends for wrongs they have done to others.

The Fairfield Center is already set up to do this kind of work with offenders, utilizing an internationally recognized Restorative Justice approach pioneered by our own Howard Zehr of EMU's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. This program was mentioned by numerous speakers last night and could be a key part of our community modeling more cost-effective and change producing alternative to incarceration in many cases.

I would love to see a large group of citizens attend the last of the three scheduled hearings at Turner Ashby High School set for this Thursday, August 14 from 6-8 pm. Our community deserves more time to study the proposal the Richmond-based Moseley Architects firm is to have finished by the end of the year rather than  have the City Council and County Board of Supervisors feeling they need to already take some action by that time. The City of Richmond is taking five years for a similar process.

Meanwhile, here's a link to a recent post on this topic. And if you want to have your name and local post office listed on an online petition asking for more time email me at simply give your name and local address in the comment section below.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bringing Back Old Memories

Our 50th wedding anniversary celebration included a memorable trip back to near Salem, Oregon.

Back in 1972 Alma Jean and I and our two sons, three and five, moved to the Willemette Valley in Oregon for a two-year stint as interim head of Western Mennonite School while their principal, my friend Glen Roth, was on sabbatical leave. This weekend we attended a forty year reunion of the classes of 72-74 to which we were invited, an event that brought together well over 100 of the students we came to know and love during our time there.

I was only 33 when I took on the WMS assignment, full of idealism and with a mere eight years of prior teaching experience at Eastern Mennonite High School.

Western was half the size of EMHS, having an enrollment of around 110 mostly five-day boarding students from western Oregon and surrounding states and Canada. From the first day, I grew to love these refreshingly rambunctious students and the parents and church friends who supported them. To hear their stories and to see their good progress over  the past four decades was an experience we won't soon forget.

We always found folks in the area incredibly friendly and hospitable and the scenery extraordinary (beautiful Mt. Hood was within sight of our home). But the students and staff at Western are what truly won our hearts, and to be able to love many of them all over again was so, so worth our trip.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Fifty Of The Best Years Ever

Five decades ago
"The first fifty years of marriage are the hardest," someone once quipped.

If that is so, Alma Jean and I, wed in the chapel at Lancaster Mennonite High School (Alma Jean's alma mater) August 8, 1964, have lots to be thankful for. Not only have we made it, but the five decades we've spent together have been without a doubt the best years of our lives.

We had officially announced our engagement on Valentine's Day of that year, with a small printed card with two intertwining hearts and these words we had composed:

two hearts
warmed by breath of God's own love
have met to melt into one

Looking back, I'm not sure that degree of fusion is possible,  or even desirable, but our union has been strong, enduring and satisfying. We would each do it all over again.

Years later Alma Jean made me a homemade Valentine-shaped card on which she pasted the following poem by an unknown author, called "Settling In", a piece she had found in an old magazine:

I have settled into love
The way that houses settle
     Plaster slightly cracked
     Floors a little tilted
But still this love is home.

It's really rather sweet
A kind of fire-in-the-fireplace love
     Charred a little
     Singed from time to time
But still this love burns strong.

I do not know. Maybe this is all
That I will ever have
A sort of old house, slow fire love,
But it gives me such pleasure
That I do not long for Roman candles.

For in the joining, in the sweetness,
In the holding of our love
There is no sense of strangeness,
There is no dislocation,
For no matter where we are
If we're together, it is home.

And look, my dear, just over there--
I think I see a Roman candle!

This card, one of my prized possessions, expresses some of the joy I feel in being together all these years. Alma Jean is my beloved "bird in the hand", a blessing without price. If I had another fifty years, I would choose her as my companion all over again.

One way we are celebrating our fiftieth is by flying to Portland, Oregon, where we spent the night at a Rodeway Inn. Today we drive to near Salem, where we spent two good years while I was interim principal at Western Mennonite School from 1972-74. The classes of '72, '73 and '74 are having a forty year reunion August 8-10 and have invited us to join them for the occasion.

We hope that's a good start for the next blessed chapter of our lives!

Before and after? With friends near Salem, 8/8/14

photo by Dora Ivanitsky

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

An Incredibly Sad Day

This is from our son Brad's home town paper, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

We're planning to leave in the morning for a 50th anniversary flight to Oregon (!), so this post will have to do for now. More later.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Guest Post: A "Crime Surge" In The 'Burg?

If we expand it, we'll be sure to fill it.
Three local hearings will be held over the next week about how (or whether) to expand the already crowded jail built in Harrisonburg only two decades ago. The following article by local journalist and blogger Andrew Jenner  may help explain why we are needing ever more jail space in our city, designated the nation's 9th safest. We hope many will turn out for these listening sessions

Criminal Cases In Circuit Court Have Risen 22 Percent In Five Years. Has The Friendly City Gotten That Much Less Friendly?    

In 2008, a total of 2,239 criminal cases were certified to Rockingham County Circuit Court, where felonies in Harrisonburg or Rockingham County are tried. In 2009, that total rose slightly to 2,309. These cases represent individual charges (mostly felonies, with some exception), meaning a single defendant facing, say, five charges accounts for five cases.

Except for 2010, this number has continued to rise, and by 2012, reached 2,736. That’s an eyebrow-raising 22 percent increase over the 2008 total, and enough to make Old South High start asking around about what this means – 22 percent more crime? 22 percent more prosecution? Some combination of the two? Something else entirely?

“There’s a lot of stuff [going on] out there,” said Chaz Evans-Haywood, clerk of the circuit court. “[Those numbers] also tell me somebody must be working really hard to get the bad guys off the street.”

According to Commonwealth’s Attorney Marsha Garst, the explanation for this increase has everything to do with more bad guys and more hard work to get them off the street. She told Old South High that abuse of prescription drugs (oxycodone and fentanyl are two of the biggies) accounts for the majority of the recent increase in criminal cases in circuit court. Garst said that a combination of more people abusing drugs and more aggressive law enforcement and prosecution have contributed to the spike in court cases. (Her office doesn’t track cases by the type of crime, however, and couldn’t provide figures quantifying a recent increase in drug cases).

Property crimes like larceny and embezzlement have also risen over this period, she added, likely due to economic trouble.

“We’ve had people become really, really desperate,” Garst said.

Karen Thomas, president of the Northeast Neighborhood Association, which works to reduce crime and strengthen community in that part of town, generally concurred with Garst’s assessment. A lack of good jobs for young people, she said, has pushed more of them to use and deal drugs – something that her association works hard to prevent.

Rockingham County Sheriff Bryan Hutcheson, however, was hesitant to conclude that crime has increased as significantly as the number of criminal cases in circuit court might suggest.

“I don’t think that there’s one thing you can really point to,” Hutcheson said, of the increase.

As much as anything, Hutchison suggested, the increasing population of the city and county might be behind the increase. At best, though, that seems like a partial explanation. In 2008, the combined city-county population was estimated at 121,430; in 2012, that figure rose to 128,413, or a little less than 6 percent.

And Aaron Cook, a criminal defense attorney who previously worked in the prosecutor’s office, disagreed entirely with the idea that crime has been increasing at the same rate as the number of criminal cases in circuit court. He pointed out that state funding formulas for prosecutors’ offices are partially based on the number of felony defendants in circuit court, giving the Commonwealth’s Attorney some incentive to bring as many cases as possible. (The state agency that calculates this funding will count the same person as different “felony defendants” for funding purposes if charges are filed against that person on different dates.)

Practically speaking, Cook said, this can mean prosecutors might file as many charges as possible against a specific defendant with the intention of offering a plea deal on just a fraction of those charges after they’ve all been filed as cases in circuit court.

Regardless, he and several colleagues told Old South High that they don’t believe crime has risen as the circuit court statistics might suggest.

“Crime has not increased [by 22 percent],” said Cook. “This is still an extremely safe place to live.”
If nothing else, that’s something that both he and Garst agree on – and a reality reflected in a recent study that identified Harrisonburg as the ninth-safest city in the entire country.

Despite the increasing drug and property crimes that Garst says she’s seen over the past several years, she believes the ninth-safest city ranking is right on the money.

“I focus on a lot of the negatives, because that’s what I see [every day],” she said.

And the 22 percent increase in criminal cases down on Court Square? That’s a simple, numerical fact spit out by the computers at the courthouse. What it actually means, though, appears to depend on who you ask.

For more recent posts on the rapid increase in our local jail population go to Jenner's blog

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

Please attend one of these local hearings:
  • August 7, from 6pm-8pm at Spotswood High School, 368 Blazer Drive, Penn Laird;
  • August 11, from 7pm-9pm in Harrisonburg City Council Chambers, 409 S. Main St.
  • August 14, from 6pm-8pm at Turner Ashby High School, 800 N. Main St., Bridgewater.
(Any ideas posted on Be Heard Harrisonburg before the August 14 hearing will be shared with the committee.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

O Jerusalem!

Jesus approached Jerusalem. When he saw the city, he began to sob.  
He said, “I wish you had known today what would bring you peace! But now it is hidden from your eyes."
Luke 19:41-42 NIRV 

My heart aches for all of our neighbors in Israel/Palestine during this terrible time of conflict. Nearly 70 Israeli citizens have been killed, several of them civilians, by rockets and other mortar attacks launched by members of Hamas. And there have been over 1700 Palestinians deaths, most of them civilians, and with many others severely injured in recent Israeli bombardments in Gaza, an area about the size of Philadelphia but with a much larger population, around 1.7 million. Over 100,000 Gazans are now homeless and have virtually no place to flee for refuge. Their plight is unimaginable.

Home destroyed by Hamas rocket
I have always been in support of Jewish refugees from around the world being able to find a safe home in Israel. A world that largely ignored the awful suffering brought on them by the Holocaust owes them this refuge. But I am grieved when those who have been so oppressed themselves become oppressors of their fellow Semite neighbors in Palestine, Christians and Muslims alike, who have lived in that land for generations.

So while I support Israel, I am in equal support of the Palestinian people having the opportunity to live in safety and dignity and with the basic human rights all people deserve. And I deplore the actions of Hamas members firing rockets into Israel. Any use of bombs against any vulnerable human beings, however delivered, is unconscionable.

Child victim of Israeli bombing
Today I picture Jesus again weeping over Jerusalem. We should weep with him, and mourn the fact that people the world over, Jews, Muslim and Christians alike, are so blinded to what would bring them peace--a radical renunciation of war itself, a laying down of weapons and taking up the cross instead of taking up arms.

We've tried every other possible way of achieving shalom. It's time we pay heed to the nonviolent life and teaching of the Prince of Peace, which means that when both sides in a conflict like this are engaged in killing and destroying, we consistently take sides against killing and destroying. Period.

Here's a link to some of the history behind this conflict.

And here's a link to my friend Daryl Byler's op ed piece in yesterday's DNR, the text of which can be found on his blog:

Friday, August 1, 2014


Brand new in 1994. If we build them we will fill them.
Here's information on some public hearings you local folks won't want to miss:

WHO: Every local citizen interested in generating community alternatives to a multimillion dollar jail expansion. This includes Libertarians, Republicans, Democrats, Independents, Tea Party members, members of communities of faith, and all citizens concerned about building more justice before adding more jails.

WHAT: The Richmond-based Moseley Architects firm has been awarded a $120,000 contract to come up with a comprehensive proposal by December 31 that is to include alternatives to jail expansion as well as a possible building plan to address the current overcrowding at the local jail. They are inviting citizen input at one of three local hearings in the coming weeks, an excellent opportunity for us to learn more about the process and to raise any concerns we have.

  • August 7, from 6pm-8pm at Spotswood High School, 368 Blazer Drive, Penn Laird;
  • August 11, from 7pm-9pm in Harrisonburg City Council Chambers, 409 S. Main St.
  • August 14, from 6pm-8pm at Turner Ashby High School, 800 N. Main St., Bridgewater.
(Any ideas posted on Be Heard Harrisonburg before the August 14 hearing will be shared with the committee.)

WHY: Our citizens deserve to know the results of the Moseley Architects study (due to be completed by December 31) and then have a second set of listening sessions to review them before they are approved by City Council and the Board of Supervisors. This means we need an additional year at least for this process in order to assure that we have a model plan that is truly in our community's best interest. The City of Richmond is taking several years for a similar study.

If you agree that more time is needed, sign my blog petition for a year's delay:

Here are some other links for background information:

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“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.”
- Ken Cuccinelli, former Virginia Attorney General