Sunday, March 29, 2015

Improved Mental Health Services At Our Local Jail

Many of the 350-400 housed here suffer from mental illness
You may have read numerous posts here about the level of mental health care our Community Services Board has been able to provide through its contract with our local jail. Until January of this year this covered the services of only three hours a week by a nurse practitioner to take care of the psychotropic medication needs of a population of 350-400 inmates, plus a social worker or other staff person for another hour or two weekly for intake, assessment or other needs (The jail has a contract with Southern Health for other medical care).

Thankfully, the CSB, under the leadership of Lacy Whitmore, was recently able to access some regional reserve funds to provide a half-time counselor on site at the Rockingham/Harrisonburg Regional Jail for the first time, beginning this January. This fund has been matched by some $14,000 each allocated by the Rockingham Board of Supervisors and the Harrisonburg City Council, which means the CSB's present level of services can continue through June of 2016.

This is a most welcome development.  CSB clinician George Nipe finds himself extremely busy during the twenty or so hours he spends at the facility, and while it is impossible for him to respond to nearly all of the requests he receives for his time, this is a good start.

My sincere hope is that this can be a step toward our CSB significantly expanding its services at the jail in the near future. The Winchester Regional Jail, for example, with just over a hundred more inmates that ours, employs two full time counselors, and the Arlington County Jail has five counselors and a full time psychologist for an inmate population of 525.

One inmate at the RHRJ recently wrote me the following:

"I have been able to meet with the new counselor from the CSB twice now since I came here two months ago. He is very encouraging, and he is interested in seeing if I could be transferred to Western State Hospital where I could get some help for my mental problems.”

To further illustrate the need for the RHRJ to provide additional (and improved) medical and mental health services, however, here some excerpts from other recent letters I’ve received recently:

"I've been trying to get into things like an AA group, a mental health class and a class for substance abuse. They keep telling me the groups are full or that I have to wait till next month.."

"I have not gotten my proper meds since I have been here, and medical won't even ask the UVA Hospital to fax them my medical records. And I also know of two inmates who have asked the medical department repeatedly to see the CSB counselor and nurse practitioner and have gotten no response."

"One of my cell mates had a seizure and fell on the floor and it was 15 minutes before a member of the medical staff came. When they did, the inmate was taken to a cell to lie down instead of being taken to medical for treatment."

"When I was really distressed and asking for help, they threatened to put in the padded isolation room instead of giving me the help I needed."

"When I was having a hard time adjusting to the new meds the nurse practitioner prescribed for me it took over three weeks before I got to see her again to tell her how they were affecting me."

Of course there may be another side to every individual story, but these are typical of concerns I and others have been hearing for years from inmates and family members. I also realize the jail staff and budget may be stretched to the limit when it comes to providing for the needs of the physically and mentally ill in its crowded facility, but shouldn't we treat those we incarcerate with some of the same kind of dignity and care we would expect for ourselves or our loved ones?

I hope and trust we are beginning to move in a positive direction.

"Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are ill treated as though you yourselves were suffering." Hebrews 13:3 (paraphrased)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Top Ten Reasons To Attend Gemeinschaft Home's 30th Anniversary Celebration April 10

Internationally known keynote speaker Howard Zehr
10. You deserve an unforgettable night out.

9. The meal is provided, so your contribution to Gemeinschaft will be fully tax-deductible.

8. Trust me, any food prepared by Gemeinschaft's Chef Brenda Leigh is a real treat.

7. You'll meet the dedicated members of the Gemeinschaft Board.

6. You'll learn more about Gemeinschaft's new plans for a "Day Reporting" program that local authorities are considering as one alternative to incarceration at our local jail.

5. You'll get to meet some of the Gemeinschaft residents, who will also be serving you your meal.

4. You'll hear a testimony by Gemeinschaft alumni and pastor Mercedies Harris, now active in working on the restoration of rights for ex-offenders.

3. You'll get a free copy of a newly published piece on Gemeinschaft's 30-year history and mission.

2. Howard Zehr, professor emeritus of Restorative Justice at EMU's Center For Justice and Peacebuilding, is our honored keynote speaker and guest.

1. Your generous contribution will help Gemeinschaft Home be in a stronger position to carry on its mission into the future
Please register ASAP at or call 434-1690 by April 6.

Visit Gemeinschaft's new website or its Facebook page -- and help us spread the word!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Only 2.7% Parole Releases Under McAuliffe (5% Under Former Governor MacDonnell)

I received two letters last week written by inmates in one of Virginia's prisons who have each been incarcerated for over 25 years and have stellar prison records. Here are some excerpts:

1. "Only 74 folks made parole last year in Virginia out of over 4000 who are eligible, and only 5 in January of this year. Meanwhile Virginia Beach is suing the Department of Corrections for overcrowding due to state-responsible inmates being kept in it's jail for up to seven years when 60 days is the rule. And they are adding 32 beds to this place even though it is already operating at double its capacity." - anonymous inmate 3/15/15

2. "The DOC is a network of asylums, whose keepers include the Governor, the DOC Director, the Secretary of Public Safety and the Parole Board. These keepers have banished thousands of old-law, parole-eligible prisoners (those sentenced prior to July 1, 1995) to asylums where society's undesirables can be conveniently warehoused, even though they have served from twenty to fifty-plus years, and many of them for the rest of their lives because they have no mandatory release dates.

"There is no justification for such lengthy confinement for middle aged and older prisoners. Five in the state are 86-95 years old, 36 are 76 to 85, and 284 are 66 to 75. Few of these are any longer a threat to society, and a much more reasonable option would be for them to be with their families, with appropriate monitoring as needed.

"Published studies have demonstrated that educating and providing job skills to inmates can greatly reduce recidivism and is by far the most cost-effective solution for taxpayers. In his State of the Commonwealth address in January, Governor McAuliffe stated that he believed in giving offenders a second chance and that he would discontinue ALL appropriations that wasted taxpayer dollars, so one obvious are to consider would be reducing the staggering cost of incarceration in Virginia, over $1 billion a year, or $26,000 to $100,000 per year per inmate, depending on such factors as age and medical conditions."   - anonymous inmate 3/22/15

Monday, March 23, 2015

"I Cannot Serve, For I Am A Christian"

Like most early Christians, Maximilian refused military service
In March, 295 AD, 21 year-old Maximilianus of Tebessa was ordered to appear with his father Fabius Victor before Dion, the Roman Governor of Numidia (modern day Algeria) in order to be sworn into the Roman army. While enlisting was voluntary for most, his father Fabius had served as a Roman soldier before he became a believer, and all sons of veterans were to be conscripted.

Because of the teachings of Jesus few Christians in the first several centuries of the church served in the Roman army, and in fact applicants for baptism were forbidden to enlist. Maxmilian is the first Christian conscientious objector on record to be beheaded for refusing military service. Later canonized as a Catholic saint, March 12 is designated as his feast day.

The following is one of many accounts that have been preserved of his refusal to serve:

When asked his name, Maximilian replied, "Why do you wish to know my name? I cannot serve because I am a Christian." 

Nevertheless, orders were given for him to be given the military seal. 

He answered, "I cannot do it: I cannot be a soldier." 

When told he must serve or die, he said, "You may cut off my head, but I will not serve. My army is the army of God, and I cannot fight for this world," it was pointed out to him that there were Christians serving as bodyguards for the emperors Diocletian and Maximian.

To this he replied, "That is their business. I am a Christian, too, and I cannot serve."

Dion then told Fabius Victor to correct his son. Victor, who had become a Christian, said, "He knows what he believes, and he won't change his mind."

Dion insisted, "Agree to serve and receive the military seal."

"I already have the seal of Christ, my God . . . I will not accept the seal of this world; if you give it to me, I will break it for it is worthless. I cannot wear a piece of lead around my neck after I have received the saving sign of Jesus Christ, my Lord, the son of the living God. You do not know Him; yet He suffered for our salvation: God delivered Him up for our sins. He is the one whom all Christians serve; we follow Him as the Prince of Life and Author of Salvation."
Again Dion stated that there are other Christians who are soldiers.

Maximilian answered, "They know what is best for them. I am a Christian and I cannot do what is wrong."

Dion continued, "What wrong do those commit who serve in the army?"

Maximilian answered, "You know very well what they do."

Threatened with death if he remained obstinate, Maximilian answered, "This is the greatest thing that I desire. Dispatch me quickly. Therein lies my glory." Then he added, "I shall not die. When I leave this earth, I shall live with Christ, my Lord."

He was sentenced accordingly: "Whereas Maximilian has disloyally refused the military oath, he is sentenced to die by the sword." 

Just before his execution, Maximilian encouraged his companions to persevere and asked his father to give his new clothes to the executioner.

We are told that Fabius Victor "went home happily, thanking God for having allowed him to send such a gift to heaven."

This account can be found at

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Restorative Justice Comes To The Burg--Will Rockingham County Sign On Next?

DNR photo
This is almost too good to be true.

That was my initial feeling at the press conference Wednesday announcing the Harrisonburg Police Department's new focus on restorative justice alternatives. We were told that HPD officers are being trained to divert cases to an RJ process whenever possible, and that JMU, EMU and the Harrisonburg City schools are also making efforts at implementing this kind of restitution-focused policy.

Local Commonwealth's Attorney Marsha Garst, in an impassioned speech that got more applause than any that morning, said (twice), "I support this program 100%". To me it was amazing to hear her, along with the presidents of JMU and EMU, Sue Prail of the Fairfield Center, JMU Associate Dean Josh Bacon, Carl Stauffer of the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Police Chief Stephen Monticelli and Lieut. Kurt Boshart all speaking from the same lectern and being on the same page.

Dr. Howard Zehr of EMU's Center For Justice And Peacebuilding, explains the concept of restorative justice this way:

"Recognizing that punishment is often ineffective, restorative justice aims at helping offenders to recognize the harm they have caused and encouraging them to repair the harm, to the extent it is possible. Rather than obsessing about whether offenders get what they deserve, restorative justice focuses on repairing the harm of crime and engaging individuals and community members in the process."

My prayer is that the County Sheriff's department will now develop a similar initiative, and that together with faith communities, schools and other service providers and agencies, we can create the kind of approach to criminal justice that can be a model for communities everywhere.

And in which, in the words of the prophet Amos, "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream."

Here's a link to some other posts on criminal justice reform.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Young Poet Mourns The Invasion of Iraq On This Day Twelve Years Ago

Mattie Stepanek Peace Park
I was deeply moved recently by reading the story of Mattie (Matthew) J. T. Stepanek, a young Catholic poet with a rare physical condition that claimed his life at age 14. In his short life he wrote five best selling books and co-authored a sixth, called Just Peace, with former president Jimmy Carter. He also gave numerous speeches to large audiences about his faith and his philosophy of life, and was repeatedly interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, Larry King and numerous other celebrities.

One of his primary concerns and constant prayers was for world peace, an end to the violence of warfare about which every child instinctively feels a sense of horror.

When President George W. Bush phoned Mattie in the spring of 2003 he told Mattie, "I heard you're back in the hospital and having a rough time. I want you to know we are praying for you because the world needs you. I want to thank you for the gift of hope and peace you've given to our world. Because of you, more and more of us believe that peace is possible. I get down on my knees every night and pray that I lead our country toward peace, and you are my inspiration."

Mattie was extremely excited, and told his mother, "Mom, there's not going to be a war! We're not going to attack Iraq! It's not going to happen!"

So he was beyond devastated when the news came that an American invasion had indeed been launched. From the book (above) authored by his mother,

"Bombs were falling on Baghdad. Mattie let out a wail, put his head straight down on his knees, and began sobbing, shoulders heaving. His oxygen level suddenly dropped too low, his heart rate went too high, and his blood pressure started spiking and then dropping. Even his color changed. His nurse came running in, thinking he had been coded. 
"'What did I say to make him think this is how peace is possible?' Mattie moaned. 'What part of my message made him think this is a part of peace?'"

When Jesus wanted to make a point about human power and greatness, he sat a child on his lap as his object lesson. Could it be that it is children like Mattie that really hold the greatest wisdom about what makes for peace, that it is in demonstration of love even for enemies, and not in military might, that the world gains true peace and stability?

Here is a poem Mattie wrote in response to the invasion:

Seeping silently in the night
Dark before the world's first light
The deuce of death not yet in sight
Life awaiting dawn...
Fires, fires, fires fell
The horror, a sight straight from hell
Why fire attacks, it will never tell
Death before the dawn...
Life cries out for help from friends

Will the hatred never end?...
The next day, what next...
Live in fear or choose to fight
Live in fear or choose might
Live in fear or choose flight
Why choose any such sight
For not one is right
If we choose to count
On this and each night...
To wake with another dawn.

From Reflections of a Peacemaker: A Portrait Through Heartsongs, page 104.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Marriage--An Executive Committee Of Two

Herald Press
Marriage is a covenant, not just a business contract between Jane and John Doe, Inc., but it does involve a lot of day to day issues involving finances, household responsibilities, parenting and multitude of other matters requiring business-like attention.

How couple decisions are made can make a big difference in our marital success. Does each try to prevail through adversarial and heated arguments, or can two people work arrive at win-win agreements by consensus, as a creative committee of two?

Two heads are, after all, better than one, and a well-run committee elicits as many ideas as possible from each of its members, regardless of who chairs the group.

Here is a proposed approach a couple might use to solve problems and reach agreements, from my book Lasting Marriage--The Owners' Manual":

For Regular Couple’s Meetings

1. Share compliments and appreciations.

2. Review any unfinished business from past meeting(s).

3. Review calendar and do necessary scheduling (including planning a date or dates for the two of you!)

4. Discuss any financial issues, take care of paying bills, etc.

5. Agree on an agenda, then take one item or problem at a time, as follows:

    a. First discuss the issue in terms of each of your underlying interests (why this is so important), rather than first stating your positions (this is what you/we should do).

    b. Throughout, always take turns being the speaker and the listener.  When you are the listener, make sure you fully understand the other to their satisfaction before you take your turn to speak.

    c. Take time to brainstorm ideas for possible solutions, generating as many new options as possible (no evaluating or critiquing during this part of the process).

    d. After discussing some of the more agreeable options you have put on the table, decide by consensus or delay a decision if it’s not possible to come up with a win-win solution or just agree on an interim solution (or decide to see a mediator or counselor for help). Remember, no agreement needs to be set in stone for all time, but will be honored until it is reviewed and changed.

    e. Decide how and by whom a decision is to be carried out, and what will happen if it isn’t.  Put both the agreement and a friendly, agreed on “consequence-for-not-following-through” in writing.

6. Decide on a time for your next couple’s meeting, and who will be responsible for making sure the session happens (of course, either can respectfully ask for a special meeting at any time).

7. Keep it under an hour, and end with some activity you both enjoy.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Patience: A Prized Virtue Among Early Christians

I recently attended a seminar led by retired missionary Alan Kreider on "Patient Ferment: Learning From the Early Church" that was held at the Williamsburg Retreat Center.

According to his study, the church in the first several centuries grew rapidly not by some well organized mission strategy, but by a patient demonstration of a counter-cultural way of life. Early Christians, ordinary human beings from all walks of life, were simply demonstrating Jesus' kind of care for the worth and well being of everyone, slave and free, men and women, citizens and subjects alike.

The results of their unselfish ministries to the poor and hopeless among them were amazing. By the time the emperor Constantine legitimatized the faith in the fourth century and began to give them favorable treatment, Christianity had spread over the entire Roman empire.

Kreider believes that patience, the ability to quietly persevere and persist against all odds, was their distinguishing trait, and cited Tertullian, a second century Christian teacher, who described it this way:

"To see patience... look at Jesus. God allows himself to become incarnate; in his mother's womb and awaits the time of birth, and after his birth suffers himself to grow into manhood, and when an adult, shows no eagerness to become known, but bears reproaches, and is baptized by his servant... He did not force one who was unwilling to stay close to him; he scorned no one's table or dwelling; in fact, he ministered personally to his disciples by washing their feet. He did not despise sinners or tax collectors, he showed no anger even toward that city which refused to receive him, even when his disciples wished fire from heaven to fall upon such a shameful town; he healed the ungrateful yielded to his persecutors.  More than that, heaven kept in his company the one who would betray him ... He who could have had, if he wished, at a single word, legions of angels from heaven to assist him did not approve an avenging sword on the part of even one of his disciples. It was the patience of the Lord that was wounded in Malchus (the person Peter struck with his sword when Jesus was being apprehended)... He actually cursed for all time the works of the sword and by healing him whom he himself had not struck, he made satisfaction by patience, which is the mother of mercy... Such were the manifestations of his patience, the very magnitude of which is the reason why pagan nations reject the faith; but for us they are its rational foundation... Patience is the very nature of God.

So let wrongdoing grow weary from your patience... If one tries to provoke you to a fight... (heed) the admonition of the Lord, 'If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also'... If someone bursts out cursing or wrangling, recall the saying, 'When men reproach you, rejoice.'"

As someone has said, Christianity has not been tried and found wanting, but it has been found difficult and not tried.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Parole Denied For An Inmate With An Impressive Record

Augusta Correctional Center
Jonathan White, age 55, has completed virtually every class and every rehabilitative program available to him during his 30-plus years of incarceration. The Powhatan Correctional Center closed last year and he and hundreds of his fellow inmates were moved the Augusta Correctional Center and to other already crowded prisons elsewhere. He will go before the Board again this year, hoping for consideration after having been denied parole time after time after time.

Here is a copy of the the letter I sent to the chair of the Parole Board on his behalf last year, and here is a link to a blog about his accomplishments, a copy of which I sent to Ms. Brown:

Ms. Karen Brown, Chair
Virginia Parole Board
6900 Atmore Drive
Richmond, VA 23225

May 16, 2014

Dear Ms. Brown,

I am writing in regard to your upcoming parole hearing regarding inmate Jonathan D. White #1161021 (#INM: 128952) at the Powhatan Correction Center.

I have been in regular correspondence with Mr. White and have been impressed by his many educational achievements and his record of exemplary behavior during his 33 years of incarceration--so much so that I recently posted his list of accomplishments on my blog.

As a licensed counselor and long time advocate for criminal justice reform, I see Mr. White as the kind of person parole release was originally designed for. By granting him parole, you satisfy  citizens‘ concern not only that justice be done but that deserving offenders be given a second chance to redeem themselves and to truly pay their debt to society--by once again becoming self supporting, tax paying citizens.

Thank you for giving this case every fair and reasonable consideration. 


Harvey Yoder, LPC
Licensed Professional Counselor

Mr. Algie T. Howell, Jr., vice-chair
The Reverend Doctor A. Lincoln James
Mr. Sherman R. Lea
Mr. Minor F. Stone

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Can We Have A Faith-Based 'Self-Interest'?

"...we don't hate our own body, but nourish and tenderly care for it, just as Christ does the church." Ephesians 5:29

The inescapable fact is that we all live with our own self-interest in mind, constantly and consistently. It's just that we refuse to admit it, and in fact insist that to do so is to be selfish. 

In order to be unselfish, we say, we strive to be utterly selfless

We lie. 

Of course, self-interest without regard for others is a terrible thing, but what if we were to recognize that to "nourish and tenderly care for" ones self is actually the foundation and starting point for caring for others? In other words, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves, not instead of ourselves.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating some kind of narcissism here, far from it. But what if our goal were to love and respect ourselves and every other human being alike, no more and no less?

That would be revolutionary in two ways. Not only would that place the primary responsibility for our own health and well being squarely where it belongs, on ourselves (as we are able) rather than expecting others to take care of us, but it would radically affect how we care for others. In other words, we would no longer claim the right to a higher standard of living than that of our fellow neighbors around the world. How's that for a radically non-self-centeredness, a practice of treating others in need as we would have them treat us if we were hungry or in want?

Scripture teaches us that even Jesus gave up his life for us "because of the joy that was set before him" (Hebrews 12:2). He acted in both his own and our ultimate self-interest in doing so. And whenever he admonishes us to do things like investing in heavenly treasure (through investing in the poor), he does so with the assurance that we will be far better off for having done so. In other words, living like Jesus is simply the wise thing to do, unlike those who build on the shifting sand of short term gratification, an example of sheer foolishness. 

The context of the Ephesians text, above, is that of husbands loving their wives as themselves, as their own body, just as Christ loved his bride and "body" (the church) as his very own. This is not about some kind of enmeshment in which there is no differentiation between ourselves and others, but a recognition that we are linked by creation to all other members of God's worldwide family. Whatever blesses one blesses all.

In short, we would be living far less selfishly if we practiced loving others as ourselves. And there is never be any danger of our loving ourselves too much as long as we practiced caring for others with equal dedication. 

Meanwhile, we don't delude ourselves into thinking we are living selflessly while claiming a sense of entitlement to more for ourselves than our world neighbors, or our neighbors across the street. Or that we give sacrificially without regard for the good that does for the giver as well as the receiver.

Their good and ours are inexorably linked.

Monday, March 9, 2015

May God Bless Us With Discomfort

I met with over 60 people at a local Faith in Action seminar held Saturday at the Muhlenberg Lutheran Church. Experienced community builders Dennis Jacobsen of Milwaukee and Angela James of Hampton Roads urged us to collaborate in making ours a community that is a truly just and nurturing place for our neighbors, ourselves and our children.

Faith in Action is a new organization of area congregations and individuals seeking to link a passionate love for God with a compassionate love of neighbor.

A follow-up gathering for the representatives of some twenty congregations present today (and others) is set for the same location Tuesday, May 19, at 7 pm.

Meanwhile, may this be our daily prayer:

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships,
so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,
so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and
to turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in the world,
so that you can do what others claim cannot be done
to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

  ~ Franciscan benediction

Saturday, March 7, 2015

What Kinds Of Endowments Would Jesus Approve?

Most of my church's educational and mission agencies have millions of dollars invested in endowments designed to provide for financial stability and help ensure the institution's survival.

My response is sometimes one of amazement that followers of Jesus would accumulate the kind of wealth that makes this level of estate and other giving possible. Are endowments consistent with how Jesus would have us fund organizations enlisting disciples who are to "obey all I have commanded"?

For example, if followers of Jesus are instructed not to "lay up treasure on earth", how much should churches and church institutions do so?

I know our Lord didn't anticipate a 21st century economic system based on amassing large amounts of capital in order to grow more wealth, but would his position be one of approval of large endowments or would he, like Ghandi, see "wealth without work" as something to be avoided? In a world of desperate need, would he be holding on to millions of dollars in mutual funds invested in Wall Street traded stocks?

Of course, endowment funds could be used to provide low interest loans to deserving entrepreneurs who could invest it in ways that could help alleviate poverty and accomplish much good. But that would defeat their primary purpose, which is to earn as much income as possible for the cause for which they were established.

I'm not an economist, so I may not know whereof I speak, so I would be interested in others' views on this subject.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Valley LIVING Publishes Piece On Local Jail Reform

The latest issue of the free paper, Valley LIVING, includes the column, "Locked Up On Liberty Street", in which I urge the adoption of policies that help inmates at our local jail maintain stronger family ties. LIVING magazine is available at Red Front Grocery, the Park View Credit Union and numerous other locations in the area.

Many of us in the Harrisonburg area frequently drive by our local jail on South Liberty Street without realizing that there are some 350 of our neighbors packed together in that facility, some 20% of them simply awaiting trial. And if you happen to come by on a weekend visitation day, you will find numerous family members, parents, children, grandparents, siblings and others waiting to spend a half hour with a loved one behind bars.
Rockingham-Harrisonburg Regional Jail

Needless to say, being incarcerated can create high levels of stress for already fragile families, often resulting in traumatized and neglected children, broken relationships, financial crises, and increased costs of foster care and other social services. So an important part of rehabilitating offenders is helping them maintain strong family and community ties.

Meet inmate John Doe, an all too typical young father who is behind in his child support payments and is waiting for his third court hearing. Like all too many others, he has made some bad choices that have resulting in his having a second DUI, losing his job as a truck driver and contributing to the breakup of his marriage. But he does love his two-year-old son and five-year-old daughter, and would like to be able to support them while still paying his other bills and keeping up with his rent. But he’s overwhelmed by all of his problems and has been getting further and further behind.

Unfortunately, while he is behind bars the interest and penalties on his child support payments continue to add up, making his financial problems seem ever more hopeless.

Some communities have come up with some fresh approaches like 1) Drug and Alcohol Courts with alternative sentencing and treatment options, 2) Day Reporting Programs that have offenders continue to work while checking in every day and submitting to regular drug and alcohol tests, 3) In-home detention, with or without the use of ankle bracelet technology, and 4) Having more pretrial cases released on bond while awaiting hearings.

Without such options, John Doe’s life is on hold. On the looked-forward-to visitation day, he is brought to a visitation booth in handcuffs and in orange prison garb to see his mother, dad and/or his estranged wife, who sometimes bring his children with them to see their Daddy. During their 30-minutes together they are separated by a wall of concrete and steel and have to speak through a glass window, along with a row of other visitors.

Meanwhile someone among his family and friends must see to it that they pay the Jail $30 a month ($1 per day) in "rent" for him to be behind bars. Otherwise he will not be able to able to purchase highly overpriced personal items at the commissary (11¢ for a packet of ketchup or mayo, $1 an ounce for coffee, 75¢ for a styrofoam coffee cup, and 10¢ for a plastic stirring spoon). Phone service is also expensive, limiting the number of collect calls his friends or family members may be able to accept.

Any changes at our local facility that could help offenders and their families financially--and enable them to stay in closer touch with each other and with a supportive community--could greatly help them mend their lives and heal their relationships.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

As Our Economy Recovers, Should We Celebrate?

There are promising signs of economic recovery everywhere, we're told. Stock market numbers are three times higher than during the recent depression. Employment numbers are up. Consumer confidence is on the rebound.

Yet I often wonder whether we should champion the success of any economy that has become so dependent on more and more consumption at the expense of the world’s poor. And which contributes to the wasteful depletion of the world's resources and the pollution of its soil, air and water in ways that are simply unsustainable. And which requires the most deadly and expensive military force in the world to defend it.

In the apocalyptic book of Revelation, chapters 17-19 introduce us to an image of a luxurious and powerful seductress named “Babylon,” a symbol of economic systems based on greed and oppression. In contrast to the Radiant Woman of Revelation 12, who represents the humble and holy people of God, this Great Prostitute is dressed in the finest purple and scarlet and sits elegantly astride the powerful “Beast” representing the world’s political and military powers (introduced in chapter 13). All of the nations are in bed with
Representative of the Beast?
her, since “all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth” (18:19). Does this sound a lot like our economy or not?

When Babylon finally collapses in disgrace, the kings and merchants of the earth “weep and wail” in anguish. They are desperate to have her recover so the status quo disparity between the very rich and the very poor can continue unchecked. In the same way, we North Americans want to restore (and grow) our incomes, our institutions, our accustomed ways of life, to the level we’ve come to believe is our birthright.

But the Babylon of Revelation is doomed by God Almighty, is clearly beyond any recovery. And in the Bible, this is hailed as good news. At her demise all heaven breaks loose in outbursts of praise, “Hallelujah! The Lord God Omnipotent reigns!” (19:6).

I’m not suggesting that all of today’s entrepreneurs have sold out to Babylon. There are many business men and women who operate with integrity and who offer invaluable services to their community. They provide decent jobs at fair wages and don’t assume that their managing more capital wealth entitles them to a greater share of consumer wealth. Because they choose to live frugally and share sacrificially, they should be blessed and celebrated as signs of Jesus’ new order.
major world polluters

But to pray for the survival of our current consumer-driven economy may be to counter Jesus’ brand of “good news.” In his upside down kingdom, where his words about wealth represent both law and gospel, it is the world’s hungry who are to be filled with good things, and it is the too-well-to-do who are to be left empty-handed. In his new community it is the poor, and "the poor in spirit," who are truly blessed with happiness, whereas the rich (those who claim the right to ever more consumer wealth) are promised only woes.

This means that what is really needed is not the survival of the old economy, but the restructuring of a new one, first through a radical reordering of our values (what we consider to be true wealth) and then through adopting lifestyles that represent fairness and justice for everyone on the planet.

The U.S. economic downturn of 2008 needs to be seen as a gigantic wake up call, reminding us that to continue to live like Babylon--instead of more like Jesus--is not only wrong, it is unsustainable. It would take additional whole planets to provide enough resources (and enough landfill space for our waste and pollution) for all seven billion of the world’s people to consume at the rate most of us do who are among the top 5% of its wealthiest inhabitants.

In that light, does a Mammon-driven, “trickle-down” global economy represent good news?

No. If an economic system is not first of all about good news for the world's poor, it’s not what Jesus has in mind.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

'Doing Justice' Author To Lead Harrisonburg Seminar

"What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, to love mercy, 
and to walk humbly with your God?"
- Micah 6:8

"The world, as it is, is the enemy of God. The world, as it is, is the enemy of the people of God. The world, as it is, is the enemy of those who, while claiming no belief in God, are devoted to creating a just society and act with such courageous conscience that they put the institutional church to shame... The world, as it is, employs nationalism, propaganda, racism, civil religion and class enmity to bolster entrenched systems, corporations and institutions. All of which is offensive to God and to those who seek to do what is just."
- Dennis A. Jacobsen, Doing Justice: Congregations and Community Organizing" (Fortress Press, 2001)

Dennis Jacobsen
Dennis Jacobsen, pastor of the Incarnation Lutheran Church in Milwaukee and director of the Gamaliel National Clergy Caucus, will lead a one-day seminar sponsored by a new local group called Faith in Action at the Muhlenberg Lutheran Church in Harrisonburg Saturday, March 7. It's not too late to register. Here's the information:

Workshop for Clergy and Congregational Leaders

What?    Deepening our shared faith tradition of justice …  
This workshop is for any clergy or congregational leaders who want to learn more about congregation-based community organizing, or the work Faith in Action hopes to do.  Coming to this event does not imply that you or your congregation has yet committed to being part of Faith in Action.  But we hope it will aid in your discernment.

When?    Saturday, March 7
        9AM – 2PM
        Lunch included

From Whom?        Faith in Action
"Love God with passion.
 Love your neighbor with compassion."

By Whom?    Rev. Dr. Dennis Jacobsen and Angela James
Angela James
The Rev. Dr. Dennis Jacobsen served as the pastor of Incarnation Lutheran Church (ELCA) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from 1987-2013 and from 1995-2012 as the Director of the Gamaliel National Clergy Caucus. Pastor Jacobsen is the author of Doing Justice: congregations and community organizing (Fortress Press, 2001) and has published a number of articles on congregation-based organizing.

Angela K. James is a Senior Organizer with the Gamaliel Organization. Angela currently resides in Virginia where she is the Executive Director of Empower Hampton Roads. In her role as an organizer Angela has trained hundreds of leaders in community activism and advocacy.  

Where?        Muhlenberg Lutheran Church

281 E. Market, Harrisonburg, VA   22801
in the Muhlenberg Activity Center, behind the church, parking available there


First, Register by going to
   Second, $30/person  or  $100/congregation  if  4 people come
    Third, Registration deadline  February 28, 2015 (this is being extended)
        Fourth, Write a check payable to “Faith in Action” bring it with you or send to:
Faith in Action
PO Box 964
Harrisonburg, VA   22803

Need more Information?

    Jennifer Davis Sensenig
    Evan Davis      
    Harvey Yoder